Shake it

In this tv documentary Irshad Manji says – before going on to say in what ways she is critical of contemporary Islam – ‘My faith in God is unshakeable.’ It takes an effort to balk at that statement, precisely because she does go on to say in what ways she is critical of contemporary Islam, and because she gets a lot of threats for doing so; but all the same I do balk at it. I admire Manji, and I hope she succeeds, and I earnestly hope there are a lot of people like her; but all the same, I wish unshakeable faith were not considered a virtue, as (one can tell by the way she says it) Manji clearly does consider it.

There’s a real problem here, because I do get why people want to have unshakeable faith, and why they do think it’s a virtue, but in spite of that, I think that’s a bad way for humans to think, and that it ought not to be valorized.

We’re too fallible and limited to have unshakeable faith in anything. Anything that is doubtful enough to need faith to begin with, is therefore doubtful enough to be dangerous to have unshakeable faith in. It’s okay to have unshakeable confidence that if the stove burner is red hot, you really really really shouldn’t place the palm of your hand firmly on top of it; but you don’t need faith to know that: long experience of burns and pain and hot things are plenty. But faith is about things that aren’t like red hot stove burners, and that’s why it should be cautious and minimal rather than blind and maximal. It’s unfortunate that even generally sensible people think unshakeable faith is a good thing.

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