Faith and Empathy

"Well, I do believe some things, of course . . .
and therefore, of course, I don't believe other things."

—G.K. Chesterton, The Incredulity of Father Brown

The progressive turning away from belief in God that characterized Western intellectuals during the 19th century continues, alas, in the 20th. This intellectual shift has often been attributed to the triumphs of science and to the theories of Marx, Freud, and Darwin. But the rise of modern skepticism may also be traced to increasing awareness through textual, anthropological, and folkloric study of non-Judaic and non-Christian cultural traditions with ancient and quite sophisticated religious systems of their own. Deciding whether Western skepticism was primarily a cause or an effect of ever-increasing fascination with the East—a fascination both aesthetic and philosophical in nature—is, to be sure, something like resolving the chicken-or-egg problem. But confrontation with the Orient has forced modern man to wonder: "If there exist in fact several traditions offering exhaustive explanations for life and man's place in the universe, who is to say that our own has any monopoly on the truth—or indeed that it is correct at all? Could it be that men have simply created more or less arbitrary explanations to account for the apparently inexplicable condition in which they...

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