June 6, 2014

"I am pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe."

I have a lot to say in the comments thread to yesterday's post about the 2 Egyptian women arguing about Islam, beginning here, continuing here.

124 comments:

Roughcoat said...

... many people who identify as Christians do not meet the standards expressed by Jesus.

Actually, all people who identify as Christians do not meet Jesus' standards. Which is, I should think, rather the point of Jesus' mission. If we all met His standards there would have been no need for him. Jesus understood this and clearly expressed his understanding in his words.

But you understand this too, don't you? I can't believe you don't. I think you wrote this to be provocative. To be the straw, as it were, that stirs the drink.

Chance said...

I've always felt ethnically my religion, which offers the benefits of community, while allowing freedom from applying intellectual rigor to the underlying hocus pocus. Although this sort of apathetic stance doesn't lend itself to much professing.

rhhardin said...

Believing is not "really believing," first of all because it's a marker in an account rather than the name for a referent.

Wittgenstein inclined to believe. It makes no sense to say he doesn't really believe, and yet he doesn't.

"Really" drags believe into a context that the word wasn't created for.

Hagar said...

You might also want to consider that the TV host might have reason to worry about her job security, and perhaps more, if she appeared to go along with any of what the good doctor was saying.

Ann Althouse said...

@Roughcoat I'm talking about the standard of what belief is, not the perfection of outward behavior.

Ann Althouse said...

And the tone you are taking with me doesn't seem even to attempt to take the teachings of Jesus seriously. I don't believe you really believe.

Eric the Fruit Bat said...

I never made it so far as ever believing He was the son of God, died for our sins, or was resurrected, so anybody who calls himself a Christian, . . ., well, . . . I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Don't get me started on that whole Trinity thing.

Alexander said...

With respect to yesterday's conversation, I hardly see how it matters. Whether you call them religions, cults, philosophies, political movements, social clubs, or ephemeral theories that people find comforting to dwell upon from time to time, the practical upshot is that wherever there is a community of people who self-identify as Muslims, there will be trouble for those who do not. For you to try to distance the key identifying feature as something that's not really believed seems disingenuous and if I may, "off-point".

There are (temporary) exceptions to this of course. The Turks, having secular government imposed on them time and again by their army and having already taken care of their Greek and Armenian problems are better than most, and the Gulf States serve as an outlet for pent up decadence in the region as well as having to play nice to the extent that foreigners will be willing to work there and keep the money flowing.

But I challenge you to show me a single city in the west that has objectively benefited from the arrival of Muslim migrants. And given that, I don' think it matters in the slightest whether or not the belief in the theological doctrine is real.

As to the point specifically, nobody really cares whether you find them sufficiently faithful to their proclaimed beliefs. I could just as easily say that I don't really think that you really think that, for all the meaning it has. We will be judged in due time or we will not; either way, it won't be you telling the religious of any stripe, "told you so".

broomhandle said...

We are all Prius drivers living in McMansions. I'm gobsmacked that anyone reaches Althouse's age and professes surprise that people's beliefs don't match the way they live.

Hagar said...

The doctor may be a good sign for Egypt. No one would have been that foolhardy in Hitler's Germany or Mao's China.

Oso Negro said...

I do not personally believe - it is apparently unavailable to me. Just as well, as Yahweh lost me philosophically with the Abraham and Isaac episode. But I do know many people who believe quite sincerely, and I believe that if you do not, you might want to consider that you are well-cocooned among the non-believers of Madison.

The Crack Emcee said...

"I am pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe."

While I'm skeptical of your reasoning, the evidence suggests you're right,...

Illuninati said...

Alexander said:
"As to the point specifically, nobody really cares whether you find them sufficiently faithful to their proclaimed beliefs. I could just as easily say that I don't really think that you really think that, for all the meaning it has."

Well stated. Those of us raised in the skeptical Western tend to project our own cultural prejudices onto other people. Just because I'm a skeptic doesn't mean that Mohammad over there is also a skeptic. The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to know exactly what is in someone's heart. In my discussions with Muslims I believe them when they say they believe. In a sense to refuse to believe what someone tells me because it doesn't fit with my experience is an act of cultural arrogance.

m stone said...

Ah, if everything were just a lesson. "Jesus taught, we learn, we do, we believe."

AA: True belief isn't the result of brainwashing, but the result of a free mind, thinking and feeling.

For true Christians, true belief is surrender, nothing less. Christianity is a supernatural faith that feeds the empty heart and cannot be explained by reason or feeling.

Gahrie said...

Althouse needs to be careful here. Accusing Muslims as being insincere in their religious beliefs can be fatal. (Although I note that even though the original article was about Islam, Althouse has been careful to limit her arguements to Christians and the sincerity of their beliefs)

Your fundamental mistake is basing your assumptions of Islam and Muslims based on your experiences of Christianity and Christians.

CStanley said...

Can you elaborate on your comments directed at rough coat at 9:46 and 9:48? What standard of belief are you going for, and what part of Jesus' teachings were you referring to?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

@Ann Althouse:

It might be helpful if you defined "true believer" since it seems like you and many commenters are talking past one another. Most religions accept that their adherents will not follow the dictates of their belief system perfectly and build in mechanisms to deal with that fact. Thus when you imply that not acting in a Christian way makes you think someone must not be a true Christian believer (an understandable position!) some Christians who consider themselves true believers counter that Christianity itself understands people are imperfect, don't live up to Christ's ideals and need saving and forgiveness, etc.
It might be helpful to clarify what in your mind distinguishes a true believer from someone just affiliated with a belief system (for whatever reasons). Does someone have to be perfectly consistent in the actions and outward life (to their particular creed, etc) to qualify?

Roughcoat said...

And the tone you are taking with me doesn't seem even to attempt to take the teachings of Jesus seriously. I don't believe you really believe.

Calm down, Ann. I wasn't taking any "tone" with you, at least not knowingly. I meant no offense, no snark. FWIW, I don't think there's anything wrong with being the straw that stirs the drink, especially on your own blog. I was merely making an observation.

As for whether I take the lessons of Jesus seriously, or whether I believe or don't believe ... you don't know and can't know the truth of the matter. Best to avoid making such statements. Again, that's not snark.

BDNYC said...

What does Bowe Bergdahl actually believe?

Roughcoat said...

And ... I have to say, I'm disappointed with your reaction to my post. Disappointed that you were offended by my tone.

Roughcoat said...

Also, re "I'm talking about the standard of what belief is, not the perfection of outward behavior," I honestly don't know what this means. Can you explain?

Bob R said...

I think we would be better served concentrating on the word "faith" rather than "belief" in this context. Religion is about the part of reality that is unknown and (probably) unknowable. Belief usually (and I think more properly) refers to something that is knowable.

My current favorite Bible story is Job. Most subversive book in the Bible. The whirlwind taunts Job's friends for their "beliefs." Tells them that they can't "know" anything about God. And them goes on to tell them they must have faith despite the certain knowledge that their beliefs are wrong.

Bob R said...

But since we are talking about the word "belief," let me give four different uses of it.

I believe that the square root of two is not a rational number.

I believe that physical objects obey Newton's laws of motion.

I believe in the current understanding of Darwin's Theory.

I believe in Christianity.

Those are all actually true for me, but I mean very different things by all of them.

The first describes an objective reality that is the same in all situation to all observers. I've done the proof and believe it to be valid, so this is the strongest possible form of the word "belief."

The second statement describes an objective reality in quite precise terms. I say I believe the statement because there is a huge range of phenomena that can be precisely predicted by Newton's laws (and even though I know that there are some situations where the laws don't predict reality.)

The third statement describes a reality that is rather hard to quantify described by a science that (compared to Newton's laws) is vague and soft. I say that I believe the statement in the sense that it has a rough correspondence to what is actually happening.

The fourth statement is about a model for for a portion of reality that I don't believe can be objectively known. When I say I believe, I mean that I accept Christianity as a valid approach to the problem of confronting the fact that reality almost certainly transcends humans' ability to understand. (The idea that all reality is knowable is, to me, one of the more hilarious forms of human exceptionalism.) Some people (most notably in my church) don't accept that as "belief," so I pretty much keep my mouth shut on the topic.

Bill Crawford said...

Are you also skeptical that atheists actually believe the atheism they profess to hold?

Ralph Hyatt said...

What do you mean by "actually believe?"

Do martyrs in North Korea "actually believe?"

http://northkoreanchristians.com/underground-church-north-korea.html

What about the woman in the Sudan who has been sentenced to death for converting to Christianity, you know, the pregnant woman. Does she "actually believe?"

http://www.inquisitr.com/1280104/pregnant-woman-sentenced-to-death-for-becoming-christian-meriam-ibrahim-demands-justice/

Or that guy in Iran, the Christian pastor who is in prison and being beaten for converting to Christianity. Does he "actually believe?"

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/catholicnews/2014/05/christian-pastor-forcibly-returned-to-iranian-prison/

Who can say?

Ralph Hyatt said...

Mark 9:24

Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"

66 said...

"I am pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe."

I suggest that it is a mistake to inform your skepticism by the actions Christians take that fall short of the teachings of Jesus. One of the core teachings of the Bible, from Genesis through the Gospels (and the rest of the New Testament), is that human beings are inherently sinful. It is only through the grace of God that anyone attains heaven, and grace cannot be earned. Instead grace is a gift from a loving God bestowed freely on anyone who accepts it. We accept grace by following God's commandments and repenting when we fall short. That we fall short, daily, even multiple times a day, does not mean that we do not believe.

Æthelflæd said...

I believe Christianity deals with this pretty honestly.

"Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

TMink said...

What Roughcoat said.
Christians are the worst kind of hypocrites. Just like everyone else. 8)

Trey

mrs.e said...

"I am pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe."

I'm not sure what to say to that, except, thanks for sharing.

Illuninati said...

Incidentally, in the videotape which sparked the discussion, I did not see any type of reasoned debate happening. The skeptical lady stated her beliefs and the believing lady stated her beliefs. The only evidence offered by the skeptical lady was that her prayers hadn't been answered. The true believer said her prayers were answered all the time. They were at an impasse.

I am somewhat surprised that the argument occurred at that level. I'm not aware of any passages in the Koran which indicate that Allah grants requests for favors. If such a passage exists one would think that the skeptical lady would have quoted it since her experience would then qualify as a disproof of the Muslim holy books.

The Savage Noble said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
traditionalguy said...

God created man with a way to know Him that still works well in most men and women once they stop suppressing the truth. Trouble is no one wants to stop sinning long enough to find out whether God is faithful and knowable unless they first worked get over by God's Spirit of truth, then are arranged to hear God's Word and message, (also called the Gospel of Jesus' death and resurrection,)preached and then turn/repent to seek that God offer.

After that the details are fairly easy to learn and can be found concisely written down in The Institutes of The Christian Religion. That book is out of copywrite, so it's available free, or for a dollar, on Amazon Kindle.

It is the third most important book in Christianity's history, (the writings of Paul the Apostle and St Augustine, Bishop of Hippo would be the other two). It was written by a brilliant French Lawyer.

Go read it for yourself if you want to know what the Christian religion actually teaches.

The Savage Noble said...

I thought Ann meant "believe the religion they profess to believe" in the sense of "I'm a Christian, but I don't think Jesus was really divine, he was just a good person". The stated belief is at loggerheads with the definition of the religion in question. How far can you wander off the reservation, so to speak, and still remain a faithful member of the tribe?

traditionalguy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mtrobertsattorney said...

"Faith is what you know is true even if you don't believe it."
F. O'Conner

Left Bank of the Charles said...

There should be a religion for the pervasively skeptical. We'll call it worshiping at the Church of Althouse.

One can be skeptical about the skepticism. A true believer might put secular reasons on a religious tenet for purposes of arguing with a nonbeliever, even though they don't believe the secular reasons.

Note: I am writing this under the assumption that "pervasively skeptical" are your words. If they are not, we are still naming the church after you.

m stone said...

66 (11:38)sums up the best Christian response to skeptics.

It's really not about Christians being "hypocrites", Trey,that keeps people from faith in God, it's God offering something they think is too good to be true.

"I do it my way." - Frank Sinatra and Adam after the fall.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

As an aside, I remember harsh criticism against anyone who questioned whether President Obama was actually a (Christian) believer leading up to his election.

Ann Althouse said...

"We are all Prius drivers living in McMansions. I'm gobsmacked that anyone reaches Althouse's age and professes surprise that people's beliefs don't match the way they live."

Try understanding what I'm actually saying.

I'm saying I don't think people believe what they say they believe, not that their behavior does meet the standards of their beliefs.

I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe.

See the difference?

Ann Althouse said...

"For true Christians, true belief is surrender, nothing less. Christianity is a supernatural faith that feeds the empty heart and cannot be explained by reason or feeling."

This is something that occurs in the mind, through thinking and feeling.

You introduced the word "reason."

broomhandle said...


"I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe."

Absolute bollocks. It is only evidence of their ability to discipline their lives to match their beliefs. I can unshakeably believe in an omnipotent, omnipresent Creator and still do dumb, selfish shit that I believe will displease him. You're talking about obedience (be it to a faith or an ideology)which is not the same as belief.

Cog said...

"Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

What a great quote to underscore Christian theology that people don't get faith simply by deciding they want it but, rather, it comes as a gift of grace.

Meriam Ibrahim, who gave birth to a daughter in her prison cell last week, refused to renounce Christianity when given the opportunity after her arrest. She's been sentenced to 100 lashes and death by hanging by a Sharia court for converting and of adultery for wedding a non-Muslim.

It's interesting that the Egyptian TV host said she endorsed Sharia's rules on adultery. Anyone who think that Muslims believe in the same God as that of the Christians and Jews doesn't understand these religions.

Michael said...

Professor:

True faith is marinated in doubt.

The Crack Emcee said...

Bill Crawford,

"Are you also skeptical that atheists actually believe the atheism they profess to hold?"

Since atheism isn't a belief system, nope,...

CStanley said...

I think you are splitting hairs, semantically and theologically.

If true belief always compels right actions, then your point about not judging actions is moot,

If it doesn't, then how can you judge people's minds and hearts?

I think someone hit on the distinction between faith and belief. Your use of the word belief seems pretty close to absolute knowledge, and we don't view faith that way. We choose to believe, and as someone else said, to surrender to that belief- but we do it imperfectly. If you are to presume that means we don't "really" believe, so be it...but since you already accept that people can't live up to their ideals then why can't it also be true that we don't live up to our beliefs?

Roughcoat said...

I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe.

But it is not conclusive evidence. Many people live in ways that are contrary, to a greater or lesser extent, to their beliefs. Christians especially. This concept is foundational to Christianity. Speaking as a Catholic, I would say that it undergirds the logic of the Sacrament of Confession (which is now known as Reconciliation). By way of confession and penance we are reconciled with God through Christ for our sins--for living in ways that are contrary to our beliefs. The fact that we have sinned does not negate belief.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Also, less of an aside, but using a professed doubt of the sincerity of someone's stated beliefs as the starting point of a conversation is obviously not going to get anyone very far--it is definitionally telling the other person you assume they'e arguing (or acting) in bad faith (pardon the pun).

What I mean is saying to someone "you're not a true believer/real feminist/etc because you don't think/say/do X" is a tough way to start out if the goal is a civil discussion about an issue.

RecChief said...

And the tone you are taking with me doesn't seem even to attempt to take the teachings of Jesus seriously. I don't believe you really believe.

Having read Roughcoat's comment, I'm puzzled as to this reply.

Personally, I thought the post was simply to drive page views while at the same time troll for comments. But you might actually be pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe. Either way, or neither even, it's not my place to judge.

Freeman Hunt said...

People are always saying that America is full of Christians. Where? You rarely meet one.

RecChief said...

True belief isn't the result of brainwashing, but the result of a free mind, thinking and feeling. I think that's right. It's not blind belief. It's not the brainwashing of an empty heart either.

Illuninati said...

Althouse said:

"I'm saying I don't think people believe what they say they believe, not that their behavior does meet the standards of their beliefs.

I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe."

That sounds like the old Freudian doctrine about what is going on in people's subconscious. The targeted individual could protest all they wanted to but since the motivation was supposedly arising from subconscious conflicts Freud always won the argument by definition. It has taken years for Psychiatry to shake off those unproven assertions by Freud.

In the same way Ms. Althouse is making the unprovable assertion that although Muslims claim to believe the Koran and Hadiths and although they live accordingly they really don't believe them. No amount of protestation by the individuals involved would convince Ms. Althouse since she would automatically assume they were dissembling. I've already offered the supreme behavioral evidence that many Muslims believe what they teach and Ms. Althouse has dismissed the evidence out of hand, not because of counter evidence that every suicide bomber is a depressed individual who is using religion as an insincere pretext to commit suicide but because it doesn't fit her theory. Here's the thing, when a man dies in jihad shouting alu Akbar how does Ms. Althouse know that the person is just pretending to believe in the Allah he/she is shouting about? Why can't Ms. Althouse take the Muslim at his/her word? Is the preconceived theory derived a priori more powerful than the evidence?


HoodlumDoodlum said...

@Ann Althouse:

This is a good time to link to one of Instapundit's stock blog responses regarding the hypocrises/excesses of environmentalists; his line is something like "I'll start believing it's a crisis when the people who say it's a crisis act like it's a crisis."

Alex said...

Roughcoat..

As for whether I take the lessons of Jesus seriously, or whether I believe or don't believe ... you don't know and can't know the truth of the matter.

Not very Jesus-like of you.

n.n said...

Religion (i.e. moral philosophy) is straightforward. The underlying or accompanying faith is less trivial. Most people find it easier to trust in a material system of consequences and rewards, than what may occur in their postmortem. Faith in God requires an extraordinary constitution, which is subjected the stress of an evolutionary process (e.g. life).

That said, the value of a religion can be judged separate from its philosopher, whether he is divine (i.e. ex-universe) or mortal. The consequences of immoral behavior are not always obvious in this world, and they will not be known in another state with certitude until they are observed. People find this uncertainty to be distressing, are alienated by positive and negative sensory feedback, which is further exacerbated by dreams of their ego.

erictrimmer said...

Life of Pi

Jupiter said...

"I'm saying I don't think people believe what they say they believe, not that their behavior does meet the standards of their beliefs."

You are taking a rather naive approach to the idea of "belief". If I say I believe getting hit by cars can't harm me, you can tell whether I am sincere by watching how I cross the street. If I say that Einstein's General Theory of Relativity implies that space and time suffer a singularity called a Black Hole in certain regions of space, and I believe it, well, what does that mean? What would I do differently if I didn't believe it?

Jupiter said...

"Everyone should believe something. I believe I'll have another drink."

Roughcoat said...

@Alex "Not very Jesus-like of you."

Huh? Sarcasm?

People are always saying that America is full of Christians. Where? You rarely meet one.

This is your lucky day. Allow me to introduce myself ...

sean said...

Note how, in the earlier discussion, Prof. Althouse commits the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, by redefining "belief" to encompass only "true belief." Once the speaker does that, she can always prove that X does not believe Y, for any X and Y.

The Godfather said...

The core of Christian faith can be found in the Nicean Creed. It is probably true that a lot of professed Christians in the US don't really believe that the mother of Jesus was a virgin, or that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, etc. I do, by the way, and I am distressed that others don't, but I don't think that's what's bothering Prof. Althouse. And you can't tell by someone's behavior whether he/she believes the Creed or not.

Roughcoat said...


@Hoodlum Doodlum: Also, less of an aside, but using a professed doubt of the sincerity of someone's stated beliefs as the starting point of a conversation is obviously not going to get anyone very far...

Thanks for that. In fairness to Althouse, however, it occurs me now that my comments in the opening post ("I can't believe you don't [understand]")might be interpreted as doubting her sincerity. They were not meant as such. My point being that I thought her comments were meant to "provoke" (in a good way) discussion of the issue at hand. Nothing wrong with that, IMO. Nothing at all.

Roughcoat said...

Something else needs to be said about what it means to be a Christian. Namely, if you're baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then you're a Christian. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Even if you renounce that baptism you're still a Christian in the eyes of God. Once you're baptized you can't be unbaptized. Baptism is eternal. That's why, in the Catholic credo, we say "we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of Sins. Hence, if you were baptized as, say, a Methodist, and you convert to Catholicism, you are not re-baptized; you are "confirmed" in the Catholic Church.

Accordingly there is no such thing as a "nominal Christian" or a Christian in name only--not if you been baptized. You may not be devout, you may never go to mass, you may be the most wretched of sinners, you may have totally lost your faith: doesn't matter. If you were baptized, you're a Christian.

Roughcoat said...

I should add that my comments above on what it means to be a Christian applies to Catholicism only--I don't know enough about Protestant beliefs to speak to their views in this regard. Protestants, perhaps you can enlighten me?

I do know this: Catholics don't believe you can or need to be "born again" in Christ. Once born (through baptism), always born. I am NOT disparaging Protestant beliefs in pointing this out. Just want to clarify where I'm coming from.

Johanna Lapp said...

My girlfriend professes to be a rational atheist. Yet when her moment came to risk her own life and career to save a total stranger, she chose to be a heroine.

If her hypocrisy comforts her, who amI to object?

fizzymagic said...

Althouse:

I'm saying I don't think people believe what they say they believe, not that their behavior does meet the standards of their beliefs.

I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe.

See the difference?


Not really. What other evidence is there than behavior to indicate whether people "really believe" or not?

In other words, you are using the standard of behavior to judge a person's internal state, which is exactly what Christianity says you cannot (and should not) do.

That there is no simple way out of the inevitable dilemma might be a good hint that something more profound is going on.

Revenant said...

Actually, all people who identify as Christians do not meet Jesus' standards.

That really depends on what you mean by "Jesus's standards". Jesus himself got pissed and whupped some temple moneychanger ass, after all.

In my view, the original standard actually set by Jesus was one of striving. If you're legitimately trying, you're meeting the standard. You just aren't meeting some of the standards later Christian sects came up with.

Ann Althouse said...

"I think you wrote this to be provocative. To be the straw, as it were, that stirs the drink."

"I wasn't taking any 'tone' with you, at least not knowingly. I meant no offense, no snark. FWIW, I don't think there's anything wrong with being the straw that stirs the drink, especially on your own blog. I was merely making an observation."

You made an unsupported accusation which you illustrated with an insulting image, then you say you were "merely making an observation" when I merely make the observation that you were taking tone that didn't seem like how Christ called us to relate to other people. (For anyone who's forgotten: Love your neighbor as yourself.) I said I took that as evidence that you are not a true believer. (For anyone who hasn't studied evidence: Evidence is anything that makes a fact in issue more likely or less likely to be true.)

"And ... I have to say, I'm disappointed with your reaction to my post. Disappointed that you were offended by my tone."

Disappointed? What's that supposed to mean? That you were hoping to get away with an insidious insult? Disappointed because I didn't turn out to be the sort of person who merely makes observations, exactly what you were hoping to be able to do without getting called on it?

Ann Althouse said...

"Althouse needs to be careful here. Accusing Muslims as being insincere in their religious beliefs can be fatal. (Although I note that even though the original article was about Islam, Althouse has been careful to limit her arguements to Christians and the sincerity of their beliefs)"

Oh, bullshit. I'm speaking generically of all religions.

The only thing I'm Christian-specific about is my own foundation in Christianity which makes me define religion in terms of what a free human mind actually feels and thinks.

Lydia said...

Althouse said...Try understanding what I'm actually saying.

I'm saying I don't think people believe what they say they believe, not that their behavior does meet the standards of their beliefs.

I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe.


Well, I'm having a hard time understanding what you're actually saying, since yesterday you said this:

Reading the Gospels, I see Jesus as challenging people about their beliefs, perceiving that they do not truly believe, and holding them to a much higher standard of what real belief is.

When I look at what purportedly religious people say and do, I question whether they are what they claim to be. Religion is used to serve human interests on earth, and all of that is pragmatic and social.

Show me the true believer. What would the true believer do and say?


and this:

My understanding of what religion is and the importance of genuine belief that occurs within a free human mind is informed by my experience with Christianity (including rereading the Gospels many times and memorizing the Sermon on the Mount), but many people who identify as Christians do not meet the standards expressed by Jesus.

Seems to me you said there -- especially with "what would the true believe do and say" -- that behavior meeting or not meeting standards is exactly how we are to judge whether or not true belief is in play.

Revenant said...

My girlfriend professes to be a rational atheist. Yet when her moment came to risk her own life and career to save a total stranger, she chose to be a heroine. If her hypocrisy comforts her, who am I to object?

Could you clarify why you think this is "hypocrisy"? On the surface it seems you have confused "rational" with "selfish".

There is nothing inherently irrational in sacrificing your own life to save another person's life. It is only irrational if you value your life more than the other person's.

Ann Althouse said...

"Here's the thing, when a man dies in jihad shouting alu Akbar how does Ms. Althouse know that the person is just pretending to believe in the Allah he/she is shouting about? Why can't Ms. Althouse take the Muslim at his/her word? Is the preconceived theory derived a priori more powerful than the evidence?"

Why should I take a murdering asshole who is the process of escaping all human punishment at his word? The one thing I know is that if he's facing judgment from God, he's doing it with blood on his hands. All this too me is evidence that he doesn't believe. He wants to leave with glory in the eyes of his confederates, and he wants to scare the bejeezus out of his enemies. That explains the profession of religion. My assessment of that evidence is that he does not truly believe in God.

Why do you want me to believe him? My hypothesis is: You want to stir up hatred of Muslims. I reject that as unChristian and pragmatically unwise.

The Crack Emcee said...

Roughcoat,

Methinks the drink has been stirred,...

Ann Althouse said...

"Also, less of an aside, but using a professed doubt of the sincerity of someone's stated beliefs as the starting point of a conversation is obviously not going to get anyone very far--it is definitionally telling the other person you assume they'e arguing (or acting) in bad faith (pardon the pun)."

Yeah, I'm not trying to give advice on how to have good conversations. I frequently converse with people without revealing that I think they are lying, bullshitting, or deceiving themselves. This post is about what I think, not what I recommend saying. Know your audience. I prefer having conversations with people who can handle this kind of material, but I know most people rankle.

Ann Althouse said...

"If true belief always compels right actions, then your point about not judging actions is moot"

It doesn't, so it's not.

"If it doesn't, then how can you judge people's minds and hearts?"

I'm not judging them. I'm not in the position of judge. I'm just doing what everyone always does in this world: Looking at what I can see and trying to understand it. I have my working theories, my hypotheses, and presumptions. You can never know what's in other people's head, but you have to defend yourself and others and make various decisions about what to do based on your assessment of what other people are up to. My presumption about religion -- all religions -- is that people use it to get along in this word, often in beneficial, charitable, social ways and sometimes to control and oppress other people.

"I think someone hit on the distinction between faith and belief. Your use of the word belief seems pretty close to absolute knowledge, and we don't view faith that way. We choose to believe, and as someone else said, to surrender to that belief- but we do it imperfectly. If you are to presume that means we don't "really" believe, so be it...but since you already accept that people can't live up to their ideals then why can't it also be true that we don't live up to our beliefs?"

In other words, you don't really believe. You wish you did, and you like to pretend that you do, but you don't really.

Ann Althouse said...

"This is a good time to link to one of Instapundit's stock blog responses regarding the hypocrises/excesses of environmentalists; his line is something like "I'll start believing it's a crisis when the people who say it's a crisis act like it's a crisis.""

Good point.

Roughcoat said...

"You made an unsupported accusation which you illustrated. etc.

Calm down, woman. You're going to hurt yourself.

Ann Althouse said...

"Note how, in the earlier discussion, Prof. Althouse commits the "no true Scotsman" fallacy, by redefining "belief" to encompass only "true belief." Once the speaker does that, she can always prove that X does not believe Y, for any X and Y."

Ridiculous! I've defined "belief" to mean "belief." The word "true" isn't narrowing what belief mean, only underscoring at phony belief isn't included.

Roughcoat said...

I frequently converse with people without revealing that I think they are lying, bullshitting, or deceiving themselves.

You're an arrogant asshole and you're full of shit.

broomhandle said...


"As for whether I take the lessons of Jesus seriously, or whether I believe or don't believe ... you don't know and can't know the truth of the matter.

Not very Jesus-like of you."

Actually very Jesus-like. Christianity as a belief (not as a stereotype defined by one it's many sects) is a choice of the heart.

Ann Althouse said...

"Something else needs to be said about what it means to be a Christian. Namely, if you're baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then you're a Christian. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. Even if you renounce that baptism you're still a Christian in the eyes of God. Once you're baptized you can't be unbaptized. Baptism is eternal. That's why, in the Catholic credo, we say "we acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of Sins. Hence, if you were baptized as, say, a Methodist, and you convert to Catholicism, you are not re-baptized; you are "confirmed" in the Catholic Church."

To say that is to say you can be a Christian without believing in the religion. My assertion is about whether people really believe their religion, so you are talking about a different topic, essentially saying: It's okay if you don't believe; you're safe in the afterlife if you got baptized. I wonder whether you really believe that. But under your formula you don't have to believe it. The outward ritual was done so you're fine.

Freeman Hunt said...

I would not have thought that anyone would find the title of this post controversial.

Anonymous said...

AA wrote:

"I'm only referring to the way people live because it is evidence of whether or not they believe.

See the difference?"

I think our culture has misused the word belief so much that it's changed meanings.

In the book of James it is written:

"But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."

Not to put words in Althouse mouth, but she seems to be saying the above.

Today we seem to believe we can sit on a couch, drink and snack, watch tv, and generate good feelings inside of us, and that makes us good and decent people. Because we feel it, we must believe it.

Ann seems to be taking the side that I would take. Generating feelings means nothing. You can tell me all day long that you believe in me to the point of absolute trust, but you refuse to fall backward and let me catch you, because you're scared.

Your actions tell me you don't trust me. Your words are bullshit. Made to make you feel better about yourself, whatever.

But your actions speak much louder than your words do.

And if this is what Ann is saying, I agree with her.

Ann Althouse said...

Lydia, at 4:10: "Seems to me you said there -- especially with "what would the true believe do and say" -- that behavior meeting or not meeting standards is exactly how we are to judge whether or not true belief is in play."

No. I'm not making a final judgment on anyone, but just developing my own understanding of what human beings are doing. I have their statements and their actions to work with, and I do what I can. The topic got started over the way that Egyptian TV interviewer justified the rule in the Koran that a thief's hand should be cut off by saying that if that is the punishment for theft, then there will be very little theft (i.e., she cited the deterrent effect). Somebody else pointed to that statement as revealing a true believer. I said I didn't think that's what a true believer would say, since her deterrent effect argument is pragmatic. It works even on nonbelievers. I then challenged people to think about what a true believer would do and say. That challenge was not an assertion that we could know for sure who truly believes. I'm simply asking people to think in a sophisticated way about the evidence.

66 said...

Ms. Althouse --

I think there may be a disconnect between what you are saying and what we in the commenteriat understand you to mean. When you say "I am pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe," can you provide further examples of what you mean?

Regarding the video of the women in Egypt, I thought your point was that the interviewer may have felt forced to say some of the things she said for pragmatic reasons, and not necessarily because she personally believed them. But your "pervasively skeptical" line indicates a general skepticism toward people who profess religious beliefs. Where does this skepticism come from? Are you skeptical that there are believers? Or is it that when someone professes their belief, that causes you to react with skepticism?

I hope my questions have not insulted you. I find this an interesting and complex topic that is difficult to discuss in short comments. I am interested in better understanding your thinking.

Ann Althouse said...

""But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." Not to put words in Althouse mouth, but she seems to be saying the above."

Thanks. Great quote.

There's also:

"Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 1good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."

Freeman Hunt said...

And Matthew 7:21-23.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Anonymous said...


I practice. Sometimes I believe and sometimes I don't.

I would draw an analogy to musical talent. If you practice your instrument, there is a chance you will be in the musical flow that day. However, you can practice your butt off and still suck. That doesn't mean that insane musical talent doesn't exist, you just aren't able to access it for whatever reason.

It's easier to believe - in life in love in anything - when you hit that flow state.

As far as traditional Christianity goes, I imagine the structure and community can provide a structure within which to practice (Love, Agape, Brotherhood, Higher Understanding). I do wonder how many Christians actually believe in the particulars and if they don't, why do they indoctrinate their kids for another generation? I know some who definitely do believe. Their faith has given their life a sound basis that it wouldn't have had otherwise, and so they continue to practice.

66 said...

Ms. Althouse --

No need to respond to my last post. Your comment at 4:56 clarifies things well.

One additional point: your comment at 4:47 misunderstands Catholic theology. It is true that Catholics believe Christian baptism is forever; you don't need to be baptized a second time if you convert from protestantism to Catholicism. However, it is not the case that baptism is sufficient to attain heaven. Catholics believe that only those in a state of grace will be admitted to heaven.

n.n said...

The true believer will trust in the philosopher and their behavior will reflect the principles of the philosophy. There is no way to distinguish between a behavior which is engendered by a directive or a circumstance. Furthermore, there is no need to discern that distinction. If the person successfully deceives another being with limited perception, then they will fail to deceive a being with unlimited perception. For the former, exercise personal discretion unless the philosopher advises otherwise. For the latter, personal discretion is limited by the terms and circumstances of the environment (e.g. mortality, gravity). So, a behavior can simultaneously be a pragmatic act and reflect an individual's faith. An overlap is not evidence of a conflict or competition.

The Crack Emcee said...

Ann Althouse,

"I then challenged people to think about what a true believer would do and say."

Again - how you get there is odd, but I see what you're saying. I don't think they can do it, though. They're too wrapped in it.

Blacks are lazy, y'know,...

Left Bank of the Charles said...

If you pray, say, 5 times a day every day for 55 years, that's over 100,000 prayers. You're bound to get some of them answered.

Let's go back to the money quote:

"Sahid claims that Allah would give her a million pounds if she prayed for it, which makes me wonder why she doesn't."

It is easy to assume that a prayer like that hasn't been answered, but a million Egyptian pounds is $139,844.50 U.S. dollars.

A beautiful TV host may be able to quite sincerely insist that she can pray for a million pounds and expect to get it.

traditionalguy said...

Roughcoat asked what do Protestants think about a Catholic doctrine of baptism.

OK, but first tell me how many beliefs can dance on the head of a pin? But with no superstition allowed in the answer.

That sums up the current failure to communicate. The Religion business dearly loves to feed its sheep[ with such categorical confusion and then claims it alone possesses Divine Authority to leave the group in the state of confusion they just caused for one more time around.

That was why Enlightened Catholic scholars such as Martin Luther went along to a point, but were not really satisfied with that level of disrespect for them and the wasting of everybody's time and money. Hence many no longer valued the Church except for the superstitious who still hoped that Priests really do cause magic to happen for donations.

Which gets enlightened men down to Martin Luther's three principles of sola scriptura, sola fide, and priesthood of believers. The rest is history.





The Godfather said...

@Althouse, you do owe Roughcoat an apology. You say he made "an unsupported accusation which [he] illustrated with an insulting image". No he didn't. I've gone back and re-read his comment. He challenged your (poorly framed, in my opinion) position, and did so politely and with an express escape hatch for you. If you never got push-back harder than this, your comments wouldn't have to be moderated.

My own "unsupported accusation" is that you live in an environment where attacks on the Christian religion are de rigeur, but you can prove me wrong, by apologizing for the hurt you caused Roughcoat. That's what a Christian is supposed to do.

66 said...

Sorry, one more regarding judging beliefs by actions:

John 8:7 --

They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”

They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.

But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Ann Althouse said...

"However, it is not the case that baptism is sufficient to attain heaven. Catholics believe that only those in a state of grace will be admitted to heaven."

Okay. I was just responding to a comment, not attempting to include the official doctrine.

Your elaboration is valuable. Question: Does a "state of grace" include a state of mind of genuinely believing in the religion? Or is it enough to have gone through rituals of confession and absolution and that sort of thing?

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said...
.. The one thing I know is that if he's facing judgment from God, he's doing it with blood on his hands. All this too me is evidence that he doesn't believe.


Well, it's definitely evidence that he (or she!) doesn't believe in a god who disapproves of murdering others but if their belief is in a god who (that?) condones or approves of certain types of murders then they could still be a believer. Whether any major religious movements fit that criteria (having such a god/belief system) is certainly debatable.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Ann Althouse said..
That challenge was not an assertion that we could know for sure who truly believes. I'm simply asking people to think in a sophisticated way about the evidence.


I stand by my (hopefully sophisticatedly-derived) assertion that a true believer who was interested in converting or persuading others might use all sorts of types of arguments in order to be effective, and that on that basis they type of argument a person uses at one time (in one setting, to one audience, etc) isn't necessarily a good litmus test for whether or not the person is a true believer. [Litmus test is too strong given your framing of the example as just evidence/not conclusory, but hopefully you see what I mean.]

Semi-related: I liked the verse (in James or Matthew) where it's said "even demons believe, [in God] and are afraid."

dc said...

From Orwell,"There are some ideas so absurd only an intellectual could believe them."I have a quote that I think fits the Orwellian test for absurdity."I am pervasively skeptical that people actually believe the religion they profess to believe."

rhhardin said...

Althouse is misguided on belief and real belief being related. Real belief causes a context change where belief functions entirely differently. It's a different word.

However she will enjoy The Evil Vicar Mitchell and Webb

66 said...

"Does a 'state of grace' include a state of mind of genuinely believing in the religion? Or is it enough to have gone through rituals of confession and absolution and that sort of thing?"

Without question, grace requires faith. Your comments on what in means to believe are strikingly similar to what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about grace. "Since it belongs to the supernatural order, grace escapes our experience and cannot be known except by faith. We cannot therefore rely on our feelings or our works to conclude that we are justified and saved. However, according to the Lord’s words — 'Thus you will know them by their fruits' — reflection on God’s blessings in our life and in the lives of the saints offers us a guarantee that grace is at work in us and spurs us on to an ever greater faith and an attitude of trustful poverty."

Regarding the proper frame of mind to have a good confession, the CCC talks about having a "contrite heart and religious disposition."

CStanley said...

In other words, you don't really believe. You wish you did, and you like to pretend that you do, but you don't really.

That's not what I said, and not an accurate reflection of my thoughts or feelings.

More accurate: I accept that my belief is a choice, and one that comes with doubts, because I know that the truth isn't knowable in the same way that physical phenomena are knowable. This is why I said you were splitting hairs, because I don't think this type of belief is less real than any other, but if you want to define it that way you can. In that case, the word faith might be a better fit for what. I feel.

And in a way I suppose I can then acknowledge what you think I'm thinking and feeling, though the tone that you used was incorrect (also insulting, I might add, though I don't much care.). I would say yes, I wish my faith was stronger, and I lament my inability to discipline myself to make it so. As far as pretense, there are times when I choose right actions even though the feelings are not there. I think this is important to do in all relationships, including my relationship with God. Love and faith involve commitment, and feelings don't always fall in line,

HoodlumDoodlum said...

A pet peeve of mine when watching movies with supernatual or religous content is how often the characters do not react (or change their mode of thinking/living) to the very profound information or proof they obtain about their reality. I mean, these people see aliens or angels or magic at work but then don't really change their lives in any meaningful way--in the Professor's framework they act as though they don't really believe the things the movie just showed them experiencing!

The Cracked show After Hours did an episode about this and used an example I though of (Indiana Jones); it's mostly in the second half of the video here:

http://www.cracked.com/video_18477_why-indiana-jones-secretly-sucks-at-his-job.html

Roughcoat said...

If this were a romantic comedy, Althouse and I would be fucking in the next scene.

MFindlay said...

I think James 2:19 sheds a bit of light on this "belief" thing.

Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

Christianity isn't about mere belief, it is about faith. It is perfectly understandable to say that based on one's observation there aren't many Christians that have faith because they would lead very different lives if they did. But I think it is rather foolish to claim knowledge of what those same folks believe.

I consider myself a Christian. There is no doubt that I believe in the Nicene Creed. That said you'd come in a distant second to me in terms of questioning my faith.

Roughcoat said...

@The Godfather 4:19 pm:

Thanks for that. And I'm sorry I lost my temper (above).

Being a baptized Christian doesn't mean that you are automatically saved. You also have to ask God for forgiveness and accept his grace. And you have to mean it. The whole argument about God's grace and the role of good works in attaining salvation is one of those faultlines dividing Catholics and Protestants. However, the Catholic Church has come around to the Protestant view that man is justified by faith alone. We're getting closer to healing the rift.

Gahrie said...

Why do you want me to believe him? My hypothesis is: You want to stir up hatred of Muslims. I reject that as unChristian and pragmatically unwise.

Why?

Why is telling the truth about Islam and Muslims hatred? And how is telling the truth unwise?

Islam does tell Muslims they will be rewarded in Heaven if they kill unbelievers. Muslim clerics do tell Muslims that if they kill themselves while killing unbelievers they will be rewarded in Heaven. Muslim faithful do kill themselves in the name of their God. These are objective facts..why do you dismiss them...surely they are at least worth disproving?

Gahrie said...

The only thing I'm Christian-specific about is my own foundation in Christianity which makes me define religion in terms of what a free human mind actually feels and thinks.

1) I missed your discussion on Islam or other religions...could you point it out to me?

2) You are showing either your ignorance, or your arrogance again. Muslims neither have, nor desire a free human mind. They are slaves in submission to the will of Allah and are determined to live their lives exactly as Muhammad did, to the best of their ability.

Harold said...

Roughcoat said...


Accordingly there is no such thing as a "nominal Christian" or a Christian in name only--not if you been baptized. You may not be devout, you may never go to mass, you may be the most wretched of sinners, you may have totally lost your faith: doesn't matter. If you were baptized, you're a Christian.
*****************
Pretty much the same theology as Islam- Once a Muslim, always a Muslim, and being born to a Muslim parent makes you one without any ritual needed. Difference is- Christianity doesn't call for the death of those who leave the faith. Islam does. And virtually every country in Sharialand enforces that bit of Islam.

Paco Wové said...

"Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them."

So, got any examples?

Æthelflæd said...

Being a baptized Christian is like being a husband or a wife. One can be a faithful husband, or an unfaithful husband, and even the faithful husband still has to apologize to his spouse occasionally (i.e. confess his sin). The unfaithful husband is still a husband even if he doesn't really take his marriage vows seriously. In another sense, one can say the he isn't being a true husband. So there is a sense in which a nominal, lapsed, or unbelieving Christian can be said to be objectively a Christian, and yet also not a Christian.

Fandor said...

What line of thinking do my thoughts take? Do I turn to what God says or to my own fears? Am I simply repeating what God says, or am I learning to truly hear Him and then to respond after I have heard what He says?

"He Himself has said," I will never leave you nor forsake you"

(Hebrews 13:5)

My assurance is to be built on God's assurance to me.

Are we yielding to fear? Human frailty?

We're feeble in facing difficulties, but we must remember God's assurance--"I will never...forsake you."

Fandor said...

Roughcoat and Althouse...

Fadeout

Morning

Meade is in cuffs, splattered in blood...being read his rights...

A dog mournfully howls...

Anglelyne said...

AA: I frequently converse with people without revealing that I think they are lying, bullshitting, or deceiving themselves.

Your point about "really believe" is valid (if not particularly interesting, imo), but I think you're deceiving yourself about your purpose in posting about the Egyptian interviewer: "I'm simply asking people to think in a sophisticated way about the evidence."

Well, no. The evidence from your behavior here is that what you're really concerned with is persuading yourself that people who talk like that interviewer share the same psychology of belief and motivation as the Unitarian Universalist next door. (I myself am agnostic on the lady's level of belief and fanaticism - for all I know she and the good doctor were co-operating in Jerry Springer schtick to pump up the ratings.)

The behavioral evidence for this is the quick resort to the "Islamophobia" accusation. Long experience tells me that playing the "*-phobe" card is an indication of stupidity, disingenuousness, or self-deception. We can rule out the first out of hand, and I don't think your being professorially disingenuous on this point, so that leaves self-deception.

I grant that this isn't a tremendously strong argument in support of my evidence for your mental state, but it is slightly more than the bald assertions you made about your evidence from behavior, e.g., the interviewer's "pragmatic" (rather than more high-falutin'ly theological) justifications being evidence for lack of real belief in what she was saying.

Uh, why? This is far from self-evident, and your projection and universalizing of your own notions about religious belief just keep getting worse, to the point where one might simply ask that you at least try to think in a less parochial and more sophisticated way about human religious psychology:

The one thing I know is that if he's facing judgment from God, he's doing it with blood on his hands. All this too me is evidence that he doesn't believe. He wants to leave with glory in the eyes of his confederates, and he wants to scare the bejeezus out of his enemies. That explains the profession of religion. My assessment of that evidence is that he does not truly believe in God.

This merits a serious "wtf", Ann. No one believes, if their belief is not isolated from other human passions? All human beings everywhere believe their God or gods will condemn them for killing their enemies, and are either shameless hypocrites if they claim to disagree, or must subject themselves to elaborate rationalizations and self-deceptions to square themselves with the SWPL late-modern Christianity that we just know is the common core of the evolved religious impulse shared by all men everywhere?

And I started out half-joking about the Unitarian Universalist thing.

Illuninati said...

Ann Althouse said...

"Why do you want me to believe him? My hypothesis is: You want to stir up hatred of Muslims. I reject that as unChristian and pragmatically unwise."

I get the picture. I do have one final question. Is the way to avoid hatred of Muslims to claim that they don't really believe what they say they believe?

Harold said...

This discussion reminds me of the term Holiday Catholic (or Christian). Most people, even not having heard the term used before, immediately understand what it means. People who show up at Cristmas, Easter, and for weddings and funerals. Their prescence at any other times would probably send tongues a waggin' about the reason why they were there.

The Crack Emcee said...

Angels. Pin. Head.

Religion,...

Illuninati said...

Gahrie said...

"Why is telling the truth about Islam and Muslims hatred? And how is telling the truth unwise?"

Thank-you Gharie and Anglelyne but the damage is done.

There is one thing which strikes me as interesting in all this. Apparently there are repressive societies (in this case Egypt)in which moderators on television have to pretend to believe things they don't really believe, but yet no one else in that society really believes the founding principles of the society either. If no one actually believes those things then who is maintaining the society in its present form? One would think that they would all finally figure out that no one else believes and would all drop the pretense.

Incidentally, in my discussions with Iranians it does seem to be the Muslim country in which there really are many people who do not believe. Quite a few Iranians secretly practice their traditional Zoroastrianism which they had before the Muslims invaded.

Thank-you Mead for your patience. I think you are doing a great job.


Job said...

The problem with your reasoning, Professor Althouse, is that you misunderstand what it means to "believe."

You are treating belief as the result of a dispassionate evaluation of the evidence. That is, you use "believe" in the same sense that a meteorologist might say that he believes it will rain tomorrow.

One cannot dispassionately come to any conclusion about the existence of G*d because He is simply not subject to proof.

What we call "belief" is partly a conscious choice.

This is what Mark 9:24 and the Flannery O'Connor quote are about.

Ken Mitchell said...

Cicero wondered how two augurs could meet each other on the street without laughing out loud over the foolishness they were putting over on the public.

CStanley said...

A few more thoughts on this:

1. If I understand Prof. Althouse's point about pragmatic vs. "real" belief, it is that sometimes we choose to believe because of the perceived benefits to society. I agree, but I say, so what? Even to the degree that I do that, it makes sense to do so and it's not inconsistent with the other type of belief. I think that the evidence of societal benefit is actually evidence that the belief system is true. God created us to benefit from this way of living and loving one another.

2. Living out our faith is demanding, and often exceeds our capability to choose what we believe is in our long term interest over the availability of short term pleasures. To see people doing this and think it indicates that their belief is fake is silly if you just look at human behavior in general. We know that smoking has a high positive correlation with lung cancer, yet lots of people do it anyway. I know that my health will be negatively impacted when I choose to eat fast food or cupcakes, but I do it anyway. These are things about which I have no doubt, but I still can't regulate my behavior to be in tune with my beliefs. For a really good discussion on this, I recommend the writings by Jonathan Haidt on moral psychology.

3. That said, I do think the "faith vs works" discussion is relevant and my belief is that faith is meaningless if it isn't accompanied by good works. I have known evangelicals who argue that Catholics place too much emphasis on works, but the Catholic faith doesn't teach that we earn our justification by good works. Instead, the point is that if you're not doing good works, then you'd better check your faith.

So all of this is relevant and it also makes sense that good works are the outward sign on faith, by which others might find their own faith. And it is telling that someone who doesn't believe, is watching with such a critical eye. I happen to think that she is being hypercritical, and I think it's often the case that nonbelievers use this as an excuse to not engage in religion.

4. On the difference between Muslims and Christians, I think Prof, Althouse is discounting the possibility that the Muslim belief system allows and even praises killing of infidels. There seem to be plenty of verses that justify this, and plenty who are true believers of that interpretation. Thus they are not going against their beliefs when they commit murder and/or suicide. There's also evidence that the ancient Israelis similarly believed that God condoned murder of their enemies, but along the way the Christians and later Jews embraced the Greek idea of Logos. Pope Benedict's speech at Regensburg was a challenge to Islamic scholars, to invite them to explain if they'd come to similar conclusions about the nature of God.

jaed said...

The one thing I know is that if he's facing judgment from God, he's doing it with blood on his hands. All this too me is evidence that he doesn't believe. He wants to leave with glory in the eyes of his confederates, and he wants to scare the bejeezus out of his enemies. That explains the profession of religion. My assessment of that evidence is that he does not truly believe in God.

When judging from someone's actions whether they truly believe, it helps to have some idea what they profess to believe. Do you think Islam is actually Christianity with the labels changed, plus a few minor additions like Sharia? It isn't.

Consider our suicide bomber from the Muslim perspective. He isn't facing judgment with "innocent blood on his hands"; he's facing judgment as one who sacrificed his very life in order to carry out God's command to make war on unbelievers. (Or have you forgotten that Muslims call suicide bombers "shaheed", martyrs? That is a direct translation. Both words mean "witness" - someone who witnesses to the truth of his religion with his blood.)

The reward of paradise is promised to the Muslim who dies in battle against the infidel. This is not some abberation, it's central to the religion from its earliest days and is universally accepted by Muslims. (Not all Muslims equate suicide bombing with battle, but that is the only point of disagreement.) He may want glory and to frighten the infidels, but it is not rational to assume this is his primary motivation when the religion itself - the religion he professes to believe in - offers a perfectly reasonable motivation.

He has faithfully carried out God's command, at the price of making the ultimate sacrifice. How is this evidence that he doesn't believe in God?

Not everyone in this world thinks just like a Baby-Boom-generation law professor living in a college town in America. Not everyone shares your assumptions - the ones that are so deep-seated that you never think about them, like the idea that it's a bad thing to go to God with blood on your hands - about what is moral and about what God might want from us.

Tory Williams said...

This is pretty simple. Everyone in here is trying to sound smart and use big words that they had to look up.
Christians sometimes dont act like christians because of human imperfection . Just like Muslims sometimes dont act like Muslims , and atheists dont always act like atheists ...especially when they celebrate christian holidays .

Fact is , your not always going to portray who you want to be ..that doesnt mean you dont believe it.

Tory Williams said...

Im a christian. I believe in creation . I believe in jesus and Jehovah. But I dont always act that way ..because im imperfect .. I want to .. but I fall short. Its not that I dont believe its that I simply fall short sometimes. I dont think belief and actions are always tied together.