Faith is honesty in doubt

Liberalism claims to rest on reason alone and not on any disputable metaphysical or historical claim.  It poses as a neutral arbiter between rival comprehensive ethical systems.  Because it is not one of them, it can claim rightful authority over all of them–and without even being required to argue the truth of its beliefs against that of its rivals.  It has no disputable beliefs.  It has no rivals.  To maintain this pretense, it is insufficient to claim that the reasoning of nonliberals is flawed or based on dubious premises; liberals must claim that nonliberals have no reasons at all, that what appear to be reasons are in fact expressions of subrational animus.  Hence the hierophants of the Supreme Court could find same-sex marriage in the Constitution because they could assert it as certain that rivals to liberalism (e.g. proponents of normative gender roles) act only out of ignorance, hatred, or insanity.  The Court does not inject itself into a debate.  Debates require two reasoning sides, and the liberal knows a priori that he has a monopoly on reason.

Maintaining this illusion requires an ever-more-thorough ignorance of the past and of other civilizations.  Thus, the list of “offensive” books from which students must be shielded rapidly grows.  It would be wrong to see in this a character flaw inherent in liberals.  Liberals are no more innately lacking in curiosity and open-mindedness than anyone else.  It is liberalism itself that demands such an attitude of militant stupidity.

With this contrast in mind, one can appreciate the importance of the Christian taking his beliefs on faith.  To claim that something is a matter of faith is to acknowledge that doubt is reasonable.  Of course, Christians are told to be ready to give reasons for their faith.  There are arguments in favor of Christianity, and naturally the Christian thinks them superior to their contraries, but these reasons do not add up to a proof.  Christians have reasons, but they don’t claim a monopoly on reasons.  Rival faiths have reasons too.  Christianity is reasonable, but it is not certain.  Faith is a personal matter in a sense that the acknowledgement of a proof is not.  One must decide which reasons, which insights, seem more cogent, and in this decision one’s personality cannot entirely recede into the background.

In fact, everyone is forced to proceed on faith.  Mathematical certainty is not to be had in this life outside of mathematics.  The difference is that the Christian is forced to be conscious of his act of faith.  His faith is a gift.  If certainty could be had, there would be no need for a supernatural gift of faith.  It is not religion but liberalism that manifests a discomfort with doubt, discomfort to the extent that the liberal must shield himself from acknowledging the questionability of his beliefs.

How could there have been an “Age of Faith”?  What could have kept men so honest with themselves for so long?  We moderns find our doubts so difficult to bear.  Why didn’t medieval Europeans do what we have done and declare their religion not a faith but a certainty?  In fact, I suspect that this discomfort with doubt (for which scientism claims to be the cure although it is actually a symptom) is actually not a universal human trait.  Generally speaking, humans aren’t troubled by the thought that their beliefs, even foundational ones, might be wrong.  So long as beliefs are socially promoted, the possibility of error feels academic.  What we face today in an age of hegemonic liberalism is the difficulty of people struggling to privately maintain belief in a religion or other comprehensive ethical system which receives no public sanction, to maintain belief when the price of participation in the public sphere is acting as if that belief were not true.  This is liberalism’s ideal, but it doesn’t work.  A person can believe in the face of uncertainty.  He cannot long believe a truth which he cannot treat as public, as actionable.  Thus we struggle to hold faith in a way our ancestors didn’t, until one by one we come to find our private beliefs so unreal that we give them up.

Ultimately, liberalism has room only for itself.

61 thoughts on “Faith is honesty in doubt

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  3. In the limit, liberalism has not room even for itself. Under its own a priori moral nominalism, there is no warrant for the notion that reason “ought” to be dispositive of human affairs. So liberalism ends in tyranny, inevitably.

    “A priori moral nominalism” is an oxymoron, that’s why.

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  5. This is full of nonsense. For one thing, the Obergefell decision (which I assume is the Supreme Court case you are referring to) was decided 5-4, so presumably there was a debate. Further, the logic of the majority opinion was not based on “that rivals to liberalism (e.g. proponents of normative gender roles) act only out of ignorance, hatred, or insanity”, but on the equal protection clause of the constitution. The liberal position is that proponent of normative gender roles can proponent all they like, they just can’t enforce it on the rest of us.

    Debates require two reasoning sides, and the liberal knows a priori that he has a monopoly on reason.

    I think this is projection. I remember awhile back, it seemed like every other post here was a “proof” that reason itself implied theism. Liberalism may have many flaws but claiming a monopoly on reason is generally not one of them, quite the contrary, if anything it tends to bend over backward to recognize the thinking of different cultural systems.

    • We are often told that mixing with persons of different opinions will make us tolerant, but what you say suggests the opposite. I think you are probably correct. I am not pained by the knowledge that there exists, in some remote quarter of the world, a people who think differently than I, but I am pained to live amongst these people. We all wish to inhabit environments in which our ideas and ideals are expressed, honored and actualized. We wish to see men we honor atop the plinth in the town square, we wish to hear the god we honor addressed in public benedictions. That there is somewhere a town with another statue on the plinth doesn’t really bother us. That there is somewhere a prayer addressed to another god hardly crosses our mind.

    • As I understand it, liberalism originally proposed to radically reduce the scope of public knowledge. By that I mean the knowledge a man must profess if he wishes to be respected as decent and sane. But the public knowledge it enforced, it enforced with a vengeance. It didn’t have many “truths,” but it insisted that the truths it did have were “self evident,” and not a gift of what Christians call “grace.”

      Under the old epistemology that Bonald describes, there were three categories of opinion. There was certain knowledge (for which there were proofs); there was belief, or faith (for which there were arguments); and there was “mere opinion” (which was a subjective preference.” Most opinions were through to be in the middle category. Rationalism (of which liberalism is an expression) tends to eliminate the middle category, and to divide all propositions into either certain knowledge or mere opinion.

      It “recognizes the thinking of different cultural systems” by treating that thinking as “mere opinion,” on the order of a preference for chocolate ice cream. Thus under liberal tutelage, toleration comes at the price of being treated like a rather backward child. This turned out to be the meaning of religious tolerance, and as Bonald make clear, it is not altogether satisfying. It also stands behind discomfort with the Obergefell decision, which transformed real marriages into chocolate ice cream cones–just one of those things that some people “are in to.”

      I think this is a very basic objection that many people have to the liberal regime: its transformation of their deepest “beliefs” into “mere opinions.” My faith is not a hobby. It’s not something I am “in to.” Treating faiths as if there were hobbies does yield social peace (as liberalism promised), but also renders life rather flat and insipid.

      • > The liberal position is that proponent of normative gender roles can proponent all they like, they just can’t enforce it on the rest of us.

        This is a good example of my point. Liberals do feel entitled to impose their highly dubitable principles of “equality” and “non-discrimination” on the rest of us, the latter meaning that believers in, say, normative gender roles or intra-racial solidarity may not act on their beliefs insofar as it affects anyone else. I don’t object to stopping people from acting on their beliefs in principle, but I do think that to justify it one must argue–or at the very least assert–that the liberal beliefs–androgynism, cosmopolitanism, whatever–are truer than their rivals.

        > equal-protection clause

        whose applicability pre-supposes we have determined the essence of marriage. To make it a merely constitutional issue, the Court must pretend there is no meaningful ontological issue. I don’t want to focus on this case in particular; it’s the same for every culture war battle into which the judiciary interjects itself.

      • Related to this is the common meaning of faith as stuff someone believes for no reason, or for the New Atheists, stuff someone believes even though all the reasons are against it. One sees this when belief in anthropogenic global warming is ridiculed as a “religion”. If this just meant that there are reasons to believe in AGW but the case is not absolutely certain, the accusation would have little sting.

      • I think this is a very basic objection that many people have to the liberal regime: its transformation of their deepest “beliefs” into “mere opinions.” My faith is not a hobby. It’s not something I am “in to.” Treating faiths as if there were hobbies does yield social peace (as liberalism promised), but also renders life rather flat and insipid.

        Your faith must be weak indeed if it seems insipid simply because the government fails to grant it a badge of official recognition.

        “Social peace” sounds kind of trivial, especially compared to the high value of making your life exciting, but the Constitution was written within living memory of the enormously destructive Thirty Years War, which was a product of people trying to impose the religious uniformity you desire.

      • I’ll grant you that same-sex marriage is not the only thing that has devalued marriage. There is also easy, unstigmatized divorce and serial monogamy. I don’t think objecting to this reveals insecurity. Chemistry majors would be unhappy if their diplomas were treated as identical to those of students who majored in Speech Communication.

        If the Thirty Year’s War was really about imposing religious uniformity, why were the principal opponents both Catholic (Bourbon and Hapsburg)? What you mean to say is “the Thirty Years War as represented by eighteenth-century philosophes.” But be that as it may, the flatness of life under liberalism remains a basic problem. Nietzsche’s entire philosophy is an expression of contempt for “last men” with their “little pleasures,” which is to say liberalism. Liberalism can, of course, strike up the band and rally the troops for a war to expand liberalism, which is to say increase the empire of little men pursuing little pleasures. But in the end, it’s nothing but shopping malls and buffets.

      • You guys better decide if you want to be Christians or Nietzscheans, because it’s pretty goddamn ridiculous to try to be both at the same time.

        “Flatness of life under liberalism” is an indicative phrase; it suggests people who are unable to create meaning in their lives and long for some kind of external centralized institution to do it for them. Apparently being able to worship at the church of your choice is not enough, it doesn’t count unless everyone else has to worship there too.

        Let’s say the government is captured by Catholic theocrats tomorrow and an official religion and Bureau of Meaningfulness is established — will life be more satisfactory then?

      • Christians reject Nietzsche’s remedy, but many agree with his diagnosis. Some of us even agree with certain aspects of his diagnosis of Christianity. If meaning is fictional, it matters not one bit whether it is homemade or produced in some institutional factory. If it is not out there for us to discover, then I (for one) prefer nihilism over make-believe. I know you believe that we here are in the grip of a pretty lie, and it is (as the original post allows) possible that we are; but we certainly have not embraced it in the knowledge that it is a pretty lie.

      • Don’t take “living memory” so literally. The US Civil War is a living memory for us because its issues are still alive today, and in some respects it is still being fought (over such issues as the use and semiotics of the Confederate Flag). The 30 Years War is not alive in this sense for us today, but its consequences and issues were at the time of the writing of the Constitution.

      • I grant that public liberal hegemony brings social peace, but that doesn’t say anything special about liberalism. Control of the public space by Catholicism, Lutheranism, Communism, or Shia Islam also ensures peace. This is, I would say, the reason civil wars of religion petered out about a century before the Enlightenment: one sect had come to confidently dominate each territory. External wars continued for the usual secular reasons.

      • Christians reject Nietzsche’s remedy, but many agree with his diagnosis. Some of us even agree with certain aspects of his diagnosis of Christianity.

        Nietzsche’s diagnosis of Christianity was that it was a product of “slave morality”, an inversion of the barbarian values of the more primordial master morality. He further thought that values like democracy and liberal freedoms were late manifestations of slave morality. This critique, valid or not, cannot be applied to “certain aspects” of Christianity since it is aimed at its foundations.

        If meaning is fictional, it matters not one bit whether it is homemade or produced in some institutional factory. If it is not out there for us to discover, then I (for one) prefer nihilism over make-believe.

        So meaning is “out there” waiting to be “discovered”, like items in a video game. Sure it is. Let me know when you level up a bit.

        But let’s say this is so. What kind of society is best suited to support this sort of discovery — one in which all truth is controlled and vetted by a central authority, or one in which individuals are allowed, encouraged, and in some sense required to go make discoveries on their own?

      • I think Nietzsche really had two critiques of Christianity. The first is that it easily decays into a sentimental doting over the weak and the “botched.” I think this critique is valid. As you note, the welfare state can be seen as an advanced stage of this decay and sentimental doting. The question is, what causes the decay, since Christianity hasn’t been choking on sentimentalism from the start. I think the short answer is the great weakening in the doctrine of original sin that occurred with the Socinian heresies at the turn of the eighteenth century. Nietzsche’s Antichrist attacks the transcendentalist Christianity that he grew up in, but has no purchase on the Christianity of, say, Oliver Cromwell.

        The second critique is that Christianity turns the Will to Power inward against itself, and thus produces a crippling alienation. This is also somewhat true, although hardly unique to Christianity, and not inherently servile. But one can’t really accept this critique unless one is prepared to accept all that is entailed by the thesis of Beyond Good and Evil. That thesis is not that Last Men should be left alone to blink and enjoy their Little Pleasures. It is that the Last Men (along with the weak and the botched) should be annihilated.

        I don’t oppose people searching for meaning. If they think they have found it, I don’t oppose their withdrawing into “plausibility structures” that reinforce their sense of meaning. I certainly don’t want my church filled with resentful disbelievers or conversos, and I am one Christian in whom the fire of missionary zeal burns very low. I do not mind sharing a planet with all manner of beliefs, but I’m less keen about this living cheek by jowl.

      • since Christianity hasn’t been choking on sentimentalism from the start

        You are clearly ignorant of what Nietzsche actually wrote — he traced the origins of slave morality back to pre-christian judaism.

        That thesis is not that Last Men should be left alone to blink and enjoy their Little Pleasures. It is that the Last Men (along with the weak and the botched) should be annihilated.

        Citation needed; you may be confusing Nietzsche with his Nazi misppropriators.

      • You’re right that he didn’t actually write “to the ovens with the Last Men,” but it’s hard to imagine him protesting against their being dragged to the ovens. He really did hate them!

        “Christianity has waged a war to death against this higher type of man . . . it has developed its concept of evil, of the Evil One himself, out of these instincts—the strong man as the typical reprobate, the outcast among men.”

        “Christianity has taken the part of all the weak, the low, the botched.”

        “Life itself appears to me as an instinct for growth, for survival, for the accumulation of forces, for power: whenever the will to power fails there is disaster. My contention is that all the highest values of humanity have been emptied of this will that the values of decadence . . . now prevail”
        Friedrich Nietzsche, The Antichrist, (1920)

      • Sorry. It was to Amorphous. Just a joke. He said that the Constitution was written within living memory of the Thirty Years War, which ended in 1648. The Constitution was adopted in 1789. This is like saying we are “within living memory” of the Civil War. It’s silly. I’m guessing he means that the intellectual tradition that gave rise to the Constitution emerged in the wake of the European Wars of Religion, but it still made me laugh.

        The Wandering Jew is an immortal who is cursed to walk the earth until the end of days, so he would have lived that whole duration, but I don’t know of anyone else.

    • The Obergefell decision was nonsense because it did not engage the real issue of the case. In any debate, there must a defining of terms. Not attributes. Definitions.
      As J. Kennedy did indirectly recognize, marriage has traditionally been nothing more or less than a regulation regarding reproduction. Couples so wishing could apply for a license in their reproductive union—a license which bestowed certain social and legal benefits. The state’s interest in granting this license was that the state (i.e., the multi-generational community) had an interest in the reproductive function in the begetting of future generations. J. Kennedy simply changed the nature of the institution revolving around reproduction, to an institution revolving around affections. Yet he did not explain what interest the state would have in such an institution. Rather, he illogically shifted the burden, demanding that the opponents of such a shift justify why they would not support the changed institution. Rather than answer the question, “why should they?” he posited that the only reason for withholding support was animus.

      The idea that the proponent of normative gender roles are enforcing anything on the rest is idiotic. By its very nature, the proponents of the homosexual perversity are the people who are using force: They are forcing others to recognize what the latter would not otherwise recognize. The fact is, while the cause of perversity could have a liberal argument that they should not be forced to recognize heterosexual (i.e., real) marriage, they do not have a liberal argument to change the nature of the institution and force others to accept this change.
      Rape is forced inclusion.

      • “In any debate, there must a defining of terms.”

        Is this true? In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein argues that it is impossible to devise some definition of “game” that includes everything that we call games, but excludes everything that we do not. However, we are all familiar (i.e. socially) with enough things that are games and enough things that are not games that we can categorize new activities as either games or not.

        In fact, it does not matter whether or not someone is ingenious enough to come up with such a definition; the fact is that most users of the word “game” could not do so, yet have no difficulty in producing meaningful sentences employing it.

        The fallacy Wittgenstein is exposing is the assumption that a word must have an essential core meaning that is, therefore, common to all uses of that word. We should, instead, travel with the word’s uses through “a complicated network of similarities, overlapping and criss-crossing.” We have to see how it functions in a specific social situation.

        In short, the meaning of a word is its use.

        This is not to say the meaning of a word is arbitrary. If I said, “I do not know whether what I am feeling is a pain, or something else,” I would be showing that I do not know how the word “pain” is used in English. No definition of “pain” is needed to know that I am talking nonsense.

      • “Couples so wishing could apply for a license in their reproductive union…”

        The notion that Couples need to “apply for a license” is very much an American notion.

        In Scotland. where I live and practice law, until 1st July 1940, marriage required no notice, no formality and no record of any kind. As Lord Stair, one of our Institutional writers, explains, “Marriage itself consists, not in the promise, but in the present consent, whereby they accept each other as husband and wife; whether that be by words expressly, or tacitly, by marital cohabitation or acknowledgment, or by natural commixtion, where there hath been a promise or espousals preceding; for therein is presumed a conjugal consent de præsenti [Institutions of the Law of Scotland 1681 (B i tit 4 sect 6)]

        Of course, in the absence of a marriage certificate from a Kirk minister, parties often sought formal recognition of their marriage, by raising an action of declarator. I have drafted any number of such summonses for pre-1940 marriages, “For declarator that the pursuer and defender were lawfully married to one another by (specify mode in which marriage was contracted, e.g., (a) interchange of consent de praesenti [time and place], (b) cohabitation by habit and repute [time(s) and place (s)] or (c) promise (time) subsequente copula at [time and place]).”

        The Roman law was to the same effect, as was the Canon Law until the Tametsi decree of the Council of Trent in 1563. This was three years after the Scottish Reformation, where the pre-1563 law remained in force.

      • Mr. Paterson-Seymour

        Yes, I think there must be a defining of terms to have a debate regarding something. Where we wish to engage in a debate about the attributes of something, or that something’s applicability to a circumstance, I think that it is necessary to hold in the mind a tangible essence of the something. I understand that with most things debated, what is held in the mind is an example rather that the essence itself. I also think that we employ inductive reasoning to come to the thing; I suppose this is true even of mathematics.
        But if one debates whether dragons can fly, one needs definition.
        If one party believes that dragons are white animals with a single pointy horn sticking out of their heads, and look like horses; I don’t feel that the debate is going to go very far. This doesn’t mean that either of the two parties are erring in the debate itself.

        I don’t mean to suggest that whether or not the state grants a license or not, is at the essence of marriage. It is not. But it was the matter put in front of SCOTUS, and, furthermore, it is fair to characterize America as a very legally positivistic county (I don’t consider this a good thing at all by the way). The assent of the two parties to enter into contract produced a new corporation constituted by the two parties.

        Thank you for your reply. It was very much informative.

      • “I think that it is necessary to hold in the mind a tangible essence of the something.”

        But that presupposes that there is one, essential core in which the meaning of a word is located and which is, therefore, common to all uses of that word.

        No doubt, in some cases, this is true and one can substitute the definition for the thing defined for every use of the word. Sometimes, a word may have different definitions in different contexts; “metal” means one thing to an astrophysicist, another to a chemist (for both of whom it is a “term of art”) and yet another (and “looser” or “vaguer”) in common parlance. Sometimes, again, a word may have a range of related meanings, as in Wittgenstein’s instance of “game” (Spiel, in the original German).

        Wittgenstein offers this comparison: “[I]magine having to sketch a sharply defined picture ‘corresponding’ to a blurred one. In the latter, there is a blurred red rectangle: for it you put down a sharply defined one. Of course—several such sharply defined rectangles can be drawn to correspond to the indefinite one.—But if the colours in the original merge without a hint of any outline won’t it become a hopeless task to draw a sharp picture corresponding to the blurred one? Won’t you then have to say: ‘Here I might just as well draw a circle or heart as a rectangle, for all the colours merge.’ Anything—and nothing—is right.”

        Consider how we should describe (1) the height of Mont Blanc in metres, (2) how the word “game” is used, (3) the sound a clarinet makes.

  6. Not to nit-pick, but it seems you have taken the common misapprehension of “faith” as your own, in speaking of it, here – i.e., faith becomes a kind of probability game, where the ultimately unknowable things are believed because their reasons seem “more cogent” than the reasons for believing other things.

    Faith is a supernatural conviction, given directly by God as a gift, to establish far superior certainties in the minds of the faithful than can be had by earthly reckonings. When explaining our Faith to others, yes, we will have to give reasons that are, ultimately, compellingly more cogent than others (when understood and explained correctly) – because those others have not yet received these convictions and learned to bolster them with such helpful props. Hence, Faith is not so much an admission that “doubt is reasonable,” because after the reasons are all evaluated, doubt appears rather more unreasonable than reasonable. It would be better to say that Faith is the admission that some things could not have been certainly deduced, via natural reason, from the other things that we know certainly – i.e., “the lack of natural certainty” (which you could call “negative doubt”) is prudent, up until a point, but positive doubt (as a proactive disinclination to consider the Christian Faith as the more probable and reasonable view) is objectively unreasonable, in the balance. And I imagine that is actually what you meant by your statement. But even then, the acknowledgment that Christianity is more reasonable and therefore quite probably true, and the decision to accept it on such grounds, actually has nothing to do with faith, properly so-called.

    As to certainty, it is quite wrong to say that one can only have Mathematical certainty with Mathematics. The Church teaches that many truths of reason (including the existence of God) are as logically and necessarily deducible from our certain perceptions, as are Mathematical axioms. In fact, I would say that this is one of the central problems in Catholic culture, today – even the Catholics have accepted this notion that philosophical and moral truths are in a nebulous realm of “faith,” and that really, we can’t even be sure of our own perceptions, so “everyone takes things on faith,” as you say. In fact, just that statement indicates that we are talking about an entirely different kind of “faith,” than the Church recognizes – for the only things that one properly takes on faith, in the Catholic sense, are the revealed Truths of our holy religion. What you seem to be referring to, are the unreflective assumptions that people have about basic truths, which they are too lazy to investigate and to understand as fully-formed, rational certainties.

    It would be a long and cumbersome post for me to go into all of it, here, but if one reads some of the manuals of Scholastic Theology and Philosophy that were in common use before the crisis in the Church erupted – like Cardinal Mercier’s Modern Manual of Scholastic Philosophy – one can absorb the conclusions of Reason, also affirmed by the Church’s Supreme Magisterium, on the certainty of our knowledge and perceptions, and its limits, etc. Reading the writings of Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange can also be helpful; he pithily explains in one of his essays, how the mind can deduce the entirety of Natural Law, and even such truths as the existence of God and immortality of the soul, from our most fundamental, primary perception of being in act. The Church even affirms that the human intellect actually makes INFALLIBLE judgments, when the evidence for a true proposition is sufficiently manifest to our perceptions.

    Just food for thought – we need to be much, much bolder in our aggressive affirmation of Truth; too much of Modernism is based on this kind of surrender to a sense of inevitable uncertainty and variability of perception, and hence a need for relativism out of polite deference to others’ “honest” differences of opinion. But man’s problem is really one of the will (laziness, actual dishonesty with themselves first of all, and then with others, etc.), and not of any fault in his innate power for perception of infallibly certain truths.

    • aureliusmoner,

      Thank you for explaining more fully how the Church understands faith. The question “Why do you believe Christian doctrines?” will have different answers depending on whether it refers to the cause of belief or the reason for belief. A supernaturally infused virtue is a cause, but not a reason. If Linus believes fervently enough in the Great Pumpkin, he should get to actually see the Great Pumpkin; subsequently he shall walk by sight and not by faith. If grace provides us additional evidences this side of the grave inaccessible to natural reasons, I have not experienced them. (Admittedly, as one deficient in faith, I may be a bad example.)

      You’re right that I should have made clear that I was talking about revealed truths like the doctrine of the Trinity. On the other hand, I’m not sure that the truths of natural theology are as different as the Church says. There are proofs of the existence of God. Many of them are logically valid, but I’m not convinced that there is yet one for which no one may doubt any of the premises without falling into incoherence. Cosmological arguments rest on claims about the nature of causality which atheists dispute. Ontological proofs presume the essence of God, which we can’t comprehend, is not in some way incoherent. Even here, one must make a metaphysical leap of faith.

      In fact, the certainty of mathematics often comes from the fact that it doesn’t claim its axioms are true, only that the conclusions follow if the axioms are true. That non-Euclidean spaces are conceivable (and exist) proves nothing against Euclid, because Euclid’s theorems are only what follows in those cases where the five axioms do hold. Group theory makes no claim that any particular assemblage of objects and their operation have the defining properties of a group, but if they do, we may be certain that all the theorems of group theory apply.

      • Thanks be to God. I would only add that the Church has definitively affirmed that man may certainly know, by reason, that God certainly exists – and that if you study the Thomism and philosophical/theological training traditionally used in the Church, it becomes clear that, even if one cannot exclude negative doubt absolutely (rooted as it is more in a defect of reason and will in our fallen, contingent existence), one can exclude positive doubt about certain, first, metaphysical and criteriological principles that produce this certainty. So, if we do not yet understand this certainty, let us submit our minds to the Magisterium, confess it must exist, and seek for how to attain it.

        As to disputing things, who cannot? There is that negative doubt, or cavilling typical of man. But in the final summation, even by man’s natural lights, the truth can be known and such disputations are ascribable to infirmity of will, want of time, or defecit of intellect.

      • “Children do not learn that books exist, that armchairs exist, etc.,etc. – they learn to fetch books, sit in armchairs, &c.,&c.,” says Wittgenstein. “Later, questions about the existence of things do of course arise, “Is there such a thing as a unicorn?” and so on. But such a question is possible only because as a rule no corresponding question presents itself. For how does one know how to set about satisfying oneself of the existence of unicorns? How did one learn the method for determining whether something exists or not?”

        Again, we cannot teach someone the names of colours by pointing (assuming he understands “pointing.”) How ould he know we were pointing to the colour, rather than the shape? We train children in colours by having them sort out coloured objects, say, bricks.

        So it is with knowledge of God.

      • “Concerning the Natural Intellect, & the First Object Perceived by It”

        It was published 1940 in the Acts of the Roman Pontifical Academy of St Thomas Aquinas.

      • Jim, I’m glad you found it. If you found the most common English version circulating the web, you will find that there are times where an odd term or turn of phrase turns up. I believe it is being translated from French, based on the nature of the mistakes (but it could be Latin, I suppose); so, just be aware of that and realize you may have to think in order to discern what the original term was.

    • Faith is a supernatural conviction, given directly by God as a gift, to establish far superior certainties in the minds of the faithful than can be had by earthly reckonings.

      I think it is better to think of Faith as a perceptual quality rather than a cognitive one. Cognitive efforts at trying to understand the precepts of the Faith may come to the conclusion that they are reasonable and rational, but to many, the truth of religious propositions are experiential. i.e they are intuited rather than calculated.

  7. The Christian faith is not meant to be understood in the sense that “we hope it’s true”; the true Christian faith is waiting in confident expectation for future things based on the reason and certainty of historical, virtuous, noble, prophetical, eyewitnessed, and real spiritually confirmed things.

    Some of the children of Israel had faith in God and in Moses. Does that expression mean they were uncertain Moses was a prophet? Some things can be doubted in the faith whether they be a part of the faith but not the faith itself and the waiting for our Lord Jesus The kind of understanding of faith you described is almost unbelief if not completely so.

    The certainty of the true Christian is part of the true Christian experience and is given by the real comfort of the real Holy Spirit promised and the real witness of the real Spirit that testifies to our spirit that we are indeed the children of God.

    If we are speaking philosophically then we can speak of faith as was done here

  8. Here are some quotes from the First Vatican Council’s Dogmatic Constitution “Dei Filius”:

    “The same Holy Mother Church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason from created things; ‘for the invisible things of him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made’ [Rom. 1:20]; […]” (Denzinger 1785)

    “Indeed, it must be attibuted to this divine revelation that those things, which in divine things are impenetrable to human reason by itself, can, even in this present condition of the human race, be known readily by all with firm certitude and with no admixture of error.” (Denzinger 1786)

    “However, in order that the ‘obedience’ of our faith should be ‘consonant with reason’ [cf. Rom. 12:1], God has willed that to the internal aids of the Holy Spirit there should be joined external proofs of His revelation, namely: divine facts, especially miracles and prophecies which, because they clearly show forth the omnipotence and infinite knowledge of God, are most certain signs of a divine revelation, and are suited to the intelligence of all.” (Denzinger 1790)

    “Moreover, in order that we may satisfactorily peform the duty of embracing the true faith and of continuously persevering in it, God, through His only-begotten Son, has instituted the Church, and provided it with clear signs of His institution, so that it can be recognized by all as the guardian and teacher of the revealed word. […] For, to the Catholic Church alone belong all those many and marvelous things which have been divinely arranged for the evident credibility of the Christian faith. But, even the Church itself by itself, because of its marvelous propagation, its exceptional holiness, and inexhaustible fruitfulness in all good works; because of its catholic unity and invincible stability, is a very great and perpetual motive of credibility, and an incontestable witness of its own divine mission.” (Denzinger 1793/4)

    “If anyone shall have said that the one true God, our Creator and our Lord, cannot be known with certitude by those things which have been made, by the natural light of human reason: let him be anathema.” (Denzinger 1806)

    “If anyone shall have said […] that miracles can never be known with certitude, and that the divine origin of the Christian religion cannot be correctly proved by them: let him be anathema.” (Denzinger 1813)

    Consider also the following statement, which was condemned by the Holy Office under St. Pius X:

    “The assent of faith ultimately depends on an accumulation of probabilities.” (Denzinger 2025)

    • Concerning doubt, consider also the following from the Code of Canon Law (CIC):

      “Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; […]”

    • Paul said, “We see as through a glass darkly.” Apparently the theologians had access to mega-gallons of Windex in 1785, 1786, 1790, and 1793. The current Pope must have access to Super Windex, given the bewildering variety of his certitudes. (People should have fewer children, he said today.) If anyone averred that I wasn’t a Catholic because I doubted all these certitudes, clear signs, and proofs, I would not argue. I would not be Catholic but merely faithful. Indeed, I have faith, but not any certain knowledge, that my doubt is stronger than any certitude, clear sign, or proof. Faith is a wager, said Pascal, not an Aristotelian syllogism or a Euclidean proof. Prove your Godhead, said Satan to Jesus.

      • The numbers 1785, 1786, 1790, 1793 etc. don’t refer to years, but to marginal numbers in Heinrich Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum (30th edition, published in 1954), a collection of magisterial texts. The Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, from which I quoted, was unanimously approved by the fathers of the First Vatican Council in 1870 and promulgated by Bl. Pope Pius IX in the same year.

        “We see as through a glass darkly” refers to the obscurity of the content of divinely revealed propositions, not to the degree of certitude with which these propositions are to be believed. E.g., we cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity, but we can be fully certain that God is in fact a Trinity.

        Whether they are dates or marginal numbers is irrelevant. I have faith, not syllogistic certainty, that God is triune. Please adduce me the syllogism that proves the tri-unity of God. (TFB)

      • Monsieur Bertonneau,

        It seems to me that you still don’t quite understand what is being said. There are two statements of Scripture, that have here be mentioned as relevant: 1) “Now we see as through a glass, darkly;” 2) “That which is known of God is manifest in them, for God hath manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of Him, from the creation of the world, are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made; His eternal power also, and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.”

        The reason these are both true, is because some of the Truths of God are knowable to us only by supernatural revelation while some Truths of God are knowable by the light of natural reason. It is a defined, infallible, certain doctrine of the Magisterium, that man may know certain natural Truths about God with as much certainty, as he knows that 2 and 2 are 4. And, while Modernists are not sure we can know even this, the Church teaches that we can and do.

        So, where you say “I have faith, not syllogistic certainty, that God is triune. Please adduce me the syllogism that proves the tri-unity of God,” you are missing the point. Man may know certainly, by reasoning (and syllogisms, if you like), such things as: there is a necessary and supreme Being (God), He is the Creator of all things and has certain attributes (Omnipotence, Omniscience, etc., from the human point of view), man was created by Him and for Him, the soul of man is immortal, etc. It is a defined doctrine of the Church, and a truth very plain to reason amongst competent thinkers, that man can KNOW these things, certainly.

        But that Jesus is the Son of God the Father, and is the Christ, or that God is Triune, or that the Blessed Virgin was immaculately conceived and is the Co-Redemptrix, etc., man can only know by revelation. These truths are known by Faith only. Now, Faith of itself is more certain than scientific knowledge, but on account of man’s infirmity, his mental certitude of the Truths properly pertaining to Faith, is often less firm than his certainty about empirical observations. And, indeed, there are no syllogisms and rationales adducible from nature itself, which could prove such things. They are known, and firmly believed, on the authority of God (and the Church) revealing.

      • Even granting that natural reason is sufficient to establish the truths of natural theology, this does not imply the following:

        1) that any particular existing proof is unquestionably valid
        2) that unquestionably valid proofs of these propositions have yet been found

        After all, there are many truths of mathematics that can (in principle) be known with certainty by the human intellect unaided by divine revelation that have not yet been proved. All such truths now proved fell into this category before their proofs were constructed.

      • “I have faith, not syllogistic certainty, that God is triune.”

        aureliusmoner has already given a good answer, but I would like to add the following:

        There is no opposition between faith and certainty. The mysteries of the faith (such as the dogma of the Trinity) cannot be directly proved by philosophical arguments, but their having been revealed by God is a stronger proof than any philosophical syllogism. The fact that a given proposition has been revealed by God can in turn be proved through the so-called “motives of credibility,” several of which are enumerated in the quotes from the First Vatican Council which I gave.

        According to St. Thomas, “faith is more certain than science and the other intellectual virtues” (Summa Theologiae, II-II, qu. 4, art. 8). He proves this by pointing out that the cause of faith (namely Divine revelation) is more reliable than the cause of “science and the other intellectual virtues” (namely human reason).

        I admit that the content of the dogma of the Trinity is opaque in a way in which the conclusions of natural reason aren’t. But we can be certain of something without completely understanding it; e.g., if a mathematical theorem is accepted by all mathematicians, a layman can be certain that it is true, even if he doesn’t understand it in the least.

    • Thanks for posting all of this, which is radically germane to the discussion. I would have liked to do the same, but [insert several plausible excuses here]. Catholics should know that it is a defined doctrine of the Magisterium, that man can be *certain* of these truths.

  9. It seems silly to me to paint all liberals with such a broad brush and I really have no idea what definition of liberalism you are working with. It does not seem like you are using Zippy’s definition which is a philosophy of government which holds that securing freedom and equal rights of citizens is a primary function of government. Please correct me if I am wrong.

    • Nothing against Zippy, but I don’t think he’s authorized to define liberalism. I always insist on allowing adherents of an ideology to define themselves. My definition of liberalism as procedural neutrality between competing comprehensive doctrines of the good comes from John Rawls.

  10. The difficulty is that Liberalism is *not* the beliefs of the ‘political Left’ but the assumptions of (essentially) *everybody* in the public realm.

    Then there comes the question of who is *not* Liberal – and therefore from what stance can Liberalism be critiqued?

    My understanding is that Liberalism can be critiqued *only* from a religious stance – that is a stance which puts relgion first and foremost, as supplying the basic metaphysical assumptions.

    Therefore, people on the non-religious/ secular ‘Right’ are regarded as non-mainstream Liberals who are merely quibbling with mainstream about priorities and methods.

    By the religious view, Leftism is very broadly (and negatively) defined as anti-religion (mainly anti-Christian in origin), atheism, materialism, scientism, positivism, utilitarianism/ hedonism, relativism… all of which are all seen as merely different facets of exactly the same phenomenon – of which equality, feminism, antiracism, multi-culti, post-modernism, diversity, the sexual revolution etc are merely labile and expedient surface manifestations.

    But from within a secular Right stance – the religious are imperfectly-Right because corrupted by Liberalism – Christians (of all types) are seen as imperfectly Right because Christians do not have as priority the goals and programs of the secular Right.

    (And also because Liberal Christians – more accurately Chistianised-Liberalis – dominate the leadership of mainstream Christian churches in The West and have been corrupting and destroying these churches for many decades.)

    For example, Christians are criticised for lacking as *prime priority* immigration restriction, or patriarchy. These are not the priority for Christians, nor are they structuring ideas; because for Christians these and other political arrangements are ‘merely’ means to a different, spiritual, non-worldly end.

    The division between non-Liberals and Liberals is therefore *not* between ‘Right’ and ‘Left’; but instead between those who see Life ultimately and primarily in terms of things like deity, salvation, theosis, and spiritual warfare — and those who don’t.

    • I think you are correct to warn against equating Christian and Rightist, or Liberal and Leftist. But it is very easy to slide into this way of thinking because Liberals are generally much more tolerant of Leftists. The everyone-is-equal and live-and-let-live ethos seems to cover most of the deviancies that are typically found on the Left, but hardly any of the deviancies that are typically found on the Right. Freedom of expression is seldom granted impartially. When the doctrine of “freedom ends when your fist collides with my nose” is applied to the Right, it seems to mean “when your words can be construed as implying a wish to collide your fist with my nose.” When it is applied to the Left, it seems to be qualified by the clause, “except when the nose belongs to a ‘Nazi’.”

  11. Bonald wrote, “[E]veryone is forced to proceed on faith.”

    Take a simple (and, hopefully, non-controversial) example.

    Sometimes, when they can’t find something, one hears people say, “It can’t have simply vanished.” It is something they take for granted.

    But how do they know this? It is not a logical impossibility that things should simply vanish; we can quite easily imagine something just disappearing and re-appearing, like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland.

    This suggests “things don’t simply vanish” is an empirical or scientific proposition, an hypothesis that needs to be tested. But there is an obvious difficulty here; accepting even the possibility of things “simply vanishing” has all sorts of implications for what would count as testing, proving, how we interpret evidence and our whole system of verification.

    The solution is simple enough: “things don’t simply vanish” is a rule, a practice, a regulative principle for the way we judge and act, from the most rigorous scientific enquires to the most ordinary everyday activities.

    This does not make it, as the Post-Modernist sceptic claims, a groundless assertion. As Wittgenstein explains, “Regarding such statements as absolutely solid is part of our method of doubt and enquiry.” He adds that “I do not explicitly learn the propositions that stand fast for me. I can discover them subsequently like the axis around which a body rotates. This axis is not fixed in the sense that anything holds it fast, but the movement around it determines its immobility.”

  12. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

    I don’t think this proposition, if it is one, is the opposite of doubt. It almost makes the faculty of faith a form of non-sensory perception.

    “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.”

    This one almost suggests Plato’s myth of the divided line. Again, we are talking about a form of knowledge, the opposite of which would be ignorance.

    “By faith they passed through the Red sea as by dry land: which the Egyptians assaying to do were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.”

    Here, faith is not a form of passive knowledge, but active and miraculous power.

    I think modern conception, that faith consists of a proposition to which we assent (as is common in the Protestant Creeds) is a bastardization of the ancient concept of faith.

    After all, it was the symbolon of faith, which was not so much the content so much as the manifestation of the Holy Spirit guiding the Church to Truth.

    So I am not sure that faith is as liberally-minded as the author might have it.

    Further, you can see from Eckhardt’s defense, he did not deny the possibility of theological error, but he denied heresy as heresy was an act of the will, not the mind. We can say classical orthodoxy was a politicization of the will, so enemies of the Church were those with perverted wills (and maybe still today).

    In contrast, the Enlightenment is the politicization of reason itself. Will is good, the more perverted the better, but if you disagree with a liberal or other “rationalist”, it is your sanity which is in question. Hence the practice of institutionalizing dissidents in the Soviet regime, as well as in the American regime (at least in the case of Pound).

  13. Hello everyone,

    a first time commenter here. I have read large parts of the Orthosphere’s and Bonald’s archives and find it fo be some of the best material in Reaction. I do however have a question, which I believe you must have adressed somewhere, but I cannot find it. Links to relevant posts instead of a written answer are thus prefectly fine by me. I also don’t know where to ask the question, since I could not see how to write an email to any of you, so I’ll just ask it here. Sorry for writing such a long text and for any bad English — it’s my third language. Thanks in advance for any answers, I’m really looking forward to read your views)

    To the point: What is the connection between the God of philosophical arguments (the first mover, that one that is necessary for truth, for existence etc.) and revealed Christianity and especially its morality?
    As a student of philosophy I am very interested in various arguments for moral realism, but found all the atheist (Rawlsian, Kantian, Utilitarien etc.) attempts to establish an objective morality not convincing. Thus it seems to me that there really is no true morality without a God. But certainly not _every_ possible God establishes a morality. A God that “only” sustains the universe, enables truth etc. does not obviously imply the ten commandments (or any other “ought”).
    So my question is, assume you have convinced me that there is an entity that created the universe, and that rejecting this — being an atheist — is a mistake. How do I make the step from here to _your_ entity, the Christian God?

    If you are interested, here are my own thoughts on the creator and morality:
    When I look at the world and assume it’s the product of a deliberate creation, I think in this way:
    1.The creator made this world as he (/she/it/??? — I’ll use he for linguistic smplicity) wanted it.
    2. In the world, I see no morality manifest itself — people believe different codes, sometimes people that are considered evil thrive, sometimes they suffer. People considered good also sometimes thrive, sometimes suffer.
    3. So I conclude that the creator is fine with everyone following his desires — otherwise there would be a more obvious correlation between types of desires (e.g. helpful vs. destructive) and happiness or success in the world.

    Now, of course the Christian says that this lack of correlation is because the creator gave us free will (let’s say I agree), but he still wants us to follow a certain moral code, which he revealed to us (here’s my question). But what are the arguments to believe in this revelation over a neutral creator?
    I will not be conviced by miracles/magic/foreknowledge/personally felt communication, because I read enough occultism to know that every tradition has good claim to such things, which might well all be true. So if e.g. the Satanist, the Wiccan and the Christian all can heal with their thoughts, divine the future, commune with spirits etc., then this cannot prove the exclusive truth of any of those doctrines. To me this supports the doctrine of a neutral creator, who enables all kinds of interactions between mind and physical reality, independent of what the person believes to be the source of the effect (God/Satan/Energy/Spirits etc.).

    So why do you choose to believe in your God instead of a neutral creator who has no morality?

    Thanks again 🙂

    • On morality:

      What if morality is a code of conduct that promotes cooperation and group-cohesion in the in- group, and that groups with high levels of cooperation and group-cohesion tend to conquer and subjugate groups with lower levels of cooperation and group-cohesion? If they don’t kill or sell the conquered people into slavery, then the masters impose their morality on the subjects. [Hence, high/low culture, etc.] Thus, the kinds of traditional morality that survived do a good job of promoting cooperation and group-cohesion.

      In this case, moral breakdown implies a breakdown in group cooperation and cohesion, meaning that the in-group is vulnerable to conquest and perhaps even destruction. Thus, people are extremely punitive toward transgressors because they threaten the survival of the group, and so it makes sense to kill one to spare the many.

      This is brutally consequential, but it explains morality, the purpose of morality (promoting group survival), why immorality provokes the reactions it provokes, etc. It also explains why most modern moral “innovations” are diametrically opposed to the telos of morality.

      On the Universe that God created:

      Presume that one accepts the hypothesis of group selection and understands morality as integral to “group hegemony”, if not “group fitness”. God has created a world in which freedom and sovereignty are dependent on maintaining high standards of morality. God has created a species that strongly prefers freedom and independence over slavery and dependence. Hence, the human interest and concern about morality is baked into the firmaments of the universe and the species, and man is by nature inclined to seek the good.

  14. Pingback: Faith and other Epistemic Categories – quas lacrimas peperere minoribus nostris!

  15. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2017/03/12) - Social Matter


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