Is there a "right" to believe anything you want?

In his recent book…Worshipping the State…Prof. Benjamin Wiker writes…

“Ask yourself this: where in the Bible, where in the history of Israel so completely defined by the law, where in God’s continual anger at Israel for mixing themselves up in the alien religion of the Canaanites, where in the words of Christ who claimed he was the Way, the Truth, and the Life, where in the words of St. Paul who railed against tampering with the doctrines about Christ, where in the first seven centuries of the church carefully and painfully hammering out the details of the doctrines about Jesus and the Holy Trinity, where among Christians who believed that Scripture is God’s Holy Revealed Word–where in all this would you possibly derive the notion that somehow the goal of Christianity was to inculcate the principle that each person has the right to believe anything he wants?”

If faith is irrational…the obvious answer…yeh sure…just keep it to yerself.

If faith is based on overarching reality…then obviously it is important that human faith be directed.

good point.

It depends what you mean by “right”. If you mean a civic (political) right, then I would say “yes”, that people have the right to believe whatever they please, though how they act on their beliefs should be limited by law.

If by “right” you mean a natural right, that is, in accordance with natural law and human nature, then I would say “no”. A “right” in this sense is any natural good that a person is justified in possessing towards their natural fulfillment. Hence, the right to food, work or shelter. However, I’m not sure how a right to “believe whatever one likes” is necessarily towards the fulfillment of a person. It depends on the belief.

Good point. We have to differentiate between natural and civil rights.

In our society you can believe anything you want without fear of persecution (believing and acting are two different things). But we (as true Christians) know that failing to follow the right belief will have serious implications in the next life.

Pope Pius IX condemned total religious liberty in the “Syllabus of Errors.” I think he was in favor of allowing other religions to practice privately. The current Church teaching is more liberal, and found in the document Lumen Gentium, if I recall.

Well I don’t know about right, but certainly the ability is given to us in free will. That does not mean that what we “believe” is necessarily correct, or that if we believe the wrong thing, there won’t be consequences. I think that is why the Church asks us to develop an informed conscience. :shrug:

“Very early in life, man becomes aware that he is living in a world of laws: …he discovers that fire burns, that hunger weakens, that rain wets, that bodies fall toward the earth and not toward the sky, and so with a myriad other things. If he reflects at all upon these laws, he realizes that they are not of his choosing-in fact that, in many cases, they are the reverse of what he would have chosen-but that their power is in no way affected by his disapproval. There is no way in which he can get free of them.”

“He can act as though they did not exist, in which case they damage or even destroy him. If he is a sane man, he may dislike them but he accepts them and does his best to live in accordance with them. In any case, there is no such thing as freedom from them, but only freedom within them. And freedom within them can be attained only by one who knows them. This knowing them is always a matter of discovery and not invention; in other words, one finds out what they are, one cannot in any way make them to be.”

“The moral law is no more made by man, or dependent on the approval of man, or in any way escapable by man than the material law. Man can ignore the moral law as he can ignore the material law, but the result in both cases is his own diminution or destruction.”
Frank Sheed

Why, and more to the point, how, can we possibly do this? Should the aim of government not rather be to insure all natural rights and prohibit all that is not a natural right?

Just so. A human being in fact has no natural right to believe whatever he likes. That is called wishful thinking. It is foolish and ineffective. A human being has a duty, even if only to himself, to discover the truth and believe the truth. As far as rights are concerned, a human being has a right to discover the truth, and to be informed of that truth that concerns him personally.

This means that every human being has the right to hear the Gospel preached, and a duty to investigate the truth of the Gospel once he hears it preached. In the end, everyone has the right to be fully Catholic. More, to be Catholic is not merely a right but a privilege. It is not at all in anyone’s best interest to forgo such a privilege.

Insofar as a “right” to choose whatever religion, or lack of religion, that one prefers, that idea is based on a misconception, namely that there is not discoverable, the truth of religion. In reality, if, as we believe, the Catholic Faith is the Truth, then no one has any real right to hold or teach otherwise. But the world is a very long way from accepting that.

Yes, but they don’t, which is why we need to differentiate. For example, a state may legislate a civic right to same-sex marriage or abortion, and yet there is no natural right to this.

Moreover, some natural rights can only be translated to civic rights with a degree of effectiveness.

I think that merely points out that our present system of government is less than ideal, and stands in need of improvement.

One problem with the question is that it asks about believing ‘anything you want’. No one just believes what the want plain and simple. What they believe accords to the way they see reality, it isn’t really a question of ‘want’. People believe what they believe, and usually their wants clash with it. They rarely change what they believe because of what they want. There is usually a question of truth that leads to a change in belief.

It also depends on who you are directing this question to. If it is a protestant he is going to deny that the pope and bishops have any authority as ‘guides’. So he is forced to seek the truth as he sees it. An atheist will deny the authority of bishops and the bible, so he will seek the truth as he sees it.

There is a right to freedom of conscience though, and consequently a right to believe as your own conscience tells you to believe. The pope, all the bishops, and all the claims of infallibility and inerrancy can’t bind a man’s conscience. It is his own conscience that will determine whether he follows a particular idea or not. Conscience is always present in what a man does or thinks.

Right! What I said. :slight_smile:

If you are Catholic you cannot possibly have the right to believe anything you want about your religion. That is a recipe for theological anarchism, from which the Protestant world is presently suffering. Even within the Catholic Church there is a movement to dismantle the teachings of Christ called cafeteria Catholicism. Any cafeteria Catholic only has to read the admonition of Christ to know that he has no right to make up out of his own whims whatever he will believe.

Gospel of John 17:18

“As you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I consecrate myself for them, so that they also may be consecrated in truth. I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.”

Protestantism is not one. Protestantism is legion.

And it is because Christians are divided against each other that Christianity is failing and the Anti-Christ looms on the horizon.

I think there are some distinctions you are not taking into account that would make your response more complete.

I take it that in saying “right to believe anything he wants” Wiker means “right to error in matters of religion.” I also take as a principle that human beings have an obligation to seek the truth in matters of religion; that it is ascertainable; and they have the obligation to persevere in it once they find it.

We must distinguish between the intellect and the will.

Regarding the intellect. No one has a right to receive error. That’s like saying we have a right to receive poison. Also no one has a right knowingly to disseminate error. Both are in contradiction to the intellect’s finality which is the truth.

Regarding the will in the context of the state, things are more complicated. The Church’s position is that:
a state does not have the right to coerce individuals or social groups to practice the Faith privately or publically;
a state does not have the right to prevent individuals or social groups from practicing falsehood in religion privately;
a state does not have the right to prevent individuals or social groups from practicing falsehood in religion publically UNLESS such practice violates the “demands of public order”: (a) the rights of all citizens; (b) public peace; and © public morality. See Vatican II, Dignitatis humanae, #7.

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