Friday, July 20, 2007

Faith and politics

Kelly Gorski posts her thoughts on faith and politics. She asks for our thoughts on the matter, so here are mine.

First of all, at the end of the day, everyone can vote and (with very limited exceptions) write as they please; I'm not advocating forcing anyone to vote or not vote, or write or not write in any particular way. If you want to vote to repeal the Constitution and replace it with a theocracy, if write in support of that idea (so long as you don't advocate the violent overthrow of the government), well, that's your right. If the police arrest you or the courts imprison you for holding or expressing such opinions, I'll be proud that my contributions to the ACLU will go to defending you.

But yes, as a fellow citizen of a (presumably) secular democracy, I'm asking for people of faith to keep some of their opinions and ideas out of the public political discourse, to keep private elements of their faith, their unfalsifiable ideas about God.

Kelly does not offer any examples, but two recent items come immediately to mind. The first is the efforts by Christian activist Laura Lopez to ban books that contradict her religious beliefs. Another is Orson Scott Card's anti-atheist bigotry which Norm Doering has so ably deconstructed.

It's not just the book banning and implicit discrimination which rankles my secular mind: I object to the these writers' explicit reference to their religious beliefs as a primary justification for their political views. If you can't make a political argument on a secular, non-religious basis, leave the issue in your church.

While I'm not interested in what your God thinks (or what you think your God thinks) about anything, and I view even bringing up your God in a political discussion as objectionable and completely inappropriate, I do care what you personally think, whether I agree or disagree. If you personally just hate homosexuals, then say so; say, "I personally hate homosexuals and think they ought to be marginalize, oppressed and discriminated against." Take some personal responsibility for your views; don't pawn off your opinions on God: It just makes you look like a pusillanimous pissant.

If you want to argue for a specifically Christian basis to our civil law, again, take a grain of responsibility for your views: Call explicitly for the repeal or modification of the Establishment clause of the First Amendment. Don't try to import the Bible into our secular Constitution with a wink and a nod.

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  2. Voting should be promoted as a civic responsibility, though a legal requirement to vote would be difficult to enforce.

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  3. Hi Barefoot Bum. Do you think that it's only Christians who try to push their beliefs on those politically? Or, is it possible that we all - Christian, athiest, agnostic, human secularist, etc. - in some way or another, whether directly or indirectly, impose our beliefs on politics? Is it possible at all for one to approach politics neutrally? (I ask this question not in an attacking manner, but as one honestly inquiring about this).

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  4. Danny: It's not a matter of pushing "beliefs"; it's a matter of pushing faith.

    It's not necessary, desirable or even possible to have neutral politics: Politics is about everyone negotiating the expression of their social, ethical and moral beliefs.

    We as a society agreed 220 years ago to leave religion and faith out of politics. If you want to promote a personal belief on your own authority as a citizen, that's fine.

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  5. Point taken. What I've been thinking, however, is that faith and beliefs cannot be separated, for faith determines belief. This implies that everyone has faith of some sort, whether it be in God, in science, whatever. What you put your faith in - your trust- will then determine your beliefs and worldview. So, in this sense, everyone one is in a sense "pushing" their faith in politics. It's inevitable; however, there are proper ways of allowing your faith (i.e. beliefs, guide your politics, what you support, etc.) and there are improper ways (expecting to turn this country into a theocracy, for example).
    Thanks for the dialogue.

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  6. I don't think it's the case that faith determines belief. Under metaphysical naturalism, evidence determines truth-belief, and our intrinsic nature determines our ethical beliefs.

    Take homosexuality, perfect example. There's no question that a homosexual relationship harms no one and brings joy and pleasure to the participants; the only reason to be opposed is because one has faith: delusional beliefs about reality that there's some sort of God who takes great interest in what people do with their genitals.

    People justify political beliefs by reference to their faith precisely when they're not willing to take personal responsibility: "I'm not a homophobic bigot," they seem to say, "It's just that God disapproves."

    I call bullshit. Own your* ethical beliefs and you can bring them into politics. Foist them off on God and you can have a nice steaming cup of shut the fuck up.


    *I'm using the second person in the rhetorical sense; I'm not speaking to you personally, Danny.

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  7. Barefoot Bum: First of all, I appreciate the dialogue. I think we're showing that two people of polar opposite views can have a reasonable conversation! I appreciate your being candid.

    Back to our discussion, it seems where we're at odds is where ultimate truth is based - the root issue here. As a Christian, I believe the the validity of science, mathematics (I graduated in math), philosophy (currently preparing to get a doctorate in philosophy), sociology, psychology, and all other disciplines that help us understand our world; however, I believe that ultimate truth - ultimate reality - is found in God and God alone. Does that mean that I believe in miracles mentioned in Scripture? If I claim to be a Christian, then as a pre-requisite I must believe in the truth and validity of all Scripture, and must live my life in conformity to Christ. (Do I sin? Yes. Am I perfect? Well, just ask my wife and she will be the first to say no!) So, in this sense, faith does determine belief. But, this is not a blind acceptance of Scripture. I must admit that there are things that I've struggled with and have had to think through, and in the end, I find that the Bible is reasonable and rational.

    On the opposite end, I believe where you are coming from, truth is determined only by evidence. If something cannot be falsifiable by science and reason (i.e. faith, miracles, etc.), then it is not true. Truth then, based on reason and science, cannot allow or take into account faith, for it would then make reason irrational and not true. Doess this about hit it?

    I look forward to your reply.

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  8. Danny: You have a contradiction in your post. You say:

    [A]s a pre-requisite I must believe in the truth and validity of all Scripture... So, in this sense, faith does determine belief. [emphasis added]

    vs.

    But, this is not a blind acceptance of Scripture. [emphasis added]

    If you believe something to be true as a prerequisite (with the exception noted below), the truth of that prerequisite cannot be based on the evidence of your senses. It is thus ipso facto blind faith.

    The only thing that Metaphysical Naturalism requires is that experience, especially perceptual experience, is important. This requirement isn't even a "prerequisite", really; it's just the acknowledgment of how our brains seem to operate at a fundamental level.

    Not all mental effort is rational; just because you struggle with the concepts of Christianity does not mean those concepts are therefore rational. If something is truly rational, then, by definition, all sane people have a deterministic way of determining its truth.

    If something cannot be falsifiable by science and reason (i.e. faith, miracles, etc.), then it is not true.

    You're conflating two concepts: faith and miracles. Faith, blind faith, consists of unfalsifiable statements about the world; they are not truth-apt, and thus extensionally meaningless. Miracles, on the other hand, contradict our experience, and are therefore false.

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  9. Larry: Thanks for your reply. I will get back to my comment on faith and belief (where you pointed out a contradiction in my statement) eventually and I will clarify my statement.

    I would like, however, to know how you define faith. Is there an element of faith to some extent in everyone's life? If so, then how do you define faith in regards to our recent conversation?

    Second, is truth absolute or relative?

    What I'm wanting to do is kind of get at your working definitions so that I can understand fully your position. I assume you are able to determine my position from the questions above, but I would like to converse on our positions, as I find it interesting and challenging. In your description about your self, you labeled yourself as an amateur philosopher; well, I'm an amateur amateur (if that's possible) in that I'm fairly new in learning the discipline. So, this type of discussion is great practice.

    If you do want to continue this discussion, do you want to continue on your post or through e-mail?

    Also, do you mind if I link your post in a series I'm posting on my thoughts on faith and politics? I promise to not "dog" your positions nor present you in a negative light. What I'm trying to do is compare what the right says of faith and politics versus the left. Thanks!

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  10. Danny: I would like, however, to know how you define faith.

    Faith is belief that something is true without evidence or proof.

    is truth absolute or relative?

    I think you are using terminology that does not adequately capture what I suspect is your intention: relative to what?

    What I'm wanting to do is kind of get at your working definitions so that I can understand fully your position.

    Until I get my writing in better order, there's unfortunately no help but to peruse the tens of thousands of words of philosophy I've written in the last 7.5 months if you want to really understand my positions.

    Also, do you mind if I link your post in a series I'm posting on my thoughts on faith and politics?

    Of course you may.

    I promise to not "dog" your positions nor present you in a negative light.

    You need not make such a promise. My work is publicly available, and, as such, is subject to whatever sort or mode of criticism each individual sees fit.

    I prefer to not to do too much philosophical work in email; if I'm going to take the time to write it, I want to publish it.

    If you want to address any topics in your own blog, please feel free. You're welcome to link to your own work in comments, and if I respond in a post, I'll link to what I'm responding. I typically put regular commenters on my blogroll, and if you add me to your blogroll, I'll add you to mine.

    Do keep in mind that I'm batting nearly 1000 in offending the theists I interact with. I'm blunt; if I think something is stupid, I'll say its stupid. So long as you don't take cheap shots at my wife, though, I'll usually keep talking as long as you want to.

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  11. Hi Larry, I'm back. School's started and have a newborn, so I've been quite busy.

    Okay .... to my question, "Is truth absolute or relative?" I mean: is truth determined by some standard, something which we, as in all humanity, can know with complete certainty that something is right or wrong. Or is truth relative to each person, or to a community, or to a culture? Relative in that what some determine as truth may not be so for another.

    Do keep in mind that I'm batting nearly 1000 in offending the theists I interact with. I'm blunt; if I think something is stupid, I'll say its stupid.
    No problem. No offense taken at all in what you say. I believe that you and I've established that we're not here to bash one another, but to discuss each other's worldviews. Be as blunt as you want; I appreciate candor.

    So long as you don't take cheap shots at my wife, though, I'll usually keep talking as long as you want to.
    Here, here. And I'll ask the same of you! Anyone who's willing to put up with me should not be subjected to cheap shots from anyone!

    Don't know how often I can reply now with school going on, but I'll do it! Until next time...

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  12. Danny: Congratulations on the new baby! Kids are a lot of work.

    Is truth absolute or relative?" I mean: is truth determined by some standard, something which we, as in all humanity, can know with complete certainty that something is right or wrong. Or is truth relative to each person, or to a community, or to a culture? Relative in that what some determine as truth may not be so for another.

    This is a false dichotomy. Certainty/uncertainty and personal or cultural relativism/absolutism are not mutually exclusive.

    Truth is a property of statements; the truth of a statement is always relative to something, both ontologically (relative to reality) and epistemically (relative to how you know it).

    To make a long story short (too late!) I think truth is epistemically relative to evidence, it's universal and absolute with regard to people or cultures, and known only probabilistically.

    Furthermore, the truth of an individual statement is relative to its context, the way it fits in with the web of other statements that give the individual statement meaning.

    Take as long as you need to reply; I know how time-consuming children are. If the notification system fails and I don't respond within a day, shoot me an email (my address in on my profile).

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  13. Larry:
    Thanks! You are correct, kids are a lot of work, especially when you have three girls. They are fun, nonetheless!

    This is a false dichotomy. Certainty/uncertainty and personal or cultural relativism/absolutism are not mutually exclusive.
    I would agree with you here, I didn't intend to make it into a dichotomy. I'm having a tough time putting words to my thoughts, but what I'm trying to get at is: is there Truth for all mankind, where no matter what culture you're in; or, is there truth, where each culture determines truth where another culture 'disagrees' (for lack of a better term....I hope my point comes across here).
    As I continue to think on this, I think my question on your view of truth is leaning more towards the area of morality - right and wrong. What determines right and wrong? Take, for instance, 9/11. Were the acts of the hijackers right or wrong (I use this example only because the two distinct views are easy to point out)? Most in the Judeo-Christian world would say that the acts were wrong, but those in the Islamic (at least in radical Islam) would say the acts were right, even righteous? Who is correct? How does one know ontologically and epistemologically that their view is correct and the other view is wrong? Or, is there really no wrong view here? Or, is this the case where one can know probabilistically whether this act is right and wrong?
    Thanks! Speak with you soon.

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  14. Three girls, eh. Quite the crew!

    There are universal truths about the physical world: The laws of physics appear to be true-for-everyone: That's the simplest hypothesis that fits the facts.

    I don't think there are universal ethical truths, which are true independently of the accidental characteristics of people's minds. See my series on meta-ethical subjective relativism. In just the same sense, the existence of universal, objective ethical truth is not the simplest theory that fits the facts.

    There are general truths, which are accidental properties that happen to be true of many people, and I think our ethical behavior is best based on those general properties.

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