Sunday, September 28, 2008

Many People Believe...

"That's fine for you because you believe that."

That sentence is a thought-killing conversation-ender. The assumption behind it is that my religious creed can be quarantined as one's individual belief, of importance as a matter of personal interest -- not unlike a hobby -- but of no objective significance.

For my part, I'm opposed to that assumption for the same reason I'm opposed to the assassination of the intellect.

Much of what Catholicism has to say is simply history. That Christ walked the earth, directed men to pray, ordered them to keep the Commandments, and required they be baptized is submitted to our consideration not as a matter of opinion, but as a historical event -- something that occurred at a specific time and in a certain place. It makes as much sense to say "Most Christians believe Christ dwelled in Galilee 2,000 years ago" as it does to say "Many Americans believe that George Washington was the first president." Yes, of course; more importantly, such an assertion attempts to recast what is objective historical reality into a matter of mere opinion. Sophists who haven't slit their wrists yet would cheer about it if they could muster the enthusiasm.

Faith is an act of the will by which one gives intellectual assent to a Divinely revealed truth. It can be attended by emotions, but it is not essentially emotional; rather, it is a conviction about something objectively true that has been revealed by God and that no one could have arrived at by his own unaided reason.

Suppose I say not to open the door to the next room because a burglar is waiting on the other side to ambush you and take your wallet. If you believe me you will escape courtesy of the back door and call the police. That is an example (on a mundane, natural level) of an act of faith.

In a religious context, when the Almighty tells us that He is a Trinity -- that he is one God in three Persons, about Whom one must not divide the parts nor confound the substance -- He has revealed an objective fact that we could never have figured out on our own and that we will accept as true if we believe Him and that we will reject if we don't. The reason why religious Faith is pleasing to God, and why the Church classifies it as one of the chief virtues, is that we're taking God who is Truth itself at His word -- not because it seems reasonable or agreeable to us, but solely because it is God who has spoken. There is nothing more reasonable than unreservedly -- like a little child -- believing what a good and honest God tells us.

Which is good for me not because I happen to like that sort of thing, or because I find it helpful or meaningful or useful, but simply because it squares with objective reality, quite apart from any personal preference.

Fortis est veritas.

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