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Faith or skepticism: black snow and the evidence of things not seen

January 25, 2007


Larry looked up, waiting for C. J. to complete her sentence. She smiled with her tired — perhaps even jaded — eyes, ever so slightly, and completed the quote from St. Paul. She explained that she maintained her calm in the Press Room while being shot at because of her faith in “[t]he substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” She wasn’t referring to faith in God but to this team of highly trained West Wing staff from President Bartlett, Toby and Will, to the Secret Service. This mise en scene against a backdrop of an insider’s poker game, is one of the many ways in which the popular TV drama portrayed the idealistic, behind-the-scenes, everyday life of the American presidency in the West Wing of the White House. Now that the entire series (2000-2005?) is available on DVD through video store outlets, public libraries, etc., the audience has probably expanded beyond the “loyal audience that desperately want[ed] to believe in the nobility of the American dream (Amazon).”Jack Beatty in his article (2004) published in The Atlantic online suggested that the West Wing under the presidency of George W. Bush should have St. Paul’s definition of faith as its motto, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” Beatty argued that while we might question “Bush’s veracity, his grip on reality, and the rationality of his policies,” we cannot question his faith.

By the end of the 20th century, the word faith had become politically charged. Faith and skepticism held in tension by everyday life events are part of the same lifelong dialogue. They are not on opposing teams. The terms faith and ideology have been used as if they meant the same thing in reference to various kinds of truth claims, religious (atheism, theism, deism, shamanism, etc.), politics (democracy, communism, socialism, monarchy), science (quantitative, that is statistical or qualitative methods that is qualia) or art forms (Greek helenistic, French Neo-Classical, German Romanticism, Inuit, Italian Baroque). I am not convinced that belief has the same negative correlation as ideology. The first may be blinded by passion, the second by politics. The first is associated with ignorance and niaivity, the second with jaded realism. The skepticism is a form of reflexivity in which a researcher remains open to the possibility that his/her own axiology, methodology, ontology may indeed be only partial. The need to be able to predict future events based on certain knowledge claims, that are always partial, is obvious. Belief in your own team (discipline, department, office) helps maintain an energy flow to get things done within a time/space continuum where there is a political need for expediency. However, knowledge claims for the future are more productive when faith is that which keeps a researcher engaged in her efforts to better understand regardless of political expediency.

The same quote from St. Paul over a century ago, was used by a Reverend MacDonald (1882). “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” Reverend MacDonald cautioned those in his congregation who judged atheists and agnostics harshly. He instead acknowledged the anguish of those who had lost their faith when they saw only the of the late 19th century and deduced that there was no hope, no light. They lost faith because the evidence around them led to despair or even worse apathy. At the same time Reverend MacDonald expressed his gratitude for the more recent translation of the Bible which clarified for him the difference between the spirit and the letter of statements such as, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”Perhaps then for the 21st century we need to look at psychology, cultural studies, political philosophy and why not religion as part of a similar conversation.

Bertrand Russell, British analytic philosopher, logician and mathematician (1872-1970) once argued that mankind “is a curious accident in a backwater (1961).” He contributed to the dethroning of man, or the marginalization of man in the materialist point of view (Russell 1961 cited by Barr 2003:68). But Russell changed his opinion as he advanced in years. He went from embracing atheism to embracing Faith in the possibility of the existence of God.

“I think, the subject which will be of most importance politically is mass psychology….Its importance has been enormously increased by the growth of modern methods of propaganda. Of these the most influential is what is called ‘education.’ Religion plays a part, though a diminishing one; the press, the cinema, and the radio play an increasing part…. It may be hoped that in time anybody will be able to persuade anybody of anything if he can catch the patient young and is provided by the State with money and equipment. The subject will make great strides when it is taken up by scientists under a scientific dictatorship…. The social psychologists of the future will have a number of classes of school children on whom they will try different methods of producing an unshakable conviction that snow is black. Various results will soon be arrived at. First, that the influence of home is obstructive. Second, that not much can be done unless indoctrination begins before the age of ten. Third, that verses set to music and repeatedly intoned are very effective. Fourth, that the opinion that snow is white must be held to show a morbid taste for eccentricity. But I anticipate. It is for future scientists to make these maxims precise and discover exactly how much it costs per head to make children believe that snow is black, and how much less it would cost to make them believe it is dark gray. Although this science will be diligently studied, it will be rigidly confined to the governing class. The populace will not be allowed to know how its convictions were generated. When the technique has been perfected, every government that has been in charge of education for a generation will be able to control its subjects securely without the need of armies or policemen.

—Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society (1951)

Footnotes

Rollins and O’Connor’s publication (2003) entitled West Wing: The American Presidency As Television Drama (The Television Series) critically analyzed the series. See also (Things Unseen).

Flynn-Burhoe, Maureen. 2007. “Evidence of Things Not Seen: Media and Black and White Snow”

Selected Webliograhy and Bibliography

Misiano, Christopher. 2003. “Evidence of Things Not Seen.” West Wing. April 23. No. 420.

Beatty, Jack. 2004. “The Faith-Based Presidency.Atlantic Unbound. March 25.

Hebrews 11:1

MacDonald, George. 1882. “Faith, the Proof of the Unseen.” Sermon. Brixton Congregational Church. June.

Rollins, Peter C., O’Connor, John E. Eds. 2003. The
West Wing: The American Presidency As Television Drama (The Television Series). Syracuse University Press. ISBN-10: 081563031X, ISBN-13: 978-0815630319. 272 pp.
“Informed by historical scholarship and media analysis, this book takes a critical look at this award-winning show from a wide range of perspectives. Eminent scholars Peter C. Rollins and John O’Connor make an important contribution to the field with an eclectic mix of essays, which translate visual language into on-screen politics. While the series may be criticized as “idealistic,” its clever techniques of camera work, lighting, editing, and mise en scene reflect America’s best image of itself, and entertains a loyal audience that desperately wants to believe in the nobility of the American dream. This collection introduces readers to the sensibilities to appreciate the show’s nuances and the necessary knowledge to avoid any misreadings. It will be of interest to students of politics, popular culture, fans and critics alike.”Amazon book reviews.
Russell, Bertrand. 1961. Religion and Science. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
 

One Response to “Faith or skepticism: black snow and the evidence of things not seen”


  1. Have you even thought about putting increasing amounts of pic to a weblog blogposts to help maintain the viewers even more entertained? As i mean I just view by the whole blog created by yours and that was fairly nice but yet considering Im just a picture learner


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