Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Oh, you can't help it. That's just what you believe.

So in one of my fantasy leagues James drops this little nugget of information. I haven't fully digested it but I thought I'd throw it out there and see what everyone else thought.

The nugget is: You can't choose your beliefs.

This statement can be proven with a simple test. Take something you believe and then choose to believe opposite. So I believe that my friend Cris is in California. I can say that Cris is in Virginia but I can't believe it.

Try it out and let me know if you can choose to believe something else. How does this impact us? Will it allow us to work better with "unbelievers" because they can't choose to believe?

It's head hurts.


  1. I'm confused...didn't you choose to believe whatever it was in the first place? And what about changing your mind about something? I guess that is more about changing an opinion, but my first comment still choose to believe something in the first place...maybe I'm just not completely understanding what you are saying.

  2. well, the thinking is thus. You have based your belief on statement of fact. I believe that you will be married on Oct 15th. I can't choose to believe that you are already married or that you will be married on a different day unless I receive more information that leads me to change that belief. Butno matter what, I can't choose it. The belief is the result.

  3. To me Jesus' life and resurection are fact. Just like Margie getting married on the 15th and Cris living in CA.

    At times when I have tried to spread the word I've gotten frustrated because it would seem easy. Just believe and everything else will come. However, it's impossible for them to believe because they can't choose to.

    Try the test. Find something you beleive, and then choose to believe the opposite (or something different about it).

  4. I think the definition of faith is choosing to believe. If you can't choose, you don't have free will.

  5. Carl,

    I completely agree that we can't, by making a conscious decision, force ourselves to believe something that we haven't found to be supported by evidence or experience. For example, I could not simply choose to believe that God micromanages the universe. ;-)

    This is one of the reasons that I think we make a mistake to put too much emphasis on the importance of "faith" (as most Christians define it, meaning an absolute acceptance of certain factual claims about who Jesus was in relationship to God and the world) and not nearly enough emphasis on living the life to which Jesus called us. In a very real respect, what we believe to be true of the metaphysical order of the universe is simply beyond our control. Furthermore, and as has been pointed out in some of these comments, there is just no way to test or develop concrete evidence about some of these points of faith that are so frequently argued to be the linchpins of Christian salvation. This being the case, I cannot believe that God will condemn people to Hell for no better reason than that they things that they come to believe are not precisely accurate. Rather, I think that God's true concern is with our earnestness in trying to live the life to which we are called. In other words, I think the Bible teaches that God judges our hearts (character), not our minds (intelligence).

    To be clear, and as I said just yesterday in an email, this by no means detracts from our responsibility to teach the Truth about Jesus as it has been revealed to us. But I think it does very strongly influence the priority that we place on teaching Christianity as a system of belief as opposed to a way of life.

  6. Before I continue, I just would like to reiterate that these views are not necessairly my own. I'm just playing devil's advocate based off someone else's theory. :-)

    Hebrews 8:11 - Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.

    So if I know that tomorrow is going to be sunny and 75 degrees I have to believe it. I can still have faith that a freak snow storm will happen and I'll get out of work. (sure of what I hope for) The flip side would be belief in something you can't see. That looks like believe would come first. So does faith cause you to believe, or does your belief cause faith?

    I think (based on the above verse)that belief would cause faith. An unbeliever will believe when they see God working in their lives. That belief then manifests itself into faith.

    Perhaps that's why denying the Holy Spirit/Son after believing/having faith is such a big sin. Once you believe, you can't choose not to. If you choose to, you go against the very nature of humanity and God..

    Just try it. You can say I believe there is a God. Now, choose to believe there isn't one. Doesn't even have to be something where faith comes in. Believe that the pen is blue, now believe it's black. Can't do it.

    Side bar: I think you and Mark owned the competition. I was just along for the ride.

  7. Odge,
    Have you had a belief change because of choice?

    I guess I just don't understand. What's the point of being a Christian if it's just a set of beliefs and not a way of life? How does it differ from other religions?

  8. Carl,

    I agree that it ought to be about a way of life. But my experience (as a life-long CofC person) has been that the emphasis in all mission work is to make people believe. People argue (in essence, though I know I'm oversimplifying somewhat) that it is the moment of belief - and belief in a very particular set of facts, I might add - that opens the floodgates of God's grace.

    I disagree with people that have that perspective. God's grace is available to us from the moment that we become determined to follow his calling for how we are to live our lives. While belief often precedes that determination, it doesn't always. And, as I have argued in other settings was the case with Gandhi and other non-Christians, people may fully realize God's existence and calling without ever adopting a traditionally Christian set of beliefs. My understanding is that God will be faithful to those people, despite their mistaken or limited beliefs about who Jesus was in relation to God and the world.

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  10. I've briefly scanned through all the comments, and now I'm going to do what I typically do in various situations: Disagree with everybody! (And I was once considered the diplomatic one in the family).

    You can convince yourself of anything, even the opposite of obvious fact, if you work at it long enough. It may not last long, but usually you can get yourself going for a few minutes.

    Just spend a lot of time thinking to yourself about what you want to believe; for instance, that Chris is in VA rather than CA. You encorperate it into your common thoughts, such as "Hmm, I wonder if Chris can come over" or "Hey, maybe I can swing by Chris's house on the way home." Give yourself false memories by imagining hanging out with him just the other night, as realistically as you can, doing whatever feels natural (watching sports, talking, whatever). Eventually, you'll begin to forget that Chris is several thousand miles away and everything you convinced yourself of was a lie. Of course, it won't take you long to remember, the illusion is usually brief, but it's very possible.