What is belief?


#1

How does the Church define belief? Is doubt a sin?

I can think of two basic ways to define belief. On the one hand, it can be defined objectively, in terms of a person’s tendency to behave. To the extent that, for example, someone was personally committed to act as if Christianity (or Catholicism) were true, he or she would be a believer. This allows for degrees of belief, of course. Someone might be willing to so act up to the point where, say, their life depended upon their renouncing Christianity. Perhaps such a person would not qualify as Christian, whether or not they were ever actually ever in that position. But would you say that someone who WAS willing to sacrifice everything in this world for Christ (or the Church) would not be a Christian (or Catholic) in the fullest sense, if they harbored serious (subjective) doubts about the truth of their religion, but were committed to never acting upon them (aside, perhaps, from admitting their existence)?

On the other hand, we could define belief subjectively, as just an inner sense that something is true, apart from any tendencies toward behavior (though of course behavior would probably follow from the subjective state of belief). Unlike the objective criterion, this seems to make belief less of a decision and more of a happy or unhappy accident. Maybe we can interpersonally compare our subjective belief states about controversial matters by contrasting them with less controversial matters. For instance, some Christians I’ve spoken to affirm that they are as certain that Christianity is true as they are that 1+1=2. More reserved would-be believers might say that they are as certain as they are that the sun will come up tomorrow, or that the moon landing actually took place. I suppose that at a minimum under this criterion it would have to seem more likely to a Christian that a fair coin toss would turn up tails than that Christianity would turn out to be false.

Whether the Church defines belief in one of these two ways, a combination of the two, or in some way I haven’t considered, I’d like to know what is required to 1) be a Christian 2) be a Catholic 3) take the Eucharist. I would also like to know if doubt is a sin, and what doubt consists of in light of the Church’s position on belief, whatever that might be.

Michael


#2

I see “belief” as meaning what it originally referred to: a state of “be-love”, or being-in-love with an idea or person. So, if you believe in a doctrine, that would mean that you are in love with it, and are willing to follow where it leads. If you’re not in love with it, then you have no reason to trust where it might lead you.


#3

I see belief as a fundamental assumption that goes without saying. For example we know that we are breathing air right now. We have faith in that fact although the air can not be seen.

-D


#4

I think that a lot of great Christians may have had doubts about the faith. But they continued to follow the faith.


#5

Faith is the act of putting your trust into something you can not fully prove. It does not mean that you will never have doubts in your mind about whether it is true, most people have doubts at some point in there lives. I have faith in the sacrifice of Christ, I trust that it occured and that it will save me and is saving me. But have I ever thought, “Is it true, could I be wron”? Yes, that thought has occured to me, but I have faith that it is true and that I am not wrong.I don’t think it is a sin to have a doubt you can not control those kinds of thoughts. All sins are voluntary and they happen by your own free will. What would be a sin would be to reject it all based on that little doubt.


#6

[quote=Ahimsa]I see “belief” as meaning what it originally referred to: a state of “be-love”, or being-in-love with an idea or person. So, if you believe in a doctrine, that would mean that you are in love with it, and are willing to follow where it leads. If you’re not in love with it, then you have no reason to trust where it might lead you.
[/quote]

So you would say it is an emotional attachment that leads to commitment to behave in a particular way, and that only such an attachment can lead to such a commitment? Is this the Catholic Church’s conception? If so, what is doubt: a lack of commitment, or a lack of that emotional attachment? Can the lack of emotional attachment be a sin? Suppose someone loses the love, but clings to the commitment, have they sinned? (I realize, of course, that love is defined in many ways, and “emotional attachment” may not be what you have in mind.)

Thank you for your response!

Michael


#7

[quote=MichaelLewis]So you would say it is an emotional attachment that leads to commitment to behave in a particular way, and that only such an attachment can lead to such a commitment? Is this the Catholic Church’s conception? If so, what is doubt: a lack of commitment, or a lack of that emotional attachment? Can the lack of emotional attachment be a sin? Suppose someone loses the love, but clings to the commitment, have they sinned? (I realize, of course, that love is defined in many ways, and “emotional attachment” may not be what you have in mind.)

Thank you for your response!

Michael

[/quote]

It is not a sin if you lose the emotion but cling to the commitment. It shows that you truely still want the faith and you still love the faith even though you may feel a little unsure.


#8

I get the impression that Darrel’s conception is subjective and Jimmy’s is objective. Does anyone one know if the Church has carefully defined this?

Darrel: We have evidence for air because we do breath it. It doesn’t seem to be a mere ‘assumption’, fundamental or not. On the other hand, I want to say that I believe that my car is parked where I left it, but I recognize that there is a reasonable chance that it has been stolen. I would characterize this as an assumption, though there doesn’t seem to be anything fundamental about it. Also, I’m not sure what the status of doubt is on your conception.

Jimmy: I understand that it is VERY important that Catholics believe in transubstantiation if they are going to partake in the Eucharist. What does it mean to be behaviorally committed to the proposition that it IS the body and blood of Jesus? How would one know if one should partake of it or not? Perhaps a general commitment to live as if the Magistarium (sp?) always taught the truth would be sufficient for a particular belief in Transubstantiation, despite subjective doubts?

Thanks for your responses.
Michael


#9

My post is not the official Catholic position.

Be that as it may, by “love” I don’t mean mere emotional attachment, but a combination of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual attachment. You might love something because it causes certain positive emotions to arise in you; and you might love something because it can intellectually be defended (even if – and I think this is where doubt comes in – that intellectual defense does not yet completely satisfy you; at least you’re aware that such an intellectual defense does exist and seems fairly reasonable); and you might love something because it increases your spiritual sensitivity (or somehow otherwise affects you positively spiritually).


#10

[quote=MichaelLewis]How does the Church define belief? Is doubt a sin?

I can think of two basic ways to define belief. On the one hand, it can be defined objectively, in terms of a person’s tendency to behave. To the extent that, for example, someone was personally committed to act as if Christianity (or Catholicism) were true, he or she would be a believer. This allows for degrees of belief, of course. …

On the other hand, we could define belief subjectively, as just an inner sense that something is true, apart from any tendencies toward behavior (though of course behavior would probably follow from the subjective state of belief). Unlike the objective criterion, this seems to make belief less of a decision and more of a happy or unhappy accident. Maybe we can interpersonally compare our subjective belief states about controversial matters by contrasting them with less controversial matters. For instance, some Christians I’ve spoken to affirm that they are as certain that Christianity is true as they are that 1+1=2. More reserved would-be believers might say that they are as certain as they are that the sun will come up tomorrow, or that the moon landing actually took place. …

Michael
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I hope this thread gets much attention. I too ask myself this question.

Of the two definition stated above my belief is much more of the first example. We often hear the terms; have faith, believe, believers, hope etc. in terms of how we are to feel about our belief system of God and Christianity. Yet these terms are glossed over and not well defined. I suppose defining “belief” or “faith” can get into a deep philiosphical study/discussion. The original poster did a very good job of articulating his question by expressing them in the two manners defined above.

My personal experience when I have posed this question in the confessional to a number of priests is that, doubt, is in fact not sinful. In fact the priests I expressed this concern to stated that most everyone doubts, including themselves. This provided me with a mixture of comfort and discontent. I have often held hope, foolishly I suppose, that somehow priests and people of other religious vocations are possibly privy to something we are not. Therefore hold an insight or a special grace the rest of us do not. However I understand that this isn’t the case (at least most often not the case I do hope it is in fact the case as is told in some of the stroies of the saints). This leads me to my personal opinion.

My personal opinion is: I distrust the person who claims, as the original poseter stated; “For instance, some Christians I’ve spoken to affirm that they are as certain that Christianity is true as they are that 1+1=2”. By diustrust I do not mean the individual is purposely telling a lie. I mean the person is not being truthful with themself. It is a position they wish to hold. (I’d again wish to state this is my opinion, I do not wish to offend anyone who feels absolutely certain of Christianity. In fact if anyone does feel this way I’d love to hear from them).

There is a degree of uncertainty in everything, some things more then others. There is a degree of uncertainty that the sun will come up tomorrow. The question is the varying degree of uncertainty. Within myself alone this degree of uncertainty is wavering. It’s in a constant state of change.

I’d love to hear how other define thier respective view of belief from a degree of uncertainty perspective.

I was brought to Christianity from sort of a Pascal Wager perspective; a fear of God. My faith has manifested itseelf towards a greater degree of belief based on the historical perspective of the Bible, the way I inwardly feel towards what appears to me to be truth, and various other matters. However, it is still the Pascal wager perspective, the fear of God that keeps me grounded when other doubts arise.


#11

[quote=Ahimsa]My post is not the official Catholic position.

Be that as it may, by “love” I don’t mean mere emotional attachment, but a combination of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual attachment. You might love something because it causes certain positive emotions to arise in you; and you might love something because it can intellectually be defended (even if – and I think this is where doubt comes in – that intellectual defense does not yet completely satisfy you; at least you’re aware that such an intellectual defense does exist and seems fairly reasonable); and you might love something because it increases your spiritual sensitivity (or somehow otherwise affects you positively spiritually).
[/quote]

But your litmus test would be objective, I suppose? You wrote previously: “If you’re not in love with it, then you have no reason to trust where it might lead you.” If someone is willing to commit him or herself to a doctrine behaviorally, can we necessarily infer that they “trust where it might lead them” and therefore are in “love with it”? If not by behavior, how would one know if one was “in love”?

Thanks,

Michael


#12

[quote=Ahimsa]My post is not the official Catholic position.

Be that as it may, by “love” I don’t mean mere emotional attachment, but a combination of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual attachment. You might love something because it causes certain positive emotions to arise in you; and you might love something because it can intellectually be defended (even if – and I think this is where doubt comes in – that intellectual defense does not yet completely satisfy you; at least you’re aware that such an intellectual defense does exist and seems fairly reasonable); and you might love something because it increases your spiritual sensitivity (or somehow otherwise affects you positively spiritually).
[/quote]

But your litmus test would be objective, I suppose? You wrote previously: “If you’re not in love with it, then you have no reason to trust where it might lead you.” If someone is willing to commit him or herself to a doctrine behaviorally, can we necessarily infer that they “trust where it might lead them” and therefore are in “love with it”? If not by behavior, how would one know if one was “in love”?

Thanks,

Michael


#13

[quote=Ahimsa]My post is not the official Catholic position.

Be that as it may, by “love” I don’t mean mere emotional attachment, but a combination of emotional, intellectual, and spiritual attachment. You might love something because it causes certain positive emotions to arise in you; and you might love something because it can intellectually be defended (even if – and I think this is where doubt comes in – that intellectual defense does not yet completely satisfy you; at least you’re aware that such an intellectual defense does exist and seems fairly reasonable); and you might love something because it increases your spiritual sensitivity (or somehow otherwise affects you positively spiritually).
[/quote]


#14

Mijoy2 wrote:
*My personal experience when I have posed this question in the confessional to a number of priests is that, doubt, is in fact not sinful. In fact the priests I expressed this concern to stated that most everyone doubts, including themselves. ** *

Ok, thank you. I’ll assume that this is the Catholic position if several priests have affirmed it. But I wonder just how they would define doubt; is there an extreme form of subjective doubt that ‘crosses the line’ and becomes disbelief? Or would they join you in affirming the first, objective definition of belief? Don’t Catholics, to be Catholics, have to affirm the Nicene Creed (“I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth…”)? Don’t they have to believe in Transubstantiation to partake in the Eucharist? Is this to be understood as simply entailing a commitment, (as I suggested in another post, perhaps to the Magisterium)?

*There is a degree of uncertainty in everything, some things more then others. There is a degree of uncertainty that the sun will come up tomorrow. The question is the varying degree of uncertainty. Within myself alone this degree of uncertainty is wavering. It’s in a constant state of change. *

Very true. It would be odd if the Church demanded more ‘belief’, in an objective or subjective sense, than a reasonable person acts on or feels with respect to the next sunrise.

*I’d love to hear how other define their respective view of belief from a degree of uncertainty perspective. ***

Yes, me too!

I was brought to Christianity from sort of a Pascal Wager perspective; a fear of God. My faith has manifested itseelf towards a greater degree of belief based on the historical perspective of the Bible, the way I inwardly feel towards what appears to me to be truth, and various other matters. However, it is still the Pascal wager perspective, the fear of God that keeps me grounded when other doubts arise.

Its interesting that just a little subjective belief, in the face of Pascal’s Wager (if one accepts it as a good argument; I do not), can quite reasonably inspire a very strong commitment to objective (behaviorally defined) belief.

Thank you for your very thoughtful post.

Michael.


#15

This thread lost its legs :frowning: . It would appear the topic is not one many people ponder. Funny, it is possibly the topic I most ponder.


#16

[quote=Mijoy2]This thread lost its legs :frowning: . It would appear the topic is not one many people ponder. Funny, it is possibly the topic I most ponder.
[/quote]

It is a shame. I had hoped to at least get the official Catholic position on these matters; but aside from the information you provided about doubt not being a sin, no posters seem to know. I’m sure the Church has dealt with this at some point, perhaps someone will stumble upon this thread and at least tell us where we can find the answer. Though of course the best thing would be to have a long, careful discussion about it, in light of the Catholic position.

Thanks to all who have contributed.


#17

[quote=MichaelLewis]I get the impression that Darrel’s conception is subjective and Jimmy’s is objective. Does anyone one know if the Church has carefully defined this?

Jimmy: I understand that it is VERY important that Catholics believe in transubstantiation if they are going to partake in the Eucharist. What does it mean to be behaviorally committed to the proposition that it IS the body and blood of Jesus? How would one know if one should partake of it or not? Perhaps a general commitment to live as if the Magistarium (sp?) always taught the truth would be sufficient for a particular belief in Transubstantiation, despite subjective doubts?

Thanks for your responses.
Michael
[/quote]

Sometimes things are hard to believe. They are beyond what the human mind can understand or they are beyond what a person currently has knowledge of. I think, but not 100% sure, that what is needed is ascent to the magisterium. Although you may not understand it and you may not have a belief like “This is definately the body of Christ and I know it 100%” but you submitt to the Church Christ created because he said that they would not teach error. I would say what is required is mental submission to God.

Of course though, if I am wrong about what I said, I submit to the Chruch Christ created.


#18

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