My uncle a life long atheist recently converted Catholicism, he decided to send me a letter outlining his beliefs and I thought I would share my reply.
Religion, Faith & God are three independent but uniquely intertwined beliefs that I have struggled with over the last few years. I have actively sought out to come to terms with what I believe when it comes to these three beliefs, I can't say I am 100% ardent in all aspects of my position but I feel pretty content at this moment in time.
I am a big believer in a wide base of reading on a topic as it leads to knowledge and I often find the words of others much smarter than myself deeply resonate. However I also believe if you want to truly understand something it has to be experiential. What I have found that often the conceiving of an idea can be attractive on paper, but for want of a better phrase the epiphanies I have had, have all been physically in the moment of experiencing varying forms of 'faith'. Over the last 18 months I have spent time with Islamic extremists, Mormons, Scientologists and New age Evangelicals.
Firstly I will start with a particular poignant quote, "If there is a God, he will have to beg my forgiveness" this was etched into a wall inside Mauthausen concentration camp. To me this helps justify my two fold position; firstly Religion with an interventionist God, the idea that not only God exists but instructs us what to do via rules and regulations on how we should live our lives to me, must be untrue. I believe the philosopher Epicurus defined the paradox of religion to near perfection, "Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent, is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God". The idea that if we subscribe to a particular dogma set out by God salvation is our reward to me is awful, usually at this point religious people cite 'free will' but this is the greatest insult of all. Yes I have a choice as to whether I adhere to the rules of God, but I am still born a pawn in a game I didn't ask to play, I may not abide by the rules but I still face the repercussions when the game ends.
Secondly, let us consider that the dogmatic approach the Roman Catholic Church propagates to be true. Arguably for me to tacitly comply with its teachings is what perpetuates poverty, injustice, inequality etc. Now that is not to say that there are many fine Catholics who do wonderful selfless things in the name of their religion, (a good example would be the current pope who I consider to be a good person) but consider the teachings without the human element. Teachings which include the banning of condoms, homosexuality and continued subjugation of women, in which clearly the teachings place them beneath men in stature (at the very least makes true gender equality impossible) and robbed of the 'free will' we too often hear about when it comes to decisions over their own body, i.e. abortion (In some cases enforced by law). I also don't accept faux modernization to stay relevant to society, what about those families who lost children in by gone centuries before baptism believing their child damned in limbo, to be told a few hundred years later 'Oh we don't believe that anymore'.
C.S Lewis although a Christian, stated, "Jesus told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured". To him this only made sense if God was personally wounded with every sin, however to return to the paradox of an interventionist God, if he cares and has the power to alleviate suffering why doesn't he? The thing about free will is that often the most oppressed, poverty stricken and helpless people in the world have no choice, they are victims of circumstance from birth until death.
The idea that one can live a terrible life, inflicting countless suffering on others and on their death bed decide to genuinely subscribe to the idea of a celestial dictatorship doesn't sit well with me. If Hitler had repented in his bunker should he be allowed redemption?
Religion was a pre-cursor to science a way of explaining the world in terms that both comforted mans yearning to belong, offered a sense of importance to ones life and allowed us to come to terms with being finite organisms. Freud aptly said "Religion suffers from one incurable deficiency it was too clearly derived from our desire to escape from or survive death'. I used to think I was pretty clear in my convictions, but when I spent time living with evangelical Christians for the sake of a documentary I realised just how impressionable and malleable I am. A yearning to belong is intensified with the sensation of being an outsider, self doubt and a herd mentality are innate human facets, have you considered why my most religious people simply follow the religion of their parents or were born into?
Religion essentially tells us we are born ill, impure and must give thanks eternally for something we had no control or choice over; these are the fundamental principles of a dictatorship. One must forget his individuality to conform to a constructed collectivist way of living and behaving, or you'll be damned If you don't.
Moving away from the idea of a dogmatic sense of Religion and God does contemplating the existence of God count as a form of belief in some way on the spectrum. In answer to this, in short I don't know, Deism conveys the idea of a designer who takes no active interest in our lives. The problem I have with that if it to be true, much like a mother abandoning a child we consider to be immoral, where does our sense of morality stem from?
I suppose it comes from evolution and understanding that animals' working together is more conducive to survival then on your own. I struggle with deism and concede it is a possibility, however I take comfort from the words of Robert Ingersoll 'The Great Agnostic'- " I would rather live and love where death is king then have eternal life where love is not", and it seems to me a creator with no interest in human affairs is a creator devoid of love.
Finally the idea of faith, I think faith is a necessity of man and takes many forms whether it is religion or something else. Graham Greene wrote in the Comedians "If you have abandoned one faith, do not abandon all faith. There is always an alternative to faith the faith we lose, or is it the same faith under another mask?"
I choose to my put my faith in humanity, I don't feel the need for a creator to make sense of the world whether he takes an active interest or not. For me the trick is to be content in the not knowing bit, I don't know and I probably never will categorically know...
I leave with you a particular quote that sums up my position better than I ever could from Dostoyevsky
"It's life that matters, nothing but life, the process of discovering the everlasting and perpetual process, not the discovery itself, at all"