One man's view of the world, from the top of this great big rock somewhere in the middle of God's Country, with an eye toward freedom....or at least some way to get back down without goin' over the edge.

My Photo
Location: West Virginia, United States

Former U.S. Army, SPC E-4, Veteran of Operation Desert Storm. If you are or have ever been a soldier, you have friends in my house.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Two Degrees of Separation: Knowledge and Faith in America

My beloved wife mentioned something to me the other day about the whole "separation of church and state" debate that's been going on lately, and a lot of what she said makes sense. (Bear with me, folks---I'm a-fixing to ramble, I am...)

In a nutshell: There's a big difference between religion and science...or, to put a slightly finer point on it, between knowledge and faith.

See, any true scientist will tell you point-blank that he doesn't really KNOW anything. All he can really do is take a thought, develop a hypothesis, and set out to either prove or disprove that hypothesis.
Once he does that, he has a theory -- which is to say, he thinks he knows something that he didn't know before.

But when you get right down to it, a theory is just that. A theory. It's not a fact.
We do not scientifically know for a fact, for example, that the universe started its existence with a great big explosion. That's why they call it the Big Bang Theory.
Oh, sure...we have evidence that points to it. But one thing we don't have is the benefit of prolonged observation. We have not been sitting watching the universe for millions of years. We have thousands of years' fieldwork on this subject at best...which, on a universal scale, amounts to about *SNAP* that much.

A fact is a piece of information that needs no further proof or denial.
And anyone who knows anything about science and human nature knows about how long THAT lasts.

Two hundred years ago, the idea that I could type these words on a keyboard in the USA, and have these very same words read by someone in Mosul during breakfast that same day, would be laughed out of court. Among the things our founding fathers might say..."That's impossible!", or "It goes against reason!", or "It can't be done, and that's a fact!", or "Who the hell is Moe Sool?"

But then someone like, say, Ben Franklin would maybe say, "It can't be done...RIGHT NOW." And then goes out into a storm with a kite and a key and gets his hair straightened.
And then some guy in Milwaukee starts getting REAL tired of having writer's cramp all the time....
....and then some other guy finds himself in need of a helping hand from his assistant, and decides that just yelling at the wall would be rude....
....and then this OTHER nutball uses some of Ben's hair straightener to light his room with something other than fire....
....put 'em all together, and here we are.
Let's face it, folks...a weblog is really just the result of working on an electronic printing press.

And none of this would have happened if people had just taken "That's impossible" as FACT.
That's what scientists are for....the accumulation of enough knowledge to make things happen that couldn't happen before they started accumulating knowledge.

As for religion, here's where Faith steps in....and makes things a bit tricky.

First, a definition. From the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:

1 a : allegiance to duty or a person : LOYALTY b (1) : fidelity to
one's promises (2) : sincerity of intentions2 a (1) : belief and trust in and
loyalty to God (2) : belief in the traditional doctrines of a religion b (1) :
firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2) : complete trust3 :
something that is believed especially with strong conviction; especially : a
system of religious beliefs synonym see BELIEF - on faith : without question

As shown above, faith can mean different things depending on what you're talking about.

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to focus on this one:
"Firm belief in something for which there is no proof."

In this context, faith means KNOWING something is true...regardless of any input to the contrary.

Faith has been known to shore up a man's courage to sacrifice everything for what he believes in, because he has faith in himself. He KNOWS where his path may lead him, and drives on in spite of it.
Soldiers have pushed themselves to the limit and beyond, because they have faith in their comrades. They KNOW that their buddies are right there with them, ready to back them up or save their ass when it counts.

And, has sometimes led people to do things like this ...and say things like this....because they have faith in their cause.
They KNOW they're right...whether they really are or not.

Now, see? Y'all just KNEW I was gonna bring politics into it, dintcha? There it is again. You had faith that I was going to do that eventually, and so you waited around to see when it would happen. (I do so hate to disappoint my faithful readers.)

Here's the sticky part...that word "KNOW" keeps creeping into the conversation, doesn't it?
Those who truly believe aren't interested in proof or debate. They already KNOW that what they believe is right. How could it not be?

How does all this relate to "separation of church and state", you ask? Well, how about this....

It seems to me the Founding Fathers knew that, for a free society to find its best way in the world, freedom of religion was vital. A man who can worship as he pleases, generally speaking, is more able to make an asset of himself to society at large without detracting from it in the process.
Conversely, the more you restrict the way people can express their connection to the "Great Unknown", the more you restrict their possibilities for personal and societal growth.

And so, they put "In God We Trust" on the dollar bill, because they did....and they also made it so YOU didn't have to.

The problem is this...there are now, as there have likely always been, those who seem to confuse "freedom OF religion" with "freedom FROM religion".

Thus, they don't want there to be ANY place in society where it appears that one religion or another is being "endorsed" or "suppressed" by the government...and wish nothing more than to tear at this country's foundations, piece by piece, until America becomes a kind of soul vacuum where no one really knows what they believe in.

In short....until America becomes un-American.

Here's the crux of my point, friends:
In my view, one of the things that has made America the most vital, dynamic and powerful nation on the planet in the spheres of technology, medicine, military prowess and the freedom to believe in, or doubt, pretty much anything we wish.
It is the freedom to question, prod, prove, disprove, debate, and discuss damn near any topic under the sun, without having the spectre of "heretic" or "unbeliever" (or "infidel") hanging over our heads.

It is also my view that this puts a great responsibility in our hands....
That while we enjoy this freedom of faith, we must also allow our neighbors and fellow citizens to enjoy theirs....
That while we enjoy this abundant fount of scientific knowledge, we must use it and expand it to the best interest of all people whenever possible....

And that while we enjoy this freedom to live, work, worship and explore our world in our own ways...we forever remember those who came before us who argued and debated, and those who came before us who fought and died, and carved out a shelter in the world for people who had once gone without some or all of these freedoms.... that those who come after us won't have to.