27 April 2006

faith's constitutive outside

I have something percolating that feels very important in response to the discussion below and over at FFB regarding secularism, faith, ID, and the rest. however, with all percolating things, there's a risk of increased contamination from the very method of brewing and frankly, a french press is just a better method of preparing thoughts. however, I grind on, feeling that this is important.

faith, it seems to me, has nothing necessarily to do with God. that is, my first point is that the discussion is waaay too focused on the Mediterranean religious episteme, which in turn is then used to filter other epistemes such as 'polytheism' (aka Hinduism, a 'religion' which is a recent historical construction joining together a whole raft of belief systems which, in some forms, are not even polytheistic). this is a problem because it assumes a unity to faith that doesn't exist, and it reads all religions as fundamentally similar, which they are not.

one can believe and have faith in an understanding of the universe as somehow interconnected, and that faith might be grounded in concepts that arise out of physics, for example, perhaps in connection with broadly Buddhist tenets. one can have faith in a conception of power as operating not through people wielding it but rather through power relations. unlike the current narrow reading of the Mediterranean religions, one can believe in multiple things from ostensibly different religious traditions (in Japan: Shinto, Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity) at the same time. can these beliefs be observed and proven? yes and no. which brings me to my second point.

to figure out what faith is, it must be defined over against what it is not, or non-faith. atheism might be described as a faith that there is(are) no deity(ties). there's no proof that God doesn't exist (although I admit proving a negative is nigh impossible). but this leads me to my point, I think. which is that the rationale for deciding what faith is stems from a very empiricist, Enlightenment episteme of 'proof' and 'observation'--one at odds, fundamentally, with 'faith' itself. or, to put it another way, a central faith that grounds our current Western episteme.

faith is often reinforced by what those who operate through faith observe in the world every day.

If there's anything that exhibits Derrida's point about nothing being outside the text, it's faith, it seems to me: the so-called non-faith space merely produces faith and is itself susceptible to being articulated as a faith.

all that said, I think that secularism isn't about faith. it's about politics. (and yes, I know I know--politics is everywhere too. bear with me). a secular state is different from a religious one. and secularism is important, not because it is the opposite of faith but because it provides protection for faith. religious states, ironically enough, do not. just as one should articulate a difference between religion and belief, one should articulate a difference between secularism and anti-religion.

can one be dogmatically secularist? yes. is that bad? I don't think so. as much as the continental philosophers have been trying to reveal to us the enlightenment episteme we operate in, helpfully pointing out its problems, what that helps us with is an understanding of how power operates, how politics works, how discourse shapes our lives. (and I realise that those phrases are utterly not Derridean, but I'm actually trying to communicate here, so cut me some slack.)

Intelligent design is a phrase constructed for political ends and it operates within a certain political realm to produce ends that resemble a religious state.

If your faith involves the belief that (a) there was an 'original' (not 'originary') creation moment of any kind and (b) there is an entity behind said creation, then ID might vaguely describe your belief. But once you want everyone to believe your belief, and you want the state to propagate said belief, you've entered into the realm of a religious state. I find that path one that closes off faith, eliminating options rather than opening them up.

science isn't anti-religion, as most scientists have been trying to tell us for eons. and science isn't monolithic or unchanging or true in any fundamental sense. but it is the episteme that we in the western world have agreed upon, and through that episteme we have managed, more or less, to allow other belief systems to flourish and grow. I think we should teach our students to doubt more, to formulate good questions, to see the problems behind the so-called answers, not give them packaged answers disguised as truth.

my three minutes are up. plunge the pot.

2 comments:

dan said...

Maybe no one has commented on this post because it is so amazingly well said that you just sort of have to *not* immediately respond. You have to sit with it, and return to it again and re-read it a few times.

Certain groups of people have claimed a "faith-based" or "moral" justification for their political calls-to-action, which has the frustrating effect of implying that their opposition is without faith and without morals. I think this is what you're suggesting, in part, here.

I think the political is morally right when it maintains an overarching goal of being fair and open to all people's views, religions, lifestyles, (regardless of their identities) as long as those things do not infringe on other people's freedoms and sense of security. I don't think I'm saying anything radical here. I think that I believe this because it is the foundation of the government that I was born and raised within. That is to say, these are the ideals of the the "founding father's" of this country.

"secularism is important, not because it is the opposite of faith but because it provides protection for faith. religious states, ironically enough, do not."

Right on!

"once you want everyone to believe your belief, and you want the state to propagate said belief, you've entered into the realm of a religious state. I find that path one that closes off faith, eliminating options rather than opening them up."

Three cheers!

"I think we should teach our students to doubt more, to formulate good questions, to see the problems behind the so-called answers, not give them packaged answers disguised as truth."

Can someone formally institutionalize this, please?

Thanks, Rebecca, for saying this. It needs to be repeated over and over, each time we enter this sort of debate on faith, religion, government, and morality.

Mark Salada said...

Imagine a politician who responds 'secularist' when asked what faith they follow. Am I correct to state that someone with conventional (religious) faith can't even see a secularist, i.e., doesn't have the language to describe one? The politician would fall into a hole, absent to both believers and non-believers.

So here's my Q: As a secularist, which direction do I face to pray? ;)