No neutrality in faith

No neutrality in faith

“There is no neutrality in faith; one is either for or against.” So said the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore in a recent statement advising Catholics not to attend a performance of Madonna when she came to the country recently. Leaving aside the question of whether such advice is prudent or wise, let us look at the core statement that one is either for or against faith. I don’t agree with it. I see many people who are ‘faith neutral’.

Some were brought up Catholics and practised their religion for many years of their life. Then they began to have doubts but not about the possibility that a force, an energy, a power, which may or may not be called God, may well exist. Difficult to know how creation could have begun spontaneously but, of course, as soon as you admit that you raise the question of who created the Creator. But some sort of force there may well be.

Whether that force, if it exists, is benign, neutral or malicious is then the central problem an aspiring believer must tackle. From an intellectual point of view any Creator who pays his created the honour of free will must be benign. The only true gift anyone can bestow on another is that of independence, perhaps with the ability to handle it – although that arguably would not be real independence. Whether we have free will is still not known. We certainly have some choice – more, apparently, than most species. Our increasing understanding of the brain suggests that our free will may be more limited than we originally assumed. But nobody can deny that we have choices.

Many people who think about these matters and who seem to ‘sincerely seek God’ – Pope Francis’s words, not mine – come to the conclusion that they simply didn’t know and that faith, requiring as it does absence of proof, is a matter of optimism.

My own personal journey has led me to see God in the eyes of my fellow human beings. My God is You. Whether this constitutes ‘faith’ I do not know but it suits me fine. I call it neutral.

Right or wrong, a belief in other people has practical consequences which are generally helpful. It dampens down tendencies to hate or despise with their frequent consequences of hurt and war. It promotes encouragement to better behaviour of even the most anti-social beings. It leads to help for the less advantaged and promotes desirable social responsibility. These are things that improve the lot of all living creatures.

What I have said so far is about belief in God. The institutions of religion are another matter. Like all institutions they are at times generous and beneficial and at other times self-serving and controlling – like humans. If the gift of a Creator is free will or independence then control is the exact opposite and the institution that exercises it would seem to be taking away the very thing that had been bestowed. A belief in you is in your future potential, not your past.

However, the practice of a religious belief is demonstrably often beneficial. It is a point of community – sometimes expressed as communion – with others. It provides opportunities for socially useful behaviour and a chance to be part of a group who share similar standards and ideals. When it demands that its faith is unassailable and must be believed by everyone is stops being beneficial and becomes threatening. There are many excellent religions to choose from. All the good ones have live and let live at the core of their rules.

A belief in those around you and their needs reaffirms the best religious teachings. That has made me personally very happy and I am truly grateful to whoever deserves my gratitude.