February 13, 2006

Faith and the "willful abdication of reason"

Here in Canada, and I can imagine in other developed countries as well, the combination of growing secularism alongside multicultural tolerance has resulted in a bandying of religious groups who collectively feel threatened, but who also feel empowered by their freedom to express. As a result, a large number of interfaith groups have emerged who are startlingly tolerant of one another.

My guess as to why this is has also to do with the watering-down of strong religious rhetoric. Most religious groups here in the West aren't really interested in battling each other over doctrinal differences. Rather, they're finding that they need to work together in order to survive the secularization of public institutions and of culture itself.

The one trait that binds them together, of course, is faith. In fact, faith is often worn by the devout as a badge of pride, one that gives believers a strong sense of commonality with those of other faiths. Walking around UofT campus, for example, you're likely to see "Faith Matters" posters strewn about.

But as George M. Felis recently noted in a Butterflies and Wheels OpEd, faith is nothing to be proud of. In fact, he argues that it's a moral failing.

For Felis, faith means believing something because one chooses to believe it, without regard to the absence of evidence. But faith is not a mere failure of reason, writes Felis, it is the willful abdication of reason.

"Faith isn't a mistake along the same lines as a logical error such as affirming the consequent," he writes, "It is not simply an oversight of evidence that ought to be under consideration. Faith is the declaration that reason may be all well and good in other areas, but reason ends here where the believer says it does! No argument can conceivably be given for not adhering to the standards of reason on any given subject, because argument itself must adhere to rational standards. Otherwise, it isn't argument - it's shouting, empty noise, full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing."

Felis is obviously spot on. The general public, and especially the media, need to stop praising the virtues of blind faith. Rather, what should be lauded are those individuals who are critical of belief systems and who leave the door open for other metaphysical, spiritual, and existential possibilities.

Thanks to Jeff Patterson of Gravity Lens for passing on the article.

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