Why does this interesting but frustrating phenomenon occur? It's not just because the prevalent form of religion among the ordinary people at the most powerful nation on the planet is not at all like the sophisticated forms of some philosophers. It goes beyond that. The fact is that the critic is not arguing against the effects of religion, but showing them as proof of its failed foundations. The problem is not spirituality or religion, but the essential element these and other practices are based upon: Faith.
The apologist hasn't attacked a parody of the critics' real argument, but they are indeed taking for granted that the basis of religions isn't a problem. In other words, they are taking for granted the Virtue of Faith.
First and foremost, what is faith exactly? Even though the word can be compared to "belief", a vital distinction is needed: 'belief' is the conviction that something is true, regardless of the methodology used to reach that conclusion. A belief can be justified or not at all. By contrast, 'faith' entails an absolute, blind, unconditional confidence in a figure of authority, normally allotted to a deity or prophet, although it actually lays in whoever indoctrinated the believer.
Why should we value at all a belief based on authority, 'irrefutable' only according to their proxies? It is a recipe for disaster that also manifests itself in the deification of political figures. Maybe the 20th Century would have been very different if the world population was prepared to fight the emotional manipulation on the World Wars and the Cold War. Likewise, the burden of proof laid on the shoulders of the Bush administration when justifying the invasion of Afghanistan -but the American people had the standards of proof at rock bottom thanks to the same faith that so well has served political and religious leaders across the ages.
At the other end of the spectrum are the scientists. Due to the claims made with certain certitude by specialists, in this world of sociocultural relativism in which "everyone is right" science is often accused of being just as fundamentalist and absolutist as religion in its purest form. And to notice the failure of this argument there is but to reiterate the difference between belief and faith; it doesn't matter how sure or unsure you are about a certain question, but the methodology used to reach at your conclusions. By definition and historical evidence, science adjusts its theories based on new observations; and here faith shows its contrast, when in the same situation shows itself as the denial of said observations so that belief can be preserved.
We all consider evidence-based belief a virtue but faith is eschewed because of its past status in a religious society. To put it simply, we cannot praise the integrity of the scientific method or highlight the importance of proof in general and at the same time hold fundamental beliefs not based on evidence. This contradiction couldn't subsist if not for the dreadful historical propensity for lifting religion above critical thinking, thus turning faith into a falsely axiomatic virtue.
There is simply no reason to do such a thing besides tradition. "Authority" and "Tradition" are the pillars of religious belief; pillars that have fortunately begun to crumble under the weight of a new technologically and socially progressive world.
The basis of religion has no room in the current world and that is why its most common representation has deteriorated in more subtle forms. Many will reply that the concept of God has evolved for the better. Undoubtedly, at first glance it seems that way: from the infantile "God of the Mountain" to the current ethereal being there seems to be a step forward, but we'd better analyze the history of this evolution.
When Mount Olympus ceased to be an unreachable peak and Jerusalem was destroyed despite the would-be physical protection of Elohim, Greeks and Jews had to admit that their gods weren't of the Earth but of the Heavens, that vast sky-cloth of nightly light spots eclipsed in the daytime by the big ball of fire that we know as the Sun, another physical god for many primitive civilizations. It was a new mystical and unattainable frontier, a new space to place their deities. And contrary to what the believers of the great three monotheistic religions take for granted, people really believed that Elohim -one of the first representations of the god that Jews, Christians and Muslims would inherit- lived physically on the sky.
But the concept of God had to gradually change again when natural philosophers started to study the Cosmos. Eventually, thanks to the telescope, a Dutch invention immediately perfected by Galileo, this hobby became a new science that disjointed the term 'astrology' from 'astronomy'. And again, the new unknowable mystery became just another physical space, a place that turned out to be pretty regular and predictable.
And so was born the current idea of God: a being nowhere to be seen but omnipresent, with no showings of power but all-powerful; contradictions that, again, are considered virtues instead of criticisms. Mystery is lifted above the observable and as such we have witnessed the blossoming of a 'spirituality' based on mysticism and murky ideas that must be ill-defined in order to avoid being exposed to critical analysis. As you surely have observed, it is hardly a question of an evolution filled with theological subtleties brought about by a greater understanding of 'Our Creator' but a push from knowledge that has been putting mysticism on the edge of existence. As a matter of fact, science has eroded or diluted the image of God and the supernatural, and that is why faith is barely standing over such a thin thread.
The scientific urge of exploration ousted faith in theistic religions from this Earth by margining God to the skies that primitive minds called "up". Not five centuries ago better observers with better tools caused a chain reaction that not only drove out the concept of God but practically stroke it down from the reality we live in. Science has stabbed God to death with Occam's razor. Thus has emerged the new almost deistic God and the 'spirituality' that poorly recycles oriental philosophies, both to hide in the fog.
And when the mist clears off again, they will realize that there is nothing behind.
(Leer la versión original: La virtud de la fe)