Monday 19 September 2011

You Can Believe Anything You Want

In the recent debate between me and Part-time Pilgrim over the presence of women in the sanctuary, I was reminded of Blessed John Henry Newman's words:
We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.
Part-time Pilgrim had a particular belief about the issue. I had a different one. Each of us was able to interpret history, tradition, praxis and so on in the light of our existing belief - and do so in good faith.

C S Lewis makes the same point: It is therefore useless to appeal to experience before we have settled, as well as we can, the philosophical question.

What I mean is this: any intelligent person can construct an interpretation of anything he encounters that fits with his pre-existing beliefs. More often than not, we do this without even noticing: we interpret reality through the lenses of our beliefs and assumptions about the world.

Sometimes we have to work harder to do so: faced with great pain or distress, we may have consciously to call to mind the image of our Crucified Saviour having trod this path before us.

Which raises the interesting question of how do we know what to believe? I find it very hard to imagine the way an atheist makes sense of the world - but that is not evidence, merely habit of thought. He finds my God-bathed view of reality equally incomprehensible.

Finally, for me, it comes down to a question of trust: in whom do I choose to place my trust? And the answer is, immediately, in my parents but ultimately in the Church.

Of course I can construct all sorts of rational reasons for this - but rationality only goes so far...

Or to put it another way, you can get nowhere by relying on evidence alone, because that reliance on evidence already assumes a philosophical position, and even more fundamental than that, a belief that evidence is really out there, and not merely a figment of our own insane imaginings.


Part-time Pilgrim said...

Although relying on the Church would resolve our argument as you are arguing that the Church's previous practice was correct and I was arguing that the Church should continue to allow female altar servers.

Ben Trovato said...

An elegant solution! It reminds me of an old story of an old rabbi and a young rabbi, which you probably already know...