Take It On Faith

Thank goodness for Stanley Fish. Not ‘thank God,’ ‘thank goodness.’

I never thought I’d say that. Fish has made me uneasy since the day I first saw him on a panel at a Modern Language Association convention some thirty years ago. He demolished an opponent–not by force of reason but by mere stage presence, by cockiness and ability to manipulate both audience and debate. Today, though, he has an op-ed in The New York Times in keeping with my own ranting “letter” to Charles Simic from last Saturday. In it, he uses the debate between “science” and “religion” to make a point about faith of all sorts (and about its necessity), a point that the ‘liberal elite’ tend to ignore as they pride themselves on their great knowledge base–as opposed to ideas that they see as based “merely” on belief.

Everyone has faith, and we are all biased. A belief in atheism is still a belief, as is a belief in science. There’s a leap of faith behind all of our positions–we couldn’t operate, otherwise. And we all accept authority. Fish talks of a Richard Dawkins defense of science as something you can look up, chapter and verse–Dawkins apparently unaware that he was stepping into a religious methodology.

Close to the end of his piece, Fish writes:

But the desire of classical liberals to think of themselves as above the fray, as facilitating inquiry rather than steering it in a favored direction, makes them unable to be content with just saying, You guys are wrong, we’re right, and we’re not going to listen to you or give you an even break. Instead they labor mightily to ground their judgments in impersonal standards and impartial procedures (there are none) so that they can pronounce their excommunications with clean hands and pure — non-partisan, and non-tribal — hearts. It’s quite a performance and it is on display every day in our most enlightened newspapers and on our most progressive political talk shows.

It’s also a performance that drives the right in America crazy. They know it is smug and they know it is wrong-headed–but they have yet to find a way to combat it any more than the liberals can successfully counter religious belief.

It drives me crazy, too, for I believe the liberals are more often right than are the conservatives. But their attitude toward their belief, their unwillingness to admit that they rest on faith as much as Rick Santorum, say, does, makes me want to bang my head against the wall.

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