WHY WE BELIEVE
BELIEF, we have said, is the acceptance of a truth from another. We do
not always accept what others present to us as truth, for the good
reason that we may have serious doubts as to whether they speak the
truth or not. It is for us to decide the question of our informant's
intellectual and moral trustworthiness. If we do believe him, it is
because we consider his veracity to be beyond question.
The foundation of our belief is therefore the veracity of him whose
word we take. They tell me that Lincoln was assassinated. Personally, I
know nothing about it. But I do know that they who speak of it could
know, did know, and could not lead us all astray on this point. I
accept their evidence; I believe on their word.
It is on the testimony of God's word that we believe in matters that
pertain to faith. The idea we have of God is that He is infinitely
perfect, that He is all-wise and all-good. He cannot, therefore, under
pain of destroying His very existence, be deceived or deceive us. When,
therefore, He speaks, He speaks the truth and nothing but the truth. It
would be a very stultification of our reason to refuse to believe Him,
once we admit His existence.
Now, it is not necessary for us to inquire into the things He reveals,
or to endeavor to discover the why, whence and wherefore. It is truth,
we are certain of it; what more do we need! It may be a satisfaction to
see and understand these truths, just as it is to solve a problem two
or three different ways. But it is not essential, for the result is
always the same--truth.
But suppose, with my senses and my reason, I come to a result at
variance with the first, suppose the testimony of God's word and that
of my personal observations conflict, what then? There is an error
somewhere. Either God errs or my faculties play me false. Which should
have the preference of my assent? The question is answered as soon as
it is put. I can conceive an erring man, but I cannot conceive a false
God. Nothing human is infallible; God alone is proof against all error.
This would not be my first offense against truth.
"Yes, all this is evident. I shall and do believe everything that God
deigns to reveal, because He says it, whether or not I see or
understand it. But the difficulty with me is how to know that God did
speak, what He said, what He meant. My difficulty is practical, not
And by the same token you have shifted the question from "Why we
believe" to "Whence we believe;" you no longer seek the authority of
your faith, but its genesis. You believe what God says, because He says
it; you believe He did say it because--the Church says it. You are no
longer dealing with the truth itself, but with the messenger that
brings the truth to be believed. The message of the Church is: these
are God's words. As for what these words stand for, you are not to
trust her, but Him. The foundation of divine belief is one thing; the
motives of credibility are another.
We should not confound these two things, if we would have a clear
notion of what faith is, and discover the numerous counterfeits that
are being palmed off nowadays on a world that desires a convenient,
rather than a genuine article.
The received manner of belief is first to examine the truths proposed
as coming from God, measure them with the rule of individual reason, of
expediency, feeling, fancy, and thus to decide upon their merits. If
this proposition suits, it is accepted. If that other is found wanting,
it is forthwith rejected. And then it is in order to set out and prove
them to be or not to be the word of God, according to their suitability
One would naturally imagine, as reason and common sense certainly
suggest, that one's first duty would be to convince oneself that God
did communicate these truths; and if so, then to accept them without
further dally or comment. There is nothing to be done, once God
reveals, but to receive His revelation.
Outside the Church, this procedure is not always followed, because of
the rationalistic tendencies of latter-day Protestantism. It is a
glaring fact that many do not accept all that God says because He says,
but because it meets the requirements of their condition, feelings or
fancy. They lay down the principle that a truth, to be a truth, must be
understood by the human intelligence. This is paramount to asserting
that God cannot know more than men--blasphemy on the face of it. Thus
the divine rock-bed of faith is torn away, and a human basis
substituted. Faith itself is destroyed in the process.
It is, therefore, important, before examining whence comes our faith,
to remember why we believe, and not to forget it. This much gained, and
for all time, we can go farther; without it, all advance is impossible.
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