Dec 21 2007

Personal Faith in politics

Jamie Barrows
White vs Black

The other day I got an invitation on Facebook from a friend. The invitation was to join an online poll.

The poll was put out by ABC News and the question was “What role should the personal faith of a President play in his/her decision-making?

The choices in the poll were as follows.

  • Not sure
  • It should not play any role
  • It should play a balanced role with other considerations
  • It should play a strong role

I didn’t join the poll, but it did get me thinking about the question. And that made me realize that the entire poll was wrong. No matter what you believe about God, religion, or life, there is no right answer to the question asked. It’s a trick question.

Your personal faith is your world view. It is how you believe the world works, and what you believe your place in it is. It is what you use to decide right from wrong, and it is what you use as a measurement and guideline for everything you do. You can’t divorce it from your decisions. So how can you even question how strong a role it should play?

The majority of the participants in the poll voted that “It should not play any role.” Most of them posted comments to go with their vote that expressed sentiments stating the President should do what is best for the country. Or that he/she should attempt to be fair to all religions. But aren’t those both aspects of personal faith?

How does the President decide what is best for the country? What does he/she use as a guideline to know what is best? The President uses his/her belief about how the world works. And what he/she believes is right or wrong. There isn’t any other way to decide what is “best” than to use what he/she believes about the world.

And as for fairness towards all religions, isn’t that also an aspect of personal faith? A belief in personal responsibility and the freedom of religion is the only thing that can ensure “fairness” towards religions that are not your own. That belief comes from your world view. Which is entirely based on your personal faith. This applies even if your “personal faith” is Atheism.

Your personal faith is what you believe about how the world works. And whether you believe in Atheism, Humanism, Christianity, Islam, or any other belief system, it will and must affect every decision you make. It isn’t possible to divorce it from your decision making process. Because it is part of how you think!

I know some people will say that Atheism should not be included as a “personal faith.” The objection being that atheism is a belief in nothing, or is an absence of belief. And they may be right, but it is still a decision about how the world works. And it still affects all decisions and aspects of a person’s life. So I think in the context of the question in the poll, it fits right in.

Oct 22 2007

Is freedom of religion under attack?

Jamie Barrows

Stained Glass

We have a concept in modern Western culture called “Freedom of religion.” It’s not a concept that has always existed in Western cultures, but rather something that was painfully grafted on. Hundreds of wars have been fought over this concept, and millions of our ancestors have died fighting over it.

It’s one of the most basic freedoms a person can have. The right to decide for yourself what to believe about God. It is not something to be taken lightly. And that right isn’t something that should ever be taken away. But lately some very vocal and highly respected voices are being raised against our freedom.

Today’s attacks on religious freedom aren’t coming from the same groups and areas that they have in the past. Historically, attacks of freedom of religion come from religion itself. Other religions, or sects within a religion will attempt to impose their beliefs on everyone. We are used to that kind of attack and are quick to condemn it. But these attacks aren’t coming from that direction, they are coming from the secular side. The anti-religion groups.

You might say that that is nothing new. After all, secular institutions and organizations have long been against religion. Particularly Christianity. And that is true. Secular Universities and colleges have long taught that religion is outdated and wrong. Atheist organizations have openly attacked religion and a belief in God. Nothing new there. What’s new is that the attack has begun to change from an attack on religion’s tenets and beliefs, to an attack on the right to even believe those believe those things.

Increasingly the message is that tolerating religion in modern society should not be done. And that religion, in any form, is harmful and detrimental to society. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this video of a lecture given by Sam Harris. He is working on a doctorate in neurology at Stanford University and is also the author of a book called “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.”

The video is kind of long, and a little dry at times, but worth listening through to the end. Here are just a few quotes from the video that jumped out at me.

“Faith is a sign that there is something wrong with your mind. It is a sign that you cannot be trusted”

“They[speaking of Christian beliefs] are really the responses of a madman or an idiot”

The message of his video is that religion should not be tolerated by modern society. His book contains much the same message. If he was just writing a book that said this, or just giving lectures on it, I wouldn’t really pay much attention. After all, lots of people write all kinds of things that aren’t good. Most of them are ignored by the mainstream. But what is scary is that he and others with the same message, are getting a lot of attention and respect in our educational institutions and media.

You say, so what? So what if atheists and agnostics believe that religion is harmful. They don’t believe in God anyway. So it isn’t much of a stretch for them to believe that religion is harmful to society. The problem is that in the past, religious freedom was something they would have fought for just as hard as you and I would. Because it is the right to believe whatever you want to believe that has allowed atheism to be a viable and acceptable world view.

Now, influential atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris are telling other atheists that tolerance of religion itself should not be tolerated. And people are paying attention. If religion is not to be tolerated, then how much longer will it be before people start calling for laws prohibiting religion. Don’t get me wrong, they aren’t calling for laws against religion now, they are just calling for intolerance of religion. But it does logically follow that if something is harmful and not to be tolerated, then it should be outlawed. That’s why I’m worried.

Is there anything you or I can do about it? Well not much. They have every right to say these things and believe them. Just as you and I have the right to say and believe what we believe. The only thing you and I can do is make sure that the right to believe what we want to believe isn’t taken from us. How do we do that? By exercising our right to vote. And by making sure that those we vote for will support our right to believe what we want to believe. No matter what that is.

Oct 8 2007

Tolerance and love – A few more thoughts

Jamie Barrows

Sand Heart

Why can’t we all just agree to disagree? Why do we have to fight and argue about our beliefs? I’m not asking people to like each other, just that we not fight all the time.

On my other blog, I posted a video demonstrating cymatics. I thought the shapes and patterns generated by the sound waves, were pretty cool. Obviously other people agreed with me because it started getting a lot of hits. And then it got stumbled, and I started getting thousands of hits. That’s a good thing, right?

At some point, someone posted a comment about the wonders of God’s creation. basically praising God and expressing amazement at what He has built into his world. Someone else posted a similar comment. There was no attack, or condemnation of others in either of the posts. Just some simple praise for God.

Shortly after that, the conversation went downhill. Someone else posted a comment attacking the first two. Saying that there was no god, and that the earlier commenter’s were stupid for ascribing to god what was nothing but simple science. I posted a rebuttal to his comment, telling him that everyone has a right to their beliefs, and that there was no cause for attacking them when they were simply expressing their beliefs.

After that, the comments attacking Christianity and anyone who believed in God, got a lot worse. Since it is my blog, I get to moderate the comments. Which is really a good thing. Because I deleted a lot of the comments that were using seriously excessive amounts of language and were saying very nasty things that were just uncalled for. My rule on comments is if they are using excessive language or are comparing other people to various body parts, they get deleted. I also don’t like advertisements, :)

All of this made me feel like the atheists, who were the ones doing most of the attacking, were simply intolerant and very much hypocrites. After all, it is usually atheists in the media and in colleges that are preaching and pushing tolerance. And now here it’s the atheists that are attacking Christians for simply expressing their beliefs.

I was feeling like I was so much better than they were. Saying to myself, “Christians wouldn’t stoop to that level.” But then I realized how stupid that thought was. We Christians aren’t really any better at this than anyone else. We may not preach tolerance, but we do preach love. And what are most of the mainstream Christian groups doing? They are actively hating and attacking anyone who believes differently.

Jesus said that the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God, is to love your neighbor. You’re supposed to love him/her the way you love yourself. How can you show love to a person that you are attacking? God loved us so much that he let us kill his son! And that is the example we are supposed to be following.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying our differences should be ignored. or that they should be glossed over. Beliefs are important, and should not be abandoned in the interest of love or unity. But standing up for what you believe, does not mean you have to attack others. There is nothing wrong with agreeing to disagree. No matter what side you are on and no matter what the belief may be.

Towards the end of the comment thread, many people started posting comments that seemed to echo some of what I’m saying here. We can just agree to disagree, without having to attack each other. I just wish more people had that view.