PDA

View Full Version : Faith without certainty?



syilla
12-12-2006, 05:23 AM
Faith without certainty?

IKIM Views
By Md Asham Ahmad, Fellow, Ikim

ANDREW Sullivan, in his recent article When not seeing is believing (Time, Oct 23, 2006), believes that the resurgence of “religious certainty” is the cause of the deepening of our cultural divisions, and the consequences – a more polarised political discourse, and a close to impossible global discourse.

The Pope’s recent criticism of the West’s disavowal of religious authority; the thriving of Protestant megachurches, especially in the US, which preach absolute adherence to inerrant Scripture; al-Qaeda terrorists invoking God as sanctioning mass murder; George Bush’s utter conviction that he has made no mistakes in Iraq – all these, and many others, according to Sullivan, make many Western liberals and secularists ever more convinced that religion is the problem.

In his case, Sullivan believes that it is almost impossible to have a rational dialogue with someone who is certain of the truth of his religious faith.

What is construed by the author of the article as the cause of the problem and what is proposed as the solution are not really new ideas in modem discourse.

What could be new are some of the examples given “in support” of the ideas. Here, the question is whether the example given warrants the conclusion.

The Pope, Protestant megachurches in the US, and George Bush are indeed representatives of the mainstream Christian community, but could the same status be accorded to a marginal violent group calling themselves al-Qaeda in relation to the mainstream Muslim community?

What authority does this group have to qualify them as the representative of the Muslim community?

Even if they claim that they are Muslims, how could one explain the link between their invoking God and committing mass murder in such a way that justifies the West blaming Islam as the cause of their crime?

Quoting them invoking God as the sanction for their mass murder and to implicate Islam in their crimes is a gross injustice and is deeply malicious; what more the implication that their behaviour reflects the Islamic faith.

So, what is construed by Sullivan as the cause of the deepening cultural divisions, what he calls the rise of fundamentalism inspired by religious certainty, is refutable on two grounds.

First, it is founded upon an unproven assumption that religious certainty is the cause of irrational behaviour as exemplified above in intolerance, authoritarianism, and terrorism.

Second, it is founded upon the naive assumption that whatever is true of Christianity as experienced by the Christians in their history would also be true of other religions and would be experienced by their followers; hence, his prescription is valid and applicable to all.

Sullivan, who is convinced that “religion” is the cause of the problem, suggests a way out based upon a different idea of faith: one that is not based upon certainty but upon what is called “spiritual humility and sincere religious doubt”.

And that requires “fixing” the religions so as to make their followers moderate, tolerant, and humble.

How? Let them doubt what has all this while been regarded as the truth, and that, to him, is “spiritual humility”.

Sullivan explains: “...doubt is not a threat. If we have never doubted, how can we say we have really believed?

“True belief is not about blind submission. It is about open-eyed acceptance, and acceptance requires persistent distance from the truth, and that distance is doubt.

“Doubt, in other words, can feed faith, rather than destroy it. And it forces us, even while believing, to recognise our fundamental duty with respect to God’s truth: humility. We do not know. Which is why we believe.”

What is suggested by Sullivan is totally irrelevant to the Muslims. From the perspective of Islam, certainty of the ultimate truth, i.e. Tawhid, life after death, and the fulfilment of action in conformity with that certainty is the key to happiness.

Certainty is a permanent condition referring to what is permanent in man and perceived by his spiritual organ known as the heart.

It is peace, security and tranquillity of the heart; it is knowledge, and knowledge is true belief; it is knowing one’s rightful, and hence, proper place in the realm of creation and one’s proper relationship with the Creator; it is a condition known as justice (al-Attas, Islam: The Concept of Religion and the Foundation of Ethics and Morality, 1976).

Any belief, religious or not, unlike knowledge, could be true or false. Hence, we can speak of true and false belief.

When we Muslims talk about faith or belief, we mean that which is reflected by the term iman, namely “true belief”, belief which is sanctioned by knowledge and certainty.

Islam is a conscious and willing submission. Therefore, it cannot be founded upon doubt, since doubt is antithetical to knowledge. Nor can it be founded upon the will to believe, which is against human consciousness.


Even though Sullivan also talks about true belief, his notion of it stands in direct opposition to what is understood by Muslims.

True belief, according to him is the result of doubt, which is attainable through a “persistent distance from the truth”.

If truth is something good and desirable why would one shy away from it? If true belief is about open-eyed acceptance how can it be possible for one to accept a particular belief while at the same time persistently distance one’s self from it?

Furthermore, in order for one to distance one’s self from the truth it is assumed that one “knows” the truth, whereas the very reason we believe, according to Sullivan, is because we do not know. This is clearly absurd!

This idea of belief, as we have mentioned above, is not new. To subscribe to it one must be willing to subscribe to absurdities.

But why must one do it? Why must one believe even though it is absurd? Can’t we just live our life without believing in anything?

Our experience tells us that it is not possible to live without any belief. There are no living unbelievers – those who do not believe in God’s existence are actually believers in His non-existence.

Somehow one has to believe in certain things, at least in things which can be perceived through one’s senses.

One has to believe in something because at all times in life one has to make decisions and to act accordingly. Right actions proceed from right decisions and right decisions proceed from one’s belief of what is right. So, ultimately belief matters.

“Those who can make you believe”, says Voltaire, “can make you commit atrocities.” He means ideas and beliefs have consequences.

Hence, we have the duty to believe carefully. Sincerity of conviction alone can in no way help us.

Many people have acquired belief not by honestly earning it through patient investigation, but by stifling their doubts.

This, as far as Islam is concerned, is not acceptable, because the Religion of Islam must be founded upon knowledge and certainty.

In emphasising this fact, a certain Muslim theologian goes to the extent of declaring that one who holds to a belief without proof supporting it is actually a non-believer.

Even though this tough stance has been criticised by other scholars, they have all agreed that everyone is responsible for his or her beliefs, i.e. one has the responsibility to believe correctly.

Hence, according to the well-known tradition of the Prophet, the first and foremost obligation of every Muslim, man and woman alike, is to seek knowledge of the ultimate truth and then how to act accordingly.
source
Reply

Login/Register to hide ads. Scroll down for more posts
Link
12-20-2006, 06:27 PM
To be a muslim, you don't have to have true faith. This is in the Quran. To be a true believer and fully submit like Ibraheem (as), you do have to have sure knowledge, and true faith.

And here is the verse saying so:

049.014
YUSUFALI: The desert Arabs say, "We believe." Say, "Ye have no faith; but ye (only)say, 'We have submitted our wills to Allah,' For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
PICKTHAL: The wandering Arabs say: We believe. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Ye believe not, but rather say "We submit," for the faith hath not yet entered into your hearts. Yet, if ye obey Allah and His messenger, He will not withhold from you aught of (the reward of) your deeds. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
SHAKIR: The dwellers of the desert say: We believe. Say: You do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts; and if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish aught of your deeds; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

ws
Reply

Muhammad
12-21-2006, 09:10 PM
:sl:

Originally Posted by Link
To be a muslim, you don't have to have true faith. This is in the Quran. To be a true believer and fully submit like Ibraheem (as), you do have to have sure knowledge, and true faith.
Perhaps you can explain a bit more Insha'Allaah, because I did not understand how the verse is saying we do not need to have true faith. It is mentioned in Tafseer Ibn Katheer that this verse is about the fact that there is a difference between a believer and a Muslim:
This honorable Ayah provides proof that Faith is a higher grade than Islam, according to the scholars of the Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jama`ah. This is also demostrated in the Hadith of Jibril, peace be upon him, when he questioned the Prophet about Islam, then Iman then Ihsan. Thus moving the general matter to one more specific, then even more specific.

http://www.theholybook.org/en/a.47935.html
Reply

czgibson
12-29-2007, 04:28 PM
Greetings,

This thread has been recommended to me by syilla, so I'll share my thoughts on the article.

The first thing to say is that I broadly agree with Sullivan on this one. I'll try to explain why.

ANDREW Sullivan, in his recent article When not seeing is believing (Time, Oct 23, 2006), believes that the resurgence of “religious certainty” is the cause of the deepening of our cultural divisions, and the consequences – a more polarised political discourse, and a close to impossible global discourse.

The Pope’s recent criticism of the West’s disavowal of religious authority; the thriving of Protestant megachurches, especially in the US, which preach absolute adherence to inerrant Scripture; al-Qaeda terrorists invoking God as sanctioning mass murder; George Bush’s utter conviction that he has made no mistakes in Iraq – all these, and many others, according to Sullivan, make many Western liberals and secularists ever more convinced that religion is the problem.
I'm not sure religion per se is the problem. If a religion leads people to have certainty about things that are unknowable, then that definitely is a problem, however.

In his case, Sullivan believes that it is almost impossible to have a rational dialogue with someone who is certain of the truth of his religious faith.
Not quite, but it is certainly impossible to dissuade someone of their faith-based beliefs using logic. If a terrorist firmly believes that blowing people up is a way to serve his god and get to heaven, there is no rational argument that can dissuade him.
The Pope, Protestant megachurches in the US, and George Bush are indeed representatives of the mainstream Christian community, but could the same status be accorded to a marginal violent group calling themselves al-Qaeda in relation to the mainstream Muslim community?
They are certainly not representatives of mainstream Christianity all over the world. Very few Catholics actually believe contraception is wrong, as the Pope believes. The American examples are representative of the fundamentalist Religious Right, but most Christians I've spoken to think they are pretty crazy.

It goes without saying that Al-Qaeda is not representative of mainstream Islam.

Quoting them invoking God as the sanction for their mass murder and to implicate Islam in their crimes is a gross injustice and is deeply malicious; what more the implication that their behaviour reflects the Islamic faith.
It is an injustice, but Al-Qaeda are to be blamed for causing this understandable confusion, not outside commentators.

So, what is construed by Sullivan as the cause of the deepening cultural divisions, what he calls the rise of fundamentalism inspired by religious certainty, is refutable on two grounds.

First, it is founded upon an unproven assumption that religious certainty is the cause of irrational behaviour as exemplified above in intolerance, authoritarianism, and terrorism.
Religious certainty is absolutely a cause of irrational beliefs, by definition. Faith is belief in the absence of complete evidence, therefore to be certain about a matter of faith is, strictly speaking, irrational.

Whether these irrational beliefs lead to irrational behaviour varies with the individual.

Second, it is founded upon the naive assumption that whatever is true of Christianity as experienced by the Christians in their history would also be true of other religions and would be experienced by their followers; hence, his prescription is valid and applicable to all.
I'm not sure what the author is getting at here, or how it relates to Sullivan's argument.

Sullivan, who is convinced that “religion” is the cause of the problem, suggests a way out based upon a different idea of faith: one that is not based upon certainty but upon what is called “spiritual humility and sincere religious doubt”.
I'm not sure this is quite the right way of putting it. Instead, if people could accept that their faith can never in fact be certain without ceasing to be faith, the world would be a safer place.

And that requires “fixing” the religions so as to make their followers moderate, tolerant, and humble.

How? Let them doubt what has all this while been regarded as the truth, and that, to him, is “spiritual humility”.
But it's religious truth we're talking about, and that is very different from empirical truth. It is not observable or testable. Faith should be a private matter; it is when people start demanding that others adhere to their faith that the trouble begins.

Sullivan explains: “...doubt is not a threat. If we have never doubted, how can we say we have really believed?

“True belief is not about blind submission. It is about open-eyed acceptance, and acceptance requires persistent distance from the truth, and that distance is doubt.

“Doubt, in other words, can feed faith, rather than destroy it. And it forces us, even while believing, to recognise our fundamental duty with respect to God’s truth: humility. We do not know. Which is why we believe.”
Absolutely right.

What is suggested by Sullivan is totally irrelevant to the Muslims. From the perspective of Islam, certainty of the ultimate truth, i.e. Tawhid, life after death, and the fulfilment of action in conformity with that certainty is the key to happiness.
But there can be no certainty about these matters. They are unknowable.
Certainty is a permanent condition referring to what is permanent in man and perceived by his spiritual organ known as the heart.
The heart is an organ for pumping blood.

It is peace, security and tranquillity of the heart; it is knowledge, and knowledge is true belief;
That is highly debatable.

Any belief, religious or not, unlike knowledge, could be true or false. Hence, we can speak of true and false belief.

When we Muslims talk about faith or belief, we mean that which is reflected by the term iman, namely “true belief”, belief which is sanctioned by knowledge and certainty.
This argument amounts to little more than saying "my belief is true, therefore it is knowledge" - a totally fallacious move. I could just as easily say: "I believe that pigs can fly, therefore they do".

Islam is a conscious and willing submission. Therefore, it cannot be founded upon doubt, since doubt is antithetical to knowledge.
It absolutely is not! Science progresses through a system of remorseless doubt. Every theory is continually tested for weaknesses in order to try and make it as strong as possible. Practically the whole sum of human knowledge is the result of a long process of doubt, scepticism and asking awkward questions.

Nor can it be founded upon the will to believe, which is against human consciousness.
I'm not sure where the author has got this from. I find it perfectly conceivable that someone could believe something out of wish-fulfilment. People hope heaven exists, therefore they believe in it.
Even though Sullivan also talks about true belief, his notion of it stands in direct opposition to what is understood by Muslims.

True belief, according to him is the result of doubt, which is attainable through a “persistent distance from the truth”.
I can't see what Sullivan is getting at here. I would need to see more of his original text to make a proper judgement.
If truth is something good and desirable why would one shy away from it? If true belief is about open-eyed acceptance how can it be possible for one to accept a particular belief while at the same time persistently distance one’s self from it?
Perhaps Sullivan is attempting to explain why objectivity should be a key factor in our approach to truth. If we are personally too bound up with the results of our investigations, truth will inevitably suffer.

Furthermore, in order for one to distance one’s self from the truth it is assumed that one “knows” the truth, whereas the very reason we believe, according to Sullivan, is because we do not know. This is clearly absurd!
So perhaps Sullivan doesn't believe? It would certainly seem that way.

This idea of belief, as we have mentioned above, is not new. To subscribe to it one must be willing to subscribe to absurdities.
This is rather a bold admission!

Our experience tells us that it is not possible to live without any belief.
Of course. Our practical lives would be impossible without beliefs of one sort or another. For instance (and this is an example I've used before): my car is sitting in the car park outside my flat. I can't see it from where I'm sitting, but I believe it's there. it could have been stolen, though, so I'll just quickly check it's still there by going over to my window. Yep, it's still there. Now, in the five seconds or so that have passed since I observed my car, I very strongly believe it is still there, even though I can't see it. In fact, I have no good evidence for this belief at all. For all I know, a crew of highly organised thieves might have just removed it. However, if I constantly have to keep checking this belief by looking out the window, I wouldn't have time to do anything else! So some beliefs are necessary in order to live our lives. However, religious beliefs are not necessary in this sense at all.
There are no living unbelievers – those who do not believe in God’s existence are actually believers in His non-existence.
Correct - atheism is a belief like any other. However, a pure agnostic has no beliefs about god one way or the other. An agnostic declines to make a belief-statement and says "I don't know". The word 'agnostic' literally means 'without knowledge'. I would say that an agnostic would fit into the category of "living unbeliever".

Somehow one has to believe in certain things, at least in things which can be perceived through one’s senses.
The senses are normally reliable, although they can deceive us in some cases. A stick looks bent in water, we can interpret sense-data incorrectly, what looks blue to me might look different to you, and we have no way of telling who is right, etc.

One has to believe in something because at all times in life one has to make decisions and to act accordingly. Right actions proceed from right decisions and right decisions proceed from one’s belief of what is right. So, ultimately belief matters.
Yes, but it's perfectly possible to have strong moral beliefs without any of the metaphysical trappings that religion insists upon to go with them.

“Those who can make you believe”, says Voltaire, “can make you commit atrocities.” He means ideas and beliefs have consequences.
He means a bit more than that, I think!

If you have a firm belief in the essential goodness of a person who is out to control you, they could make you do all sorts of things you wouldn't normally do. Look at the way many German citizens behaved under Hitler.

Hence, we have the duty to believe carefully. Sincerity of conviction alone can in no way help us.
Correct. This is a very important point.
Many people have acquired belief not by honestly earning it through patient investigation, but by stifling their doubts.
Also true.

This, as far as Islam is concerned, is not acceptable, because the Religion of Islam must be founded upon knowledge and certainty.
As I've said, because it relies on faith it can never constitute knowledge, and even knowledge itself is provisional, and can perhaps never be demonstrably certain.

In emphasising this fact, a certain Muslim theologian goes to the extent of declaring that one who holds to a belief without proof supporting it is actually a non-believer.
Beliefs cannot be proven, otherwise they cease to be beliefs.

Hence, according to the well-known tradition of the Prophet, the first and foremost obligation of every Muslim, man and woman alike, is to seek knowledge of the ultimate truth and then how to act accordingly.
This is good advice, but if people assume that they know the truth in advance, and then ask others to seek this truth, the followers will eventually end up simply believing what they are told, and there is no way to ascertain whether or not this would be true.

Peace
Reply

Welcome, Guest!
Hey there! Looks like you're enjoying the discussion, but you're not signed up for an account.

When you create an account, you can participate in the discussions and share your thoughts. You also get notifications, here and via email, whenever new posts are made. And you can like posts and make new friends.
Sign Up
syilla
12-30-2007, 01:23 AM
Do you think you can probably post the sullivan's article?

i don't think i've ever read it... :hiding:
Reply

*WhisSPeR...*
12-30-2007, 01:35 AM
Originally Posted by Link
To be a muslim, you don't have to have true faith. This is in the Quran. To be a true believer and fully submit like Ibraheem (as), you do have to have sure knowledge, and true faith.

And here is the verse saying so:

049.014
YUSUFALI: The desert Arabs say, "We believe." Say, "Ye have no faith; but ye (only)say, 'We have submitted our wills to Allah,' For not yet has Faith entered your hearts. But if ye obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not belittle aught of your deeds: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
PICKTHAL: The wandering Arabs say: We believe. Say (unto them, O Muhammad): Ye believe not, but rather say "We submit," for the faith hath not yet entered into your hearts. Yet, if ye obey Allah and His messenger, He will not withhold from you aught of (the reward of) your deeds. Lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
SHAKIR: The dwellers of the desert say: We believe. Say: You do not believe but say, We submit; and faith has not yet entered into your hearts; and if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not diminish aught of your deeds; surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

ws
i agree with you:smile:
Reply

Hey there! Looks like you're enjoying the discussion, but you're not signed up for an account.

When you create an account, you can participate in the discussions and share your thoughts. You also get notifications, here and via email, whenever new posts are made. And you can like posts and make new friends.
Sign Up

Similar Threads

  1. Replies: 11
    Last Post: 06-18-2011, 03:58 PM
  2. Replies: 13
    Last Post: 03-12-2010, 04:12 PM
  3. Replies: 0
    Last Post: 10-26-2009, 07:54 PM
  4. Replies: 0
    Last Post: 08-23-2007, 02:29 PM
  5. Replies: 0
    Last Post: 10-25-2006, 03:55 AM

IslamicBoard

Experience a richer experience on our mobile app!