In Good Faith: Ques­tion­ing Reli­gion and Atheism

By – November 26, 2018

At the heart of In Good Faith: Ques­tion­ing Reli­gion and Athe­ism is the endur­ing ques­tion of the val­ue of liv­ing a reli­gious life. The book begins over a sushi din­ner, when Scott Shay’s busi­ness acquain­tance, a self-pro­claimed athe­ist, ridicules belief in God and places sci­en­tif­ic progress as our guide­post for improv­ing the world. Shay choos­es not to defend God over appe­tiz­ers; instead, he has shared his response in what he calls a book on ratio­nal belief in God.”

The book cov­ers forty-one chap­ters, bro­ken down into six parts, all of which explore the com­mon argu­ments of athe­ists. Shay begins by explor­ing the dif­fer­ence between monothe­ism and idol­a­try, high­light­ing how the mod­ern mod­el for moral behav­ior is built on the Abra­ham­ic faiths. Idol­a­try, he claims, is the ene­my of moral­i­ty and the prac­tice against which athe­ists should direct their crit­i­cism, as it leads to the wide­spread exploita­tion of the many by the dei­fied few.” Monothe­ism as reflect­ed in the Bible, Shay con­tends, pro­vid­ed noth­ing less than a tem­plate for a rad­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion in how man relat­ed to God, oth­er men, and the world.”

In Good Faith con­tin­ues with a dis­cus­sion of the val­ue of free will, though Shay admits it opens the door to evil. In sec­tion four, Shay ques­tions the chal­lenge to prove or dis­prove God’s exis­tence and role in cre­ation; in sec­tion five, he dis­cuss­es the his­tor­i­cal accu­ra­cy of the Bible. In the book’s final sec­tion, Shay sug­gests that both rejec­tion and accep­tance of God’s exis­tence require a leap of faith.

Rec­og­niz­ing that he’s most com­fort­able with the Hebrew Bible and the Jew­ish tra­di­tion, Shay sought out Mus­lim and Chris­t­ian thought lead­ers in order to bet­ter under­stand how the oth­er Abra­ham­ic reli­gions might answer the ques­tions raised in his book. Excerpts from these con­ver­sa­tions, which reveal an extra­or­di­nary depth of reli­gious con­vic­tion, enhance Shay’s argu­ments in favor of religion.

In Good Faith is a fresh rework­ing of a peren­ni­al­ly chal­leng­ing sub­ject. Shay’s thought­ful and acces­si­ble writ­ing style will make the book engag­ing to a wide vari­ety of readers.

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions

In Good Faith: Ques­tion­ing Reli­gion and Athe­ism asks its read­ers to think about idola — try in an age when many think it is a thing of the past. Defin­ing idol­a­try as the deifi — cation of finite beings or ideas, Scott A. Shay makes a per­sua­sive argu­ment for why it caus­es the break­down of moral­i­ty and should be the com­mon ene­my of athe­ists and believ­ers alike. Once one rec­og­nizes that reli­gion and sci­en­tif­ic ratio­nal­ism are not at social odds with each oth­er, he allows for an open dia­logue between believ­ers and non­be­liev­ers about faith and sci­en­tif­ic rea­son, and pro­vides a clear argu­ment for the ratio­nal­i­ty of belief in the mod­ern age. Scott Shay writes both from a per — son­al point of view as a com­mit­ted Jew, and for a gen­er­al read­er, giv­ing peo­ple of any reli­gion, or no reli­gion at all, some­thing to con­sid­er about mean­ing and faith in the con­tem­po­rary age.