Debating any religious proponent inevitably leads to the issue of faith. Faith is the default fallback position for believers when pushed into a corner regarding the lack of empirical support for their claims. It is therefore worth examining the issue of faith a little closer.

Faith is a wonderful thing for those who have it. The faithful can believe in the existence of all manner of brilliant things – a God who loves them, an eternal existence in a luxury suite in heaven, just to name a few. With faith, life is meaningful, life is fulfilling, life is beautiful.

Faith is also a bulwark against those who tell you that reality may not be the way you say it is, because faith is not to be questioned.

Does God exist, despite no evidence of his existence? Sure, have faith that he is real. Are miracles possible, despite no scientific evidence to support their occurrence? Through faith, anything is possible! Faith can move mountains.

Faith is the doctrinal pillar of most world religions for a good reason. Without it, the plausibility of religious beliefs would collapse, because they have no foundation in empirical evidence.

Faith is often invoked in defence of religious belief as if the concept holds authority. Faith, however, is synonymous with blind belief and unquestioned actions. It leads to an irresolvable logical conundrum – if it is okay to believe in something based on ‘faith’, then what can distinguish the validity of one faith-based conception from another?

Who is to say that the person who has faith in Buddha is wrong, while the one who has faith in Jesus is correct? Who is to say that the Heavens Gate devotees who had faith that their bodies would be teleported to a mother ship trailing the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997 died in vain? Who is to say that the martyrs who blow themselves up with suicide vests in the name of Allah are mistaken?

Faith is not only misguided, it can be dangerous, as all blind belief potentially is.

To wish that something could be a certain way is understandable. I hope, too, that there is a deeper meaning to existence than simply the random processes that scientists have proposed.

But to believe in a greater purpose or deity beyond any shadow of a doubt, yet not be able to offer sufficient evidence or reason to support one’s views, is not acceptable. Not only does it involve deluding oneself and others, but it creates divisions between those of one faith against another.

The subtleties of power, deception and hypocrisy in the modern world require a citizenry capable of seeing through the fictions that parade as truth. Violence and control are no longer overt, like they are in authoritarian countries. In modern democracies, they are hidden beneath masks like national security, capitalism, bureaucratic rationality and, yes, even faith – faith in one’s God, faith in one’s country, faith in one’s government.

While the ideals of religions might appear to offer a solution to modern ills, their enactment is compromised by the unreflexive manner in which they are applied, and the baseless doctrine that accompanies them as unnecessary baggage. The ideals we embrace need to be based on humanitarian principles, not religious traditions.

It is the questioning student, not the faithful servant, that holds the key to the struggle ahead.