Thursday, October 23, 2008

What Sets Religion Apart from Other Faiths?

In life we are governed by faith. We believe in a lot of things. I believe that if I push something it will move. Newton made a law out of it. We believe that the law is valid everywhere in the universe. But do we really know that? Have we pushed every thing in the universe with every possible force? We have not. Where does our belief spring from, then? It is a matter of faith.

Then there is religious faith. People believe that there is God -- with a capital G -- and he tells us to lead our lives in a certain way.

There is economic faith. Some believe free markets are the door to salvation. Others believe it's central planning.

What sets religion apart from other beliefs? It is the fact that religion is seen not as something man made but god given. Who asks you not to sin. It is not the pundit or the padri. It's God. Atributing a faith to a superhuman entity propels it beyond the realm of questionability. And it is this non-questionability that is problematic with faith of any sort.

Religion is not the only non-questionable faith. The theory of racial supremacy espoused by Hitler was one such faith. He attributed to aryan supremacy to genetics: something that was beyond human control . It was just something that mother nature, God, whoever did. It was not changeable. It was not questionable.

Other faiths can succumb to unquestionability too. Just a few days back I was talking to a friend who insisted that capitalism was the “most natural” manifestation of human “nature”. It was unquestionably the most natural system of economics. She could as well have been reading out from the scriptures.

Moral of the story. Faiths that are unquestionable are dangerous.

PS: I wonder if the concept of questionability links to the concept of falsifiability in science. If yes, then questionability becomes a fundamental principle of what is called “rational” thought. Please note, however, that questionable does not mean false. It just means that there must be a method to “test” an assertion. Anything that is not testable is irrational.

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1 comment:

  1. Interesting post, Vinod. My two dinars:

    I agree with you on resisting blind faith. But I suspect a theologian's response would be to point to your, ahem, unquestioned faith in questions. Is Popper's theory falsifiable, for example? A theologian would argue that justifying reason using reason is just as unreasonable as asking the faithful to be skeptical about their faiths.

    Perhaps it's better to rely on technology and its artifacts. Technology is very good at undermining blind faith, because it replaces questions of truth with considerations of efficiency. We don't rely on God to protect tall buildings from lightning anymore because we now have more efficient means. The lightning conductor is a very potent argument against the divine origin of thunderbolts. Similarly, Jayant Narlikar has a great anecdote about Nana Phadnavis and the superiority of pumps over prayers.

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