The benefits of faith

It is a favourite trope of Dawkins-type atheists to claim that faith is unjustified belief, and thus by definition a bad thing, which could not possibly have arisen by natural selection, except as a sort of metastasis of trust in our parents.

But the important quality of faith is not initial credibility, but persistence. When Barlow says “I was raised a mormon, and now I believe pretty much everything” the joke works because it implies he forgets everything he knew before the last doob. And actually, persistence of belief in the face of disconfirming evidence is essential if social institutions are to be built and maintained. This morning’s example.

If democracy produces leadrs like George W Bush, there’s no pressing reason for the rest of the world to adopt the system. The unique advantage of democracy is that it can remove such people from power. None the less, if he does win, we should not abandon faith in democracy.

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3 Responses to The benefits of faith

  1. Rupert says:

    Making that sort of call is a matter of probabilities, balance and judgement, even of embracing irony — which is possibly why the fundy atheists, like all fundies, dislike it so much.

    Me and L were at my father’s final service as a priest on Sunday. This was the first time I’ve taken communion for… let’s just say many years. Anyone would have a complex mix of emotions and thoughts at such an event, and there are many aspects of it which deserve a much more thoughtful discussion.

    One thing that struck me though, especially during the confession and absolution, was how a few decades of adult life had put new flesh on the bones of the words I’d said and heard all my childhood. It’s trite to say that there are profound psychological insights in religion, but perhaps not so trite to feel thus.

    I can’t see that any fundamentalist approach to religion could help here. Objective truth is not necessary for utility – or at least, the sort of objective truth you don’t have to think about much.

    Anyone who can’t hack paradox in religion or democracy should go away and stare at a blue vase for a bit.


  2. acb says:

    Oi! You could have looked in here on the way down.
    The discovery that religious formulae actually mean something is somethng well worth discussing properly. Shall these bones live?

    but of course, in my experience, the meaning fades again; the bones are once more still.

  3. Rupert says:

    I’m loath to say religion in general when my only real experience is of Christianity, and a particularly mild form of Anglicanism at that, but with that disclaimer…

    I’d find it difficult to believe that anyone who’d been operating as an independent adult for a decade or two wouldn’t have some experience of sacrifice, love, sin (or whatever you want to call fiddling with the self:others ratio), disaster, success, fucking up (self:others), realisation, confusion, redemption et blardy cetera. That’s before we get onto matters spiritual.

    Most of these things we have to find out for ourselves, not because nobody else talks about them but because it just doesn’t *matter* until you get there for yourself (in my experience: I may be somewhat unempathic). Anyway, we end up with a head/soul full of rather undigested experiences that clearly mean something, but which defy moulding into any sort of useful pattern.

    At this point, it’s a matter of religion as psychotherapy. In my (again limited) experience of talking therapies, if you’re lucky you get a burst of epiphany when someone says with great good sense what you’ve been thinking all this time, followed by a slow decay back to your rest state – hopefully, somewhat shifted.
    You can get the same dynamic, with different levels and times, from love and the more Huxleyite drugs. Love, drugs, God and therapy.



    (oh, and I did email you about last weekend!)

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