Saturday, November 22, 2014

All Ways At Once

b (1) : firm belief in something for which there is no proof

Middle English feith, from Anglo-French feid, fei, from Latin fides; akin to Latin fidere to trust

"Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." Hebrews 11:1

I haven't been big on faith for some time now. There are a number of things that I believe, or that I understand to be true, but few things that I really put any measure of faith in. And, for most of my life the supernatural has not been one of those things. In fact, it's arguable if I ever had faith in the religious sense. As a child this was never really an issue - religious education for children, it's been noted, is more or less a process of indoctrination. Since no-one really expects children to understand any of this stuff, being able to go through the motions and recite things at the right time is often all they're looking for. But by the time I was a teenager, especially given that I attended a parochial school, there was a certain level of sensitivity to heresy around, and I, unsurprisingly, ran afoul of it. Not that I had to deal with the Inquisition after homeroom or anything, but my classmates were more keen on enforcing orthodoxy than one might expect of high-school students.

I can't put my finger on when it happened, but at some point I drifted out of the orbit of atheism/agnosticism and more into apatheism. Sure, as far as I'm concerned, there are no such things as deities, spirits, magic, demons, et cetera, but I've lost any investment in whether or not that position is correct. After all, they could very easily exist, and I could simply be unable to perceive them or their effects on my life. But I understand that other people DO perceive such things. And I'm okay with that. But it had always irritated me, even if I never understood why, when other people weren't okay with people's differing understandings of the world.

I understand most people's dislike of Indifferentism - especially when they equate it to moral relativism or amorality (well, Christians mainly - few other people seem to care).

Practical atheism is not the denial of the existence of God, but complete godlessness of action; it is a moral evil, implying not the denial of the absolute validity of the moral law but simply rebellion against that law.
√Čtienne Borne
It did, however, always rub me the wrong way, mainly because I felt that people, especially my friends, who felt more strongly about things (one way or the other) than I did often became two-faced. They were warm and solicitous when they felt that I was receptive to being fully converted, but contemptuous and dismissive when I remained disinterested. I'd always believed that it was the two-facedness of it that bothered me, but recently I was in an online debate where it finally crystallized. The person on the other side of the back-and-forth was a self-proclaimed Christian (I refuse to be the gatekeeper of such things) and made the following statements over the course of a single posting:
Christians do not claim to be able to prove that God exists. We believe there is good evidence that He does and that it is a logical conclusion to believe that. We admit though that since there is not conclusive proof, it still takes faith to believe in God.
However God has given us enough evidence to hold us accountable. Romans 1:19-20 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”
This idea, that faith is not a choice, to be made based on a rational decision making process, but a divine mandate, and one can be held accountable for its lack points to an idea that comes up over and over in religious debates: that the Abrahamic god is special. Not simply because it is a deity and we are not, but because the rules that it operates under bear no viable relationship to the rules that we operate under.

Imagine a lawsuit where the verdict hinges on whether or not one party knew, or should have known, about a particular event. The plaintiff's attorney stands up in front of the court and openly says that they cannot prove that the event in question ever occurred because there is no conclusive proof of it. The lawyer states that while they believe the event occurred, it requires an act of faith to share in that belief. They then tell the jury that this same event is so clearly self-evident that there is no excuse for not having that faith, simply because an unknown author describes it as such.

And that's when it clicked. Because I could see a jury voting in favor of the plaintiff in such a case. While I can't see myself ever doing so, I can understand that it's possible to simultaneously regard an event as being absolutely unprovable, yet universally self-evident at the same time.

In a way, it's a vestige of the agnostic in me. I can't think of any concept that's both self-evident to all yet provable to none. To be honest, it strikes me as openly paradoxical. But that, in and of itself, doesn't mean that no such concept exists or that other people cannot think of one. Therefore, the lack of a self-evident yet unprovable concept is a feature of my universe, but not necessarily anyone else's.

Which resolves an ongoing irritation for me - the idea that my allowing that belief in something that I do not believe in is reasonable should be answered by an allowance that my not believing in something that others believe in is reasonable.

If, given A (the universe as we understand it) and B (deities do not exist), it is reasonable to believe C (deities do exist) it should stand to reason that given A and C is it reasonable to believe B. But, if one assumes enough of a difference between B and C, then it is possible to understand that A+B allows C yet A+C disallows B.

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