Faith Hijacked?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Barack Obama recently made the following short statement while on the campaign trail. I find it well worth exploring.

"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together and faith started being used to drive us apart," the Democratic presidential candidate said in a 30-minute speech before the national meeting of the United Church of Christ.

"Faith got hijacked, partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian Right, all too eager to exploit what divides us," the Illinois senator said.

"There was even a time when the Christian Coalition determined that its number one legislative priority was tax cuts for the rich," Obama said. "I don't know what Bible they're reading, but it doesn't jibe with my version." [bold added]
I congratulate Obama for calling into question the moral authority of the religious right to defend capitalism in just three words. His point, of course, is that what is left of the pro-capitalist sentiment among the Republicans is, as I have noted here numerous times, inconsistent with the altruistic moral code of Christianity.

This is why I think it foolhardy for pro-capitalists to ally themselves with Christians who wish to inject their religion into politics. This is an error fatal to the cause of freedom on many levels, among them being (1) the fact that such Christians will gut freedom any time it conflicts with religion; (2) that freedom, whose value to men lies in allowing us to use our independent, rational judgement unfettered, is, by its nature, doomed to conflict with a belief system based on religious authority at the expense of any contrary evidence or logic; and (3) that doing so incorrectly and immorally concedes that capitalism is a necessary evil at worst and amoral at best, when in fact, it is the only moral political system in history. At least Obama, being a leftist, is an open enemy of freedom, unlike those on the religious right, who pose as advocates of capitalism. So, yes. I agree. Faith isn't compatible with economic freedom or individual rights. Thank you for making that clear, Mr. Obama!

However, having just identified Barack Obama as correct on one level, this pro-reason, pro-individual rights, hawkish, capitalist atheist feels the need to note that Obama is completely wrong on another level! Since even Obama would have to concede that words mean things, it might be useful to consider what "faith" and "hijack" mean.

Obama uses the word "faith" to describe how Christians claim to know what God wants everyone to do. And he uses "hijack" in the same sense that Moslems used passenger airplanes to commit atrocities (that, incidentally, faith "informed" them would please God). Thus, I think it fair to use the following definitions, as those most closely matched to the words that the Democratic Senator used in his sound byte:
  • faith -- Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence.
  • hijack -- To seize control of (a moving vehicle) by use of force, especially in order to reach an alternate destination.
Obama's metaphor means, then, that he thinks that the religious right has, by convincing voters to help them promote a political agenda he disapproves of, somehow misused faith!

This is a fascinating statement. Why? Because if man, the rational animal, survives through the use of his intellect -- which means, by carefully gathering evidence from the world around him and applying logic -- of what use period can a belief not based on the raw materials of knowledge possibly have? Such beliefs are useless at best, and can be lethal whenever they lead men to act in ways contrary to what facts and evidence would lead them to do.

So if there is no proper use for faith, how on earth can one even conceive of it being "hijacked"? To answer that question, we must ask, "Of what use can faith be, and to whom?"

The answer is simple. Someone who does not wish to live through his own judgement and effort can get others to do the dirty work of facing reality for him if he can convince them to take supposedly divine orders on faith. In other words, the only man who has use for faith -- as a tool for manipulating others -- is a parasite.

This is the underlying motive of the politicians of the religious right, who want to use the state to force everyone to live in accordance with their religion, and of Obama, whose policies might look different at first glance, but are fundamentally the same. It makes not one jot or tittle of difference to me if the government "feeds the poor" (and the egos of those in power) with money distributed through "faith-based" charities or government welfare programs if, in the end, my money has been stolen from me by the government in order to do so.

So the only sense in which one can even imagine that faith -- the means of getting others to do one's bidding -- has been "hijacked" is in the sense that other people are not doing one's own bidding. Barack Obama may have accidentally identified the truth about the relationship between Christianity and capitalism, but in doing so, he has also invited us to examine the meanings of the words he used to do so and, in the process, to learn that he is not essentially any different from the parasites of the religious right, who also hate freedom.

Any politician who regards it as proper to mix faith and political power admits, in doing so, that he is unfit to govern. This is what Obama did when he opined that something so harmful to man was being misused.

-- CAV


z said...

Obama's message: If you think that Republicans are the only ones who can gut freedom in the name of the bible, I've got just the thing for you. We can gut freedom in favor of religion too! And we will do a better job than they because we'll gut freedom of the rich, which is more biblical anyway. For all your faith-based political needs, come on over to The Democrats.

Tom Rowland said...


You're always good, but this is one of your best. My incabator level writing skill is in awe.


Gus Van Horn said...

And his message is given to people of faith.

His parasitism is that he has a psychological need to be able to tell people what to do, and to win adulation as substitutes for genuine self-esteem. So he appeals to ordinary people who either want to give out handouts for similar reasons or receive such handouts.

Gutting freedom isn't explicit here (and I am not saying you think it is), but anything that gets in the way of such a scheme, as freedom will, is going to get bulldozed if they have their way.

Gus Van Horn said...

Oh, and thanks, Tom!

Jim May said...

Good stuff, Gus, it's something that cannot be stated enough -- faith is ultimately malleable and can be used to justify anything you want, so it therefore cannot, by definition, be "abused", "misused" or "hijacked".

The only fundamental difference between Christianity, Islam, Scientology and any other faith is who is trying to get away with what at any given moment.

It reminds me of the old mathematical trick where someone proves that 2=1; the trick rests on getting away with the use of 0/0 as though it is a valid number. It isn't; depending on how you look at it, 0/0 is equal to anything -- that is, it has no particular value or meaning of its own. You can "prove" anything equal to anything once you get away with that. You don't blow the lid off the trick by claiming that 0/0 is being "misused".

Gus Van Horn said...

The same folks who gave us propositions that are "not even wrong" have thus given us methods that cannot be used, at least by an individual for his own self-interest. Call faith "not even useless", and its "revelations" "not even wrong".

D.W. Adams said...

I like your post, but there's one thing that bugs me about your attack on faith. And, don't take this personally because I get this vibe from a lot of atheists or self-described "objectivists..."

The way you make it sound, it's as if you equate Mother Teresa with Osama Bin Laden.

Likewise, do you think Islam is on par with Christianity or Judaism? Also, a lot of atheists (or at least the morons I went to college with) seem to have an almost "religious faith" in socialist/progressive policies, Howard Dean, Al Sharpton and other demagogues...

If people are gonna have faith in something... Wouldn't you rather they have faith in God?

Gus Van Horn said...

My moral appraisal of someone and whether I regard him as a threat are two different things. In that both Mother Teresa and Osama bin Laden spent/spend their lives not seeking earthly happiness, but performing whatever acts they thought/think God wants, they are equally depraved.

Which one would I rather living down the street? Plainly, Mother Teresa, but only because I know what her particular command set is and that it doesn't involve killing me. Note that it was pure accident that she was not dangerous to others. One does not discover, as one can with reason, the value of cooperation (or anything else) by means of faith. Just look at how many Christians killed infidels during the Middle Ages.

That touches on the difference between Islam and the other two religions you mention. Only Islam remains untouched by the philosophical advancements of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Of the three, it represents religion unadulterated with respect for reason or any important degree of worldliness. Those last two things are what make Christianity and Judaism (and their followers) less dangerous in the short run, but that is precisely because both religions are generally less dominated by blind faith. Unfortunately, this is beginning to change as the influence of rational philosophy declines in the West.

I am sorry you had such negative experiences with self-professed atheists in the past. Many of them are young and going for shock value, affected by the rising tide of nihilism in the West (and that type will attack you for whatever you value, religious-based or not), or both.

To be an atheist is really simply not to believe in God. It says nothing about what you do hold true or care about. It is thus about as mistaken to lump us all together as it would be to classify all "non-violet" colors together.

To answer your last question, I would rather people not have faith at all. (Nothing taken on faith is safe. The hijackers of September 11, 2001 all believed in God.) But that is their own business -- so long as they do not, as Thomas Jefferson so famously put it, "pick my pocket or break my leg".

Having said that, I regard it as a sad waste of one's life to put certain areas of inquiry off-limits through faith, particularly those pertaining to how one should live his life. Lots of people -- myself as a young man included -- end up being far less accomplished and happy than they ought to be.

And that is what is really wrong and tragic about faith: It causes so many people to immolate themselves when they should be in love with life.

At least when faith and politics are kept separate, though, only those who deserve such a fate will suffer it.