On Faith
Copyright Ó by Don Moss, 2/28/01

  In "The Problem With Faith-Based Funding Is Faith Itself" (Los Angeles Times, 2/18/01) Bart Kosko objects to religious conservatives both receiving government support and funding and tax breaks and claiming that they (their churches) should be left alone. Although he bookends his essay with political critique, he shifts his criticism to faith itself. Kosko lists topics he relates to faith and calls for readers to choose reason over faith, conservative and otherwise. Closing, he says, “What we need is more critical thinking. We need more doubt.”
  But humans, for all our critical capacity, continue to actively believe many things about which we lack even the smallest trace of hard evidence. This “tendency” of humans crops up not just now and then among the uneducated or primitive tribes, but also in great numbers among the well-educated and advanced tribes, 21st century Americans, for instance.
  While I share Kosko’s doubt regarding the practice of astrology or reading palm/tea leaves/bones/etc or Catholic Mass, I do accept, perhaps with some contradiction, human persistence in seeking and finding faith.
  Thomas Kuhn and scientific paradigms to the contrary, for a moment, science advocates make much of their self-correcting method, how scientific knowledge continues to build on its past. Science is said to qualify its claims on truth by speaking in probabilities. Fair enough. This trait of humans has shown itself for, perhaps, as many years as the human (supportive?) tendency of faith.
  Kosko defines faith as unwarranted belief, which implies that science, or more generally, critical thinking, operates in the opposite area, in warranted belief. Framing the difference this way makes it seem so clear, so cut and dry, but if faith persists, how does Kosko’s dualistic universe of the warranted and the unwarranted, or the reasonable and the unreasonable help us understand faith as characteristically human? Kosko might answer by quoting P. T. Barnum, about how a sucker is born every day (or hour? or…I forget).
  Kosko argues that the logic and facts of science “can knock [incorrect guesses] down, and they usually do [while] religious faith is belief despite such logic or facts.” Kosko uses the word despite tactically—his dichotomy between the reasonable and the unreasonable directs this. But turning his word another direction: despite logic and facts, faith goes on, not mistakenly, or incorrectly. And one wishes, more than genetically.
  Every religion I know much about wildly exceeds my ability to take its adherents’ faith on faith. I had wanted to explain my own Zen-like faith, but realized that I would be adding nothing to my argument by doing so. Although I suspect that logic is mutable, at best I would be practicing against my own argument by advocating some highly limited (and therefore more reasonable) faith.
  Systems of thought that have little in common with each other still employ a reasoning system, a system of thought that observes the same argument forms and rules of play as the logic that Kosko praises. A contradiction is still a contradiction, etc. My subject was faith as a human tendency, a natural human capacity that is little affected by the ”ever-correcting” practice of science. By contrast, Kosko views faith as a sort of aberrant behavior, which has no mechanism of correcting its “errors,” I argue that faith, as a human capacity, begins fully realized, as it were, fully perfected. It’s a little odd to call it wrong or right.
  Can faith correct its ways, stop sacrificing virgins or whatever? Probably no more than any other human practice. Observation of science will indicate science displays many application problems, and this difficulty will not lessen, even as the machinery of logic and fact continues to turn, or to use the image of the current age, calculate.
  Humans are stuck with being creatures of both reason and faith. Kosko would say opposites, and pitted in an endless struggle, through which, he cheers, science will prevail. What if it did, and life were a sort of logical heaven, and there were balance and harmony and unisex laboratories? Would even more read Asimov than Lewis?

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Last fall, the Minneapolis Institute of Art offered a show on recent Japanese Zen art. Oddly, the video installation caught my attention more strongly than much of the art displayed. It documented a severe Zen monastery, high in the mountains of a small, desolate and frozen Japanese island. Among endless challenges, initiates, lightly robed in a very cold room, meditated (Zazen) many hours each day. Whenever the duty initiate observed a meditant straying from absolute attention he announced his intent, then smartly caned the back of the deviant with a single loud smack of the long bamboo rod he carried as a sword.


It’s agreed, then, what the body is,
And what soul should sorrow
Is this one and only body
Of work we are come to perfect.

Were there one to thank, no one would,
No one, nor would One desire it.
The cane I thank my brother for,
Welts no thought of retribution,

But brings a flash of perfection,
I wish most I could thank him for,
But what figure is kingdom’s coin?
Whom would it pay? What purchase

Did I miss the moment I napped,
Or you, upright and so aware?

Copyright Ó by Don Moss 

[My only point of argument Don, since you've so hermetically sealed off the argument is: in comparing religionists vs. irreligionists I've always been struck by the former's relative lack of true self-confidence, -awareness, & mental/intellectual vigor, esp. vis-a-vis the latter. Had I been raised Blue Lagoon style I doubt I would ever had a need to invent gods, ghosts, spirits, or trolls. And are not forms of mental illness or retardation often present from birth- fully formed or programmed? DAN]

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