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A Crisis of Faith – The Internet and Religion

Science vs. Religion – I’m not venturing there; I don’t think they’ll ever kiss and makeup. The Internet and religion however: now I think they can be good friends.

I’m going to be deviating from my usual rule of not discussing religion.
Don’t be afraid, I’m not going to make a habit of it!

Last month Carl wrote a great, perceptive piece called The Rise of Atheism about how the Internet is facilitating a renaissance in popular atheism: religion – or lack thereof – is cool again. Of course it goes the other way with people “finding out about fundamentalism and how much fun it can be”, but does it go laterally? Is the widespread dissemination of information about different religions converting people, or are the religious majority stuck in a rut of belief about their ‘one true religion’?

Then, two weeks ago, Scott Young wrote an interesting article about Creating Your Own Religion . This resonated with me, as since Carl’s post I was also set on a thought path (or ‘internal conflict’) about my own religion that had been going on inside my mind for a couple of years: I was having a Crisis of Faith.

I wondered whether it was really possible to be relaxed with your religion and use it more as a philosophy on how to run your life rather than a mantra that dictates it? Can we convert not to or from religion, but into a new religion – or philosophical mindset – of our own devices? As Scott advocates, can I really experiment with my belief system, straying from the idealised, trodden path laid out by others, even if it is in direct contradiction with some definitive doctrine of it?

I believe so. We can modify our beliefs, straying from the accepted definition(s) or assumptions of religion without having internal conflict… of our religious, philosophical or scientific minds.

Many aren’t interested in categorising themselves as being in a certain faith’s organization however, and as such it’s the ‘core values’ that really matter to people, giving a ‘life meaning’ and some moral direction in which to live it. For others, having the definitive ‘direction’ that comes with categorisation is important and lends a helping hand. But then, of course, the bigger questions are important too (such as the afterlife: heaven/hell vs. reincarnation vs. endless nothingness) as they can dictate an actual real-life religious affiliation for those that want that guidance.

I’m sure all but the most ‘devout’ atheists have considered why they are here and what the ‘meaning of life’ is, even if for a fleeting second. This isn’t exactly important for the daily running of our lives, but finding answers to these questions in any given faith/philosophy allows us to find guidance on how to best live our lives and what the payoff of doing it in a certain way is (heaven in a religious sense, money and power for capitalist existentialist atheists (joke… sort of), or the moral high-ground from an Aristotelian viewpoint). Values and principles will guide our lives, whether we get them from interpreting a religious text, a philosophy book or from within ourselves. But finding them, interpreting them and living by them is an essential, important aspect of our lives. Without them, why would you live your life like you do?

To me, evolution is fact, and the Big Bang is practically undeniable; before this point, there was neither space nor time. Richard Dawkins is an intelligent man and Stephen Hawking is arguably more so. Yet while one refutes religion whole-heartedly, another allows space for belief in his scientific mentality and vehemently denies accusations that he is atheist (A Brief History of Time discusses God many times, at one point stating that it is wholly possible that a God initiated creation). Terry Eagleton said that “while faith, rather like love, must involve factual knowledge, it is not reducible to it”. I am a scientist in confusion, just attempting to collate my beliefs: as simple as that.

One question remains though. Does this make me religious, or am I now just an Agnostic with a moral philosophy?

Apologies if this post is written very eclectically and indiscriminately - my own confusion is compounding this when writing in a free-flow way; just typing the ideas that come to mind.
If you want me to define something, or if I’ve written something confusing, please comment and I’ll try and write a cohesive reply!

One Comment

  1. Posted April 20, 2007 at 14:35 | Permalink

    I think values and principles come from the community at large these days, not just from philosophy books and religions. I’m talking about my neighbors, who might scold me for littering, but I’m also talking about the media, which loves to push values and has a pretty strong grip. Sitcoms are at their core about exploring values and principles in an accessible way, in the safety of your living room. It seems like religions shaped these values for centuries, but in many parts of the world, their role is not what it once was. Art is not exclusively funded by religion anymore–like most things, it’s funded by atheist existentialist capitalists. If nothing else, this means there is more diversity of viewpoints.

    We have a radio host scandal going on in the states right now — the host Don Imus called a black women’s basketball team, “a bunch of nappy-headed hos” and was subsequently sacked. Barak Obama, a huge first amendment supporter, said of the incident, “Just because we can say something doesn’t mean we should.” He was referring to both Don Imus and to rappers who cash in with misogynistic lyrics. And I totally agree with him. But how do you enforce the “shoulds” and “should nots” of free speech? You enforce it by having a strong community that won’t allow hate-filled messages to get a wide audience– in one of two ways: either they lash out against it and burn the radio host at the stake in the town square, or they simply ignore it and deprive the host of his economic value. Lashing out has a potential consequence: it’s exactly what the radio host wants, up to a point. A reactionary public is, perhaps unknowingly, complicit with the provocateur’s aim for attention. On the other hand, one who ignores the radio host–as I do–could be called complacent. (So, what will it be, complicity or complacency?)

    I think we have to be careful about where, as a culture, we draw the line between hate speech and speech that inquisitively reveals some inconvenient truths about culture. There is the Malcolm X way of putting things and the MLK way of putting things, and different people respond to each. You could say that Malcolm X was spewing hate speech–but to some degree that’s overlooked because he had a very important impact on the civil rights movement. His messages were relevant, and his anger was to some extent justified because he was able to reach a huge group of people who MLK could not tap into.

    Anyway, what does this have to do with religion and values? Well, I feel religions arbitrarily draw the hate vs. inquiry line in the wrong place. It’s not OK in many religions to talk about equal rights, or to bring up the idea that humans are animals. These are philosophical and scientific ideas with very important consequences. But through the theistic lens, saying “humans are animals” can be seen as closed-minded hate speech–something to be railed against or ignored. Closed-minded because the provocateur doesn’t have faith, and hate speech because it goes against the religion’s long-standing values and traditions.

    I guess I’m responding to your post with a couple questions. One, do you still feel you need religion to dictate a set of values, especially if you’re going to go mucking around with them on your own? And second, while you are busy modifying your beliefs, how will you draw this line between hate speech and inquiry that you might not like hearing?