Is My Ignorance Invincible?

Thanks for all the responses to my post this weekend asking for advice on RCIA and the tone of the blog .  Tomorrow, I’ll be returning to the ongoing series about Diane Duane’s Young Wizards books and what they’ve taught me about religion, but I wanted to take a break today to deal with some questions Saturday’s post brought up.

Kevin brought up a problem that goes to the heart of the blog and one that I’ve heard before.

This kind of argumentation just isn’t what makes people religious. Despite the way some Catholics talk, religion first and foremost isn’t a matter of theology. Theology’s kind of an afterthought, icing on the religious cake. I have full confidence that the Christian religion can hold up to any dialectical challenges that are brought against it, and I have a great personal interest in intellectual questions of that nature. But if you were to ask me why I’ve continued in the faith, theological dialectics would have very little to do with it.

And so this whole blog, on my view, has been rather missing the point. But it’s not really your fault — the real reasons for faith are hardly the sort of thing that can be easily hashed out in a comment box. A confessional box, maybe.

Kevin makes a fair point.  I certainly won’t be so arrogant as to claim that the apologetic works I’ve read comprise all possible defenses of Christianity, or that I’ve necessarily read them so well as to justifiably be unconvinced.  The fact remains, though, that I find them unconvincing.  And the more I read and remain unconvinced by, the more likely it is that the next book or argument will also leave me unconvinced.

At this point, I do doubt I can be argued into Christianity, which leaves only some kind of experiential miracle in God’s arsenal, as far as I can tell.  Jen Fulweiler of Conversion Diary has some advice for atheists or agnostics as part of her post “Finding God in 5 Steps

Do the Experiment

I believe that God’s existence can be “proven” in a certain sense, as long as you understand that God = Love, and what you’re trying to prove is Love itself. This is not something you can know about from analyzing data or reading books alone. To get the “proof” that you seek, you must enter the laboratory of your heart, and actually conduct the experiment: live, for a while, as if God did exist. Pray. Follow the Ten Commandments. Show love and kindness to everyone, even your enemies. Read the Bible. Give God the thanks and honor and respect you would show him if he did exist. As Pascal suggested, just try it for a while, and see what happens.

I can’t claim to have lived up to these instructions perfectly.  I’ve been attending Mass weekly for about six months, reading apologetics, talking to priests and a deacon, and even trying prayer for Lent (unsuccessfully, natch).  Obviously, my scientist heart is frustrated that Jen’s experiment is open-ended.  There’s no amount of time I could spend living her experiment to refute the premise; it only ‘works’ if I convert.

I’m curious what devout Christians would tell me to do rather than/in addition to blogging.

If atheists aren’t convinced by intellectual arguments, have they done their due dilligence?  Do they fall into the category of invincible ignorance

How can someone reach beyond theology to grapple with a religion they believe to be false?

If you could ask me to take any action that you thought would be likely to convert me, what would it be?

About Leah Libresco

Leah Anthony Libresco graduated from Yale in 2011. She works as an Editorial Assistant at The American Conservative by day, and by night writes for Patheos about theology, philosophy, and math at www.patheos.com/blogs/unequallyyoked. She was received into the Catholic Church in November 2012."

  • http://www.noforbiddenquestions.com NFQ

    Jen's post seemed woefully inadequate to me, and I said as much in the comments on it at one point (though I see now at least one of them is no longer up; I wonder if it was deleted?). You can just say "God is love, therefore Catholicism." The best that can lead you to is some sort of nondescript deism. You don't get doctrine and ritual out of it. If God is love, then why cathedrals and Lent and the Bible and the hierarchy of the priesthood? (For that matter, why the trappings of any one particular religious sect?) None of this follows from God being love. And we've never established why the concept of love is worth calling a deity in the first place.And Pascal's wager is one of the worst arguments for religion. I mean, seriously, it's such a contentless cop-out.Kevin seems to me to cut to the heart of the matter, though in a different way than he intended or than I think you read into what he said. Kevin's point is that people who are religious are not being rational. They pick their conclusion, and then they assume (as he openly admits to doing) that logic and reason will support their side. Some people like Kevin might find logical argumentation personally interesting, but many feel no compulsion to actually look into it themselves, and in any case their judgments about truth in no way depend on evidence or logic. If you take a logical, rational approach from the start, you will not find religion. Point blank. So, the question is, do you value logic and reason?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10019240793982424774 Christian H

    "If you could ask me to take any action that you thought would be likely to convert me, what would it be?"I don't know if this would convert you or not–to be honest, I spend little time thinking about conversion tactics–but if you want a better sense of what Christianity could be, I would suggest you volunteer with Christians in a Christian setting. Something like a church soup kitchen, or a poverty walk, or a rehab centre, or whatever. It doesn't have to be an evangelizing one, either, but just one run by Christians who are overtly Christian with one another. Maybe that will be hard to find, though? I would also advocate for trying to find a Bible study group that is nominally for Christians that would be willing to take a non-Christian in. Oftentimes I get the sense that non-Christians have no idea what it's like to actually be a Christian, since all they ever see is the "promotional material," so to speak, and it's pretty rare that Christians actually talk a whole lot about these sorts of things when among themselves. Further, you'd get to see more of the diversity within traditions than the promotional material tends to show, and it's in that diversity that an intellectually-minded person like yourself would best flourish.Honestly, I have never found compelling apologetics, either. I might write about the closest thing I have to apologetics, but that doesn't quite belong in these comments, so I won't.

  • http://kpharri.wordpress.com/ Keith

    "How can someone reach beyond theology to grapple with a religion they believe to be false?"I think any non-theological aspect of a particular region can be shown to be, if not false, then highly improbable, simply by pointing to the same sorts of things that go on in other religions. For example, believers of other faiths also claim to have personal revelations. Who, then, is having the real revelations, and who is having a completely natural psychological experience (or are there multiple gods, each communicating to his worshipers?)

  • http://yalemedlaw.com Jaymin

    I get rather frustrated with apologetic "proofs" of god that essentially reduce to nonsensical assertions like "god is love" or "god is energy". Sure, by that standard, even Dawkins is a devout Christian.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05377685250633624137 Tristyn Bloom

    Go all out. Find a women's monastery and stay there for a few days (I was recently told to do this myself). Many monasteries have guest accommodations and will let you stay up to a few nights- praying and going to services with them, helping out with various menial/physical tasks, etc.(Also you can't leave your religious experiment phase before seeing an Orthodox Divine Liturgy. Just saying.)

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/catholicspitfiregrill/ Sister Spitfire

    “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” ~~Mother TeresaEveryone's path to God is different for some it is the philosophical/apologetic route, but even the Catholic Catechism acknowledges that proof of God's existence isn't like proof in the same sense it is used in the natural sciences. CCC31 Created in God's image and called to know and love him, the person who seeks God discovers certain ways of coming to know him. These are also called proofs for the existence of God, not in the sense of proofs in the natural sciences, but rather in the sense of "converging and convincing arguments", which allow us to attain certainty about the truth. These "ways" of approaching God from creation have a twofold point of departure: the physical world, and the human person.I was/am sufficiently convinced by the "converging and convincing arguments" that I was willing to start from a place of God probably existing and have arrived at place where I am certain of it because of my relationship with God. Of course my experience with God is totally unprovable to anyone except me, and perhaps those who know me well enough to know that I am not a hallucinating nutcase. Since the intellectual route is leaving you unconvinced, I would suggest a more personal one. I would suggest diving into the works/writings of those who had/have a more direct experience with the Divine….Mother Teresa, Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, are just a few that come to mind. From my perspective, these people have more to say about what God is than most of the intellectual types. If there is an Infinite, then it seems to me more that we cannot say about that than what we can…and the real mystics, frankly seem to me more able to convey Truth in that regard than those who write volume after volume of "proofs." The lives of these mystics are equally important to examine, since the a more direct contact with God should not leave one unchanged. What these people said and did set against the context of what they were expectetd to say and do….and at what cost speaks very loudly to me. It is common for hagiographical literature to focus on miraculous phenomenon, but more than that I find the lives that resulted from this intense communion with the Infinite to be more convincing. Were they perfect? No. But the extent to which they diverged from the expectations of culture/time and in what direction speaks volumes to me. I would echo what Tristyn Bloom said, go to retreat center. Preferably a silent one and preferably for at least 8 days. Get really quiet. Enter into silence. See what happens. Whatever we can say about God, it leaves so much more unsaid. I have to say, that I TRULY admire your continuing experiment.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11894992378619176830 Jennifer @ Conversion Diary

    Great questions, as always. Now that I've had more time to reflect on my own conversion, I see how important it was that I experienced something that cracked my intellectual fortress and made me open to nonmaterial truths in a way I'd never been before. I went through some pretty traumatic times that made me face death in a way I'd never even come close to before, and shattered all my illusions of being in control of my own life. Not that that made me convert per se (i.e. it wasn't like "I'm ill and scared" –> "now I believe in God") but it thrust me into an entirely different, more humble, more open mentality. It made me understand at a gut level why people in poverty-stricken countries tend to have a more intuitive understanding of God than the educated and the rich. This might sound crazy, but I don't necessarily recommend a retreat at this point in your journey. I think that something along the lines of what Christian suggested might be more helpful, like joining your parish team on one of their medical missions (our parish sends teams to Mexico and Guatemala every year), or visiting a Missionaries of Charity convent that serves the poorest of the poor. If you're at all like me, I think that immersing yourself in the real, raw human experience — not just the cushy version we see as pampered Americans — will be much more helpful than more analysis. (Not that analysis is bad, it's just that I, for one, tend to paralyze myself with way too much of it.)Just my $0.02.

  • A Philosopher

    For what it's worth, I recommend that you not do anything like Jen's "experiment". The thing is, people are on the whole kind of lousy epistemic devices, and one of the things we know pretty well about our epistemic defects is that we've got a rather generous capacity for convincing ourselves of stuff that we have no good reason to believe, by putting ourselves in social situations that presuppose that the stuff is reasonable.So there's a pretty decent chance that if you really set out to act as if Christianity is true for long enough, you'll end up believing that it is. Now I don't care, for a number of reasons, whether you end up thinking Christianity is true. But you should, right now, find it undesirable to form a belief in Christian doctrine in this way – it's a manifestly irrational mode of belief formation, and you shouldn't want your beliefs to be formed in an irrational way.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16496144988509668275 Leah

    @Keith: The how-do-you-know-which-revelations-are-true question is one of the first ones I ask religious people, too.@A Philosopher: I agree with you on the basics. I've got plenty of atheist friends who would be a check on any epistemological excesses. If I changed my mind but couldn't muster arguments to convince them, I'd suspect I hadn't legitimately convinced myself either.


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