Palin As Paradigmatic Fundamentalist and Why I Turned Against Faith

A reader of Andrew Sullivan’s blog brilliantly connects the dots:

Part of Sarah Palin’s irresistible appeal to her fundamentalist base is her ability to look at the camera with utter conviction and declare black to be white.

The ability to lie well is a valuable part of the fundamentalist psychology. My son isn’t gay, he just hasn’t found the right woman! Those rocks aren’t 50 million years old, they just look like it as a test of our faith! My sexless marriage isn’t foundering, it is filled with God’s spirit! The minister isn’t molesting little Maria, they’re just very close! It isn’t torture, it is being tough on terrorists!

Fundamentalists can recognize a truly audacious and talented liar from miles away. Instead of running the other way, as you might expect, they gather around the powerful liar, for they know that their own lies will be respected and protected by a leader who understands the paramount importance of preserving their whole system of denial.

This immediately reminded me of Nietzsche in Antichrist 9 (as translated by Walter Kaufmann and found in The Portable Nietzsche:

Against this theologian’s instinct I wage war: I have found its traces everywhere.  Whoever has theologians’ blood in his veins, sees all things in a distorted and dishonest perspective to begin with.  The pathos which develops out of this condition calls itself faith: closing one’s eyes to oneself once and for all, lest one suffer the sight of incurable falsehood.  This faulty perspective on all things is elevated into a morality, a virtue, a holiness; the good conscience is tied to faulty vision; and no other perspective is conceded any further value once one’s own has been made sacrosanct with the names of “God,” “redemption,” and “eternity.”  I have dug up the theologians’ instinct everywhere:  it is the most widespread, really subterranean, form of falsehood found on earth.

Whatever a theologian feels to be true must be false: this is almost a criterion of truth.  His most basic instinct of self-preservation forbids him to respect reality at any point or even to let it get a word in.

When I post such remarks, I know that some readers may just infer that this is just an atheist’s prejudice (and possibly unwarranted self-righteousness) to characterize theology as so saturated with deception and as at its core a liars’ discipline.

But, I did not come to agree with these words as an atheist.  They shook me to the core when I was a devout evangelical Christian who had spent at least 7 years of his life trying to spin everything to fit the prejudices with which he was raised and to which he had sworn lifelong allegiance as a matter of “faith.”

My inferences that faith was all lies and rationalization was the result of devoting my formative years to trying to find the way to see it as rationally defensible and, even, rationally preferable.  I studied, I worshiped, I preached, and I lived with my fellow believers completely immersed in and committed to the faith and its practices.

Leaving the faith ripped away my identity, my self-understanding, my pride in my life as I had lived it.  But for the first time in my life, I felt free to discover the truth whatever it may be.  I felt so free from having to lie anymore.

And it took me (and is taking me) years to painstakingly develop my own constructive conception of the world, of knowledge, of ethics, etc.  But I know why I think everything I think because I embraced as radical a skepticism as I could manage ten years ago and have only let myself accept each idea as I have seen sufficient reason to make it clear and indisputable to me. And even then as new evidence has come in to force me to see what looked indisputable as actually disputable, I have been free to flex and bend and reconsider as I never was back in the days of dogma and predetermined beliefs.

Of course that does not mean I change my mind quickly or at the first sign of counter-argumentation.  Part of good thinking is trying to see if a compelling theory can overcome a comparably compelling challenge.  Sometimes our best reasoning happens in defense of an idea and sometimes in attacking one.

But the feeling that tomorrow I must think the same thing which I think today—the imperative to twist all of reality to fit a lie upon which my life is foolishly staked—that is gone.  And it is that feeling and that imperative in the religious breast that I oppose—not the people in whose hearts it rests. My relentless and adamant rebukes of the habits of religious believing began not as a finger pointed outward at people who believed differently than I did but rather as the internalization of the demands of reason against my own corrupted and compromised intellect and heart.

Your Thoughts?

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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.