On Quixotic Belief
Professor Whitley has made a wonderful observation that aids my processing in this conversation. I cannot help but be swayed by his musing, “It may be, then, that we grow to ‘like’ that belief over time,” and later, “I do like reason and logic and find my current position to be the most logical and reasonable and that also significantly adds to my present pleasure with this belief.” The more convinced we are with a position, the more we are going to have some affinity for it.
William James writes: “not only as a matter of fact do we find our passional nature influencing us in our opinions, but that there are some options between opinions in which this influence must be regarded both as an inevitable and as a lawful determinant of our choice” (523). With science we achieve beliefs about the world around us (not to mention a belief in, or perhaps a love for a certain way to achieve knowledge/truth, as James points out on 523). But there are situations in which science cannot help us. In these, “faith based on desire is certainly a lawful and possibly an indispensable thing,” according to James (524)
I don’t think James is standing against Clifford in that last statement. James wants your beliefs to be examined. He doesn’t want you to believe something on a whim, but rather on a justified desire. In this same vein, Louis Pojman says,
“I have argued that we cannot normally believe anything at all simply by willing to do so, for believing aims at truth and is not a basic act or a direct product of the will. If we could believe whatever we chose to believe simply by willing to do so, belief would not be about reality but about our wants. Nevertheless, the will does play an important indirect role in believing” (546-7).
Whether we like it or not, our likes are somehow involved in belief formation. At least, that is what I believe and I am growing to like it. On a certain level, I even like the cogitations on my continuing list of disliked beliefs.
7. I don’t like believing two people who love each other cannot get married in some places of God’s world.
Although I loathe this belief, I find some pleasure in believing empirical truths. I am also like hating this belief. On the one hand, I hate that people will not allow same-sex marriage. But on the other hand, I am far happier to acknowledge the fact and the resultant agony than to live in a blissful ignorance of the problem, like a Don Quixote without a Sancho Panza.
Don Quixote forced his observation of reality to conform to his beliefs about reality. He saw a windmill, but from a distance believed it to be a giant. He charged at it with his lance, attacking the windmill with a faith that would amaze the Jesus of the gospels. When Quixote finally attacked the windmill, reality hit him, and hard. Sancho Panza assumed Quixote would now realize his mistake, but instead, Quixote molded reality to his notions, saying a sorcerer had manipulated the events and put a windmill where there once was a giant.
8. I don’t like believing two people who love each other cannot show their love for each other without being ostracized, yet they are continually forced to watch other couples express their love in public.
Out of context, this and other of Quixote’s adventures speak to me of theology and reality. Sometimes my beloved theological positions meet reality, but match like a square peg and a circle hole. I have the option to switch out the peg, alter the hole, or pretend I have met a paradox. As much as I dislike switching out the peg (my theological position), I want the peg to fit reality and I like having a theology that doesn’t have me needlessly injured by windmills.
9. I don’t like believing people are not just told they are sinning, but also that who they are is a sin–an abomination before God, humanity, and nature.
I love hating this belief and I like that I recognize the reality of it. It is so easy to get caught up in a world of butterflies and rainbows, where things I don’t like don’t happen. But windmills pulverize me in that world.
Love of Truth or Love of Method?
This affinity for truth must not be confused with an affinity for a method to find that truth. When considering how we come to believe, I hope we “like” our beliefs based on how close we think they are to the truth, not based on how much we “like” a method for finding belief.
Consider Part 1 and Part 3 of our conversation again. In Part 1, you learn how this conversation started: people questioning the virtue of how I believe my beliefs. In Part 3, Thomas describes a shift in one of his beliefs, a belief he grew to like. Thomas’ belief shift mirrored a shift in method for him. It wasn’t just his belief shaken, but his belief in the method that founded the rest of his beliefs.
William James’ words are apt here, too:
“[science] has fallen so deeply in love with the [scientific] method that one may even say she has ceased to care for truth by itself at all. It is only truth as technically verified that interests her. The truth of truths might come in merely affirmative form, and she would decline to touch it. Such truth as that, she might repeat with Clifford, would be stolen in defiance of her duty to mankind. Human passions, however, are stronger than technical rules” (523).
I went through a shift in belief like Thomas’ once. I had to ask myself and address the following questions: Do you come to believe because of your passion for the truth, a passion that produces a liking for your beliefs? Or do you come to believe because you love to interpret the Bible without straying too far from tradition? Do you love the method (interpreting the Bible) or do you love truth? Need I even mention John 14?
I dislike beliefs 7, 8, and 9, because when reality met my theology, the method didn’t win. Yes, I consulted the Bible, but I also consulted reality and the testimony of numerous people who have seen the Spirit move in GLBT Christians. In doing so, I believe I even consulted God.
And yes, I like that belief. Damn straight I like it. Not because of the method, because there wasn’t exactly a method. It was a messy process of reasoning that eventual yielded in a “resonat[ion] not only in my head but in my heart” (@FemmeMinister). Some beliefs I like believing–they have a natural place in my heart. Other beliefs are resonant within me–I need them, because they convict me of truth, which I love.
With Thomas, Clifford, and Sancho Panza, I think beliefs deserve scrutiny. Beliefs should resonate with reverberations of truth, not warm fuzzies.
James, William. “The Will to Believe.” The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Writings. 3rd ed. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003. 518-26.
Pojman, Louis P. “Believing, Willing, and the Ethics of Belief.” The Theory of Knowledge: Classical and Contemporary Writings. 3rd ed. Ed. Louis P. Pojman. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, 2003. 536-55.