Saturday, November 04, 2006

Take It On Faith

Penetrating the essence of the peasants’ faith is difficult. Essentially, it was a belief in the supernatural. They revered [the Pope] not as the Vicar of Christ [but] more like a great magician….if the pontiff’s magic failed, they would begin to turn away from him.
-William Manchester, A World Lit Only By Fire, 1992

In the dark ages, mankind lived by his faith (or perhaps it is more proper to say, by his superstition). This happened because Science was inadequate to meet the needs of the day. It did not explain the invisible plagues that crept through the land; it did not explain the things that went bump in the night.

So, mankind used his superstition to provide a framework upon which to hang the often troubling events that defined his world: Vampires, Werewolves, and Satan himself prowled the landscape. These dark images served very well to provide some rationale, some explanation, for those troubles which beset him.

Today, we are plagued by the opposite problem. Science has postulated so much information that those of us who either don’t have the education to understand, or who do not wish to take the time away from our daily lives (by far, I think, the greater number) have chosen to operate on faith.

In a world where we are beset by offerings of new information: podcasts, blogs, talk radio, streaming talk radio, TV, You-Tube, newsfeeds, RSS, and, of course, old fashioned books and newspapers, printed on honest-to-god paper, the possibilities are endless, and the shades and nuances of truth are, like my computer’s monitor, displayed in “millions of colors”.

In the end, who has the time to chase them all down? Did Kerry insult the troops, or did he take a righteous shot at the President and get quoted out of context by the Right Wing Media. Is the economy failing, or is it growing? Is Global Warming a fact? If so, is it part of the natural course of things, or is it the result of human activity? Can we stop it? Should we try?

In the end, most of us, and I must include myself, begin to act on faith. We operate on what we believe to be true.

In an article in The New Republic, Alan Wolfe reviews Tempting Faith, a book by David Kuo, a former Bush Administration official. In it, Wolfe describes the mindset of those evangelical Christians who help put Bush in office, and who helped keep him there:

Born-again Christians tend not to be liturgical in their religious practices;
spontaneity of expression takes priority over never-changing ritual. They are
not given to excessive theological exegesis; the text of the Bible tells them
all they need to know. They generally prefer their rock music to Bach and
Handel. Compared with Catholics, they are distrustful of hierarchy. Compared
with Jews, they emphasize belief over observance. Compared with their mainline
Protestant brethren, they worship with enthusiasm. And compared with every other
religion on the face of the earth, they judge sincerity by the power of the
stories that they tell each other.

And also…

Sincerity, for them, is everything, which is another way of saying that facts are nothing. The proof of their faith is its credulity.

Meaning, of course, that it boils down to two things: Keep It Simple, Stupid; and, the greater your ability to believe without proof, the more you exhibit to God and the world that you have Faith.

In arguing with conservative friends, I have been amazed at their ability to completely block out what I believe to be overwhelming evidence that the Bush Administration has failed on almost every front.

But, looking at this, I realize that their worldview does not depend on the evidence, or on logical argument. In a world defined exclusively by Faith, logic holds no place at all. Science and empirical reasoning do not hold sway. If the Bible says the world stopped spinning, then it stopped spinning; a man walked upon the water; and water was literally changed into wine.

When one is dealing with faith of this sort, a faith which, for some, postulates that George W. Bush is part of this great plan, one must not expect logic to carry the day: because Faith is a defense mechanism employed expressly to fill the gap created by lack of specific knowledge. It doesn’t matter if that knowledge is lacking because it does not exist (as in the Middle Ages) or because it is too complex to grasp (as in modern times.)
The result is the same.

Many of us despise this childlike and foolish ability to deny facts, to embrace faith, and thus avoid finding REAL solutions. But the lesson to draw from this is that we, too, must always be on guard against our own tendency toward Faith. Faith is, in the end, harmful. It stands in the way of progress. It doesn’t matter if one’s gods are God, or Rachael Carson, Noam Chomsky, Thomas Jefferson, Eugene Debs, or Karl Marx. Everything must be subject to examination. Even our own certainty.

At any rate, it will be interesting to see if the people’s faith in “the great magician”, George W. Bush, and his congressional minions, will show solid signs of failing next Tuesday.

If so, I hope that those who will begin to gather in the reins of leadership have a better plan than taking everything on Faith.

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