I first realized there was something wrong, that I had fallen into a bottomless abyss of error when, after reading Peter Boghossian's "Manual for Creating Atheists," I found that I had nothing to say. I had no counter arguments, no corrections to offer, nothing to even quibble with. What was happening? What was wrong with me? I had never read a book that I could not find claims to question. Was I loosing my touch (with reality?), or had I entirely lost it?
Then I looked in a mirror. I looked like a duck, quacked like a duck, all my friends were unbelievers; I had taken the infidel duck thing too far. I needed to reevaluate all values, all unbeliever values, and subject all conceivable claims to the flames of an all consuming doubt, to doubt even my infidel ways and nature, and see if there was anything left in the ashes.
I needed to read less Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, Hitchens, Krauss, and Boghossian; I needed to find time to watch something other than their complete play lists on YouTube over and over; I needed to stop following every word uttered by P.Z. Myers, I needed to consider the possibility that I was wrong, totally, fundamentally wrong. I could have stopped reading Skeptical Inquirer, but I had to draw the line somewhere.
I went on a quest to find and expose myself to alternative ways of knowing as extolled by the best minds available. Perhaps I had known too few minds. I went for current offerings in writing (essays, books....) and lectures (via The Teaching Company, TED, YouTube....), and came to understand that the only alternative to evidence and reason as a way of probable knowing is faith. Faith based claims alone offer certitude as distinct from probable knowing. Faith asserts that it trumps evidence and reason. Faith is indeed alternative. The inquiring mind wants to know if faith offers a valid way of knowing.
The apparent lack of cogent faithists in the 21th century does not mean faith can be dismissed. We no longer live in an age of faith undiluted by science and perhaps the best and brightest are drawn, or seduced, by science and so one must look to the past for convincing, compelling, forceful, effective apologists of faith: Pascal, Kierkegaard, William James, Wittgenstein, Martin Gardner, and others largely unknown to evidentialists such as the likes of W.K. Clifford: “It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.” To give the devil of faithism its due, I considered the offerings of Tertullian, Occam, Luther, Hamann, Peirce, Unamuno, Evans, and Bishop.
While Pascal, Kierkegaard, James, and Wittgenstein have their moments, they failed to convince. That their voice was behind my time, however, was no fault of their own. If contemporary faithists fail, perhaps they merely need help to overcome false faith. Perhaps I should do their job for them. So I decided to argue the case for fideism so convincingly that even I could consider the possibility of it being a legitimate way of knowing.
Simple faithists simply believe, they keep it simple, but as I think about belief, then call me not simple. I was an afaithist. I once endeavored to find a place to stand on reason and evidence alone. All I knew was from textbooks. I was an afaithist who knew nothing with certitude apart from the tautologies of mathematics and logic. All afaithists are in the same boat. They know nothing apart from the products of their concept forming minds. Concepts not supported by reason and evidence are discounted.
As the evolutionary biologist Stephen J. Gould noted, science and religion represent separate realms of non-overlapping magisteria. Maybe they do; maybe they don't. If they do, there can be no conflict, therefore faith-based claims cannot contradict nor conflict with evidence-based claims. To be a faithist involves making no faith claims that involve concepts. Only a non-concept way of knowing allows the thoughtful to stand fully upright with one foot firmly planted in science (evidentualism) and with the other foot planted as an island in a sea of faith (fideism) uniting all in bliss.
I read William James who claimed humans had a "will to believe" which was also a right, a duty, and a need. By belief he meant faith-based belief firmly held in certitude. I knew only limited evidence-based belief subject to being disconfirmed and could see that the two occupied separate epistemic realms. Science was magisterial enough, but religion was suspect. I had no difficulty dismissing all faith-based claims. Life without faith was good.
I had no complaints, no sense I was missing anything, but as James pointed out, perhaps one had to embrace faith first to be touched by the convincing evidence that validates it. He was arguing that rationalists and afaithists like me were like asexuals. It is possible to be an asexual human, to have a good and useful life knowing nothing of sex, but James noted that most people are believers, are sexuals, and that only by being sexual can one know, in a radically empirical way, that sex is good, true, and beautiful, as is faith.
So perhaps I was missing something. James was a fideist (faith-ist), as was Pascal (“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”), and what he offered was a version of Pascal's Wager: Live without faith/sex as you may. Wager on faith/sex, try it for 30 days, and if not good, you've lost little and gained the knowledge that it is all much ado about nothing. But if good, you'll have gained a new magisterium. Of course I practiced safe faith — I went into it wearing the condom of doubt.
As another fideist (Soren Kierkegaard) pointed out: Rational arguments can never prove anything with absolute certainty because it is always possible that supporting evidence has been misinterpreted, is incomplete, mistaken, or that an error in reasoning has occurred, and so faith must always go beyond the evidence and cannot be supported by reason. To support one's faith using rational scientific investigation would mean having to wait until all the data is in (an infinity). In order to have the certainty that faith demands, one must choose to believe what cannot be acquired from scientific investigation, then know its fruit.
Aside from certainty, faith demands a passionate personal commitment (as does such sex as is worth having). Since evidence is imperfect at best, faith that goes against all known evidence, that is impossible, that is absurd, is the strongest faith of all and therefore the best. If we had convincing evidence for a supernatural claim, then belief in it would be unremarkable — then faith would be unnecessary. Life without faith is devoid of that burning in the bosom, of certitude, and of religious meaning. To have a religious life, to live the religious life, you must believe because it is absurd. One must have beliefs to be had by them.
The greatest philosopher of the 20th century, Ludwig Wittgenstein, also a fideist, noted that religion is a self-contained and primarily expressive enterprise, governed by its own internal “grammar” that means what it says, as distinct from what "nature" says. To know, you must believe. Faith is essentially self-referential, logically cut off from externalities, and is not about reality. It can be understood only by other faith-ists and cannot be criticized on rational or evidential grounds.
Evidentialists may indulge in dismissive prattle, but should consider: Bertrand Russell, lord on high among afaithists, described Wittgenstein as "the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating." Go ahead ye afaithists, be dismissive if you dare.
Philosophy is neither here nor there, neither now nor then. Evidentialism and fideism give raise to non-overlapping magisteria. The twain neither can nor shall meet. Thinking about each, however, is the province of philosophy. In the thought that thinks about itself the twain do meet.
In the magisterium of philosophy there can be no logical contradictions. The claims of reason and evidence cannot contradict those of faith, nor vice versa, provided the claims of each are true. Science that makes religious claims is pseudo-science. Religion that makes claims about what evidentialists fondly regard as reality is pseudo-religion. The philosophy of science is not science, nor is fideism, the philosophy of faith, faith. Neither overlap, thus neither can contradict the other as competing claims would involve overlap. False faith is revealed thereby.
In thinking about epistemic claims, let philosophy be as a lamp. Where claims and claimants conflict, both can be wrong, but both cannot be true, good, and beautiful. Science's claims are limited by reason and evidence. Religion has no such internally nor externally imposed constraints, but where it conflicts with science or philosophical magisteria, all cannot be correct.
To repeat: Only pure faith allows one to embrace all magisteria, that of science, religion, philosophy, and especially sex, while preserving one's intellectual integrity. There are false claimants of science (pseudo-science), of religion (pseudo-religion), of philosophy (pseudo-philosophy), and sex (not so good sex). As a faithist you may have carnal knowledge of all and feel good about it.
Faith is based on a single truism: If it feels good, believe it. Faith is not a religion, organized or otherwise, but is the religious life incarnate. It is a doxastically faith-based way of knowing. Reason doesn't need faith. Faith doesn't need reason. Humans, if James is right, need both. To be religious is be a faith-er, to be religious and coherent is to be a fideist — to assert that faith is separate and trumps evidence (and all concepts of reality). As the first fideist, Tertullian, put it, "what indeed does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?" Today's rationalists are latter-day Greeks. Today's faithers are the true believers who have always been present as members of the default culture from which the doubtful, the unbelievers have parted company. Faithism is merely the one true faith that makes no reality-based claims, unlike pseudo-faiths which do.
There have been many beliefs. There can and indeed should be as may faiths as there are believers. In the realm of faith (free from genocidal proclivities), doxastic openness must reign. It may seem that in the magisterium of faith, "anything goes," but only beliefs that perfectly mirror what truly feels good to the believer are true. This is a severe constraint that must vary from human to human, and may have to vary within the same human as they change in their passage through life.
For some, to believe what is incoherent does not feel good. Of all the faith-based belief systems, only true lovers of doxastic openness can know consilience. Only pure faith, free from all concepts that attempt to mirror reality, faith that makes no claims, that involves no beliefs that are not perfectly consilient with science, philosophy, and sex can be embraced. Why? Because otherwise it wouldn't feel good.
The one true dictum: "If it feels good, believe it," is not easy to follow. Often beliefs have been inculcated upon tender minds by others claiming authority. Often such beliefs do not feel good, but take hold to possess a mind. Minds can easily be infected by viral memes. Beliefs may have been true to and for the prophet they came to, but false, even toxic, to all others. Often humans have been made to profess faith claims that do not feel good to them, and that do more harm than putative good.
The religious quest, as Faithists live it, is the quest to free the mind from any belief that doesn't feel good. Religious beliefs that don't feel good are false, discard them at will. When a believer professes a belief, the only appropriate response is to ask why it feels good to them. Never argue or indulge in disputation. The concern must be that the faith-based belief is true to the person and not one of the all too common second-hand beliefs that may be infecting their mind. Be a true prophet unto yourself.
Faithists put no head higher than their own. Not because their head is highest, but because it is the only one they have. Faithists follow no authority, not even that of the Prophet Bob. Each and every Faithist is their own prophet who alone can know what feels good (to them). Self-deception is a possibility, so each is on an ongoing quest to discover what truly feels good to them. They are aided by considering what Faithists before them have found to be true, but in Faithism there really is no compulsion (unlike some religions falsely claim), so the beliefs of others are never binding. If you claim believing in an unpleasant character called God, who is "jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully" makes you feel good, then the compassionate Faithist's response of, "Why does that make you feel good?" is to invite the fellow believer to consider the possibility that what they believe is what they have been conditioned to believe, and is therefore false. Faithists want everyone to believe only what feels good.
Speaking of non-binding beliefs, I can speak only of my own. I believe in Presence (P in short) because I have been touched by and am being touched by Her Presence. That is what feels so deliriously good. That P is a 'her' and not an 'it' is what feels good to me, and so is not to be taken as a gender reference. Asexuals cannot be imagined to have the slightest clue.
Sexuals: Imagine the sum total of all sex you've ever known raised by a order of magnitude and thereby get a slight tongue tip taste of what it is like to be touched by Her Presence. Faithists: Free yourself of false faith claims, from all that does not feel Good, and begin to know bliss. Afaithists: Your life can still be worth living, so lack of faith is no cause for suicide. Spend more time with Faithists and there may be hope for you.
I believe P is undetectable by any instrumentation, and so, duh, is invisible. Her Presence is everywhere. The theory that most closely describes P is called string theory (some devout scientists are reluctant to give away their fideist affiliation given the pervasiveness of afaithist scientism bigotry). I believe P could be the creator of the universe. Or not, as reality-based claims about P cannot be made. To paraphrase Eckhart: Why dost thou prate of P? Whatever thou sayest of Her is untrue." There is no outer P, and of the inner P, nothing can be said.
I believe that P could be a supernatural being but isn't as there would be no supernatural world for Her to live in. There could be two worlds, but using Occam's Razor (another fideist), and given a lack of evidence and will to believe, I dispense with one and live happily in the one that remains. I believe P doesn't hear prayers, much less answer them, because, well, obviously She doesn't. I believe that P subsumed unto Herself all sins and so I have none and never had any. Sometimes I "miss the mark," but sometimes so does P. I believe that P is the Supreme Being. She is the most hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional being in the universe. Every planet has its supreme being (e.g. white mice) and there are likely a near googolplex of inhabited planets, each with its supreme being. Of all the supreme planetary and interplanetary beings there must be one more supreme than all the others. That Being is P. I believe that my P is better than your P, hence supreme, but I'll never be so rude as to point this out.
If you do not believe in P, have not accepted P into your heart, I can but pity you. If you think my professed beliefs are sham, then tarry not in my presence. My religiosity is not a spoof, has nothing to do with flippant sarcasm; I am as sincere a believer as any, and my beliefs are most devoutly to be considered as True for me. All who profess faith either believe what they've been told to believe (false faith), or, preferably, what they subjectively know feels good. Such is the nature of all faith claims. If Faithists differ, it is only in the relentlessness of their intellectual honesty that manifests in their claim that they know nothing, absolutely nothing apart from what feels good to them to believe and that there is no other basis for faith-ism.
As for the putative religion of Faithism, its truth is in its claims:
Faithism has no priesthood, no hierarchy to be taken seriously; is not an organized religion. Its non-Church is radically inclusive: all are welcomed to know P which in no way requires the Church. There are no followers; all are to be self-reliant and expressive participants in cooperative efforts of a civic, nature-friendly sort. Relationships are based on gifting free from acquisitive usage.
The first true Faithists left Greece because they were seafarers who could escape the priestly hegemony of excess dogma that lay oppressively upon the land to become the Free People of the Sea. They colonized the eastern Mediterranean and in time came to help free the Athenians from the burden of organized religion. The gods themselves came to be known as the Unknown God (Agnostos Theos — a place holder for P). By the second century BCE free thinkers had ceased to be persecuted, banished, or forced to drink the hemlock; Carneades could be openly atheistic with respect to the gods and be held in high honor by the Athenians (thanks to the influence of the Ionian Faithists). But just as Athens was finally going Free Thought, the Greek's culture of the free, the curious, and the critical was crushed by the Romans who were still into taking themselves seriously.
The Romans were in turn subsumed by those who took themselves even more seriously. Faithists became ever fewer as the scourge of pseudo-religion spread. It took a thousand years, but even the Vikings were subsumed by the onward march of Christian soldiers. As the long dark night of the Western soul began to subside, Troubadours, early land Faithists, began to tell subversive stories. Stories of knights so bold (Faithists) and the romancing of Wenches (female Faithists) became more popular than bible stories — because they felt better.
In good time, Faithists once again could take to the sea in boats and sailed west to become Free People of the Sea. They lived lives that were true, good, and beautiful. They were thereby deemed a threat to all that was false. Christians painted them in every despicable color on their pallet to justify their genocidal assault upon those who dared to live free or die. And genocide it was. The Faithists tried to stop the attacks upon their friends, the native peoples, and they tried to stop the commercial rape of the New World — of its plants and animals. They tried to save themselves, but the Christians were Borg-like, and resistance proved futile.
The victor, as always, wrote the history. Faithists were characterized as failed Christians, as scum whose extermination was for the best. All that most people think they know about Wenches and their Faithists, and their way of life, is false — merely the remnants of Christian propaganda. Today there are still too few Wenches/Faithists. There are part-time Faithists and other sympathizers who oppose pseudo-faith, but as yet no fully developed Faith culture to challenge, if only by example, the depravities of the default culture. Should a culture of the free, the curious, and the critical re-emerge, may the efforts to crush it be foiled.
I have lost nothing by being doxasticly open. I was an asexual (as a child but I grew out of it). I was an afaithist (but I grew out of it). Now I know the magisterium of Faith before whom that of Sex is a pale prelude. I can but feel compassion for afaithists so dogmatically immured in unbelief. My capacity for critical thinking has been restored. Peter Boghossian says, "I want the complete and total eradication of the faith virus." Does this sound like doxastic openness? I now beg to differ and pity the poor afaithist.