The video at the bottom of this page is a rather angry discourse by a non-believer. Watch it with care and caution as he uses some profanity and a degree of uncharitable discourse, and unfair stereotyping that is hard to take if you haven’t prayed prior to viewing it. He does disclaim at the beginning that “Not everyone who has religious faith is a complete idiot” but then goes on to so fundamentally attack the very notion of faith that he ends up saying we’re “complete idiots.”
I call the video to your attention however because it is valuable at times to hear and then address criticisms leveled at us. What sets this non-believer (I don’t know his name) off is the use of a common slogan among some Christians: “God said it. I believe it. And that settles it.” I’d like to assess the slogan that we have all heard and then address some of the criticisms leveled in the video about the act of believing.
God said it. I believe it. And that settles it.– Like all slogans, there is some element of truth here and yet, because it is a slogan, refinements and distinctions are necessary that are lost in the sound-bite quality of a slogan.
Let’s look at what is true about the statement. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says, Faith is the theological virtue by which we believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself. By faith “man freely commits his entire self to God.” (CCC 1814) The Book of Hebrews says, Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Heb 11:1). There is an old definition of faith I memorized years ago where faith is defined as: The theological virtue by which one, through grace, adheres in the intellect to a truth revealed by God because of the authority of God who reveals rather than the evidence given.
Now what seems to unite all these definitions is that the Theological Virtue of Faith is rooted essentially in the grace given for us to believe something on the authority of God. That is the acceptance of a truth revealed to us rests not so much on extrinsic evidence but on the fact that God has revealed it. There may be, and most often are, motives of credibility in regard to the truth of faith. God has given us minds and proposes himself and his truths to us in a way that respects our mind. But many of the truths of faith surpass the capacity of the mind to fully comprehend and material evidence is often not present in regards to spiritual truth. Hence the grace of faith enables us to accept the truths of faith on the authority of God revealing.
So the slogan contains an element of the truth: God said it, I believe it. This is the gift of Faith, rather simply stated, to be sure but accurate in what it says. The gift of faith does not require that God supply vast amounts of evidence and explanations that appeal to us. The Gift of Faith as Hebrews states is its own evidence for God gifts the individual to accept what He reveals by his authority.
The problem with the slogan seems to come more with the final phrase: “and that settles it.” Now in itself the phrase is not problematic if by “settle” we mean that it is enough that God has revealed something for me to believe it. But the expression “that settles it” usually carries other connotations as well that are problematic. Consider for example:
- “That settles it” could be interpreted as a discussion-ender with some one as in: “God said it, I believe it and I am not going to discuss this with you any further.” Hence our opponents hear an arrogance and unwillingness to discuss something and this is problematic for a Christian who ought Always be prepared to render an account for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
- “That settles it” could be interpreted as meaning, “I don’t have to think about this any more.” Here too our opponents may interpret the phrase to refer to a blind, unthinking, marching in thoughtless lock-step kind of faith. But of course God has given us a mind and wants us to come to a deeper understanding of our faith than mere creeds or scriptural phrases may contain. St. Anselm spoke of theology as fides quaerens intellectum (faith seeking understanding). St Augustine said, crede, ut intelligas (believe that you may understand). While faith may gift us to accept the truth of what God reveals, this is not the end of thought, but it is the beginning of it as we connect the dots of our faith and grab a deeper hold of the full meaning and implication of what is revealed. Catholicism is a smart and thoughtful religion in that we have pondered and prayed over the meaning of what God reveals for centuries. Our rich theology and tradition is testimony to a deeply thoughtful intellectual discipline and treasure. That theological tradition began with Mother Mary who, treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart(Luke 2:19). It continued with the Fathers of the Church, the great philosophers, theologians and doctors of the Church and stretches down to this very day. The deposit of faith may be said to be “settled” but its understanding and depths continue to be sounded.
- “That settles it” could be interpreted as a mere dismissal of one’s opponent in a conversation. In this sense it amounts to an ad hominem argumentum (an argument directed to the person rather than to the issue). Such arguments are disrespectful of the unbeliever or the one who struggles to understand. Again quoting the text from Peter: Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect (1 Pet 3:15)
So the slogan, like any slogan needs to be properly understood. And, frankly most non-believers and those outside the Christian Tradition see the slogan as a mere rebuke and a conversation stopper. We may do well to use this slogan sparingly and carefully, if at all.
That leads to the rather angry video below where the author of it lets loose with a rather unkind description of faith. I’d like to isolate a few things he says and then carefully invite you to view it. I will list his quotes and then offer a brief response. The italics are his words, the red plain text is my response.
- Believing is easier than thinking. It takes time and effort to acquire knowledge whereas any fool can acquire faith instantly and effortlessly – Well, our interlocutor is wrong to divorce believing from thinking. Faith is a way of knowing, faith supplies knowledge. When God draws us to faith he imbues our mind substantial truth that summons forth a thoughtful response. Believing involves a great deal of thinking. I have spent years, decades, pondering my faith and striving to understand what God is teaching me. As regards his statement that any fool can acquire faith instantly and effortlessly, he has surely not discussed how faith is experienced with a believer. While it is true that God could just zap us with doctrine, it seldom works that way at all. Faith is something in which we must grow. Grace builds on nature and most people who have faith have it at great cost and experience it’s growth incrementally. There is nothing effortless about it at all. Most all of us who have faith have struggled to grasp it, accept it and submit to it. Often faith comes through suffering which causes us to reflect more deeply on the truer meaning of life and things. Understanding deepens in the crucible of real life with its joys and losses, it happiness and its hardship. There is nothing effortless or instant about true faith.
- Faith is all about lazy stuff: submission, surrender, don’t ask questions, let your moral values be handed to you on a plate like a baby – Well again, there is nothing lazy about submission and surrender, it is hard work. It is much harder than just going off and doing what I please. Obedience is hard, disobedience is easy. As for not asking questions, again, I wonder where he gets this vision of faith? Christians struggle all the time to understand and often ask, “Why?” I suppose there is a stereotype out there of the unquestioning believer, but I have seldom met one. The scriptures are filled with believers who asked questions. Many of the Psalms begin with words and phrases like: why, how long O Lord, when. The disciples and apostles were asking Jesus questions all the time. Paul asked questions of God, once three times in a row (2 Cor 12:8). Most of the Scriptures are dealing with the questions of faith and the whys and wherefores of God’s ways. As for my moral values being handed to me on a plate – I wonder how he got his moral values handed to him? All of us receive what we know from others (on a plate or otherwise). Someone has influenced this man. With me it happens to be God and the Church. Not sure who it is with him but some one influenced him as to his thoughts and values. This does not make him a baby any more than it makes me one. So really his last point is moot.
- The expression “God said it, I believe it and that settles it” means to me “This mind is closed for business. We are not currently accepting any new ideas here” – Well as I said above, our interlocutors often interpret this slogan just as this man states and for that reason we do well to limit or end it’s use except in restricted places where fellow believers can interpret it as we intend. That said, his notion that belief closes the mind to new ideas is in need of distinctions. First it must be said that every discipline has some boundaries wherein it cannot admit certain premises. For example Science deals with the physically measurable and observable phenomena. For me to insist that science accept and include the God of the Bible in its discipline and attribute every unknown cause to the Trinity is to ask science to do what is beyond what it can do. Hence Science would rightly reject my insistence that the Trinity be accepted as a premise in a scientific conclusion. It is outside the discipline of science. Now the same is true for a believer who might, in certain circumstances indicate that a proposed idea is unacceptable. For example, the “new idea” that the only reality is the material and that the spiritual is thus unreal and non-existent is rejected by the Christian since it contains an a-priori assumption we cannot accept. So, it seems unreasonable to demand that anyone ought to be open , without stipulation, to any “new idea” by itself. That said, Christians and non-Christians generally ought to be open to discuss new ideas and I think we Christians usually are. The whole field of apologetics seeks to engage the modern world, a world full of new (or recycled) ideas (If you think you really have a new idea, go and see how the Greeks put it). It is the very purpose of evangelization to go forth into the world and engage it. The best evangelizers and missionaries make use of the culture, affirming what is good and critiquing what is problematic. There is an old Dominican saying, “Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish.” In a way I find his notion that we don’t accept new ideas funny since one of the critiques of the modern Church is that we have accepted far too many “new ideas” and lost our traditions.
Well then here is the video. Pray before you watch it. I invite your comments as always. If you comment PLEASE do NOT do what this man does. Do not call names, ridicule, use profanity etc. As angry as this man may make you, remember he is known by God who sustains and loves him. Perhaps we can pray that his anger at us will abate and that he might be able to receive the gift of faith. So pray, watch and, if you wish, comment. Warning, there are some profanities toward the end.