Only the Hearing is Safely Believed. A Meditation on How Faith Comes by Hearing, Powerfully Demonstrated in a "Video"

In the video below there is a fascinating demonstration of what is known as the McGurk Effect, wherein what we hear is strongly influenced by what we see. Though the sounds heard in the experiment are exactly the same, when the visual cues change, we hear another sound. Even knowing the “trick” does not change the effect.

And this is a paradigm for faith, if you ask me.

Scripture speaks often of the fact that faith is a matter of hearing and not seeing:

  1. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (Rom 10:17).
  2. For we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).
  3. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face (1 Cor 13:12).
  4. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? (Rom 8:24)
  5. Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).
  6. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy (1 Peter 1:8)
  7. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed (Jn 20:29).

So while it is true that many say, “Seeing is believing,” it really isn’t so. Seeing is just seeing. Faith comes by hearing.

Now this principle is very important for many of the truths of our faith are “mysterious.” The word “mysterious” here does not mean spooky, or strange, but rather, that what we “see” or intellectually grasp, is but a small part, and that the greater part of it is hidden from our sight and intellect. Since this is so, we must be taught the faith through hearing, and receiving the faith by hearing, gives us a prophetic interpretation of the reality we perceive by the other senses.

Consider especially the sacraments. What we see is often very limited. We many see, merely, water poured in baptism. But with the faith, granted though our hearing of the sacred words, we grasp the deeper meaning, that sins are being washed away, that new life is being conveyed, and a heavenly inheritance is being bestowed.

At a wedding, our eyes see a man and a woman, but as we hear their vows proclaimed we must disregard what our eyes see (still two) and grasp through faith, what our ears tell us from the very Word of Jesus: They are no longer two, but one and what God has joined together, let no one divide (Matt 19:6). Faith comes by hearing.

Regarding the Holy Eucharist St Thomas lovingly wrote in the hymn Adoro Te Devote:

Visus, tactus, gustus in te fallitur,  (Sight, touch, taste, in thee falter),
Sed auditu solo tuto creditur. (But the hearing alone is safely believed).
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius; (I believe whatever the Son of God has said);
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius (Nothing is truer that this word of truth).

So again, the eyes deceive, and we must believe through what we hear. The world and the flesh are always demanding to see, but Faith comes by hearing. There may be some motives of credibility that seeing can give, but, frankly, the eyes are too easily deceived, we are often misled by what we see.

And that brings us to the video. As has already been mentioned, the sound in the video remains unchanged, but when the visual cue changes, we insist that the sound has changed. But it hasn’t. Yet, even knowing this, we tend to trust our eyes more than our ears, and insist on what we see not what we hear.

But then comes the strangest thing of all. The BBC announcer, almost in a subconscious illustration of the McGurk effect, comes to precisely the WRONG conclusion. She says, “The McGurk effect shows us that what we hear may not always be the truth.” Wrong! And exactly backwards! The McGurk effect demonstrates that what we SEE may not always be the truth. Stubbornly, she then reiterates, “So we can’t always trust what we hear.” But again, wrong in terms of this experiment, and exactly backwards! It is what we SEE that we cannot trust in this instance. Indeed a very strange error on her part, and almost Freudian in its psychological significance.

In the end, I hope you “see” what I mean: faith comes by hearing. And it is a very important dimension of faith to not let our eyes or other senses merely override our ears. The eyes and other senses can supply us certain data, even motives of credibility. But in the end, it is through hearing, and by the Word of God heard, that we have a prophetic interpretation of the reality perceived by our other senses. Faith which comes by hearing, is a prophetic interpretation of reality: Sed auditu solo tuto creditur.

Enjoy the video, it’ll mess with your mind but it confirms an important truth.