FARIA: Religion and civil discourse in The Telegraph

I want to thank both Douglas Harden and Dr. Bill Cummings for conducting such an informative and clarifying civil discussion on Catholic Church dogma and cannon law. I appreciate their sharing ecclesiastical knowledge as well as their civility. I'm sorry that this debate went over the heads of some frivolous "opiners," who dismissed it with atheistic contempt. It is an interesting but telling observation that keen observers will notice over and over: Why are atheists so preoccupied with God, denying monotheistic religion, and in deriding people of faith? I deny the occurrence of alien abduction and earthly visitations by UFOs. Yet, I have never been preoccupied or written about UFOs or deriding those who do. Their beliefs are their own. They can put UFOs on their car tags; it doesn't offend me or affect my way of life.

Returning to the importance of this discussion, the fact remains world leaders — i.e., Catholic, Protestant, Moslem, and even atheistic dictators — pay attention to papal and Church teachings and pronouncements. Fidel and Raul Castro and Mikhail Gorbachev are examples of communist atheists who invited over and had conversations with Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, even if they ignored and did not follow papal advice. Obama has listened to Pope Francis, although some say he has also kowtowed to Saudi princes and Iranian imams.

This is the way in which civil discourse should be conducted, and in fact persuasion and reasoning in this format may convert more minds and souls and be more conducive to the arrival at truth. A thoughtful online reader has already attested to this fact. In many ways Harden and Cummings are in agreement. The only apparent disagreement is about the arguable need for changes in Church doctrine. Cummings is correct that some changes may be needed in order to sustain the vitality of the Church. Those changes should probably come about gradually, as they have come over the centuries. Precipitous "reform" may be detrimental in that what the Church gains, as Cummings asserts to "meet the changing minds and hearts of people everywhere," is lost by uprooting those same people of their cherished beliefs and moral principles, and brings about spiritual instability. With good reason people fear sudden change.

Drastic change in response to opinions of the day may result in the loss of long-held beliefs that have sustained humanity through countless trials and tribulation, as was the case of the centuries old suffering of Polish and Irish Catholics. It is the raison d'être of religion to not only help us conduct a moral life, but also provide spiritual comfort and stability in lives otherwise afflicted by the vicissitudes of life and human suffering, which are part and parcel of the human condition. This, I am afraid, will also go over the heads of those who fear what they don’t understand and deride the tranquility in others that they themselves cannot possess.

Written by Dr. Miguel Faria

Miguel A. Faria Jr., M.D. is Associate Editor in Chief and World Affairs Editor of Surgical Neurology International. His website is: www.haciendapub.com and www.drmiguelfaria.com

This editorial was published in the Macon Telegraph on November 13, 2014.  

Copyright ©2014 Miguel A. Faria, Jr., M.D.



Your rating: None Average: 5 (3 votes)
Comments on this post

Religion and Civil Discourse

The following replies were noted to this article in the Macon Telegraph, November 13, 2014

Willy Bean: Thank you Dr. Faria. One would have to be God to KNOW God doesn't exist.

John Dale: I want to thank Miguel Faria for providing such a good example of religious hypocrisy. He derides and misrepresents atheists whilst attempting, yet spectacularly failing, to claim the moral high ground. He talks of leaders of religions, but atheists are apparently dictators, and the age old lie comes out that he doesn't campaign against UFOs in the way that he paints atheists campaigning against his imaginary friend. Try to imagine just for a moment Mr Faira [sic], if you are capable, what your stance would be if UFO acolytes were trying to force their puerile and bigoted beliefs into the law of the land.

Jim Sandefur: I'm afraid your comment, Mr. Dale, is over Faria's head. His contradictions are obvious and his argument is that of a mental midget. All three Abrahamic religions are laughably ridiculous, but those of us who laugh at people who believe in an adult version of Santa Claus are supposedly intolerant and obsessed. It is always ironic when the source of most of the world's intolerance — the severely religious — complain of intolerance. Non-believers aren't obsessed with religion, it is just that some of us do not respect sacred cows and are entertained by the conniption fit this causes believers.

Daisy Elain Jones: I bet Dr. Faria would say to you two posters: "...Illiberal intolerance, ad hominem attacks, and attempted derision of their opponents about what they cannot defend is the refuge of the intellectually defeated." And I'd say he's right on target.

Dr. Faria Replies: Thank you Daisy Elain Jones for your kindness. Indeed Willy Bean, Carl Sagan himself, despite his politics and anti-religion bias, wrote: "An atheist has to know a lot more than I know. An atheist is someone who knows there is no god."

I replied here as well to the two other posters, as in previous attempts to reply to critics of my articles in The Telegraph, I was informed by editor, Charles Richardson: "You have had your say and he has had his." And given the limited space in The Telegraph and the possibility of endless arguments, it is a reasonable policy. Nevertheless, attacks of the crude and derisive nature of two of the posters require a detailed response as they aim to intimidate the writers and restrict the freedom of speech of those with whom they disagree.

To Mr. Dale, I ask, where is the hypocrisy? Where are the specific hypocritical remarks in the article? This accusation would be valid if he could point out specifically where I stated my personal religious beliefs and then prove that I commonly violate those beliefs or the virtues I professed in them by word or deed — as for example, Al Gore attacking the internal combustion engine and the waste of fossil fuels, and then flying around the world in a private jet to lecture about ecology! In my case, so much for a baseless accusation!

Second, I did not "misrepresent" atheists. The dictators I mentioned are self-described atheists! And yes, most dictators, and for sure all the communist ones, were, and those still in power are, atheists; and they are the hypocrites when they confer with religious figures, even with popes, to assuage the population and help them keep their power.

Third, as to UFOs and religion, my analogy holds; although I admit Dale's argument at first reading seems to make a valid point. Nevertheless, at close scrutiny, his argument disintegrates. In today's prevailing secular zeitgeist of the Western social democracies and the United States, fundamentalist Christian beliefs are not about to be "forced into the law of the land"; to the contrary, their values are more a hindrance to the passage of legislation than those of the prevailing politically-correct, secular ideology.

I oppose theocracies of any type and forcing religious beliefs on anyone. I believe in religious freedom and civil discourse in which all can participate, different views are shared, but without resorting to intimidation or ridicule of those with whom we disagree.

There should be no room in a serious debate for such remarks as, "All three Abrahamic religions are laughably ridiculous," and condescendingly referred to them as "superstition." In fact, this is not only an offensive remark to the faithful, but also an elitist one, as the opiner, Mr. Sandefur, sets himself to ridicule countless billions, by the authority of his own self-importance, as if he was privy to and certain of a truth that alluded the rest of ignorant humanity!

I would be the first to join hands with secularists if America, in an improbable quirk of fate, was suddenly headed towards becoming a Puritan theocracy, a Calvinist Geneva, or a Catholic Inquisitorial State. But fear not, towards an intolerant Judeo-Christian theocracy is not where we're headed, and that is not what we should be fearing. Christian fundamentalism in the West, as far as political power, is an empty boogeyman, a fallacious straw man. The real danger is with the increasingly authoritarian power wielded by the State. And, if there is to be fear from that quarter, fear of a religious fundamentalist takeover in the not too distant future, in either Europe or America, the threat would come from militant Islam and sharia law, not from a Christian theocracy.

Islamic fundamentalism is law in Islamic nations, such as Iran and Sudan, and growing rapidly in the rest of the world and the West. Christian fundamentalism, on the other hand, is of little political influence in the social democracies. Mosques are full of believers in Asian and African nations, as well as in Europe; the churches and cathedrals, on the other hand, are the imposing but empty monuments of a bygone era.(1) They are empty and so is their political influence. We have had a member of the Editorial Board of The Macon Telegraph even support sharia law in the United States!(2,3)

Despite the influence of the Enlightenment and the purported deism of several of the American Founders, an intermediate course between religion and government is what they agreed and intended, not an impenetrable "a wall of separation," as Thomas Jefferson stated in a private letter. An Aristotelian middle ground is what is fit and proper.(4) The Founders believed Judeo-Christian religion, the religion in which they were brought up, supported the moral code, limited the need for the use of the power of the State, and encouraged order in society.(5,6) Others, such as the Jacobin leaders of the French Revolution in the 18th century, disagreed, and the totalitarian dictators of the 20th century, such as Adolph Hitler, Mao Tse-tung and Joseph Stalin, needed no such niceties as religious morality and required no props to rule, as they had absolute power, and ruled oppressive Police States.

As to the second critic, there are no logical arguments, no specific rebuttals, only attacks, attempted personal disparagement, empty generalizations. The most eloquent phraseology he took from my article, i.e., "arguments supposedly going over my head" — fat chance of that! His attack, as previously stated, is meant to bully, intimidate, and ridicule those with whom he disagrees. As I have stated elsewhere, "They say morality is the refuge of the weak. I say "illiberal intolerance, ad hominem attacks, and attempted derision of their opponents about what they cannot defend is vacuity and the refuge of the intellectually defeated." As to his presumption to superior intellectual prowess, suffice to say, the "mental midget" himself is staring at Mr. Sandefur in the mirror! I have had my say, and thanks, to Mr. Dale and Mr. Sandefur for giving me an opening to expound on the role of civil discourse in discussions of religion and morality.


1. Stolinsky DC. Charles Martel, Where Are You?

2. Scholl T. "What the Koran says about Christianity: Part 2," The Macon Telegraph, February 12, 2012. (No longer indexed in The Telegraph.)

3. Faria MA. A Relevant and Brief History of Islam.

4. Faria MA. Philosophic Ramblings (Part I) Morality and Society.

5. Faria MA. Religion as the Opiate of the People?

6. Faria MA. Philosophic Ramblings (Part II): Religion and Politics.