Time to do the hard work

There was something about Reno’s vigil for the victims of the Charlottesville violence that spoke to our failings as a society. It was held in front of the BELIEVE sculpture on the former Mapes lot in downtown Reno.

Belief is not lacking in our society, and we wish that sculpture said THINK or REASON instead. People don’t need big iron signs to get them to believe. All too often they believe as a substitute for the hard work of reasoning.

White supremacists and fascists at Charlottesville were loaded with faith and belief, as were other players in the drama.

“I believe in protecting historical monuments,” said Republican candidate for Virginia governor Corey Stewart.

“I believe that cultures are being threatened,” said Reno white nationalist Peter Cvjetanovic, who protested nonviolently in Charlottesville. “Everyone is melding together and I personally believe that with immigration, some cultures are being threatened and that includes whites, European culture. I do not hate other cultures.”

“I believe in the president’s agenda,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in trying to make sense of Donald Trump’s inability to plainly and clearly denounce racism.

Belief is easy to come by. It relies on faith, and various people in our society have faith in Santa, God, Gods, human decency, guns, celebrity, dreams, hard work, vitamin C, creationism, ghosts or angels, Bigfoot, ESP, reincarnation, and the Great Pumpkin.

None of these beliefs require very much thought or work or reasoning. There’s nothing wrong with having faith, but humans were built for more, and some great crimes of history were committed in the name of faith.

Belief without reasoning often becomes zealotry.

One of the reasons we do not believe in hate crimes—aside from the danger of criminalizing opinion—is that when we drive hatred underground, it is not where scrutiny and examination can take place and good people can work their will to stigmatize it. Sunlight is a disinfectant.

In a 2011 Harvard study, religious believers and non-believers were given math problems. The Washington Post described the outcome: “The people who got the answers wrong were likelier to believe in God. They used intuition to try to solve the problems. Those who got the answers right were likelier not to. They used reason.”

From this, some people may draw the wrong conclusion—that faith has no value. We don’t believe that. To take an example suggested by a current film, faith drove those who piloted their little boats to Dunkirk. Faith doesn’t move mountains, but it motivates those who do. Faith holds families together. It can also hold a society together, particularly when our leadership falters.

But belief gets us only so far. A parent’s beliefs must be backed up by skills and reasoning. From Warren Harding to Donald Trump, inspiring but hollow words were not backed up with sincere belief or true reasoning. How, for example, was it even possible to botch a denunciation of white nationalism? We don’t know, but Trump—lacking both conviction and intellect—managed it.

The United States is recognized both inside and outside of our borders as an anti-intellectual society. It’s not a quality we can afford any more. Faith gets us only so far.