Tag Archives: faith

I am sorry, but what do you mean by reason here?

What is ‘reason’?  In the biggest part of contexts it seems to me that the words reason or reasonable are used to mean something like what sounds intuitive to me.  So when someone expresses a belief that seems right, we say that’s reasonable.  But what we mean is really, what seems intuitively right.  The problem here is that being intuitive and being reasonable are two entirely different things.

Something is intuitive when it fits easily with other things that we believe.  When a new argument or piece of information fits coherently and easily into our other beliefs, then it feels familiar.  Psychological studies find that beliefs that are familiar seem true.  We regularly confuse truth and familiarity in intuitive thinking.  If someone says something that we have heard before, we are likely to believe it simply because we’ve heard it before.  Interestingly this is true even if no new evidence is presented.  (This explains why certain ideologically driven news sources intentionally repeat slogans or ideas over and over.  The more familiar it sounds, the more true it sounds.  No arguments need to be given.  Just repeat the slogan over and over and it will have the right effect.)

Rationality is an entirely different faculty.  Presenting and evaluating arguments for a certain view while making the appropriate distinctions is a slow and difficult task.  It takes mental work to slowly sift through the claims, the evidence, etc.  This process is usually rather unpleasant and it takes a long time.  Conclusions reached in this way are measured and subject to revision.

Thinking rationally is often so painful, that we (all of us, you included, dear reader) usually depend upon intuitive judgements rather than on the slow and laborious task of thinking a thing through.  But it is important to note here that when we reach conclusions in this way we know only that they are intuitive that is, they seem right given the other things that we believe.  Being intuitive is often good enough for most daily tasks, but it is very different from claiming that a belief has been researched and examined in the slow and critical process of reasoning.

Calling intuitive beliefs rational has at least one major negative side effect:  it makes everyone who disagrees with you irrational by default.  If the only things that are reasonable (as I use the word) are things that are intuitive (to me), then no one can disagree with me without becoming unreasonable.  This is dangerous to our intellectual lives because we don’t take unreasonable people seriously.  This way of thinking will tend to cause us to ignore our critics and opposing points of view because who wants to take the time to think hard about what irrational people say?  That is why it is important to note that these beliefs are merely intuitive, not necessarily rational.

Hell and God’s Infinite Love?

There is a classic and rather obvious problem with combining two Christian ideas:  (i) that God is infinitely loving, knowledgeable, and powerful and (ii) Hell is a real possibility for us.  Now we have to be careful how we state the second point here.  As I understand the Catholic view here, ending up in hell is a real possibility for each of us, but we do not know for sure whether anyone has ever actually ended up there (see the 2013 film Hellbound for more on different conceptions of Hell.)  Catholics cannot say who (if anyone) has ended up there nor can we say today who will.  But we could end up there.  It is a real possibility.

How can we hold both of these views at the same time?  Wouldn’t an infinitely loving and powerful God make hell impossible?

In his wonderful new book, The One Thing That is Three:  How the Trinity Explains Everything (2012), Michael Gaitley suggests a response (which has, of course, been proposed elsewhere.)  The idea is: Just as all came from God, so all will eventually return to God.  The only question is what kind of person we will be when we arrive at the source of everything (namely, infinite Love.)  Three options seem possible.  First, one could fully accept this infinite Love and enjoy it (heaven).  Second, one could partly accept it and grow to accept it over time (purgatory).  Third, one could hate it and reject it (hell).  

Of this third option, Gaitley writes, the soul that has been confirmed in selfishness in this life just may come to see the self-giving love of the Trinity as a kind of torture.  This comment suggests the idea that heaven and hell may be the same place the only difference between the two is the kind of person one is.  One is cut off from God not by anything external, but only by things internal to one’s own self.  Hell is eternal for those who have characters such that they can never change.

I find this view rather appealing as a statement of the orthodox view.  It seems fairly just insofar as only those who could never grow to accept the infinite Love are left in never-ending torment (the torment of being loved and never being able to accept it.)  Perhaps they experience the Divine Love as an eternal fire?

An alternative view to the classic orthodox view is known as Annihilationism whereby damned souls are simply destroyed.  As Jerry Walls points out in Hell: The Logic of Damnation (1992), there are passages in the Scriptures to support this view.  But The orthodox asks could Divine Love destroy these souls?  Maybe not, if doing so would be unloving (and so contrary to the Divine nature.)  It may be God’s infinite Love itself which (ironically) opens up the possibility of hell (namely to those who are such that this love makes the miserable and could never accept it.) c Because the damned souls have value objectively and are worth loving, destroying them may be an unloving act.  So God won’t do it.  But this then leaves open the possibility of living with an eternal embrace that makes one miserable.

Should We Fear God?

There are two claims made by Christians that seem mutually exclusive.  Christians claim that God is Love.  And they claim that we should fear God.  Wait.  Why should fear God if God is so kind?  What is there to be afraid of? How to find answer on our questions?

A lot if people believe that ‘fear’ in these passages should be understood in the sense of awe.  But in this post I am going to use the term fear in its contemporary classic sense.  It seems clear to me that in many passages in Scripture this sense of fear is the natural one to invoke (e.g., Exodus.)  In this post I argue that one would be crazy *not* to fear God.  Once we understand what God is, any sane person would respond with at least some measure of fear.

Why?

Because God has three features which taken together produce reasonable fear in people:

(i) God has absolute control over ours lives

(ii) but He cannot be manipulated or controlled in any way, and

(iii) He cannot be fully understood by us.

These three facts when put together make it reasonable to fear God.  Because when it comes to God we are absolutely subject to a power that we can neither control nor even fully understand.  To not be at least somewhat afraid would mean that you don’t really get it.  You are entirely and absolutely subject to this power and you have no idea what He is going to do with you.

But what about all of that God is Love stuff?

The message that God is infinitely loving and benevolent is, frankly, surprising to us.  We would not know this from nature as it currently is.  There is a lot of suffering along with the wonderful beauty.  When prophets tell us not to fear and to trust that God is infinitely loving and has a greater plan that we cannot see it is a hard message.  It sure doesn’t seem that way.  But, of course, things are not always as they seem.  Julian of Norwich was told by God that all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well (Revelations of Divine Love.)  She found this message hard to believe and meditated about it for the rest of her life.  She worried about where the idea of hell fit in.  She became convinced both that hell is real and that all will truly be well.  She considered this unsurprisingly! a deep mystery.

Faith or trust in God is required because we cannot understand or control him.  This faith or trust, I think, ultimately arises as a response to reasonable fear.  We are afraid of our dependance and unknown future so we choose to trust.  We trust that God is loving and that all will work out in some unexpected way.  It seems to me as though real faith cannot exist except along side real fear.  Or as they say, fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10).

Rethinking the Argument

There is an overlooked argument that infers the existence of God from the fact that we desire Him to exist.  

More formally, I think, the argument goes something like this:

  1.  If humans generally desire x, then it is possible to satisfy this desire.  (Premise 1)
  2.  Humans generally desire communion with God.  (Premise 2)
  3.  Therefore, communion with God is possible.  (From 1, 2)
  4. Communion with God is only possible if God exists.  (Premise 3)
  5.  Therefore, God exists.  (From 3, 4)

The weakest premise here is 1.  Why accept 1?  Perhaps there are general desires that cannot be satisfied.  Perhaps humans have minds that make us  want things that cannot be had (eternal life or everlasting pleasure, etc.)  What support can be given for 1?

Let’s rework the argument with a weaker first premise:

1*.  If humans generally desire x, then it is logically possible to satisfy this desire.

This is a much weaker claim.  The claim is only that our desires are not for logically impossible things our desires are minimally rational.  If we desire a contradiction (to eat cake and not eat cake) then there are actually two desires here.  One pro-cake desire.  And one anti-cake desire.  Each desire considered in itself, however, is a desire that can be logically satisfied.

Now if God exists, then God exists necessarily.  So if God does not exist, then it is logically impossible for God to exist.  That is, God either exists in all possible worlds or none.  His existence is either a necessary truth (like 1+1=2) or a logical impossibility (like 1+1=3).  No third option is possible.

Since God is a necessary being (if He exists at all) we get an interesting inference:  If God’s existence is merely logically possible, then it is actual.  Why?  Because if God does not exist, then he cannot exist.  His existence is impossible.  So if his existence is even logically possible, then it must be actual.  (A moments reflection will make this clear.)  Thus, one who believes that God does not actually exist must believe the stronger claim that God’s existence is logically impossible.

Okay.  So if these claims are right, then we can fix the argument from desire along these lines:

1.*  If humans generally desire x, then it is logically possible to satisfy this desire.  (Premise 1)

  1.  If God exists, then God is a necessary being.  (Premise 2)
  2.  If God is logically possible, then God exists.  (From line 2)
  3.  Humans generally desire communion with God.  (Premise 3)
  4.  Therefore, communion with God is logically possible.  (From lines 1*, 4)
  5.  Therefore, God’s existence is logically possible.  (From line 5)
  6.  But if God’s existence is logically possible, then God exists.  (Restatement of line 3)
  7.  Thus, God exists.  (From lines 6, 7)

So does this argument work?  Maybe, but I am still a bit skeptical of even the new Premise 1.  Why must it be that we cannot desire the logically impossible?  Consider the case of the Goldbach Conjecture.  This is a claim in number theory which has not been proven either true or false.  If the conjecture is true, then it is necessary.  If it is false, then it is likewise necessary.  So imagine two mathematicians.  One who desires it to be true and one who desires it to be false.  One of these two mathematicians has a desire that it is logically impossible to satisfy.  Is this so hard to imagine?  So I am skeptical of even the weakened first premise here.  Perhaps the argument could work as a probabilistic inference ?

Is all bigotry equally wrong? Probably not.

Bigotry is an unfair prejudice against some group of people.  

This prejudice has many important negative effects on a person.  It causes people to exaggerate stories in certain negative ways, focus on some actions and ignore others of the disfavored group, be more likely to accept negative stories about the disfavored group, etc.  This can often lead to hatred and hatred can lead to violence or social exclusion.

Obviously, bigotry is bad.  But there has been a tendency recently to label all bigotry as equally bad.  Instead of being against a certain kind of bigotry (racism, sexism, etc.), we are supposed to be against bigotry in general.  Now, I am against bigotry in general.  Sure.  But I do think that there is an important sense in which not all bigotry is equal.  Some bigotry is morally worse than others.

It seems intuitive to me that a prejudice against blacks in a society that has a long and nasty history of racism is a greater wrong than an equally strong prejudice against people whose names begins with the letter M.  Imagine that both of these people are severely prejudiced and often act on their prejudice.  Why believe that one is worse than the other?  Because of the effect that it has.  Given the history and cultural context one prejudice is far more significant than the other.  It is likely to be shared by other people in the society (either explicitly or implicitly.)  Many small acts on the basis of this prejudice will create social structures and habits that disfavor certain groups, etc.  It seems to me, therefore, as though the racist in this case is far more culpable than the letter-M hater.  Even though both are equally prejudiced.

And this is the key point:  history matters.  Prejudice does not exist in isolation as some irrational tendency that is more or less randomly distributed throughout society.  Rather all prejudice is socially conditioned and has an integrated context.  That context matters. When one shares a dominate prejudice within one’s society, then one participates in a harmful institution.  When one has an idiosyncratic prejudice, however, one does not likely participate in any pre existing harmful social institution.  The effect is really small.  Thus, we can conclude that some bigotry is in fact more harmful and more wrong than other bigotry.