Saturday, July 07, 2007

Giles Fraser: "I Always Fear 'Real' Believers"

From the Church Times:

...the most dangerous people in the world are those who are absolutely convinced of their own moral virtue and innocence. It is not the scoundrel who is responsible for the darkest moral evil in the world, but the person who is assured of his or her own virtue.

The man who tried to blow up the airport was reported to have emerged from the car, covered in flames. As the fire melted his flesh, he kept repeating the name of God, punching anyone who tried to put his fire out. Here was a man thoroughly convinced that he was doing the right thing. Make no mistake: it was faith that provided him with his moral alibi.

I always fear “real” believers. Whatever their belief system, there are those who think it is so morally watertight that it allows them carte blanche. You can sometimes see it in their faces: not a flicker of self-doubt; not an iota of self-critical awareness. It is not the bad person from whom society has most to fear. The person to be afraid of is the “good” person. I wager there has never been an agnostic suicide-bomber.

All those with religious conviction are called to recognise how dangerous faith can be. That is why it needs a whole raft of checks and balances. And, thank God, these checks and balances are there throughout the Bible. The Gospel passage on Sunday was itself a warning about faith.

This is why the people of faith need more epistemic humility, a great deal more self-awareness, a longer pause before answering the big questions of faith, a more open reflection upon our less flattering motivations. It might be difficult to find the confidence to develop self-critical vigilance when so many others want to disparage faith. But develop it more we must. The people of faith are on the front line in the war on terror.
The Revd Dr. Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney. His most recent book is Christianity with Attitude.

A tip of the kamelaukion to John Henry for pointing to this.


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