July 15, 2019

Zombie Faith and Our Global Crisis

You hear a lot in religious studies about the 'return' of religion, how people, contrary to secular modernist predictions, didn't abandon faith, but returned to it, revived it. Of course, I agree, but many types of faith were revived, in many different religions. I've been studying some of these expressions, and I think we need to talk about one type of faith that has made a 'comeback' today in global religious communities of all kinds.
I put 'comeback' in scare quotes, because, in spite of its hyper-emphasis on fidelity to tradition, this isn't the same faith of the believer of old, in which a person's conviction made them into a better person with other people of all kinds, and gave them hope that the world in which they were oppressed was not the only world. This was faith as vital life force, faith as the 'substance of things hoped for'. This new faith is more like Gage, from Pet Semetary, a sort of undead changeling. It is zombie faith.
This new zombie faith is methodologically nationalist in orientation, characterized by ressentiment, filled with huffy irritation, envy and a sense of victimhood. Zombie faith is always petulantly demanding that one cannot claim they are a person of said faith unless x x and x characteristics are met. It is anxious about its own dissolution, and about what is perceives as its declining relevance. It muses violently at those who reject it. It snarls at information and critical evidence as 'harmful' to faith. It demarcates a strong line between a faithful self and a non-faithful other, and then sees knowledge emanating from the non-faithful as threatening. It identifies itself as the only and supreme epistemological foundation. It identifies itself completely with what public morality should be. Zombie believers sometimes debate about permissibility and the boundaries of faith in ways that personally have always terrified me, as if they were the admissions committee to the pearly gates themselves.
Zombie faith is extremely self-conscious about some of the more obviously bizarre 'unseen' things it is required to believe to maintain its faith, and will defend them as essential to faith. Yet this self-consciousness stems from the knowledge that it insists on the belief in unseen things foundationally, while rejecting out of hand naturalistic conclusions that have been the subject of decades of detailed study and evidence compilation. Like nationalism, this denial of the 'other' is not rational, but rooted in fear and anxiety. In its more reflective moments, zombie faith is uneasy about the many low information suppositions that make up its intellectual apparatus, while regarding things which methodological naturalism has high information answers for (biological evolution, for instance), as conspiracies to take one away from belief.
Zombie faith will try to make that information liability into a strength, by turning to post-modernist individualism, specifically the idea that no one has a right to challenge my fundamental conception of what I believe or what I use to arrive at that belief. ("You don't know me!") Another strategy used to cover the information deficit is to insist that people of zombie faith have a unique insight, a sixth sense, that others just don't have the ability to get, because they're blinded by scientism or arrogance. Zombie faith may also give itself the imprimatur of intellectual respectability by turning heavily to scholastic theology, preferring to have intellectual conversations with the dead, who they can exalt as an obviously superior type to the 'atheist' philosopher of today. In this way they can avoid having to confront the epistemic revolutions of the modern age. Zombie faith will tell itself that the reason people are critical of its faith is that they have insufficient grounding in these sources they use.
Today's zombie faith has absorbed some of the worst qualities of nationalism, and yet, like nationalism, it still offers an invaluable succor to the average person on the street. In the absence of the old faith, the people turn to zombie faith, as a sugar lover would turn to stevia, because it appears to offers a 'sweetness', a certitude and ethical orientation that ordinary modern life, with its runaway global political corruption, its hierarchies of extreme wealth and poverty, and its degradation and destruction of the earth, is unable to.
None of this should be read as an attack on the ethical dispositions of compassion and care which faith (yes, even zombie faith) can provide. Nor should it be read as a vindication of today's scientific consensus. The challenge for critical decolonial thinkers on the ground today, when engaging with religion, is to engage the psychological need many people have for this zombie style of faith, to cultivate a sense of wonder and mystery that draws on the old faiths, and to use the high-information contexts of empirical observation that come to us from detailed naturalistic study of the world to fuel the urgently needed and revolutionary changes required to address the current climate crisis, among other urgent issues in global civil society.


Anti-abortion Muslims and the Christian Right in America under Trump

Relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but the thing that vexes me about this emerging Muslim right wing partnership with Never-Trump Catholics on abortion is not so much that Muslims are allying with people who hate them. Actually many Catholics respect Islam for both what it has that Catholicism has, and also what is has that they feel Catholics have lost (Jeremy McLellan made a career out of it). No, what I dislike about such efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade are their quixotic nature.

I understand and respect those who feel abortion is wrong. But Roe v. Wade wasn't about mandating abortion, and the point of making abortion legal wasn't to criminalize unborn babies, but to reduce suffering in the world by giving the mother final and absolute say in ending her pregnancy. This is not the place to get into all the ethical complexities of the why of that decision. It is a guaranteed right, according to the Supreme Court. With respect to the priorities of Muslim Americans, unlike abortion, alcohol is explicitly haram in the Quran. Why doesn't one see Muslim Americans joining a prohibition bandwagon, or creating one? Why are some Muslim Americans jumping on the ethical bandwagon of extreme Catholics?

Those few Muslim Americans salivating about overturning Roe v. Wade havn’t paid attention to the larger history of how abortion was established as a right in the first place in America, and who accomplished it. Abortion wasn’t legalized through the fiat of a corrupt ruler. The last seventy years have seen popular movements completely transform the legal and social landscape with regard to gender, sexuality and civil rights. These transformations were painful, they came from below and they were an extension of the Black civil rights insurgency of the 1960s. Now a small group of right wing Muslims comes along and wants to ally with arch-Catholics to roll back these protections. Both groups don’t seem to realize that many of those they are allying with don’t want to stop with abortion or LGBT, but will continue onto the 14th Amendment, the Voting Rights Act, labor laws etc. Jumping on the anti-abortion bandwagon in the current political climate is the height of foolish naiveté.


  © Blogger templates The Professional Template by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP