A number of individuals believe religion is a moral evil and a destructive force to be shunned. They propose that a world with no faith in God would be a better place since this belief defies logic and reason.
These arguments are not novel. Some public intellectuals have added their own contributions to the debate. Richard Dawkins’ book, “The God Delusion,” topped the best-sellers list. This rather bleak read was followed by a more engaging and entertaining polemic by Christopher Hitchens; the provocatively titled “God is not Great.”
These books present some legitimate concerns regarding religious fundamentalism. Nonetheless, the criticism they level against believers demonstrates a lack of understanding on the nature of faith. Their arguments against the existence of God can be somewhat puerile.
In a recent article for The Spectator, Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks addresses some arguments put forward by new-atheists: “if they could show that the first chapters of Genesis are not literally true… (then) the whole of humanity’s religious beliefs would come tumbling down like a house of cards.”
He asks: “Whatever happened to the intellectual depth of the serious atheists… Where is there the remotest sense that they have grappled with the real issues, which have nothing to do with science and the literal meaning of scripture and everything to do with the meaningfulness or otherwise of human life, the existence or non-existence of an objective moral order, the truth or falsity of the idea of human freedom, and the ability or inability of society to survive without the rituals, narratives and shared practices that create and sustain the social bond?”
In order to grapple with such questions, faith is not necessarily required. However, faith can offer an invaluable insight which enriches our understanding. Pope Francis opens his encyclical letter Lumen Fidei by asking whether faith is an illusory light. He acknowledges that some view faith as being of value only to those who require comfort in their lives rather than “something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way.” Nonetheless, pure reason devoid of faith still presents a future which “remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown.” In foregoing the light of faith, we are hanging on to “smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way.” Faith, on the other hand, is unique “since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence.”
Faith and reason enrich our understanding since both are essential to one another. The encyclical Fides et Ratio describes them as: “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” Faith without reason “runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition,” whilst reason without an adult faith, “is not prompted to turn its gaze to the newness and radicality of being.”
Benedict XVI gave believers and non-believers alike a great opportunity to think about the nature of faith. During the Year of Faith it would be pertinent to ask: would the world be a better place without faith?
This question merits consideration because of the implication it has for humanity. The rejection of faith in God has led to a search for alternatives. According to Lord Sacks, the destructive political creeds of Communism and Fascism led to more “pacific forms of idolatry, among them the market, the liberal democratic state and the consumer society, all of which are ways of saying that there is no morality beyond personal choice so long as you do no harm to others.” This gave birth to a society which prizes “materialism, individualism and moral relativism.”
He concludes: “a century after a civilization loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.” This is indeed a pressing matter; what sort of humanism are we striving to cultivate? What sort of ethic and vision do we seek to foster? What underlying values – if any – inform our choices? The exclusion of the “light of faith” in this quest would leave us bereft of an important and enriching insight.