Faith vs. Reason

Plato (left) pointing to the heavens. Aristotle (right) holds his hand out parallel to the ground symbolizing rationalism. Together they represent the age old debate between faith and reason.

Today we don’t call it “reason,” we call it science, and most don’t believe that there is any room for God in this equation. Here at San Jose State, I am a student in the Humanities Honors Program. We spend a considerable amount of time on religion and how it has, like a boomerang, shot straight towards society, and now it’s moving away again. Beginning with Augustine and his pessimistic view of religion and his means of addressing it through a concept called “unmerited grace” all the way to Karl Marx, who sees religion as a form of “opium” that people utilize to mitigate the pain of being alive; it is only through the removal of organized faith that society can find “real happiness.” I agree with neither of these philosophies. But what do I agree with? Am I a deist like Newton and our founding fathers? I know I’m not agnostic. I do believe in Islam, but I struggle to find myself in any moment in history. And yet, I see pictures of the thousands of Muslims annually walking around the Ka’aba and my heart is filled with warmth. That is the Islam I love. But is it exclusive to the physically devout: those who cover their hair, grow a beard, wear loose tunics, walk to the mosque five times a day? I don’t like to think so.

But that is what my parents have raised me to believe. But how can an omniscient God not know that I am trying my hardest to, for lack of a more eloquent phrase, get by? He put me on this planet, and so I must live on it. I pray five times a day, but my prayers are empty. I pray for material things, because I don’t believe that telling God to send me to heaven is something that He is going to do if I tell him to. My job is to exist on this planet, not the world that I have never seen. Even as I write this, I feel a renewed sense of confusion. What do I believe?

Up until quite recently I have always felt that I am a devoutly spiritual Muslim, but for some reason, my exposure to more learning in the past two semesters here at SJSU has caused me to doubt, quite seriously, my religion and the potency of faith in general.

For example, if I ever received a score on an exam that didn’t please me, I did not see the incident as a learning experience, rather I would turn inward morbidly, wondering what it is that I might have done to upset God. By the same token, if I ever didn’t study adequately for an exam, I would tell myself that God would take care of me. He never did. But it’s not due to my inadequacy as a human being, it is because I didn’t study sufficiently enough for the exam. It is these sorts of incidents that I look back at with disdain as I laugh at my foolishness.

When my parents quote the Qur’an to me to make a point, I doubt it so much now. I don’t believe that a so-called omniscient God would send me to hell for wearing a T-shirt. If he is God then He must know that I am trying my hardest to be the best person I can be.

Of course I may be wrong (doubt can go in this direction too). It may be true that I am going to hell for wearing a T-shirt, which is why I choose to believe in a God, because as Pascal says, it’s better to be safe than to take such a wild risk. But even then, if I were faced with God, I would tell Him that I believe doubt to be more religious than any faithfulness because in doubting (everything, not just religion) I am utilizing the mind He gave me much more extensively than a person who accepts everything he or she sees as face value.

Why can’t faith go in both ways–doubt and certainty? I feel that looking at the world and seeing everything as suspect, that reading a book “written” by anyone other than God, is even more religious than the most devout person, because I am relishing in all of His creations. Isn’t that the greatest form of faith? I believe it is, and maybe that is my Islam.

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