Why Faith-Based Judgements and Condemnation Constitute A Logical Contradiction and Impossibility
Understanding and operating by the laws of logic is both a blessing and a curse. Logic allows us to perceive the world as it is. It enlightens us through rational introspection. It leads us to truth. However, logic also demands we pay a price for these gifts, and this price is often too steep for some people to pay. But just as it is with taxes, logic doesn’t care whether you are able to cough up what we owe. In order to hold the title of “logical and rational being,” we must be willing to fork over what logic demands of us regardless of our desire to do so and whether we can afford it or not. Of course, also like taxes, we can choose not to sacrifice this necessary offering on the alter of rationality, but the reprisal for this decision is hefty. Choosing to opt out of “paying the logical piper” alters how others perceive us and requires us to sacrifice one of our most sacredly cherished characteristics.
The study of ethics and the parameters for formulating normative claims, how we should behave, how we ought not act, and determining which rights we possess and why, requires us to make judgements about ourselves and others based on the moral nature of particular human actions and behavior. These judgements range from assertions that certain actions are morally permissible, morally obligatory, or necessary to actions worthy of condemnation because they qualify as abhorrent immoral behaviors. Properly applying logic requires that moral judgements of human actions be pragmatic, realistic, actually and metaphorically consistent, universal, invulnerable to relevant counter-examples, free from logical fallacies, endowed with the proper terminology in order to differentiate between the different rights to which we are entitled, and that our normative claims are verifiable through rational or empirical justification.
For example, the assertion that “firearm ownership is a right” includes a judgement of people opposed this idea, namely that those who seek to legally limit gun possession are immoral and are wrong to believe that unfettered access to guns is an unethical position. But this judgement of gun control supporters rarely meets the demands of logic. Specifically, this judgement almost always relies on the problematic and misguided justification that humans are entitled to the most effective means of self-defense, due to the fact that we have an inherent right to protect ourselves. While the later half of this claim is true, we do have a right to defend our autonomy and property, the conclusion that this then means we are entitled to the best, most technologically advanced, and most efficient means to do so is a non sequitur. It lacks consistency and is open to the devastating counter-example that the most effective means of self-defense is not gun ownership. Owning a tank, nuclear weapons, self-launching missiles, or any number of military-grade weaponry is far more effective than owning a gun. Why worry about being accosted by local gang members when you are easily enabled by your possession of a missile or anthrax to wipe out the gang’s headquarters or entire extended family in the blink of an eye? But this does not mean we are entitled to own nukes because they are unparalleled in effectiveness and deterring violence. Plus, the negative judgement of those who don’t view gun ownership as a right lacks the proper usage of terminology. A right is an entitlement that a person can never lose, and all others are obligated to provide the right-holder with the fulfillment of this right. A right to live, for example, obligates others to not intentionally kill the right-holder and professionally obligates one’s government to provide competent medical care when one’s life is threatened. If gun ownership is a right, the same rules apply, since owning a gun would be synonymously viewed as an entitlement. No one could interfere with the right-holder’s access to firearms, and those who cannot afford firearms would have to be provided with free guns. After all, the right to own guns means one is entitled to possess one. And entitlements must be given to those who possess them. Thus, the aforementioned judgment entails “free guns for all.” Therefore, it is far more accurate to view gun ownership as a privilege, which legitimizes the position of proponents for gun control, that ownership must be limited to those who earn it, and that the privilege can be justly revoked upon prevalent abuse. And even firearm freedom fighters would be inclined to agree, since they likely do not believe everyone is entitled to a government-issued gun, and they would likely see fault in the notion that gun ownership rights, like any other right, could never be revoked even from criminals. They are more than likely to fall in line with the idea that gun ownership is a privilege that must be earned and can be discriminately repealed from the same people from whom firearm owners purchase guns in order to protect themselves. Without even realizing it, most pro-gun pundits are in fact pro gun control.
As you can clearly see, logic points us toward the “correct,” or most logical, position by utilizing the same rules that are employed by the scientific method. And since logic is mathematical in nature, this just makes sense. Observation provides empirical justification. Logical consistency resembles the necessary repeatability of an experiment. And counter-examples do the same amount of damage to judgements as yielding an opposing result, when conducting an experiment identical to the one that produced a contrary outcome, does to the truth and legitimacy of a scientist’s initial conclusion. (If you are a fan of astrophysics, this is what is currently happening to Einstein’s theory of general relativity as scientists are observing objects in space speeding up instead of predictably and presumably slowing down as the universe expands.)
But all I’ve done so far is demonstrate that accurate, independent moral judgements about human behavior are possible…. Not that this is a small feat. However, as is the purpose of this illustration, the question is, when are moral judgments not possible? And the answer is “when they are derived through faith.” Obviously, one can define one’s actions as an instance of making a judgement about the permissibility of certain human behaviors that are a derived from a faith-based perspective. After all, people seem to do this all the time. But a problem arises in the form of a logical inconsistency, and even impossibility, when moral judgement and/or condemnation of others comes from one’s faith. This is due to the fact that the two cannot coexist. In other words, moral judgement renders faith, at the moment of the judgement and as it pertains to the judgement, temporarily nonexistent. The moment one, say, condemns the behavior of another person because it is believed that one’s faith or religion demands it, the judgement-rendering person cannot claim that his or her judgement comes from faith. It is logically impossible for this to be the case based on the pre-established and universally recognized definitions of faith, belief, knowledge, proof, condemnation, and judgement. And yes, this is a monumental claim to make as well as a hefty price for the faithful masses to pay. But luckily for both you, the reader, and me, the writer, this is not a very difficult case to prove.
Faith is defined as “belief in the absence of proof.” Once one possesses or requires proof of the accuracy of a given proposition, then one no longer holds faith that the proposition is correct. Proof of a proposition is knowledge, not belief. A belief is “a thought or prediction that exists without proof but can be derived through inference.” It is a state of mind maintained with confidence. Whether that confidence is warranted or misplaced doesn’t really matter. Faith requires acceptance and is much more often than not held because the faithful believer wants his or her state of mind or preferred paradigm to be true. Beliefs can also concern mundane matters to which the believer may be spiritually indifferent. For example, I may claim that I believe it will rain tomorrow. And this is a little different than claiming that I have faith it will rain tomorrow. I may not care whether or not it rains, and this belief is based on a prediction, likelihood, or inference for which I have no empirical or rational proof. And it is possible that my belief in tomorrow’s forecast may be swayed. But if I have faith in the arrival of the rain, chances are no one will dissuade me, both because I strongly desire being right about the rain, and because although faith is a form of belief, it is stronger than mere belief, mostly due to the emotional investment involved in possessing faith.
Knowledge, on the other hand, requires proof. If I assert a proposition as true and that proposition is proven, either through acceptable and demonstrable rational or empirical justification, then I can claim that I possess knowledge regarding that particular claim. However, it is not uncommon for one to assert certain propositions as true, and either there is no rational or empirical proof to support one’s assertion, or one simply mistakenly believes that rationally or empirically verifiable proof of one’s claim exists. So what is believed to be a form of acceptable proof is in fact not proof at all. If this happens, then one’s assertion is not a demonstration of knowledge. It is either a false claim, an unsubstantiated or unjustified assertion, or a misguided perception treated as knowledge. We can refer to this as “perceived knowledge” or an “unsubstantiated belief,” if it helps clarify matters. However, just because one’s belief lacks actual proof, or proof that everyone accepts as readily as the notion that the earth is round, that does not automatically mean that one’s belief is necessarily false. It is possible for unproven claims, perceived knowledge, or unsubstantiated propositions to be true, but without any recognized and referable empirical or rational justification, these notions are merely beliefs. They’re guesses. They may qualify as anything from educated and informed inferences to indoctrinated dogma, but they are still yet-to-be-proven claims nonetheless. Some beliefs may be true, but they may also be false. And so beliefs cannot be called or treated like knowledge.
I was listening to the radio the other day, and the host of the program that caught my attention was interviewing the author/journalist of a book entitled The Book of Immortality, which apparently is about spirituality and the way humans process the concept of death. The author explained that there is an essential and ubiquitous trait shared by all religions, which is some sort of theory about what happens when we die. The author interviewed a variety of spiritual leaders from a culturally vast array of different religions, and when he asked them about their beliefs concerning death and the afterlife, he was surprised to learn that each devout figurehead corrected his presumption that their concepts about human death were simply beliefs. The people he interviewed defined their notions of death as knowledge. “We do not possess beliefs about what happens to us when we die. We know what awaits us, and we therefore do not hold mere faith. It’s stronger than that. We have knowledge about life after death,” the reporter claimed the spiritual leaders said. Since I couldn’t smack the journalist upside his head for poor reporting skills, nor ask him why he “softballed” his interviewees by not cross-examining those who had ignorantly misapplied the term “knowledge,” I gave my steering wheel a good whack instead. How could these faithful figures claim to have knowledge when they lacked any and all proof of what they believed and espoused? Since when does knowledge and a claim to know that “x” is true not require proof? Claiming to know “x” is true, and possessing actual knowledge, are two very different things, and simply because one desperately wants or wishes a given proposition to be true, that doesn’t mean it is, nor does it mean one possesses knowledge.
My daughter insatiably wants unicorns and fairies to be real, but that doesn’t mean they exist. Likewise, she may fervently and indisputably believe Santa Claus exists, and she even claims that she “knows” he brings her presents on Christmas Eve, but that does not mean she possesses knowledge of Santa’s existence. She just thinks she does. The sad truth is that she only believes she knows these things are real. But “believing one knows” is not the same as knowing, and it’s not the same as having knowledge. Possessing actual knowledge requires proof of one’s contentions. If I was a cruel parent, I could ask my daughter if she could prove Santa’s existence. To which she might list several forms of justification. She might say that she receives presents that read “from Santa,” that the cookies she lays out are eaten the next morning, and that I told her to behave because Santa is watching. But none of these justifying elements qualify as proof. But if she video recorded herself flying through the air on Santa’s sleigh, then I could potentially concede that she possesses knowledge of Santa’s existence. Likewise, the religious devotees interviewed by the radio reporter do not know that heaven exists unless they can produce verifiable proof of their trip to heaven or their own interview with God. In other words, proof requires a “Here, let me show you” kind of quality. As in, “Watch this. I’m going to kill this guy. So get out your camera so you can record his soul leaving his body. Then give his soul the camera so he can tape his afterlife experiences and then chuck the recording back down to you on earth from the heavenly plane of existence.” This would arguably provide the spiritual leader with tangible proof that could verify his claim that he “knows” what really occurs when humans die. But simply really, really wanting “x” to be true isn’t knowledge. It’s desperation.
Judgements also require proof. In order to judge or condemn others as immoral, one must have proof that another’s actions qualify as immoral. For example, imagine a wife comes home to her husband who promptly accuses her of being unfaithful. She asks him what would possess him to say such a thing. And he replies that he “just really believes” that she committed adultery and asks, “Isn’t that enough?” Or he might point to a form of exceedingly weak proof, say, that he overheard their neighbors gossiping about how they think she cheated on him. Either way, the husband believes his wife is a “lying, cheating whore” based on either his gullible inclinations or that one whispered conversation held by his neighbors. So then the wife fires back, as she should, “You can’t accuse me of cheating on you with no proof! That is so immoral!” And she is correct. The husband may hold the belief that she cheated, but he can’t condemn her based on belief alone, because it stemmed from paranoia or an event that, in all fairness, cannot be accepted as proof because it doesn’t meet proof’s definition. (There is a good reason why hearsay is inadmissible in court.) Worse yet, imagine the husband then seeks a divorce based on his unsubstantiated suspicions. So now he is guilty of belief-based judgement and also interfering with her life without proof, which is inherently wrong.
One can only condemn or judge others (or establish a law) if one knows that others are doing something wrong. In other words, judgement requires proof. This is exactly why juries are forbidden from establishing a “guilty” verdict if the prosecution does not prove that the defendant committed a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. If a jury finds the defendant “guilty,” because the guy simply “looked guilty,” the judge should and will throw out the verdict. As a matter of fact, the judge likely wouldn’t even allow the jury to deliberate at all unless the prosecution met their “burden of proof.” The state simply cannot prosecute without evidence- without proof. And a jury cannot judge a person without proof either. And neither should we.
This is all well and good, and understood by most of us, but an occurrence almost universally unrecognized, and certainly not discussed, exists in the form of judged or condemned actions that are born out of faith. The fact of the matter is that it is inherently contradictory to judge someone based on the mandates of one’s faith. Faith and judgement cannot logically coexist, just as human free will and God’s omniscience cannot logically coexist. (To be convinced of this, read the similarly titled morellaty article that discusses this factual notion.) As previously established, faith is belief in the absence of proof. And since proof is required for judgement, this means that judgement can never come from one’s faith. Certainly one is capable of believing one is judging another based on one’s faith, but then this action is either not a judgement, but an unsubstantiated belief, or it is an actual provable judgement, but then no longer exists because of one’s faith. The judgement would then exist because of one’s knowledge. In other words, a judgement that is based on proof doesn’t come from faith since faith is belief without proof. And a “judgement” that truly stems from one’s faith isn’t a judgement at all; it’s merely an unproven belief about the moral nature of another’s actions.
However, maintaining an unprovable or unjustified belief that only affects you, as opposed to holding an unjustified belief that you believe warrants judging, condemning or limiting the actions of others, is seemingly acceptable. Because this is pretty much what faith is for. One’s faith or beliefs can effect one’s own actions, just as my belief it is going to rain may prompt me to alter my behavior and grab an umbrella. It is difficult to claim that having exclusively self-affective faith is immoral. A self-held, non-judgmental proposition that has no proof is not an assertion of knowledge, because it has no “truth value.” It is neither provably accurate nor inaccurate.
But faith, or belief in the legitimacy of an unprovable proposition, such as the commonly held Christian belief that “One must accept Jesus as one’s savior, who died on the cross in order to allow man access to heaven,” might be true…. But it might also be false. It is an unprovable statement. However, if I claim that you will go to hell if you don’t accept J.C. as your savior, at that point I am no longer operating within the parameters of faith. I am asserting that I know this proposition to be true- so true in fact that it makes it permissible or even obligatory for me to condemn others who do not share in this belief and refuse to accept it as true. To truly know my judgement is true, and to call my condemnation a judgement to begin with, I must have proof or at least believe I have proof. And in order for my condemnation to have any meaning, I must define it as a judgement and not an unwarranted opinion carrying no moral weight. Since judgements, like knowledge, require proof, I no longer am being faithful when I condemn others based on my unjustified belief, because by chastising others with a negative judgement, I am asserting unsupported or unprovable knowledge. And if faith is to be rewarded by God, I am not worthy of God’s praise and recognition if I alter my faith to resemble knowledge in order to use it as a basis to judge others. Faith is dependent upon a lack of proof. So to truly be faithful, I cannot attempt to prove my contentions, beliefs, and judgements, nor can I believe I have found said proof, and then also still claim to have faith.
If faith is belief in the absence of proof, I can’t “point to the Bible” as a form of proof to justify my claim that my faith is accurate, because this negates the fundamental property and definition of faith. Believing you have proof that the blood of Jesus saved mankind is not faith. It is misperceived knowledge that is identical to my daughter’s misperceived knowledge that Santa Claus exists. Again, if faith is a rewardable trait admired and desired by God, then only one’s faith will be rewarded in heaven. One cannot, in theory and in the words of those who believe in rewarded faith, receive praise for “believing one knew truth.” This is primarily because knowledge is easy to accept. I don’t “get points” for believing that the sun rises in the east. This requires no effort. Why? Because its so easy to prove. “Look there in the east! See? The sun!” But faith is difficult to maintain because it lacks proof. Faith is hard. There is no “Look-over-there-for-verification quality” attached to faith. So when one attempts to demonstrate proof to legitimize one’s faith, one is also stepping beyond the boundaries of faith and walking into the precarious realm of perceived knowledge.
The moment you judge others as immoral based on an unprovable or untrue belief, you yourself are not just committing an immoral action, but you are also “breaking the rules” of faith. Judgement should exclusively be reserved for provable knowledge and not for faith or unsubstantiated belief. You can’t rightly condemn others based on belief alone. Thus, for example, I can believe “unicorns exist” until the day I die, but I can’t judge others for not believing they exist if I have no proof that they do. In the classroom, this affects discussions about controversial issues such as the abortion debate. For example, if a student believes a fetus has a soul, and that all pregnancy-terminating women are immoral and should be legally prohibited from obtaining abortions, because the student believes it is wrong to kill beings with souls, this judgement itself is problematic and illogical if it stems from the student’s faith, because it cannot be proved that fetuses, or indeed any human being, possesses a soul. Condemning abortion as immoral in general, as opposed to only being thought of as immoral or “unthinkable” for the student who believes in the concept of a fetal soul, must be based on provable fact, as all judgements rightly require.
As a further example, some pro-lifers believe fetuses possess a right to live upon the acquisition of a heartbeat at around three weeks of gestation. Well, it is a true, provable, empirically verifiable fact that the tiny underdeveloped heart valves of human fetuses begin to “flap” at about three weeks along in utero. So judging others based on this proof of fetal heart movement is allowable. However, it cannot be proven that a beating heart gives human beings a right to live, but that’s a whole other bridge crossed in other morellaty articles.
To recap, for an individual to merely possess a belief is fine. But beliefs, like faith, lack proof by definition. Knowledge always has corresponding proof. And therefore, condemning/judging others without proof, or knowledge about their actions, not only promotes the undesired allowability of baseless assumptions and blind, “jumped to” conclusions, but it’s also immoral (and illogical, because a belief or faith-based judgement no longer constitutes a belief upon its assertion; instead, it becomes believed, but unsupported, knowledge). Thus, while one is allowed to make moral judgements about others, they can only be based on, and stem from, fact or proven propositions and never based on a state of mind that lacks proof by its very nature.
This essay is dedicated to Ben Mowbry, one of my students, for knowing enough to “ask the right questions,” for were they not asked, this essay, and the answers within it, would not exist.
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