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PETER WICKHAM: The utility of faith

Peter Wickham, [email protected]

PETER WICKHAM: The utility of faith

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On this day when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus which is one of the foundations of their belief, it is useful to reflect on the bombings in Belgium which were perpetrated by adherents to another faith. 

In response to such events Christians argue that “their” faith does not promote such hate, while Muslims will argue similarly and contend that someone who promotes hate cannot be a “true” Muslim. 

There is, of course, concrete and irrefutable evidence that both Christians and Muslims have used their beliefs to justify atrocities, although it is equally true that such believers have used their beliefs as a basis on which to convey immense love.

As a non-believer I often question the utility of faith since it can clearly be interpreted or misinterpreted to cause considerable harm. It is, therefore, ironic that I am often reminded that people fear non-believers like myself more than believers. 

In his book God is Not Great Christopher Hitchens reflects on the hypothetical scenario of a single person walking in a dark alley and being approached by a group of men.  When asked if he would prefer these men to have been coming from church, he argues that they could as easily have been coming from a mosque and throws the question back at the proposer.

More harm

 The challenge here; therefore, is to understand why people generally think non-believers are more dangerous than believers, when the preponderance of contemporary evidence suggests that believers (as a group) have been causing more harm to humanity.

There is an inclination to take this argument in a direction which disaggregates beliefs and promotes one versus the other; however, I am more inclined today to seek a greater understanding of this thing called “faith” and try to understand how and why it is to be considered so important to us as a people.

There are various definitions of faith; however, these generally revolve around our willingness to believe strongly in something without reference to evidence or proof. 

One can even go further and argue that persons of faith are often so strong in their beliefs that they will hold such convictions even in the face of evidence to the contrary. 

To this end, one can find no better example than the challenge posed to Christian literalist by the production of dinosaur bones, which predate the presumed creation (6 000 years ago) and could clearly not have co-existed with man at any rate. 

Illogical and dangerous

From the earliest age, we are taught to search for evidence in support of argument and the virtues of logic and deduction are presented as paramount.  It therefore seems ironic that we have also deemed virtuous an approach that is so patently illogical and in several instances dangerous.

In discussion on this issue some years ago, a close friend argued that his adherence to the Christian faith was grounded in Matthew 11:28 which says “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest”. 

He therefore understood this to mean that as a believer he would therefore have no worries or cares and argued that as a non-believer I would have “plenty”. 

Needless to say I am fascinated by the extent to which this statement without any further articulation of how such “burdens” would be lifted can be so comforting to an intelligent person, but I am prepared to accept that if this works for so many believers across the world there is no basis for me to challenge their right of access to such “comfort”. 

Quest for answers

It is; however equally reasonable that believers should appreciate the “right” of persons to opt for greater reason and logic in our quest for answers to life’s questions.

Unlike Hitchens who is mentioned above, I have traditionally been more tolerant of believers since it appeared that the belief systems that are central to today’s exposition were generally more positive than negative; however, I wonder if it is not time to re-think this position. 

At the root of this re-evaluation are fundamental questions about the tangible benefits to our societies of these much vaunted belief systems, which neither Christians nor Muslims have been pressed to offer.      Then of course there is mounting evidence about the nagative impact of faith which more recently appears overwhelming.

Peter W. Wickham is a political consultant and a director of Caribbean Development Research Services (CADRES). Email  [email protected]