The concepts of faith and religion have undergone much scrutiny since the turn of the century. As individual religious bodies have developed splintered and extreme fractions, the core principles of various faiths have become increasingly unclear, creating conflict and dissention within and outside of certain independent belief systems. This has seen a steep rise in the increase of those who practice atheism and are agnostic within the US. The last 9 years have witnessed the total number of citizens who practice atheism double from its 2001 figure. In terms of individuals who are agnostic, their number has more than doubled in the same length of time, as faith has been tested and numerous eminent voices have disputed the validity of religion as a whole and their values. The question is whether religious bodies and their teachings actually doing God and the concept of faith a disservice? Acts Committed in the Name of God As religion has evolved, certain faiths have changed and developed splintered and more extreme factions. This happens where members of a faith become dissatisfied with its purpose and feel that it does not represent their interpretation of its literature and values, and seek to create their own accountable belief system. This highlights two core issues with following a religion. Firstly, any literature or scripture is completely open to individual interpretation, allowing followers to apply liberal or conservative connotations to various passages. Secondly, this scope for interpretation allows malevolent and manipulative individuals to understand and relay these passages to suit a particular requirement. Most religious literature has been challenged at some point in time, simply because these passages and scriptures represent a single view from a single point in time. The foundation of religion is bound in literature and narrative, with very little in the way of supporting visual imagery and scientific fact. Therefore anyone who has a certain level of intelligence and develops an interest in religion can challenge and question its teachings, and apply their own interpretation where necessary. In an age where more and more people are question religious and even the existence of God, the speculative nature of religious literature is encouraging many to live their life without faith in a traditional belief system. Given the open and malleable nature of faith in its individual representative bodies, it is also open to people to wilfully misinterpret. This has come under increasing focus since the turn of the century, as the world and various communities are witnessing more and more atrocities committed in the name of God and faith. In this instance it is hard to believe that this is the case of an individual blithely following their honest interpretations of a religious scripture, as other issues such as morality and conscience would also venture into play. The likelihood is that malevolent factions and elements are seeking to use religion as a tool, in order to resolve a personal conflict or create a national and global anarchy. Because of its thought and discussion provoking nature, religion can therefore be manipulated to suit any need or action. A Question of Faith These issues, coupled with certain individual’s knowledge of science and technology, make religion and faith a difficult concept to fully comprehend and follow. When you also consider that those who have been victims of certain religion affiliated acts of violence are likely to lose their faith, it helps to explain the large increase in the number of atheists and agnostic followers. The worry is that while various religions and religious scriptures remain at the mercy of individual interpretation and wilful misdeeds committed in their tarnished names, more and more people will lose their faith and see their entire belief system diminished. Where people who have held deep religious beliefs suddenly see them questioned and diluted as a consequence of discourse or action, then their behaviour can suffer accordingly. Unfortunately, people tend to treat faith and independent religious bodies as one, but the truth is that they are very separate entities. Faith is a crucial element in life, and whether it is belief in God, an afterlife or strength in community and social unity, its value should not be diminished by the people and bodies that represent it. Faith has helped victims of crime and bereavement through difficult periods of recovery, and when stripped to its base principles it remains a tangible source of hope and strength. Religion and their representative bodies merely adapt a suitable understanding of faith to suit their individual scriptures and teachings, and when these are used to endorse acts of atrocities it should serve only to impact upon religion and not the generic concept of faith.