When Justification Goes Biblical: Understanding Tea Party Epistomology

The notion that "knowledge" is a "justified, true belief" goes back to ancient philosophy. In the modern world, however, it is common to understand this concept in a purely post-Enlightenment fashion. "Justified" means, approximately, "based on inductive reasoning: the logical processing of empirical observations in light of each other and previously established knowledge."

But if you read the Bible with the above understanding of "justification", you will be quite confused. The words "justify" and "justification" are used many, many times in a thoroughly anti-modern way. You can hear this pre-Enlightenment Biblical meaning in the phrase: "justify your existence." It does not mean, "give empirical evidence that tends to show that you, in fact, exist." According to the New Testament, man is "justified" by faith alone. Therefore, when one is prompted to "justify your existence," the proper response is, "I believe Jesus is my Lord and Savior."

There's tons here to explore, but in the context the day's news, we need to focus on the interrelationship of these premises:

  1. Knowledge is a justified, true belief. 
  2. Man is justified by faith alone. 

Within the overall epistemology of the average rural American, the conclusion that follows from 1 & 2 comes in two versions: weak and strong.

Weak conclusionThere are different sources of knowledge that are equally valid. Empirical observation can lead to knowledge. Faith can lead to knowledge. If two mutually incompatible "facts" are both justified, one by observation and one by faith, it is a matter of personal preference whether to believe one or the other.
Strong conclusionEmpirical observation can inform choices like: which drug to take or what month to plant the wheat. But Jesus is the only way to heaven. The only things we know for sure are those justified by faith. 

About 20% of the country as a whole believes in some combination of the weak and strong versions of justification through faith. But this number is more like 80% of GOP primary voters in the 30 Teabaggiest congressional districts.

The implication for the rest of the United States? Mass suffering, thanks to the way that Anti-Enlightenment Tea Baggers answer the following questions:

  1. Do you know what the consequences of breaching the debt ceiling are? Yes. I have faith it will be no big deal compared to the consequences of our skyrocketing deficit.
  2. Do you know whether the deficit is growing or shrinking?  Yes, the deficit is trillions of dollars and it is growing like Kudzu. Real Americans know that if you let Kudzu grow unchecked forever it will strangle you.
  3. Do you know how Obamacare affects the country's finances?  Yes. Everyone knows it is a giant program that we can't afford. We must stop it from rolling out because if we don't, it will bankrupt the country.[1]

Thus, all the various cries of frustration that begin: "Don't they see that..." miss the point. Yes, for 80% of the country, "seeing" is a way to gather evidence that may overturn some of our beliefs. But for the Teabaggers on the question of Obamacare, the evidence isn't something one "sees", instead, the truth has been "revealed" to people of faith. As Ryan Lizza says, concluding his piece on the demographics of the "suicide caucus""Nowadays, a Sunday-school teacher can defeat the will of the Speaker of the House."

The difficulty of changing someone's mind about a revealed truth has been captured nicely by a word whose pre-Enlightenment meaning continues to provide excellent service to modern speakers: "martyr."

Christian martyrs were literally excoriated: their skin was removed from their flesh. In the present day, Teabagger martyrs are being "excoriated" by the GOP leadership and the more perceptive elements of the media.[2] Whether the establishment is Emperor Diocletian or John McCain, the condemnation from the powers-that-be is itself further evidence that the martyr is right. But, whereas the early Roman Christian martyrs endured a non-metaphorical torturous death, the modern "excoriation" of Teabagger martyrs is not physically painful, at least not for the excoriated.

Instead, the actual physical pain is inflicted on the rest of us. 

America 2013 is like a Bizzarro-World Rome: When the Christians/Teabaggers refuse to renounce their convictions, we punish them by burning everybody else--everybody except the martyr--at the stake.

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1. Every single part of everyone of these answers is false (with the possible exception of the facts about Kudzu: that might be an accurate description of its growth). 

2. Meanwhile, the truly clueless elements of the press describe a standoff between John Boehner and President Obama.   This is obviously impossible because we know that they agree, pretty much to the letter, on the appropriations bill that should pass.