In his recent essay, Fake News, Faith and Reason Jerry Adler makes the somewhat obvious argument that the current right wing pestilence of fake and false news is dangerous because there exists some large slice of the American electorate who are apparently willing forgo any sort of critical thinking about what they read or hear. Adler asks whether religious people are particularly vulnerable to this lack of critical thinking.
… is there something in the mindset of a religious believer — someone who accepts the reality of an unseen deity, based on ancient accounts of events with no parallel in everyday experience — that encourages the acceptance of unprovable claims in the realms of politics or science?
Um … yes!?
For example, the Christian tendency to privilege supernatural faith over reason is expressed by the Augustinian dictum credo ut intelligam (I believe in order to understand.) In other words: in order to be properly understood, reality must be viewed and filtered through the lens of faith, whose origins lie outside of the provable or experienced. Adler observes (somewhat overly-charitably I think) that all of this doesn’t banish reason entirely, but orders it after faith, so in that sense today’s fundamentalists go way beyond Augustine’s idea by just skipping the ut intelligam altogether.
I’ve struggled for most of my life to reconcile my lack of a supernatural worldview with my sense of belonging to the Christian religion. I’ve further speculated that the today’s church is driving away many intelligent, honest and curious people from their religious heritage by demanding at least deference to supernaturalism in others (i.e.: don’t break someone else’s faith by interpreting the world or religion naturalistically around them) and at worst (and quite commonly) by requiring magical thinking in all its members. Adler suggests that to the extent that the church encourages or tolerates magical, ancient, supernatural and uncritical thinking among its members, it fosters the development the kind of mental habits which would seem to have landed us in exactly the sort of political mess in which we find ourselves today.
I believe that the church has a moral duty to all people to at least enforce Augustine’s dictum in its entirety (both parts) … or even better encourage deep, free and critical thinking in every aspect of life without fear and reservation.
Whether anyone likes it or not, credo ut intelligam has been de facto inverted by 1600 years of history, the centrality of science and the evolution of human understanding. In other words, it is we who have changed over the past 1600 years, not (fundamentally) our religions, and not the world. We must now affirm this reversal of polarity — that faith is sustained by a congruence with and not opposition to reason and nature. If we fail in this admission, the final counter-proof may come in the form of our own collective demise.