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Friday, September 01, 2006

Rationalizing



If you're really going to be honest about it, the best course for a perfectly rational person is to assume abject paranoia as their normal mode of operation. It's suprisingly simple to avoid interpersonal harm: just don't get too attached. To anyone or anything. Insulating one's self against the storm and the fury of a cruel and hopeless world is as easy as settling back into the Soma of pop culture and self involvement. Solipsy is a powerful salve.

Yet, for all the fetishization of rationality, nobody lives this way. Even the citidels of irrationality, the churches and mosques, have started to be infected by the mindset that if it don't proceed from a set of axiomatic truths, it ain't worthwhile. Some years ago, while I was in high school, two books came out that made me want to expell the contents of my stomach (at that time, probably Wendy's): The Case for Christ, and The Case for Faith.

When the former came out, it was easy to dismiss. The entire book is out to prove that Christ existed (something I'm not sure many people, even abjectly unreligious people, would object to) and that, therefore, Christianity is a valid religion. But the latter always struck me as a little absurd. Now, for the record, I haven't read the book. I'm straightedge these days when it comes to theology, and I feel the same way about it as would a recovering alcoholic about a jar of moonshine. It's just dangerous, you know?

Yet, has our society come so far into its delusious of rationality that faith needs antecedents and arguments to be admitted into the pantheon of belief? I feel as if the safest pulpit on the planet is the one from which one is allowed to defend faith. At its most basic, the proposition rooted in faith can be more dully called an 'axiom', and there is nothing in the celestial ether of philosophy that exists without those.

And still, those articles of faith are meaningless in the context of every day life. No matter what the ethicist might say, decisions aren't made through the intertwining prose of a long-dead German. Which brings us back to the original question: Why don't people take greater pains to behave in a rational, risk-commensurate manner? The answer is faith.

Not that they have faith in a benign universe. But whenever a person makes a choice that spurs them to action, there's a dichotomy of result. The instrumental result is what so many focus on: the practical, utilitarian effects. But the more important part, and where God exists in every choice, is the expressive value. Each action is not only going to lead to some sort of gain or loss, a calculable effect, but falls into the category of who you are.

Faith exists in every person's life in the brushstrokes of how they paint their own moral portrait. The amalgamation of these choices, these expressions, combine to make a person who they are and imbue them with their own, unique identity. If I were more Augustian today, I might even call it their soul. And yet these actions, these expressions, proceed not from rationality or anything in the realm of the dialectic. They exist purely as faith: acting a certain way because you want to believe, in purely an aesthetic sense, that this is how the world ought to be.

Taking the lumps and rolling with it as life repeatedly scorns you and your beliefs, as each person you trust betrays you, you face the choice of deciding to continue having faith that people are basically good in the face of insurmountable evidence to the contrary, or you can live as if people are out to get you. Paranoia may be rational, but faith is beautiful, and in the end it's the only thing that really, truly matters.

cranked out at 10:27 AM | |

 
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