Ruptured Rhapsody

A different kind of "blog," consisting of selections from my scribblings over many years. The date of each post is the date I originally wrote that piece. So, the top post is usually not the latest post, because I continually add writings from different years to the blog. If you have visited here before, you are likely to find new posts anywhere on the page. I'll continue to add "new" posts as my time allows.

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Location: Toronto, Canada

4 February 1988

Faith, nationalism, and racism

Racist and nationalist thinking are the same type of thinking as religious thinking. Fideism is a mystical philosophical doctrine derived from the idea that the highest truth and goodness are beyond human comprehension. This doctrine has given rise to expressions such as "leap of faith": as the human mind is taken to be unable to reach absolutely certain truths and values, they can only be reached by means of a leap of faith. Although fideism as a doctrine is not popularly known, it has been widely used to justify belief in irrational religious ideas. In fact, as explained below, faith is outside the realm of rationality; therefore faith is inseparable from fideism.

Although fideism was formulated into a philosophical doctrine by highly respected writers and philosophers, such as Montaigne, Pascal, and Kierkegaard, it has become associated with fanaticism and intellectual laziness -- and for good reason. Notwithstanding the significant contributions of fideist writers, fideism is essentially an abdication of the will to know, and inevitably leads to fanaticism. As the object of faith is defined as irrational, the highest and purest form of faith would presumably consist of belief in the greatest absurdities conceivable. Hence the dialectic of faith itself leads to belief in not just absurd ideas, but the belief in the greatest possible absurdities.

One way to understand this process is to think of the historical dialectic of religious faith versus knowledge. As knowledge pushed back the boundaries of ignorance about the world, religion was gradually forced out of this universe, and into a supernatural one. In other words, as more and more natural processes were (more or less) understood, the primitive nature religions, based as they were on absurd ideas about nature, were replaced by religions based on abstract and sophisticated absurdities.

As Tertulian, a third-century Christian theologian, put it: "I believe it because it is incredible." And the more incredible the "object" of belief, the more the likelihood of fanaticism. An irrational idea can have only an emotional hold on a person as the mind reject such an idea. Thus the more irrational and far from known reality one's beliefs are, the more would be the need for strong emotional attachment to the beliefs. In other words, an irrational belief can give rise to fanaticism.

Religion does not, however, have a monopoly on irrational beliefs. The object of faith may be any idea based on unquestionable premises, rather than on evidence. "Race" and "nation" are two such ideas.

The two concepts of "race" and "nation" or as absurd and internally incoherent as any religious idea. The two concepts were invented by the same people, namely the nineteenth-century colonial powers, strictly as tools of domestic and colonial domination.

The concept of race has no content whatsoever, surprising as such a claim may be. It is usually assumed, without question, that there are three or four "main" racial groups, and several subgroups within these. The main groups are supposed to include the Caucasian, the black, and the oriental races. Each of these is supposed to consist of the native inhabitants of a particular continent or part of one.

The real world, however, is not nearly so simple and neat. No two neighboring groups of native inhabitants look radically different from each other. For example, the French have common feature with both Germans and Spaniards; Egyptians have common features with both Middle Eastern Arabs and the Sudanese; so do the Burmese with both Indians and Thais; and so on. In the real world there are no racial boundary lines. The concept of race was derived from an arbitrary selection of extreme points on what is in reality and unbroken continuum.

Paralell to the use of the concept of race as a rationalization of oppression and exploitation of "inferior" people, the colonial powers invented the concept of nation to unify their own countries' people behind their rulers. The word "nation," which originally simply referred to a bond to one's place of birth (as in native, nativity, and so on) was made to refer to the total population who happened to live within the domain of the same ruler.

Absurd as the concepts of race and nation are, they were not nearly as absurd as many religious beliefs and practices thousands of years old. This may well account for the hold of and nationalism and racial stereotypes on people's minds; the little lies are easy to swallow once the Big Lie has been assimilated.

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