Caspar Melville: Wary of faith
New Humanist editor Caspar Melville on the benefits of a rather restrained optimism as opposed to an uncritical faith, religious or otherwise.
In the past few years, “faith” has become a synonym for religious belief. Where once you were a Christian or Jewish or believed in God or had religion, now you are a “person of faith”, dragging with you a whole “faith” agenda of inter-faith dialogue and faith initiatives and, of course, faith schools. And unlike some of the words to indicate a lack of belief, which used to be insults but have been turned into label of pride – heathen, Godless, blasphemer, atheist – the obverse of faith is hard to turn into anything positive sounding – you are simply faithless or perhaps unfaithful; in any event, you lack faith, which implies a deep cynicism, a problem with commitment or a dearth of go-getter-ness. Whichever way it’s said, it sounds like you are letting the team down.
Does it matter? The question implies that it does. It infers that great social progress has and can be achieved through the unified purpose, shared moral certainties with their attendant “simple prohibitions” and the dangling carrot of later rewards offered by religious belief, and without it, well, rampant individualism and regress. The two previous respondents, Peter Thompson and Mary Warnock, have both in their own ways made the case that hope and moral cohesion leading to faith in the future can be achieved without reference to religious belief. And very well made their cases are. But I’m not so sure we should rush so quickly to talk up a secular version of faith, at least not as it is practiced by religion and its shadow ideologies. Undoubtedly faith is a powerful force, but so is greed and so are hurricanes, and we would think twice before basing our hopes for social progress on either of them. What I’m trying to say is I am wary of faith.
Full article: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/belief/2010/oct/08/wary-faith-synonym-religious-belief
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