On “Belief” and “Believing”

“It’s that time of year . . . ”
If you tell me you’re going to go win a marathon, and I say, “I believe in you,” what am I saying?
Am I saying, “Yes, I do believe you’re real.  You go on existing”?
Or am I saying, “I have confidence that you can achieve this difficult feat”?

Why do we do the same with God?

Scripture takes for granted that God exists.  Belief in God is, rather, about confidence that He would do what He says.

This problem is compounded by the “Santa Claus” question.  My kids were smarter than I was.  They could tell from all the disparate accounts–even in Rankin and Bass specials–that something was amiss in the pop culture narrative.  My wife always worried about people who equate “belief in God” with “belief in Santa,” so we told them the truth from the beginning: St. Nicholas is a real person who lived on earth, and performed many acts of charity and many miracles in his earthly and heavenly lives.

He saved three girls who were going to be sold into slavery by tossing three bags of money into their home at night to pay off their father’s debts.  For this, he is the patron saint of pawnbrokers (the pawn broker symbol is the three bags of coins from St. Nicholas).

He is said to have miraculously flown to a sinking ship.  Thus he is associated with flight and is a patron of sailors.

In the middle ages, people would commemorate his feast by anonymously giving to the poor and saying the gifts were from St. Nicholas.

Ironically, Protestants who thought devotion to Saints was “too pagan” changed it to the Christ Child bringing gifts of Christmas (Krist Kinder, or Kris Kringle), or else the very pagan figure of Father Christmas, all of which got merged in the US to the figure of “Santa Claus,” greed and commercialism personified in the guise of generosity.

Contrary to Peter Pan, simply insisting you believe doesn’t make something happen-that’s Gnosticism. Something is either real, or it isn’t.  You can “believe” the Earth is flat, or that the moon is made of green cheese.  Insisting otherwise isn’t going to change the facts of what the earth and the moon really are.

You can “believe” that God doesn’t exist.  You can “believe” God exists.  However, your belief has no bearing on reality.  Either He does, or He doesn’t.  Belief if it applies to questions of objective truth at all, applies to our assent to the truth, not to whether it *is* true.

“What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do: Truth Himself speaks truly, else there’s nothing true.”

It annoys me when we say things like, “For us, the Eucharist is the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ” or “We believe that Mary was preserved from all stain of sin from the moment of her conception,” and mean, “For us, Santa Claus is a magical being who lives at the North Pole,” or “We believe that the Easter Bunny brings eggs.”

Yes, it is “for” us, teleologically speaking, but it is not “for us” versus “for you.”  The Eucharist *is* the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ.  It’s not “just a symbol.”  It doesn’t *stop* being the Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ because you think otherwise.

The Immaculate Conception is a question of historical reality.  I can believe or not believe in the testimony, the evidence and the logical arguments that Mary was preserved from all stain of sin.  It does not cease to be an historical fact if I choose not to “believe it.”  Similarly, my belief doesn’t make it real if it didn’t actually occur.

 

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