Why do otherwise intelligent and reasonable people lose touch with reality when religion is involved?
I've been wondering about this whenever I read comments on this blog from fervent defenders of Gurinder Singh Dhillon, the guru of Radha Soami Satsang Beas who is deeply involved in financial fraud totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
They ignore obvious facts. They offer up ridiculous excuses for inexcusable behavior. They keep repeating falsehoods even after the truth has been repeatedly pointed out to them.
In his Responsibility chapter, Hägglund discusses at length Soren Kierkegaard's discussion in his "Fear and Trembling" of the Old Testament story of Abraham and his son, Issac. Somehow Abraham was willing to kill his beloved son because God wanted him to.
Basically, Hägglund argues that Abraham was motivated by religious faith, not secular faith. In my previous post I included some quotes from his book that explain the central difference between these kinds of faith.
Secular faith is committed to persons and projects that may be lost: to make them live on for the future. Far from being resigned to death, a secular faith seeks to postpone death and improve the conditions of life. As we will see, living on should not be conflated with eternity.
...The object of religious faith, by contrast, is taken to be independent of the fidelity of finite beings. The object of religious faith -- whether God or any other form of infinite being -- is ultimately regarded as separable from the practice of faith, since it does not depend on any form of finite life.
So it seems clear that those who attempt to excuse the RSSB guru of all wrongdoing, even in the face of evidence to the contrary, are acting much like Abraham.
Because the guru is considered by devotees to be God in human form, their religious faith is separable from any and all actions in this finite world that Gurinder Singh Dhillon might take, no matter how wrong those actions might be. These devotees have blind faith in the godliness of the guru.
Here in the United States, President Trump famously said during his election campaign, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters."
This sounds a lot like religious faith. It also sounds a lot like the RSSB devotees who apparently would forgive any actions of their guru, no matter how despicable.
Here's some additional excerpts from Hägglund's book that I read today. They cast additional light on the distinction between religious and secular faith.
Religious faith, by definition, doesn't care about other people, or anything else on Earth. Like Abraham, those in the grip of religious faith are willing to sacrifice anyone and anything, including their own secular sense of right and wrong, in the name of an imagined eternity.
Thus religious faith is dangerous. It leads people to kill, torture, maim, hurt, do anything that they envision their God or godlike human commands. Caring, love, compassion -- these are characteristics of secular faith, which I'm proud to embrace.
Hägglund describes these two sorts of faith:
Moreover, the inwardness of religious faith disarms the real risks of objective uncertainty.
A marriage is objectively uncertain in the sense that it can actually break and leave me shattered. Eternal happiness, however, is objectively uncertain in the sense that it can neither be proved nor disproved.
As long as I keep faith in eternal happiness, it cannot be taken away from me, since the only criterion for its existence is my own faith that it will be given to me.
No external criteria can refute my hope for eternal happiness, and nothing external to my own will can force me to give it up. Eternal happiness cannot be given to me by the finite, but for the same reason it cannot be taken away from me by the finite.
It has nothing to do with anything in the external world, but is entirely a matter of my inward relation to my absolute telos. [ultimate object or aim]
In contrast, secular faith necessarily remains vulnerable.
As long as you keep secular faith, you can be defeated by loss. Affirming your life-defining commitment as a parent -- and loving your child wholeheartedly -- does not protect you from the pain of conflict, the bereavement of broken hopes, or the possible devastation of losing your child.
On the contrary, it is because you are keeping faith with your child -- and holding on to your life-defining commitment as a parent -- that you are all the more vulnerable to these experiences.
Such vulnerability is the condition for any form of responsiveness to -- and responsibility for -- what happens to the one you love. By being devoted to someone who is finite, I have to be responsive to what befalls him or her, even if the events are adverse to my own hopes and desires.
I am committed to fight for him or her to live on and flourish, but also bound to recognize if and when there is defeat.
...Given that your relation to the past and the future depends on faith, you may be deceived by what you think is certain, mistaken by what you take for granted, and shattered by what you never expected.
Your vulnerability to those risks is due to the existential commitment of secular faith. Because you are existentially committed to someone or something, you can feel the pain of being deceived, mistaken, or shattered.