Statement from Rev. Harry T. Cook, Episcopal priest, St. Andrews Church in Clawson, Michigan, author and former editor of the Detroit Free Press
The words "faith" and "belief" have together become a corrupting and dangerous influence in the world. An imam, a would-be suicide bomber, a pope, a President of the United States--each is permitted to defend his choices by appealing to "faith," the validity of which one cannot determine and to "belief," which one is supposed to tolerate rather than challenge under the rubric of "everyone is entitled to his own opinion."By faith, the Crusades were undertaken; to defend belief, so-called heretics were incinerated; on faith, some people still believe Earth is but 6,000 years old and those who teach otherwise are anathema; for faith, 19 believers in Islam drove with murderous intent large aircraft into skyscrapers and a government building. In each and every case, the particular article of faith or tenet of belief is placed beyond empirical testing and open discussion. Warrant for trust in such articles and tenets springs from so-called sacred texts, the contents of which are also supposed to be beyond ordinary textual investigation, and which are to be taken as the express law and will of whatever god is imagined therein. "It says in the Bible," "It says in the Koran": these are the justifications given for so much of what the Scots poet Robert Burns called "man's inhumanity to man."
What is called for in the 21st Century is courage, not faith; knowledge, not belief. Courage is that which enables a person to seek for and deal with what is real, rather than what is imagined or wished for. Knowledge is that which is arrived at by observation and rationalized experience. Courage to seek and accept knowledge rather than relying upon blind belief in what some religious or political authority claims to be true is the key to establishing a just society.
It is an act of courage to face life knowing that one's light, one's truth, and one's strength are within one's own self and, because we are not unconnected in this world, in others. Such qualities do not repose in some unseen deity which may or may not be caring of our welfare. It is an act of courage to declare something to be factual because it fits with the known facts. It was an act of courage for Charles Darwin to have observed the fauna of GalÃ¡pagos Islands with no agenda other than finding out about it. It was an act of courage, not faith, that prompted Darwin to publish his all-important Theory of Natural Selection which, when married to genetics, has become the baseline of modern medicine.
The courage to search for and act upon knowledge regardless of sectarian demands will be what saves America from becoming a theocracy. History bears witness to the fact that widespread reliance upon faith in unseen deities or systems based upon appeal to deities and their alleged laws, always mediated by a ruling hierarchy and defended by personal preference, leads inexorably to theocracy, meaning government by ruthlessly applied central authority and suppression of dissent. It also goes by another name: fascism.
Uncritical tolerance of faith and belief systems will lead us there. A faith-belief-based system--a religion, in other words--must be judged on the behavior of its adherents toward others, and by no other standard. Where religion is used, especially in league with government, to restrict human rights, to bless unjust war, to maintain class supremacy, theocracy has come into its own. This must be resisted.