Friday, October 2, 2015

I don't want this

Lately I've heard the same comment a few times: "I won't argue with you because you obviously don't want to believe."

This can be read a couple of ways.  They could mean, "I don't mind that you think differently from me, and I have no desire to interfere with your opinion since it makes you happy."  I'm fine with that, though I don't think the Catholic Church is, exactly.  But, hey, we can't all be proselytizing at all times, and if they don't have the time, energy, or knowledge to argue with me, they don't have to.

Or they might mean, "You aren't really open-minded, so I'd be wasting my time if I tried talking with you."

I tend to hear more of this second one, though it might be just my own oversensitivity.  The implication is that I am bad and wrong for thinking the wrong things, and they are giving up on me.  And so I predictably feel hurt and defensive.

But I suppose there is truth to it in some respect -- I am not in the state I was six months ago, where I wanted so desperately to believe that I would cling to any argument, however tenuous, and try to make it make sense.  Even that wasn't really working for me -- some things don't make sense no matter how hard you try -- but I will admit, I've changed my ground a bit.  I don't want to believe the Catholic faith, per se, I want to believe whatever is true.  I would like that to be the Catholic faith, but if it's not, I still want to believe it.  This is a shift from what I said a few months back.

The thing is, the most important thing in the world to me is to do what is right.  I said before that I would rather do what is right than believe what is true (i.e. I prefer goodness to truth) but it occurred to me that it is not possible to do what is right if you don't know what is true.  Facts have a bearing on morals; you can't reach ought without is.  And hiding yourself in ignorance can be dangerous, because, well, you're ignorant -- you don't know what things you would be doing if you thought differently, until you think differently.

So I asked myself, if I want to know the truth, what is the best way to find it out?  There are different ways of discovering the truth, but the ideal way would be able to discern between truth and falsehood.  That is, "believe what you are told" does not work, because I know that many people who follow this rule believe falsehood and don't have any way to find that out.  (Being in a cult taught me this, but I don't think of it as "trauma" because it is something worth knowing: the mere fact that someone believes something, and is told that it is morally good to believe it, doesn't make it true.)

So the ideal way to find out if something is true, is by a method that would prove it false if it were not true.  Of course there is no infallible method, because people are often wrong about all kinds of things.  But I think the best tools are emotions and reason.  If you feel in your heart that something is true, or have facts in your head supporting its veracity, then you've got something that is, at the very least, something to go on.

Emotions are out, since I haven't had a single positive emotion associated with Catholicism since I got kicked out of boarding school.  I think it's perfectly okay to believe in God because you feel his presence, but as I don't, I turned to reason.

Now if you want to use reason to test something, you have to be willing to prove it either true or false.  If the reasoning you use would only prove it true and can't possibly prove it false, then it can't give you any new information.  If you can't see that, try playing this game and it should explain what I mean.  So lining up proofs for the existence of God is a fun exercise, but until you ask, "Are there counterarguments to these proofs, and how good are they?" you're not really using reason to test a claim.  You're trying to comfort yourself, and sadly, it doesn't work ... because I was doing that and gaining more doubts by the day.

Some loved ones reassured me: "The truth is like a lion," they said.  "It can stand up for itself.  You don't have to be afraid of accidentally disproving it.  Investigate honestly, and you'll walk away feeling really sure instead of doubtful."  I didn't have their level of trust, but I thought -- well, if it's true it can stand up to questioning, and if not, it shouldn't stand up to questioning, should it?

That was a surprisingly difficult question, and I agonized about it for a long time.  Being a "doubting Catholic" is one thing -- struggling with doubts, but never for a minute honestly asking if it might not be true.  You say instead, "I have these doubts, but I know there must be an answer to all of them that I just haven't discovered yet."  It's an entirely different thing to say, "It might be false, and I want to know."  That's not okay to say, it's not even okay to think.

But I thought -- what if it is true?  What if I'm undergoing all these agonies of doubt, and it's all for nothing because there's clear evidence in favor of faith?  I know I'll never truly believe until I take each piece of evidence and thoroughly examine its credibility, because I'll suspect it won't hold up.  But if I've looked, and I know it holds up, then I can believe for real and not be troubled by doubt anymore!

So, for the first time, I tried to critically examine all the apologetical stuff I'd been reading for years.  I'd already abandoned the philosophical arguments for God, finding them reliant on schools of philosophy which I have studied and found wanting.  But I felt the historical arguments were pretty good, so I looked into those.  I had already read Lee Strobel's The Case for Christ, so I went through it and fact-checked it.  The very strongest argument in favor of Christianity, in my opinion, is that the witnesses of the resurrection died rather than deny it .... however, fact-checking this (in the Catholic Encyclopedia, no less!) proved it false; we don't know how the apostles died with any sort of historical accuracy.  And I went right on down the line, hoping so hard for some kind of solid evidence -- something that I could honestly say, "If I am to be objective and use good historical methodology, I have to accept that Christianity is true."  But I did not.

I backed up and tried other lines of argument, looked at miracle claims and asked myself, "Is it possible that this miracle could have happened without divine intervention?"  I went back to the philosophical arguments and had no luck.  Everywhere I looked, I found the rational proofs I was always promised did not hold up to testing.

I am still looking.

What gets me in all this is what in the world God can have been thinking, leaving his existence so plausibly deniable!  Wouldn't it have been so easy to provide a little more proof?  A pillar of fire in the sky would be easy for him, obviously, but even something much simpler would be great:
-He could have a disinterested account of the martyrdom of St. Peter, written by an eyewitness.  The Roman magistrate offers him his life if he'll only admit he was lying about the resurrection, but he refuses and dies for it.
-The Shroud of Turin could date from the time of Christ rather than the Middle Ages, so that we could believe it was real.
-He could have made the Church be the one to first invent feminism, ban torture, and end the death penalty, proving its moral rectitude surpassed what the best minds outside of it could figure out.
-Or he could simply give me a feeling of his presence, so that I could experience him directly and not have to guess if he was out there.  If doubts returned afterward, I could return to my memory of that experience to comfort me.

Any of those would have helped a lot.  And it just confused me that God would leave me, and so many other well-meaning people who struggle like I do, hanging like that.  If God is real and cares, I can't account for it.  But if he isn't, it (like so many other things) makes a lot more sense.

So here I am: disbelieving because I honestly don't think it's true.  I don't try to believe because I don't know if it is right to try to believe.  I want to believe, because everything in my life would be better if I did, but I don't want to believe more than I want the truth, because to do right one must know the truth, to the best of one's ability.

And if you want to respect my disbelief, you know what would help more than anything?  Arguing with me.  I'm serious.  Because when you argue with me, you are accepting my account of myself, that I am an honest seeker.  And you are putting yourself forward as a witness, that you believe your faith stands up to questioning, because here you are putting it out there.  Most of all, you offer me a little hope that it's true after all and that I can come to believe it, because as long as you're still talking to me, there's something more left I haven't heard.

You don't have to do it.  Not everyone's an apologist, and not everyone has the time.  But please, just say so.  Say that you think the answers are out there and I should keep looking, or that you hope I'll find something that helps me believe.  But don't tell me I just don't want to believe.  My preference all along has been to believe!  And if what you're saying is, the truth looks like falsehood unless you are trying to believe it (and sometimes even when you are) -- then I would simply ask, how are you sure that trying to believe is the right choice?  How are you sure you aren't supposed to be trying to believe something else?

If you can't answer that question, I think you'd better stop telling me I should be trying harder.


Belfry Bat said...

See, now I'm ... I'm annoyed at myself, because the thing you say you don't want sounds sort-of like something I wrote in a comment quite recently, but... you know, differently and with different intent. Yes, I did really mean that it's a frustrating conversation; but no, I don't have any suspicion that you've secretly hardened your heart against Christ and his Body. I'm more inclined to suspect (do please pardon the repetition) that we really don't speak the same English.

Actually, I'm even more concerned that your epistemic set-up isn't broad enough to allow the kind of conclusion you say you'll entertain. If you say you want to believe, I believe you; the tricky thing is deciding how to get there.

Specifically: I suspect it's entirely possible to mistake clear and explicit Divine Intervention for something else. It can, depending on particulars, be mistaken for funny coincidence, or dreaming, or madness, or diabolical intervention, or a friendly prank. (The Chestertonian in me wants to say we know that Divine Intervention can sometimes be mistaken for these things, because each of these things can be mistaken for Divine Intervention... but I don't know what Uncle Gilbert would say about that really). And I'm not thinking of that sad story about the stupid man who drowns on his roof in a flood. I really do mean that even the most extraordinary otherworldly things can be missed and misdoubted.

So, maybe the next exercise should be: How do we deal with that kind of ambiguity?

Enbrethiliel said...


Hey, Bat, I know for a FACT that you and I don't speak the same Engish! =D

Sheila, the points you make in this post hit very close to the mark with respect to why I don't comment on your posts about religion any longer. But they're less about a lack of respect for you (not your disbelief, but you yourself) than about my grudging acceptance that our first principles simply do not agree. For instance, I believe that Faith is a grace and that we actually can't come to it through seeking and reason. (In fact, I wonder whether the latter idea is a form of Pelagianism.) And if I had to defend God's choice to have His Resurrection in an age when written documents and the testimony of eye witnesses were the only proofs of historical veracity, I'd say that it's because He didn't want Faith to be a mere matter of intellectual certainty. So I really do think you're going about things in a way that won't guarantee you any success.

In the meantime, given what I think is the right way, I've been praying for you a lot. You may not think that that helps you, but I think it does. Stalemate? LOL!

I've also been considering, in private, some possibilities for why you seem to lack this grace (or once had it and then lost it). But given where you want to ground the discussion, they are: a) not what you're asking for anyway; and b) in the basket of things I cannot give you evidence for. So I don't bring them up.

Sheila said...

Bat, you are one of the offenders, but not the only one. I had a feeling you didn't mean it badly, I just heard it badly because it's a sensitive point.

Given a lack of prior belief in God, it does seem to me that weird coincidences and dreams are way more likely to be chance than supernatural -- I mean, where a natural explanation is possible, why assume it's something further? And I can't imagine saying, "I will give my life for the truth of God's existence, because I had a weird dream one time and a check arrived in the mail once when I really needed it." Isn't that insufficient proof for the level of certainty you're expected to act with?

However, it's sort of moot because I don't get stuff like that. I had several of those things nudging me to go to boarding school, but in retrospect I just wanted to go and was reading my wishes into everything. And nothing ever since. One time a check arrived unexpectedly in the mail, just as my mother says has always happened to her when she most needs it ... except I didn't need it. It would have made all the difference MONTHS before, but it arrived when we'd finally worked things out. But I thought -- if this had arrived a few months ago, I would have thought it was a miracle. Is it possible that this sort of thing happens all the time (I mean, it was an insurance reimbursement, not at all implausible, though I'd given up on ever seeing that money) and I just don't see it unless it happens to coincide with something I need?

That's all I've got. No dreams. No miracles or coincidences or being led to the right thing at the right time ... "though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed."

How do you suppose one CAN tell the difference between random occurrences and divine ones?

In short, if the methods I'm using are insufficient to find God, please explain what you think the right methods would be, and how I am to know I can trust these methods. Is that something you can answer?

Sheila said...

E, I understand your approach, but I don't understand what I should do about it, even if I agreed with your approach. (I still maintain it seems Calvinist!)

I think what you're driving at is that you think there's some sin I've committed to get here, or some mistake that made me "lose" the grace of belief when I could have kept it. I don't think this is so, because I know (as you can't be expected to) that I really have acted in good faith throughout. But anyway it's a bit irrelevant now, isn't it? What I want to know is what I am supposed to do now. If faith is a choice, how do I know it's the right choice? If it's a gift, how do I get it?

It just seems to me that if God desires all to be saved (as I cannot help but believe, first because it's in the bible and second because it is what I would assume based on God's nature) it would be pretty counterproductive for him to avoid giving evidence, which would be available to all, and restrict it to a grace which only some people get. Why would he not give this grace to people who ask for it, when he said so many times that he would grant anything people asked? I understand if that means spiritual gifts and not physical ones, but I can't understand a situation where you can pray to God for faith and have him not deliver! Doesn't he want me to believe?

And ... yeah ... prayer is something that feels like something useful to you, but from my perspective it doesn't feel like anything at all. :( I understand it's all you can do, especially from way over there. I guess all I can do is hope you're right and that he'll hear your prayer when he's totally ignored mine all these years.

Belfry Bat said...

Well, I'm quite sure you've somewhere along the line witnessed some act of genuine virtuous heroism and experienced a concommittant thrill of admiration — it would be very odd to live to our age and not — and I'd suggest that that was a genuine supernatural experience, a motion of the imago D... more generally, "by their fruit shall you know them", though that usually takes more time...

BUT. My point was actually: saying you'd accept "the right evidence" doesn't tell us what "the right evidence" is, and so the rest of us here don't even know what pieces are on the board or where the edges are. By this I'm not suggesting any "bad faith", because I rather think you yourself don't know yet what "the right evidence" is or would look like; neither do I think you should concoct any publishable formula by which you might really be convinced, because Don't Publish You Passwords, if you recall. And I'm trying to highlight, from a mathematician's perspective, that The Right Evidence will almost always be strict-epistemically ambiguous. I suggested dealing with ambiguity as an exercise for you, so I'm not going to finish the exercise.

(About God's Timing, more later maybe)

Enbrethiliel said...


I actually think that God doles the grace of Faith out as freely as anything and that there have to be some really extreme circumstances that get one to lose it. And these would be either through one's own sin or (though this is really unfair) as collateral damage through another's sin.

Some background to explain where I'm coming from . . . I have to check this with a theologian, but I think there is a real spiritual "fall out" from someone's personal holiness that makes everything and everyone within a certain range just also be holier and better. Like if someone in your family is really, deeply holy, then everyone in the family will be at least more virtuous (if not also holier) than they would otherwise be. The flipside is that when someone is given to evil, then the same thing happens, but in the opposite way. And everyone he or she "touches" degenerates spiritually even if they did nothing to deserve it. And I think that Father Maciel was given to evil. In fact, I would bet anything that he was a Satanist. It isn't just because of a sense of betrayal or disillusionment or any other merely psychological feeling that so many people he affected either became like him or lost their faith. There was a spiritual rot that spread throughout his organisation. And he wanted it to spread.

SeekingOmniscience said...

BB, I don't understand your epistemic setup.

Sheila's seems pretty straightforward. She wants evidence that most probably could only come from God, in order to believe God exists.

But you keep seeming to say that evidence for God is always ambiguous--that it could always be mistaken for something else plausibly. But if that's the case, then you're saying evidence for God is always bad--it could be explained by something else. And if that's the case I don't see why you should believe. It seems like at most you should say "Well, I've encountered some things God could have caused, but other things could have caused them as well."

You suggest Sheila deal with the ambiguity "as an exercise". But Sheila has a perfectly reasonable response to ambiguity--withholding belief. The exercise is answered. Instead, the question that occurs to me is that--why do you believe? Supposing you didn't believe at the moment, and were a neutral observer trying to figure out the universe, would your current reasons convince you? If not, why should you even believe now? Have you seriously considered the possibility you might be mistaken?

Or really--have you seriously considered the possibility you might be mistaken?

Enbrethiliel said...


I had to cut my earlier comment short because I was at work and my break was over. (In fact, I didn't notice the time and actually timed in late!)

If we're still making this about evidence, well, I'm still standing by my last statement on that here: there is evidence; you just don't find it good enough. And I don't mean to condemn you by saying that. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. But I do think it is wrong to then start arguing, "It's not good enough for me, because that's the kind of person I am; and God made me that kind of person, so God must hate me." That's Calvinist.

I'm also haunted by your opposition to the rosary. While I don't condemn you at all for the mental and emotional blocks you have developed against it, I also think that there is currently nothing that anyone can say in defense of the rosary that you will accept. Not even if it came from an angel out of Heaven. =P Of course, I could be wrong. Bat doesn't want you "to give away your passwords" (HA! I UNDERSTOOD SOME BAT-ESE!), but I'm genuinely curious: when you were asking how the rosary is better than any other private devotion, what answer would have satisfied you?

When we talk, I'm reminded a lot of the 90s legal drama The Practice, in which the protagonist defense attorneys win virtually every case with the same strategy: pointing out that there is even the slightest possibility that the defendant is not guilty. (Even when they know the defendant is guilty!) Now, I happen to think that a guilty person going free is a lesser evil than an innocent person going to jail, so I don't mind their argument on principle . . . but sometimes it gets really ridiculous. There is one episode in which the jury finds the defendant not guilty of murder, agreeing that it had been self-defense, and the DA actually screams at them, "Are you all stupid? He stabbed the guy SEVEN times! What do you need for a guilty verdict? EIGHT times?" (I'm paraphrasing, of course.) But yeah, what do you need?

Belfry Bat said...

Dear S.O., yes, I've gathered that you understand me less than does Sheila.

Today, for instance, you seem to be missing my repeated point: "Evidence" is, in the present context, ill-defined, and in particular "sufficient Evidence" is completely undefined. And so when you take up the phrase "evidence that could most probably only come from God" you are not clarifying anything. If you could tell me how to reasonbly estimate these probabilities, that might help...

Re. epistemic set-ups. I gather you are tuning your habits of conclusion to minimize false positives. That is a reasonable approach (as Enbrethiliel mentions) when a positive conclusion entails e.g. restriction on civil liberties et.c.; of course in other matters it may well be preferable to avoid false negatives (such as when deciding whether some physical ailment is due to communicable disease). (( It also so happens that there are theorems that, when there's a well-defined probability space to test hypotheses in, the sum of false negatives and false positives usually can't be too small. I'm afraid this theorem is irrelevant for the present conversation: there isn't a good probability space of worlds-with-or-without-divine-creators... ))

The particular exercise I'm suggesting (and you might try it, too) is: suppose for the exercise that you did live in a Universe created by God, said Universe having an ordinary order but still subject to His will, and that some definite occurence visible in the Universe was in fact an extraordinary act of His intervention: how would you know it? I don't mean: tell me how you would know it; but, consider very carefully whether you could try to test the hypothesis. After that, IF your own epistemic set-up doesn't let you conclude that some Divine act is a Divine act, THEN you've pre-determined your answer to all questions about proposed evidence for Divine intervention in the actual world. (Please recognize that as logical deduction, not moral judgement.)

The purpose of all that is to make clear what I mean if I should say that you (S.O.) have decided to conclude that there is no God before considering what evidence might even exist.

My own understanding (this may not be how Sheila puts it, so if (Sheila) you disagree with my chosen words, please forgive my clumsiness) is that Sheila's doubt is less about whether God really exists out there, but about whether whatever God exists is good.


I certainly don't mean that "all evidence for God is bad". I mean that some tests for God's reality are underpowered. There is inescapable evidence for God, and you are breathing some right now, I hope; and there is more of it making it difficult to grab moon rocks (as well as the moon and constituent rocks themselves), and then there's the colour Red, not to mention (if you're not red-green blind) Green; and don't forget Yesterday! What I mean to say is: all these Things are, and while they are susceptible of some mathematical analysis, they are both more than and apart from Kant's "pure reason"; so here are Things that are, though not by necessity. The fact that they are (not to mention everything else) must have behind it some other reason than logic.


One last aside, to be very clear here: the reality of God (with his easier attributes) is the only conclusion drawn from the mere fact of a real Universe. One doesn't think one's way from there to Catholicism; neither does Catholicism suggest that one does.

Enbrethiliel said...


Sigh. I really shouldn't try leaving comments here during my short breaks at work . . . says the girl who is leaving another comment during another short break. =P

I didn't even finish the last point I wanted to make, which is that it doesn't even matter whether it takes seven or eight or nine or a hundred stab wounds to convince someone that something was murder rather than self-defense. There's no way we can change the details that we have . . . barring some new archeological discoveries. And even then, they'd be more of the same, wouldn't they? I just mean that I share the DA's frustration and bewilderment when we talk. I don't know what will be good enough for you, so how can I help you get it? I'm sorry if you've answered that question and I missed it; but I'm just trying to say that I get the feeling that you'll find a way to poke a hole in everything, like you did when we were talking about the rosary. And there is simply nothing that a talented devil's advocate cannot poke a hole in. So if you're looking for something that is 100%, you'll really never get it. And it's not fair to plead with others to help you get it.

There have also been times during this extended conversation when I wondered "what your problem was," so to speak. And to be honest, I've started to think LTG was on to something when he told you that you had an "obsession with equality." In this post, you ask for at least two things: a) other people's help; and b) other people's acceptance of your "account of yourself." The former, I don't mind giving, although what I think is helpful and what you think is helpful don't seem to have much overlap. The latter, I'm afraid I have to hold back. While I think that you are totally sincere, I also think that the limits you have set for the discussion are only guaranteeing your failure; and inasmuch as my arguing with you affirms those fake limits, I only make the problem worse.

I also think it's worth picking the second request apart a bit. It is what reminded me of of our rosary discussion on my blog and earlier discussions on your blog about housewives deserving more prestige and girls not having it as good as boys. It seems to me that all four are the same issue, because all four were sparked by your finding yourself in a position where you seem to be "less" than others. And all four included an attempt to convince others that you are just as good as those who seem to be "more" than you. So you contrasted a theoretical devout little girl with a man who says the rosary mechanically--or imagined that the only reason there aren't so many more like you in the Church is that others are scared to ask the questions you're asking. It's as if everyone has to be equal so that you don't feel bad. That's not fair.

Now, I'd probably be in your exact place if I got tangled up with a Satanist. I'm not blaming you for what you went through and for what you have no ability to change. But there is something that I think you can work on, if you consider the following possibility . . . Do you think that admitting you are "less" in any way may be so painful to you--maybe even so intellectually repulsive--that you will rationalise anything to keep from arriving at that conclusion? And I wonder whether it was your faith in equality which chipped away at your faith in what the Church teaches. I write this as someone who has to keep her "faith" in occultism in check on a daily basis. ("Faith" is in quotation marks, because, as I've told you, all those "signs" and "wonders" are like the periodic table of elements to me.) If I held on to those beliefs that the Church tells me are wrong, that would surely have an adverse effect on my ability to believe.

SeekingOmniscience said...

"I don't mean: tell me how you would know it; but, consider very carefully whether you could try to test the hypothesis."

Well, my epistemic set up does allow me to believe things that I haven't strictly speaking tested, in the modern experiment-with-control-group sense, because they're the most parsimonious explanation for things that are going on. So I think you're a single person that I'm talking to, although of course all the evidence is compatible with you being multiple people cooperating to present a single face to the internet, because that's simpler and more in keeping with my other knowledge about the world.

If there were a God--well, it depends on whether God wants to be known. If God wants to be known, as the Catholic God does want to be known, then there are all sorts of things one could do to find out if he existed. In the realm of observations that are not tests, you could look to prophecies, well attested miracles, and so on and so forth.

But if God also wants to be known, I don't see any reason you couldn't have something like Judges 6:37, or a more sophisticated version thereof. And I don't see why these couldn't be genuine tests.

SeekingOmniscience said...

But to repeat myself: What evidence do you think there is for God's existence; and why do you believe, if the evidence ambiguous, as you seem to say? Let us have an account for the hope that is in you.

Sheila said...

Oh dear, you all are too fast for me!

To answer BB first: Of course I've seen lots of heroism, but I haven't seen more inside the Church than out of it, which of course you would expect to find if grace worked. The average Catholic I meet should, with the help of grace, be more basically decent than non-Catholics, but that's not what I find. I definitely will agree that the average Catholic is better than, say, the average Visigoth, which is probably due to Catholics having a more developed moral code, but I've known some daily communicants who were real jerks, so what gives?

As for random coincidences and stuff, unless it really is the simplest and most likely explanation, no, I don't think it's reasonable to put it down to God. Even the Catholic Church itself, when approving miracles, doesn't count anything that's explainable with normal medical science (at least that's the idea).

You seem to be saying we can only reason to Catholicism if we assume it at the outset. Well, there's a sense in which this can be reasonable. Assume Catholicism as an overarching theory. Then try other philosophies (Deism, atheism, whatever). Which leaves out the fewest loose ends (mysteries)? Which has fewer apparent contradictions, things which make no sense? You and I, discussing scripture and so forth, have come up with LOTS of things that make no sense about Catholicism, why God would act in this or that way. They are not a disproof of Christianity, but they are loose ends. The theory we are working with does not explain them. While difficulties in Scripture, the problem of evil, etc., are trivial to explain using other philosophies.

You'd argue, I'm sure, that the existence of air and gravity and so on are unexplained by atheism, so we can mark those down in the opposite column. You don't have the slightest idea how they *could* be true in the absence of God. But how is that argument any different from Christianity's loose ends? Neither is, to my mind, capable of categorical disproof, but each has weak points.

But Deism has neither of these weak points, so I'm not sure why you don't believe that. If you can't reason from the existence of God to the Catholic Church, why are you a Catholic? You left me quite puzzled by that bit.

Sheila said...

Oh, and I think that if God is not good, he is not God ... that's the whole point. A malevolent being who created the world would be just .... some being, you know? Not God; God would not exist in that case. So that answer that question of yours I think.

E ... you always leave me scratching my head, I guess how you feel about Bat.

First, it seems like you are saying I set the bar too high, because if I don't think there's proof of God, given the amount of evidence there is, I just don't believe easily enough. But given that you believe in God AND astrology AND the occult, isn't it possible that you set the bar too low? If you believe all those things and find them equally likely, I think you believe things too easily and would benefit from bumping up your requirements for belief a bit.

Of course "what's the perfect place to put the bar" is a question that doesn't have a factual answer. And yes, it might vary due to circumstances, I suppose. (For instance, I require a heck of a lot less evidence to believe my husband's word about something than, say, Michael's.) But it seems ideally you should set it in such a place that you aren't believing multiple contradictory things, and yet I get the impression that you do -- or at least that you find these contradictory things equally likely, so that it's just a matter of choosing which you like best.

I truly haven't got it set at 100%, but I am more willing to say "I don't know" about more things than most. I don't know if vaccines are safe and I don't know if climate change is real and I really am not sure if the US should declare war with ISIS or if that'll do more harm than good. And as frustrating as this is, I think it's wiser than the alternative, where people act extremely sure about things that are not very well demonstrated.

But I do believe in gravity, atoms, the circulation of blood, that George Washington was the first president, and so forth. I don't need to have SEEN something to believe it. But when there is controversy about something, usually it's because there's a decent argument for both sides. When I decide which to give more credence to, I pick the one that has the best evidence, the one that explains more of the available facts. That's all I'm asking for.

Sheila said...

I'm not a talented devil's advocate, I just honestly am not convinced by the arguments sometimes. Like with the rosary, it would take something really big to convince me that all my experience with it is deceiving, plus to override what it says in the Bible about praying simply instead of trying to get heard because we say more prayers. The only thing I *can* do is to attempt to believe others' account of themselves -- that they really truly are getting something out of it or praying more intensely or something. Which is something I have to take on faith, just like you would have to take on faith that I am trying my best. But I try to because to do otherwise is to call them liars, or else to paternalistically say I know how they are praying better than they do! (And if you need the testimony of someone holier than me about the rosary, well, you do know St. Therese hated it too, right?)

I used to be totally fine with being "less" and would sort of make a point of it, coming up with metaphors of how submission was great and so on. But I realized after some time that it was a dereliction of moral responsibility to take that attitude. To stand by, with my reason opposed and my conscience tingling, and say, "Well, it's not MY decision" would be a pretty reprehensible thing to do! (I mean, Nazis, right?) And it made no sense that God would give me reason and a conscience that he expected me to NOT use. If I were unequal -- if I were less able, less intelligent, whatever -- I think I would accept that, but if I can clearly see that I' not, why would God insist that I act as if I were?

And then on the bigger scale, where there is inequality, there is usually injustice, because the "boss" is human and prone to take advantage where he can, while the "servant" has no recourse to resist the injustice. I don't think slavery ever exists in the absence of abuse (even if you consider the loss of liberty not an abuse) and I know kings aren't always kind to their people. (That's a massive understatement and I can get you citations.) So my belief in equality is justified by a lot of evidence, it isn't just that I'm a prideful person.

Back to Bat and S.O., regarding publishing your proof -- I did list in my post some proofs I would accept. I mean, I believed because I thought these things were so! But all of these are contrafactual, because ... well ... I've spent the past half year or so hunting down the kinds of proofs that would convince me, and not finding them. Miracles, en masse, seem very convincing, but when you take any individual miracle there's always some other possible explanation. And of course there are other religions which claim miracles as well, so ... it still leaves you with the question "but *which* religion is true?

Enbrethiliel said...


Well, I guess it's sweet justice that I'm somebody's Bat. =P

Actually, what I'm saying about the bar of proof is that it doesn't matter where it's set because if Faith is a grace, then proof isn't even part of the equation. You say that it is for you, and it is out of respect for that that I think it's useless for me to argue with you.

This is kind of peripheral now, but since I'm the one bringing up Satanists and I never know who is reading, I do want to point out that there is no contradiction between God being real and the occult being real any more than there is a contradiction between God being real and the devil being real. (One time when I confessed having tried to divine the future, the priest told me to remember that there is no reason for me to believe that God would show me anything . . . but every reason in the world to be wary that someone else would!) You just have to choose which master you're going to serve. Or to frame it in the way I think you're framing it, it's not that we have to determine which one is true, but that we have to determine which one is good.

Okay. Break time at work over. See you later!

Enbrethiliel said...


Sheila, remember that one other principle of mine that we don't agree on is that people don't believe because of "inner" issues rather than "external" difficulties. So if I'm going to keep "helping," I'll also keep looking within you rather than without. This isn't to say, "Look! You're baaaaad!" but to ask you to consider things that you may have overlooked. Two pairs of eyes are better than one.

Accordingly, I brought up past discussions on housewives and the rosary not to argue about the issues themselves, but to point out what I see in the way you talked about them. For instance, you were asking others to agree that disliking the rosary can be rational or even equal to liking it. That is, you wanted others to accept your view of it as just as legitimate as the more ecstatic popular view. That's echoed here as you ask people to see you only in the way that you see yourself--and saying they're calling you a liar or being paternalistic if they don't. But I think it's worth recalling that just as there are details you see more clearly than others, there are details others see more clearly than you. If a bunch of people have "diagnosed" your problem as an issue of the will or some psychological block, might there not be something to it?

I suggest that one of those details is your belief in equality. Firstly, because it tends to come up whenever there's a Catholic tradition or teaching that you hate; and secondly, because equality is based on envy and wishful thinking--and therefore, distorting to one's view of the world and to one's character. (Yes, the second part is merely an assertion. But one that has been well defended by better thinkers than I.) I'm not talking about politics and other "outside" things--because we can always find good and bad examples of anything--but with faith and other "inside" things. The kind of government you want to have or how decisions are made in your household are peripheral and I'm not asking you to change your mind about those. But if you've frequently picked equality over minor Catholic teachings, the cumulative effect of these choices may have eroded your ability to accept the whole of the Catholic Faith.

Again, this is all just presented for your consideration. If I am wrong, then I am wrong . . . but then both of us are also back at square one.

Sheila said...

You ask me to accept that the Faith is unprovable, but I should still believe it. I don't see how this attitude would keep me from believing any old thing -- if I feel drawn to pantheism, say (and I kind of do, even though rationally I find it a bit silly) then it's "chosen" me and I have a special grace to believe it, so it doesn't matter if you can disprove it and prove something else .... it is Morally Right for me to keep being a pantheist. Can you explain how what you're saying is different?

And while you might think it's prideful or stubborn of me to claim I know myself better than a collection of strangers on the internet do .... I don't think that. And I don't know why I should.

True, I think that all people are created equal; heck, philosophy class taught me that! The angels exist in a hierarchy, but all humans are rational animals and thus have the same essence. There's nothing substantial about them to make one better than another.

Now you could say that people are equal in nature but that God created them to rule over one another ... but WHY would you say that? In the book of Samuel, God warns the Israelites that having a king will be bad for them because he'll mistreat them, and sure enough, that's what happens. It happens so universally as to seem to be a law of nature, and you ask me to disbelieve that very obvious thing in the hopes of preserving belief in something much less obvious. WHY should I do that?

Over the years of my life, I've learned a lot of things by direct experience that I did not believe when I had to reason about them in the abstract. I believe, for instance, that hurting people to teach them something does not work well; that freedom is essential to what we are as humans; that self-gift without limits does not actually bring about happiness or greater levels of virtue -- it destroys you as a person and makes it harder and harder to be virtuous. You might not think these things if you haven't lived through what I have, and so you can safely say, from your distance, "You have these beliefs, I think they're wrong, they are why you don't believe." But you can't say these ideas are wrong, or at least, you can't show me that they are. You haven't even tried, but I will admit, it would take an awful lot to get me to disbelieve something I have learned experientially. Just like I can't convince you astrology doesn't work, because you feel you have experienced it. But if you *were* to try to explain why I am wrong, you would have to bring in something other than "these beliefs are keeping you from faith."

Because, you see, your whole system of argument is self-referential -- be this sort of person, because you can be Catholic if you are; and you should be Catholic because if you were this sort of person, you would want to be. But what if I'm not that sort of person, don't know if I want to be, and don't know if being Catholic is the right choice? What can you bring in from *outside* this self-referential viewpoint to show that it's the right place to be? Or do you believe that no one can convert from outside unless they are zapped from on high?

Enbrethiliel said...


I see I am like Bat here, because I spent over four hours refining my last comment to make it as clear as possible . . . and judging by your response, I've clearly failed. =(

Perhaps I should just answer 90s e-mail style . . .

You ask me to accept that the Faith is unprovable, but I should still believe it.

I am saying that the Resurrection can never be proven the way something like Lincoln's assassination can be proven, but that doesn't mean it didn't happen.

. . . if I feel drawn to pantheism, say (and I kind of do, even though rationally I find it a bit silly) then it's "chosen" me . . .

No. In that case, you are the one doing the choosing.

while you might think it's prideful or stubborn of me to claim I know myself better than a collection of strangers on the internet do . . .

If no one who knows you in real life has made the same observation, then I am happy to withdraw my statement. It was really just up there for your consideration.

all humans are rational animals and thus have the same essence

This is really not what I'm talking about at all! LOL!

If you *were* to try to explain why I am wrong, you would have to bring in something other than "these beliefs are keeping you from faith."

Fair enough. I'll try to see what else I can do, but (and I say this without any hard feelings) I spend too much time here as it is and I don't even think I'm the best person to help you.

Do you believe that no one can convert from outside unless they are zapped from on high?

Yeah, that--PLUS the will preceding the intellect.

Belfry Bat said...

It is difficult for me to be more precise about this, but: it isn't that gravity is unexplained in an atheist universe; it's that the universe is unexplained. Of course, that doesn't bother anyone who doesn't think about it.

I mention both empirically observed things (like air) and more-subjective things (like colours...) as particulars in and from which the general (the universe!) is known. (just to amuse you, re the subjectivity of colour, I've noticed my two eyes have different colour sensitivity... it's weird. Makes it a tad harder to focus on high-contrast things... ).

This is a pattern I've been using a lot in our past conversations, and it's one with which I feel more than usually ignorant of how well or badly I'm expressing it --- the pattern being trying to work from particulars to something that is known by the particulars but doesn't depend on their particularity, if you know what I mean...

Sheila said...

E, you really do not OWE me responses. They are the sort of "help" I like best, but I know, this sort of conversation takes forever and you have other things in your life. So don't feel bad if you have to drop out, it doesn't mean I "win" or that I think you don't care.

I think you've focused in on our big problem, though: I think will follows intellect, never the other way around. (And St. Thomas agrees.) The will never chooses anything but what the intellect presents to it as a good -- whether the good in question is "truth" or "pleasure" or "duty" or whatever. Before the will can choose the good, the intellect has to recognize it as a good.

You know I want the good. The question is, how shall I know the good?

Bat, you lost me. I think I understood what you meant before, but my question remains -- are the unanswered questions left by atheism worse somehow than the unanswered questions left by Christianity? And is there a reason, given what you've argued, why you aren't a deist?

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks, Sheila. But before I bow out (though only for my own sanity! =P) I do want to admit one mistaken assumption of mine.

I was working from the assumption that your two admitted desires (the desire for help with faith and the desire for others to accept you as you see yourself) were related. While I do usually see them popping up at the same time when we argue, it really doesn't follow that one affects the other. But I also wonder whether they sometimes bleed into each other for you as well. The agony of not believing when you want to believe is bad enough without the other agony of thinking that others think the worst of you. Now, I clearly can't help you with the former, but I hope I can offer some support with respect to the latter.

I think you wrote this post not so much because you wanted more practical help, but because you wanted more sympathy. People have been seeing you as just another liberal rebel, or just another traumatised former RC, or just another equality-obsessed feminist . . . and those are just the hats I have tried to fit on you. =P I am sorry. But in this respect, I am as stuck as you are.

Other people getting the wrong idea about you isn't fair, but that's why it shouldn't affect you as much as it does. Have you noticed that your arguments have devolved from "Here is why I am not convinced by Point A" to "Here is why I'm not like Type A, PLEASE believe me"? This is kind of what I meant by your wanting people to accept you as "equal" in other threads. Except that I shouldn't have used that word because you don't want to be "equal" as much as you just want to be recognised as more than an easy stereotype. (I'm curious. Are you talking about this with others from real life, or just with us disembodied Internet people?) Now, I like you, I care greatly about you, and I come here with good will--and I'm sure that Bat would say the same--but I'm afraid I can only believe my own "lying eyes" when it comes to how you "look." I wish I could give you the sympathy that you want, but this is the best that you may ever get from me (and from Bat). If only to save yourself more stress, you'll have to take the good with the bad and the ugly.

Sheila said...

Of *course* I don't want to be seen as a bad person! Do you know anyone who does? And you may have noticed, when this stuff comes up, everyone is suddenly willing to do what they don't do otherwise -- to pick apart my life to find some flaw in it.

I understand why this is -- you may remember I wrote about it in a post called Theories of Error. If I believe X, and you believe Y, there are only two possibilities -- I am wrong, or you are wrong. You don't think you're wrong, and so I must be wrong. If you can't find a clear answer to my *rational* arguments, you are forced to assume that it's something inside me that makes me wrong -- that I am sinful, or damaged, or prideful, or SOMEthing, because if both of us were being entirely rational, we sooner or later will come to an agreement. You certainly can't accept that I could lack belief through no fault of my own, because you believe that God provides everyone the grace.

I push things back onto rational arguments because I don't agree that I am irrationally confused somehow. I have put a lot of thought into it -- surely more than you have -- and I was forced to conclude that though I've had a lot of personal experiences and feelings propelling me along, if it were ONLY that, I would be able to find answers to the rational objections, and I can't.

I've broached this a tiny bit in real-life conversations, and it's always a disaster. People get very upset, they talk over me, they tell me what I must be really thinking or feeling, and then they cut off the discussion. You see, feelings are much stronger when they love me and are afraid I'm going to hell. (I think that's the issue, though it's hard to be sure in such volatile discussions.) I don't have that many real-life friends to lose, so you can understand why I don't bring it up more.

I'm just in the terrible position of not being convinced by the things that everyone I know is convinced by, and knowing that this makes me be seen as a bad person, even though I have considered the possibility over and over and I really don't think I'm doing anything wrong. I've always been told that following one's reason is the wise choice, because emotions are unreliable; you can't count on having the right emotions at the right time. So it really stings to be told all of a sudden -- there is no reason to do this, but you should still do it, because of emotions that you don't have. But! You're a bad person if you don't!

Enbrethiliel said...


And now, for the first time in my life, I understand the expression, "I'm not a villain. I just play one on television!" I would have caught on more quickly if the second sentence went, "I just play one on everyone else's television."

I've experienced having someone think the worst of me (partly through my own fault, I admit), and having even things I did specifically to make amends only make things worse. And it wasn't just because I was clumsy about them, but because the other person already had an idea about me that coloured how he interpreted everything I did. It was demoralising.

I know you feel great social anxiety, so I don't say this casually, but do you have good prospects for non-Catholic friends? People for whom you aren't automatically a TV villain?

Sheila said...

I'm working on it. ;) I joined a homeschooling group, where hopefully religion won't come up much, and we can talk about other stuff. Though already one lady asked, "Are you Catholic? I'm Catholic!" Frustrating..... though of course not her fault. She seems nice anyway. And most of the people don't seem to be Catholic, or at least if they are they're not mentioning it.

But yes, I know I need to expand my social circles, though it's always tough going at first.

Enbrethiliel said...


Do you remember the part in The Catcher in the Rye when Holden says Catholics are always trying to find out if someone else is Catholic? =P

Ariadne said...

I really, really doubt your real life, Catholic friends think you're a bad person! I certainly don't, and I know for sure I'm not the only one. Of course, we've never talked about this in person, so maybe you're only talking about people who have actually SAID you're a bad person? Correct me if I'm wrong here, but it sounds like an assumption to me. I only bring it up because it sounds like this belief that others think you're a bad person is making you very unhappy, and there's no need for that.

Ariadne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sheila said...

E, I've never actually read Catcher in the Rye. My mom said it was filthy and I shouldn't read it. But I do know what you mean, Catholics always can tell other Catholics, even when neither has darkened the door of a church in decades.

Ariadne, I'm glad you don't think I'm bad. But I mean, by definition, if I don't believe, I'm doing something bad as far as Catholics are concerned. The sort of people I'm closest to, I know aren't harsh or hateful about it, but there's still this sort of atmosphere of regret .... "oh we'll have to really pray for this person!" And a feeling that I'm no longer trustworthy or one of the in-group. I know it's silly for me to mind this, but I do.

The thing is, I know how people feel about the topic because I know what they said about a mutual friend who stopped believing. It's been nice because I know which people to avoid entirely (because they were jerks about it) but I also know that even the people who were nice about it (like I was) felt a sense of loss. I can't fix that, because it's justified from their point of view.

Anyway, thanks for chiming in to say that, because it does make me feel better.

Ariadne said...

Thanks to the Catholic Church, my moral beliefs are much more nuanced than that! And I do try not to judge others, even if I disapprove of their actions, because I don't know them "from the inside." There are people who I think are actually bad, but they're only people who have done something particularly heinous.

Projecting thoughts and feelings onto others will only make you unhappy. Not only is it bad for you, but people are often wrong about what they believe others are thinking about them ... so it isn't even accurate! You may know what some people are thinking, but my advice is to try to avoid making assumptions unless you're sure, especially if it's about people thinking you're bad. I seriously doubt that any of your friends actually thinks that.

This situation IS upsetting to me, but, as you say, there's nothing either of us can do to change that. That's just how things are.

I really wish you could care a little less what other people think about you, or what you think they think of you.

Sheila said...

I'm not sure I entirely buy the idea of disapproving of a person's actions without judging them. I mean, if I think someone is doing something wrong, I think they are a person who does wrong things. Maybe not often, and maybe it's out of ignorance, but I do think they do wrong things. And I don't want people to think I do wrong things, but of course given the divergence of moral ideas in our society I can't avoid that someone will, no matter what I do. That's why doing the right thing is the most important thing to me -- but I'd be lying if I said being liked, respected, and thought well of by others didn't rank second. There was a time in my life when it ranked first, though, so I guess I'm improving.

Ariadne said...

Well, moral judgments are just part of being human. We all make them, even though we all have different moral codes. Sometimes we're just going to think that someone else is doing something wrong, but I see that as very different from judging the person.

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