In brief, the Outsider Test of Faith, or OTF, is (in Loftus's words) “a challenge to believers to test or examine their own religious faith as if they were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism they use to test or examine other religious faiths.” I have addressed Loftus's OTF only once before on this blog, and then only in passing in a blog post about authorial voice. My interest in the OTF has been minimal largely because it seems to have no real bearing on the kind of religion I want to defend; instead, it poses a threat only to more fundamentalist and exclusivist expressions of religious belief--which I wish to criticize right along with Loftus. Here, in full, is what I've had to say about the OTF on this blog up to this moment:
This principle seems sound enough within its sphere of application, but it is clearly framed in response to an exclusivist brand of religious epistemology radically at odds with the pragmatic and neo-Hegelian approach that I find compelling—an approach which leads me to articulate an inclusivist respect for alternative religious traditions conditioned by what I call (in my book) “the logic of faith”—a logic which imposes standards on when it is morally and intellectually appropriate to live as if a hoped-for possibility is true. These standards are ones I apply to my own religious life as well as to the religious lives of others. It is according to these standards that I extend conditional respect to a diversity of religious traditions—the condition being that they fall within the parameters of the logic of faith. And it is according to these standards that I trenchantly oppose more fundamentalistic expressions of Christianity.After reading Talbott's philosophical critique of Loftus's OTF, I now feel as if I may have been far too generous in my assessment. That point aside, one of the things I really liked about Talbott's essay was his emphasis, when it comes to evaluating religious faiths, on juxtaposing any sort of "outsider" test with a corresponding "insider" test. As Talbott puts it in the essay,
In other words, Loftus is not talking to people like me—whom he tends to dismiss rather precipitously on his blog as engaged in little more than intellectual gerrymandering to avoid atheist arguments. As far as I can tell, he never takes seriously the possibility that our perspective was arrived at through critical reflection in the light of a range of experiences, ideas, and arguments, including those pointed out by atheists like Loftus.
With respect to many of the world’s great religions, particularly the eastern religions, I no doubt remain an outsider in this sense: I have a far greater familiarity with, and intimate knowledge of, the Christian religion than I have in the case of these other religions. But for that very reason, I should be less (rather than more) prepared simply to dismiss that which I do not yet fully understand. And for a similar reason, a true outsider, whether a fundamentalist Christian or a crusading atheist, is the last person I would trust to evaluate a non-Christian religion accurately, whether it be Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, or Taoism. Such an outsider is also the last person I would trust to evaluate my own understanding of the Christian religion.
Here, Talbott is expressing one of the chief methodological points that I first had driven home for me by reading Hegel: We are well-positioned to be effectively critical of a worldview or philosophy only to the extent that we can "step into it" and see how the world looks from the inside. Criticism of belief systems falls flat when one tries to perform such criticism from the outside.
According to Hegel, one cannot engage in criticism from a vacuum. One needs a framework within which to conduct criticism--an outlook or philosophy which provides standards of criticism. And when outsiders to a particular philosophy or outlook criticize that philosophy or outlook as outsiders, what they are doing (often without realizing it) is bringing the presuppositions of their own philosophy or outlook with them. These presuppositions thus end up not being critiqued, and you have an essentially unproductive exercise: "Given all the presuppositions of theoretical framework A (which are being embraced uncritically), theoretical framework B is to be rejected insofar as it holds x, y, and z (where x, y, and z refer to views in B that are at odds with the presuppositions of A)."
Hegel thought there was only one way to avoid such dogmatic criticism. You had to engage in criticism from within. And you are most qualified to engage in such internal criticism when the belief system in question is (you guessed it) your own. You subject your own worldview, your own philosophy, to critical assessment by assessing its internal consistency, by testing its capacity to make sense of your lived experience--in short, by attempting to live it out critically to see how well it works according to its own standards. When one does this, one's worldview does not remain static but becomes dynamic, constantly evolving in the light of lived experience and critical, internal reflection. This, for Hegel, is the only way to avoid dogmatism: focus most of your critical attention on your own belief system, rather than spending your energy criticizing everyone else's.
To paraphrase one of Hegel's intellectual predecessors: "Stop trying to remove that splinter from your neighbor's eye. First, remove the mote from your own."