It takes a lot of courage to make the intellectual journey beyond faith, and more still to publicly renounce one’s former religion. Apostasy is as act that is usually not viewed sympathetically by an apostate’s former congregation. Apostates risk being socially outcast and publicly attacked for their “betrayal,” at least by those from Christian denominations. Some religions regard apostasy as a criminal act tantamount to treason, and deserving of the same punishment.
If courage is a virtue, then “apostate” must be regarded as a term of approbation. If courage is a virtue, and the term thereby loses any pejorative significance, the apostates walk among the heroes.
One such hero, Tim Prowse, was recently interviewed by Sam Harris. Prowse waxes eloquent on the subject of what can happen when an intelligent, intellectually honest person subjects his religious faith to extensive critical thinking:
It was so much easier to believe when living in an uncritical, unquestioning, naïve state. Seminary training … with its values of reason and critical inquiry began to undermine my naïveté. … Once I concluded that the Bible was a thoroughly human product and the God it purports does not exist, other church teachings, such as communion and baptism, unraveled rather quickly. To quote Nietzsche, I was seeing through a different “perspective” – a perspective based on critical thinking, reason and deduction. By honing these skills over time, reason and critical thinking became my primary tools and faith quickly diminished. Ultimately, these tools led to the undoing of my faith rather than the strengthening of it. [link]
And Prowse is not alone making this journey.
Some begin to think critically about their belief, and doubts begin to emerge. Sometimes those doubts become overwhelming and faith is lost; sometimes a person can reconcile themselves to doubt and regain their faith by placing higher value on other things than logical coherence and scientific knowledge. Serious students of theology are probably more likely to experience the tension between reason and faith, or experience it more acutely, than the causal believer, the fundamentalist or the evangelical. This suggests that the best strategy to protect one’s faith from the eroding forces of doubt is to avoid the sort of critical inquiry from which doubt naturally emerges.
So why isn’t critical thinking more widely viewed with suspicion among the faithful, as a sort of Trojan Horse for agnosticism or atheism?