Understanding the conflict between Faith and Doubt

Understanding the conflict between Faith and Doubt

Einstein or Hawking would love to imitate intellectual discipline of great sages such as Sankara or Nagarjuna or Eckhart or Ibn Arabi

Hemingway and Abu al-Ala al-Maari stated that “All thinking men are atheists.” Clifford challenged the religious world with the proposition that “It is wrong always, everywhere, and for anyone, to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” Against this we find a statement in the Bible “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.” and in the Quran that God is a Manifest Truth and a great modern mind Berdyaev stating “Man can’t exist where there is no God.”  How do we understand such opposite statements while noting that most of the top ranking scientists and philosophers who supposedly seek evidence for any thesis are atheists?  What about many top ranking scientists/philosophers who affirm a sort of supra-personal intelligence of design and mystery instead of what is ordinarily called Designer or Creator? I suggest attention to few points to help see how dialogue between what are dubbed godless scientists/philosophers and advocates of religion may move forward. 

I.One needs to note that God is not a problem for world religions and there is hardly any anxiety to drill a belief in personal God on the basis of authority. Belief in a personal God has not been the defining feature of any religion – and some have in fact little use for the idea or simply eschew it as ordinarily understood. The Quran focuses fundamentally on Tawhid (Unity of the Real) and not what is called existence of God. C. R. Jain’s work Key to Knowledge frames the question of God in world religions from Jaina nontheistic viewpoint. Non-Semitic religions don’t mind divergent pictures of God defended or attacked by theists and their critics. Religions have commitment to salvific/enlightenment projects for which personal God may or may not be invoked – Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism-Taoism, transtheistic currents in Hindu thought and transtheistic metaphysical ground of Semitic religions all eschew/relativize in relation to the transpersonal depth of Being/Real/Absolute personal God under attack in modern disbelief. Einstein and Hawking would not be very interesting critics regarding personal God for mystical traditions of Semitic religions. Foremost authorities on world religions find profound convergence between Buddhism and Islam on non-self/God or Absolute. 

II.There is a thin line between atheism and transtheistic metaphysics shared by world religions. The debate should not be seen from the prism of exoteric theologians but metaphysicians/mystics. Einstein or Hawking would love to imitate intellectual discipline of great sages such as Sankara or Nagarjuna or Eckhart or Ibn Arabi. Authority of Revelation follows from recognition of “authority” of intellect over reason and requires what is called great discipline of attention of  attuned intelligence or intellectual humility, a virtue emphasized by religions and implicitly by science if it is true to its commitment to intelligence and truth anywhere.

III.Real knowers/gnostics don’t talk of this world and the other world, man and God and belief and disbelief in terms of absolutized binaries as Muslim sages and Sufi poets have observed. 

IV.Kaufmann in his provocative The Faith of a Heretic has observed that “there are men who use ancient formulations of belief in order to express their own lack of belief, or at least beliefs very different from those of, say, the evangelists—men who use old terms in new ways. Aquinas already did this when he defined God as the pure act of being. Tillich does it today when he defines God as being-itself. Spinoza, who was frank enough about his many heresies, spoke of ‘God or Nature’; John Dewey, who did not pretend to be a theist, said, not without irony, that if God were defined as the active relationship between the ideal and the actual, he, too, could say that he believed in God.”

V.Tomas Halik in his insightful “Why Have You Forsaken Me? Five Theses on Faith and Atheism” has noted that “somebody who calls himself an atheist has a heart which is full of God and open to the mystery of love. For various reasons, his faith is not present in his conscious mind, in his rational thinking. This may be due to cultural influences or because of his upbringing or a traumatic experience with the Church, or a real lack of experience with the living Church and spiritual culture, authentic Christianity. Many such people have "an implicit faith" and we can call them with Karl Rahner "anonymous Christians." One could also call them “anonymous Muslims.”

To be seriously interested in religious and ethical questions even for the sake of refutation is already a form of piety if we note the point succinctly put by Hatab in his study of Heidegger.  “Accordingly, to ask about the good or ethical possibilities is to already be interested in ethics, as opposed to mechanical obedience, resistance, or a thoughtless indifference. To be-in-question, ethically, then, is to already be ethical in some sense.” 

A few remarks from Kierkegaard may help us approach the problem of atheism in religious terms “God cannot be an object of study, since God is subject. For this very reason, when you deny God, you do not harm God but destroy yourself. When you mock God, you mock yourself.” “It is wrong of established Christendom to say that Feuerbach (an atheist) is attacking Christianity. It is not true; he is attacking the Christians by demonstrating that their lives do not correspond to the teachings of Christ. This is quite different. What Christianity needs are more such traitors.” 

“There are many people who arrive at conclusions in life much the way schoolboys do; they cheat their teachers by copying the answer book without having worked the problem themselves.” In our attempt to seek authentically what is central to our destiny, doubt, atheism and heresies may prove milestones that are  not to be courted for their own sake but appreciated for the cleansing of the mind and soul and attacking complacent posturing of most believers . “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds” as Tennyson remarked. “To ignore the true God is in fact only half an evil; atheism is worth more than the piety bestowed on mythical gods” as Levinas noted in “A Religion for Adults.” Halik has also noted: “The struggle between faith and atheism is not a struggle between two teams, like in football. The struggle between faith and atheism runs through the heart of every human being. Believers have an unbeliever inside, and the so-called unbelievers have also a believer inside of them.” “Faith is doubt” as Emily Dickinson wrote is indeed enshrined in the first part of shahadah “there is no god…” Faith requires doubting every rational construction or imagined notion about the Truth.  With somewhat different connotation, “the Greatest Master” of Islam has emphasized etymology of belief as a knot and accordingly that perfect man can’t be attached to/limited by any belief.

Schuon’s essay “Concerning the Proofs of God” may be read to dispel the fuzzy thinking and polemics over the question of belief or God. Modern Thomists and Muslim theologians like Ayub Dehlavi and such sages as Mawlana Ashraf Ali Thanawi clarify certain key problems in the debates that otherwise generate much heat and little light.

Theistic framing of mysticism may be juxtaposed with non-theistic one. Such figures as Bugbie open new vistas for dialogue between atheism and mysticism. 

One may sum up in few lines the whole confusion on faith and doubt. What we are asked to believe in is not something, some object, some proposition, some ideological construction, some experience that one could possibly doubt or investigate in objective manner. God is our own depth or subjectivity and thus too near us, too existential a reality to be set apart for investigation. God is also a witnessing self that sees and makes all seeing, reasoning possible in the first instance rather than can be seen or scanned. God is a Mystery and not a problem as Marcel would put it. Doubt concerns problems, probable affairs or events. God is a percept and a process and doubt may be entertained regarding concepts and events. God is the name of Isness/Being that is affirmed in every act or idea. People can’t be, in any significant sense, divided on the question of Being/Mystery/Subjectivity. Debating and doubting God in the sense saints and sages understand the term is as absurd as considering doubting beauty, truth, joy, love, intellect, grammar, seeing and listening. Those who have problems with certain theistic account or absolutization of personal God include, among others, saints and sages of world religions. Regarding what is called supernatural and supposed to be discredited/made redundant or problematic by science and rationalist philosophy, one may suffice to note that if we include such things as veridical dreams, prophecy, the world of spirits/angelic beings, clairvoyance, clairaudience, telepathy, evidence of what are called miraculous events/healings, effect of prayer and survival of soul/spirit, there is ample evidence for professional scientists (a brilliant summary of all these is found in Mysteries and Miracles by Johnson) to take them seriously as scientists. A vast majority of professional scientists are convinced that evidence is conclusive and religion is on far securer ground now and has survived the frontal attack of reductionist science. The precise sense in which we may or may not legitimately use the term supernatural and supposed breach of what is called natural/spiritual laws in such phenomena needs elaborate discussion that is eschewed here. One may conclude by declaring that a) atheists have a point but that doesn’t concern or affect the thesis defended by saints and sages of world religions, b) there are hardly any atheists in the absolute sense (though significant divergences remain from the viewpoint of universal orthodoxy) amongst the most significant modern philosophers (one may mention here Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Derrida and Levinas, for instance) and scientists (Einstein, Plank, Pauli, Salam for instance).