Some Personal Remarks

At one point we looked at Trent Horn’s question for a Mormon:

Is there anything that would convince you that Mormonism is false? If not, then why should you expect other people to leave their faiths and become Mormon when you aren’t prepared to do the same?

The main reason that our Mormon protagonist  is unwilling to change his mind about religion is not because of the evidence in favor of Mormonism. There certainly is such evidence, as for example the witnesses who testified that they saw Joseph Smith’s golden plates. But such evidence is surely not the principal motive involved. Basically they have motives other than truth for continuing to believe. If a Mormon changes their religious views, this can have serious negative consequences for their social and personal life. This is not specific to Mormonism, but is common to religion in general, as well as to many political views, because of the way that such views are used to express social and political loyalties. As noted in the linked post, someone who changes his view is seen as a traitor to his community.

Gregory Dawes, a former Catholic, seems to have had this experience. He remarks (quoted in the post linked above):

Christian philosopher William Lane Craig writes somewhere about what he calls the “ministerial” and the “magisterial” use of reason. (It’s a traditional view — he’s merely citing Martin Luther — and one that Craig endorses.) On this view, the task of reason is to find arguments in support of the faith and to counter any arguments against it. Reason is not, however, the basis of the Christian’s faith. The basis of the Christian’s faith is (what she takes to be) the “internal testimony of the Holy Spirit” in her heart. Nor can rational reflection can be permitted to undermine that faith. The commitment of faith is irrevocable; to fall away from it is sinful, indeed the greatest of sins.

The Catholic Church does not teach that falling away from the faith is the greatest of sins. In fact, although it certainly teaches that it is objectively wrong for a Catholic to do so, it does not even teach that a Catholic is always subjectively guilty at all when they change their religious views. Dawes was a well educated Catholic, so he is probably aware of these facts. Why then does he call this “the greatest of sins?” It seems pretty reasonable to suppose that he is responding in a personal way to how he was treated by others after he changed his mind about his religion.

As I said in the linked post, I agree with Trent Horn and Gregory Dawes about the use of reason. However, this is not the only thing that Dawes and I have in common. Like Dawes, my family and background are completely Catholic. Like Dawes, my education was completely Catholic. Finally, I substantially agree with Dawes in his conclusions regarding Catholicism and regarding religion in general, considered as a body of factual claims about the world. Of course this is not the case not in every detail. I also suspect that I disagree with him to a larger extent on the reasons for those conclusions. This is not an opinion that I have just arrived at. I have held this view for over a year now. Nor was it the result of a brief process, but the result of a gradual process of thought which took decades of my life.

As with Dawes, and as with our theoretical Mormon, this has had serious consequences for my personal life, and not only on account of the reactions of others. Nonetheless, the reactions of others play a significant role here. Consequently I have a few remarks principally for those who know me in real life:

  1. This blog is and remains theoretically anonymous. Please do not make this post a public announcement connected to my real name.
  2. I appreciate your prayers. Needless to say, this does not imply that there is any meaningful weakness to the case for my position.
  3. I do not appreciate insults. Your faith does not require you to believe that I am foolish, wicked, arrogant, or possessed by demons. If you think that it does, or if it pleases you to think these things in any case, please keep them to yourself.
  4. While it should be obvious from this blog that I do not mind conversations about religion, considered in general, I do not appreciate proselytism, namely efforts that could reasonably be described as “stop him from being foolish and get him to come to his senses.” I am not being foolish, and I am entirely in possession of my senses. Please do not engage in this behavior; it is uncharitable, it will not have the effects that you wish, and persistence in it over a long period of time can only have the effect of destroying relationships.

One additional remark concerning the “possessed by demons” point. Someone recently said in a personal communication:

By the strange things you write, I can see that your mind has been given blinders / tunnel vision, presumably by some evil spirit, who only lets you look at things from his point of view.

This refers to things written on this blog, and in that sense it is completely incorrect. Everything currently on the blog is completely consistent with a Catholic view, and only expresses views that I have held for many years. Many orthodox Catholics would agree in substance with virtually everything here.

As for the demon comment itself, I have noted in the past that if you say that a person’s beliefs are caused by a demon, you cannot have a conversation with them. In the same way, if you say that a person’s religious views are caused by a demon, you cannot have a conversation about religion with them.

Quotations

This blog very frequently includes quotations. Some posts are essentially nothing but a quotation, as this one here, and others do not contain much beyond a series of long quotations, as for example this one.

Why do I use the thoughts of others rather than putting things in my own words? There are a number of reasons. It is very practical. It is much easier to compose a long blog post using quotations, while it takes a lot of time and energy to write everything yourself. And the idea of originality here is not really relevant. For as Qoheleth says, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” Most of the positions argued on this blog have been argued by others, and there is nothing surprising about this. In addition, insofar as a new contribution is possible, one can do this by organizing the thoughts of others, just as Socrates teaches the boy by helping him organize his thoughts

But the most important reason is the following. Speakers and writers are addressing people, and just as beliefs have motives, so the act of speaking or writing has a motive. And whether or not people approve of doing this, the listener or the reader tends to think of these motives. As Alexander Pruss discusses in a blog post here, sometimes such considerations are necessary. Nonetheless, this can lead people away from understanding reality. If instead of thinking about what I am saying and what is true about it, someone thinks, “Why is he saying this?”, this can hinder them in their understanding of the truth of the matter.

Quotations are very helpful in reducing this effect. Since a quotation is taken out of context, it is removed from the motivation of the original speaker. Yes, there is still a motive on the part of the person who includes the quotation. But the reader who reads the quotation knows that it is not addressed to him in the manner of the original. He does not need to say, “Why is the original author saying this?”, because it does not matter in the new context. The only thing that matters is what he is saying, not why he is saying it. So it provides some impetus towards considering the truth of the matter. This remains true whether the quotation itself says something which is true, or something which is false.

Thanksgiving

What do we have to give thanks for? As St. Paul says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” The question is of course rhetorical. You have nothing that you did not receive; only the first cause could have something without receiving it from another.

This is related to the virtue of humility, which consists largely in the recognition that one is neither the first cause nor the ultimate end, together with the implications that follow from the fact that one is not these things. I might write something on this in detail at a later time.

Know Thyself

At the end of the last post I more or less challenged readers to consider their motives for their beliefs. This would be especially questionable if I was not willing to accept my own challenge, so here I will mention a few of the potential influences on my own opinions.

I want to be honest with people. This is a natural consequence of the love of truth, and it might seem surprising to mention this as one influence that can run against the truth, but it can do this. For wanting to be honest involves not only wanting to speak the truth, but to say what you think. And as Katja Grace says, “Imagine your friend said, ‘I promise that anything you tell me I will repeat to anyone who asks’. How honest would you be with that friend? If you say to yourself that you will report your thoughts to others, why wouldn’t the same effect apply?” In other words, this motive can influence me to avoid thinking things that I would not like to say to others, for whatever reasons.

I would like other people to be more concerned about the truth. This again is a somewhat natural consequence of the love of truth, but again it can be a misleading influence. For it can be a motive to avoid saying things which may tend to make people seek the truth less, even if those things are true. And in combination with the desire for honesty, it can be a motive to avoid thinking those things, even if they are true. This motive is currently telling me not to write this post, since theoretically people could use it as a reason to be concerned less about the truth.

I want to be respected by people. This can lead to saying and thinking things I expect to be respected by those I care about, whether or not those things are true.

I want to say interesting and important things. This makes it more likely that I will believe something interesting as opposed to something uninteresting, even if it is equally likely, and the same applies to things that seem important as opposed to unimportant. It also makes it more likely that I will exaggerate true statements somewhat so that they will seem interesting and important.

I want to be consistent, and to defend things that I have already said. In conjunction with the above fact about exaggeration, this makes it more likely that I will come to believe an exaggerated view of various things, even accidentally, since this type of exaggeration often happens in a somewhat thoughtless manner.

Although different people will have somewhat different concerns, none of these things are particularly strange. And in principle there is nothing wrong with wanting such things, just as there is nothing wrong with wanting to eat food that tastes good, rather than being concerned about health alone in one’s choices relative to food. But if you want to be healthy, it is pretty important to notice that your desire for ice cream is not exactly the desire for health, and to moderate this desire. And likewise if you want to know the truth, it is important to notice the nature of the other influences on your opinions, and to moderate these influences.

Against Airport Security

Having been through airport security screening five times in the last six days, I am officially in favor of abolishing all security procedures and allowing all passengers to go directly to their planes.

Then, after that, we can see whether or not there are any bad consequences to such a policy. It is perfectly possible that there would be none.

If there are, we could give real consideration to the costs imposed on every single passenger by such procedures and determine whether or not it is worth imposing these costs in order to prevent a somewhat greater harm to a few.

Why Useless?

Useless is better than useful since knowledge which is desirable for its own sake is better than knowledge which is desirable for the sake of something else.

This points out the appropriate goal, but in practice the actual content of this blog will be determined by the whim of its author, as is customary in this genre. Of course it is even more customary to start a blog and then stop forever after a post or two. It is perfectly possible that this will be the case here as well.