Critical faith and dynamic religion

Several religions and schools of thought have emerged throughout the history of mankind. Almost always, religions attract followers by the promise of giving meaning to human lives, which serves to help them make their peace with the fact that they are not immortal. In many of these religions, a crucial task of the followers is to have faith, e.g. in the religious stories, religious instructions, religious leaders, etc. In this short essay, I want to discuss my ideas about the interrelated concepts of “critical faith” and “dynamic religion”. I first discuss the function of faith in religions. Then, I discuss why the traditional style of “faith” could be harmful to individuals in specific and society in general. Finally, I discuss my ideas on how to resolve the mentioned challenges, such that one could still be religious but simultaneously avoid the mentioned harms.

Usually, the religions assert that the people who have a stronger faith, have a more chance of redemption. In the traditional sense, the meaning of having strong faith in an idea is to believe in it so strongly that nothing can change that belief. In many cases, the religions have a self-protective mechanism that encourages the followers to have stronger faith. For example, this mechanism could be in the form of heaven and hell: if people have strong faith they go to heaven but people with weak faith might go to hell, which could mean eternal resentment. In extreme cases, such a self-protective mechanism creates intense internal fears inside people’s minds, which can act as a dogmatism firewall that keeps any different thought or perspective out.

The mentioned dogmatism could internally take away the individuals’ free will, which allows the religious leaders, political parties, or other entities to abuse and manipulate the individuals for their own unjust purposes. Ironically, sometimes the direction that these individuals take is even contradictory to the essence of the same religion they are following but they become too blind to see it. Examples of these cases are people who fight for the Islamic State or People who, in the name of religion, are manipulated to vote in favor of a specific political party in democratic countries. When such religions have many dogmatic followers, the outcome is the emergence of powerful and tyrannic people or parties with unrighteous goals, without any effective backlash from society.

The remedy to the explained dogmatism is to have “critical faith”, meaning that we constantly challenge our beliefs with an unbiased perspective, as much as we can. This can be done by not accepting any idea to be true 100% and by learning the materials that are against our beliefs, rather than merely surrounding ourselves with the materials that further reinforce our “faith” through confirmation bias. Ideally, this practice should enable us to think about a subject from different perspectives, rather than just depending on our initial religious perspective.  Eventually, the process of critical thinking and having critical faith may lead to modifications to our religion and belief system, thus making our religion dynamic. It might even take a toll on our initial faith to the extent that leads to a change of religion. However, we should not be afraid since such a transformation is a small step in the path of personal development and intellectual growth. A society of individuals with critical faith and critical thinking is not easy to be tricked or manipulated, leading to the constant development of the society, not only in the intellectual aspects but also in the economic, social, and other aspects.

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5 Responses to Critical faith and dynamic religion

  1. Logan Perry says:

    Ali,

    I love the direction you took with your post. We talk a lot about critical thinking and critical pedagogy in the context of education, but less often with respect to religion. I think people often subject themselves to confirmation bias, only surrounding themselves with ideas that support their beliefs, as you said. To progress as a society, it is essential that people approach religion (and education) with a critical lens, developing their own understanding instead of simply adopting the beliefs of those around them. Thanks for your post!

  2. silknets says:

    Ali,

    I really liked your post, and I commend your ability to discuss a charged subject academically! As a scientist, I often find that my peers have absolutist views towards religion – that because faith necessitates some element of the untestable, that it is ripe for abuse and can itself be dangerous. I do agree with aspects of that stance (namely that religion can be abused), and I respect my peers atheist and agnostic beliefs. But at the same time, I feel that through nuance and mutual respect, we can achieve what you call “critical faith”. If I take religion and constantly challenge my beliefs as I am exposed to new ideas and perspectives, I will be able to let my faith grow without being blinded. In this way, I feel that open-mindedness and reflection are essential components to being both faithful and scientific.

  3. maftouni says:

    I also think that we should be open to hearing each other and not surround ourselves with only like-minded people. While this might be more convenient for us in the short-term, it will not benefit either us or the society we live in in the long term. You can see how society changes and thrives with diversity in beliefs and ways of living.

  4. HokieInstructor says:

    I wonder if your conclusion is really true, that “A society of individuals with critical faith and critical thinking is not easy to be tricked or manipulated, leading to the constant development of the society, not only in the intellectual aspects but also in the economic, social, and other aspects.” Is this like the hope of universal education, that democracy depends on a basic education level for people to be able to think about politics and society? Would everyone need to be “critical thinkers” or just the ruling elites that manipulates our environments? I definitely think it is better for people to challenge their beliefs than not to, but I was just curious about what a whole society that does this would look like? Would there be room for faith in God in such a society?

  5. deryaipek says:

    Ali, thank you for this thought-provoking post which is also very familiar to me as a Turkish. I like the way you recontextualized critical pedagogy as critical religion. Unfortunately, although being the only secular and democratic Muslim country, Turkish people are very prone to manipulation that is fueled by “the dogmatism firewall of the religion.” Education has a very big role in it because while education tries to support the aim that people have strong faith (with religion classes), in none of the classes is critical thinking taught. In fact, in all of the societies, as bad as it sounds, education is formed in a way that makes people less prone to think critically and more manageable because more rigor is required to govern a society that is able to think critically and objectively. Fortunately, higher education is a place that breaks this chain to a certain point. As teachers who are going to touch lots of lives, it is crucial that we incorporate critical thinking into our pedagogy.

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