Friday, 30 March 2012

Help! What Should I Do?

You know, you'll never believe this but the other day in Oxford I met someone who said he had heard about a man who could do amazing stuff. Some of the things he could do included:
  • Flying. He can just rise up into the air at will and fly about, so he can walk across water without even getting wet feet.
  • Turning things into other things. He can turn water into beer or anything else like wine.
  • Curing sick people. He can tell what's wrong with people, even when they don't know they're sick, and can cure them just by touching them. They even get better just by touching his clothes.
  • Letting people live for ever. Apparently he said if you believe in him you'll never die.

I thought that sounded interesting, if more than a little far-fetched, so I asked if I could meet this man. Turned out this person had never met the man himself but had just met someone who had heard about him and wanted to live for ever, so he decided he would tell people about him because he sounded like a really special person. No, he didn't know for sure if anyone who told him about this man had actually met him either, but he thought they might have done otherwise how would they know about him? (I didn't bother to point out that it could have been in exactly the same way the he knew about him.)

In fact he had heard that the man had died. Apparently the police had arrested him because they didn't like the crowds he was attracting and didn't want people to live forever (you know what they're like!), and he had died in custody, then his body had mysteriously disappeared. The whole world had gone dark, apparently, though neither of us could recall that actually happening, at least not in our life-time. But by-the-by.

He even had a drawing of him, and he looked quite genuine. So, should I believe this man I met and take his word that this man exists?

I've heard that there is this technique for telling the truth in these situations. It's called 'faith'. This method is said by it's advocates to be the best of all ways to decide if something is true. Apparently, if you believe things like this by 'faith' they become truth and you don't need to keep wondering it they are true or not. Also, no one should disagree with you otherwise they are oppressing you and disrespecting your 'faith', which of course, you're entitled to hold on to.

The trick is to tell yourself that the story must be true and that anything which makes it look like it might not be must be wrong and probably just a test. Good 'faith' must always pass this test, otherwise it's a personal failing on your part for not having enough 'faith' and for which you should be ashamed. And, you can tell yourself that it must be true - otherwise, why would you believe it?

If I have this 'faith' do you think the story told me by the man I met in Oxford will be true? Or should I lack 'faith' and look for some other way to discover if his story is really true? You know, things like evidence from eye-witnesses, people he actually cured, photographs, police records - that sort of thing?

Or should I just ignore this story as so unlikely as to not be worth even considering to be true, and so risk not living for ever?

Such a difficult decision! What would you do?

Oh! I forgot to say, this man is supposed to have lived in Essex about 100 years ago... or was it Palestine about 2000 years ago? I can never remember which, but that shouldn't make any difference, should it?

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  1. As the saying goes: Repeat a lie plenty of times and it becomes a fact

  2. What you are describing as faith is not faith. There are people who call themselves Christians who mistake faith in generally the same fashion as how you describe and thus act as you indicate but what they have is not faith but a sort of gnosticism.

    The idea that faith is faith because it is untestable is not actually a Christian position, though many who call themselves Christian hold that position.

    Let us get faith out of the equation. An individual comes and tells you X. Should you believe that that X is real? If you accept X as real with out evidence, then you just hold opinion. The degree of confidence that one has in X being true is dependent upon the degree of one's prior experience with X or things like X, the known reliability of the individual in telling true information, and the rationality of what is being said. That is the answer to your question of what would you do and any questions of the like.

    Btw if you read scripture you will notice that it doesn't say that intellectually accenting to Jesus being God is salvific. Salvation is a way of life so obviously if one does not live that way of life, one will not have the results of that way of life. It is better to believe and so act, but if one doesn't believe at least so act.

  3. I'd rather keep being told I'm an atheist hellspawn of Satan, yada yada.

  4. So are you saying I should or shouldn't use this 'faith' thing to decide if 'Magic Essex Man' ever existed? It's not clear from your reply.

    If not, how can I tell if he really existed or not? My eternal life could depend on this you know.

  5. Depends on how you define faith. If I understand correctly how you are defining faith, the absolutely you should not use "faith" to determine if 'Magic Essex Man' ever existed. Faith is not blind trust, kirkegaard is wrong, so is Luther to a lesser extent.

    How do you know if Jesus is real? It is the exact same criteria for determining if any other individual that a historical texts talks about was real. Nothing more nothing less.

    If someone came to me and asked me if they should believe a a voice that they heard and that voice said it was God, the proper answer to be given, as stated by any good manuel on spirituality is no. Verification is always required before one accepts as true supernatural things. God always provides verification because He is not a jerk (but it not necessarily be verification that we'd like).

    I have no problem with people wanting proof, nor does God. God though is not amused by drowning people who pray to be saved by God but ignore the various boats that come to their rescue.

    Let me suggest Josef Pieper, a 20th century German Thomistic philosopher's book FAITH (cheaper to buy in the anthology Faith Hope Love) as a much better interlocular on what is Faith than what you are probably used to. It also has some good stuff for jabbing theists that don't understand theism in it.

  6. I think Lurker needs a better understanding of the meaning of 'evidence' and 'jerk'. He seems to be confused.

  7. "Sixty-two thousand four hundred repetitions make one truth." - Aldous Huxley

  8. Until somebody publishes an awfully long and quite badly written book of fiction about this dude from Essex, he does not exist, I say. Or at least 'till somebody makes a fan-page on Facebook, then you know the story is legit.

  9. I rather like the definition of faith as given by Dr. Peter Boghossian: "Pretending to know things you don't know."


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