Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Moving Beyond Faith and Doubt...

One of the great conflicts of the so-called "modern world" has been the battle between religion and science, or faith and doubt, or gullibility and skepticism, or... well, you get the picture. The increasing spitefulness and anger manifested in these arguments may be yet another sign that the present "post-modern" era is really a kind of heightened, intesified modernism rather than a new epoch or historical period.

The recent published work of Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins have made the best seller lists, and more than a few religious writers have sought to counter their attack.

I'm seldom satisfied with such polemic, finding this insight from Father John Garvey to be a helpful recasting of the argument:

"There has been an interesting recent debate about faith and doubt, religious belief and atheism. Andrew Sullivan, a Catholic and the author of The Conservative Soul (HarperCollins), and Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation (Alfred A. Knopf), have had at it on the Web site Beliefnet. Harris argues that all religion is lethal, and that those Christians who are not fundamentalists don’t really understand that religion inherently tends toward fundamentalism and intolerance. Sullivan counters this, in his book and in the course of this debate, by emphasizing the role that reasonable doubt plays in any serious theology. Doubt is, in a sense, a form of humility.

On the whole, I agree with Sullivan’s approach, although there is a danger here. This approach could be seen more as a way of hedging your bets than as a form of faith-a way of half believing, as it were: after all, you could be wrong.

And of course you could be. Sullivan is right to stress humility and a respect for the opinions of others. But there may be a more effective way to approach this. Rather than emphasize doubt, it might make more sense to speak of the place out of which one believes-the community of faith, the tradition, the thing handed on to you.

Rather than say that I know what I believe, I think it is closer to the truth to say that I know the framework within which I believe, and doubt, and wonder. I know the persons who move and compel me-Paul, the saints, people I have known whose lives and witness matter deeply to me, all of them gathered in sometimes complicated ways in an assembly into which we are baptized, and within which we share the Eucharist...

Read it all here.