Rational Religion

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Faith as The Thumb of the Mind…


First, let us establish the dialectic weakness of analogy.


Comparing new ideas to old ideas, or new artifacts to historical ones, as a method of explaining the new ones so they can be understood and evaluated, is one of the oldest and best educational tools we have.


It enables us to tell stories and draw pictures (mental and actual) and thus ease the uninitiated – gradually and by comfortable degrees – into unfamiliar and often threatening mental and emotional territory.


Ultimately, though, analogy suffers from two crippling flaws.


First, at its ultimate basis, where the comparison meets the actual new element, it cannot be that element; which by its very “new” designation is always something else.


No matter how compelling the analogy, there must always be a final leap over some sort of abyss - to understanding and acceptance.


Second; analogy demands that the consumer be willing to go along with the gag in order to understand the lesson.


“God is like a father.”


“Jesus, I hope not!  My father was a crack-head drunk.  My mother shot him to keep him from beating on us and now she’s in jail, 20 to Life.”


“Well, God is a benevolent, responsible father!”


“Sorry.  I don’t have any experience of that.”


In an essay like this one, the writer has to presuppose that the reader is at least willing to listen to the story and avoid the more obvious temptations to reductio ad absurdum, at least until the lesson is complete.


In a conceptual world dominated by Darwinian biology such a handy artifact as a thumb would have come about through thousands of generations of evolution – beginning with something which was definitely not a thumb and proceeding through intermediate structures, including a whole bunch of almost-thumbs, to the present member, possessed in pairs by all normally-endowed human beings.


Historically, paleontologically, we can trace how this may actually have come about through the fossil record.   Starting with the five-rayed front fin of some ancient fish we can see how one ray on each side of the body might have separated a bit from the other four and contributed to a more stable “foot” for walking on land; then separated farther still and developed different bone articulation and musculature to become part of a clutching, climbing “paw:” and so on.


The structures of the mind, which were presumably evolving at the same time though not necessarily at the same speed, are harder to track historically.


There are no fossils of nascent Faith, for example.  But Faith is as demonstrably part of our human bag of tricks as our opposable thumb.


Indulge me, please, while I attempt the analogy.


We don’t (yet) know where Faith is, exactly; as we know our thumbs are to be found near the insides of the ends of our arms. 


We can guess that it is localized somewhere in our central nervous system and probably closely connected to our frontal lobe, where most of our more complicated ideas seem to originate.  But recent physiological research indicates that certain deep brain structures such as the hippocampus and amygdala coordinate everything that goes on up there, so the jury is still out.  It may not be localized at all; just sort of spread out over the available grey matter and interconnected by millions of axons.


The thing we can be sure of about Faith is that it is there.    We all have it, albeit in varying degrees, and applied to a wild variety of specific beliefs and concepts of the universe.  But without it we would not bother to survive.


It probably developed in concert with, and maybe even as an element of, our “sapient” consciousness.


As soon as an animal becomes aware, not only of the world, but of itself in the world, it needs to have the conviction that the situation will continue.  That is, the world and the individual will go on together into the future in some recognizable, manageable series of events.


Voila!  The emergence of Faith!


Also, the beginning of understanding what Faith is for.


Like a good thumb, it evolved to help you keep a grip…  Through almost any vicissitude which leaves you conscious.


Personal loss, catastrophic accident, environmental disaster, pestilence and war; all can overwhelm the individual central nervous system and make one wonder how one can possibly “go on;” or whether it’s worth the effort. 


If you can hold on to your Faith in some coherent personal idea of the Universe and your place within it, you may be able to get past the trauma and resume your valuable role within your family; the society; the gene pool.


The trouble with Faith in conventional metaphysics arises not from the Faith but from conventional metaphysics’ customary insistence that it is something supernatural.


This bloats the role of Faith beyond much of its usefulness.  The individual mind becomes “all thumbs,” as it were; clumsy and unable to accomplish much of anything beyond a blind and rapturous sort of worship – of something whose existence is usually doubtful at best; simply ridiculous at worst.


There is no room left in such a mind for any objective scientific activity, even in the unlikely case that such activity were permitted by the overblown Faith in the first place.