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Debate: Is faith a help or hindrance for the good life?
8th March 2017
In a complex and often dangerous world, we need to know how best to conduct ourselves both in our personal lives and as societies. But what are the objects of the codes we should adopt and what is their source?
For most of recorded history, faith in a supreme being and submission to the authority of organised religion have provided the answers for most people. But with the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment in the seventeenth century and the growing influence of science over the last three centuries, a more rational and secular view of the world has challenged old certainties.
How is it possible to know and live a ‘good’ life without a sense of divine purpose? Does religious faith inevitably lead to discord and division? Is the world a better place with or without God?
Theos' Nick Spencer and the British Humanist Association's Andrew Copson offer their thoughts in a blog debate for the Speakers' Corner Trust.
Faith - the Basis for Meaning and Love
The question in the title of this debate invites two more – indeed, demands them. What is “a good life”? And “faith” in what?
Whatever a good life is, it is not self-evident. For many cultures it has been characterised by power or strength or a certain strategic munificence. For many contemporary liberal capitalist societies, it is a life of relative comfort and ease; about having enough and knowing “where to spend it” as the Financial Times tells us each week. The Christian idea that a good life is the life lived for the ‘Other’, without regard for return favours, is rarer than we might imagine.
We Don't Need God to Live Meaningful Lives
Here we find ourselves, the humanist observes, apparently the products of the same physical processes that produce stars and planets and the same biological processes that produce dandelions and cats and elephants. Unlike other animals on earth, however, we have come to consciousness of our surroundings and ourselves.
What do we know? We can see from our own observations and the evidence of our senses that we live in a universe that lacks any discernible purpose. We are undoubtedly the products of this earth and this can give us a sense of rootedness. This world moulded us, it is our home, and as we hurtle through space it nourishes and sustains us.