Saturday, September 10, 2011

Faith Good and Bad

I had a conversation with a friend last night who was going through some serious "doubts" about the Faith and was supposedly on the verge of apostasy.

I've seen cases like this before, and what it basically always comes down to is a combination of personal affection for sin (concupiscence) combined with a false epistemology of certitude trumped up in order to deny the possibility of ever knowing anything, effectively removing the intellect or rational argument from the equation by appealing to the fact that no such argument is ever air-tight or completely definitively satisfying (as if that precludes intellectual assent!)

The discomfort of the dissonance or dissatisfaction thus stirred up is then used to justify an underlying fundamental stance of skepticism or doubt which, in turn, is used justify living according to some other organizing value which (hypocritically) is itself not subjected to the same sort of scrutiny! (Because it's cast as the "default," usually meaning, disingenuously, just the path of least resistance...)

Well, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Faith would fully admit that most knowledge is not of the immediately intuitive or even syllogistic variety, but this does not make intellectual assent any less possible:
Now intellectual knowledge may be defined in a general way as the union between the intellect and an intelligible object. But a truth is intelligible to us only in so far as it is evident to us, and evidence is of different kinds; hence, according to the varying character of the evidence, we shall have varying kinds of knowledge. Thus a truth may be self-evident — e.g. the whole is greater than its part — in which case we are said to have intuitive knowledge of it; or the truth may not be self-evident, but deducible from premises in which it is contained — such knowledge is termed reasoned knowledge; or again a truth may be neither self-evident nor deducible from premises in which it is contained, yet the intellect may be obliged to assent to it because It would else have to reject some other universally accepted truth; lastly, the intellect may be induced to assent to a truth for none of the foregoing reasons, but solely because, though not evident in itself, this truth rests on grave authority — for example, we accept the statement that the sun is 90,000,000 miles distant from the earth because competent, veracious authorities vouch for the fact. This last kind of knowledge is termed faith, and is clearly necessary in daily life. If the authority upon which we base our assent is human and therefore fallible, we have human and fallible faith; if the authority is Divine, we have Divine and infallible faith.
I think part of the problem is a false notion of what faith is. We rightly call [supernatural] Faith a virtue. And virtues are habits of the will. (Natural fallible faith, which we have for pretty much all our non-immediately-intuitive knowledge, is a type of habit too, though not necessarily a virtue).

I think a lot of people have a construction of "faith" as some sort of mere feeling, or they essentialize it as some sort of attribute of the intellect beyond our control whereby pious and orthodox thoughts or propositions are of immediate appeal to the will in some overwhelming way according to all aspects of the good, while correspondingly precluding any sort of appeal to contrary (impious or heterodox) thoughts. However, this is a grossly mistaken notion!

In truth, faith is nothing more than a habit, a pattern of behavior in thought, word, and deed. "Believing" something is true (either natural or supernatural) can, in the final analysis, be reduced to nothing other than thinking and living as if it were true. And because we are free creatures, we are always free to do this, even when it is not the path of least resistance in us.

For example, take even just a simple natural fact like the sun rising tomorrow. I have a natural (though, thus, "fallible") faith that this will occur. It is not a logical a priori tautology, yet I believe it will happen. Well, what does me "believing" it will happen concretely mean? It means nothing other than that my actions are organized by that idea, basically. I set my alarm clock. I don't go out and buy a bunch of heat-lamps and flashlights. I don't burn all my possessions. I speak of the sun rising tomorrow as a given, and when I imagine "tomorrow" it is also a given.

My "belief" is nothing other than a habit of assenting to thoughts which juxtapose "the sun rising" with "tomorrow" and which thoughts lead to words and deeds imagined to be compatible with such thoughts (and dismissing such thoughts, inasmuch as they even occur to me, where the sun doesn't rise tomorrow; at least in terms of letting them affect my actions or feelings in any substantial way.) It does not consist in the fact (though it is probably also true) that there is not much good available (along any axis or aspect of good) in the contrary set of thoughts to motivate me to embrace them instead. That choosing to think and then act on the thought of the sun rising tomorrow is the path of least resistance in that sense is not the essence of my belief; I could still be said to believe if I chose that pattern of thoughts and actions even if it became not the path of least resistance for some reason, if the motives for believing the opposite were suddenly bolstered (say, if scientists announced a huge asteroid coming tomorrow).

Take another example. There is a somewhat common trope in popular culture of a kid whose parents tell him that they're moving to a new town and school in a week...taking advantage of that fact by raising hell at the old school because, after all, there won't be any more consequences. Whether it's true or not (the parents could be lying), the child's "belief" is nothing more than the new habit of no longer imagining misbehavior leading to consequences (which negative images would thus discourage him from acting in that manner), but rather to positive.

The child obviously has no "absolute certainty" in any sense that he will be moving. Yet his parents' authority is enough of a good, a "motive of credibility," to outweigh the bad of potential consequences which were not, apparently, outweighed before, according to what this child chooses to value.

However, this is where I think we need to refer back to the existentialist concept of mauvaise foi, or "bad faith." The truth is, we control our own thoughts. Or, at least, we control which thoughts the will assents to or not. Yes, thoughts may come into our head involuntarily, but we ultimately decide whether to entertain them or not. What does it mean to assent to a proposition or entertain a thought? It means for the will to choose to be engaged by it.

All things that exist have some good, and outside the Beatific Vision itself...our will is free to choose between goods. A greater good does not "automatically" outweigh a lesser good in terms of our choices; our will is not merely some deterministic balance like that, but is free to choose any good, even a lesser good, because the good is under many aspects. A lesser pleasure may be automatically outweighed by a greater pleasure, but only inasmuch as we are choosing to make pleasure our last end or value in that choice. The good with lesser pleasure may, however, contain greater Reason (or some other form or aspect of the Good) and so we remain free to choose it under that aspect which it has greater.

The hedonist may feel compelled (by the fact that he has chosen to make mere pleasure his last end, has chosen to value the good under that aspect) to choose the object of greater pleasure, but the eudemonist (for example) will (by the fact that he has chosen to make intelligible happiness his last end, has chosen to value the good under that aspect) choose the good of greatest reason, not greatest pleasure (and in fact, constitutes intelligible happiness as his last end by the very fact of this choice; the "valuing" is not something that precedes and determines the choice, but rather is constituted in the very fact of our choices themselves.)

Now, this means that all thoughts, essentially, will have some appeal to our will, there will be some srt of good or satisfaction available in "resting in" that thought rather than dismissing it (then again, most thoughts will also have negatives that could be motives for dismissals). In the weighing of pros and cons...we ultimately have a free choice, based on what we choose to value. Some thoughts indeed may (compared to others) be less appealing on all axes, under all aspects of the good. But in most cases, we have a choice between a good (in this case, a thought) that has the greater appeal under one aspect, and a thought that has greater appeal under some different aspect. Which we choose depends on (or, rather, determines) which aspect of the good we are choosing to value, to set our last end in.

However, many people deny this, and objectify themselves as something other than entirely free. I used the example in my old post on mauvaise foi of "a shy boy looking admiringly at a boisterous peer acting spontaneously and say[ing], "Oh, I could never do that, I'd be too embarrassed" or some such excuse. The truth is, there are no physical limitations on his ability to do the exact same thing. He is choosing to value the avoidance of embarrassment over his wistful longing for the spontaneity."

The same is true when it comes to any thought or action. A child doesn't have to be moving away from a school to misbehave (trust me)! The children who misbehave even when imagining consequences will follow, clearly are choosing the good results or satisfaction they find in the misbehavior over the good of avoidance of consequences. Part of this may be affected, indeed, by natural disposition. For some children, the pleasure associated with various types of misbehavior may be greater, or the pain associated with consequences. And if the pleasure/pain axis is the aspect of the good they choose to make their supreme value, they'll choose based on the respective balance there.

But, ultimately, we are free. We don't have to value the good under that aspect alone. There is nothing saying that the will has to choose a certain way when a certain threshold is passed in the balance of pleasure vs. pain, and even a child who had a very low tolerance for the consequences and who took little satisfaction from the misbehavior...could still choose, with absolute freedom, to misbehave based on some other value, some other aspect of the good besides just the hedonistic, which he finds in that choice. The good with the more minor satisfaction in terms of one axis could be chosen in favor of the greater good of avoiding all the pain if it were greater under some other aspect. We choose what to give value to, as "valuing" something is nothing other than making it an object of our choice. We decide what our Last End is by where we choose to place it.

This has a direct bearing on belief and faith. In the case of the child whose parents tell him he's leaving school in a week, there is no reason he could not have thought (and behaved) this way before. It's just that, prior to his parents' announcement, the "evidence," the motive of credibility, for imagining no consequences...would have been small. Notice: he still could have chosen it, possibly. We choose which thoughts to dismiss and which to embrace, and he could have chosen (with no announcement from his parents) to choose a pattern of thoughts (and thus actions) that would amount to a belief or "faith" that he wasn't going to be at that school in a week. However, obviously, most people don't make such a choice. Most people choose to value the thought of consequences (or, rather, avoiding them) over whatever straws could be grasped at to motivate one to choose to believe otherwise, because it is unclear if any aspect of the good could be found greater in the latter.

However, the authority of the parents' announcement provides a new motive of credibility to imagining that there will be no consequences, and the child who chooses to misbehave upon hearing this announcement is now choosing to value trusting his parents' authority on the matter over the risk of consequences (if it doesn't turn out true). But this too is a choice. No one is compelled by such authority unless they choose to value it.

Many people are hedonists and choose simply the greatest satisfaction or most minimal pain, but the great liberating truth of moral freedom is that we don't have to act this way. If the promise of immediate pleasure is of greater intensity than our vague anticipation of pain resulting in the long-run...we are still not forced to choose the pleasure, even though it is the path of least resistance. We can choose to avoid it in spite of that by valuing the good under some other aspect (even if concupiscence inclines us to consider pleasure/pain first).

Now, what does all this have to do with the question of religious assent, specifically, with supernatural faith? Well, it means that we can have it, choose to have it, even when it is not the "path of least resistance" in our mind.

When people speak of "doubt" or when they say something doesn't "seem" or "feel" true to them, that they "aren't convinced"...what they tend to mean is that the doubted proposition offers less intellectual satisfaction (in terms of the will assenting/resting in that thought) than some other proposition, or at least that they all seem to offer roughly equal satisfaction or good. However, to act as if this means we can't or shouldn't still choose to assent is to be in bad faith in the existentialist sense, because as I just said above...we are free to choose among goods!

At various points, God may withdraw consolations and we may be left with the thoughts of faith (which is nothing more than statements or imaginings compatible with it) being less appealing or less intellectually satisfying than other thoughts which contradict it when considered solely under this aspect. But who ever said that intellectual satisfaction is what we should value most when determining how to think and act!? In reality, we are free to choose a less intellectually satisfying pattern of thoughts if it maximizes the good under some other aspect, and if we then choose to value the good under that aspect rather than under the aspect of intellectual satisfaction.

Inasmuch as all thoughts offer some good that can motivate our will, we are by no means bound to choose the one that offers the "maximum" satisfaction according to merely that one sort of intensity because, ultimately, we determine which aspect of the good we value more or less. We choose whether we value the mere balance of pleasure and pain, or intellectual satisfaction, over some other notion or aspect of the Good.

Choosing to believe (which is to say, choosing a pattern of entertaining/enjoying pious and orthodox thoughts and statements while choosing to dismiss impious or heretical ones) may indeed be a choice that is not the path of least resistance for the will in terms of maximizing intellectual satisfaction, but we can nevertheless choose it under other aspects of the good, and by that very choice confer value on those aspects.

This is why Catholic Encyclopedia says:
We must insist upon this because in the minds of many faith is regarded as a more or less necessary consequence of a careful study of the motives of credibility, a view which the Vatican Council condemns expressly: "If anyone says that the assent of Christian faith is not free, but that it necessarily follows from the arguments which human reason can furnish in its favour; or if anyone says that God's grace is only necessary for that living faith which worketh through charity, let him be anathema" (Sess. IV).

The Church has twice condemned the view that faith ultimately rests on an accumulation of probabilities. Thus the proposition, "The assent of supernatural faith . . is consistent with merely probable knowledge of revelation" was condemned by Innocent XI in 1679 (cf. Denzinger, Enchiridion, 10th ed., no. 1171); and the Syllabus Lamentabili sane (July, 1907) condemns the proposition (XXV) that "the assent of faith rests ultimately on an accumulation of probabilities."
The truth is, it is the free will which ultimately determines intellectual assent (nothing more than a pattern of thoughts and actions) by choosing a pattern of thought and behavior based on which aspect of the good it chooses to value:
The place of the will in an act of faith. — So far we have seen that faith is an act of the intellect assenting to a truth which is beyond its grasp, e.g. the mystery of the Holy Trinity. But to many it will seem almost as futile to ask the intellect to assent to a proposition which is not intrinsically evident as it would be to ask the eye to see a sound. It is clear, however, that the intellect can be moved by the will either to study or not to study a certain truth, though if the truth be a self-evident one — e.g., that the whole is greater than its part — the will cannot affect the intellect's adhesion to it, it can, however, move it to think of something else, and thus distract it from the contemplation of that particular truth. If, now, the will moves the intellect to consider some debatable point—e.g. the Copernican and Ptolemaic theories of the relationship between the sun and the earth — it is clear that the intellect can only assent to one of these views in proportion as it is convinced that the particular view is true. But neither view has, as far as we can know, more than probable truth, hence of itself the intellect can only give in its partial adherence to one of these views, it must always be precluded from absolute assent by the possibility that the other view may be right. The fact that men hold much more tenaciously to one of these than the arguments warrant can only be due to some extrinsic consideration, e.g. that it is absurd not to hold what the vast majority of men hold. And here it should be noted that, as St. Thomas says repeatedly, the intellect only assents to a statement for one of two reasons: either because that statement is immediately or mediately evident in itself — e.g. a first principle or a conclusion from premises — or because the will moves it to do so. Extrinsic evidence of course comes into play when intrinsic evidence is wanting, but though it would be absurd, without weighty evidence in its support, to assent to a truth which we do not grasp, yet no amount of such evidence can make us assent, it could only show that the statement in question was credible, our ultimate actual assent could only be due to the intrinsic evidence which the statement itself offered, or, failing that, due to the will. Hence it is that St. Thomas repeatedly defines the act of faith as the assent of the intellect determined by the will (De Veritate, xiv, 1; II-II, Q. ii, a. 1, ad 3; 2, c.; ibid., iv, 1, c., and ad 2). The reason, then, why men cling to certain beliefs more tenaciously than the arguments in their favour would warrant, is to be sought in the will rather than in the intellect. Authorities are to be found on both sides, the intrinsic evidence is not convincing, but something is to be gained by assenting to one view rather than the other, and this appeals to the will, which therefore determines the intellect to assent to the view which promises the most. Similarly, in Divine faith the credentials of the authority which tells us that God has made certain revelations are strong, but they are always extrinsic to the proposition, "God has revealed this or that", and consequently they cannot compel our assent; they merely show us that this statement is credible. When, then, we ask whether we are to give in our free assent to any particular statement or not, we feel that in the first place we cannot do so unless there be strong extrinsic evidence in its favour, for to believe a thing merely because we wished to do so would be absurd. Secondly, the proposition itself does not compel our assent, since it is not intrinsically evident, but there remains the fact that only on condition of our assent to it shall we have what the human soul naturally yearns for, viz., the possession of God, Who is, as both reason and authority declare, our ultimate end; "He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved", and "Without faith it is impossible to please God." St. Thomas expresses this by saying: "The disposition of a believer is that of one who accepts another's word for some statement, because it seems fitting or useful to do so. In the same way we believe Divine revelation because the reward of eternal life is promised us for so doing. It is the will which is moved by the prospect of this reward to assent to what is said, even though the intellect is not moved by something which it understands. Hence St. Augustine says (Tract. xxvi in Joannem, 2): Cetera potest homo nolens, credere nonnisi volens' [i.e. other things a man can do against his will but to believe he must will]" (De Ver., xiv, 1).
So, for me, it boils down to this: if you're thinking of apostasizing or assenting to some heresy, or withholding assent from some Church order to get any sort of respect from me, you must admit that you are absolutely free, and that your "loss" of faith is a pure choice, with complete responsibility and culpability. That you are freely choosing to set your last end in, to value, some aspect of the good which is maximized in heresy (it will usually be either subjective intellectual satisfaction or else the fact that the heresy justifies living in a sinful-yet-pleasurable manner) and not choosing to value those aspects of the good maximized in faith.

If you admit that...I can't argue with you. I believe (based on what I choose to value) that your choice is wrong, and that man's natural last end is intelligible happiness in Reason rather than pleasure in the lower appetite...but if you admit honestly that you are choosing to value the latter instead, with full freedom and responsibility, well, there is no arguing with free choice. One can't use Reason to appeal to someone who is choosing to value something other than Reason! If you admit "I am freely choosing to value the good under the aspect of intellectual satisfaction over the other types of good available in faith, and since I no longer am maximally intellectually satisfied by orthodox thoughts, I am abandoning them in favor of thoughts which do maximize the intellectual satisfaction I have chosen to value and place my last end in" be it. There is no way I can argue against free and honest pure choice.

But what does annoy me is the inauthentic mauvais foi by which so many of these people try to act like their loss of faith was "forced" on them by some external agent or meta-value. "Oh, I just can't believe that...I am just convinced by other arguments, or believing it causes me emotional pain or denies me some pleasure, or goes against these other 'self-evident' values of mine."

Bullshit. If saying other arguments convince you, or that the motives of credibility for Catholic faith don't, you mean merely that these other arguments are currently the path of least resistance in your mind when it comes to maximizing good under the aspect of intellectual satisfaction...I can only answer "Yes, but you are the one making the free choice to value 'intellectual satisfaction' over other aspects of the good. Nothing and no one is forcing your hand in that regard."

The same goes for a claim that some other value "forces" you to not have faith, or to not live morally. You are freely choosing to value that aspect, whatever it is, and yet could just as freely choose to think and speak and act as I do (or, even better, as the Saints have) by choosing to value the good under some other aspect. These other aspects may be more difficult, but there is no reason you are "forced" to choose "least difficult" as the deciding aspect of the good! You are free to choose your values in that regard (and, in fact, your choices are your values.)

Anyone who conceives of faith as merely a state whereby adopting a given pattern of thoughts, words, and actions is necessarily the most intellectually satisfying or least difficult, and acts as if they can't assent intellectually (according to other aspects of the good available in faith) unless this is in bad faith, existentially, is shirking their responsibility, and denying their own freedom as a subject, essentializing themselves (and all humanity, mind you!) as hedonists who can only ever follow the path of least resistance (even though, in reality, we are free to choose other values!)

Faith does not consist in orthodox thoughts being the most intellectually or emotionally satisfying. It consists in freely choosing such thoughts for the value of the aspects of the good they do contain, whether they maximally intellectually satisfy us or not (because we don't have to place our last end or highest value in that! There are many aspects of the good we can choose among to value!)


A Sinner said...

This is sort of why, for all my own polemic and development of arguments, I've come to hate the "apologetics" culture in the Church. As it seems to tacitly ACCEPT the paradigm whereby intellectual satisfaction is what motivates the choice of belief.

Now, I'm personally pulled here. For me, intellectual satisfaction is a HUGE appealing thing about the Faith, and I've always found it intellectually satisfying to the extreme.

BUT. I know that for other people (certainly those who are not intellectuals, but the "peasants," etc)...intellectual satisfaction is NOT the primary [natural] good found in the choice of belief, but rather aesthetics, or cultural attachment, or to please family, or for a sense of comfort and security, etc. All of which are FINE natural motives of credibility in themselves (even when intellectual satisfaction is NOT present).

I think the "apologetics" mindset tends to forget this, and to seemingly insist on everyone being intellectually satisfied with the faith as their primary motive of credibility, as if that is the nature of faith (the very error I try to debunk in this rambling post).

And I also know that someday God might withdraw my sensible intellectual satisfaction surrounding the faith (to purify me) or that the devil might come up with a more [subjectively] satisfying argument to tempt me.

And while I believe that "objectively" the Faith is ultimately the most satisfying possible thing to Reason, I know that in our fallen world with intellects clouded by might not always be the most intellectually satisfying subjectively.

Therefore, the choice of faith must be based on some other good. Specifically, the supernatural virtue of divine Faith must be based specifically (as the Catholic Encyclopedia article says) on the supernatural promise of eternal reward for following it, motivated by the idea of heaven contained within it.

Other natural goods might serve as motives of credibility, but it can ultimately only be the choice of a supernatural end that constitutes true divine faith, and I think "apologetics" can also tend to forget this (as if faith is primarily a matter of simply demonstrating that the faith is the most intellectually satisfying thing, rather than a CHOICE of belief for the sake of a supernatural end).

Other systems, of course, could attach this idea of heaven to themselves too, however, which is why ultimately true supernatural faith can only ever be a grace, an infused gift.

It is this good (the good of eternal reward and of divine authority) which motivates the person of faith to continue assenting to Faith even when there are doubts; that is to say, even when the thoughts of belief become less intellectually satisfying. Because, in choosing them, the will isn't choosing intellectual satisfaction (at least not only or primarily that), but rather this other good (of heaven!)

And, continuing in belief for that actually what enables one to persevere in the conviction that "There must be an answer!" to difficulties that appear on the intellectual level to our clouded intellects, to study the matter based on the conviction that you will find that answer, and then to develop a better argument that will bring the Faith back up to the level of intellectual satisfaction again.

Tony said...

This troubles me some. I've always been an intuitive person, and am a big fan of analogy. I see my faith as a choice, to be sure; but a choice nonetheless founded on a reasoned acknowledgment of a convergence of probabilities; an awareness of beauty with which the Christian worldview fulfills and completes my experience of life; and how everything in nature seems to point past itself to some perfection of itself. If the faith were unreasonable, or didn't bear some resemblance to reality as I experience it, it wouldn't be worth my choice.

Your post seems to contradict my very impetus to faith. (Perhaps I've misread.) And it would seem to contradict very many people's prospect impetus to faith as well. As you cite it, the Catholic Encyclopedia seems to take away the burden of Reason from religious assent entirely; and in a masterstroke of doublespeak, portrays one's choice as choosing a Reason among Reasons. This is ridiculous.

I don't even know if I'm making any sense, because, honestly, I can't really make sense of what you're really saying. (Maybe because its foreign to my internalization of WHY I decided to become Catholic.) Also, the appeal to authority is a weak link in the chain of assent, when it comes to saying yes to the Christian religion.

A dear friend of mine, who used to be Protestant, is now an Atheist. True, he was never really exposed to the Gospel (so are my thoughts, anyhow). So I can't say that I think he ever really assented to the Christian faith. He is convinced that there is no evidence upon which one can have faith in Christianity- or any religion or mythos for that matter. Most people in our culture need this relative intellectual certainty. They need proof. They need a reason, beyond "how does it make you feel?"

We need to phone talk.

Tony said...

I'm re-reading, and I'm far less perturbed.

Stephen said...

Your analysis in the first couple paragraphs is completely correct. I've also seen several cases where people start sinning and just don't feel like making the effort necessary to stop, and then find some kind of "intellectual" excuse to justify their apathy and quiet their conscience.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure how to make these kinds of people admit that's what they're doing.

A Sinner said...

"I see my faith as a choice, to be sure; but a choice nonetheless founded on a reasoned acknowledgment of a convergence of probabilities; an awareness of beauty with which the Christian worldview fulfills and completes my experience of life; and how everything in nature seems to point past itself to some perfection of itself. If the faith were unreasonable, or didn't bear some resemblance to reality as I experience it, it wouldn't be worth my choice."

Well, as I say, there are motives of credibility. Maximal intellectual satisfaction, however, need not be one of them always. Faith isn't even the supernatural virtue if it's founded on that. It's only the supernatural virtue if belief (which is nothing more than a habit of assenting to orthodox thoughts while not entertaining heretical ones) is chosen for the sake of supernatural reward/heaven.

"He is convinced that there is no evidence upon which one can have faith in Christianity- or any religion or mythos for that matter. Most people in our culture need this relative intellectual certainty. They need proof."

Need? If I say "think of a duck"...can you do it?? I think you can. Likewise, if I say, "think orthodox thoughts"...even an atheist could do this, I could even have them "juxtapose these orthodox thoughts with the notion of truth" and surely they could make a choice to "suspend disbelief" momentarily, at least, to do that (for example, I can suspend my disbelief and get inside a heretic's head too).

Now, if they can do that once, they can choose to do it always.

The reason people don't (or might call it "self deception/delusion" to do so) is because for some people (based on how original sin has darkened our intellects)...they do not receive full intellectual satisfaction from it.

But...who says THAT is the value that should determine which thoughts we choose to think? Why should "intellectual satisfaction" be the good that draws my will in the choice of thinking a pattern of certain thoughts??

I can still choose to entertain the thought that "Jesus is God incarnate" and to dismiss the thought that He was not...even if the former proposition gives me less intellectual satisfaction than the latter. We might call this "doubt," but I can still choose the former over the latter because the former has other goods that can be chosen in it (and, specifically, I can choose it out of the idea of eternal reward it promises).

Tony said...

"But...who says THAT is the value that should determine which thoughts we choose to think? Why should "intellectual satisfaction" be the good that draws my will in the choice of thinking a pattern of certain thoughts??"

Because what is True is of vital importance. If our faith is not founded on Truth, then what else? If it cannot jive with what is reasonable (which is not to say that faith isn't where reason leaves of - I believe it is) then why assent to it? I believe assent to faith should be consonant with intelligence, and be intellectually honest.

A Sinner said...

The problem is that in a world of original sin, with our intellects fallible and darkened, what is True does not necessarily correspond to what intellectually satisfies us. The very notion I'm trying to dismantle in this post is the idea that "believing something is True" corresponds to "finding maximal intellectual satisfaction in the arguments for it." The latter is just an accident of our finite human minds, the former is a free CHOICE regarding what thoughts we assent to and combine with the thought of Truth...and which we choose to dismiss or cast in the light of falsehood.

Obviously, people in the world are subjectively intellectually satisfied by many different things, not all of them the real and objective Truth. The Faith may (currently) intellectually satisfied me, but I've talked to people whom clearly it doesn't. And while "apologetics" arguments can maybe increase the satisfaction to the point of the balance tipping in its favor sometimes...really, no argument is ever airtight, and there will always be other internally consistent systems offering forms of intellectual satisfaction too, so even then it comes down to a sort of choice.

And even in the very teachings of our Church itself...intellectual satisfaction is NOT sufficient for anything other than a human Faith. For Faith to be Divine, to be the supernatural has to be a habit of assenting to Revelation NOT because it is intellectually satisfying (which is only one of several possible "motives of credibility")...but rather BECAUSE of the promise of eternal reward such thoughts contain. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Faith explains this. If we assent to the Faith merely because it is intellectually satisfying, and not out of a (only-possibly-grace-infused) desire for the promise of heaven it contains...that isn't supernatural faith.