Who Can Properly Defend Faith - Feedback

Below are several published letters in response to my essay "Who Shall Properly Defend Faith". My response follows, but but has yet to be published. You can read the original essay [here].

Misuses of religion does not render faith invalid
I would like to share my thoughts on the recent letter to the editor titled “Who can properly defend faith?”The author asks whether extremists (many of whom are said to be the cause
of major world conflicts) and moderates in a given religion are not distinguishable from each other since their sources are the same. I think this question raises another: Are faith, religion and the actions some people take in the name of their religion one and the same? I would answer no.

Faith, by one definition is individual and personal. By another definition, “a faith” is similar to “a religion” which is more widely scoped and organized. What people do in the name of their religion is up to the individual’s free will. Sadly, as the author mentioned, much evil has been done in the world in the name of religion, including the unrest in the Middle East, the long-standing conflict in Northern Ireland between Protestants and Catholics, and even the crucifixion of Jesus.

The next question: Do these misuses of religions render religion invalid and evil for society? My
answer is no — it only points out more emphatically how vitally significant religion is to humans and how important it is to understand its concepts. The Islamic religion is based on submission to God’s will, and a cohesive existence. The Judeo-Christian religion (to over-simplify it) is based on love and service to God and fellow humans. In the Gospels, Jesus used the Pharasees and Scribes (who were authorities of the Jewish religion at the time) as examples of misuse and hypocrisy. His regard for them was an example of honoring your faith, but not letting those who misuse it define it for you.

The author challenges readers to defend their holy books in an intellectually sound way. Here’s one defense of the Holy Bible: Jesus referred to scriptures repeatedly during his ministry, thereby validating them. How do we know Jesus was the son of God? Because, besides his teachings, which were profound and radical for his time, he left us a legacy of his actual flesh and blood, miracles, apparitions by his mother, and the saints as modern day witnesses, among other things. A saint is only declared so upon proof of a miracle performed in his name or having been party to one himself while alive. The miracle has to be proven as an occurrence which defies natural law.

Also many saints’ bodies have been found to be pure; not subject to decay after death (another miracle). So we are given many validations of this religion, if we want to find them. Another
proof is the effect prayer and truly living according to one’s faith has on their lives, and that of their loved ones. An organization called Prison Fellowship Ministries can give numerous examples of this.

What about the hundreds of societies in the world who use their religion as their code of living and they have peaceful, harmonious, and productive lives? We don’t see them in the news, but they make up a big part of our world.

Rita S******

Send letter-writer to Iraq for peace

After reading Mike Burns’ letter “Who can properly defend faith?” it is obvious that his wisdom can be used for the cause of peace. Since there are very few car bombings of Methodists by Episcopalians in the U.S., his talents are wasted in this country.

I am asking [this newspaper] to send him to Iraq, where he can show the Sunnis and Shiites the error of their ways. He can supply the paper with a series of articles about his efforts. While we American Christians may not appreciate him, I’m sure he would be recognized as a great teacher by the factions in Iraq. If he succeeds, I’d be the first to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Thomas Z******
St. Charles

What follows is my response to the letter writers above, but it has yet to be published.

Ms. S******, Mr. Z****** and Faith

While I do not feel this “letters” forum is the place to conduct an ongoing debate, I feel compelled to respond to critiques of my letter “Who can properly defend faith?”. Ms. Scobey maintains the validity of scripture because Jesus himself referred to them repeatedly. Were it established as fact that, indeed, Jesus was the divine son of God, her argument might carry some weight. If it is not obvious, my position is that there is no compelling evidence for divinity anywhere in history.

As far as her proofs of his divinity (miracles, apparitions, and saints corpses) . . . I must say I am profoundly under-whelmed. In fact I am surprised that these can be tendered as arguments not thinking that they could be challenged. I have been doing research on the documentation and validation of miracles and, to be honest, I find rigor and independence to be laughably absent. I can honestly say that, should I see real, verifiable evidence of something that defies the laws of nature (restoring a lost limb, parting a sea), I would be among the first to acknowledge a failure of my hypothesis. Unfortunately, it would seem that many believers are not so open-minded to evidence.

Apparitions are similarly unconvincing. Seeing vaguely feminine human features in an office window or in a cheese sandwich is hardly evidence. We see random craters and geological lunar features as the man in the moon. It does not take much to make the human animal see faces . . . we are hard-wired to do just that. When a weeping statue or some other such phenomena is subjected to real scrutiny; none hold up. Even a small group of like-minded people seeing the same thing has plausible psychosocial explanations.

In regards to the “pure” bodies of deceased saints not decomposing; please let me know where they are. I would like to see them. If I can, I will bring a couple universities in tow. Assuming that these bodies did not have some other form of preservation, this would be very important. Unfortunately, the only examples that I am aware of have been found to have preservation techniques applied to them.

Finally, Ms. Scobey offers the proven healing power of prayer. Indeed, it has been demonstrated that prayer has been shown to be effective in a number of regards. It has also been shown that placebos are similarly effective. A very large, rigorous, double-blind university study on the effectiveness of prayer demonstrates clearly that prayer is only as effective as placebo. I do not wish to deny anyone the comfort of prayer, but facts are facts.

I was amused at Mr. Zeiser’s letter lauding me as a great teacher of peace to be sent off to Iraq to be beheaded. He says that “we American Christians” may not appreciate my commentary. He is absolutely right; many believers do not appreciate criticism . . . ever. He further (and accurately) assessed that there are not warring factions of Christian faiths here in the states. We can thank our secular government for that stability. Unfortunately, as comparatively tame as things are here, we still have faith demonizing segments of the population, subjugating women, stifling medical research, trying to drive public policy and change the secular “holy grail” that we Americans have in our U.S. Constitution. All this because of an (arguably) indefensible holy book.

I do not challenge Christianity. I challenge mythology, superstition, and the supernatural. In the end, I do not care what anyone believes as long as it doesn’t affect me or my neighbors.

Mike Burns


PhillyChief said...

Do these misuses of religions render religion invalid and evil for society?

How can any of those uses be absolutely defined as "misuses"? They all have commands to kill among other things in their texts. Is there an instruction manual, a chart to navigate the text showing which parts to follow and which to ignore? No, there are not; therefore, you can't absolutely prove any use is a misuse if the instructions for said use are in the text. You also can't claim anyone is misguided or crazy for following those parts of the text either.

The one evil that all religions have in common is ambiguity. It's ambiguity that allows for two people to read the same book and one become a quaker and the other to burn people alive, for Rachman to create a paradise of intellectual pursuit and religious tolerance in Andalusia and Ayotollah Khomeni to order a fatwa on Rushdie for writing a book.

FVThinker said...

You hit on an important point that I try to make as often as I can. The various Abrahamic faiths have their individual owners manuals. Following these texts literally creates what most would refer to as extremists. Those that discard the most from these texts are the 'enlightened' ones.