Faith, Belief, and Meaning

"Faith is pejoratively described as believing a claim that lacks evidence.

I would say (with William James) that faith is the capacity to act where doubt persists. This capacity is also called courage and willingness; faith is just its religious moniker. If we lift faith from its religious context, this capacity is revealed to be essential.
Imagine life without faith. What domain of life is immune to doubt? We hardly ever engage life armed with the sum of relevant facts. If action is precluded by doubt, life becomes gridlock. The capacity to act in the face of uncertainty is, therefore, as necessary to daily living as honesty and love. The propositions that inspire leaps of faith become beliefs when those leaps prove reliably beneficial. Beliefs are ideas that lack the evidentiary basis of facts, nevertheless routinely inform our actions because, by way of faith, they have proven themselves tried and true. In this sense, faith and belief function much like a “working hypothesis.” They bridge the gulf of doubt separating reason and the imperative to act.
The constellation of beliefs that guide an individual’s actions is commonly called their belief system. The mechanism of faith remains essential, but particular beliefs have a shelf life. Healthy beliefs inspire acts that lead us in the way of meaning. Inherited beliefs are useful only if they successfully navigate the present terrain. Beliefs expire when the problems of meaning they were adopted to address change. The beliefs we inherit from our ancestors are, for this reason, often outdated. This is why faith is so essential. It enables us to form new belief systems, draw fresh maps of meaning.
Doubt is chaos. It is a field of diasporic details, often conflicting, never cohesive, which breeds indecision and inaction. This is the obstacle faith overcomes. It leaps from one shore with no assurance of landing on another. When it finds dry land, belief builds a bridge. Belief mythologizes the gap, lending rhyme and reason, which serve as the basis for future passages. This rhyme and reason is an internal logic. It is a subjective truth, not a tapestry of objective facts. Faith and belief are not antithetical to reason. They paint a picture that maps onto reality, only that reality is our life, not the cosmos. Therefore, faith and belief appeal to an inner authority.
Hope dawns when chaos is transformed into order. In this moment the way forward is revealed. The frustration of being stranded is replaced by excitement and anticipation about the adventure ahead. This is the quintessence of the sensational variety of spiritual experience. At their core, these experiences are loaded with meaning. Faith takes the expeditionary leap. Belief then provides the internal rationale to bring the conscious mind along. Suddenly, a missing portion of our map is unlocked. An area of our life that was once a source of confusion now makes sense, which is to say, warrants action.
The internal spark that validates belief is the experience of meaning. This experience brings our beliefs to life. It animates them, moving us to vigorous action. And it is to this authority that our beliefs must appeal. Not religion or science, but meaning." ~ excerpted from "Triumph of Principles" (my upcoming book)

Finding Our Political Voice: I or We?

Democracy is beholden to the will of the people, not truth.

It is up to the people to align their will with truth. But what standard of truth will be used? The Truth or a truth?

When we speak from the perspective of "I" we honor our truth. This subjective truth consists of our past experiences, and the thoughts and feelings authored by those experiences. The perspective of "I" is frequently at odds with that of "we," the objective, collective, aggregated, statistical, data driven domain of scientific truth. To which should we pledge our allegiance?

The grieving parent unwilling to accept nothing short of an assault weapons ban and the gun owner that believes more guns make us safer, both speak from the perspective of "I," and both find themselves at odds with scientific data. But that does that negate their thoughts and opinions?

An assault weapons ban would surely help curb the epidemic of mass shooting that plague our schools. But data shows that assault weapons account for less than half of all mass shootings and only a tiny fraction of overall gun deaths. Still, if you just lost your daughter to an AR-15, an assault weapons ban speaks wholly and completely to the one effect of mass shootings with which you are most concerned: the loss of your daughter. It eliminates the weapon that took her life, and in so doing, provides some assurance that it won't happen again, which lends purpose to the otherwise meaningless death of your daughter.

Similarly, data shows that homes with guns are significantly more prone to suicide, and to a lesser degree, homicide. But gun owners frequently claim having a gun makes you safer. After all, they own guns and have not been victimized by suicide or homicide. However, this confidence comes from the perspective of "I." The data does not show that owning a gun guarantees homicide or suicide; the statistical perspective of "we" only says it makes it more likely, thereby, on average, not safer. If these studies were controlled by variables like mental health, proper training, and safe storage, then I am sure the numbers would lean more toward safer, which is a solid justification for stricter gun laws. Naturally, we all want to think we belong to the responsible group, and we might; but few people buy guns thinking, "This will make me more prone to suicide and homicide." Gun owners purchased guns thinking it would make them safer, not increase their risk of homicide or suicide.

It seems to me that both "I" perspectives have merits and faults. I think we have a responsibility to voice our truth, but in the body politic, all these I's have to become a "We." There has to be compromise. When our perspective hardens, it prevents us from solving problems. The hardened perspective of gun advocates tends to obstruct common sense regulations that would keep certain weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people, and moreover help ensure proper handling and storage. The hardened perspective of gun control advocates tends to forestall physical security measures that would make our schools safer for our children and their teachers.

It seems to me that when our will is informed by subjective truth, but ultimately tempered by the objective standard, compromise is more likely, and compromise is indispensable in a democracy. The hardened "I" leads to obstructionism. It gets us nowhere. America has to return to the perspective of "we," or no progress will be made on issues like guns and healthcare.

A Guide to Arguing the Second Amendment

There can be no inalienable right to a gun because the vast majority of earth's inhabitants predate the existence of firearms by thousands of years. The inalienable right is to defend one's life and property, and to this end, assault rifles and high capacity clips are not required.

The Second Amendment is not explicitly about defending oneself against a tyrannical government, as many gun advocates argue. This is an element of the Second Amendment, but an element that is no longer relevant. It has expired. Its not that our government is now incapable of becoming tyrannical, but because the capacities of the military so far exceed those of the citizenry that it's a moot point. If you plan to take on a drone, F-22, or Abrams tank with an AR-15, you will need "thoughts and prayers." The National Guard satisfies this demand of the Second Amendment.

When he Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written we did not have a standing army. Enter the Second Amendment: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." National security is the import of the Second Amendment. We needed a militia, or a military raised from our citizenry, in order to defend ourselves against foreign invaders. Now that we have a standing army, we no longer need a citizen militia, and therefore this facet of the Second Amendment is also outdated.

Implied in the Second Amendment's explicit meaning, the right to defend country and countrymen, is the right to defend oneself and one's property. This aspect of the second Amendment is not outdated. The government has to guarantee individual's access to weapons that fulfill this right. However, that guarantee is not contingent upon access to assault weapons.

Access to (most) shotguns and handguns is guaranteed by the second amendment because both are common and effective means of self defense. The AR-15 is not. The AR-15 was not designed for self-defense. Of course it can be used to defend, but so can a shovel or an RPG, though neither are ideal, and nor is an AR-15. When defending oneself against a home invader or a carjacker, for example, the AR-15 is far less effective and therefore not commonly employed. For this reason, access to the AR-15 is not required for the government to guarantee its citizens Second Amendment rights. Handguns and shotguns monopolize self-defense because they are more effective instruments of self-defense.

Moreover, the government is well within their purview to regulate exceedingly dangerous weapons not commonly employed for lawful purposes, i.e. self defense. The Ar-15's higher fire rate and shorter reload time (along with its destructive aura) make them a favorite of sociopaths who want to terrorize people, and therefore exceedingly dangerous with little to no redemptive self-defense value.

An assault weapons ban would, in my opinion, help to deter certain types of mass shootings, but would do little to curb gun violence in general. AR-15's are the weapon of choice in large scale mass shooting that occur in highly populated arenas like schools and movie theaters, but in run of the mill mass shootings (4+ victims) handguns out pace rifles two to one, and in standard gun deaths, it is not even close. And since handguns are a common and effective means of self-defense, they are protected by the Second Amendment (D.C. vs Heller) Therefore, the conversation regarding gun violence must include an assault weapons ban, but it cannot stop there.

Since handguns account for the vast majority of gun deaths, but are protected by the Second Amendment, measures other than bans must be considered. Congress could close private sell loop holes, expand background checks, include mental health components, impose waiting periods, and mandate gun safety classes for all prospective buyers. I think the brightest glimmer of hope on the horizon is smart gun technology. If they are an effective means of self defense, but notably safer, the government may be able to ban all non-smart weapons and remain within the bounds of the Second Amendment. Smart weapons prevent accidental discharges and nullify unlawful transfers and theft, not to mention the conceivable advantages that are inevitable as the industry develops.

In addition, taking steps to secure our schools would go a long way to preventing horrors like Sandy Hook and Parkland. Schools are soft targets that enable sociopaths to inflict the greatest amount of harm on society with the least amount of resistance. Make it more difficult for these people to get on campuses by installing card-key activated turnstiles, and designing single points of campus entry manned by guards, much like in gated communities and large factories. It is also hard to argue against the presence of armed police officers on campuses at all times, with their cars parked out front as a physical deterrent.

Finally, I'd suggest the media quit publishing the faces and names of shooters. Publish age, gender, race, and any other detail relevant, but not identifiers that grant them the infamy they crave. The First Amendment grants the press nearly illimitable freedom, so this is not a measure than can be legislated. This the public must demand by choosing to read and share articles that abstain from publishing names and photos.

Nearly all of these measures enjoy historically high support, according to the latest Quinnipiac University National Poll: 66-31% are for stricter gun laws; 67-29% support a ban on the sale of assault weapons; 83 -14% want mandatory waiting periods for all gun purchases. At this moment, there is possibility of effecting change. We shouldn't squander this opportunity running down rabbit holes the Supreme Court has already deemed unconstitutional.

We live in a country of laws and the Second Amendment is one of those laws. We cannot argue for repealing the Second Amendment. This is a straw man that plays right into the NRA's strategy. Banning assault weapons, high capacity magazines, and expanding background checks, as well as taking action to secure schools at state and local levels are all practical and effective steps to ending this epidemic.

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