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Faith or Ignorance? Manipulations in the Name of Religion

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Message Ahmed El-Deeb

There is a challenge for believers wanting to follow religious mandates: for seeking or validating truths from primary sources, particularly, in modern times when societies are infested by quick fixes, appearances, and the distractions of technology.

The model of the 'Expert' is overemphasised to the extent that societies start to suffer from a mental handicap, failing to think for themselves but rushing to experts (who are not-so-expert) in every single conceivable subject of inquiry.

The case of religion is no departure from that model. The easiest route to knowledge is to obtain mandates from religious leaders, sometimes without even validating their credibility. And because it is religion, what these religion experts say is not often held up to the light of reason nor subject to validation in the right context. Instead, followers take what these experts say without questioning, and in so doing, they call it faith.

In his book, Fear and Trembling, the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, speaks about the notion that faith is higher than reason by taking the story of Abraham (in which the father is ordered to slaughter his son) as a model - an act that contradicts reason yet was performed solely out of faith.

However, faith is a direct relationship between two entities without mediator's misrepresentation; in such case it can override the mind, only provided the prerequisite that In God we trust.

Yet Abraham's case is different from that of taking religion leaders' mandates simply by faith, since Abraham received the mandate directly from God. In this way, religion prompts actions without any process of reasoning of the mind, even as obeisance to the demands of organised religion reduces believers to something closer to slavery than to anything under God.

Wherever and whenever this becomes the case, religion has proved to be a valuable weapon in the hand of tyranny, a package of ideology ready to sell to the people, with ready-trained salesmen.

However, the call to orthodoxy is not the only way by which people can be manipulated in the name of religion. The beauty of the religious weapon is that it works as well in the exact reverse direction. Blemish the religion and its followers to create a climate of fear and soon you will have the ordinary people rallying to your side. The manipulation of religious belief for political ends involves a collection of enticement and intimidation techniques, designed as the precise, secular-situation dictates.

Well, yes, religion must have a deep influence on people because, for believers, their practices, in abidance or violation to it, determine their future, whether they will go to heaven or to hell.

Back to our central question: is Kierkegaard's argument that faith overrides reason still persuasive? Or has it failed to properly comprehend the two properties, overwhelmed by the bizarreness of Abraham's story.

Surely the prerequisite of faith is reason - because the mind has to first grasp the matter in thought. Only once this reason-made-faith is established, can faith take the lead in particular cases where no interpretation through reason is available. That is, faith completes reason, but only becomes valid after it.

In Abraham's case, the hidden voice claiming to be God and ordering him to slaughter his son did not come out of nowhere - nor yet the instruction claimed in some texts allowing him to 'stay his hand'. Both instructions emerge out lines of reasoning about the existence of God.

The key challenge for human society is to retain is the ability to formulate this kind of non-biased reasoning so that each of us can truthfully reach out for and grasp key principles as well as to critically differentiate between the valid and invalid. The reverse journey is that of oppressive governments seeking to systematically eliminate people's capability of reasoning about what they receive; by spreading poverty, destroying education, and stirring up internal conflicts. At the end of that journey is a place where it is all too easy to keep people deceived and lead them towards disaster, blinded in the name of religion.

Here we'll survey two examples of such manipulations in the context of Egypt; though named a republic since mid 20th century, the country has been in fact an oligarchy, governed by arbitrary one-person rule from military men, with devolution of authority within this group only with that person's death or assassination.

The first ruler who well exploited religion to not only dominate internally but also to gain international support was the toppled Hosni Mubarak in 2011 Revolution. However, Mubarak adopted a unique style for politicising religion to sustain his rule. He plunked on the country's diversity of population between Christians and Muslims.

While both Christians and Muslims have been living peacefully together since the Islamic invasion to Coptic Egypt under command of Amr Ibn Al-'as, striking on religion difference seemed to be a viable mean to ends. The technique was simple: he would stir up animosity between the two religious followers and save the minority, the Christians.

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Ahmed El-Deeb is a Medical Computing Scientist specialized in Medical Wearables and a philosopher specialized in Applied Philosophy, Ethics, Philosophy of Science, and Existentialism. He is an editorial team member in the Philosophical Society (more...)

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