faith as a feature not a bug ramble

March 11, 2018
(Warning - high risk of sophomoric philosophy in the most literal (as in, concerning when I was a sophomore in high school) sense ahead)

The multiplicity of religions is a big part of what drove me from Evangelical Christianity - or as I put it then "The world has a billion devout Moslems. Here I am, sweet talkin' son of a preacher man, trying to be a good Christian, but if I had been the sweet talkin' son of an Imam, wouldn't I be trying just as hard to be a good Moslem?" (This was before Wikipedia so I wasn't even sure if Imams could have kids, but you get the idea.)

The way Christianity was presented to me as uniquely True - "No one comes to the Father but by Me" (John 14:16) - meant that it had some 'splainin' to do. God "letting" all those other religions happen just didn't make a lot of sense, and hits that "God is all knowing, God is all loving, God is all powerful, whence evil?" (Epicurus) conundrum pretty hard. (That "well, As the stars are above the sands, so our God's ways above ours" (Isiah 55:9) always felt like a cop-out!) Later, when I see ecumenical and cross-faith outreach, and hear politicians calling for unity among "people of All Faiths" (and leaving out Freethinkers and Skeptics) -- it was hard to parse that without being dismissive of their intellects and skeptical of their intentions.

That was the early days of my almost-OCDish need for me to only embrace that which is likely to be objectively verifiable as true, or to clearly demarcate my level of uncertainty about it, the "known unknown" factor. And so I shared Vonnegut's view "Say what you will about the sweet miracle of unquestioning faith, I consider a capacity for it terrifying and absolutely vile" and I demanded an adherence to Objective Truth take priority over adherence to God, even.

And so years passed. I became aware that my faith, while not fundamentalist, had been pretty brittle, and maybe I'd lost something leaving it behind. I tried to find that in the UU, which in its liberal New England form seemed to offer the fellowship without demanding sacrificing skepticism, and maybe provide insight into those other religions, and the commonalities in the human experience they might all share. I've kind of drifted from them as well (save for a "Science and Spirituality" reading group I still attend) - but I think I have found much of the sense of community and purpose in activist Band music (heck, the School of Honk meets Sundays, takes to the streets with horns, and constantly invites people to join them - very Salvation Army like!)

So this morning's new thoughts: (ironically I was going to say "revelation", but only to the sense of my subconscious mind bringing some thought to my narrative self...)

Lately, I see more references to Jonathan Haidt's "Mortal Foundations" theory; that historically - maybe even biologically - there's a split, with liberals concerned much more strongly about the foundations "Care" "Fairness" and "Liberty", and conservatives concerned about those things, but adding in foundations of "Loyalty" "Authority" and "Sanctity" - which are values that many liberals also dig, but as means to other ends, and especially not as law-giving principles for their own sake.

(Maybe the single most telling question in the Left/Right 20 Questions Quiz is "Which lesson is more important to teach to children: Kindness or Respect?")

Pondering in the shower this morning, I just realized how Moral Foundations theory explains the promotion of Faith - it's just a clear signal that you're on the same page of all those conservative foundations: "Loyalty" to the group, accepting the "Authority" of the church and other systems in that tradition, and the whole "Sanctity" of not asking so many damn questions, kid. In some ways, the more outlandish the claim, the bigger the opportunity to signal adherence- the BUG (of extreme unlikelihood and contradiction of experience and sense data) is a FEATURE (of believing it anyway.)

If you read "The Righteous Mind" you do hear Haidt talking about his Jewish Liberal roots but sounding like he finds the extra-facets of the conservative set of foundations as worthwhile - maybe in some ways superior. Certainly they are time-tested and intuitively they would seem to build stronger and stable societies. I guess it comes back to the terms "conservative" and "progressive"; the 6 foundations might be good for stability, focusing on the 3 though gets you a society that's ready to make progress, and better live up to the idea of fairness for all.