Posted by Ergo on October 21, 2006
Over at Jason Hughes’ blog, a raging discussion ensued between religious “fundies” (Jason’s term) and non-believers. While Jason’s blog is not Objectivist–nor, I suspect, are his commentators–Jason exhibits a commendable commitment to the rationality- and reality-based approach to matters. Not surprisingly, therefore, Jason is happily non-religious.
Interestingly, one of his atheist/agnostic commentators, Darkmind, pointed out an interesting facet about religious people–that they rarely “entertain the thought [that they] might be wrong” about the existence of a God. And come to think of it, this is very true. It got me thinking:
Why are believers so reluctant, even for a few moments, to entertain the thought that they might be wrong about god’s existence? It is clear that they question many things rather easily, except those that lie within the domain of their faith. For example, they question evolution and fossil records and scientific claims and the age of the universe. But do they wonder if they’re ever wrong about heaven or hell or souls or God?
Fear is the easy answer. They fear the consequences of doubting the existence of God. However, I don’t think that fear is the cause as much as I think it is the effect.
The cause–the root of their fear, and their faith–is the acceptance of the false premise that humans are inherently flawed creatures. Their standard of assessing that humans are flawed is an impossible standard of perfection: omniscence, omnipotent, beyond the realm of spatio-temporal existence, an eternal existence stretching into infinity.
Believers are riddled with fear, doubt, and guilt precisely because, at their epistemological root, lies the premise that the standard of knowledge is omniscience. Since it is evident that omniscience is not possible to humans, it is proof enough that we are flawed. Thus, instead of observing that the standard itself must be corrected to correspond to reality and human nature, believers merely accept their epistemic natures as being inherently flawed, i.e., imperfect. However, this in corollary also implies that their metaphysical view of their existence in reality is also inherently imperfect.
Metaphysical perfection, according to this premise, requires one to simply not exist in this world as we know it. It requires that one be untouched and unfazed by reality. To exist in this world is to experience life and events and react to it accordingly. This is the flaw. To exist in this world means to die at some point. This is a flaw. Perfection is defined as achieving nonexistence–Nirvana. A numbing state of contradictory existence and non-existence where everything is subdued to a montone, without differentiation, without distinctions. Or else, perfection is a state of eternal existence living on for eternity.
Basically, all the various definitions ascribed to perfection are carefully constructed to ensure that human beings are defined as the exact opposite, i.e., as imperfect and flawed creatures.
Given that imperfection is at the root their paradigm, it becomes easy to accept things on faith and discredit the validity of their rational faculty because that is precisely what is consistent with their fundamental premise–that of a flawed and imperfect nature. The illogic is that because humans are inherently flawed, the products of the human mind and the exercise of the human mind has to also be flawed–or at least be held suspect regardless of evidence. They do not grasp that against a standard of perfection that is logically impossible, all else will be inadequate and imperfect by definition, though not by fact.
Thus, things based on reason is doubted, whereas those based on faith is accepted. Faith does not require our “flawed” faculties of reason and logic. Once the basic premise of a flawed nature is accepted, faith facilitates belief in practically anything. Which, consequently, generates a sense of fear because–having discredited one’s faculty of reason and ability to know facts–one is helplessly at the mercy of arbitrary dictats and dogmas, dependent on his own emotions, whims, and other persons to guide his actions.
A man of faith is afraid to entertain the thought that he is wrong because faith is his means to knowledge, without which he will be like a chicken with no head. It is no wonder that many believers are baffled at how many atheists can remain without going on a murdering rampage or a looting spree. They do not understand how the atheists know how to act in the absence of a faith-based dogma. To the believer, the faculty of reason is flawed–consistent with the premise that human nature is flawed. Thus, to them, only a Perfect Being (which they accept on faith that He exists) can offer moral rules and principles of life. They believe that morality is impossible to an atheist because their morality is as imperfect as they are.
However, the fact of the matter is–as Ayn Rand pointed out–reason permits a person to identify errors by means of logic and correspondence with reality, faith eliminates all possibility of identifying errors in one’s beliefs because it neither relies on logic nor respects reality. Therefore, a believer simply cannot “entertain the thought that he might be wrong” about matters of faith because by what process of validation will be know that he is right or wrong in the absence of rational standards?
In sum, the premise that human nature is inherently flawed–given the insidiously wrong definition of perfection–is at the root of faith and fear. It replaces reason as the competent faculty of knowledge with faith as the passive absorber of facts and fantasies. It replaces confidence in one’s ability to know and live competently with the fear of being helpless, weak, flawed, and incompetent. It replaces the ability to rectify one’s error when faced with facts with the inability to even differentiate an error from truth or a fact from fantasy.
In We The Living, Kira states that she does not believe in a god because she cannot fathom a Being greater that herself that she would have to bow before. Kira considered herself worthy of the highest ideal and competent enough to achieve it. Perfection was achievable, and was achieved, by Kira. All of Ayn Rand’s fictional heroes–like Ayn Rand herself in real life–fundamentally held the premise that perfection is attainable, that they deserved the highest ideal, and they achieved it for themselves.
Perfection is possible, in any meaningful sense, only to Human Beings; any definition of perfection that makes it impossible for humans to achieve it is not only flatly incorrect but also meaningless.
[Related post: God Cannot be Perfect, But Man Can!]