Sunday, August 22, 2010

You Don't Have to Think, Either

My mother thought it would be a good idea to forward on a rather vacuous little article from someone writing on her church's website. The article, I Don't Have to Prove It, is a celebration by UCC minister Lillian Daniel of that oft-quoted passage from the Bible:
"Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen."

That's from Hebrews 11:1-3. Never you mind that the book then goes on to explain how the ancients of Judaism performed great acts of faith after receiving direct proof of the existence of God, either through visions or by hearing God's voice; no - it's much better to ignore all that and just interpret the passage to mean "faith is the ability to believe without evidence."

To quote the article:

I can't prove to you that Jesus lived, died and was resurrected, nor that he healed people on the sabbath or that he forgave his tormentors. I can't prove to you that one God can also be three in one, and that together that force has parted the waters, burned bushes and fed thousands on short rations. None of this can I prove. But I can tell you that I have faith in it.
Well, that's fantastic. But it's utterly meaningless to me that you have faith in it. It gives me no reason at all to consider your position. This is the kind of thing that a believer will e-mail around to other believers so that they can reassure each other that they're fine believing whatever they want, regardless of evidence for or against it. It's certainly not the sort of thing you send to your atheist son, expecting it to convince him that faith is really a good thing after all.

I can hope and believe in what is not before my eyes. I don't have to be logical, and most of all, I don't have to prove it. Not to you, not to anyone.
Not to yourself, either, as you go on to demonstrate. And I get a kick out of people who say they don't have to be logical. Aren't they just admitting that their position is illogical, and that they don't care?

In our culture, it seems like people of faith are always on the witness stand being asked to prove things, and we Christians tend to cooperate. We come up with the search for the historical Jesus and scholars who vote on whether Jesus said this or that. Or archaeological studies that will finally prove whether or not Jesus was resurrected. Documentaries on/* the history channel draw us in, as if finally, we might look reasonable to the viewing public, as though finally we will get our proof.

I'm tired of playing by that dull and pedestrian set of rules, which has everything to do with a litigious, factoid-hungry culture and nothing to do with following Jesus.
Dull and pedestrian? You're talking about people who actually care about whether or not their beliefs are true, and calling their attempts and desire to verify their beliefs dull and pedestrian. What patronizing, silly nonsense. Where's all the Christian humility we're always hearing about? What I see is a smug, self-satisfied, pompous pseudo-intellectual.

Here's the clincher:
I don't come to church for evidence or for a closing argument. I come to experience the presence of God, to sense the mystery of things eternal and to learn a way of life that makes no sense to those stuck sniffing around for proof.

And this is where Daniel reveals just how completely wrongheaded her approach is: Not only does she believe in the absence of evidence (which is perfectly common among people of faith), but she sees evidence as wholly unnecessary and shows contempt for the idea that she should care whether or not reality bears out her dogmas. She turns up her nose at those of us who would first require the merest bit of proof, declaring not just with contentment but with abject pride that she's far above the need for "dull and pedestrian" things like facts. Were it the case that every single thing she believes were absolutely, demonstrably false, still she would hold fast to her belief, sneering at the people who proved her wrong for how they just don't understand how strong her faith is or how great is "the mystery of things eternal." (Remind me to blog later on how stupid it is that people idolize mystery for mystery's sake.)

Needless to say, the strength of a person's faith has no bearing on reality. People can believe nearly anything at all with all of their being. But when evidence shows them to be wrong and they persist in their beliefs, this is no longer mere ignorance but in fact a form of insanity. It is no more rational (or admirable) than believing very strongly that gravity does not affect you and pooh-poohing people who warn you about stepping into elevator shafts because you draw strength and comfort from the idea that, if you decided to do so, you would float about unharmed in midair.

Such seems to be the case with Daniel. She doesn't care to investigate her beliefs. Moreover, she doesn't even seem to want to hear anything from people who have done the investigations she's far too clever to need to do. She decries logic, reason, and evidence, the only tools that we know actually work for making change in the world or for learning about how reality works. I can almost imagine that, were someone to try to teach her the things she doesn't want to know about, she would stick her fingers in her ears and sing loudly to mask out their voice.

So you don't think you need evidence for your beliefs. Bully for you. But you don't even want to have to consider whether or not they're true; you don't even think it's a worthwhile question. And that's pathetic. This is a person who revels in her ignorance and holds a smarmy, self-important sense of superiority over those of us who want to know what is and isn't actually true. And I can't help but scratch my head at the fact that my mother thought I would be interested in reading this...