I constantly talk of the experiment of belief. Part of my intent with this blog is to provide some guidance and direction in trying this experiment of belief. But what about those who may say, “So how am I going to try this experiment if I can’t believe at all? I can’t bring myself to believe in something like that. But I want to try the experiment.” The following comments apply to this topic, but also may be applied learning anything in academia.
We have to make the distinction between the claims of “can’t believe” and “don’t want to believe”. There is a very important difference: those who “don’t want to” try the experiment will never begin because of a difference in attitude; this could be because modifying belief systems can be very difficult, and the prospect of doing so is not worth the effort for them. Those who “can’t believe” have a number of thoughts, ponderings, beliefs of their own, philosophies, etc. that make believing in God a significant challenge. Those who “don’t want to believe” something feel that never truly asking a question is somehow more liberating than knowing for themselves—perhaps an ignorance-is-bliss mentality. For those who feel that really asking the question of God is not something he/she wants to know, I don’t think many of my comments will be interesting. I cannot help someone understand something that he/she is choosing not to understand, whether it be developmental psychology, solid-state physics, political economy of women, minimalist artistic movements, or God.
A man of God, who first introduced me to this method of an experiment, said, “if [you] will [try] an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith … even if [you] can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until [you] believe in a manner that [you] can give place [in your heart/belief system] for a portion of my words.” I think that this man was partly teaching that if you can’t believe because it seems like the claim is constantly too far removed from reality then ponder on the fact that the only way to really know is to try the experiment: believe. Deep pondering, contemplative reflecting, and/or serious consideration will eventually and hopefully open one up to the option of trying an experiment, or at least open us to the recognition that since we have not tried it, we cannot determine the validity of another’s experience. However, if we are to try something this monumental, such as a change in our belief system, we have to bring ourselves to the point where we can say,
“I want to know the answer for myself, and not because others have insisted it is so. I am concerned enough about learning this thing that I am willing to sacrifice my previous opinions about the subject to know. I am willing, with all its implications, to accept knowing: being ostracized by close ones, losing status with friends, possible stereotyping, possible implications with regards to my employment … whatever the consequences of changing my belief system in an intolerant world may be. Coming to a knowledge of this is more important to me than being right up to this point: I want to know either way.”
We all should reach this point of willingness to learn about God sometime in our lives. Without having actually tried the experiment of belief, we cannot really say that we’ve tried to answer the question as it has been asked. If we don’t reach that point of being honest with ourselves, it could be that we don’t want to know the answer yet.
From personal experience, however anecdotal, I must say something that I’ve observed in my desire to know God: I have not come to know anything, to truly comprehend anything, to receive anything, or to be anything without reaching the point where I’ve said to myself, “I don’t care what the answer is, whether I’m currently right or wrong; I just need to know what it really is.” In the case of belief in God, I have had to reach the point where I’ve broken down my preconceptions of what I think God should or shouldn’t be or how He should or shouldn’t act. When I’ve reached that point, I can begin to understand. As an analogy, if God wants to paint a picture in our minds using bright oranges, reds, greens, and violets, but all we’re letting Him work with in our minds is gray (because we think that gray is the only thing He can use), the intended picture may come out sadly monochromatic; even if He does give us something of a painting, it is likely our restrictions on the answer that distort the picture.
That analogy is worth pondering and reflecting. Could God prove Himself to the individual? Yes. Then why does He leave it also to our own willingness to let Him into our belief system? Again, there must be something valuable in learning to learn, in allowing God to choose the palate, or in being willing to surrender our own hard-earned thoughts if greater insight is available. Again, there must be something valuable in learning to believe, because God is not forced to use only unquantifiable personal experiences.
We have to open up our minds to the idea that “you know what? I could be wrong on this one.” As one reader pointed out, oftentimes we reach a point where we just stop questioning. The only legitimate reason to stop questioning is if we knew something, coming from an indisputable source of truth, where all other possible options are removed, assuming that such a source were available. Otherwise, we should continue to inquire. I hope to give some insights as to how we can do this.