Rising Tide of Religious Faith

Richard H. has found another interesting piece. If this keeps up, I may have to put him on the staff.

This New York Times column by Nicholas D. Kristof discusses the rising tide of religious belief in the United States compared to the rest of the industrialized countries.

He compares some aspects of this trend to what he has seen when he has been with mullahs and imams of the Islamic world.

I think I begin to understand the common factor. The United States is seeing unprecedented economic competition from the rest of the world. People in this country are seeing signs of the possible end to U.S. economic domination. We may have a strong military, but we may not have the economic resources to keep it in the field against all the adversaries we are facing.

On the Islamic side of the world, there has been a general failure of most citizens in Islamic countries to realize any economic gains from the rising price of oil. The Palestinians’ living conditions have not improved due to any concessions that the Arab world has made in negotiations with Israel. What few Islamic countries have seen any progress toward democracy have not seen any benefit for the lives of the average resident.

The common factor between these two sides is fear. Add in global warming and you just get more fear. I think there is a tendency to turn toward unquestioning religious faith in times of fear and stress. No rational action has seemed to make things better. Perhaps some savior will step in to rescue us.

Another common factor is the presence of people seeking power who take advantage of the fear that the population is feeling.

I realized the other day that I am actually a believer, too. I have faith that basing personal and political actions on rational and intelligent analysis of the situation is the best hope of humanity. We can figure out what has gone wrong with previous policies, and we can choose better policies. I also have faith that technological innovation, with some of which I have been involved since 1961, can make our lives better if used carefully.

Another tenet of my faith is that making life altering decisions based on beliefs that seem to contradict rational evidence is not a wise thing to do. As an engineer, I was always having to make decisions based on incomplete knowledge. However, an engineer does have the responsibility to gather as much information as is feasible before making those decisions.

If there is a God, would she have given us a brain if she didn’t want us to use it?

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