Chosing (un)Belief

Have you heard of TED Talks? Probably. If not, you can learn something about them and participate in the post at this same time by checking out this one by Alexander Tsiaras. Take note of what he says in the the first 2 minutes of the talk (around 1:20-1:23) about the nature of collagen in the cornea of the human eye and divinity.

I’ll spare you the snarky, mental comment which (I’m sorry to say) popped into my mind first. Instead, I’ll share my second response, which was “I guess we believe what we want to.”

You probably can’t tell from just reading it, but my second response was simply an observation. It’s probably not a novel one to you. You’ve probably noticed that we believe what we want in some situation or other. You might have been in discussion/debate/dialogue with someone who doesn’t believe in God and had this person tell you that you believe in God simply because you want God to exist. The implication is that you, the believer, are ignoring reasonable (perhaps irrefutable?) evidence against God’s existence and that your faith is merely a product of your own lack of intellectual ability or integrity. Or perhaps you’re just obstinate. Or maybe you’ve been in conflict with someone who didn’t believe you were telling the truth about a particular incident or subject. In your frustration you told the other person, “Believe what you like!” Maybe it wasn’t an expression of frustration, but just a statement of dismissal to show that you weren’t going to allow your belief in your own integrity to be shaken. In both scenarios there’s something negative assumed about the connection of a belief to a desire to believe. It’s almost as if there’s a tacit understanding that wanting to believe (in) something corrupts the belief in some way. You’re supposed to either believe it or not. Wanting to believe somehow compromises/nullifies the belief itself.

Consider what Tsiaras is doing when he says that “it was hard not to attribute divinity to” the “perfectly organized structure” of the collagen in the cornea. He’s sort of confessing that he was moved at some level of his being to believe that a deity was the origin of what he was seeing. And in spite of the difficulty, he chose to persevere in his disbelief. When confronted with evidence which indicated “divinity” at work, Tsiaris willed to disbelieve. To put it another way, he chose to believe in “no-divinity”.

I think the Bible corroborates this idea that people’s beliefs frequently follow their wills/desires. Consider the parable Jesus told about the rich man and the beggar called Lazarus. In the story, the rich man and the beggar are “on the other side”. The rich man is in “torment” while the beggar is with Abraham, (who is the Father of the Faithful)so in a good place. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers who apparently are headed for the same hellish destination. Abraham says it doesn’t work that way, but the rich man pleads saying that sending someone from the dead would convince them to change their ways. Abraham tells the rich man plainly that if his brothers would not believe the warnings of (the Law of) Moses and the Prophets, then they wouldn’t believe the warnings of someone raised from the dead. To see this parable come to life, take note of how the Jewish leaders responded when an actual Lazarus was in fact raised from the dead by Jesus. The leaders had witnesses. They knew it was a genuine miracle. None of them denied it. So, why didn’t they believe that Jesus was who he claimed to be and respond appropriately? Because they did not want to believe. They did not want this Jesus to be their Messiah because he wasn’t doing the job correctly. In the face of the miracle, they believed what they wanted to believe-that Jesus was a fraud.

Then there’s the story of a man who asked Jesus to heal his son. The boy had been afflicted by an evil spirit since childhood and no one had been able to help him. Even the disciples were no help. If the disciples were no help, could the master be any better? The evidence was solidly on the side of unbelief. But he was desperate. “If you can…” the man said. Jesus laid it out for the father, “Everything is possible for one who believes.” The man had to make a choice. He cried out, “Lord I believe!Help my unbelief!” It’s Tsiaras’ choice made in the opposite direction.

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