If you wonder why things are the way they are, how flagrant injustice can flourish, how devoutly religious people following saintly martyrs can condemn countless children to lives of misery, commit atrocities in the name of their all-merciful God, you may have a philosophical nature. I was always this way, and it was largely because I grew up in a family home with three other intelligent people where life made little sense. When I left home I found myself studying philosophy in college, (psychology would have been a logical choice, too, I suppose, but it always struck me as a bit crazy, like so many drawn to study it). While interesting to me at the time, reading and discussing the philosophical opinions of mostly dead white men now feels like an empty pursuit.
The way it was taught, every philosophical position that was not your rare original thought was part of a school, a tradition. Like any other field where leaders codify their views and their followers fight to defend their turf, there were schools of thought and even the occasional original thought could always be subsumed under one or another. “Oh, so you’re making an existentialist argument, then,” a philosophy professor might ask. Here I cite R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural for my final answer “existentialism my ass!”9
This categorizing and hierarchy-making is how humans have always worked. Wise apes (homo sapiens) understand the world, a place of unfathomable complication, through simplification. The ultimate simplifier is faith. If you have faith, if your life is based in faith, that’s the only argument you will ever need. How do you know that? I have faith. Faith, in fact, is the greatest grace that a human can have, it relieves all doubt, all torment, prevents bad thoughts and leads you, after your bodily life is done, to a heaven of unimaginable glory.
The only problem with that, as far as I can see, is that you may have faith in a total crock of shit. A deadly crock of shit, sometimes. Millions had faith in Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Jerry Falwell, our current strong man wannabe, F POTUS.
Let’s leave politics out of this, though. If you have faith you consider yourself blessed to have the answer to every perplexing question we humans face — “I believe!” As in law, philosophers always wind up distinguishing between one thing and another. If you say “I believe!” as you are rescuing hostages from sadists, giving food to the hungry, teaching the poor a skill that will allow them to feed and clothe their family, comforting the miserable, I say AMEN. If you believe that whatever you do, even things that will haunt you years later (like machine gunning hundreds into open graves), is for a higher good because you have faith, I say BAH. Any lynch mob is animated by the belief, somehow, that they are doing the right thing. They almost never are.
Faith is generally seen as in opposition to Reason. Reason is the use of evidence, in light of experience to solve idemtifiable problems. Using Reason, as humans began to do during the Renaissance after centuries of “monkish ignorance and superstition” (Thomas Jefferson) civilizations began to look back to the long suppressed teachings and arts of ancient heathens. This Age of Reason led — for better and for worse — to science, world exploration, philosophies based on empirical truth instead of dogma enforced by God-sanctioned violence. The Age of Enlightenment was a blip on the screen of human progress and may be at an end in our lifetimes, as the light of Reason winks out on all of us amid the righteus force of otherworldly true believers, ready to kill and die before they will submit to ungodly heathens, humanists, those who steer through life arrogantly using their facility to reason rather than the divine gift of faith.
Once again, I have taken a high-minded position, stating the obvious and coming down on the side of so-called decency and humanistic common sense while dismissing the undeniably true faith of millions of god-fearing people. I am a self-righteous prick and you have every right to treat me as such. Do it with evidence, though, not faith.