Monday, November 10, 2008

Belief Awareness

Whose credibility is so central to your beliefs that exposing them as a fraud would upend everything? Or similarly, what fact is so central to your beliefs that it’s exposure as a fraud would upend your entire system? St. Paul, in his first letter to the church in Corinth, states
14And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.
which is as good a summary of the centrality of that doctrine as can be found. If Jesus wasn’t raised, everyone go home.

CS Lewis would be pretty central for me on Christian belief. If God Himself came to me and said “Nah, don’t pay attention to Lewis. He never really got it,” my beliefs would be in shambles. This is primarily because Lewis’s goal was to express the absolute central facts of the gospel that all Christians agree on. If Lewis is out, then I would have to wonder what remained of anyone else – of Aquinas, of Luther, of Augustine, of Calvin, of Wesley. I would have no idea where to start looking for someone who reliably interpreted the Scriptures. I would completely distrust my own interpretation.

In politics, a progressive might have the same trouble if the New York Times were shown to not merely be wrong here and there, but thoroughly wrong for years. It is not so much that one newspaper is so key, but that the other sources agree with it so often. If the Times is totally unreliable, then what are we to make of the Post, or the networks, or USNews, which report the same things? In such situations, people often take whatever explanation shows up next. It is difficult for us to hold neutrality of opinion on such things. The mind seeks answers and explanations.

Diving right into the opposite belief is common. In my generation, the elementary history textbooks omitted nearly all of the unfairness with which the Indians had been treated by Europeans. As we went on in school and got more of the picture, some were disillusioned and went to the opposite extreme. It is still common among such to believe no good thing about European settlement nor any bad thing about Native Americans. Disillusionment with one’s own denomination can send a person to thorough disbelief. Ex-communists often end up well on the right of the political spectrum.

We are uncomfortable without a narrative. It takes mental energy to hold things neutral, much less energy to decide and move on. Cults depend on this, and to a lesser extent, so do all who hope to persuade others. People jostled out of one rut will slide pretty gratefully into the next one.

In politics, it is seldom a single individual or fact that is key, but a more general group or set of assumptions. (I will stay away from presidents on this, because so much is symbolically attached to them that it confuses the issue.) If God Himself emailed and told me Fred Thompson is a fraud, or wrote to my liberal brother and told him that Dennis Kucinich is a liar, neither of our belief systems would be in tatters. Individuals don’t live up to ideals, and we all know that.

Larger groups would be a greater problem. To learn that National Review had been making up facts for years would greatly undermine all of conservatism. Jesus dashing off a memo that said “individual freedom in general, and the free market in specific, is really damaging to mankind” would be devastating. Similarly, progressives would be absolutely at sea with the opposites, if the memo said “I am well-pleased with the National Review, and am angry at you guys for increasing the number of poor people with your spreading the wealth.”

So go through it, issue by issue. What would be absolutely fatal to your beliefs about gun rights, or sanctity of life issues? (Either way.) Foreign policy is complex, and it’s hard to identify single threads, but what general principles, shown irrefutably to be true, would leave all your opinions in the dust? It’s rather fun, actually. Scratch down a few things and then carry the questions with you for a bit.

So far, this is all hypothetical, because I know of no such memos from Father, Son, or Holy Spirit on these matters.

1 comment:

karrde said...

If I saw a letter from the Lord that said

"You are all making too much fuss about someone who isn't born yet", I would have a hard time believing that it came from Him. Or that He said accurately that He doesn't change. It would be akin to learning that I am living inside a Matrix-style computer simulation, and that the Programmers of that simulation were malicious.

If He said that the whole church had screwed up politics by creating a Just War doctrine out of thin air, I would be incapable of thinking that anyone has a valid opinion about anything in international politics.