The Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case has been handed down and then expanded quietly. The immediate response has been nearly constant criticism, calls for women to rise up and declarations of impending religious rule. I’ve hardly been lacking in reticence for my own shrill pronouncements, so the potential hubris involved in any critique of the criticism is front and center for me. As such I won’t be critical so much as point out what most have not, to offer that spirit of dissent I try to keep alive and well within me.
What is commonly missing in most criticism of the Hobby Lobby decision is a recognition of the different means by which people in the religious camp are coming to their conclusions. This absence is so appallingly blatant that despite the Supreme Court noting how the original religious abnegation statute in the ACA contributed to their decision, in a recent attempt by Democrats to mitigate the damage done by the court decision, they have decided to keep the same religious exemption. However one may accurately refer to this as a political stunt in no way removes the glaring absence of understanding what is a foundational problem: that of faith being used as a valid epistemic tool.
The Supreme Court stipulated that the corporation must indicate a “sincere belief.” Moving beyond, but not forgetting, this rather insipid means of determining the legitimacy of subjective mental states, the underlying process that supports said belief is left unscathed. The notion that life, by which is meant the divine spark or imago dei, begins at or by the intention of conception, is rationalized only within a religious construct held together by faith.
Peter Boghossian, in a tour de force of redefinition, calls faith “pretending to know what isn’t actually known.” (1) In other words, a particular piece of declared knowledge has no external or socially objective means of verification, leaving said knowledge wholly within the realm of the internally subjective. Basically faith is the means of establishing warrantless confidence. Let’s work backwards from the conclusion of those who “sincerely beiieve” the notion that birth control is a means of abortion. One step before is the belief that abortion is the ending of a life. Further back is the belief that said life is an established manifestation of God’s will. Further still, God works in mysterious ways that are his to share if and when he determines are appropriate. Finally, foundationally, God as established in a particular Holy Book, exists. This is not merely ignoring science, this is an internally coherent interwoven set of beliefs that is contrary to the methodology of science. This is not about stupidity, it is about how one frames an understanding of existence.
With this in mind, focusing on the effects of faith is about as useful as removing the symptoms of an illness, the person may be able to go about their daily life easier, but their body is still being ravaged. Indeed, without treating the core disease, the person may find themselves in a worse situation later. Such is precisely where we find ourselves today with religious ideology being legitimized as a means of circumventing legal reasoning.
Faith-based interventions manifest two distinct social problems. One, pretending to know what isn’t actually known provides grounds for the legitimacy of delusion. Two, because faith is solely an internal subjective system of knowing, there is no means of correction, no path for deligitimizing any delusional statements. The effective result is mob-rule.
Let’s keep “delusion” simply in the realm of “a truth-claim that is objectively unwarranted” rather than delving into pathology. With this in mind we can all, if honest, note previously held ideas that fall into this category. For that matter, it is undoubtedly accurate to say that there are truth-claims currently held by myself or any number of people that are delusional in this sense. This is simply an inevitable consequence of being human and the always tentative quality of knowledge. In a law-based society, the attempt is made to codify in broad social interactions the legitimacy of scientific inquiry and rational dialogue. This maintains a theoretical basis for the interactional quality of existence, that knowledge is tentative and constantly evolving in understanding, and social policy is therefore to be based on what is accessible to all on an equal footing. In other words, no special requirement is to be possessed to understand, debate and possibly change any legal/social policy.
Faith does away with all this. By creating a space where delusion is sacrosanct, where special knowledge gained by means unaccessible on socially equal grounds (i.e. divine revelation), a law-based society is impossible. The very foundation is destroyed. With truth-claims cut off from rational debate, the legitimacy of one’s subjective claim is established only by the quantity of adherents. I’ve heard it said that “one man’s cult is another man’s religion,” the only difference being the breadth of devotees. Within the context of establishing social policy, this is no different than mob-rule.
Fighting a single legal case may win a battle and offer temporary benefit, but the war for human civilization rests on institutionalizing reason and scientific critical inquiry as the means of increasing our knowledge of our existence.