Tuesday, March 10, 2009

God Isn't Here Now -- Repost

June 12, 2005 -- Last reposted essay.

Belief is based more on emotion than some people realize. Consider the formidible evidence for the truth of the gospels--the manuscripts, the historical witnesses, the modern church. How frequently people respond to all that by saying, "Well... I can't explain it; something must have happened two thousand years ago in Palestine that I don't fully understand. But I do know that God isn't here now. I haven't seen him." 

Belief works that way--we are often willing to ignore a lot of evidence because it runs against a naive observation. We never understand all of reality, so there are always little bits of evidence that seem difficult or contradictory to us. We file them under the nebulous heading of "things I don't understand," and go from what we think we do understand. Even healthy thinkers do that, but regulating that nebulous cloud makes the difference between sober thought and delusion. People can come to very different conclusions from the same set of evidence simply due to what what they classify as good evidence and what they classify as inexplicable. Remember Jesus' miracles. They were good evidence for some that Jesus was from God; the Pharisees--completely in service to the belief that Jesus couldn't be from God--had to rationalize them as demonic or inexplicable. 

"He isn't here now" is the language of denial--it is shuttling convincing evidence off into that cloud of unknowing for a little while. Criminals say it about law enforcement--sure, there's a good chance they'll catch you later, but it's easy to believe they won't because they aren't here now. Adulturous wives say it about their husbands. The ancient priests thought it about God. "He isn't here now" are words that indicate a weakness of intellectual character: discarding something you know to be true because you want it not to be and... well... there isn't any immediate evidence for it.

How easily we shuffle things into that mental category of "dissonant evidence," that fuzzy sea of the inexplicable--when convenient. We know it is most rational to believe what seems most likely based on the sum total of the evidence, but to actually live that way takes such effort, self-examination, honesty and humility! We would rather let the desires of the present moment skew and warp the evidence to give us the answer we hope is true. The little bit of evidence that is present and immediate--the here and now now--irrationally seems like enough to overwhelm a sea of more convincing facts. We act against our true beliefs, temporarily convincing ourselves that they aren't true; that is a lack of faith. 

After all, faith is continuing belief in things unseen--but soundly known. Far from irrational belief in a far-flung hope, it is rational belief in what we know to be true, without giving in the desires and evidences of the here and now that are forever pressing in on our senses. 

So faith regulates belief--it controls what we consider good evidence and what we consider fuzzy; it is the manifestation of the discipline required to reject the everyday non-evidences that so easily sway: Nobody in the immediate room believes it; I wish it wasn't true; I haven't seen evidence of it in the last ten minutes. 

"God isn't here now" may seem compelling--indeed it must every time we intentionally sin. It may seem compelling enough to some that they are willing to discard mountains of evidence in service of this little observation. But it is the language of irrational denial, not of sober love of truth. It displays an inability to separate real evidence and truth from irrational hope and immersion in the immediate. 

Beware! In the end, reality is seldom kind to our delusions.

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