Faith vs. Thought
Someone once told me that tennis is 90% mental. Do you know what the other 10% is? Mental.
All of us live our lives inside our heads – we mentally interpret data in order to make decisions.
I think, therefore I am.
So, when I ran into a blog post asserting that Christian faith is not mental, I went mental. The last time I checked, everything I think or believe only exists in the space between those two oddities called ears. My beliefs cannot exist outside of my own mind, my own thoughts. Can I examine my own thoughts? Certainly. Even the part of me that examines my thoughts does not exist outside of myself; the very examination takes place inside my mind – in other words, I can think about what I am thinking about, but it’s all still thinking, and thinking is a mental process.
Faith in God is mental assent to an idea we perceive as true.
I decided to run my thoughts about this by my Dad, one of my intellectual mentors who also happens to adhere to the Christian faith.
Me: So, I ran into this blog that said ‘faith is not mental.’ That’s what drives me crazy about Evangelicals! They say nonsensical things like that and everyone just accepts them as true!
Dad: But faith is not mental.
Me: How can faith not be mental? Faith is believing something. Belief requires thought. Thoughts are mental.
Dad: Has anyone ever seen Jesus?
Me: Yes. *smile*
Dad: I meant, none of us have seen Jesus, right?
Me: Right. But you are going to say that we don’t have proof. That’s not what I mean by ‘mental’.
Dad: Faith is belief that is not based on tangible proof, so faith is not based on rational thought.
Me: Perhaps, but didn’t someone tell you something about God and you listened to them? Didn’t you read a book called the Bible and believe it? These activities (listening, reading, considering) require thoughts – which happen in your mind. So your faith, while it may be divorced from evidence, is still a mental process, isn’t it?
Dad: Hmm. I’ll have to think about that and get back to you.
The boldest and most nonsensical statement of the blog came next:
The human mind works contrary to faith.
The writer is so convinced of this that he/she repeats it again IN ALL CAPS. Of course, having spent thirty years as an Evangelical has its up side: Sadly, I not only understand what the writer was saying, I probably once believed it and said it (or something similar) myself. Since our human mind prefers rational proof in order to believe something, when tangible evidence is lacking, belief is undermined. Faith is choosing to believe in something without tangible proof that will satisfy the mind’s ordinary demands.
Even if you hold a belief without proof, you still must make a conscious choice to waive the need for evidence and exercise faith – this decision can only happen in the mind.
When Jesus told someone to ‘believe’ in Him, He was telling them to change their mind, their thinking, to believe that His miracles or His authoritative teaching proved that what He said was true. Even the eyewitnesses of Jesus’ life had to consider what they saw and heard in order to put their faith in Jesus. They had first-hand evidence, and still their belief necessitated thought and thoughts happen where? You guessed it: in the mind, mentally.
If the Bible teaches that faith is contrary to thought, then why does Paul exhort Peter to be ready to give an answer for his hope?
Divorcing faith from thought is an easy way to justify religious fanaticism: Christian anti-abortion vigilantes who shoot Doctors and terrorists who strap suicide bombs on children both credit their faith for their behavior. That’s exactly why posts like this bother me so much. Never mind that God designed us as intelligent, thinking beings and instructed us to search for truth – something we must necessarily do by thinking, which is inherently mental, as it quite obviously occurs in the mind – when we divorce faith from thought, we insinuate that our feelings drive us, becoming more likely to act either irrationally or immorally and justify our actions by pulling the ‘faith’ card.
The real problem is that we misunderstand how our feelings relate to our thoughts.
Most people equate faith with feelings (since faith defies rationality in terms of tangible proof), and then try to place the feeling of faith over and above rational thinking, as if feelings and thoughts are somehow unrelated. Assuming that feelings have nothing to do with mental processes could not be further from the truth.
Many years ago, I realized the direct correlation between what I think and how I feel. First I learned that if I spend enough time mulling over a hurtful situation, I will experience all of the same physiological and emotional reactions (painful feelings, adrenaline, elevated heart rate, etc.) that I had when the event occurred. Memory has incredible power, but my mind can override my emotional response depending on how I view the situation in hindsight.
My thoughts have the power to change my feelings.
For instance, I can choose to think many different ways about the person who hurt me. If I decide they are a terrible person who had no reason to ever do anything bad to me, I will likely grow to hate them and feel justified in my hatred. While hate is a feeling/emotion, it was produced by my thoughts about the person as they related to the situation. On the other hand, if I choose to consider the other person’s life experiences that may have led them to hurt me (ranging from child abuse to a bad day); or give them the benefit of the doubt (consider that they may not have meant to hurt me); or simply decide that I want to forgive them (even if the deed was done with malicious intent), I could produce within myself feelings of love instead of hate. Nothing changed about what happened to me, only how I thought about it and the perpetrator.
The writer of the aforementioned blog ended the piece by relating the experience that led them to the assertions they were making about faith. They had witnessed a touching movie and heard a song that made them think about their life differently. The message of the movie and the words of the song introduced thoughts the person may not have had before. As a result, they looked at their life in light of the things the movie and the song made them think, and thus their feelings were changed. They ‘felt’ faith inside themselves, not realizing that the faith had been produced by the mental process of interpreting the sights and sounds given to them – in other words, as they processed their experience (the movie and the song), their mind was changed, thereby changing their feelings and beliefs.
To say that faith is not mental has no basis in fact, truth, or reality. It is a nonsensical statement designed to reach the heart (feelings) of people, as if the heart can be divorced from the mind. For me, the entire blog was a sad testimony of an inability to think, and knowing so many Christians would read the blogger’s words and agree with them, deeply saddens me.
It is fine to choose to have faith without facts, but it is not fine to decide that choosing that path equals shutting off your brain.
What about you? Do you believe that faith is not mental? Why or why not? Have you ever experienced a change of feelings towards a person who hurt you when you either gained new information about them or simply made the decision to forgive? I would love to read your thoughts on the matter!
Day 23 of NaBloPoMo 2015