A hard post

I’ve been debating writing this post since the weekend.  It isn’t my usual type of post.  Three events occurred in the last week to prompt this.  I’ll get to those at the end.

Here is my hypothesis: reason and faith are both solid foundations from which to make arguments.  Reason can be informed by faith.  Faith can be supported by reason.  If either holds water they should both come to the same conclusions.

The reason the argument needs to be made is that there seems to be a tendency to have an argument immediately discarded if it contains any mention of faith.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms lists as its first fundamental freedom: The Freedom of conscience and religion.  People are supportive of these rights and freedoms, but it seems that most want the freedom of conscience and religion to be treated like sex.  So long as it happens in the privacy of your home, doesn’t effect me and no people or animals are harmed as a result, I’m fine not hearing about it.

That really isn’t how religion works in practice.  While it may or may not be visible it informs all aspects of life both public and private.  Certainly it impacts moral and ethical decisions that get made by the faithful.

There are two big arguments against my hypothesis.  The first is that there is not an equivalency between faith and reason.  The second is the the plenitude of conflicting faiths so they cannot all be valid bases for argument.

I’d argue that arguments cannot be made without both.  No one can argue from a position of complete knowledge so that in some fashion there must be an element of faith.  Perhaps it isn’t faith in the teaching contained in the Bible or the Koran, but it might be faith in the freedoms outlined in the Canadian Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.  All three bear a common genesis in being documents written by people for the benefit of people and society.

(They can all also be said to contain contradictory statements that require experts to explain.)

Regardless it isn’t truly possible to make an arguments of reason without an element of faith.  The same is true the other way around.  This interrelationship between the two proves their equivalency for me.

The second question is which faith is it valid to make arguments from?  They cannot all be valid.  Obviously I have my preferences, but I’d state here that a personal faith supported by reason should be acceptable.

Although the origins, creation stories, books of teachings, view of the afterlife, etc. are generally quite different, the general teaching of most faiths on building a strong, stable, supportive society are quite similar.  Supporting this point through example is beyond the scope of this post.  So I’ll leave myself open to attack on this point.

The immediate dismissal of such arguments is disturbing and unfair.  It would be OK if people would engage and find points where there is no support by reason or where statements are in contradictory positions, or any other logical fallacy is present in the argument.

(Which reminds me – I’ve been meaning to post this poster about logical fallacies for a while.)

But instead it is simply dismissed and often then followed by an ad hominem attack on the arguer and on religion  and on their faith in general.  Two of the incidents that prompted this post were of exactly this nature.  What really surprised me was the vehemence and vitriol in the attacks.  In one case, the person was told to leave the country if they wanted to make arguments supported by faith – to move a a theocratic state.  In the other, it was far more vicious.  When the arguer was called a moron – that was mild.  It culminated with saying that the arguer was being punished by their god when they had experienced a specific tragedy in their life because they had faith.

(In the second case, the person was making a controversial point on Facebook on another person’s wall.  I think getting an attack should be expected, but both the hatred evident in the attacks and a complete unwillingness the have any civil discourse at all surprised me.)

The third item prompting this is comments that the Edmonton Archbishop Richard Smith made yesterday in support of a pastoral letter from the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops.  From the letter:

““Legitimate secularity draws a distinction between religion and politics, between Church and state,” the pastoral letter states, but is open to the engagement of religious beliefs and faith communities in public debate and civic life. “Radical secularism”, however, excludes religion from the public square “and from freely engaging in the public debate necessary for shaping civic life.”

I always like to include people who can state heir ideas more clearly than I at the end of any post.

So – good luck to you all.  Hopefully we can all make reasonable arguments based on faith if required.

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14 thoughts on “A hard post

  1. Jerry Vague says:

    Is not the religion, from which we draw our faith, part of the makeup of our ideals that we fall back on to put forth our political arguements? Politics is people. A group of people are a community. Political statistics have proven that comunities have the same beliefs and ideals. (*Cite: “Data is Sexy” by Stephen Carter, Political consultant and former Chief of Staff for Alison Redford). Communities are required to work with one another for survival. Communities require a problem solving mechinism using a set of rules that does not comprimise out faith…or at least too much. The community representatives agree on a set of rules or laws that their community can abide by that will enable them to faithfully execute the beliefs of their religion.

    Public debate wieghs the pros and cons of comprimises. To quote Sean Connery in The Untouchables, “What are you willing to do?”

    Seperate that!

    – Jerry Vague
    -Architect of The Kokanee Sessions

    • Look at your belief in the political system! Yay you!

      How is community defined here? I barely know my neighbours. So I’m not sure how much commonality there is here. But I’m in a lot of communities.

      Work, social, friend groups, online and the church.

      I’m actually a fan of groups that aren’t completely self selecting since they can contain a wider variety of views. Like Brent said, work is cool because there is a diversity presents there.

      Can you track against online groups yet? What does following my blog mean? Other than great taste!

      An active public sphere for debate is essential to the proper functioning of government system. Which means that arguments all need to be heard.

      If the argument has no merit it should be dismissed after consideration. But the source of the argument is only a small factor in that consideration.

      Thanks for the comment!

  2. Brent Kamenka says:

    So I always have issues when it comes to questions of faith, simply because by nature I question authority. God = Highest authority, so by my nature, we has us some conflicts :). I rationalize that away by the arguement that I was born this way for a reason, so go with it.

    I agree with your point Todd that reason and faith are supportive of each other and that one can build on the other. In fact,I think it is a requirement of faith that it be tested against reason and reason by faith, and that things that fail either test are either questioned further or discarded.

    As to the level of vitriol that is coming out of the woodwork, there is a large amount of anger at a number of religions as there have been lines of antagonism (sp) drawn between people that are secular and those that are more faith based (cannot find a cleaner phrase :o) ). I believe that these lines are artificial and that media and interests that are served by the conflict and that benefit from it are encouraging it. I have friends that are very religous, from a number of cultures, and I find it amazing the strength and support they draw from their faith. Just does not do it for me.

    I think there is room for each, we just need to learn to respect each other and TALK about differences in philosphies and motivations. On my office, I have a Mormon, a Catholic, Muslim, a doubter and I think some Budhists and we have some fantastic debates about life, the universe and everything.

    It is my belief that the mainenance of civil discourse and argument is the accountability of each of us to steward and foster, but that does not preclude reining in some ass-hat that is just ranting (case in point).

    Great post BTW,

    • Nice response too. I’ll respond further tomorrow.

    • Cool. At my work we mostly talk about beer. Woe unto you I’d you don’t like hops!

      Questioning authority is both good and necessary. And I think doubt in a creator of what is apparently a heavily flawed creation is pretty common.

      But you’re always up for reasoned debate. That is valuable.

      • craig says:

        Good to see that the trend that Randy and I started carries on, and if you don’t like hops well you’ll have to repint your sins.

        At my work there is no talk off anything of a philosophical nature which bothers me as that is my bent. I have been a member of a church all of my life. I literally grew up in one, my Mom is the church secretary so that’s where we went on PD days,etc. Yet most of my friends are Dawkins fans.

        Unfortunately we in the moderate camp have not been vocal in responding to the Westboro churches of this world. I believe in and stand with a religion that has a fairly radical belief in social justice, community and openness (or at least it does on it’s best days) but we don’t loudly denounce ‘God hates Fags’ so we are lumped in with them.

        • Suellen says:

          Stupid moderates are ruining the world.

          Actually only half joking here. Perhaps we should speak up more.

          Todd – lead the charge. I don’t trust this shifty guy Craig.

        • I can try metaphysical philosophy with my limited understanding. My argument betrays a strong platonic idealism. I assume that both faith and reason arrive at the same result because there is a single truth to reach.

          Alternatively it can be looked at as Kantian. What reason cannot alone prove or disprove is valid to be decided through other means including faith. Moral issues fall into this category.

          It works better with beer. Although a remain a fan of lighter and even sweeter ales to your bitter bitter hops!

          I feel I grew up more in a hospital than a church. Not due to illness, but, like you, that is where my parent worked. But it doesn’t make me want to hang out in hospitals oddly.

          Catholicism is, of course, quite conservative in its social justice teachings. I’m cool with that and other than a few quibbles here and there in agreement. If change is needed Catholicism will get there eventually when it is proven right. But there isn’t change for change sake – which makes me quite happy.

          But I’d certainly shy away from most of those arguments. I hate conflict.

          CRB next week.

    • Regarding the lines between the secular and religious. There are loud, uncompromising voices at both ends of the views.

      Even in the middle, there is often an unwillingness to look inward and challenge oneself.

      But I don’t really see it as excusing mud slinging from the outset.

      I see two sides both proclaiming tolerance, peace and love both heading to a debate with swords drawn.

  3. Suellen says:

    Great post Todd.

    I agree with your point that the vitriol that has been coming out against religion has been getting more bitter and less rational as I get older. Or maybe I’m becoming less tolerant of BS as I get more grey hair. I also agree with Brent that the media has a vested interest in magnifying humanity’s worst traits. Then you add in the ‘anonymity’ of the Internet and you get people who can go about writing the most hateful things that they wouldn’t dare saying face to face. There’s an interesting article out there where a SI reporter confronted a troll on his blog by phoning him up.

    http://www.cnn.com/2011/OPINION/01/21/pearlman.online.civility/index.html

    What I’d like to throw in here is that the vitriol is a two lane highway where the lanes are poorly marked and the speed limit not enforced. For that matter, the cops are also supplementing their income from creative sources. To take the metaphor further, with more cars on the road and enforcement being negligible, I don’t see things getting better anytime soon.

    I don’t see what is going on as a sustained attack on religion. What I see going on is a society trying to cope with being together all the time without actually having to face the physical consequences of living all close like. We tell people that everyone’s opinion is equally valid without also adding that that doesn’t mean your opinion is more equal (you special snow flake!) .

    • Yes to everything!

      From what I’ve seen Alberta is growing primarily through immigration. A variety of viewpoints will become more and more common. Not less.

      And the road rage does go both ways. I’ve seen the faithful be just as mean. Having found religion doesn’t make someone good. Too bad.

      I think there is a valid argument to make that the religious do face attack. I don’t feel persecuted, but I’m not really flamboyantly Catholic either. I know my friends who were attacked this week did.

      But those are isolated anecdotal events not necessarily a societal trend. But I’d worry about being Muslim… And I feel that prejudice is growing. We unfairly label a single religious group as terrorists, but it is expanding to see all religious as potential terrorists.

      Of course there are also the Richard Dawkins of the world who do attack directly. At least they are honest and forthright.

      Finally the media is hugely influential. I saw the Archbishop’s comments on the news, but the last word in the segment went to an opposing viewpoint. And it took be 15 minutes to google them up the next morning. No links I could find on news sites. Had to go the the diocese press release.

      All that said. I don’t believe there is a concerted attack. But there does seen to be growing unwillingness to enter into civil discourse.

      Ok. And the internets. Anonymity is a shield used often. Also it is fairly easy to find an online group that shares your views however irrational. Tricky.

      I also meant to say in my original post that faith without reason is bad. Hopefully that is apparent. Just because I believe the sun is blue doesn’t make it so. I made the argument that reason requires faith, but missed the inverse.

      Sorry to tack that one here.

      Thanks Suellen!

  4. T-Roy says:

    My outlook is definitely shaped by my faith. But my engineering brain won’t allow my faith to be an unreasonable faith. That being said, when discussing some of the more prickly issues, I try and make my arguments without saying “cause God said so”, rather rely on logical arguments that focus on facts when dealing with people who are not of a strong faith background. I certainly don’t hide the fact that I am an Orthodox Catholic man, but I also understand that leading the charge with “the Church says” isn’t going to work either. My 2cents

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