Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Faith and reality

In my previous post I contrasted Bush's faith-based view of the world with a reality-based view. I said that if too much of the country cedes its right to determine the nature of reality to what is revealed through faith (faith in a Deity or faith in Bush), we are doomed to return to the Dark Ages. I want to elaborate a bit on this point.

Most of us look to experts when making decisions. The world is far too complex for any one of us to understand it in its full complexity. In fact, the world is far too complex for any combination of people to understand it in its full complexity. We have not unraveled the complexities and mysteries of the world. But to the extent that we do understand the world, there is too much to understand for any one person to be an expert in everything. We are forced to rely on others. To a great extent, for example, I put my faith in my doctor when he makes a recommendation: he knows much more about medicine than I do.

But putting one's faith in an expert is different from subscribing to a faith-based view of the world. The former is a strategy for getting by without having to know everything. Even when I take the word of an expert, I don't give up my right to challenge that word — or to consult another expert.

The faith-based approach to the world does not reserve the right to think for oneself. If one agrees in principle that the nature of the world is as revealed in the writings of a book or as described by a pre-selected individual or group of individuals, and if one agrees not to challenge the descriptions of the world found in that book or in the words of the selected individuals, one is essentially reducing oneself the status of an automaton — an automaton ruled by whatever authority to which one has given one's faith.

Too many of Bush's supporters adhere to such a faith-based view of the world. By adopting a faith-based approach to life, and thereby giving up their right to question what they are told, they become easy prey for people like Bush who fit right into the pattern of offering revealed wisdom. It no longer makes any difference whether what Bush says makes any sense. These people don't ask for sense from their sources of guidance. All they ask for is answers. And both their approach to faith and their approach to politics provides that for them. Too bad for this country if that approach continues to rule.

It is also worth noting that the faith-based approach to life reduces one's responsibility for oneself — which many people find a great relief. Under the reality-based approach to life, one is ultimately responsible for what one believes. Sometimes it is difficult to decide what to believe. It is very inviting to have someone provide the answers. But under the reality-based approach, that is not an out. If you adopt the position of some other person, that is still a decision for which you are responsible. You can't get away from being responsible for yourself.

Under the faith-based approach to life, responsibility is sloughed off to the authority to which one has given one's faith. It makes life so much simpler if one doesn't have to be responsible for what one believes. Something is true because the authority says it is true. No problem; no worries.

But no problem and no worries typically lead to disaster. Of course even that is not a problem for the believer. If that is the will of the authority, then so be it.

No problems, no worries, no responsibility: no life.

George Lakoff has said that one difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives want a strict disciplinarian government while liberals want a nurturing government. I would link this to the previous discussion as follows.

Conservatives, at least Bush-style conservatives, want a strict authoritarian system that provides answers for them. Liberals want a nurturing environment that helps people find their own answers.

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