Leap of Faith

This arose in the another thread and it deserves some discussion.

I have struggled with this same thing. Just do a “scientific experiment” in which you choose to believe (I suggest believing Catholicism, since over many years of such experiments this is what I have found yields results).

How does one “choose to believe” something? Is that even possible?

And having done so, can an individual believe and not believe in the same thing at the same time? Put another way, is it possible for deep and true religious faith and inner skeptical reservations to coexist?

Then observe the results.

Why? In order to determine… what? The individual already believes, since they’ve already made the leap of faith back at the beginning. So the procedure appears to be circular, designed to provide some kind of subjective verification of the truth of things that the individual already believes to be true.

It has often been said that one cannot understand faith until one has faith. Just try it.

That makes it sound awfully easy. I don’t know, maybe there are people out there who can simply will themselves to believe things.

But if such an inner movement really is possible, wouldn’t it be possible to perform it with any idea whatsoever? So how does the leap of faith differ from madness?

A writer who favored and even idealized taking the leap of faith but felt the insanity of it very strongly was Soren Kierkegaard. He discusses this stuff passionately in his book ‘Fear and Trembling’.

Some Protestant groups might hold that faith is something that must be lept into, but that is not a Catholic position. For a Catholic, Faith is rational. It is logical.

Faith, in this context, means holding something as certain because of the authority of the One Who has revealed it. One certainly must engage the will and open themselves to the truth, but that is also truth of conplex philosophical proofs. Philosophy means the love of wisdom, and one who does not honestly seek truth can find ways of obscuring his vision and never finding it. For one that does seek the truth, it is available for him; not through some irrational leap of belief, but truth a logical acceptance of the truths of the Faith as revealed by God. The Church has never asked anyone to act irrationally, or accept something without proof.

But at the same time, isn’t it impossible to believe in anything as far-fetched as, say, the resurrection, no matter how well supported by testimony and any other supporting evidence, unless faith in it were also a supernatural endowment. IOWs, if not for grace, we would never believe, in any meaningful or useful way, in most of the truths proposed by the Church.

In any case, I agree that the “leap of faith” idea is unworkable; I don’t believe one can just decide to believe-in order to try faith out for a test fit so to speak; faith involves grace and reason working synergistically, it would seem. Our part is to be open, to the extent we’re able, in cooperating with Gods grace as He directs us, one little step at a time, into progressively increasing faith.

Does one gain grace from prayer then? And then faith from grace? If so, wouldn’t one already have to have faith in God for the prayer to work? I can see how this would be a cumulative process with increasing faith as a result, but wouldn’t the initial faith needed to make the first prayer to God for grace be considered a leap of faith by the individual’s assuming that God is there and wants to give grace?

What tends to happen is that a person will notice God’s presence and activity in their life. Their response is faith, or an act of faith such as prayer, and things build from there.

If we never choose to believe anything all beliefs are beyond our control.
If **all **beliefs are beyond our control why should we value any beliefs?

Can you choose to believe that you can fly? Peter Pan says all you have to do is believe… Can you do it?

You have omitted the context…

Many have chosen to believe this and their experience has taught them whether their belief is matches objective reality. Many others have chosen to believe in the existence of God and thier experience has taught them if it is true or not.

Personally, I make the choice to believe in God and the Holy Catholic Church several times each week if I can make it to Mass. I don’t have to go to Mass but I make the choice to go. I don’t have to stand but I make the choice to do so. The priest invites me to profess my faith and I publically say the creed out loud of my own free will. Then I come forward and the priest says, “Body of Christ” and I choose to say “Amen”, even though I see what appears to be only a wafer of unleavened bread.

This is why the father of the boy posessed by evil spirits in Mark 9 is one of my heros.

Then he questioned his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” He replied, “Since childhood. It has often thrown him into fire and into water to kill him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Jesus said to him, " ‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith." Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-24)
Jesus himself dealt with the question in the original post. Yes, it is possible to make a choice to believe. Yes it is possible to still have doubt in the face of that unbelief, because our physical senses are limited and our spiritual senses are clouded.

I wish I knew the father’s name but he really is me. The man makes a concious choice to believe but realizes his own frailty and asks Jesus to help him overcome the limitations he has as a mortal man living with original (and presumably ongoing) sin.

“Help my unbelief!” is the man’s prayer. Verse 29 is Jesus’ response and I’ll leave it to everyone to look it up (cause I’m like that).


The expression “leap of faith” can be misleading. Faith, for a Catholic, is not a leap in the complete dark. This kind of leap amounts almost to a denial of one’s reason. And, as you correctly point out, there’s no such thing as choosing to believe; choosing to embrace a belief that your reason indicates to be false.

What you can do is, and THIS is what Faith amounts to, is, after concluding that there is good evidence for what Faith teaches, and that it might well be true, stop bringing up new objections and new possible reasons to reject the Faith. This doesn’t mean stop asking questions and learning more; it means reverting the attitude: instead of finding reasons NOT to believe, one’s basic attitude will be that of finding reasons confirm one’s belief and conciliate it with new facts that come up.

And there you have it - religious belief in a nutshell. “Ignore the bits that contradict your belief and cherry-pick the bits that appear to confirm what you wish were true.”

And theists say that we atheists are narrow minded!

I don’t think that’s what Joel was saying. I believe he meant that reason can only take one so far, and then faith, while not contradicting reason, is nevertheless a move outside or beyond it’s realm.

This is, ironically, a very good example of narrow-mindedness.

I never said anything about ignoring whatever contradicts one’s belief; you made that up. I spoke about the attitude one has when dealing with information that might appear to contradict one’s belief. Immediately conclude that it does and thus reject one’s previous beliefs, or seeking a deeper understanding and new information that might dispel the apparent contradiction.

The attitude of Faith if much more intellectually honest that what you have displayed here: an attempt to cast something you don’t like or understand in the worst possible light, resorting to immediate gross mis-characterization of someone’s beliefs to confirm your own assumptions.

Exactly! One will never prove, demonstrate, the things of Faith. That Jesus is God, for instance. There is no way to prove that beyond all possible doubt, like a mathematical theorem. But there is evidence that points toward it; and once one sees it, and realizes that it may well be true, it is up to the individual: he will either keep raising new doubts that will prevent him from believing (and it is always possible to find one new reason to doubt); or will believe it and accept that the challenges that will appear later are a sign of his ignorance, which he will be always seeking to remedy by study.

The “context” is that no matter how hard you try, I’m going to bet that you cannot choose to “believe” that you can fly.

Your objection is substantially true. No-one “chooses” their beliefs. What we do choose, however, is how to deal with our beliefs, especially if they leave open room for doubts and objections (as things of Faith do). You can choose to think about something or not; to study a subject more deeply or not.

Sometimes merely thinking about what we are doing, trying to find out our own implicit premises, changes our whole outlook.

All of these things can have an impact on our beliefs. In fact, it seems pretty clear to me that most people who drop away from the Faith do it not because of a powerful case made by a competing world-view (atheism, agnosticism, another religion), but from a mere lack of knowledge about their own Faith, which thus becomes very weak and unable to withstand even the slightest objections. Not that most people actually think in terms of arguments and objections; their mind keeps absorbing all kinds of different and often contradictory beliefs and values until one day they realize their last vestiges of Faith no longer square with their basic outlook on life.

I believe that Jesus loves each and every one of us as he loves himself.

I believe that Jesus died for me and for you and for all mankind, regardless of what any of us might believe.

I cannot prove it, I just believe it to be the truth, I didn’t find this faith until I was around the tender age of 50. if you search and you want to find God, then he is waiting to be found, his door is always open, but you have to do something.

Blessings and peace be with you


It’s my understanding that belief is state of mind in which an person concludes that a premise or propoundment is true. If that is true, then can you not merely conclude (believe) something (e.g. the current year) to be truthful? In other words, choose to believe the assertion is correct. Of course, that doesn’t mean you are correct in your belief. You can believe you can fly but it may not be objectively true.

You’re a poet and you don’t know it! Or perhaps you do… :slight_smile:

I have flown about twenty times - without having to sprout wings. :wink:

But seriously, do you rule out miracles on principle? If so, Hamlet’s words are appropriate:

“There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy…”

BTW your context was: “Peter Pan says all you have to do is believe…” Can you enlighten us further?

The key-word here is “choice”. I do not choose to believe that the current year is 2011. It is easy to test this. If belief were a choice, I could choose to believe that the current year is 2100. I can’t, however. My past experiences, the word of everyone who I know and trust, the coherence of History as I learnt it, all strongly point to the fact that, given the standard Christian computation of the years, we are in the year 2011. I can’t believe otherwise, even if I try. I can act as if I believe otherwise; but deep down I would still know we are in 2011.

As you say, to believe is when mind concludes something is true. In this conclusion, however, the will does not participate directly. It participates indirectly, however, in all the actions (including mental actions) that lead to the formation of belief: whether or not to search for more evidence, which bits of information to give more attention to, etc.

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