Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Leap of Faith

At the heart of faith-based discourse is Kierkegaard’s famous leap of faith. Indeed, the adherence to a faith-based discourse requires more than a " willing suspension of disbelief " to make sense of the narrative; it requires a permanent suspension of critical thought with regard to the core incidents, values, and prescriptions predicated by the faith.

Essentially, the leap involves the movement away from rational discourse towards a modality of thought that clings to the irrational acceptance of the truthfulness of the faith’s claims and assertions. Often, contrary evidence will serve to test the faith of the individual. Depending on the nature of the evidence, the individual may simply choose to ignore it, modify the discourse in an attempt to explain it away, or, if the evidence is earth shattering, decide to leave the faith-based community. Most often, the fundamental precepts of the faith are impossible to verify or falsify and are held in place by an authoritarian organization that usually takes the form of a command and control hierarchy.

Historically, religious hierarchies have had the greatest impact on the development of human societies. Faced with the existential mystery of existence, coupled with a quality of life overwhelmingly nasty, brutish and short, faith-based communities coalesced and acquired the organizational capacity to bring order into a world fraught with the ravages of continual military conquest and repeated crop failures and epidemics.

Typically, the command and control religious hierarchy would emerge years after the truth had been revealed to the anointed one. Over time, power within the hierarchy would become concentrated, causing an unequal distribution of wealth and power in the faith-based community, favoring, of course those who administer the truth. Inevitably, the constant recourse to authoritative measures to control and dominate the masses created opportunities for those exercising control to use the means of domination to increase their power and wealth at the expense of the faithful.

Before the Age of the Enlightenment, coercion was the principle method employed to maintain order. In some sense, as long as disputes center on matters of faith, that is assertions not subject to verification or falsification, the use of force is perhaps the only way to resolve them. However, once questions concerning earthly existence became at odds with received doctrine, the use of force to maintain order could not endure. The most striking example is the Roman Catholic Church's attempt to maintain its dogma of a geocentric universe. Unfortunately, holding a heretic's feet to the fire does not change the fact that earth revolves around the sun and not the other way around.

Notwithstanding the often ferocious persecution of those who challenged the received dogma, the proponents of a more rational and empirical approach persevered and gained a sufficient number of adherents until a spiral of continued scientific discoveries created a secular sphere where the possibilities to acquire wealth and power far surpassed what could be has with the confines of the faith-based religious communities.

For the most part, faith-based and evidence-based discourse co-existed, each having its own sphere of influence. However, there would be elements of faith-based thinking that would transfer into the secular sphere with disastrous consequences.

Beginning in the 19th century and continuing throughout the 20th, the world saw the rise of faith-based political ideologies: capitalism, communism, and nationalism. In each instance, the fundamental ideological precepts demand a leap of faith. For capitalism, it is the belief that the unintended consequences of the rational pursuit of self-interest, guided by what Adam Smith refers to as the invisible hand, brings about the common good. For communism, it is the irrational belief in the myth of historicism in which the oppression of the masses inevitably gives way to the rise of the proletariat and the utopia which ensues. Finally, with regard to nationalism, it requires an irrational belief in the commonly held misconception of ethnic origins and a very selective reading of history to assert and justify claims for territorial control and exploitation. Considering the scale of the bloodshed and human suffering wrought by over a century of ideological warfare, each of the above-mentioned political ideologies merits its place in the dustbin of history.

In the secular faith-based hierarchies, there exist the same powerful institutional incentives to close the minds of the faithful to opposing views. In short, maintaining fundamental truths are the means to maintaining privilege. As a result, anomalies are ignored, claims and assertions are overstated, opposing ideologies are demonized, and the common good is sacrificed for the gains of a well-placed elite.

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