Monday, July 30, 2018

TTT #20 Some Things Have to be Believed in Order to be Seen

This article, based on the 20th chapter of Thirty True Things . . . (TTT), is closely related to my previous article posted five days ago. But this article starts with reference to a delightful fictional story rather than the thought of a noted sociologist.
The Secret of the “Little Prince”
One of my favorite books is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, and one of my favorite quotes is this one from that delightful little book: the fox says to the Little Prince, 
It is in this vein that I suggest that some things have to be believed in order to be seen.
That affirmation has sometimes been hard for this Missouri boy to affirm. Missouri is the “Show-Me State,” and we Missourians like to have visual proof of something before we believe it.
The desire for proof is not a bad one. Such a desire keeps us from being gullible, and that is good. Even though it is fairly common, gullibility is not a good thing.
Michael Moore, the social critic who is well-liked by some and maligned by others, once said, “There’s a gullible side to the American people. They can be easily misled. Religion is the best device used to mislead them.”
It is never good, though, to be misled by religion—or by anything else. Seeking proof or sufficient evidence before believing something, thus, is usually a very good thing. But that is not always possible.
In fact, it is not possible for the most foundational aspects of our existence. As the fox wisely said, “Anything essential is invisible to the eyes.”
The Insight of Pascal
Let’s move now from a charming book by a French writer to the ideas of another, more famous, Frenchman, Blaise Pascal, about whom I wrote a whole article last October (see here).
Pascal believed that true religion must be the free choice of the human heart and will. Thus, he suggests that God wishes “to appear openly to those who seek him with all their heart and hidden from those who shun him with all their heart.”
Consequently, God “has qualified our knowledge of him by giving signs which can be seen by those who seek him and not by those who do not.” On the basis of that understanding, Pascal makes this frequently quoted aphorism:
There is enough light for those who desire only to see, and enough darkness for those of a contrary disposition.
If God and the things of God were so plainly visible that there was no question about their existence, humans would have no freedom except to believe. But if God were completely hidden and unknowable, then no one could believe.
Naturally, most atheists object to Pascal’s statement—and to faith in general. They use the words blind faith to criticize the believer’s position. But it has been suggested that blind is a rude word that people who do not have faith stick on to the faith of those who have it.
Of course, theology, which is “faith seeking understanding,” is an important discipline that endeavors to counter blind faith. As Kierkegaard recognized, faith may begin as a leap, for it obviously is not based on sight from the outset.
Nevertheless, rigorous thinking, critical analysis, and careful investigation (i.e., deliberate theological activities) are certainly incumbent upon any serious person of faith.
But all of that does not change the fact that some things have to be believed in order to be seen.

[This article is from the first and last sections of Chapter 20 in TTT. Click here to access the entire chapter.]


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for another thoughtful essay. I have a couple of contentious comments. For one, I don't agree with the quotation from Pascal. If God wants to be known (and this is a problematic assertion, reflecting a very anthropomorphic understanding of God), God is working to reveal/touch/speak to everyone -- not just the hard of hearing or the disbelieving. This is a very central idea throughout Western theology, witnessed to by many mystics and others who have testified that in their own self-imposed darkness God kept "speaking" to them.

    The other problematic issue is the dichotomy between things proved and things that can only be seen by the heart. Of course, I love THE LITTLE PRINCE with all its wisdom, but I doubt that Saint-Exupery would see it as somehow promoting that kind of traditional dichotomy of evangelical theology. Furthermore, in our current world of philosophy and science, almost no one talks about proving things except for the most narrow research projects and in mathematics. We talk about the best argument, supporting evidence, the most reasonable explanation, and so on.

    Sorry to be so contentious, but I fear this kind of approach simply plays into the hands of fundamentalists and evangelicals who insist on believing preposterous things. I would recommend recasting your argument into something reflecting some of the insights of postmodernism, although I'm not sure that evangelical theology can be so cast.

    P.S. I didn't get a chance to read last week's blog, so maybe I've raised issues you've already dealt with.

    1. Anton, it is always good to hear from you -- even when you are contentious! (One of the main reasons I like to have "thinking friends" is that they make me think.)

      First, let me say that I hope you will go back and read the previous blog article. I was disappointed that you didn't comment on that article, since you are (among other things) a trained sociologist. I think that you, perhaps more than most of my Thinking Friends, are familiar with Peter Berger and his (and Luckmann's) emphasis on the social construction of knowledge.

      You have the right, of course, to disagree with Pascal -- but I wonder if you understand him sufficiently. As you may or may not remember, my thinking about God and faith has been impacted by Pascal through the years. (I'd like to suggest you go back and read the blog article about Pascal linked to in the article above.) Thus, I don't want his ideas to be hastily dismissed. Pascal's "Pensées," including the quotation above, were written after his mystical experience of God in 1654. But as I understand it, his main point is that God can be known by those who earnestly seek God, but God never forces people to believe in and/or to follow God. (That does not do away with the fact that God may also earnestly be seeking people to come to know and to love God.)

      I had not thought of my article (or chapter in TTT) as being related to the "traditional dichotomy of evangelical theology." I think it is related to the dogmatism of contemporary scientism where only that which can be proved by scientific means can be considered authentic. I have spoken a few times to a group in Kansas City what is comprised mostly of atheists and agnostics. When I spoke to them about science and faith, I was publicly accused by a member of the group of being delusional for believing in God. In academic circles, there may well be talk only of "the best argument, supporting evidence, the most reasonable explanation, and so on," but that is not the way it is in much of the world outside of academia.

      For many people of a certain mindset (or "plausibility structure" such as I wrote about in my 7/25 article), any belief in the reality of God is considered "preposterous."

      Just one more thing: the emphasis on the social construction of reality is closely related to some of the insights of postmodernism -- and is criticized in the book I have read in preparation for writing my next blog article. (That book is "The Death of Truth" by Michiko Kakutani, who for many years was the chief book critic for The New York Times.

  2. My Only comment is from a less educated person when it comes to these somewhat complicated issues.
    I believe in the one true GOD not because of All these articles of so called famous and educated people, but because of the alternative-if there is one.
    This should get some interesting comments and disagreements from your forward thinking friends Leroy/

    1. Thanks, John Tim, for reading and responding to my article. I am always happy to hear from Thinking Friends like you (and others like you) as well as from my scholarly TFs such as Dr. Jacobs.

      But I don't understand what you are saying in your middle paragraph. I don't think people do (or should) believe in God because of the writings of "famous and educated people," but I don't know what you mean by saying you believe "because of the alternative."

  3. This is just another one of those attempts (so far failed) to comment on your blog without having to do Google+ If it works I might comment.

    1. As an "unknown?" That's good!

    2. I am sorry you had trouble -- and I am sorry you are "Unknown" so I cannot contact you by email.

  4. If the Divine were an object of knowledge, common to ordinary experience, that would be no better than a golden café of religious complacency. A theistic god visible to our senses would amount to the Really Big Brother we would either take for granted or fear for our lives. The Divine that is an object of knowledge or belief as merely an intellectual position is not The Divine. We do not encounter the Divine as an object of knowledge. The Encounter is in Faith, But this Faith is not believing some assertion about the empirical world without evidence. This Faith is a quality of relationship, an open heart, a discovery of Presence by being Present. We do encounter the Divine in our daily lives as it is embodied in our relationship to others, as we relate to them as not mere objects.

    This is the sense of "Truth is subjectivity," The Truth is spiritual truth. Applying this to objective discourse is a terrible mistake. We don't get to sanely say stuff like, "My truth is that vaccines cause autism, and I have a right to it." "The Earth is only six thousand years old. That's my truth and I expect the schools to teach it." The scientific method is not a colonial abuse. Be careful about drinking the post modern Kool-Aid. It comes to the kind of Liberalism you have already criticized. Even myself, as fluid as I am about religious beliefs, am not keen on "Alternative Facts." Look at what it's come to. It's Orwellian.

    You are correct that when it comes to spirituality Believing (in the sense of Trust and ultimate acceptance) is Seeing. That Seeing doesn't make over the world according to our ideal and preferred fantasies. Instead it enables us to see the Holiness and Heart that both transcends and is immanent in all that we encounter.

    1. Unknown friends, I like your comments and generally agree with what I understand you to be saying. I was happy to see your reference to Kierkegaard's assertion that "Truth is subjectivity." And what you wrote in your first paragraph reminded me of Emil Brunner's book whose English title is "Truth as Encounter" (1964).

      In addition to saying that some things have to be believed to be seen, perhaps we can also say that some things--or some One--has to be met/encountered to be known.

    2. Joking aside. I assumed you'd be able to see who I was by the E-Mail address associated with the posting. I guess it doesn't work that way. I guess it won't unless I make a Goggle plus page or let Google access my WordPress account. And sorry for being a tad more blunt than I usually am. Part of me likes the idea of posting here as "Unknown," but it's not fair to you. You've wanted me to participate in your blog comments for a long time. I never read Brunner proper, just of his Theology. But Brunner read Buber, and that's so very close to the essence of what I believe. ["Believe" here is a very weak word for what I have confidence in.] Patrick

    3. So, Patrick, you are my "Unknown" friend! (I didn't get any email address with the posting, so I had no way of knowing.)

      I don't think you need to be afraid to let Google access your WordPress account. I have been using various Google stuff for years and have never had any problems or questions arise.

      Yes, Brunner read Buber--but perhaps his thought was shaped by Kierkegaard more than by Buber.

      And yes "believe," in its deepest sense means to "have confidence in" -- or to use a biblical word that is often misunderstood and devalued, "to have faith in."

  5. I get John Carr. He is Covering Pascal's Wager.

    One must take the best evidence one has (and allowable by personal presupposition) and make a leap of faith with hope that it is real. Having been down that path (and continuing it - a sojourn), I was shock at the clarity after making the leap.

    One key observation came from a professor when the Dean of Physical and Health Sciences came in to address our Physiology 204 class. He stated that he was a "Christian" and attended First Christian Church in town, but that is just "religion, with no reality". He went on for another 10 minutes... blah, blah, blah, and walked out. One student then asked "What was that about?" The Professor replied, "Please seriously consider all the evidence the Dean just provided." The student's reply, "What evidence?" The professor smiled, and went back to his lecture on nephrology. That was one of my college experiences - there were three others quite similar. As WC Fields' once said, "If you can't dazzle them with your brilliance, the baffle them with your bull____. Too much of that out there. It does help to have some general background in science, mathematics, economics, and religion beyond high school. Observe, read, study, be wary, develop some beliefs.

    Being protestant in background, I wish I had been taught about the real Santa Claus - the historic Bishop of Myra who was at the first Council of Nicaea. Why "fairy tales"? Let us not throw out the historic Santa Claus, or other historic figures of science and culture. We have much to learn.

    I'm from Missouri.