When we think of faith, some may think of miracles – but when Jesus saw the people he had fed coming back to make him king, he was exasperated. They had not realized that it was a sign, but just that they got free food. In faith, there are layers of meaning, not all of them available to everyone at the outset.
Religious “faith” is a word that means different things to different people. Usually it means something weird to people who don’t have it, of course. That is probably why so many of them flee it like the plague. But it also means different things to different people even within the same religion.
Since most people I converse with are thoroughly agnostic if not outright atheist, their idea of faith is obviously one that harmonizes with this life choice. As they see it, faith is the lazy or stupid person’s alternative to thinking. Rather than gather actual facts and think logically about the conclusions they lead to, the religious person can simply believe whatever makes him or her feel good, regardless of whether it is factually true or not. Consequently, while they may be happy in their belief, they are likely to cause all kinds of trouble for themselves, others, and the world at large. The conclusion is that faith should be fought on every opportunity, in order to reduce its cancerous influence. The atheist may or may not actually be bothered to do this, depending on whether he has tried and failed sufficiently often.
Undeniably there are people who fit this description all too well, especially in America (or perhaps they are just getting more publicity there). Stupidity and faith are certainly not mutually exclusive. But perhaps they should have been.
“Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies; for they are ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers; for I meditate on your testimonies.
I understand more than the old, because I have kept your precepts.”
Psalm 119, 98-100
“The seeds that fell on good ground are the people who hear and understand the message. They produce as much as a hundred or sixty or thirty times what was planted.”
Matthew 13, 23.
A funny thing about that Jesus quote is that if you give it to others but leave a blank where it says “understand”, they will usually insert “believe” or “obey” instead. Jesus was not unfamiliar with either of these, but chose to use “understand” here.
Faith is supposed to cause, and coexist with, understanding and eventually wisdom. It is not supposed to be a quick way to avoid thinking – rather it should form a better container of thought than we can fashion out of our personal experience. Or you may think of it as the skeleton on which our thoughts are fastened, if you prefer that image.
In light of this, we see the absurdity of trying to avoid faith. Your average atheist does not avoid faith at all, but rather has faith in some other model of containing thought. Frequently this is some form of socialism, which is a philosophy that competes squarely against religion. The atheist is rarely entirely devoid of ideals – usually quite the opposite. He has ideals, and he is usually sure that what he is doing is for the greater good. Everyone needs some kind of overarching system of thought and meaning of life, or madness ensues. If you don’t have religious faith, you have faith in various other sources that you find more reliable. And it is no great wonder that you do, given that most religious people are stupid hypocrites – just like most people everywhere and at all times.
You should be aware that the usual religious person knows next to nothing about his own religion. I refer you to the occasional questionnaires by Pew Research (like this one) and the unavoidable embarrassing statistics that are published afterwards, showing that Christians only know about half of these easy questions while atheists know somewhat more. This is because in America, you have to actually make an effort to be an atheist; in some countries it is the other way around, but the majority will always be ignorant and not particularly care about it.
Thus, the willful stupidity that you observe in the religious person is NOT an effect of their faith, but the opposite: This is how you end up when you DON’T meditate on the testimonies, to use the Jewish description. Other faiths have somewhat different ways to express this, but you should find the same at least in those religions with which I have a passing familiarity.
The representatives of the religion is its saints and sages, just like the representative of science is the scientist, not some random quack who has read about quantum physics in Science Illustrated and believes he can use it for magic. Yes, unfortunately there is quite a bit of religion on this level.
It is not difficult to find in religious text things that are upsetting or that seem to run counter to common sense. But it is not difficult to do so with science either, if you are as ignorant of science as most people are of religion. For instance, to go back to quantum physics, pretty much the only thing common people know about it is that really small things can be waves and particles at the same time. This is obviously not true. There can’t be waves if there isn’t something to make waves in, like some kind of liquid or something. Stupid scientists! They should get out more. Well, no, we don’t actually say this because it happens to be demonstrably true, even though only a few people have actually seen it happen. The same largely applies to religion.
Science is not a religion. Religion is a science. It is a platform for exploring the deeper reality of the spirit, just as worldly science is for exploring the physical world. But in both cases, most people simply read the cliff notes and have faith in them; they are neither scientists nor saints. Well, neither am I, I guess. Still, you pick up some when you look around for decades.
Now you would expect this from me, who wanders the jnana (insight) path, while most Christian walk the bhakti (loving worship) path, if any. And certainly the Bible assures us that God has chosen that which is foolish in this world, to put the wise to shame. But it seems a bit of twisting words to think that this encourages stupidity. Rather, it encourages an alternate wisdom, based in a completely different container of thoughts. And, generally, based more on practical exercises than thought-building. Religion was originally experiential, it was based on things you could do and experience for yourself the truth of the words. If we don’t, well, we can hardly blame the religion for our shaky understanding.
In short: The stupidity of the religious is not from our faith, but from not understanding it or not practicing it. A faith that is only meant to serve as an insurance is unlikely to cause wisdom.