The post-Sept. 11 War on Terror formed a coalition between conservatives and libertarians ... but the alliance really isn't natural. Libertarians, I've found, are almost always atheists or agnostics, or have a vague gushy religion. I've found a lot of hostility to Christian belief or even belief in God in general — as if belief is irrational. Where there isn't hostility or contempt, there is an epistemological certainty that simply doesn't exist in the real world. Steve Den Beste pretty much said the non-existence of the Christian God is a sure thing, though he later tempered his remarks after getting a proper slap-down from Donald Sensing. (One issue with M. den Beste, whom I admire greatly, is he's an engineer; I know engineers: The flaw in their thinking is many of them tend to apply their engineering methodologies to all situations and to discount anything else as "not real thinking." Some lawyers also fall into this trap. Doctors don't — when doctors fail to think clearly, it's almost always an ego thing, hubris, Greek tragedy.)
Anyway, I'm a professional writer. This encompasses a big category of professions and a bigger category of failings. In general, one of the biggest problems in our culture is the journalist mentality. Most journalists, I've found, have one major problem: They lack imagination. Many of them cannot imagine putting themselves in the shoes of an opponent, or someone with whom they disagree. Because of deadline pressures and laziness, they tend toward "template" thinking, rather than real analysis.
But the worst thing is this is they seem endless fascinated and shocked that:
* Politicians do things for political reasons
* Business people do things for business reasons, and
* Religious people do things for religions reasons.
Go ahead, you try.
And when they do come to realize these kinds of things, they lapse into a premature and pseudo-worldly cynicism.
But that's not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about faith. People who argue for or against the Bible sometimes argue as if it does not contain some pretty counter-intuitive things in it. For one thing, a man is born of a virgin, performs miracles, runs afoul of the local authorities, is crucified, entombed, resurrected, and then goes floating off in a cloud, leaving his followers to convert the world. All this is presented as fact, not allegory.
Now, to an empiricist, end of story. The dead do not come back to life, they do not float away into the clouds, and if they did, where do they go — the moon? To a politician, this is an unhelpful story — how can we cut a deal when the dealmakers are the bad guys. The business people can try to make a profit, but selling the religion is condemned, too.
And, frankly, many religious people are just "good boys" and "good girls" in the hierarchy of morality. That is, born into a Confucian world, they'd be good Confucians. Born into Islam, they'd be Muslims. Born as Catholics, they're Catholics.
The Protestant reformation has, in varying degrees, focused on the importance of adult conversion, of adult decision-making, and of adult recommitments to a faith that easily runs off the rails.
But this is all background to this idea: Why do we believe?
1. Are we at heart just good boys and good girls seeking to please our parents or other authority figures? Or are we bad boys and girls desperately seeking to appease our punishing consciences for our misbehavior? Are we a little of both?
2. Or do we have a supernatural experience of God that is a gift and is maintained by grace?
It seems to me that I waiver between two and one. Most of my life I spend in one. Then, occasionally, moments of grace (especially in the sacraments).
Still, that's not good enough. It doesn't explain why we believe in a story that is by all accounts preposterous. And to many of our libertarian friends, allies on the war on terror but not on the cultural war, we seem about as rational as Linus Van Pelt's insistence on staying all night in pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin.
So why do we believe? Well, the Bible tells us two things:
1. Belief comes from hearing the Word of God. This means people respond to preaching either with anger and contempt (as a form of rejection) but on willing and humble hearts, with belief. This will seem extremely tautological to some folks; it's actually mystical. And by that I mean it must be experienced to be believe. Basically, God has placed knowledge of the truth on your heart; you hear the word of God, and you believe the truth you've always known. If you don't, you have a personal (not philosophical) reason for not believing. That personal reason is your stumbling block: intellectual pride, fear of confessing wrongdoing, refusal to submit to authority, fear of responsibility, things of this nature.
Ah! But that's not good enough. Because the above is NOT an argument, philosophically. Because that collection of assertions is nothing more than a hypothesis. Let's continue. The Bible teaches that hearing the Word of God leads to belief.
2. Belief is either stolen by Satan at the time of hearing, strangled through cares of the world, fails to take root, or is encouraged and strengthened through obedience to the commandments of God, fellowship with believers, reading the Bible, evangelization, prayer, praise and worship.
This starts to make more sense to me for this reason: I can do these things and see if they work. I can test this. But don't confuse this with science. Still, it has an empirical element. We are judging experience.
Still, this isn't good enough. Human nature is too self-deceiving for this to be a proof. It's not. Fellowship can be for its own sakes; smells and bells just a pleasant experience; evangelization just our desire to impose our will on others, praise mere sucking up to the Deity.
To me, the proof in the New Testament is not the crucifixion and resurrection. These things cannot be tested and are based on points one and two above: Epistemologically, we cannot know, unless someone finds a clearly marked grave of Jesus, whether these things are true. We can have faith anyway in them, and these may be powerful experiences, but they may say just as much about the power of faith. And I've tried, you can't have faith in faith, you need to have faith in something. And if you're in the least intellectually honest, you want the thing you have faith in to be true. I confess that I have contempt for people who argue that what you have faith in isn't important, just as long as you have faith. This is the kind of fat-headed middle class complacency that has driven honest people to the left for centuries now.
So where's the strongest evidence?
3. Pentecost. Pentecost is the experience of the apostles that we can have, too. The Holy Spirit must come upon you and you must be baptized in it. And when you act as a Christian, you must act from this Spirit. Otherwise, it's carnality and control and a form of idolatry. Baptism in the Holy Spirit means manifestations of the Holy Spirit, things that can be seen and heard and experienced. And that's the really scary part. Because the experience of Pentecost takes away to a large degree the uncertainty. If you have laid hands on the sick, even the temporarily ill, and they have gotten better, you have a confirmation. If you have spoken in tongues, you have a confirmation. If you have seen people turn in an instant from their unbelief through the power of the Holy Spirit, which you can feel, you have a confirmation. And that takes away the complacency of uncertainty: It means we can no longer hide behind the epistemological and linguistic difficulties in perceiving reality and communicating it. It leads us to a deeper understanding of the Bible, deeper prayer, and signs and wonders of the kind that led Christ to spread His gospel across the world. But it also takes us out of our own comfort zones. Often, it takes us into the wilderness.
Thus, faith in Christ is a three-step process:
1. Initial belief from hearing the word of God, a process where the Gospel is preached and the Holy Spirit acts through grace on the hearer in order to generate belief.
2. Strengthened faith through fellowship, reading the Bible, prayer and the sacraments.
3. Confirmation through baptism in the Holy Spirit.
4. Continuing to live a life in Christ.
See, after all that, it's fairly simple in the end. Faith is a mystical experience, confirmed by the teaching authority of the Church and the Scriptures, that manifests itself in the gifts of the Holy Spirit.