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THE PROBLEM OF UNBELIEF

Thomas Merton
The Ascent to Truth


It is absolutely impossible for a man to live without some kind of faith. Faith, in the broadest sense, is the acceptance of truth on the evidence of another. The essence of all faith is the submission of our judgment to the assertion of someone else, on whose word we accept a truth that is not intrinsically evident to our own minds. Human or natural faith is the acceptance of truths on the authority of other men.

Supernatural faith is the belief in truths revealed by God, on the testimony of God, and because of the authority of God Who reveals these truths to us. One of the paradoxes of our age, which has so far not distinguished itself as an Age of Faith, is that millions of men who have found it impossible to believe in God have blindly submitted themselves in human faith to every charlatan who has access to a printing press, a movie screen, or a microphone. Men who cannot believe in the revealed word of God swallow everything they read in the newspapers. Men who think it absurd that die Church should be able, by virtue of the guidance and protection of the Holy Ghost, to make infallible pronouncements as to what has or has not been revealed by God concerning doctrine or morality, will believe the most fantastic claims of political propaganda,
even though the dishonesty of propagandists has become, by now, proverbial.

The final irony of the situation is this: that most men have no intellectual right to their theological unbelief. Strictly speaking, of course, no man has an intellectual right to unbelief because theological faith is eminently reasonable. The intelligence has no right to be consciously unintelligent. But there do nevertheless exist a few men who, in all sincerity, have arrived by their own research at the error that theological faith is unacceptable. We cannot accept their error, but at least we have to admit that they worked hard to reach it. Their ignorance is invincible.

They are in ''good faith" in having no faith, because they think they have evidence against the validity of faith as such. This supposes (at least in theory) that if they saw the evidence in favor of faith, they would instantly change their view. But no, the paradox is this. While a few men hold, as a result of reasoning, that theological faith is unacceptable, millions of others reject the notion of faith by an act not of reason but of blind faith. Here is evidence of the supreme intellectual indigence of our civilization: our very refusal to believe is based on faith.

There is still a greater enormity in our unbelief. We disbelieve God on the testimony of man. We reject the word of God because we are told to do so by men who, in their turn, were told to do so by men. The only real reason why most unbelievers cannot accept the word of God is that they have already submitted to the fallible authority of men. Now, reason shows that the only one who an tell us anything about God is God Himself. Men know nothing of His inner life or of His plans for them. Men can only command belief in their statements about Him when it is reasonable to hold that their statements are not theirs but His when they speak as His representatives. "The things that are of God no man knoweth, but the Spirit of God" (I Cor. 2:4). God, being Pure Actuality, Pure Intelligence, not only sees all truth but is all Truth, Every truth, every being, is simply a reflection of Him.

Truths are only true in Him, and because of Him. The light of reason is a natural participation in His Truth. Reason itself draws its authority from Him. That is why reason, if it be allowed to light our way, will bring us, without prejudice, to faith. But men without theological faith, reasoning from false premises which they receive, on faith, from the fallible authority of other men, use the God-given light of reason to argue against God, against faith and even against reason itself. This issue is generally misunderstood, because faith has so often been proposed as alien to reason and even as contrary to it. According to this view, faith is an entirely subjective experience which can neither be communicated nor explained. It is something emotional. It either happens to you or it does not. If it happens, you "have faith." The fact that you "have faith" does not necessarily have any effect on your reasoning, because your "faith" is an emotional thing beyond the pale of reason. You cannot explain it to yourself or to anybody else. But if faith has no intellectual reference whatever, it is hardly possible to see how "having faith" can contribute much to your outlook on life or to your behavior. It does not seem to be much more important than having red hair or a wooden leg.

It is just something that happened to you, but did not happen to your next-door neighbor. This false idea of faith is the last refuge of religious compromise with rationalism. Fearing that domestic peace is no longer possible, faith barricades itself in the attic, and leaves the rest of the house to reason. Actually, faith and reason are meant to get along happily together. They were not meant to live alone, in divorce or in separation.
What I find interesting is that so many of the people who would fall into the trap that Father Merton describes have bought into the confused idea that God is not just, that he doesn't even really love us.  "How could He", they argue, "allow so much injustice and suffering in a world so riddled with deception and greed, etc, etc, etc." and thus begins the slippery slope into total rejection.

I am consoled with words of true faith from the Raccolta, from a prayer entitled "A Prayer for the Preservation of the Faith"...

"Let sickness afflict us, vexations waste us, misfortunes overwhelm us!  But preserve in us Thy holy faith; for if we are rich with this precious gift, we shall gladly endure every sorrow, and nothing shall ever be able to change our happiness". 
(12-22-2009, 02:51 PM)Sempiternam Wrote: [ -> ]What I find interesting is that so many of the people who would fall into the trap that Father Merton describes have bought into the confused idea that God is not just, that he doesn't even really love us.  "How could He", they argue, "allow so much injustice and suffering in a world so riddled with deception and greed, etc, etc, etc." and thus begins the slippery slope into total rejection.

I am consoled with words of true faith from the Raccolta, from a prayer entitled "A Prayer for the Preservation of the Faith"...

"Let sickness afflict us, vexations waste us, misfortunes overwhelm us!  But preserve in us Thy holy faith; for if we are rich with this precious gift, we shall gladly endure every sorrow, and nothing shall ever be able to change our happiness". 

That's a wonderful quote from the Raccolta.  It speaks volumes. 

Unfortunately, human beings, throughout the centuries, seems to always fall into the "me" trap. 

Everything is about me, me, me, me or I, I, I, I.  Not much is said as to what I can do for God.  It seems everything centers on what God can do for me.  We (humanity) are a very self centered lot, my friend.  We owe everything to God, whether they be good things (blessings) or the allowance of bad things (blessings in disguise).  God owes us nothing.