Up@dawn 2.0

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Quixotic fideism

I enjoyed our little impromptu discussion at the beginning of class yesterday, prompted by Devin's interest in these quotes:
Faith is indeed quixotic. It is absurd. Let us admit it. Let us concede everything! Miguel de Unamuno
To believe in spite of anything! That is the essence of quixotic fideism. Martin Gardner
I was reminded of the last time the subject came up in A&P, two years ago. It was a provocative topic then too:

Secular believers and the feeling of faith-

Begin the Baggini: we begin Julian Baggini’s Atheism today in A&P. His BBC celebration of secularity is a good introduction.

The Secular Society has a nice place, but wait ’til you see Alain de Botton’s Atheist Temple. (Thanks Dean.) Puts the Crystal Cathedralto shame.

Baggini has little use for fideism. After reading Martin Gardner I have to say I’m also unimpressed with the quixotic “believe in spite of anything” school.

And yet. I can’t shake the sense of a “feeling of faith” I don’t know personally, am deeply skeptical about, but still can’t bring myself to dismiss out of hand. JMH:
Some people may be tone-deaf to the idea of evidence, some may be tone-deaf to the feeling that there is a higher power—we must forgive them each their failing. But there is also a tradition by which both sides refuse to engage the interesting questions: believers refuse to consider the reasonableness of doubt, and nonbelievers refuse to consider the feeling of faith.

It’s an odd dynamic, emerging from the juxtaposition of this class with CoPhi. On alternate days I find myself either the most or the least assertive atheist in the room, all because I’m trying to “engage the interesting questions” and “consider the feeling of faith.” I’m always seeking someone’s forgiveness. (Cue Mr. Prine.)

I wish the hard-core “secular believers” in A&P could have seen the looks of blinking incomprehension on some students’ faces when I said yesterday, as matter of factly as I feel it, that I simply do not accept the concept of “hell.” (Well, there have been a few staff meetings… but never mind.)

I find it easier to renounce the concept of hellfire, anywhere and anytime, than to flatly repudiate someone’s heartfelt testimonial of, say, an encounter with angels. That’s inconsistent, I know. Angels make no more sense than demons.  But angels are benign and helpful spirits, and people do need help. Nobody needs to roast, or to espouse a loving god who could be capable of turning up the heat.

Still, and though I typically don’t say so, the angel-feeling is not the “feeling of faith” I feel obliged to respect. I usually just only ridicule it “in my heart.” (Like Jimmy Carter, that’s also where I do my best sinning.)

My greater regard is for the more amorphous, mysterious, mystical experiences  that result in something imprecise but uplifting being somehow registered by the experiencer. Again, people need help. They need uplift. I don’t want to deprive people of the help they need.

But maybe  the greatest help will come when “all of God’s children” are confident enough in human solidarity and humane secularity to look the universe squarely in the eye and not blink at its failure to reflect what JMH calls our humanness. We are the repositories and the expressors of value, not it. Or rather, we are the part of it with values. As Julian Baggini says, we just need to have a little more faith in ourselves.
Atheism is not a faith position because it is belief in nothing beyond which there is evidence and argument for; religious belief is a faith position because it goes beyond what there is evidence or argument for.
Thus Christianity endorsed the principle that it is good to believe what you have no evidence to believe, a rather convenient maxim for a belief system for which there is no good evidence.
It is a simple error to suppose that just because atheist beliefs are also “unproven” or “uncertain” that they too require faith. Faith does not plug the gap between reasons to believe and certain proof.
So here is a first step in moral thinking. Forget any transcendental lawgiver or divine source of morality. Just think about what is needed for a human life to go well and you will soon find that most of what we recognize as morality comes into play.
…being good is a challenge for everyone, atheist or non-atheist.
Dean sends a link (take your base, Dean):

Sam Harris has a new book coming, on atheism & spirituality:

He hinted at it more than a year and a half ago, so it’s about time that The End of Faith author Sam Harris announced his next book.
It’s called Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion (Simon & Schuster), it’ll be released this September, and it’s already available for pre-order. Patheos
And another Dean link: Anybody find anything troubling about this, in a church-stately way? http://mtsunews.com/community-support-yields-microgrants/

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