Rational Religion


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Deconstructing Faith

(Perhaps More Than You Wanted to Contemplate About Faith)

 

Your specific Faith is pretty demonstrably a construction of your wetware.

 

Even the most orthodox religions based upon the most primitive superstitions seem to agree that Faith is something you have to do, yourself.

 

Christians have something called Grace which seems to exist outside of the individual human being's status as "deserving" or even observant of the principles of the religion.† One can experience Grace even without having faith, it seems, but the one-sided bargain does not hold indefinitely.† Sometime down the line - maybe just before death - the beneficiary of Grace is supposed to acknowledge the largesse and make the leap of faith which justifies it.

 

So Faith is all metaphysics and ephemeral smoke and mirrors and we live our entire lives dependent upon it.

 

I have suggested elsewhere that living your life for your faith is putting the cart not only before but in place of the horse.†

 

If the least substantial, most error-prone elements of your intellectual interface with the Universe dominate your process of living in that universe, you are liable to make some pretty disastrous decisions.

 

Faith, you see, has all to do with the status quo.†† With faith you go on operating as though conditions of the past will remain the same in the future.†† Oh, sure, you may have faith that prayer and belief will somehow help you to find a lost cat or cause some unattainable love object to return your affection.† But as your life is lived you learn that some desired changes (cats tend to come to the place where they were last fed when they get hungry) are more likely to be achieved by prayer than others (unattainable prospective mates tend to remain unattainable, given the constancy of human personalities by about age 20).

 

Mostly our faith assumes that things will continue as they have.† This is an unwarranted assumption and often disappoints us; sometimes profoundly.

 

The trick is to base your faith as firmly as possible in objective reality (given, always, the ephemeral nature of that, but granting that it comes in degrees of reliability.)

 

Forget about religion here.†† Take your tires, and the sun.

 

Say you have 38,000 miles on a car you bought new, and the tires are guaranteed for 50,000.††† Chances are your faith in the continued reliability of those tires will make you forego a rigorous inspection of them; certainly will preclude your going to the expense of just replacing them all to forestall any possible problems, this far from their guaranteed demise.

 

Then you will continue to drive around 80 miles an hour on extended trips on good highways, because you have faith in the integrity of the highway and your automobile's ability to sustain such speed and the fact that a lot of people around you on the highway are driving at the same speed or even faster; all based upon past experience; the status quo.

 

Pretty much in the same vein, you go to bed at night convinced that the sun will come up tomorrow morning, presaging another "normal" day in your life.

 

Because you are a 21st Century human being, your faith in the appearance of the sun is not as egregious a leap of faith as it might have been for your 14th Century ancestor who had no access to the concept of a rotating planet in a heliocentric solar system.††

 

You know, for example, that the sun does not "come up" at all, but is simply revealed by the relative movement of your location on the surface of a turning Earth.†

 

A much more stable cosmology is available to you, with a longer history and a more dependable future, based upon a much more detailed understanding of Universal physics and Solar System mechanics.† It's the status quo with empirical evidence.

 

The sun will, in all probability, come up.†

 

The faith that you will have a "normal" day, whatever that means to you, is by no means as probable.†

 

There are too many variables, most of them entirely out of your control, which can affect your day; from the weather, to the jealousy of a co-worker, to the random intersection of your path with a drunken vehicle operator or an international terrorist.

 

Still, chances are you will embark upon your day with about the same faith in the status quo, over the broad range of influences that will be coming at you, as you have in the continued march of the sun across the sky.

 

With some minor exceptions, this is as it should be.† If you didn't have faith that things would keep on keeping on, you wouldn't even get out of bed in the morning.†† Most of your faith may be egregiously unjustified, but if you didn't have it you would literally cease to function.† Some people actually do that and we accurately define them as insane.

 

But let's come back to your tires; and your habit of driving 80 miles an hour on the freeway.†

 

At 38,000 miles your faith in those tires may be justified, even though the catastrophic failure of one of them at 80 miles per hour is liable to have a profound affect upon your normal day.† It is probably by no means as justified as it was at 5000 miles, or even at 20,000; but it may be almost as firmly-based as the chances of getting four new tires installed without at least one of them having a serious defect or being poorly mounted.

 

How strong will your faith be at 45,000 miles, or will the habit of faith you have built up over the miles and months tend to seduce you into ever less logically-tenable behavior?† Will you even slow down a little bit, because you know your tires are old?† At what point will your "common sense" overcome your faith in the continuance of the status quo and cause you to buy a new set of tires?†

 

We won't even deal, here, with your continuing habit of driving 80 miles an hour.† Operating a motor vehicle at all is such an improbable leap of faith that the less thought about it the better.

 

The real problem, if you take the trouble to identify it, is that the status quo, itself, is an un-sustainable myth.

 

Nothing ever stays the same and even the appearance of permanence, which is easier to fool ourselves about than actual (impossible) changelessness, is doomed to deteriorate as we live our lives through it.

 

It is true, then, that we cannot live without faith.†

 

But faith comes in many different degrees of reliability, and some of those degrees are definable, observable and lend themselves to being taken into account in the way we live our lives.

 

Living your life for faith borders on insanity.†

 

Since faith is so profoundly self-constructed it has no substance at all.† As soon as your consciousness goes on hiatus it is simply gone.†† If your consciousness terminates permanently (think about those 45,000 mile tires at 80 mph) your faith is gone, forever; and not just your faith in those tires, your faith in everything, from god to the rising sun.

 

It was only yours, you see, and only useful to you; or fatal to you, as the case may shake out.

 

It follows logically, then, that you have some input into the construction and maintenance of your faith.† And it follows from that that you should base your faith as close to testable reality and common-sense actuarial tables as you possibly can.†

 

There is not a cut and dried formula for defining this.† Most of your decisions as to quality of bases are not as obvious as the reliability of Solar System physics vs. a tire manufacturer's guarantee of their product's longevity.

 

Do you buy your kid a car at age 16?†

 

Forget the fact that she will hate you for at least three years if you don't.† Do you trust the insurance industry statistics that most automobile accidents occur to people between the ages of 16 and 21?†

 

If you do, how can you factor in your particular kid's common sense and sober reliability in operating her own car, against her predictable actions in riding with a lot of other people who might be greatly less qualified than she, in order to get from one place to another in her teenage process of living?

 

There may be survival value in belonging to an economic stratum which cannot afford to buy its kids cars at all.†† The kids will have to wait until they can earn the wherewithal to buy their own cars...and may achieve some life-saving maturity in the process of riding public transportation.

 

So, while your faith is an inevitable determiner of the way you will live your life, determining a rational basis for it is work; and subject to egregious errors.

 

It's a whole lot easier to let someone else - guided by tradition and the status quo - define your faith for you.†

 

Itís easier, but not as logical, either as a guideline for your intellectual development or as a blueprint for your raw survival.

 

And although you will be unavoidably living your own life, a great deal of it will be under the control of other people, many long dead and discredited; or influenced by superstitions so at odds with reality that you might as well not be living in this world at all.

 

It will help to keep in mind what faith is -- a catalyst; an operating manual, subject to editing and emendation, for the way you live your life; not an infallible formula, and certainly not a reason for living.

 

Your reason for living is the fact that you are alive, and thinking about it.† The machine which makes this possible originated without your input and will eventually wear out no matter what you do to prevent it.

 

Faith, despite its ubiquity, is only useful as it keeps the machinery lubricated and on track.

 

Resist the temptation to worship it, and it may serve you better.