A Matter of Faith

Thursday, December 6, 2007
This time of year, there tends to be a lot of discussion surrounding the holidays and the separation of church and state. Some of it is legitimate (such as prayer in schools), some of it is retarded (such as whether or not a government employee can have a Christmas Tree on their desk). All of it gets me to thinking about matters of faith.

To my mind, there are two kinds of people who live lives of faith.

The first kind believe what they believe, and understand that their leap of faith is just that - a leap that cannot be empirically proven. They understand their faith really isn't subject to the scientific method, they understand that this may be considered a limitation in the eyes of the skeptics, and they're okay with that. They're also okay with the skeptics who believe that matters of faith are subject to the scientific method - they just don't apply it themselves.

The second kind believe what they believe, and understand that their leap of faith is based on Truth. Their faith isn't subject to the scientific method, and are deeply offended when someone attempts to apply it to their Truth. In their minds, the depth of their own belief exempts their faith from examination by others, and also implies other people have an obligation to believe in the same Truth they do as a matter of faith.

Well.

You will never hear me say a disrespectful word about people of faith that fall into the former camp. I have a number of friends and family members who live their lives by religious principles. For the most part, they understand the limitations of faith relative to science, and have made a conscious, faith-based decision to believe. That's not the decision I've made, but I understand and respect their decision, as they understand and respect mine.

The folks in the latter camp are a different matter. These people can range in intensity from "Annoying Pest" to "Freeze-Dried Whack-a-Loon" to "Freeze-Dried-Whack-a-Loon with Access to Nuclear Weapons."

That last group scares me down to my toes, but the ones I'm going to talk about today are the ones that play both ends against the middle. Obviously, the Young Earth Creationists fall into this category.

In my mind, matters of religion and faith are academically categorized as a "humanity." This is because religion is a huge part of the human condition, and like most humanities, is really a matter of opinion. It's not subject to the scientific method, and its academic study is not pursued to establish its veracity.

This differentiates it from the sciences, where empirical proof, experimentation and repeatable observation are the hallmarks of academic achievement.

Both disciplines are worthwhile, and both add to the understanding of the human condition. But you have to choose which category your discipline falls into. If it's a humanity, it's not subject to the scientific method, and as such, is a matter of opinion. If it's a science, it's subject to the scientific method, and open for challenge. (Yes, I realize this is an oversimplification).

So you don't get to say your religious views cannot be challenged because "you have to respect someones religion" out of one side of your mouth, and then say your view of the world is a valid scientific hypothesis out of the other. Either your worldview is scientific, and subject to the same rigorous standards as the rest of science, or your worldview is faith-based, and should be categorized as such, i.e., a matter of opinion that cannot be proven.

Now some people do a very good job of reconciling their world-views between the empirical and the religious, mostly by keeping their faith a private matter and their science a public one. An example of this is the idea that evolution is the mechanism by which a creator god created life.

While I feel I have an ethical obligation to be respectful to persons of faith that fall into the first category, I have no obligation to do so in the second case. Their bad science and zealotry is laughable to me, and it gets the respect it deserves.

11 comments:

Signonthedottedline said...

Hear hear!

Shawn Powers said...

I find myself squarely (for the most part) in the first camp. I'll even add the caveat that while I do believe, by faith, those things regarding religion that I do -- I also know that the world was once flat, and Santa used to come down my chimney. That may sound like I'm discounting my own faith and beliefs, but I'd argue that I'm so unwilling to stop learning as much as I can about as much as I can -- that excluding my faith from that desire to learn would be silly. Maybe that does make me a wishy-washy Christian. So be it.

The thing I've never understood about "my way or the highway" type religious folks, is that what's the point of a person claiming faith if it was forced on them? Is that the type of believer I want to be lumped in with? Uh, no.

As an insider, I'll assure you that the intelligence level of the individual has a lot to do with the insecurities that spurn the, "My truth is your truth, now drink this Kool-Aid" type mentality. That's not to say I think my way isn't Truth, but I can't make it yours.

Since my comment is already longer than your post, I'll add that Jesus himself only spoke faith-wise with those that wanted to hear, AND he told the religious idjits of the day where to stick it. So to speak. I doubt many, "Christians" would really like Jesus the man. I'm just sayin.

Janiece Murphy said...

Shawn, thanks for your comments. I had assumed, based on your comments elsewhere that you fell into the first camp.

I think you've put your finger in the sore when you say you're unwilling to stop learning, and you include your faith in that desire to feed your mind. I don't think that makes you a wishy-washy Christian. From my point of view, that makes you "open-minded," and that, more than any other attribute, separates the first camp from the second.

I can't really take someone's claim to be open-minded very seriously when what they really mean is "I'm open-minded as long as you agree with me." For me, that's the tip of the logical fallacy iceberg, and a big warning sign that I may want to (insert Monty Python voice here) "Run Away, Run Away!"

I'm a Buddhist (although I'm not a very good one), and for Buddhists, the existence of God is an open question. I like the idea of having the divine remain unknown. However, that doesn't mean that if evidence appears that answers the question that I'll ignore it as a matter of principle. Being open-minded also means being open to the possibility that you may be wrong. And I'm okay with that, too.

MWT said...

I think a lot of the second-camp Christians misinterpret "spread the word" to mean "shove it down everyone else's throats until they capitulate." Fortunately, I know enough first-camp Christians who understand that it works a lot better the way Jesus did it - tell people who want to hear about it, to know it isn't all Christians.

As for me, my take is that science is great for trying to understand things in the physical world. However, there is more than just the physical world. While we could conceivably apply science to the other parts of reality, first we must figure out how to actually measure even the most basic things about them, such as psychic energy; until we can do that, parapsychology etc. isn't going anywhere.

Janiece Murphy said...

MWT, you make a good point. I don't think our science is currently sophisticated enough to address spiritual issues. Personally, I can't wait until it is!

Jim Wright said...

I doubt many, "Christians" would really like Jesus the man. I'm just sayin. Ha! Something I've suspected for a very long time, Shawn.

I don't understand religion, and don't pretend to. I grew up in the Protestant Church, surrounded by a very Catholic family (Oh yeah, that was fun). I remember even as a little kid in sunday school thinking "I don't get this, I just don't believe it." When I was old enough I walked away and haven't been back. I have no problem respecting other's beliefs, but I expect the same respect for my beliefs in return - but far too often I meet the 2nd type of Christian, and after a certain point I've had enough. Then I say something and get the 'you don't respect my beliefs!' bit. Respect is earned, and it's a two way street. You don't give it, you don't get it. At least not from me.

Janiece Murphy said...

You don't give it, you don't get it. At least not from me.

Me neither.

Signonthedottedline said...

Mitt Romney's ... uh... whatever THAT was to reassure the American Public that the Elders in the Mormon church won't be directing his efforts in the White House.
Discuss.

Janiece Murphy said...

Didn't JFK face the same kind of criticism WRT the Pope?

I think the truth of the matter depends on whether Mitt is part of Camp 1 or Camp 2. Since I can't vote in the Republican primary, I don't know much about him. Even if he wins the nomination, though, it's very unlikely I would vote for someone so conservative.

Jeri said...

You know, I've been thinking on this subject a lot, in relation to our current political climate.

Our constitution reads: ...but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

And yet, members of the latter group you identified would have that be so. In fact, they do not seem to be proponents of the rule of law or majority vote, but rather the dictatorial application of their own version of capital-T Truth to the citizenry at large.

It is a little scary. I prefer my freedom of thought to religious absolutes.

Janiece Murphy said...

Jeri, I agree. I'm a huge fan of the Constitution (yeah, I know - call me old-fashioned), and you certainly don't see me vetting all the candidates to see if they believe in the tenants of Buddhism.

For me, religion and politics don't mix. I'm such a radical.