Mental gymnastics and having faith
I’ve noticed two things that people tend to say when they want to critique someone’s position in a theological/narrative framework discussion. These have subtly different implications, but so I want to address each.
The first thing I hear people say is that x view requires so much more faith than y view.
The second thing I hear people say is that x position requires mental gymnastics.
The interesting thing about the first is that it usually comes from people who nominally take faith as a virtue (e.g., theists). However, when they lob this claim at atheists (“It takes so much more faith to be an atheist.”) this seems to betray that they don’t actually think highly of faith at all. (chanson has written concisely about this phenomenon at Letters from a broad.)
So, it seems like this position is basically saying, “A minimum of faith is desirable, but at some point, too much is too much.”
However, the second thing that people say is still pretty interesting.
For the most part, no one self-proclaims that their position requires mental gymnastics (although I do think that many people might instead prize “nuance,” “complexity,” or “paradox”. See: liberal Mormonism.) The idea seems to be that one’s position should be easy and comfortable — and if yours is not, if yours is wracked with twists and flex (or is even merely perceived to be as such), then your position is suspect.
Of course, the kicker to me is that since no one tends to self-proclaim that their own position requires mental gymnastics (notwithstanding those who value nuance…), this all amounts to a disagreement between interpretations by the holder of a position and by an observer of that view. The observer projects his own difficulty tracking with the worldview as saying it must be the holder’s mental gymnastics. But the holder doesn’t see it as gymnastics — the holder holds her views precisely because she thinks that they are the most obvious, most sensible, most processable.
But let’s get back to comparing the two statements. The statement about excess faith is different from the statement about mental gymnastics because at least some people think that faith is a good idea…at least some of the time. However, no one wants to own “mental gymnastics” — only at best nuance, complexity, paradox.
Of course, some folks would raise that maybe faith isn’t a virtue at all.
I think that has been hashed out by plenty of other folks, so instead I’ll ask the other question: what if “mental gymnastics” is a virtue?
Maybe I’m just getting too Lakoffian here, but it seems the conceptual metaphor of discourse as exercise is a lot more positive than the general conceptual metaphor of argument as struggle. I mean, inspite of the kinesiological research points on what kind of stretching is best, whether warm ups are good or dangerous, etc., gymnastics is pretty healthy.
I now realize that at least SOMEONE who reads this post will take it as carte blanche to claim that my views require mental gymnastics and thus may be dismissed.