Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Boundaries of Faith Based Religion

I'm a big fan of completely faith based religion.

If you truly believe, but at the same time you realize that your belief is not a logical decision but rather a matter of faith, upbringing, and environment then I think you have a pretty good position. I've said it before and I'll say it again - not everything we humans do is or even should be a matter of cold calculating. Irrational emotions, desires and impulses are IMHO just as important to the human experience as logic and rationality, and should take some part in our decision making.

(I'm not sure if such people exist; people who openly admit that they have zero logical basis for their faith; if they do they are a tiny minority of the world's believers)

There is however a fundamental difference between "rational" religion "(i.e. the belief that your religion can be demonstrated rationally) and emotional religion.

Rational religion claims to be based on logic. Logic or reasoning is generally considered an objective concept. The beliefs of a purportedly rational religion have an objective quality to them.

However "emotional" or romanticist religion is by definition a subjective belief.

Rational religion can demand that you not only do things yourself but that you also have a right to demand things of others. It is objectively wrong for a Jew to eat shellfish. Logic practically dictates that this is an egregious sin. Therefore it is my duty and right to try and prevent not only myself but other Jews from committing this terrible sin. Just think about how much of what Orthodox Jews (and other fundamentalists) do is based on the assumption that religion is a description of objective values and objective realities.

However in theory emotional religion demands that you restrict all your beliefs and feelings to yourself. What others do has nothing to do with you or your religion because your religion is faith-based - which is to say it is purely subjective. It exists within you heart but nowhere else. Carrying out subjective imperatives and imposing them on others just does not make any sense. It's like telling your friend not to go on the roller coaster because YOU happen to hate roller coasters. Or like telling a surgeon to leave the room because blood makes YOU queezy.

Who is to say that your subjective religion has the same existence or meaning to other people with different emotions, desires and upbringings?


David S said...

I was reading Alan Brill's site and they are discussing Rav Nachman. It is a very interesting discussion because it discusses a recent book by Zvi Mark which posits that Rav Nachman's approach is one in which he cultivated "madness" as an approach to God, the idea being that logic cannot get you there. In any case, it is explained far better than I could. See link.


Zak said...

Yes, but doesn't it all come down whether or not there exists a legitimate basis for the rational approach regardless of its consequences? I would think most of your regular visitors would expect THAT question to be the focus of your blog.

Gamzoo said...

Most New Age types have this kind of religious view. They also tend to mix and match from different religious traditions because if it's all subjective then why assume only one religion has the only way of achieving a spiritual experience

Shilton HaSechel said...

Obviously. I'm not trying to JUDGE the two "approaches" to decide which is better.

I'm merely describing the fact that faith based religion MEANS something different than rational religion. They are not two paths to the same goal. Religious thought based on emotion is severely attenuated by its subjective nature.

Is that good or bad? Not really my question right here.

SecondSonG3 said...

I don’t know. While I agree that we’d all be better off if everyone recognized that their religion may not be the Revealed Truth they assume it to be, I’m not sure that a religion that was just an opinion would work.

Take music for example. People have strong opinions about music, about what they like and dislike. People who like what they like have good taste, people who like what they don’t like are weird or misguided or just wrong. But nobody bases their life on what kind of music they like.

Religion isn’t about doing what you like. Even the New Agers who pick and choose religious rituals that they happen to like are trying to connect with Something Greater. There’s usually an underlying belief about connecting with the universe or some such nonsense, and a belief that all religions are different ways of creating a connection. Religion is about explaining the great unknowns and dealing with knowing we’re going to die (among other socially-beneficial things that religion does).

Treating core religious beliefs like mere preferences is a little like choosing what color to believe the sky is based on your preference.

MKR said...

The best term that I have been able to find for a religious outlook that does not pretend to a rational foundation is "agnostic faith," though I recognize that it is likely to be interpreted in other ways. I think that the term "fideism" can also be used in this sense (see the quotation from Martin Gardner below), but unfortunately it is also used to signify a view according to which faith and reason are in necessary conflict, with faith rightfully coming out on top.

I'm not sure if such people exist; people who openly admit that they have zero logical basis for their faith.

The late Martin Gardner was one such, and he had several predecessors, whom he names in this excerpt from an interview:

I call myself a philosophical theist, or sometimes a fideist, who believes something on the basis of emotional reasons rather than intellectual reasons. . . . As a fideist I don’t think there are any arguments that prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul. Even more than that, I agree with Unamuno that the atheists have the better arguments. So it is a case of quixotic emotional belief that is really against the evidence and against the odds. The classic essay in defense of fideism is William James’ The Will to Believe. James’ argument, in essence, is that if you have strong emotional reasons for a metaphysical belief, and it is not strongly contradicted by science or logical reasons, then you have a right to make a leap of faith if it provides sufficient satisfaction.

But I fear that the delusion of having rational justification for one's religious beliefs is nearly universal. Religious people do not merely interpret the world in accordance with their religious beliefs: they also regard the conformity of the world to their beliefs as evidence of the truth of those beliefs. An illustration of the unsophisticated variety is: "I survived an automobile crash; that can only be due to divine intervention; so God must have saved my life for a purpose." An illustration of the sophisticated variety is: "It is virtually certain that Moses got the Torah from God at Mount Sinai because it is wildly improbable that hundreds of thousands of Israelites were all persuaded of a false story." In each case, people mistake judgments produced by their beliefs for independent confirmation of those beliefs.

MKR said...

That's a good point, Gamzoo: New Age wankerism as reductio ad absurdum.

MKR said...

Treating core religious beliefs like mere preferences is a little like choosing what color to believe the sky is based on your preference.

Isn't it more like choosing what color to believe the Tooth Fairy's wings are? I don't mean that theological questions are as silly as questions about the Tooth Fairy, but that the two share an incapacity to be tested against observation.

Shilton HaSechel said...

I'm not really talking about new agism or preferences. I'm talking about being brainwashed to think that Judaism is the one true faith yet being cognizant of the fact that you have no rational or logical basis for it.

Gene Bodzin said...

This is part of a forthcoming chapter in my on-line memoir.

I was no more comfortable with a conception of God as cosmic chess-player than as cosmic bookkeeper, writing every action in a book and ready to pay back good and bad. I was left with no understanding of how things happened and no faith in a personal heaven. But I could not get beyond my own teleological argument: (a) Many things are possible. (b) Some things happen. (c) Therefore, God may exist.

As much as I tried to reconcile faith and reason, I could not get beyond this shaky position, which would have been ridiculed by any objective thinker lacking my willingness to find God in every random leaf swept away by the wind.

And where does that leave me? In a Steven Crane poem, a man says to the universe, "Sir I exist!" And the universe flicks him off, saying, "The fact has not created in me/A sense of obligation." Experience turned this scenario on its head for me. The universe has asserted its existence without awakening any formal sense of obligation in me. “Am I Jewish?” I was once asked by somebody at a seder pretending to be my wife. “Tell me what we are, and I’ll know what to do.” But I have remained inescapably Jewish and I still did not know what to do. I have questioned the divinity of biblical Judaism and denied the divinity of rabbinical Judaism. My belief in God has left me with no sense of obligation. I may be Jewish, but God is not. And believing in God does not tie me to any particular community, even if birth somehow does.

JewishGadfly said...

I wish I could follow that Martin Gardner model. Alas, I can't find it justified to admit emotional reasons, especially when they can be explained away by rational ones. I guess I just don't see room for a "right" to a belief to come into play.

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