Below is one of my essays to be published in some regional papers.
Who Shall Properly Defend Faith?
I have entered into a number of debates recently on a subject of crushing importance to world society. Few would argue that the role of religion in current and historical world conflicts is not significant. Indeed, many conflicts have faith as their central engine. I would argue that, were it not for the warring Sunni and Shiite Islamic sects, most of our troops would be home from Iraq. The Iraqi people might even have a fighting chance at creating a government based on human rights and the rule of law.
The debates that I have entered into generally revolved around the discussion of whether religion is good or bad for society. After much deliberation on those discussions, I see two points that never seem to get addressed adequately; neither in my debates nor in those that I have read from others far more scholarly than myself.
Point 1: Distinguishing extremists from moderates. Every thinking person (as near as I can tell) recognizes the extremists of any faith as being the “problem child” of that faith. It is the extremists that fly planes into buildings. It is the extremists that relegate women, minorities, and other segments of society to second-class stature. It is the extremist that kills in the name of their deity. (I speak of ALL Judeo-Christian faiths) Every thinking person would like to stop those perversions of logic. As a result of my debates, though, it is becoming clearer to me that believers consider the extremists to be a separate entity which should be addressed separately while leaving their moderate faiths untouched and unchallenged. Many non-believers, on the other hand, see moderates and extremists merely as points on a continuum. Both moderates and extremists interpret the same holy texts to get the message and the justification that best suits their stance and actions in the world. Hence, the non-believer feels that only through challenging the ENTIRE faith, can extremism be addressed; this, at the cost of moderate faith also.
Point 2: The provenance of the holy books. All the Judeo-Christian faiths officially purport their holy books to be the inerrant word of God. During debates, this is invariably thrown down as a challenge to the believers. I have YET, to see anyone adequately defend this attack on scripture.
It is here where I throw down the gauntlet. Believers need to defend their holy books in an intellectually sound way. Hint: Do not ask non-believers to read your holy book and “see the truth”. I would ask you to read “To Kill a Mockingbird”. There is truth in that book too, but no one claims it to be of anything but of human origin. Non-believers (and believers) need to understand why you think your book comes from a divine pen while no others have such origin.
Believers need to demonstrate that extremists are clearly distinct from moderates . . . and identifiable as such. I have to say, that this will be a supremely difficult challenge. After all, moderates and extremists are working from the same owner’s manual. It takes very little effort to cite clearly unambiguous passages on genocide, treatment of women, slavery, homosexuality, and more. Moderates simply choose to exclude them from their discourse and, hence, become moderate. The extremists simply do less editing.
Belief is the target of every increasing scrutiny and belief is no longer immune from criticism. In my humble opinion, addressing the points above is crucial to the defense of faith. Take on the challenge for yourself. You may find a new truth yourself.