November 14, 2010

The word "confirmation" is used by some in a spiritual sense, something akin to signs and portents: an experience that validates, proves, or explains a previous feeling, decision, or action i.e. "... ask for you all divine guidance and confirmation in the very important work you are directing" [1]. It is natural to ask, "what is the agent of this confirmation?" To the traditionally theistic, that answer is obvious: God. To the athiest, the answer is probably something along the lines of "Whoso seeketh out a thing with zeal shall find it." [2] (self-fulfilling). Truthfully, my attitude towards the concept has traditionally been dismissive.

It was while studying Raising up Animators of Junior Youth Groups last year that I started fully thinking about my attitude toward this concept. In several ways, the junior youth group program encourages its participants to think about, and act on, this notion. In particular, I recall lessons that encouraged these young people to look for confirmation of their paths in life: in some instances, the sign of confirmation is something abstract (a bird started singing beautifully while I was thinking about ....), and in others more concrete (I've long thought about being a nurse; recently I helped take care of my ill grandmother, and while I was sad about her condition, it gave me a wonderful feeling to be able to provide that service to her). (not exact examples from the book).

This sense of confirmation is also used by activist groups, on the left and the right, when moralizing about a particular position. Left: overcrowded chickens lead to salmonella in eggs! That's your punishment for keeping chickens in-humanely cooped up! Right: gay sex accounts for 64% of new HIV cases in the U.S. We told you that homosexuality is wrong and God would take revenge! Frankly, social-moralizing confirmations better have strong scientific cause-and-effect, must be clearly linked to a real social ill, and should seek constructive solutions that unite rather than divide, if they are to sway me. In that case, we call it public policy rather than moralizing, and we're speaking on a material level rather than spiritual.

Is my dismissive attitude justified? Religiously speaking, the concept is so intrinsic that it is difficult to find explicit law or principle in its belief. That is, I have not found anything that says "as a Baha'i, you should believe in 'confirmations from God'". But to dismiss the idea outright, without at least some sort of accomodation, seems like an implicit dismissal of any concept of the supernatural, and therefore of religion as somethign more than a social movement. Given that I have found a way to accomodate the supernatural in my scientific worldview – as the patterns and organization emergent from the complexity of the universe(s), civilization, etc. – perhaps there is room for confirmations as well, probably as something in between "hitherto-unknown-force impinging itself on my life" and "self-fulfilling prophecy / wish-fulfilment".

Personal examples of possible confirmations of this view of "confirmations" to follow in a future post.