Over at HuffPo, Andrew Pessin takes his place along with Mark Vernon and Karen Armstrong in the pantheon of those who have written the worst nonsense about religion. In his new piece, “How to be certain your religion is true and still get along with others”, Pessin says he’s finally solved the problem of how different religions, with their disparate notions of religious truths, can still live in harmony. How can you be dead certain that the tenets of your faith are right and still tell others that the contradictory tenets of their faiths might also be right?
Pessin’s solution: you just assert it.
What I suggest instead is that we simply acknowledge the paradox: that is, recognize that both contradictory propositions are, in their own right, extremely plausible. In the preface case this actually seems quite easy to do. My ultimate hope, then, is that world peace will break out when enough people simply acknowledge the paradox as well and begin applying it more generally.
Why is that?
Because acknowledging the paradox allows you simultaneously to say two things.
Choose some important, life-governing, very controversial thing you happen to believe in with great fervor: the existence of God (or perhaps atheism), the truth of Christianity (or Islam or Hinduism, etc.), absolute morality (or relativism), etc. Focusing on religion as our example, you can now say, first, that you believe, with certainty, on the basis of reason and evidence and testimony, in the truth of, say, the various individual tenets of your version of Christianity, and thus believe, with equal certainty, in all the things entailed by that belief: that, say, all other competing religions and doctrines are simply false.
But then you can say, second, something else: that you may be wrong.
Got it? You can simultaneously be certain that Christianity is true and everything conflicting with it is false, and yet acknowledge that you may be wrong without taking away your certainty. You can thus keep your certainties without having to claim that you are, in fact, and grossly implausibly, infallible. It’s what everyone (other than bakers) has yearned for since time immemorial: the proverbial cake, both eaten yet had!
I get it! Jesus was certainly the son of God, but then he wasn’t, too. Mohamed was surely God’s prophet but then again maybe he wasn’t. It’s all so easy!
This is the funniest example of religious doublethink I’ve ever seen. That is, it would be funny if it didn’t show so clearly how faith rots the brain.
Pessin, by the way, is the chair of the philosophy department at Connecticut College.