Now, over the last few months, we’ve seen a number of challenges -- certainly over the last six years. But part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we've seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.
...We see sectarian war in Syria, the murder of Muslims and Christians in Nigeria, religious war in the Central African Republic, a rising tide of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in Europe, so often perpetrated in the name of religion.
So how do we, as people of faith, reconcile these realities -- the profound good, the strength, the tenacity, the compassion and love that can flow from all of our faiths, operating alongside those who seek to hijack religious for their own murderous ends?
Humanity has been grappling with these questions throughout human history. And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.
In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. Michelle and I returned from India -- an incredible, beautiful country, full of magnificent diversity -- but a place where, in past years, religious faiths of all types have, on occasion, been targeted by other peoples of faith, simply due to their heritage and their beliefs -- acts of intolerance that would have shocked Gandhiji, the person who helped to liberate that nation.
So this is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a sinful tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.
This seems unarguable to me. Not the "sinful" reference, because I don't believe in sin. At least, not in any religious, supernatural, or godly sense.
But anyone who believes that Muslim fundamentalists are the only religious extremists who commit violence in the world, he or she hasn't been paying attention to what's been going on.
Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs -- members of these and many other religions have, and are now, killed, maimed, and threatened in the name of their faith. This is different from defending one's nation, or loved ones.
The offense that supposedly needs avenging is someone else's refusal to accept the tenets of a faith on, well, faith.
Such rarely happens in other cultural areas.
Avid baseball fans will differ in their belief about who the greatest shortstop of all time is, but they won't go to blows over this. Musical tastes vary widely, but fans of different genres don't engage in warfare when hip-hop afficonados, say, argue with lovers of country-western music.
As I talk about a lot on this blog, religious faith differs from other sorts of faith in this crucial way: Defenders of the Faith who are concerned with a divine variety of unsupported belief often consider that their unsupported subjective belief actually points to an objective truth about the cosmos.
Whereas few, if any, baseball fans would argue that somewhere in the Great Beyond lies the immutable truth about who the greatest shortstop was.
Thus an unwarranted belief that a personal religious feeling, magnified by its being held by many millions or even billions of one's fellow human beings, is objectively true -- that is what makes religion so dangerous.
Such wouldn't be the case if religions didn't teach that defending the faith is what is required of the faithful. After all, most baseball fans and music lovers just quietly enjoy their past-time. They don't feel compelled to proselytize or argue vociferously that others should embrace what they like.
Of course, wrongs also are committed by non-religious people. But this wasn't Obama's point. He was directing our attention to the absurdity of religious fundamentalism, which rejects the notion of "don't know."
I don't agree with the entirety of this additional excerpt from his talk. I do like his mention of doubt.
And, first, we should start with some basic humility. I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt -- not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn’t speak to others, that God only cares about us and doesn’t care about others, that somehow we alone are in possession of the truth.
Yes, and let's go further. Let's also doubt that God exists, that God speaks to us, that God cares about us. There is no evidence this is true, other than personal subjective feelings that it is.
Doubt goes a long way toward demolishing the foundation of religious violence: blind faith.
If everyone could understand the difference between truths for which there is persuasive demonstrable evidence, and beliefs for which there isn't -- the world would be a lot better off.