An Illusory Intertwingling of Reason and Response

Philosophy: I wax philosophical, and many times violently politico-philosophical. If you can stand the heat, here’s the kitchen: enjoy your stay . . .

Tafel :: philosophy :: political

Sunday, June 19, 2005

In Defense of Certainty

Time Magazine has done well. In fine form, they’ve challenged one of the most easily-assumed certainties of our time: that certainty is dangerous. The last page, ninety-six, of the June 6th, 2005 issue, is an essay by Charles Krauthammer, a regular Time columnist, entitled “In Defense of Certainty.” Krauthammer decrys the zeitgeist that “it’s trendy to be suspicious of people with ‘deeply held views.’ And it’s wrong.”

While more and more people are at odds with the beliefs of “evangelical Christians and traditional Catholics,” Krauthammer claims that to discount their opposition to popular secular views as theocratic is “nonsense.”

Now I am not much of a believer, but there is something deeply wrong — indeed, deeply un-American — about fearing people simply because they believe.

And it’s ironic that Americans are becoming more intolerant of what they view as deviant beliefs here on our own shores while preaching that Israelis should be tolerant of Islamic beliefs that demand their extinction.

But when someone takes the contrary view [to the secular view], all of a sudden he’s trying to impose his view on you. And if that contrary view happens to be rooted in Scripture or some kind of religious belief system, the very public advocacy of that view becomes a violation of the U.S. constitutional order.

What nonsense. The campaign against certainty is merely the philosophical veneer for an attempt to politically marginalize and intellectually disenfranchise believers. Instead of arguing the merits of any issue, secularists are trying to win the argument by default on the grounds that the other side displays unhealthy certainty . . .

The main thing that bothers me about folk of any political persuasion — liberal, conservative, or libertarian — is a predilection against rational thought. Whatever view is espoused, I much prefer it being backed up by evidence and reason than by liberal-bashing, religion-bashing, or other attempt to “win the argument by default.”

And if you&rsqo;re going to climb up on a soapbox and declare right and wrong, shouldn’t you be certain about it? It worries me when people recommend and even demand public policy without being sure themselves of its efficacy. However, certainty carries with it certain demands, the most onerous of which is consistency. If you are certain of something, you may be expected to produce convincing arguments for any change of opinion you may have. That “weariness with the responsibilities and the nightmares that come with clarity — and the demands that moral certainty make[s] on us” is the driving fear of certainty. The innate laziness and unwillingness to think of humankind in general (for isn’t it natural, for you as well as me, to want ease and comfort?) is our great enemy and the cause of our fear of certainty.

However, those who came before us were sure of their cause, and their legacy certainly behooves us to strive for the same certainty.

You want certainty? . . . How about a people who overthrow the political order of the ages, go to war and occasion thousands of deaths in the name of self-evident truths and unalienable rights endowed by the Creator? That was 1776. The universality, the sacredness and the divine origin of freedom are enshrined in our founding document. The Founders, believers all, signed it. Thomas Jefferson wrote it. And not even Jefferson, the most skeptical of the lot, had the slightest doubt about it.

Time Magazine: “In Defense of Certainty” (mirror - plain text)

Apathy Online, June 11th, 2005.