On Faith II: The Transaction

waterfallIn my prior post on the subject of faith, I addressed some of the tensions between faith and reason, pointed out the tightly-constricted world of those who embrace the material while a priori excluding the transcendent, and attempted to make the point that faith of any kind — be it as simple as starting your car or as mystical as praying for healing — requires both a trust based far more on experience than knowledge, and a trustworthy, dependable faith object.

But faith requires more than simply trust in a reliable object — it requires that such a trust proceed from the true nature of that object. Thus when we talk of religious or spiritual faith — and this is the faith of which we are most concerned — it is not simply sufficient that our trust in God (whom we understand to be completely trustworthy) will invariably bring results. Our trust must be consistent and harmonious with the nature of God to bear fruit. These conditions or constraints which dictate and direct the faith relationship I have called — for lack of a better term — the transaction of faith. To simply trust, while disregarding the true nature of God, is to practice mere wishful thinking or magical projection. And a trustworthy God in whom no genuine trust (or misdirected trust) is vested will likewise avail us nothing.
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On Faith I: Faith & Reason

Grand opening, first Tacoma Narrows BridgeIn July 1940, an engineering marvel was completed: the first Tacoma Narrows Bridge. One of the longest suspension bridges in the world at the time, it exemplified the light, graceful architectural trend of suspension bridges built in this era. Called the crowning achievement of his career, designer Leon Moisseiff — the architect of the Golden Gate and Bay bridges in San Francisco — later declared “our plans seemed 100% perfect.”
 
 
Yet 4 months later, on November 7 1940, the Narrows Bridge catastrophically collapsed in a windstorm into Puget Sound.

Gertie collapsesLeon Moisseiff had unshakable faith in the reliability of his newly-completed masterpiece. He would have had no qualms whatsoever trusting its dependability in any weather conditions. Yet had he stood upon his own creation on November 7th, 1940, his faith would have been fatal. The object of his faith was unreliable, and the strength of his faith irrelevant.
 
 

Faith has become the diametric of reason … practiced only by deluded fools who reject the graceful catenary and steel-plate certainty of scientific rationalism.

Faith is an idea frequently voiced, but little understood. It is commonly mentioned in the pejorative sense in today’s secular society, where it has become a proxy for belief in the unbelievable, the unprovable, the superstitious and the mythical. Faith has become the diametric of reason — unreasonably so, as we shall see — practiced only by deluded fools who reject the graceful catenary and steel-plate certainty of scientific rationalism.

Yet faith–not love–makes the world go ’round. You exercise faith when you place the key in the ignition and start your car. You have faith when you flip a switch, expecting light to rush forth from a fixture, or music from stereo speakers. You have faith that your coat will keep you warm and dry; your plane will stay aloft; your surgeon will bring you through a heart bypass. The atheist has utter faith in his reason, that belief in God is beyond logic and therefore must be rejected. Such faith is nothing more than trust: a confidence that the object is reliable, the tool is trustworthy, its behavior predictable, its nature dependable. In the physical realm, such trust may be based in part on knowledge — one can study the flow of electrons and principles of resistance which make a light bulb glow — but such erudition is entirely optional, and rarely grasped by those who rely on its behavior. The object of faith may be entirely reliable yet utterly beyond our comprehension — or, as Leon Moisseiff discovered to his great dismay, deeply understood yet profoundly unreliable.
 
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Collision of Worlds

cosmosAs wrecks go, it was not all that spectacular: some broken glass on the roadway, a few police cars, their rooftop strobes painting the night walls of nearby buildings with surreal dancing figures of light, red and blue. The SUV sat on a flatbed, with little apparent damage; the less fortunate compact, compacted on the passenger side. No apparent injuries, no ambulance, no stretchers.

The intersection–a T-bone emptying a side street into an urban arterial, controlled by a stoplight–was one I traveled often, almost daily. It was the insider’s way home–the city street longcut which circumvents the crush of rush-hour traffic, bypassing the freeway which costs time even on the best of days. Stopped at the light, I rubbernecked the scene, half-distracted by the mindless verbal patter of talk radio or some burned .mp3 I had heard too many times before. The mind wanders in such places, darting from thought to image, with no strong focus or overarching life crisis to rivet its attention. So the thought was odd, atypical, crisp in its clarity:

Sometimes other accidents happen at accident scenes.

The light turned green–my usual clue to pin the pedal and shorten my day by milliseconds while squandering a few extra ounces of too-costly petrol. But I paused: atypical. Was it the thought? Some other distraction? The fatigue of a day too long, the distracted weariness of a profession which sometimes bleeds your lifeblood like red pools on pavement? Who knows–how do you ever know?

My foot off the brake, not yet on the pedal, my car eased lightly into the now-allowed right-of-way. Retinal rods sensed motion without detail on the right–a car stopping at its just-red signal–or so it seemed at first.

He blew through the intersection–40, 45 my best guess–passing within inches of my front bumper. Never slowed, never braked, never aware that my car even existed. No surge of red from the tail lights, as they quickly faded down the dark arterial, undiminished and unaware.

The obligatory expletives rolled off my tongue, with far less fury than fear–it’s incongruous the bodily functions we sometimes call “holy.” The adrenaline leaves you shaken, and shaking, as the reality of what if sinks in.

Sometimes other accidents happen at accident scenes.

What is the nature of such intuition–a random thought presaging some disaster, a warning arising from–where? The depths of subconscious? Some long-forgotten experience, or story overheard? Perhaps a higher function of the brain, poorly developed and unrecognized, or some cosmic power, called “E.S.P.” or “paranormal” or “premonition” by those nearer to being charlatans than sages.

It may of course be any of these things, or several, or none: a random thought on a random corner, on a random night, near a random driver motoring recklessly. My sense, however–my conviction, even–is that it was something rather more–a collision, if you will, of two universes.

Such thoughts seem out of place–quaint even–in a technologically sophisticated culture where all that is known is that which is measured, where wisdom is weighed and parsed and packaged, and knowledge grows vaster about things ever more trivial. This vastness of knowledge has left us smaller people, living in a tightly constricted world, where joy and wonder have become the fodder of fools, displaced by cold cynicism and soulless skepticism. Ours is the triumph of gnosticism, the age of salvation through knowledge, fact trumping truth and science slaying the spirit. For in our great knowledge we have lost sight of that which is far vaster still, a universe unseen yet still experienced by many, a cosmos which impacts our lives moment by moment in ways both tiny and tectonic.

Ever since man looked upward at an incomprehensible sky, he has perceived the need for transcendence, to provide not only knowledge of the wonders beheld, but their meaning–to integrate that which is far larger, far deeper than himself into some sort of meaningful whole. Thus the history of man is the history of religion–a history with endless variations simple or sophisticated, from cave glyphs to gothic cathedrals, all pointing to something beyond man himself, whose very nature demands an explanation his nature alone cannot provide.

The fusion of these two worlds–material and spiritual–has had profound effects on human history in ways both great and small: from the lofty musical masterpieces of Bach and Handel, to the soaring architecture of the great cathedrals, to the preservation of ancient literature and culture by the monasteries, to the very roots of Western civilization, with its elevation of the individual and ideas of freedom and human rights, derived from Judeo-Christian insights on the nature of man and his relationship to God. And beyond these large and tangible mileposts lie countless lives transformed through the touch of spirit on hardened hearts, rippling through ages and cultures in ways almost imperceptible yet profound.

Yet Western civilization, so richly endowed with the gifts and benefits of its infusion of spiritual life and principles, has in an ironic twist taken one of these very gifts–the value of reason and logic and curiosity about the workings of a divinely-ordered creation, which gave rise to science–and used it as a wedge between the material and the spiritual. Western culture has bankrupted the very treasure from which its greatness arose, leaving an increasingly fragile shell of process without principles, institutions without inspiration, governance without grace. Steeped in knowledge yet long in shortcomings, our culture increasingly dismisses the spiritual and transcendent as but mere ignorance or malign superstition, and thus strangles its own lifeblood in its frantic rush to solve problems of the soul with the prescriptions of science and sociology. Our sickness is deep, and pervasive, and ultimately deadly–and made even more dangerous by our peculiar denial that there exists any sickness at all. Such malady takes many forms: from evangelistic secularism, seeking to purge all thought or mention of religion from our collective consciousness; to the intellectual miasma of postmodernism, where the only absolute truth is the denial of absolute truth; to the grand charade, where lust for power or corrupt materialism masquerade in the mantle of religious devotion or a gospel of social justice–which is neither just nor good for society; to the spirituality of the self, which seeks to find God within having denied Him without, and ends up worshiping only ego, in all its hideous manifestations.

There are, it is said, many roads to God–a cozy notion for the intellectually lazy and spiritually slothful, a passing nod to a past glory still spoken of but no longer believed. It is a bromide fast dissolving in a world where religious zealots praise Allah while slaughtering women and children; where men sing of Jesus while drinking poison Kool-Aid; where televised con-men fleece the faithful while preaching love and generosity; where men of the cloth speak of killing the elderly and suctioning the young with soothing words of “mercy” and “freedom” and “choice.” We are tossed like ships in a storm because we have lost both rudder and mast: the principles which have steered us, and the power which gives us purpose and direction, have been swept away in the rolling swells of material prosperity and the saturating rains of empty information and worthless knowledge.

It is time to do the hard work, the painful and unsettling job of foregoing easy assumptions and comfortable conclusions, to shine the harsh light of honesty and self-examination on our sated and sleepy souls. The easy road only leads downward, and we have followed it far too long. If all roads lead to God, then no road gets you there: you will spend an eternity seeking that which you do not wish to find.

I am a Christian; this is the road I have discovered, which has led me to God, which has allowed me to glimpse that universe which I understand little and conform to less. I make no apologies for my convictions, for I have found, by grace, a solid path which, while mysterious and tortuous and unpredictable, has proven real, and trustworthy, and tangible ways which only the intangible can be. As G.K. Chesterton said of his own journey into faith, the case for Christianity is rational–but it is not simple; it is an accumulation of countless facts all pointing in one direction. In the coming months, I hope to share something of my own journey into and through this faith. I do so, of course, in the hope that you too may also discover–or rediscover–its depth, and power, and integrity. But short of even this, may we begin to examine truth, and restore the principles, which alone may shine light on our ever-darkening age.

The Choice of Fools

Reflection nebulaThis may come as a shock to many of you — I hope you are sitting down — but I am no longer young.

Yes, I’m afraid it’s true.

At 55, my health is good, I stay reasonably fit and exercise regularly, and am losing the pounds which seem to cling to my running boards like mud on an off-road Range Rover.

But my back aches in the morning, my knees hurt and crackle when I stand, my hair is silvering, sobering furrows frown back at me from the mirror, and activities once taken in stride now leave me discouragingly weary.

Something else — far deeper — happens as you age: your losses mount. The dreams of youth — once passionate and optimistic — begin peeling away like aging paint, checkered by the weathering of time and the harsh sunlight of life and its limitations.

Some visions die with brutal abruptness: a passion for music shattered in the fraction of a second it takes board to blow off table saw. Some die slowly, almost imperceptibly: the acquired skills of endless hours of software development, crying out to be leveraged into a career of mapping intractable real-life problems to the rigid logic of data flow and control statements, recedes as larger purpose and renewed passion in medicine and reflective writing trumps longstanding obsession.

But something else happens with age, if you are fortunate: you begin to get a measure of perspective, as your once-treasured bangles fall away, revealed for the insubstantial veneer they always were. Your vision gets longer — events painful and pleasurable take on new meaning, often quite different from impressions gleaned at their occurrence. And time: time becomes more precious, as the endless reserves of youth grow leaner, the storehouse of minutes once unlimited begins to deplete. If your life has purpose, each moment is a jewel to be treasured as precious, used to good purpose; if not, the minutes drip endlessly and pointlessly from a cracked cistern too soon to be empty.
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That Terrible Power

EagleThese have been difficult weeks.

The practice of medicine is one of the most gratifying careers possible, but it is relentless in its demands and unforgiving of imperfections — both those of the patient and the physician. Surgery in particular — while enormously satisfying in its technical and definitive nature for those physicians so inclined and gifted — is at the same time the most humbling of all disciplines. Despite all the training and experience, the knowledge and technical skill acquired through countless repetitions and refinement, things do not always go as planned.

John (not his real name, of course) was like so many others — in good health, early sixties, found to have a rising PSA blood test, which proved to be the harbinger of prostate cancer, fortunately still at an early stage. Presented with the options for treatment, he chose surgery: radical prostatectomy, the total removal of the prostate gland and biopsy of the pelvic lymph nodes — those filters which are the first resting place for cancer cells migrating outside the organ. It was an operation I had performed hundreds of times over nearly thirty years, and promised an excellent chance for cure, with an acceptably low risk of long-term adverse effects.

Surgery began uneventfully, with good exposure of the pelvic organs and lymph nodes, despite his portly habitus which can make such access challenging. The right pelvic lymph nodes were addressed first. Located in a triangular area demarcated by the external iliac vessels — the main artery and vein to the leg — the obdurator nerve (a large nerve deep in the pelvis) and the wall of the pelvic bone below, the lymph glands therein are gently teased and separated from these structures and sent for biopsy.

Surgeons get to know anatomy intimately, and depend on its predictability for safely performing their craft. In this area, the external iliac artery is reliably and predictably located lateral to the vein — farthest to the outside. At times, it can run a somewhat serpentine course, as cholesterol plaques narrow the channel and changes in flow and pressure lengthen and twist the artery. Such variations are also predictable: the artery courses in front of the vein if it moves toward the midline, or else moves away from it, farther toward the outside.

The bulk of the nodes were out in little time, titanium clips sealing the lymphatic channels and small blood vessels which feed them. The final packet was located near the point of the triangle, at the upper part of the pelvis below the vein. Several small vessels were clipped, and these nodes were removed easily as well.

I inspected the nodes, feeling them for firmness that might suggest cancer spread. One node looked peculiar. Hollow. Lymph nodes aren’t hollow.

Shit.

Inspection of the surgical field confirmed my worst fear: I had removed a short section of the external iliac artery, the main vessel to the leg. Located in a highly unusual location: underneath the vein, rather than above and lateral to it — an aberrant knuckle of vascular conduit enveloped in fat and lymph nodes — a section of artery had been cleanly removed with the nodes.

There was no bleeding, and the ends of the severed artery were easily identified and freed up. Fortunately, John did not have advanced vascular disease, and alternate paths for blood flow to the leg were open. A vascular surgeon was contacted, and arrived within 10 minutes. A short synthetic vascular graft was placed to bridge the gap, and full circulation was restored in less than an hour. There was no evidence of ischemia — a dangerous situation where insufficient blood flow and oxygen causes damage to tissue and the release of high levels of toxic lactic acid into the blood.

But the presence of a vascular graft, while salvaging a serious situation, meant something else: the main surgery, the prostate removal, would have to be canceled until the graft healed. To proceed as originally planned would risk contaminating the vascular repair, leading to graft infection — a disastrous complication. The incision was closed, and the patient arrived uneventfully in the recovery room. Two days later, he was home.

Imperfection in a field which demands perfection is perhaps the burden a surgeon experiences most deeply, with the most fear and respect. We hope, by endless years of study, preceptorship, practice, and experience, to master that which cannot be fully mastered, to control and manipulate our world to achieve that which is unachievable.

A surgeon who has never made a mistake is a surgeon who has never operated; the doctor who makes no errors must be one who sees no patients. The hard truth — hardest of any we healers, so often arrogant in our knowledge and skill, must swallow — is that we are not perfect — and neither are our patients.

Such untoward events may occur for many reasons, of course: a surgeon’s inexperience, recklessness, or fatigue, or his inattention to detail and proper technique. Aberrant anatomy, prior surgery, body habitus and underlying disease processes lay additional mines which trigger in unexpected ways and at unplanned times. But in many cases — perhaps even most — such ethical, physical or technical failings contribute little or nothing to a bad result or a poor outcome. Such a claim seems self-serving — and perhaps it is; hence I leave judgment of my own performance in this situation to those wiser and more objective than I — but it has been my experience that such is so with most good, talented surgeons with whom I have worked. The power to heal is the power to harm; the competence to cure the capacity to kill.

I have long marveled at an observation I rarely hear made: that a patient, a complete stranger, after one or two short visits, allows a surgeon to perform what is often a high-risk surgical procedure on their body, with something approaching blind trust. Granted, there is trust accrued in the degree, the board certification, the training, and hopefully the reputation of the surgeon you (or more likely, your family doctor) have chosen. But in reality, the information gap is real, and the leap of faith substantial. The “eyeball test” only goes so far: is the personable, knowledgeable professional you meet in the office a ham-handed clumsy oaf in the OR? Is the obnoxious, cold, arrogant technician a highly competent surgeon (a dichotomy often imagined as the norm), or instead a hot-headed impulsive boor whose ego trumps caution in surgery while denigrating all around him? Fortunately, neither scenario is typical — most surgeons are well-trained, professional, and highly competent — but how will you know?

But even among the highly competent, unexpected or adverse events in surgery are closer to the norm than the exception. Most are trivial and inconsequential — the small vessel cut and easily secured, the important suture which breaks and must be replaced, the surgical dissection which proves tedious and time-consuming rather than routine. Even more serious surgical problems may end up having no discernible impact on the outcome of the procedure, the recovery, or the end results. But serious complications are the bane and bale of every surgeon: our perfectionistic natures strain to demand that it not be so, but reality too often intervenes to correct our hubris and false hopes.

The dashed expectations and frustrated hopes of perfection fall hard on all whom surgery touches — the patient, the family, and the physician. For the patient, there is of course the harm done: the surgery aborted; the longer hospital stay; the pain of additional surgery or procedures made necessary; a temporary or even permanent disability; the disease not cured or ameliorated; even — God forbid — death itself. Both families and patients must bear these losses — and often suffer financial setbacks as well, both in medical costs, lost jobs, wages and benefits forfeited. And the question of, why has this happened? How could it occur? all too often go unanswered, or at best only partially so. Such confusion and frustrations often lead to anger — a potent cocktail whose dregs are often drained in the cold glare of courtroom lights.

For the physician, the demeanor perceived as indifferent or callous is rather the intellectualization and rational detachment which allows the surgeon to perform the vivisection which the untrained would find ghastly. But the cost of such steely objectivity comes in the relationships with those harmed, as empathy and compassion must be recruited from the dark closets to which they were banished long ago, orphans of the very training needed to excel in this field.

And beneath the professional veneer simmers also a cauldron of emotions. Smashing the idol of perfectionism comes hard — though a fragile idol it be — as false conviction that care and competence can avert all disasters is dispensed by the errant knife or misplaced scissors, by dense scarring or genetic quirk. The confidence which carries a surgeon effortlessly through daunting technical challenges melts away in moments, as simple tasks become feared challenges in the light of recent failure. The trust so critical to the patient-surgeon relationship is shaken and battered, and may not survive the event. And the fear: of unforeseen secondary complications arising in the future; of judgement and criticism by peers; of angry families and damaged reputation; of legal implications in an environment where lawsuits are the answer to every problem.

For some the worst wounds are self-inflicted, as shame, self-criticism and depression set in. Like the trapped wolf gnawing at his own leg, we wound ourselves further in vain hopes of escaping the pain and seeking freedom from its ensnarement — only to end up weakened, more vulnerable, and less able to stand. And we strike out at those closest to us, those who wish to help, deepening our isolation. The results can be deadly: scratch the surface of physician suicide — a problem more common than generally recognized — and you will often find the self-destruction engendered when perfectionism collides with poor outcomes.

To greater or lesser degree, many of these reactions were mine in the aftermath of this complication. And there was one other: I was angry — angry with God.

You see, I pray before surgery — and I prayed before this one, for guidance, wisdom, and good judgment, as I often do. If you are of a skeptical bent, and disinclined to give weight to such superstition, at least humor me by accepting that such an act might focus the mind and center the soul. But only a fool would deny that there is much beyond our control — and few things teach this lesson more clearly than surgery. It was not always thus: I have lived a life where skills and talent were all that was needed to succeed — a formula which led me inexorably on a downward spiral of failure. So I pray.

But to pray is to expect answers — and with that lies the unspoken assumption that all will turn out as I would wish. And so, it is God’s fault — is it not? — if the outcome is not what I would desire. Did I not have my patient’s best interest at heart in this request? Would not a good God answer this prayer to the benefit of both me and those He entrusted to my care? And so it appears, ipso facto, that God screwed up — and I get to take the heat. Bum rap, it seems to me.

But maybe — just maybe — there is a bigger picture in all this. Maybe I get to learn how little really is under my control. Maybe I learn to depend more on Him than on myself. Maybe — and this is a tough one — my shortcomings, my imperfections, which can cause harm as easily as my skills beget good — can work beneficially in some unfathomable way, even for those who must bear the suffering of these very imperfections. Some of the worst, most painful episodes in my own life have proven in the long run to be blessings unimaginable at the time — perhaps it can also be thus for others, even when I am the instrument of such adversity. A frightening thought, this — a terrible power.

And what of John? His recovery has been smooth, his lymph nodes show no cancer. I have apologized to him and his wife for this adversity, though no harm was intended nor evident neglect present to my knowledge. I have offered to assist with any financial burden thus accrued. And they have decided to trust me to perform the second surgery — which is humbling and sobering in ways difficult to express.

May God be with me then — and always.

God of Loss and Grace

The Anchoress tells of receiving heartbreaking news: the prospect of losing her hearing:

Yesterday morning, though, came a straw I have dreaded my whole life, and I finally drew it: the “you are losing your hearing” straw…

The loss was discovered, of course, due to that dismal ear infection of the past two weeks, but the hearing in that afflicted ear is only slightly worse than the other. Upon reading my test results the doctor asked if I had worked around airplanes for the past 20 years, or if I had fronted a rock band. “Severe degeneration! hearing aids!”

The pain of such a loss is real, and it is deep — it can neither be trivialized nor ignored. Some will deaden the pain by drink, others by denial or depression, or one of a host of other means whereby we mitigate the pain while refusing to embrace it.

We live with sense of entitlement: we should be free of pain and suffering. For most, such dire news — particularly about health and well-being — is a devastating blow, devoid of meaning and justice, a cruel trick of fate, perhaps, or some sort of karmic retribution for evil done in this life or one prior. It is at best random misfortune, at worst a cruel robbery, a brutal injustice. There is no making sense of it — it is without reason or purpose.

Yet for the Christian, things are supposed to be different. We serve — as an article of faith — a God of love, and when one has committed their life to such service, the reward of such a severe trial raises a host of uncomfortable questions: Is God unfair? Is this punishment for sin? Is He capricious, toying with me, playing me for the fool, demanding my obedience then rewarding me with pain and loss?

The Anchoress responds as many would — with rage:

“I drove home pounding the steering wheel and telling God I thought He was pretty damned unfair, after all. I demanded that He listen to me and make me a sensible answer about why things were going as they were, why at only 46 years of age I was increasingly debilitated, increasingly arthritic, increasingly feeling like a 65 year old.

It’s not enough that I must sometimes use a cane, or that I wear glasses, not enough that I am constantly bruised, often fatigued into stupidity and inarticulate, stammering aphasia, not enough that my body is scarred all over and that my skin is under seige simply because I am Irish! now I am going to need hearing aids? Now I am going to be deaf? What has my husband ever done to you, that you need to inflict this sort of wife upon him?

Oh, I howled. I ranted.

And it was so out of character for me to do so – this has not been my way, to shake an angry fist at God and make demands. I didn’t like doing it – it felt so wrong. So wrong, not to simply be thankful for my blessings – for all the good things, and all the “not too bad” things.

But I was so angry.

Anger at God — a frightening, even terrifying thought. At worst it presents images of lightning strikes, fire and brimstone, judgment, destruction. Better to pretend you’re not angry, hide it from God lest He send another, more awful plague in retribution.
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Faith & Reason

RoseRon Suskind’s article in the NY Times Magazine, Without a Doubt, addressing the issue of the faith of George W. Bush, begins as follows:

Bruce Bartlett, a domestic policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and a treasury official for the first President Bush, told me recently that if Bush wins, there will be a civil war in the Republican Party starting on Nov. 3. The nature of that conflict, as Bartlett sees it? Essentially, the same as the one raging across much of the world: a battle between modernists and fundamentalists, pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.

Just in the past few months, Bartlett said, I think a light has gone off for people who’ve spent time up close to Bush: that this instinct he’s always talking about is this sort of weird, Messianic idea of what he thinks God has told him to do. Bartlett, a 53-year-old columnist and self-described libertarian Republican who has lately been a champion for traditional Republicans concerned about Bush’s governance, went on to say: This is why George W. Bush is so clear-eyed about Al Qaeda and the Islamic fundamentalist enemy. He believes you have to kill them all. They can’t be persuaded, that they’re extremists, driven by a dark vision. He understands them, because he’s just like them . . .

This is why he dispenses with people who confront him with inconvenient facts, Bartlett went on to say. He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence. Bartlett paused, then said, But you can’t run the world on faith.

There is much to address and analyze in this lengthy article, and no doubt others better versed on the credibility of its sources, the speciousness of its evidence, and its use of unconfirmed hearsay and biased sources will rise to the debate. But I was particularly struck by one line which I believe embodies the heart of the article’s core thesis:

He truly believes he’s on a mission from God. Absolute faith like that overwhelms a need for analysis. The whole thing about faith is to believe things for which there is no empirical evidence.

There is a name for someone who believes things for which there is no evidence: a fool.

Listening to the secular fundamentalists at the NY Times expound on the mind and heart of a man of the Christian faith is akin to a man blind from birth describing a rose: you are far more likely to hear about the thorns than the subtle colors and beauty of its petals.
 
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