Faith from the perspectives of a Scientific Agnostic and a Muslim.

Faith from the perspectives of a Scientific Agnostic and a Muslim who studies religion. John Russell showed us a DVD of a programme put out recently by Al Jazeera. Reza Aslan is a Muslim who studies religion and previously hosted a TV show in the US until it was taken off the air due to Islamophobic opposition. Laurence Krauss is a Science presenter on Discovery Science channel and a theoretical physicist and agnostic. These two discuss religion with Mehdi Hassan in the chair. Question: Is religion good or evil ? REZA, the Muslim, says it is both and we have to distinguish faith from religion; faith is about living and cannot be removed from humankind. Faith does not replace scientific facts, indeed it has and should incorporate science as shown by many and various believers who have engaged in science. Science came about through people who were not atheists. Faith is indeed a way of knowing and the basic property of faith is that it is experiential. LAURENCE, the agnostic, says that most religious people do not actually believe all the doctrines of the group to which they belong and although organised religion has committed evil, most religious people are good people. However, it is the scientific method that enables us to look at the world and there is no evidence of anything beyond. Science is the only way of knowing and the concept of God is not just irrelevant but unhelpful; that is why most scientists are atheists. Furthermore, religious institutions have usurped morality. Question: Are we outgrowing religion ? REZA says that we are not and although religion provides a means of identity that sometimes leads to difficulties, religious belief does change. More importantly faith is not in decline. LAURENCE says he is surprised by the number of people who still have a religious belief in spite of scientific progress, but more and more people do not believe many of the tenets of their chosen faith group. Religious moderates often provide a smokescreen for the fundamentalists. Question: Do you agree with Richard Dawkins that religious moderates inadvertently provide cover for fundamentalists ? REZA says that violence comes from absolutism which is not needed for faith and fundamentalists follow the former of these two. Faith is not about perfect beliefs but is a matter of identity and a way of life; it responds to knowledge and circumstances. People however will too often believe what they want to believe in a self-centred way. When their beliefs become absolute this is due to lack of true leadership by those who are given the task of studying and preaching. One example of this is found in those who refuse to accept the theory of evolution. LAURENCE says that religion preaches an 'in' group and an 'out' group thus encouraging conflict that leads to violence. The basis of this distinction is always about doctrines and dogmas with absolute teachings about rules of living that unnecessarily constrain people. This leads to fundamentalism. REZA says that faith is an integral part of human life and belief in God and the spiritual is not in decline. Whatever happens to religious institutions true faith goes on, because it is always moving on and evolving, never static. Much was said in subsequent discussion in our group, including the rather loose use of the words belief, religion and faith where their distinctions became blurred. One major point made was that within religions there is a system by which certain people tell others or share knowledge about the world and God; these people then use it to exercise power over others. ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Nigel Jones (21 April 2018)

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