Traverse City Record-Eagle

December 11, 2010

Perspectives: Critical thinking about faith

By Harry Dorman, Local columnist
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---- — Can critical thinking be used to help weave the fabric of one's faith?

For a growing number, the answer is yes — not in the context of religious negativity or pessimism — but as a positive evaluative thought process designed to helping create the best overall fit between faith and follower.

America's diverse religious landscape is changing as more critically thinking Americans are on the move within a new "religious marketplace." According to The Pew Forum U.S. Religious Landscape Survey, 2007, 28 percent of adult Americans have left the faith they were raised in, in favor of another religion. Moreover, 16 percent of adult Americans (25 percent of those 18 to 29) report no religious affiliation at all.

The critical thinking process is a relatively new phenomenon in religious realms where historically the direction of one's faith has been largely determined by such things as family tradition, cultural orientation and peers. But a new trend toward in-depth evaluation, intellectual clarity and the honoring of personal beliefs are playing an increasing role in shifting American religiosity.

For example, critical thinkers are more likely to measure a current or prospective faith's public posture and handling of contentious social, political or other life and church issues in the light of their own personal core beliefs, rather than automatically deprecating their own beliefs and opinions in favor of religious directives. Today's faith seekers increasingly avoid situations where overzealous public and pulpit activism and intrafaith conflict overshadows fundamental spiritual responsibilities.

Also, critical thinkers tend to support a growing belief in the concept of all religions as different but equally valid paths leading to an all-encompassing greater collective divine whole. Accordingly, a new breed of self-directed, evaluative seekers look more favorably upon faiths demonstrating positive acceptance (not just "tolerance") of other religions — and distancing themselves from those religions remaining aloof in claiming sole legitimacy.

And while new seekers in the religious marketplace are better informed as to the many faith options and their right to choose among them, they also understand that no religion is perfect — and that followers must be fair-minded in forgiving some of faith's imperfections when the fundamental goal of aligning followers with the greater divine whole is being met.

The message is not that of encouraging anyone to move away from any religion without good reason, but that of recognizing the importance of a following a clear, fair, accurate and intelligent path in finding a comfortable fit for both faith and follower. Diversity in America will continue to be a source of strength, when people come together in harmony for the greater collective good. Why not in the matter of our national collective spiritual good — through building greater interfaith understanding and acceptance? What better time to begin this task than now? What better place to begin than right here in our own community?

We all have the right, and perhaps more to the point, the obligation — to think critically concerning faith in creating a more harmonious world.

The Rev. Harry Dorman is an ordained Wiccan priest, a founding member of ACORD, the Area Council On Religious Diversity, and a member of the Traverse City Area Wiccan Circle. For past Perspective columns, written by area religious leaders, log on to record-eagle.com/perspectives.