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.