Why People Believe
You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Matthew 13:14-15
People believe what they actually want to believe. William James, the great psychologist and scientist, called this phenomenon the will to believe. But before we look any deeper, we need to ask the question what is the will? I refer to the will as your ‘want to’, which means that your appetite is very much a part of your will. Your will determines what you want and what you seek. It will also influence the degree to which you want to do something or believe something.
If a person does not have the will to believe, he will not want to believe, consequently it would be impossible for him to believe or even truly seek to believe. We could say that a person becomes dead to anything he does not have a will to believe in. They have eyes but don’t see, and ears but they don’t hear. In this, I am not saying that if you have a will to believe, that you will believe anything. To say that a person has the will to believe is simply to say he is willing to look at something with an open mind that is prepared to believe, if the evidence for it is there. If there is no will to believe, no amount of evidence will convince a person to believe anything.
What about reason? Reason only works when there is a will to believe or disbelief, because it reason is the handmaiden of the will. The will summons reason to make up all kinds of arguments and excuses for believing or not believing. For reason to work there must be a will and a presupposition that it can work from. Reason does not work in a vacuum.
I know a large number of people who fancy themselves as open-minded that will look at any issue for the sole purpose of reinforcing their self-image of being open minded. What they believe in is there open-mindedness. However, they have none or very little will to believe other things. These people usually only make a superficial search for the truth on any issue. Very shallow thinking is reasons way of justifying their open-mindedness.
The reason there are few people who have a true will to believe is because the human being senses that the will to believe, and the will to action, are so in intertwined they cannot be separated. This means that the things you will to believe, you will act on and act out. Your actions demonstrate and prove your will to believe. This simply means if you do not want to act, you will not have a will to believe. So the will to believe not only has to do with what you want to believe, but also in what you want to do. The person that hates his neighbor will have a hard time embracing a deity that commands him to love his neighbor and forgive him.
The will to believe is also closely connected with need. A perceived need creates an appetite and a will for something. If a person does not perceive a need for something, he will seldom have an appetite or a will for that thing or person; e.g. the person who believes that they have no sin to be forgiven of, will rarely seek a God that offers forgiveness.
Jesus said, “If any man wills to do the will of the Father, he will know the teaching…” Does this not say that a man approaches God, not through his reason but through his will? If you want to do God’s will you will know the teaching, you will find God, when you will to find him. If you do not know God it is because you do not want to. If a person wants to know the true God they will seek him and find him.
In summary, the way to God does not begin with reason; it begins with the will of man. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” He also said, “Let the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him that heareth say, “Come!” And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, (desires) let him take the water of life freely” Revelation 22:17.
This post is a response to Lyle Duell’s May 9th, 2018 blog “The end of Materialism” (https://lyleduell.me/2018/05/09/the-end-of-materialism/).
My son gave me a book called The Great Conversation, by Norman Melchert, a textbook reviewing philosophy from early Greek times to the present. In the textbook, the author really starts with philosophers from around 600 BC with group known as the Sophists. The Sophists view came out of investigations into truth and the deep meanings of life. The Sophists decided that there is no Truth, and therefore the only thing that matters is to get your opinion out to the world. The Sophists argue there was no “truth” that everything was relative. Their goal was to win the argument by presenting the best rhetorical defense of their position.
Sophists taught that there is no Truth, that truth is relative to each person. To get their truth heard, sophists needed to make the most persuasive argument. Sophists taught their students to argue both sides of a debate so they could practice their rhetorical skills and learn about relative truth. Sophists became big in politics and the life of Athens because of their ability to argue and present their ideas.
Socrates came along and showed the Sophists were wrong. Socrates showed that there was Truth and people could use reason to find that Truth. Socrates would ask questions about a subject, digging deeper and deeper, removing the facades until all that was left was the underlying truth. This technique would force people to confront their assumptions and show them the fallacies of their opinions. Society put Socrates to death because of they didn’t want to confront their assumptions. Society did not want to hear that their opinions were wrong.
The pursuit of Truth became the main focus of philosophers, and continues to this day. Plato, a student of Socrates thought that Truth was the basis of everything and that the physical world was just a shadow of that Truth. Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed that Truth was determined through logic and reason. With the use of the Socratic method of questioning everything, the search for truth behind the shadows, and application of logic and reason, philosophers have used these tools to continue the search for Truth.
The study of knowledge and reason (epistemology) has evolved over time. By the late 16th century, philosophy was fragmenting into a lot of different directions. The 17th century philosopher Reneé Descartes, decided that he should not base his understanding of the universe and Truth on writings of the past. Instead, he thought he should start with a blank sheet of paper and prove morals, reason, knowledge, and truth. He use mathematics, logic, and deductive reasoning to dig out truth. He remove all assumptions but one, summed up in the seemingly simple statement: “I think, therefore I am.”
Since that time, scientists and philosophers have gotten the idea into their head that they know so much more than, say, Socrates or Descartes. They have come full circle and are back at the Sophists/relativist phase again. The problem is, they have dragged all of society along with them and society is now a bunch of relativists. Relativism and the scientific materialism it engendered makes people think that that their opinions and ideas are just as valid as anyone else’s opinions and ideas. That view is much better for the ego, allowing you to think that your ideas are valid. If relativism is not valid then the person has to do actual work, like thinking and research. It’s much easier to just assume your idea is valid instead of doing the actual work.
Relativism is a disease of the mind. Aristotle thought so little of them that he refused to even bother to refute a relativist. He claimed that the relativist view was so easy to prove wrong as to almost not be worth the effort. Consider the case of the brain surgeon. Are the opinions of all of the people equally valid? Would you want anyone who can formulate a good argument to grab a bone saw and start to work on your brain? Would you want just anyone who thought they knew to run a nuclear reactor, pilot a jet plane, or even cook your food?
Clearly there are people who have skills and expertise in the various subjects. These people are authorities on the subject. If there are authorities on things like rocket science and brain surgery, then why do people think that there is no authority on the investigation of truth or the understanding of morals?
How do we counter society’s dive into the relativist chasm? How do we show people that relativism and the nihilistic materialism that it spawns is wrong and hurtful? We can try to use reason, but using reason to study reason is like looking into a dark, dirty mirror – we only see distortions, grime, and do not see the entire picture. Logic can help clean the mirror a bit, and the scientific method can do some more cleaning, but we are limited by what we can hold in our brains.
I order to fight society’s intellectual decline, I decided to take up the challenge that Descartes once tried. I wanted to start with a clean sheet of paper and see where it got me. I needed to start with a basic assumption, and I did not want to start with the assumption of “I think, therefore I am.” I started with the base assumption, or axiom, that there is a universe and it exists.
From that one axiom, we can make an observation about that universe—there are objects in the universe. We can do things with the objects, such as put them in groups. We can count the objects and measure their height, width, or depth. We can take some objects out of a group. From this simple manipulation of objects, we can create addition and subtraction. From there, we can manipulate groups of groups and create multiplication and division. In fact, from this simple beginning of manipulating groups and measurements we can create all of mathematics, from the simplest addition table to the most complex abstract algebra and calculus.
Once we can perform mathematics on objects, we can observe that objects interact. Investigating that interaction leads to physics. All of physics is just the study of the interaction of objects, from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy, these are just objects interacting. We can investigate specific objects—chemicals—and create the science of chemistry. We can see that some chemicals have special properties and call these properties “organic” and create a specialized chemistry of organic chemistry. Investigating these chemicals further finds that some reproduce themselves and that investigation is known as biology. In fact, all of mathematics and physical sciences come from the simple initial axiom of “there is a universe and it exists.” Unfortunately, there is nothing in all of these studies and investigations that helps us refute relativism.
As I dug into the ramifications of this basic assumption, I came across two problems. First, why is there a universe? Second, why is there consciousness? Some would argue evolution would lead to consciousness, but there are both major problems with evolution and even more problems with the idea of consciousness being selected by evolution. This set of problems is not something that could be solved by the physical sciences. This set of problems requires going outside of the universe to solve. That means there is either some divine answer or not.
Using both logic and the scientific method I have found that the only possible answer to the second set of problems is God. I found that the only explanation for life, the universe, and everything (to quote Douglas Adams) is a divine Creator. Once you get rid of relativism and actually search for Truth the answers keep coming back to that one conclusion. People may not like that answer, but that does not make the answer any less valid.
Of course, once you have that answer, the next question is – what is the nature of God. Various religions have tried to answer that question. For me, God is the one of the Christian Bible. The problem with investigating the nature of God is that it is entirely subjective. Your relationship with the Creator is intimate and personal. No one has the same relationship or experience as anyone else. Therefore, the only way to answer this question is through personal search.
Since God is infinite, the search for the full answer to that question will take a lifetime and will never finish. The search entails learning about our relationship with God and therefore our relationship with each other. Each step brings new insight and even more questions. Unfortunately, society today is used to quick, sound-bite sized answers. Most people in our society are not equipped to deal with this search, so they either become shallow Christians or atheists.
Since the final search for truth is subjective, the only way to approach it is via reason. Which brings us full circle to your article—reason gets abused and distorted into supporting the desired outcome, not searching for Truth. Reason gets used as a means to support relativism, not to search for the Truth. Subversion of reason is how institutions, religious people, ceremony, and other trappings of “religion” can come between God and His people. Your book, “From Jesus to Religion: How Forms of Mediation have Subverted the Christian Faith,” is showing the world the results of letting ego direct reason and distort the search for Truth.
Your insightful comments and writings has helped me a lot, and I thank you deeply for that.
The End of Materialism?
Materialism is a philosophy that teaches the only thing which exists is what science call matter or energy. For the materialist there is no spirit, soul or even consciousness. As a philosophy, it represents the foundational world-view of atheism. Materialism and its birth child of atheism will never be the preeminent world view because it leaves humanity empty and without meaning. Any illusions of meaning it might offer are quickly drained by suffering, the brevity of life and him him death. Of course, there are some who have the intellectual ability to build and maintain a huge bulwark of superficial and peripheral arguments to protect their illusions of meaning. The most that can be said about these arguments is that they divert people’s attention away from reality onto their quibbles, which seems to work fairly well for those who have very little expectations of life. This is one of the biggest problems and dangers of atheism; it has the tendency to hollow out people and diminish their expectations or hopes for the future or life in general, which in turn precipitates an existential crisis that often leads to nihilism.
In his classic book “The Denial of Death”, Ernest Becker points out that humanity denies its death by creating illusions. He claims that one of these delusions is religion, but he acknowledges that it’s just one among many. The most typical method of delusion is simply to force the idea of death to the back of your mind. Most humans are so well-practiced at this deception that they do it with very little effort or consciousness.
In fact, it has been my experience that people of faith think and talk about death more than the non-religious. In this, they demonstrate more of a grasp on reality, at least in this one area, greater than the non-religious. The secular man appears to avoid the issue of death altogether, which seems to be a far deeper form of denial, than trusting in an afterlife.
Of course, you must demonstrate that religion is false, not just flawed, before you can totally dismiss it as a delusion, which Becker doesn’t attempt. However, in his conclusion Becker does demonstrate the utilitarianism of religion and affirms that religion does work well in dealing with the fear of death. This dispels the shallow idea of the new atheist type that says religion poisons everything and intrinsically has no value.
The end of materialism can be seen throughout the west and especially in eastern Europe where we have a preview of its demise in Russia where materialism was forced on the population by an atheistic government for decades, at which point it left the populace hollowed out and empty. The Russian model of materialism demonstrates the unworkable and the destructive nature of materialism and the atheism that follows.
I personally feel that the biggest problem with materialism is that no one can live as though they really believed it. If consistent, the materialist must also be a determinist and deny the free will of man and I have yet to see a man live as though he is a slave to the mindless movement of matter. One of my pragmatic friends put it this way; “I’ve never known a man that didn’t look both ways before crossing a street.” You cannot live a consistent life and be a materialist.
Against Reason, Systems and Idols
“Reason is what I believe, those that disagree with me are therefore, unreasonable.”
I have noticed that very reasonable and intelligent men differ widely on a large number of issues. All seem to cling to the idea that their view is reasonable and the other side is unreasonable. This would seem to point to the possibility that the problem may lie in the concept of reason itself. Of course, to examine reason is like asking an eye to see itself. When reason looks at reason, it does so through a dirty lens, and this brings us to the place to begin our investigation of reason.
In my contemplation of reason I came up with a number of answers as to why reasonable men disagree. One of the most obvious is that some men are contentious and simply enjoy fighting and arguing. Of these men you could say, they love controversy because it gets their intellectual juices flowing and therefore it has become like a drug; they have become addicted to arguing and debating. They actually enjoy fighting with words and ideas and to them life would be boring without a good fight going on. These people are often blinded to truth by their love for the fight. Their real goal is not the truth but to win the argument.
The human ego needs to be addressed when discussing reason, for when we use reason to examine reason it is like looking at yourself in a mirror. However, it is not just any mirror. It is like the magical mirror of the step mother in Snow White. The one that hung on the wall and was asked, “Mirror, mirror on the wall who’s the fairest of them all?” Of course, the mirror called reason would be asked who is the smartest of them all. The egotism of reason is a very subtle form of intellectual pride that hides itself in “a search for the truth.” A search for the truth that can lead to intellectual pride, belittling of others and name-calling akin to; they’re stupid, morons, imbeciles, etc.
Moreover, the thing that we call reason is often captured and locked up by the idols or systems we create in our minds. Reason then becomes a slave to the system, serving and supporting the system. The explanation for this, is that reason works best when things are concrete, and systems make ideas that should be fluid to become concrete. This is why many so-called intellectuals believe that they can capture the truth and put it into their system. However, the truth is that you cannot capture the truth by any system or ideology, no more than you could capture a great river in a tea-cup. This is the first lesson you should learn in reason 101, i.e. reason has her limits and one of those limits is that she cannot be put into a closed system and still be reason.
Still, another lesson taught by true reason is that reason does not necessarily reign, nor is it the chief element in the state of mind that we humans call intelligence. In fact, reason that has been captured by a closed system can make you quite miserable and very narrow minded. True reason is happy to share its place with the imagination, the will and the emotions. In other words, it knows when not to be reasonable. It knows that it is finite and it is not God. A lesson that many who fancy themselves as philosophers and intellectuals should learn.
What happens when reason forgets that she is not God? Well, she will attempt to storm the very throne of God and pretend to be God. In this, she becomes what the ancients called an idol. We could conclude from this that the building of systems is nothing more than modern man’s building of temples for the idols of the human mind.
When reason alone looks for God, she is not searching for God with a capital G, she really is looking for a god that she can manipulate and place in her system or her temple of idols. Of course, for some any god that they might find is too finite and small for their system, so they simply make their system the absolute while throwing God out of the temple. In this, the human mind becomes a workshop for making idols and its greatest tool is the thing we call human reasoning. If you do not believe me check our history. What you will find is that reason will lead into a system, the system evolves into a movement, as the intellectual wins and captures lesser men in their systems, then the system and movement will harden and become an ideology or a school of philosophy. In this, the ideology becomes the absolute (idol) that the mass man blindly follows.
Those who work in this factory of idols are the so-called intellectuals among us; mere men who really believe they understand the universe or at the least they pretend to. They are usually very intelligent, are fast thinkers and talkers that amaze and entertain the mass man with their knowledge. Many of these intellectuals serve as priest in our temples of human reason (universities). The chief characteristic of these people is not the level of their intelligence but rather that they are ignorant of their own ignorance and have the ability to dress their systems up as science and convince the masses that it is the truth with a capital T. Once the systems are formed and made absolute, the priests will call on their slave of reason to justify their systems.
In all this, we see so-called reasonable men disagree, and reason is demonstrated to be a slave of the human will and all of its rebellious passions. Surely reason is a dirty lens that darkens as much as it enlightens. Remember that as much evil has been done in the name of reason as by religion. In fact when religion does evil its practitioners say it’s reasonable.
This raises the question, have you been captured by an intellectual, a system or idol?
“Dear children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).
 I am not against reason, but rather the abusive of reason and exalting it to the place of God. Reason is the gift of God, but like other gifts from God (sexuality) she is often terribly abused and taken to extremes.
 If you want to see a circus go to YouTube and watch the intellectuals argue and debate the issues. All claiming to be reasonable and the other side unreasonable.
 “Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him. You may be sure that such a man is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-11).
 The best worldview that encompasses these three parts of the human psyche is Christianity.
 The truth about intellectual can be seen in Paul Johnson book “Intellectuals”. He concludes his book by saying “What conclusions should be drawn? Readers will judge for themselves. But think I detect today a certain public skepticism when intellectuals stand up to preach to us, a growing tendency among ordinary people to dispute the right of academies, writer and philosophers, eminent though they may be, to tell us how to behave and conduct our affairs. The belief seems to be spreading that intellectuals are no wiser as mentors or worthier as exemplars, than the witch doctors or priests of old. I share that skepticism”