Let’s Base Decisions on Reason, Not Faith

By Hank Zumach, February 19, 2012

Can we all agree that the best methods and thinking should be used by everyone — particularly those in positions of leadership — to identify and solve the problems of society?

But how do we arrive at deciding which are the best methods? Let’s start by taking a look at faith.

Nearly everyone has had conversations with people who have different religious beliefs than themselves. When the conversations have reached the point where there is disagreement over specific items of doctrine, almost inevitably the word “faith” is used to justify what the speaker holds to be true.

We have all heard or read the words: “I know it is true, I have faith that it is true.” But this brings up the problem that the person hearing those words could say exactly the same thing to defend their very different beliefs. At that point, the conversation can either come to an end or become increasingly heated.

Over the course of history, differences over faith have been the cause of more anger, bloodshed and wars than any other.

I recognize that there is a positive aspect of faith. Having faith can provide peace of mind or serenity when confronting social and personal problems. It also can be a tool that allows people to isolate the source of emotional distress.

I understand that nearly all religious believers want to be good people and think they lead good lives. However, there are differences in how they and freethinkers approach conflicting beliefs.

Perhaps the most basic difference between believers and freethinkers is in how they arrive at what they consider to be the truth. Freethinkers use objective, verifiable facts; believers may use faith.

Look at the process that is followed in the world of science, where people promoting different hypotheses can objectively study the information available, subject the information to testing and arrive at agreement.

Faith is defined as “belief that is not based on proof.” As an example, using faith, is the Catholic belief that the pope is infallible on matters of faith and morals, while others believe he is the antichrist.

Freethinkers would look at the objective facts and conclude they are both wrong because both points of view are unsupported by any evidence.

For many religious people, their faith in the doctrines they believe in allows them to overlook social conditions and practices others find troubling.

A recent news story out of Afghanistan demonstrates the extent to which faith can become the basis for what many consider to be abhorrent practices. Under Islamic-based law in Afghanistan, a woman who was raped and became pregnant was sentenced to prison. She must stay in the prison until she agrees to marry the man who raped her. In other Islamic countries, raped women may be stoned to death.

Islamic societies believe that when a woman is raped, she is at fault, not the man who raped her. These Islamic societies have faith that this system of laws is just.

To an outside observer, this would seem to be an example of faith causing its followers to have an irrational, destructive state of mind, similar to what has happened when some religious groups have committed mass suicide.

Do the leaders of the various religions and their followers truly believe that their god has a core value that humans should work to bring a just peace and harmony to the planet? Then, they must somehow begin to realize that “faith” is a major obstacle, not an answer to obtaining understanding and acceptance.

I would challenge the leaders of the various religious denominations to seriously examine the role faith has played in the past in causing divisions within societies and nations and ask themselves why the use of faith is likely to have the opposite effect in the future.

It should be apparent to them that unless there is some basic change, the same counterproductive outcomes will be repeated. The initiative to begin this kind of process may very well have to come from motivated individual members of congregations pressuring their local clergy.

Think of the recent turmoil in the Arab world and how quickly a few motivated people with a new idea were able to get the support of millions. There are many established options in the secular world that the religious leaders can draw upon for reaching out to others of different faith-based belief. If not now, when?

And please do not say that you have faith that somehow it will be different in the future.

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