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It may seem that the Republican world view has become increasingly faith-based.  If so, this has happened before, and that occasion can provide some useful insights into our situation today.

The ancient, pre-Christian, Roman world had restricted uses for faith.  Individuals believed in gods who could be propitiated by sacrifice and perhaps swayed to help out hapless mortals.  There was belief in an afterlife, but not much else.  Romans were a practical sort, putting their trust in what they could see and feel.

The Christians brought a new perspective to life, one where much of everyday realities were underlain by a belief system.  For them, faith explained, it justified, it predicted.  As the new church rose to dominance and allied itself with the government during the fourth century, the use of faith increased exponentially.  Extensive debates on the "correct" beliefs ensued, resulting at times in harsh persecution of those on the losing end.  Before too long, churchmen saw the ancient philosophers, the Sophists, the Epicureans, the Platonists, and others as competitors to be pushed out.  In the sixth century, the teaching of philosophy was banned by the emperor Justinian, and the curtain came down on rational inquiry for many years.

The centuries which followed were called the Dark Ages, and they were dark not only because of the invasions of barbarians, the destruction of international trade, or the depopulation of the cities, but also because of the cultural decline caused by the substitution of faith for learning.  Only after the Crusades was an interest in the ancient classics renewed, and this momentum increased during the thirteenth century, leading to the Renaissance.

These days, a great many Republicans appear to have something amiss.  They believed the jiggered polls which indicated that their man would win in a rush.  They discount global warming because they don't believe in it or in the data supporting it.  They don't believe in evolution; they do believe in intelligent design.  They disbelieve all evidence which contradicts their prejudices.  The funny thing is that they can get away with it for long periods of time.  Every so often, however, reality jumps back in, such as on November 6th this year.

How are rational folks to deal with these individuals?   Should they be considered as merely witless dilusionaries or people with a mental aberration requiring treatment?  I suggest neither.

Faith has an important function in human life, and each of us exercises it to a certain extent.  We trust that the earth will continue to rotate so that the sun will appear above the eastern horizon in the morning.  We believe as we pull onto the freeway or turnpike that no damn fool is going to cross the center median and hit us head on.  Many people have a personal faith in God, and it gives them much comfort.  No one should have a problem with these exercises of belief, but the examples of "something amiss" mentioned above all have a common characteristic which we should evaluate.

Belief, like any other tool for penetrating the mysteries of life, has its proper domain.  The mischief arrises when it is overused to make proclamations about physical reality which potentially can be refuted by observation or experiment.  One can disbelieve that the polar ice caps during summer are shrinking year by year, but that belief can be refuted by hard evidence.  One can disbelieve in evolution, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to deny the ever increasing store of data supporting it.  One can believe that it is possible to walk on the ceiling, to hold this faith against all argument -- right up until the time when it is actually tried.

Certainly we have here something which needs to be counteracted, but carefully.  Faith is not at fault, nor the people who make use of it, merely its excesses.  

So OK.  This is a political site, and how does the history lession and the brief lecture on faith pertain?  

The example of the Romans shows what can happen when an excessive version of faith takes over the political machine.  It required centuries to begin to reverse the damage.  The same intrusion of faith based anti-intellectualism into our own political apparatus could lead to the same result if we don't realize it for what it is and combat it.

In the classic movie, "Inherit the Wind," William Jennings Bryan was much respected by the local Tennessee crowd as a man of faith.  He sat on the stand being questioned by Clarence Darrow with supreme confidence, fanning himself in the heat.  Darrow cleverly got Bryan to state that his assurance in his own rightness came from his perception that God spoke to him personally, and instantly he was busted.  This was considered excessive even by the fundamentalist bunch in the audience, and they turned away from him.

It is not difficult to describe politicans like Alan West.  The term "nut job" comes to mind.  The man actually thought that he could prove that about eighty "Democrat" members of congress were members of the Communist party by an exercise of faith.  No proof, just faith.  Patrick Murphy was able to sell rational to a bunch of Republicans in a red district and oust the wild man.  Representative elect Murphy has the right mojo, and we need more candidates with it because there are more than a few nut jobs still running loose in congress.

The counterpoint to a perspective which is faith-based is one which is reality-based.  Democrats have to become known as the party of reality -- real people, real needs, real problems, and real solutions.  If we campaign not against faith but against its excesses, we will put a lot of faithful people at ease long enough for them to see that we would represent them best.  Win those people over, and the Republican party will become a back page in an unread history book.

Originally posted to TCG on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 12:07 PM PST.

Also republished by Street Prophets and PaganKos.

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Comment Preferences

  •  An interesting perspective (4+ / 0-)

    and I think I'd agree. Belief can be a hindrance. I like how you've brought the idea of excess into the conversation.

    I think we all can fall into this dangerous trap of delusional belief whether we're talking about belief in supernatural forces, or something like the mundane belief of the drunk who knows that he can drive safely.  

    “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

    by Marko the Werelynx on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 12:58:45 PM PST

  •  I am not sure that faith is the right term. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DJ Rix

    I would call it apocalyptical thinking. The belief is that there is some kind of terminal struggle between good and evil. If someone is not on the right side or even questions the right side then they are entirely evil.

    The Romans had a religion that was very important to the state. Their belief was that the gods took sides in human affairs based on more or less human emotions. Therefore it was critical to be nice to the ones on your side since if they felt ignored you would be screwed.

    The reason that the early Christians were persecuted was that they refused to worship Jupiter and the other gods that protected Rome. The Romans called them "atheists" and considered them to be traitors. If Christians had been willing to offer sacrifices to other gods they wouldn't have had any trouble. The Romans tolerated some pretty strange cults.

    It seems that Christianity picked up the same theme at some time and uses it against anyone who doesn't believe in the same way. Blaming hurricanes and earthquakes on witches, teh Gay, or Kos is just what Nero was doing when he fed Christians to the lions.

  •  an excellent point, but... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DJ Rix

    two things, one, willful ignorance, the refusal to see proof that's right in front of you, is the 'new normal' for Rethugs. Two, the zillionaires (who lavishly fund the Rethugs) LIKE ignorance, and fill it with the disinformation they prefer, via their noise machinery (Murdock, Rush, etc.) which is also well funded. Even supposedly reasonable people, PREFER such propaganda, and cling to it, with grim determination.  The truth is, "you can't fix stupid" whether it's by nature or simply choice, and 'faith' is just one of the stumbling blocks.

    May you live in interesting times--Chinese curse

    by oldcrow on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 01:58:50 PM PST

    •  To continue (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      DJ Rix, Marko the Werelynx

      You raise a valid point or two, and I would have agreed with you. . . before this election.  If the manipulation of persistent ignorance worked, the billion or so thrown into it would have prevailed, and Romney would be the president elect.

      Stupidity has to die off or be alleviated, to be sure.  The point I was making was that many persons of faith can be won over to our side and become a powerful Democratic voting block if a place is made for them.  So far we have been a bit condescending, and they feel rightly pressed upon.  If they realize that they have been had by the Republicans, they might want to turn to whomever treated them fairly.

      Bene Scriptum, Bene Intellectum.

      by T C Gibian on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 02:40:37 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  I disagree some (0+ / 0-)

        About "making a place for them". Hell, christians are the base of the democratic party. All elected federal democratic officials are christians except for one Muslim and a few Jews who are also persons of faith. The President is a person of exceptional faith as are his cabinet members. The SCOTUS is made up of persons of faith too and it goes up and down the Democratic Party from mayors to dog catchers.

        Perhaps you mean we should make room for the wingnuts? We even have a few of those in the party so I doubt the solution is making room for them.

        America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

        by cacamp on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:31:30 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  And here I disagree (0+ / 0-)
          All elected federal democratic officials are christians except for one Muslim and a few Jews who are also persons of faith.
          Pete Stark (still with us for a few months, and Barbara Lee is a Baptist-- oh well. But hey, we've gained Kyrsten Sinema!)

          “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

          by Marko the Werelynx on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:41:18 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  :). I almost took that line out (0+ / 0-)

            I figured folks would argue that non-point and miss the main point which is christians rule both the Democratic Party and the nation so there is no need to "make room for them".

            America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

            by cacamp on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 08:49:05 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  You should have at least edited it (0+ / 0-)

              because every open atheist elected to public office is a step toward a more open society and a more honest discussion of the role of belief in public life.

              If you're going to try to make a point please don't do it by flinging crap.

              To call it a "non-point" just pisses me off. To call it a "non-point" is dismissive of the progress that has been made against the towering wall of crazy that leads over 60% of people in the US to tell pollsters that they'd be less likely to vote for someone who doesn't believe in God.

              This is about dumping prejudice and fear.

              Yeah, so the country is run by Christians with poor reading comprehension skills (see the Biblical book of Matthew-- oh, the first 6 chapters or so), what's new?

              A glimmer of hope and progress-- that's what's new.

              You sure "figured" correctly didn't you? Sheesh, how I do go on...

              “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

              by Marko the Werelynx on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 09:47:11 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

            •  'Course, I'm not really pissed off (0+ / 0-)

              It takes more than that to get under all my fur and thick skin.

              Thought I'd add that. I didn't mean to sound so strident and angry.

              It was meant to be just a heads-up that when you write nonsense while trying to make an important point your entire message will be ignored as nonsense. Hyperbole may have worked for the Roves of the political sleazery but when thoughtful people get together to discuss things they should perhaps keep their arguments grounded a bit more firmly in reality.

              “The right of the people peaceably to assemble, to consult for the common good, and to petition the government, or any department thereof, shall never be abridged.”

              by Marko the Werelynx on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 01:26:32 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

  •  Interesting (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marko the Werelynx

    but the proposition that the so-called "Dark Ages" ( a term  fewer & fewer historians are inclined to use for those centuries) were caused by the substitution of belief for learning is a bit too simplistic  even for my simple mind.

    "There ain't no sanity clause." Chico Marx

    by DJ Rix on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 02:46:59 PM PST

    •  Indeed (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Marko the Werelynx, DJ Rix

      It wasn't the only reason given.  The term "Dark Ages" may have less support from historians, but it is one widely know by ordinary folks.  Plus it has a bad sound to it.

      That period could have whole books written about it (and has), but this was a mere blog diary, and I had to keep it brief.  Oro me ignoscere.

      Bene Scriptum, Bene Intellectum.

      by T C Gibian on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 02:55:17 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  One minor point from an alternate viewpoint. (0+ / 0-)

    I generally don't consider I have 'faith' the sun will rise in the morning.  There's no way I could be absolutely certain it will, but given the regularity of the event, and the ubiquity of the physical laws governing the sunrise each morning, I take it as an almost absolute certitude it will happen.

    It's merely a result of repeated observation of a common phenomena.  There's a lot of things that are called faith that I would call this instead.  Evolution is another such thing, as I hear doubters of evolution like to dismiss it by first arguing that evolution is believed on faith.

    Faith can have a lot of different uses and definitions, and this is just how I personally tend to use the term.  I don't generally accept that I have 'faith' in things.  I accept statements based upon evidence and logical reasoning.

    If you could show me that I believe something without good reason, I would respond by dropping any acceptance of the thing I have faith in.

    Other than that, I agree with the sentiments expressed.  I don't generally like the idea of highly faithful people getting political power.  They tend to clash with the 'worldly' views of...  Observing the world around them.

    •  In Response (0+ / 0-)

      I fully understand your point, and since I am also a person of no faith, I have to agree with your general perspective.  In the post I was expressing the views of many of the people I live with for whom faith, however sparingly used, is a part of their lives.  As a liberal Democrat, I have the misfortune to be surrounded by conservative, religious Republicans who are feeling rather disaffected right now.  My major thesis is that most of these people are neither so crazy nor excessive in their faith that they could not make good Democrats.  If this were to occur, it would guarantee that the Republican party would "go Whig."

      Bene Scriptum, Bene Intellectum.

      by T C Gibian on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:41:04 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I like your thinking, but... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marko the Werelynx do you explain 60 million votes for Mitt? I find it disconcerting.

    Only the weak & defeated are called to account for their crimes.

    by rreabold on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 05:55:12 PM PST

  •  There is one contemporary source that Justinian (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marko the Werelynx

    closed down specifically the academy in Athens, but none that he prohibited philosophy per se. Much Christian theology of the time was closely connected to neoPlatonism. A discussion of the (possible) closing of the Athenian academy is here.

    I'm about to head out to the gym; if time permits later I'll touch on some of your other points.

    Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? . . . and respect the dignity of every human being.

    by Wee Mama on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:01:40 PM PST

    •  Justinian and Theodora -- cute couple (0+ / 0-)

      It is true that Justinian merely put the Academy at Athens under government regulation in 529.  The persecution of philosophers came somewhat later when their discipline was thrown togeter with paganism and made subject to the death penalty.  Theodora had a lot to do with these later developments.

      Bene Scriptum, Bene Intellectum.

      by T C Gibian on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 08:22:46 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  First stop the tax exemptions (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marko the Werelynx, Icicle68

    That would level the playing field. Next stop subsidizing churches with public monies with all the various faith based initiatives. Then start enforcing seperation of church and states laws so public lands aren't used for religious purposes.

    Of course none of that can or will be done because christians rule the country but if they were the power of religious institutions would be greatly reduced to the betterment of the nation.

    America could have chosen to be the worlds doctor, or grocer. We choose instead to be her policeman. pity

    by cacamp on Fri Nov 23, 2012 at 07:38:19 PM PST

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