Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Embracing The Faith

     The world abounds in ironies. The more striking ones get a lot of air time and column-inches – not because of the irony, but because there are substantial numbers of persons who don’t grasp the ludicrousness of their contentions. Have one on me:

     That some utterance constitutes “hate speech” is, of course, an opinion: the opinion of some hearer who hates what he’s heard. He’s the one doing the hating; it’s an interior experience that he might not share with anyone. Therefore, given an agreeable hearer, nothing is hate speech, whereas given an adversarial hearer, everything is! Quelle merveille!

     But that’s just an example. The specific irony I have in mind pertains to faith. As an open, avowed Catholic Christian, I’m often confronted by persons who demand to know “how someone as smart as you could believe something so ridiculous.” (There are also persons who don’t know that I’m a believer and walk into a minefield by denigrating someone else’s faith, but let’s leave that to one side for the morning.) My habitual reply is “I find the evidence persuasive.” That will often kick off an exchange that goes something like this:

Scoffer: Evidence? What evidence?
FWP: Classical history, both sacred and secular, about the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the lives of His Apostles in the following years.

Scoffer: Oh, come on. No one’s ever risen from the dead.
FWP: You know this from personal experience?

Scoffer: Well, it’s obviously impossible!
FWP: What you mean by “impossible,” sir, is that you haven’t seen it with your own eyes and therefore don’t believe that it’s possible. That’s what we call the “black swan” fallacy.

Scoffer: But you can’t prove it happened.
FWP: Nor can you prove that it didn’t. However, there are multiple, mutually confirming eyewitness accounts that Jesus was crucified and was seen and heard by living men three days later. You can reject those accounts as fabrications if you like. I’ve decided to accept them as veridical.

     There’s little to be said beyond that. However, in one memorable encounter, an interrogator proceeded to demand that I “present the evidence” for his consideration. I laughed. “You’ve derided me for my faith, and now you want me to educate you?” I shook my head at this species of arrogance, previously unknown to me, and walked away.

     Now, a Christian believer – i.e., one who accepts the Resurrection and its implications – has the advantage of innocence. That is, nothing Christ exhorted His followers to do is noxious toward others. His preachments were entirely wholesome. But there are faiths of which that cannot be said: faiths that require the believer to reject the countervailing evidence, and to impose that requirement on everyone else. Socialism is one such faith. How one comes to accept that faith, and how he defends it afterward, is my subject for today.

     Girls, hold on to your boyfriends: the socialist believer might have reached the faith through a rational process. The operation of human reason depends upon one’s choice of premises and the availability of relevant information. The contamination of either of those things can produce fatal conclusions from an impeccably rational process. And yes: there are socialist evangelists who specialize in propagating that faith by effectuating such contaminations...usually, upon the naive and the untutored.

     Of greater interest is the path of utility. The socialist believer might embrace his faith because he sees in it a path to something he greatly desires. That might be wealth, or power, or a great and loyal following. Many would argue that such a believer is insincere, and the charge cannot be denied. However, such believers tend to be dedicated evangelists for their faith. They give their outreach efforts everything they’ve got. That intensity alone is sufficient to win them an appalling number of converts.

     Another route toward the socialist faith is the conviction that capitalism has injured oneself, or persons or things one loves. That path is common to several subvarieties of socialist believers. The environmentalists are particularly notable. During the Thirties, Comintern agents in the U.S. entreated Negro ghettoes by arguing that American capitalism was “holding them down.” It proved a fruitful approach, one that might be on the march among American Negroes again today.

     Finally for today – and I’ll allow that this might be merely a subvariety of the paths above – a believer might embrace socialism to gain admittance to a welcoming social circle. This is common on university campuses, especially among socially awkward young men who’ve had a hard time “scoring” with the young women around them. Sly socialist promoters will often use sexual access as a lure for such men. It works on an embarrassing percentage of the targets.

     Once the socialist faith has been accepted, how it’s defended when questioned becomes the topic of interest – and here the ironies truly abound.

     The “rational socialist,” whose premises or knowledge (or both) are faulty, will come across persons who dispute his premises or his assertions of historical fact. That renders intelligent argument impossible. Two persons who disagree on what has already happened will reach opposed conclusions that cannot be harmonized without first correcting one or the other’s claims of fact. However, this sort of clash can have a positive outcome, if the “rational” socialist isn’t so personally invested in his convictions that he’d reject your presentations of contrary evidence. Of course, if their premises differ, the clash is irresolvable.

     The “socialist for gain” is a tougher case, for his socialism is founded on profit for himself: something that socialism does offer to its commissars. As we tend to project our morals and ethics onto others, he’s likely to assume that you want something for yourself, and that your opposition to socialism is part of how you plan to get it. That will predispose him against you – brace yourself – on ethical grounds.

     The “socialist for The Cause” is uninterested in arguing about socialism. Why should he? It’s just an instrument for protecting or advancing his Cause. Only if he were to be convinced that socialism would harm his Cause would he turn away from it – and though with most wholesome causes this is indeed the case, he’ll seldom accept your arguments as sincere. Instead he’ll tell himself that you have another agenda, and that his Cause is only an impediment to it.

     Finally, the “socialist for the girls” cannot be reached at all...unless you’re a stunning capitalist true believer of low morals, ready and willing to prostitute yourself for the sake of defeating the socialist menace. How many of those are there, really?

     Of course, in our day, argument between Left and Right over any particular issue is nearly pointless. Neither side is willing to concede the other’s wholesomeness of motives or sincerity in argument. Yet an understanding of the paths by which those who disagree with us attain and defend their convictions can be very useful: it can illuminate our own rational and emotional weaknesses. For conservatives and libertarians have also held dubious positions, have proclaimed them with apostolic fervor, and have denounced others who dare to differ with us. The outer mistakes in those positions are of less moment than the inner one: holding our own convictions to be beyond all dispute.

     That’s where Nazis come from.


Michael Arvizu said...

Hi Fran,

In the past you have consistently used "CSO" in reference to your wife. But in the dialogue you posted this does not seem to be the case (use of "sir"). What does CSO stand for?

And I truly look forward to everything you BLOG. You have insights that I often miss.

Mike A.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Oops! Thanks for calling my attention to that, Mike. Cut-and-Paste Error! I'll fix it at once.