The Reality of Faith
In last Friday’s edition of The Tech, Matt Craighead argued that religious belief undoubtedly leads to evil, and that religion is to blame for the recent terrorist tragedies. Such an extreme thesis is as wrong and dangerous as it is shocking. It has no defense and insults and threatens the many members of the MIT community who are also people of religious faith.
It is remarkable, that in a piece devoted to the power of reason, Craighead is willing to commit a clear logical error while defending his idea. His logical error results from equating the actions of a small group of individuals with the larger group of which they are a part. He argues that “belief in any sacred religious text will undoubtedly lead to evil,” his evidence a few Islamic terrorists and a few abortion clinic bombers. While these actions are abhorrent, they are the acts of a few members of a much larger group. If Craighead’s thesis had any credibility, then we would live in a world of constant evil and violence, for there are over one billion Muslims on the world, and even more Christians. If religion undoubtedly leads one to become an evil person, then why do we not see evil acts from all these people as well? The answer is that only a very small number of people of religious faith pervert the faith to the degree where they reverse its teachings to justify the killing of innocent people.
What puzzles me is that Craighead refers to the people in his examples as fanatics. Does he not know that fanatics are not good indicators of a group at large? Using the same level of evidence Craighead offers, I might as well conclude that reading The Catcher in the Rye will undoubtedly lead one to shooting a member of the Beatles.
But it is true that Craighead attempts to defend his extreme view in another way. He quotes a particularly vivid section of the Koran, claiming that the section proves Islam is a religion bent on destruction of innocent people. He claims that if people just read the Koran they would realize this. This is just silly. While Craighead may be right to suggest that many political commentators have not read the Koran, many other people who have read the Koran believe that Islam is a peaceful religion. They are called Muslims. Craighead must explain why only a very small number of the one billion Muslims in the world resort to violence if he really wants to claim that Islam is not a peaceful religion.
Craighead’s final claim against religious faith argues that faith is intrinsically opposed to reason. But this is such a superficial view of faith that his argument is not applicable to real life. To him, the man of faith is a man who shuts off the reasoning part of his brain. Who takes the answer to every question, from what color socks he should wear to whether or not there is a God, on faith. No one lives like this. The man of faith does not abandon his reason but recognizes that some truths are unknowable and, after encountering an idea on a certain unknowable truth which he feels is reasonable, excepts it as true on faith.
Under this reasonable definition of faith it become clear that Craighead is a man of faith. He writes, “Faith means [you] shut your eyes and pray that a non-existent God...” Why is Craighead so sure that God does not exist? Certainly, he does not have a logical proof of the non-existence of God, for such a proof would be the philosophical achievement of the 21st century, and Craighead would be doing more important things right now than writing for The Tech. More likely, he has surveyed different views on the issue and concluded that it is reasonable to believe that God does not exist. He has taken a position on a question that is unknowable. In short, he has faith in God’s non-existence.
We all know that some questions can not be answered simply by logical reasoning. In fact, one of the intellectual achievements of the 20th century, GÖdel’s incompleteness theorem, tells us that any set of premises from which one is capable of deriving all truths of modern mathematics is insufficient to prove all true statements.
The sophisticated man of faith says simply this: science can tell me how the physical word operates, but I am also interested in the metaphysical world. I am interested in knowing if there is a God out there who can effect my life, I am interested in knowing why I exist, I am interested in knowing if my life has meaning. The man of faith confronts these questions and accepts answers. He accepts these answers, not because he has abandoned his reason, but because he knows there is no definitive answer, and he finds joy in the answers he accepts.
This is truly what faith is. It is a response to the uncertainty that is intrinsic in life. It is not just any response, but a powerful response that can transform one’s life. The power of Faith gave Mother Teresa, a small woman from Croatia, the strength to care for lepers of the streets of Calcutta. It sustains the many Christian missionaries caring for people throughout the world, and it provides hope to the American soldiers who are about to fight a war in Afghanistan. When cognizant of the power of faith to truly transform ones life, is there any doubt as to why people will choose faith over doubt when it comes to those life questions for which reason’s answer is ambiguous?
Finally, I want to express regret that Craighead’s article appeared in print at all. He is using the attacks of September 11th to promote his own personal viewpoint. He has entered the ranks of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, who have chose to blame certain groups for the attacks. Though Robertson and Falwell blame homosexuals, and Craighead blames religious people, make no mistake that they are both exploiting national tragedy to advance their own views. Such men should have the tact to wait at least until the dirt has settled on the victims’ graves, before exploiting their deaths.
More importantly though, Muslims have been the victims of violence all across our nation. A member of the MIT community has publicly said that, “[Muslims] better be 100% American or they will get what is coming to them.” At a time when Muslim in the MIT community fear for their safety, it is even more wrong to attack them as a group. When Craighead writes that Islam is a dangerous religion, he is implying something about the people who practice that religion. But these people are not to blame for the attacks, nor are their beliefs; to suggest so is immoral and irresponsible. On the off chance that anyone is convinced by Craighead’s article, and on the off chance that that person decides to seek revenge against those Craighead blames, we will know who will be responsible then.
At that time, Mr. Craighead will be to blame.