Faith through its objects

How far can we get in an attempt to explain faith in God though the next closest modern-world analogue, faith in the nation?

Nations obviously exist in the sense that millions of people act as if they do, but the attempt to find a natural foundation for them turns out to be so difficult that many have concluded they don’t have one. What sort of foundation could we have hoped for, anyway? Nations don’t divide different species, and even if we could agree about the existence of races, different nations don’t map out racial differences.

Human families have a natural foundation in relations of birth and rearing, and along with this comes bonds of fidelity: a willingness to sacrifice for the good of others up to and including dying for them. The nation demands marriage meet state approval and that education follow its curriculum, and makes additional claims on us through culture and the Laws (I’m thinking of the speech of lady laws in Crito) and so lays claim to the same bonds of fidelity. The church, of course, can make the same claims. And so both the nation and church wrangle over the foundation of our existence with the church’s appeals for fidelity (faith) having a clear divine component while the nation seems more conflicted on this point, allowing a range of options from theocracy to hagiarchy to ceremonial deism to secularity to outright foundational criticism of all religion.

Fidelity in this sense is a sort of pietas or reverence due to the source of your being, or to the mother and father and its analogical developments. Nation or church seems to mark the outer-limit of this in numerical terms (which, contra Singer or Unger, gives a principled reason to think one’s positive ethical obligations are localized).

If this is right, you have an obligation to your church in much the same way that you have an obligation to your nation, and so it is reasonable for religious obligation to follow accidents of birth. This doesn’t make these accidents absolutely binding no matter what, but they seem to be reasonable to take them as prima facie binding until seriously undermined. That religious and scientific claims show different demographic distributions arises reasonably from the former being claims on fidelity.

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