Sunday, April 12, 2015

Faith as a Source of Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy

 By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

            Faith has been described as being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see(Hebrews 11:1).  Faith is about our mystical relationship with God and is the source of those standards of morality and law that define the legitimacy of our human relationships.  The mystical and moral dimensions of faith are merged in the greatest commandment with the mystical command to love God and the moral command to love our neighbors as ourselves.
            Moses gave Jews the Law as God’s standard of faith and legitimacy, and it included the two components of the greatest commandment.  Jesus merged the two with the primacy of love over law.  In his teaching on sowing the seeds of faith Jesus likened faith in the word of God to seeds, some of which germinated and grew and others that withered and died (Mark 4:1-20).  Jesus described true faith as a child-like faith (Mark 10:13-16), and condemned the hypocrisy and sanctimony of religious leaders who emphasized the complex rules and rituals of Mosaic Law and ignored the primacy of love over law (Mark 12:38, 39).
            It may seem a bit odd that Thomas Jefferson included such teachings of faith in his collection of the moral teachings of Jesus, but Jefferson obviously understood that faith was the source of our standards of legitimacy and that they were so interwoven as to be inseparable.

            Religion is institutionalized faith, and today Christians and Muslims make up more than half of the world’s population.  While Christians now outnumber Muslims, Islam is the fastest growing religion.  Christianity and Islam are competitive and exclusivist religions that evolved from Judaism, and both claim the greatest commandment as a common word of faith; but their differences in faith, legitimacy and law are a source of conflict and violence.         
            Mystery has always been the realm of religion, and as advances in knowledge and reason have eroded many mysteries, religious doctrines and creeds have remained unchanged and lost much of their credibility.  More and more people are leaving institutional religion as Nones (no religious preference).  Even so, most of these refugees from religion have remained spiritual, with a faith that has been reconciled with reason.  While the number of Nones are projected to increase in the West, given the worldwide growth of Christianity and Islam, Noneswill decrease relative to the proliferation of Christians and Muslims.    

            A saying attributed to St. Augustine relates faith, belief and religion to reason and understanding: Seek not to understand so that you might believe, but believe so that you might understand.  In ancient times believers had little knowledge to explain the inexplicable, so it was only natural for them to look to religion for understanding.  As science has disclosed many of the mysteries once explained by religion, progressive believers have conformed their faith to advances in knowledge and reason, while fundamentalist believers have rejected any knowledge and reason that has challenged the ancient revelations of their religion.    

            Unlike believers, atheists reject any truth in divine revelation and put their faith in human knowledge and reason alone.  In so doing they ignore the existence of mystical realities such as spirituality that remain beyond the reach of human knowledge.  True wisdom accepts the limits of the human intellect.  While advances in knowledge will continue to erode religious truths, mysteries will continue to raise questions that require a mix of reason and revelation to answer. 

            Deductive reasoning is from the top down and based on divine revelations that reveal mysteries of the spiritual realm that are beyond the reach of human knowledge.  Inductive reasoning is from the bottom up and based on advances in human knowledge rather than on divine revelation.  In matters of legitimacy, advances in knowledge and reason reject revelations of holy law in favor of libertarian human rights and secular laws made by elected legislators. 

            Progressive believers should consider both revelation and reason in their search for truth.  Reason will continue to debunk the truths of ancient religious revelations, but it will never reveal or explain the mysteries of the spiritual realm.  It is just as absurd for atheists to reject all religious revelations based on knowledge and reason as it is for fundamentalist believers to reject all advances in knowledge and reason that conflict with their religious revelations.

            A group of distinguished Islamic scholars have affirmed the greatest commandment as a common word of faith for Christians and Muslims; but most Muslims are fundamentalists who believe the revelations of the Qur’an, including Islamic law (Shari’a), are immutable truths that take precedence over advances in knowledge and reason, and they reject modern concepts of politics and justice such as the freedoms of religion and expression.  In Islamic cultures apostasy and blasphemy laws compromise justice and legitimacy to protect Islam from criticism. 

            Fundamentalist religions promote rigid standards of morality and law that can deny justice, even in a democracy, unless there are civil and political human rights to protect minorities from a tyranny of the majority.  For religions to promote justice and freedom, their standards of legitimacy must be entirely voluntary, and they must embrace democracy, secular law and libertarian human rights, including the freedoms of religion and speech and the equal protection of law for women and religious minorities, as a matter of faith, reason and politics.        

Notes and References to Resources:

This topic is related to Lessons #13-15 (Faith and hypocrisy) in the J&M Book.

For related blogs, see Religion and reason posted December 8, 2014; The greatest commandment as a common word of faith, posted January 11 and January 25, 2015; Love over law, posted January 18, 2015; Faith and freedom, posted December 15, 2014; and Religion and human rights, posted February 22, 2015.                

On Thomas Jefferson’s understanding of the teachings of Jesus and how fundamentalist religions relate to legitimacy, see the Introductionto The Teachings of Jesus and Muhammad on Morality and Law: The Heart of Legitimacy at pages 10-14 and The Rest of the Story at pages 332-335; see also Religion, Legitimacy and the Law: Shari’a, Democracy and Human Rights.           .

On projections of Christians, Muslims and Nones in the world, see the Pew Forum report at

No comments:

Post a Comment