Sunday, January 2, 2011

False Ideals

I usually come up with things to post after talking to my mom.  I love my mom, and I love to talk to her, but she and I are both aware of the growing gap in beliefs and values between us.  Therefore, we have these little "micro-arguments" that we give up on quickly because we like being friends and don't want to argue religion every single time we talk.

Yesterday's micro-arguments included a discussion on whether missionaries look like dorks (my wife and I just visited Japan, and I was very surprised at the lack of mocking disdain in the glances of strangers on the street).  I definitely looked like a dork.  But whatever.

The other argument, that barely even got started before I gave up on it, was about obedience.  I made some comment about mission rules and how silly they can be, and my mom started talking about the merits of obedience for obedience's sake.  This, of course, is one of the things I've given up on completely: doing or believing things for no good reason.  But, like I said, I just said "okay.  okay.  yeah.  okay," and that was that.

I got thinking, after talking to my mother, about ideals I don't find in any way appealing.  I would say the largest factor in my rejection of an ideal is the expectation that the ideal be accepted for its own sake, without any analysis.

For example:
Patriotism: how is patriotism more than glorified ethnocentrism?  I guess it depends how you define the term, but there seems to be a general feeling of "my country is the best and deserves to be doing better than all the other countries."  Of course, I couldn't talk about this with almost any of my relatives, because it's patriotism!  It makes itself okay, and how dare I search for the underlying motivations!

Faith: faith also has many definitions, but in the religious sense it tends to correspond to unsupported belief.  How is this good or useful?  If I have faith in something, it means that no matter how irrational the idea is, and how glaring the counterexamples, I believe it.  This is known as insanity when it is about anything other than mystical beings and the afterlife and whatnot.  As soon as it's religious, though, you'd better not be down on faith!  Faith is the highest virtue: complete, untested belief in something someone else told you, most likely because you once had a vague, emotional indication of its possibility in a time of emotional distress.  Once the decision is made, it's faith, dammit, and you're never backing down from that position!

Now I understand that ideals rely on ethics, which are inherently beyond rational defense.  However, when only one thin layer of abstraction lies between an ideal and the reasons why it might well be a bad, bad idea, one worries.

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