Saturday, July 19, 2014

Christians say the darnedest things--the Insider Test for Faith

In the spring of last year, John Loftus published a book called The Outsider Test for Faith: How to Know Which Religion is True (Prometheus, 2013) in which he developed an argument that first appeared in the early chapters of his magnum opus, Why I Became an Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (Prometheus, 2008). The basic premise of the Outsider Test for Faith (OTF) is simple and yet devastating to religious belief: examine your religious beliefs as if you were an outsider, the same way you do for religious beliefs that you do not already hold. It is a simple call for intellectual honesty when it comes to one's religious beliefs.

Predictably, and lamentably, it has created a whirlwind of religious gibbering about why (a) the test must somehow be illegitimate and (b) even though the test is illegitimate, Christianity passes it. I ran into something decidedly funny the other day, though--someone claiming not only that Christianity passes the OTF but also that it passes the (made-up) insider test for faith. (I'm not linking to it because I don't want to give it undeserved attention, but for the hunters out there, it was on the Patheos network.)

Of course, the word "test" in "insider test for faith" strikes me as hilarious, the kind of patently ridiculous thing that only the tragically pitiable could come up with. How does Christianity (of course) pass the "insider test"? By "cohering with spiritual experiences and religious desires."

This reminds me ever so much of the famous analogy by the wonderful Douglas Adams, in The Salmon of Doubt,
This is rather as if you imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in — an interesting hole I find myself in — fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.
The entire notion of there being an "insider test" for faith is a tragedy. Faith is the glue holding the insider inside. All insider tests for faith will necessarily confirm the faith because that's what faith does. It's simply another lie of the faith to think that it could do otherwise. The Outsider Test for Faith is a call to intellectual honesty; the insider test is a way to keep circling the drain of self-delusion.

Of course, the insider can't usually see that faith is a cognitive sinkhole, a system of biases and "trust" that keep the faithful believing the articles of faith, and that is the real tragedy. Mucked-up thinking like this is merely a symptom of the bigger problem, which comes down to relying upon an epistemological framework that protects articles of faith from legitimate challenges, which is rationalizes away.

No comments:

Post a Comment