The ugly side of religion is the fanaticism that uses violence to force its faith on others. Alexander conquered the world as a missionary of Hellenism, the culture and religion of the Greeks. In the second century B.C. Antiochus tried to impose Hellenism on Jerusalem. He believed the Greek way of life was clearly superior to what he considered the crude and primitive ways of the Jews. He thought their kosher laws were primitive superstitions. He especially opposed the Jewish way of identifying their sons with their religion, the rite of circumcision.

Many devout mothers and fathers lost their lives to the persecutions of Antiochus, rather than to accept his ban on the religious identification of their children. Ultimately Jewish freedom fighters rose up against the forces of Antiochus and drove them from the land. The cleansing of the temple in Jerusalem after it’s desecration by Antiochus is still celebrated in the festival of Hanukkah.

When Christians were persecuted by the Roman empire, apologists such as Justin and Anathagorus appealed to the emperor’s sense of reason and justice. They asked to be left alone and allowed to follow their own consciences.

For the first three hundred years the followers of Christ were pacifists. When Constantine issued his “edict of toleration,” two obstacles to Christians’ serving the military were removed: the requirement of participating in idolatrous ceremonies and the persecution of fellow Christians. The only obstacle that remained was the scruple about killing.

History took a fateful turn in the fifth century when Augustine developed the “just war doctrine.” In response to barbarian invasions, he argued that love requires one to defend the innocent. When one thinks of the horrible cases of genocide the world has seen, it’s hard to resist that argument.

Augustine, however, argued further that the church has a right to defend itself against persecutions. Then he added the further right of the faith to defend itself against error, arguing that “error has no rights.” This doctrine eventually allowed the church to use the power of violence to enforce orthodoxy on dissenters.

In the UK today, there is a petition asking the state to use its power to enforce the orthodoxy of unbelief. The petition calls for a ban on “the religious identification” and “indoctrination” of children under the age of 16. Geneticist Richard Dawkins was the first to sign the petition. However, the next day he recanted, claiming he had not considered all the implications of the petition. (Dawkins’ “mea culpa” may be found at

What would the implications be? How would the petition be enforced? Would Jewish parents again be persecuted for practicing the ancient rite of circumcision–a rite that for them testifies to the faithfulness of the God who liberated slaves from Egypt over 3000 years ago and called them to become a community that practices freedom and justice?

Would teaching the Torah to children be banned? Dawkins did not remove his name from another petition that called for the prohibition of all faith-based schools in the UK, regardless of funding. Evidently Hebrew schools would have to be shut down if the ban were to be passed.

My question is–where does the need for an enforced orthodoxy come from? If biology can explain everything, what is the biological need for conformity in thought? The persecution of dissent from the dominant orthodoxy is not a specifically religious impulse. Its secular form is still going strong.

If there is a biological need to crush dissent, can faith overcome biology?


Is There No Difference?

Manson Amish Girls



Mother TeresaML King

mosque bombing



Child bleeding



For two-hundred years the question was “Is it True?”

Is there a God? Is there a reason we are here? Is there any hope for a better world? Is there any hope beyond the grave? Is one religion more true than another?

Jimmy C building Now many believe all religions are the same; they are all evil. There is no difference between a mother who teaches her children, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children in the world. Red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight”–no difference between this and teaching lonely, hormone-filled teenagers they can have seventy virgins if they blow themselves up in the war against the infidels.

For me faith means following Jesus in the way of love. Anything else is bad religion.

Where’s Derek?

MyselfHey, I didn’t mean to do it man. I’m new at this. Derek posted my first comment. When I tried to revise my first post, I accidentally lost his post. Try again, please. If you know Derek, tell him to try again. I won’t erase him this time.


If faith is an opinion about the world . . .

How do we form such opinions?

We believe what we see.
But seeing isn’t as simple as it seems. As children we learned to see in the same way that we learned language. We developed a vocabulary and grammar of images. We learned the meanings of images and how various images relate to each other.
Later science taught us we can’t trust what our eyes tell us. Our eyes tell us this table is solid, but science tells us it is made of atoms, which in turn are made up of sub-atomic particles. What seems so solid to our eyes and to the touch is, as Lucretius taught, nothing but “atoms and the void.”

My wife enjoys photographing nature–butterflies, flowers, birds. Her interest has trained her eyes to see in a unique way.

Can we choose what to see?





We learn about things we haven’t seen from people we trust.

We learn to interpret our experiences by listening to others. We eventually learn that some people are mistaken and others are more often correct. We choose whom we listen to.


We learn to relate things like cause and effect and draw conclusions based on things we have seen and experienced. We may learn that sometimes we jump to the wrong conclusions. We may eventually think about reasoning and learn better ways of reaching conclusions.

But what if by faith, we mean not an opinion about the world or a set of opinions about the world.  What if by faith, we mean trust?

1.  If faith is trust . . .

Whom can we trust?

How do we learn to trust?

Can we choose to trust?

Erik Erikson said learning basic trust is a child’s first developmental task. If our parents meet our needs and provide us a secure, warm, intimate environment, we may learn to develop basic trust.

We learn to trust—or not—before we develop language and reasoning ability. We eventually learn that not everyone can be trusted and we learn to think about trust. We can choose whom we trust.

What if faith concerns not only our ability to trust, but also our trustworthiness. What if we think of faith as a commitment.

2.  If faith is commitment . . .

Suppose I’m committed to sustainable living, but I find it’s not easy being green. What do I do when recycling is not convenient, when I don’t have the money to buy organic apples, when worms attack my home-grown tomatoes?

Of course, we can re-evaluate commitments, or we can accept a little compromise.

I was cycling with a friend in a hilly area. Going down a long hill I pedaled as fast as I could. For those of us who remember the national 55 MPH speed limit, it is always a great thrill to break that limit. But I exhausted myself going downhill and lagged behind my friend on the way up the next hill. I apologized, but he said, “Hey, at least we are not sitting on the couch.” We were doing something for our health, even if we were not perfect. Can we live with a pretty good level of commitment?

If we think of faith as a commitment, especially when the commitment takes the form of a vow or a promise, then faith becomes a virtue.

3.  If faith is a virtue . . .

There is no virtue in being gullible, but most of us think we ought to keep our promises. We shouldn’t make promises carelessly, but when we do, we should keep them.

So if faith is a virtue, then we can choose to adopt the disciplines and habits that strengthen the virtue of faith.

Maybe there is one more possibility. Maybe faith is the ability to envision an alternate world, a better way of life.

4.  If faith is the power of creative imagination . . .

Maybe the world has never been changed without faith.

For thousands of years, no one was able to imagine a world without slavery. If we could go back and ask Aristotle, he would say, “that’s impossible, who would do the work?”

It wasn’t too long ago that people could not imagine a world in which women could be trusted to vote.