Well, I got started with the content creation then kind of slacked off for a while. To try and kick start things again I've hunted down some previous writings of mine from various discussion forums and will be putting them up here.

This one is on a subject that just recently came up again in another conversation I was having... which caused me to remember this post. I wrote this about two and a half years ago... my views on the subject are unchanged since then.

This is a topic I've wanted to address in greater detail for some time now. Let's start with a few examples of what "faith" is, as there are many different kinds.

1. "Faith" as a description of confidence in extremely reliable data. For example, I have faith the sun will rise tomorrow morning. The reason I have faith in this is because I have massive amounts of data available to me that inform me that this will occur barring an incredibly unlikely occurrence... like the sun exploding overnight or the space fairies halting the Earth's rotation. The sun has risen all 11,000+ days of my life to date, right on schedule, and I have no reason to suspect that pattern will be disrupted in the next 14 hours or so.

2. "Faith" as a description of well earned trust. For example, you can have faith that a good friend or close acquaintance will deal honestly and fairly with you. This is based on your experience of and familiarity with this person and their personality and behavior. Your judgment of their character. Really, you are expressing confidence in your own ability to evaluate the trustworthiness of another person when you encounter and interact with them.

3. "Faith" as an expresssion of loyalty and commitment. Usually to an individual or ideal which you have good reason to hold as worthy of support, as in 'keeping the faith'. You have evaluated and judged this person or principle and have come to the conclusion that it is worthy of your loyalty and efforts to advance it, and faithfully stand by it.

4. "Faith" as a description of an insistence on believing in something without regard for or even in direct opposition to any related information or evidence. For example, to cite some extreme cases, you can have faith that there is a spaceship carrying Jesus riding along and hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet and if you commit suicide while it passes your soul will float up to zoom around with Jesus in outer space. Or, you can have faith that food and water are unnecessary for your survival, and humans can survive by being photosynthetic or something. People clinging to this type of faith can usually be identified by statements such as "It doesn't matter what you say you can't change my mind, I hold my position through faith and my faith is unshakable!"

Now, on to the heart of the matter. Those four somewhat famous words... "faith is a virtue". That rather begs the question, what kind of faith are we talking about? The first two types of faith are not exactly virtuous, they're simply descriptions of a state of mind. I would not feel terribly compelled to praise someone for their virtue because they trusted people close to them or were confident in solid data, there's nothing uncommon or particularly commendable in either of those things. There's nothing unsavory about them either, but I wouldn't call them virtues.

I would consider that four word phrase to apply most to the third type of faith. To display the courage of your convictions, to steadfastly struggle to advance the principles you believe are worthy of upholding, and to loyally support and defend those people you judge to merit such devotion is not as common a trait as it should be, and does display nobility of character.

The fourth type of faith is nothing like the third, and yet it is often substituted for it. There is nothing virtuous about it, and yet those four words "faith is a virtue" are most often employed when defending this application of it. It is one thing to display loyalty and conviction to a cause or a person which you have good reason to conclude is worthy of that devotion. It is entirely another to squeeze shut your eyes, clamp hands firmly over ears, and refuse to even consider whether that which you are committing yourself to actually warrants it while yelling "I have faith, I'm not listening, I have faith, you can't change my mind". A person possessing the third type of faith would not continue to lend their support to a cause gone wrong, or a person turned malicious or dishonorable, or a course of action demonstrated to be incorrect or flawed. A person possessing the fourth type of faith shuts themselves off from even considering if that could be the case. Deliberately blinding themselves to any possibility of recognizing a possible error, the equivalent of declaring that they consider their own judgment to be infallible, that there is no way they could even consider that they could be wrong about what they have chosen to believe because that would somehow compromise their faithfulness.

And people are praised for it. It's tragic.

As is probably obvious to many, particularly those familiar with my posting history, this is mostly directed at people of a religious persuasion. To get this out of the way immediately, no, I am not saying that all people of a religious bent are guilty of indulging themselves in that fourth type of faith. And no, I am not suggesting that its application is limited to the religious. But it is more prevalent within religions than it is without due to the nature of religious claims and teachings. Religions usually need their adherents to accept claims that simply cannot be objectively verified or rationally investigated. And they have a strong tendency to encourage that those claims not just be provisionally entertained as possibilities to be considered, or philosophical musings to serve as a means of shaping thought, but fervently clung to as profound absolute truths.

When you combine the presentation of unverifiable claims with a need to have those claims presented as unassailable facts then you are left with little choice but to embrace that last type of faith as a means of encouraging the necessary mindset in the adherents of whatever religion you are dealing with. It is seen throughout history, organized religions holding up blind faith and acceptance of their central claims as a shining example of behavior to be praised and emulated, and questioning of those same principles as unfaithful, and at times flat out criminal. Something to be discouraged or outright reviled.

It is my opinion that this type of mindset can be found at the root of many of the world's problems. Conflicts become unresolvable when both sides refuse to consider the possibility that they could be wrong because they are "faithful" and thus will not doubt or question the contents of their beliefs, religious conflicts are some of the most virulent and deeply entrenched because neither side is conditioned to even consider that the other might have a valid position or that theirs might be wrong. Ignorance is clung to fervently because an honest exploration of the knowledge available to a person on any number of subjects might conflict with the articles of faith that individual has been raised to hold dear, and it would be "unfaithful" to seriously consider anything that spoke against them. Sheer, wrongheaded prejudice and stupidity are defended by appeals to the "commendable faith in their beliefs" of the person holding their stance against overwhelming evidence that they are incorrect. And people shy away from criticizing it when it is done out of fear of offending someone's religious beliefs because long centuries of ostracizing anyone who questioned religious teachings have attached a stigma to doing so, even though criticism is what such actions most deserve. I have seen any number of discussions broken off when one side of the debate suddenly realized they were near to getting into a difference of opinion about the other's religious beliefs, as if that somehow rendered that person being just plain incorrect in their arguments or statements inconsequential. Abandoning any attempt to reconcile differences of opinion or to reach a common understanding because religion barred the path. On other subjects differences of opinion can be found that are also deeply entrenched and fervently and stubbornly defended, but only when you begin to tread on religious claims is even making the attempt to resolve them often considered some kind of transgression since it involves requiring the people involved to seriously examine and question the claims involved.

And there you have my $0.02 on the subject of faith. If you're going to try to cultivate that particular virtue in yourself please take care to nurture the third type, and not allow yourself to slip into becoming trapped in the fourth.

1 comment:

  1. This essay was really good. As one who has held various beliefs on the origin of life over the course of my life I especially liked the characterization of people who hold beliefs in spite of the facts that are plainly in front of them:

    "It doesn't matter what you say you can't change my mind, I hold my position through faith and my faith is unshakable!"

    You should read John’s historical account of Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless of what you think of this guy’s divinity, he was arguable the most effective debater that ever lived. I think you’d like the way he shreds the leaders of the Jewish religious establishment of the time.

    While your there you may also want to take a look at Matthew 7:3-5. All of us (especially those who engage in public debate), need a little reminder every once and a while.