Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fideism

I bought a book at a thrift store this summer titled The Swiss, The Gold, and the Dead: How Swiss Bankers Helped Finance the Nazi War Machine written by Jean Ziegler and translated from German by John Brownjohn. The book is heavy reading. It's not calculus, but it takes at least a second reading for it to sink very far into my thick skull. Ziegler's thesis is that the Swiss, for the sake of convenience as well as for the huge profits they made in doing so, laundered the gold that the Nazis were stealing from the Jews and helped finance Germany's military leading up to and continuing throughout World War II. Swiss neutrality, rather than opposing war, translated into doing whatever was practical from a financial perspective.
In Chapter 2 - titled "Resistance," Ziegler introduces the term "fideism" - page 61 - attributing the term to Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae. Ziegler suggests that this term explains how it came to be that the Swiss, despite their ability to understand the higher principles involved, believed these higher principles were "impracticable" and were "inhibited by overriding constraints."
How easy it is for people to fall into that trap. It has always annoyed me that idealism is looked down upon by the older, wiser generations who understand this principle of practicality. Even the Serenity Prayer alludes to this: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."
Fideism, though, appears to have an even more significant meaning than what Ziegler attributes to it with the Swiss. Wikipedia defines fideism this way:
"Fideism is the view that religious belief relies primarily on faith or special revelation, rather than rational inference or observation"
So fideism is the word that describes the tremendous unnamed gulf between my wife's way of looking at things and my own way. My wife is faith-based. She finds it very easy to downplay the importance of reason and logic and science when it comes to religious beliefs. I look for reason and logic in any belief. Faith is nothing if it can't stand being tested by reason and logic. In fact, in my view faith is what takes reason and logic astray. It is very easy to use this belief in fideism to justify completely unreasonable ideas and behavior in the name of faith.
A few years back, our daughter was engaging in an online debate with a former youth pastor of hers and one of the things that came up in that debate was that man's insistence that when faith comes into conflict with rational thinking, it is faith that a true Christian has to follow. To her great credit my daughter just couldn't buy that illogical argument. But at the time, neither she nor I had a word we could use to embrace this concept. Fideism is that word.
It's not that I am anti-faith. Any reasonable assessment of my ideas clearly points to my use of faith. I believe in things that I don't have enough evidence to prove. We all do that. Life would be empty without that. No, it's not that I insist on evidence-based reason or nothing at all. That isn't the problem. The problem is that when faith comes in clear conflict with the evidence, do you use reason and logic to test your faith or do you disparage reason and logic and insist that only through the higher power of faith can understanding be gained?
The fideist (word added to my spell checker but present in the Wikipedia article) throws out the evidence and attempts to impugn and invalidate the logic on the basis that faith is the higher form of thinking.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Theocracy

Off and on ever since I began blogging years ago I have touched on the notion that in the background while the rest of America was asleep, the Christian Right, America's religious right, have been working hard to take over our government. Over the past year there have been several situations that reminded me again of this, specifically Alaska Senator Ted Stevens's comments after his conviction and Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's nearly successful campaign for the White House despite swirls of controversy over her honesty. Why is it that the American public supports people like this?
Why, when Monica Goodling, Alberto Gonzales, and Lurita Doan crashed and burned and even when Jack Abramoff of all people (think Ralph Reed), and Tom DeLay from Texas fell from grace, was there talk of the honorable things they were involved in, the service to God they had been rendering?
How can God be at the center of all this Republican slime?
The common thread binding all these people together - Palin, Stevens, DeLay, Goodling, Gonzales, Doan, Reed, and many others including George W. Bush himself - is what appears to be a developing consensus among rightwing Christians that the end justifies the means, that God supports anything that will bring about the fulfillment of His plan for America and the world.
The official term for what is going on is Christian Reconstructionism. Alarmists have coined the term Dominionism.
As with so many other movements that the common person is only aware of as undercurrents, Dominionism is not a movement that we perceive openly but a movement that we sense if we are aware of political momentum. Most Americans are in denial of the idea that right-wing Christians are trying to take over our government, that they have organized and have been very successful in putting agents of their theology into public office, agents who have used the powers of their office in illegal ways to cement the power of this theology in American politics.
Although it was the Terri Schiavo case that really brought this fiasco into the spotlight, it was the US attorneys' firing investigation after the 2006 takeover of Congress by the Democrats that brought this boil to the surface. Americans watched in disbelief and disgust while congressmen grilled lying DOJ officials, officials whose official responsibility in government is to ensure that the truth is told. Bush and Rove literally threw Gonzales to the dogs, but we the American people finally got to see this Dominionist "end justifies the means" theory in practice. Anything, including the DOJ head's lying under oath, goes.
It has taken me a long time to realize that this political movement is actually succeeding. But this weekend I stumbled on a website, Theocracy Watch, that has been tracking this movement. I'm planning on reading this website over the winter to come to a better understanding of all the things I have been suspecting but didn't have enough information to prove. Have I been correct in my suspicion that the Republican Party is attempting to bankrupt our country? Why would they want to do that? What role is Sarah Palin playing in this movement? Why did she excite the religious right, reinvigorate the base? Who and what are this base that she reinvigorated? How is this religious base connected to the other Republican base, the wealthy among us?
And what are their plans now that Obama, not just Democrat but half African, is our president?
Fun reading, folks. Theocracy Watch