Virtually There

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Belief and Unbelief

Ruth Tucker, in her book, “Walking Away from Faith: Unraveling The Mystery Of Belief & Unbelief” speaks about Marcus Borg, Martin Gardner’s fictional “Peter Fromm,” and Paul Tillich. Marcus Borg leaves faith but returns. Peter Fromm, leaves orthodox belief, but hangs on to some semblance of divinity and faith at least for comfort. Tillich leaves orthodoxy, however, reinventing God in the process. All authors seek to hold on to faith in God in the midst of doubt and unbelief. Though concerning these gentlemen a little further on, Tucker says that the only alternative to a shaky faith is to abandon it altogether in which she admits that she has respect for those who have HONESTLY CONFRONTED some of the complexities (and mystery) of their faith and yet have walk away from it.

Most Christians who don’t think seriously about their faith, would view such unbelief as a serious sin. Yet they seem to have a “simple faith” which doesn’t take into account the mystery and paradoxes OF the faith they possess. Admittedly, thinking about God can lead to a “crisis of faith” of which Tucker takes serious note of.

However, I have wondered why some genuinely believe and some don’t. Why some believe for a while and then turn their backs on God forsaking Him like some of the believers in the testimony of scripture have done. Have you ever stopped and wondered why, in spite of all the evidence, some continue in unbelief? Is there something wrong with the evidence? Is it not all its cracked up to be? Certainly, Christians have put too much faith in the evidence as if there was some final refutation to the objections that come their way (as if for example, no one will ever invent a version of a theistic argument in which an atheistic objection does not apply). But the problem, when all is said and done, seems to me to be a problem of the heart.

Calvin wrote that we all have a sense of the divine and that we don’t need or require evidence for such belief to be rational. In other words, it is “perfectly rational” to believe in God and not have evidence for that belief. However, it is not this side (evidential side) of the equation that I want to concentrate on, but rather on the psychology of belief side.

Some scholars say that you can’t believe anything on the basis of insufficient evidence. They say that it is ALWAYS wrong to believe in something when you don’t have enough evidence to support your claims. One of the problems with this is obvious. Such a statement can’t live up to its own demand. The fact of the matter, is that we are finite beings and we cannot meet such requirements and beliefs change as “new evidence” comes to light (which goes to show that we are finite beings because our intelligence is limited).

But there is much that we believe simply because someone told us. As a matter of fact, MOST of the beliefs we hold are the result of simply believing something that we have been told. Not to mention, who has the time to sift through ALL the evidence anyway? So, because we cannot meet such a requirement, we are not OBLIGATED to do so. In the end, we have beliefs (that we cannot prove) in which we rely on our cognitive faculties for their productivity (i.e. memory to produce memory belief) and we can’t help BUT trust those faculties for such beliefs. This is true for both the believer as well as for the non-believer.

For an example, let’s say I have a certain belief, “A.” Now, I must provide evidence for such a belief. But then, I must provide evidence for THAT evidence and so on and so on and so on. What it comes down to is that belief must start from somewhere which means that some beliefs that we obtain are ones we have simply accepted and then reasoned from. This seems to me, to be the way we were designed. That we rely on those faculties DESIGNED BY God to produce such beliefs in the right circumstances (say on a retreat, in a Church meeting or lying in your back yard looking up at the starry night sky).

It is not only that we don’t have the time to sift through the evidence (of which most people in the world don’t have that sort of information available to them anyway) but that we have some sense of the divine, some sort of awareness of divinity. And if that is how we were designed, then maybe putting ourselves “in positions of” evoking that sense of the divine is how we should be gearing our apologetics.

For example, whenever I’m at a funeral thoughts of the transience of life and seeing myself for what I really am, a mere mortal, become more acute. When I see evil and the resulting death in the world, I’m especially attuned to my creatureliness. When I look into the sky and see the vastness of space, I realize how small I am and I say to myself, “There must be a God.”

I agree with Ruth Tucker, that science, biblical and theological complexities can get in the way of my “seeing God.” But it seems that the problem is that in those “smoke-screen” situations one is only seeking God with a proud head and end up missing Him for lack of a humble heart.


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