Texas Faith :: The intellect and religious faith

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“Popular Christianity often seems to denigrate rather than celebrate intellectual life and critical inquiry. This not only ignores Christian giants of philosophy and science but also plays into some of the very worst stereotypes inflicted upon religious believers.” 
At the end, after quoting with admiration evangelical scholar Mark Noll, Dionne concludes: “ If Easter is about liberation, this liberation must include intellectual freedom.”
Perhaps you agree with these assessments, or perhaps you don’t. Either way I would like to hear your thoughts about the role the mind plays in opening one up to a religious faith and then sustaining it over time. Twelve Texas Faith panelists weigh in on the question.
MIKE GHOUSE, President, Foundation for Pluralism, Dallas

On Sunday I was discussing about the intellectual freedom in Islam. It appears that we can create a generic formula and lay it over all the religions.

The formula would be a proportional combination of orthodox, moderate and liberal segments in each religion. The orthodoxy wants to hold on to the values they are familiar with, while the liberals don’t see such a need, as those values they hold onto were liberal values once. The battle is really between the liberals and the orthodoxy while the moderates simply watch the show.

I do agree with E.J. Dionne, Jr. about, “diminishing the role of the mind in exploring faith” It is not just Christianity. The trend is in Islam, Judaism and other traditions, where the few, “denigrate rather than celebrate intellectual life and critical inquiry.”

The discussion sprang out of punishment for blasphemy; i.e., if someone mocks and ridicules God and his prophet, he must be killed. An orthodox man quotes the translation of a verse (Q 5:33) from Quran and tells that there is no room for discussion when it comes to God’s words.

The punishment is for naked aggression, and not blasphemy. In the case of blasphemy, the advisement was to turn the other cheek, meaning agree to disagree and walk away (Q 6:68) from the dialogue without aggravating the conflict and compelling each other into taking un-retrievable personal positions. Islam is unambiguously clear; there is no compulsion in faith (Q 2:256).

Our fellow panelist, Pastor George Mason, participated in the Quran conference where we talked about two deliberate mistranslations of Quran. One was by the Christian kings of 11th century Europe and the other was by a Muslim after the fall of Ottoman Empire. Both were designed to have political gains, and were funded to spread “that word.” As a result, they deepened the chasm between Christians, Jews and Muslims. 

The question is not about God’s word. Rather, it is about our understanding of it. We must honor the God-given freedom of each one of us, and finding the truth is our own individual responsibility, for it is us who are accountable for our action.

We must honor the scholars of the past, who interpreted and wrote exegesis as guidance and not dictum. We must also understand the environment that produced them.

In the case of Christianity, a majority of scholars during 15th century Spain had a different mindset than the men of the 20th century. They had the brutal power of the King Ferdinand behind them to force others to conform to their values or put them in the cauldrons or burn them. 

In the case of Judaism, the values espoused by Maimonides of the pluralistic tradition of earlier Spain will have a more lasting impact than the values shared by the scholars after the Holocaust. The same story is repeated and traceable in all religions.

In the case of Muslims, after the fall of Ottoman Empire, a few scholars produced literature that was not kosher. The U-turn for Muslim had begun and took a steep curve after 9/11, and is gaining significant momentum towards pluralistic societies.

Had God wanted us to be obedient, he would have made us that way. We would have been a planet Jupiter or Moon and acted out the programming; circumambulate the Sun or the earth and remain in balance for eternity. 

God did not put us on autopilot to circumambulate around something. Instead, he sandwiched a new component called brains between that elusive balance (heaven) and life and gave us the free will to find our own balance. Our model is the universe, where multitude of planets and stars co-exist respecting each other’s space.

Debates about the word of God will continue unhindered. As long as we do not have absolute power resting in a few hands, which would tempt them to impose their ideas on others, we will be fine. Thank God for America. Our Constitution guarantees our God- given freedom. 

Truth is a much greater value in the society, following which everyone knows where they stand. It also is a trust builder. We must be free to question everything including God, God’s words and our own beliefs. The Hindu Scriptures say, “Satyameva Jayate” which was translated by Mahatma Gandhi as “Truth Alone Triumphs.”

For all the twelve opinions, please visit Dallas Morning News at –http://religionblog.dallasnews.com/archives/2012/04/texas-faith-the-intellect-and.html
Mike Ghouse is committed to building a Cohesive America and offers pluralistic solutions on issues of the day. He is a professional speaker, thinker and a writer on pluralism, politics, civic affairsIslamIndiaIsrael, peace and justice. Mike is a frequent guest on Sean Hannity show on Fox TV, and a commentator on national radio networks, he writes weekly atDallas Morning News and regularly at Huffington post, and several other periodicals. www.TheGhousediary.com is Mike’s daily blog.

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