Thursday, December 20, 2007

Choosing to Believe, can we even do such a thing?

I was reading an older post on metalutheran, and I thought it has something to say about people who say they believe something based on the authority of the person saying it, ala Cardinal Newman. To refresh, Cardinal Newman basically said that if we believe something because we weigh the evidence, we do not have faith. We only have faith when we believe based on the authority of the one teaching, otherwise we are engaging in private judgment.

Oftentimes, I will hear a RC or EO claim they believe something based on the authority of the Church, which sounds like they choose to believe based on authority. But can anyone really "choose to believe", or is belief something which happens outside of what we want? In other words, does the EO or RC, or anyone else, including Cardinal Newman, Lutherans, lawyers etc. really believe something based on an authority, or do they just behave like they do until later? This is important, because Lutherans believe faith, which is belief in the Gospel, trust in Christ etc., is a gift of God, we don't choose, we can't choose. When we are born, we cannot believe, like I cannot choose to believe something which seems not to be true to me--even if I act like I do believe. Belief is out of our hands, no matter what we may like.

So, this raises the issue of whether believing based on the authority of the Church, rather than just believing, is really belief. It also implicitly, if not explicitly, makes "belief" into a work we accomplish. All good Lutherans will no doubt sneeze now.

Now, perhaps one can say that behaving as if one believes trains the flesh in the faith, and then belief will follow. But that still means that at some point, it is likely one is only acting out the faith, rather than actually believing it. And if we only act and don't believe, don't we give only lip service? But if we believe, really believe by an act of the Holy Spirit, won't we give godly service?

Just wondering.

8 comments:

Nathan said...

Ed,

Hmmm. Well, I think you are brilliant.

One things for sure, it seems very clear that some people most definitely do not choose to believe.

C.S. Lewis comes to mind. Marvin Olasky, the editor of World magazine is another.

I think for many, this is not so much about the will, but is a "natural" process. I don't deny that at one point someone actually does start to believe, but yes, I think this is in large part out of our hands.

Especially for the little children, who are "willing to be nothing but given to" - in this case, it seems their belief hinges more on the choices of their parents, operating in faith, then it does any of their own choices.

By the way, I have written a short "book" , born of my conversations with many folks, primarily Pontificator. Let me know if you are intereted, and I'll email it to you.

Nathan said...

"In other words, does the EO or RC, or anyone else, including Cardinal Newman, Lutherans, lawyers etc. really believe something based on an authority, or do they just behave like they do until later?"

I've thought about this a lot lately.

First, there is something about trust based on authority. It is how we all start out. For me, I think my mom and dad's love and guidance (instruction / cathechesis) made it possible to see God's love - summed up in Christ - and not just an impersonal, ordered, force. For I know - I am confident and convinced that - my mom and dad love me. This is valid knowledge – and a controlling assumption in my life. It would not be suitable / appropriate / possible to do “rigorous analysis” – so can’t “prove” it to anyone. For my own purposes, I don’t need to verify it with two witnesses (If I thought I needed to for no reason other than to question the assumption for philosophical purposes, would that be appropriate / wise?) I won’t even begin to question this assumption unless one can persuade me to do so (question) with evidence - and even then, I am confident that they would come out unscathed.

I have been nurtured in this faith. Still, I have also mercilessly questioned my faith against the seemingly powerful counter-evidence that people have tested me with in this skeptical age. So far, I still believe.

Now, to put an existentialist / historical view on this: it seems to me that during the Reformation, Luther and many others were starting to question whether or not their mother - the institution of the RCC - really was a true mother. Love, I believe, is to always will the good of the other, and we know that this ultimately means that one desires to see another transformed by God's love and to spend eternity in some kind of relationship with one another though Christ. It seems to me that there was great doubt over whether this concern was present in the leadership of the Church during the Reformation, as the Church seemed more interested in people's money, for instance, than in introducing them to the only One who saves us. Here is evidence #1 that mom does not really love me, and hence, is not really Christ's wife, but a prostitue. Evindence #2?: The fact that the Popes, councils and fathers did not seem to speak clearly on this obviously did not help the situation...

Evidence is very important in all this (later in life, evidence plays a bigger role), even as simply trusting authority (not choosing to trust) is as well.

Edward Reiss said...

Hi Nathan,

"I think for many, this is not so much about the will, but is a "natural" process. I don't deny that at one point someone actually does start to believe, but yes, I think this is in large part out of our hands."

I tend to agree, it is a "natural" process, but I don't think "natural" captures what is going on. Bit if iy is out of our hands, and I think it is, then we need to be skeptical when someone claims they believe based on an authority.

Oh, you can send me your book. I would be interested.

Edward Reiss said...

Nathan,

"Now, to put an existentialist / historical view on this: it seems to me that during the Reformation, Luther and many others were starting to question whether or not their mother - the institution of the RCC - really was a true mother. Love, I believe, is to always will the good of the other, and we know that this ultimately means that one desires to see another transformed by God's love and to spend eternity in some kind of relationship with one another though Christ. It seems to me that there was great doubt over whether this concern was present in the leadership of the Church during the Reformation, as the Church seemed more interested in people's money, for instance, than in introducing them to the only One who saves us. Here is evidence #1 that mom does not really love me, and hence, is not really Christ's wife, but a prostitue. Evindence #2?: The fact that the Popes, councils and fathers did not seem to speak clearly on this obviously did not help the situation..."

This is a very interesting insight, especially in light of a paper I read recently. You can find it at http://www.timenloe.net/archives/lutherandcouncils.pdf It was a good read, and provided quite a bot of context to what was going on around the time of the Reformation.

Rusty T said...

Luther was a confusing fellow. I'm reading more about him, and his ideas, especially expressed in his commentary on Romans seem especially perplexing. For example, he speaks of justification following works which dispose us to the grace of justification. Does the Lutheran truly believe that "righteousness largely consists in the will to be righteous"? That man is to prepare himself for the grace of justification? Or did his teachings change? As I said, I'm only beginning to learn about the man, and already I'm seeing problems with his theology.

And where is the freedom to disbelieve in your doctrine? If we have no say in our own beliefs, and it is the movement of God alone (and where is Grace in your treatment - surely it isn't absent in the Catholic understanding), then why the multiplicity of beliefs?

I find it ironic that Luther so often tried to pin his doctrine on the backs of Augustine, but it is Augustine whom Newman quotes liberally in his section on believing by Authority.

Edward Reiss said...

Rusty,

Welcome!

Could you be specific on what Luther says in his commentary on Romans? Ans I should also remind you that Lutherans are not bound by what ever Luther said, but by the Scriptures, and by the Book of Concord.

That you find problems in his theology is not surprising.

Anyway, to the point; do you believe that we can choose to believe anything at all, or is it more automatic as in my post?

Rusty T said...

I'll just answer your question, as discussing his comments on Romans is pointless - as his positions changed over the years.

And I'll answer your question with a question - the same one I asked but wasn't answered :)

It faith were automatic, and we had no choice - would we not have the same faith?

Edward Reiss said...

Rusty,

I didn't say belief in anything is automatic, I said it happens outside of our range of choices. Seriously, can anyone choose to believe something? What do you think?

Regarding disbelief, I am not convinced we can choose to disbelieve either, because I suppose disbelief is a kind of belief in some other range of facts. In other words, we believe X is false.

I also think that belief in something can be turned on or off by behavior over time. In the religious realm though, true belief is the gift of God.

The main point of my post, though, is directed at those Christians who say they believe something because the Church says so. I don't think we can really do that, do you?

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