Because so many of the comments regarding the post “Nagel: A Voice of Reason” brought up the issue of “faith” and “intuition” I thought it might be helpful to re-post the following, which was originally entitled “No Apologies.”
If I were to sum up how I understand my faith (more about that word in a moment) this essay is what I would point towards as a very good example of that understanding. I would hazard to guess that this is very close to what Eric Reitan means as well when he talks about his faith in the Christian narrative or God of the Bible.
Many will completely miss-read and misunderstand the writer’s point about emotions and feelings. He is not simply saying his faith is based upon “feelings” or emotions alone. He has thought this through. His point is that, at the end of the day, we make these sorts of deep-in-our-bones core decisions based on more than 2+2=4 or rational assent to propositions or abstract notions alone. We fall in love for “reasons” that most of us could never fully explain. I dare someone to tell us they married or have been in a long-term relationship with their significant other based upon some calculable algorithm that is entirely rational.
Further, everyone else does the very same thing—they just don’t call it or think of it as religious. The atheist dreams, hopes, wonders, sorrows, rages, “feels!”, and carries many dispositions and theories about life that are entirely unprovable in any sort of empirical way as to why he should dream, hope, or sorrow over this or that. That I should emote a certain way about the 1% having more than the 99% cannot be “proved” like one can show that 2+2=4. If someone were to try and show us by graphs, statistics, or equations, that we should emote anger (or joy) over information, we would rightly suggest they immediately go to the nearest ER for a cat scan. Because, of course, their appeal after showing us the graphs, statistics, or equations (information) would be based on the notion that we should feel and emote a certain way—not simply because of the information—but because of an assumption that things should be “ought” as opposed to the “is”. The assumption is that such (an unprovable moral view) is already present and simply waiting to be triggered by the “correct” or “moral” way to interpret the information—the evidence—if you will.
No one can “prove” their love for their spouse, but each knows how they “feel” about the other. Their outward actions, their time together, and other surface factors/indicators are secondary to an inside “faith” or disposition…a feeling…a way of “seeing” and believing the other.
As to the word “faith” I am using it in its philosophical/theological sense, which is something most atheists never get. They “hear” and read the word in an entirely different way (they immediately think fideism), which is why they are usually lost in these conversations and make points or strike out in areas completely having nothing to do with anything anyone is saying. Most conversations atheists have are with themselves because we stop listening once we figure out the atheist hasn’t a clue how anyone is using terms or concepts.
As I’ve noted ad nauseum, “faith” in these conversations does NOT mean “in spite of or without” evidence or reasons. Faith considers all the evidence and weighs it out reasonably. But faith is that deep decision making process that considers the intangibles along with the tangible. I can have all the evidence, but I still must make a decision. Faith is risky. It is making that decision to love (or forgive) someone for the rest of one’s life, even though one doesn’t know what 10 years will bring, let alone tomorrow. 2+2=4 is certain. Faith is uncertain, but would any of us for that reason say it is any less important or less true? The most important decisions we ever make are never those having to do with certain things like 2+2=4, but those that exceed calculation and thus why the information (the evidence) is critical but always secondary to how my heart (which includes my mind/reason) interprets that evidence.
Faith is the remainder. If we were to use Caputo’s interpretation of Derrida, we would say that faith, like justice, is the thing that cannot be deconstructed. The law can be deconstructed but justice cannot. A law could be just or unjust. Justice is that thing that escapes calculation or certainty. Justice hovers over a law, but a law is never capable of exhausting or capturing justice—and as already noted may not be just at all. Justice may have left it or it may have never touch the law to begin with. We all hope a judge not only understands the law and all the “facts” and “evidence”, but more importantly we hope he or she understands justice. In other words, we hope a judge uses both his head and his heart. A law can be certain (three strikes and you’re out), but justice is risky and uncertain. A judge, upon sentencing a person to life in prison because they have triggered the calculated, literal, empirical, number of offenses (3), might know with his head he followed the law and that reason and the “evidence” were all on his side. However, if his heart and conscious bother (haunt) him as to whether justice was really accomplished then perhaps the ghost of justice now wanders the halls. If a person cannot see this difference, if one cannot see the remainder here, the ghost in the machine, the “faith” element that trumps calculation, trumps the literal, trumps the empirical, trumps the surface, then I feel sorry for that person. They are impoverished, to say the least.
Faith presides over (officiates) the marriage of head and heart. It is not opposed to reason nor the heart; it is, rather, the mediator that brings head and heart together—and that is wisdom. We all, the atheist, the theist, and the agnostic, live out of our faith. We all stand on equal ground. To suppose that one is basing their deeply-held core-life views only on the “evidence” while others are basing their lives on some sort of “blind” faith is the height of arrogance and ignorance. Such is the exact opposite of wisdom.
It is something we would expect to hear from, as noted in an earlier post, a 15-year-old, who has just started to read some grown-up stuff, and is embarrassingly confident everyone cares or wants to hear their opinion on things grown-ups have been struggling with for centuries. What are we to say to such a person when spouting such abject nonsense? After staring in silence and trying not to laugh in their face, how about: “Go brush your teeth and go to bed—you have school tomorrow.”
From the essay:
That’s what I think. But it’s all secondary. It all comes limping along behind my emotional assurance that there was mercy, and I felt it. And so the argument about whether the ideas are true or not, which is the argument that people mostly expect to have about religion, is also secondary for me. No, I can’t prove it. I don’t know that any of it is true. I don’t know if there’s a God. (And neither do you, and neither does Professor Dawkins, and neither does anybody. It isn’t the kind of thing you can know. It isn’t a knowable item.) But then, like every human being, I am not in the habit of entertaining only those emotions I can prove. I’d be an unrecognisable oddity if I did. Emotions can certainly be misleading: they can fool you into believing stuff that is definitely, demonstrably untrue. Yet emotions are also our indispensable tool for navigating, for feeling our way through, the much larger domain of stuff that isn’t susceptible to proof or disproof, that isn’t checkable against the physical universe. We dream, hope, wonder, sorrow, rage, grieve, delight, surmise, joke, detest; we form such unprovable conjectures as novels or clarinet concertos; we imagine. And religion is just a part of that, in one sense. It’s just one form of imagining, absolutely functional, absolutely human-normal. It would seem perverse, on the face of it, to propose that this one particular manifestation of imagining should be treated as outrageous, should be excised if (which is doubtful) we can manage it.
But then, this is where the perception that religion is weird comes in. It’s got itself established in our culture, relatively recently, that the emotions involved in religious belief must be different from the ones involved in all the other kinds of continuous imagining, hoping, dreaming, and so on, that humans do. These emotions must be alien, freakish, sad, embarrassing, humiliating, immature, pathetic. These emotions must be quite separate from commonsensical us. But they aren’t. The emotions that sustain religious belief are all, in fact, deeply ordinary and deeply recognisable to anybody who has ever made their way across the common ground of human experience as an adult.
It’s just that the emotions in question are rarely talked about apart from their rationalisation into ideas. This is what I have tried to do in my new book, Unapologetic. Ladies and gentlemen! A spectacle never before attempted on any stage! Before your very eyes, I shall build up from first principles the simple and unsurprising structure of faith. Nothing up my left sleeve, nothing up my right sleeve, except the entire material of everyday experience. No tricks, no traps, ladies and gentlemen; no misdirection and no cheap rhetoric. You can easily look up what Christians believe in. You can read any number of defences of Christian ideas. This, however, is a defence of Christian emotions – of their intelligibility, of their grown-up dignity. The book is called Unapologetic because it isn’t giving an “apologia”, the technical term for a defence of the ideas.
And also because I’m not sorry.