Everyone believes in something.

“I’m not religious. I don’t have any beliefs. I base my life solely on science and reason.”

With all the positive effects of the Enlightenment, perhaps the most negative impact of that revolution in thought was the growth of the concept that reason, and reason alone was a sufficient and objective course to arrive at truth. The idea was that a rational thinker could, without preconceptions, examine and observe the world, and arrive at logical and truthful conclusions. The contrasting assertion was that those coming from a religious perspective could not be objective and thus their conclusions would be more prone to logical error because of their religious premises. Today that perspective is still prevalent throughout our society. It’s amazing that people think that it is possible to approach life without premises, without beliefs.

There is the common argument that is often put forward that it is wrong to impose “your morals” on someone else through legislation as if there is legislation that does not arise from someone’s morals. From the speed limits on interstate highways, to laws concerning prostitution, alcohol and drug use, the environment or education, all laws somehow reflect at least the basic moral beliefs of whoever framed and passed the legislation. Even the most extreme libertarian who still wants to be free from undue interference from the government in their lives and having their rights infringed on by others is making moral, not amoral, claims to those rights of liberty.

There is no one, whether religious or not, who is purely objective about anything. Everyone has beliefs about the world and life that cannot be proven, but are instead just accepted as true. Now, they may have given a great deal of thought to their beliefs, and they may have weighed all the available evidence in coming to their conclusions, but ultimately everyone has foundational beliefs which cannot be proven.

Now I would hope that any thinking person would utilize all the available evidence to ascertain the reliability of their beliefs, and I would certainly assert that I have done that to the best of my ability. However there are still foundational concepts that are beyond our ability to know for certain, and thus we must say that we believe those things.

What we must remember is that reason is a tool, and while I think it is an indispensable tool, it still remains a tool. All arguments are made up of three parts: premises, inferences and conclusions. Inferences are where reason comes in. Inferences are the process of using reason to get from point A to point B. And if you use faulty reasoning then you are going to have poor results. However, your conclusions are also dependent on your premises, the very foundation of your argument. And when it comes to our ethics and the understanding of our lives, it is our beliefs that give us the foundation from which we use reason to reach our conclusions. And anyone who asserts that their premises do not involve beliefs, that their premises are the product of pure reason, are either dishonest (with themselves and/or others), delusional or haven’t really thought through what they are saying.

So what things are matters of belief? That’s for the next post.

Faith, Politics and Ethics

Welcome to this new blog. I realize that a blog about faith and politics is not something unique, but I do hope to bring some new insights to the topic.

Many people endeavor to keep religion and politics separate and proclaim loudly that the two are not and should not be connected. Religion is personal; politics is public. This is the perspective that somehow one can approach political issues and governmental actions from a neutral, objective, and non-religious position.

Following a speech in 2008 by Mitt Romney concerning the relationship of faith and politics Martin Medhurst wrote about the varied reactions to the speech in which Romney attempted to lay out his understanding of the interplay of religion and politics in America, both historically and for contemporary times. Although there were many who were open to what Romney had to say, there were also many who thought there was no place in American politics for a discussion of religious beliefs.

My claim is straightforward: the responses to Romney’s “Faith in America”speech underscore the five basic issues that all Americans must face when making civic decisions: (1) Is talk about religion either necessary or desirable in American politics? (2) If such talk is necessary or desirable, what aspects of religion are relevant to the political process and, especially, to the office of President of the United States? (3) Are there some aspects of religion or some uses of religion that are simply inappropriate, and if so, why? (4) How do we reconcile the constitutional issues of free speech and free exercise of religion with the equally constitutional issues of no religious test and no establishment of religion? (5) Can religious and democratic attitudes toward such intangibles as truth, knowledge, virtue, and belief ever be reconciled, and if so, how?[i]

 The answers to those questions, as Medhurst cited, varied depending on the premises of the respondents. Those who mistakenly think that reason and reason alone suffices to provide an understanding of reality asserted that religion has no place in political dialogue. But it’s the very terminology of the questions that may present the crux of the problem. Is it “religion” that is the issue here, or is it the idea of faith and belief in general? Clearly, people who are involved in organized religions are adherents of specific faith positions. However, what is not true is that those who are not involved in organized religion are not adherents of specific faith positions. Yet it is almost an accepted truism in liberal American politics that the opposite of biased, religious, irrational politics is open-minded, non-faith, rational politics.

This is the fallacy of the enlightenment project: the mistaken notion that somehow one can live her/his life without premises that are accepted on faith and are not able to be proven. It is my assertion that everyone has faith positions, whether they are involved in a specific religious group or not. And those faith positions do, and should, impact the political and ethical positions which they take. Unfortunately we often either discount those beliefs or treat them as disconnected. It will be one of my goals on these pages to show the importance of one’s faith positions and how they not only are, but must be, connected to, and coherent with, one’s political and ethical positions.
I hope you will both profit from and enjoy reading the meandering musings while I endeavor to explore this topic.

[i] Medhurst, Martin J.  Mitt Romney, “Faith in America,” and the Dance of Religion and Politics in American Culture. Rhetoric & Public Affairs Vol. 12, No. 2, 2009, pp. 195–222 ISSN 1094-8392 Academic Search Premier. Web.  August 30, 2011. p. 199.