by Dr. Edward W.H. Vick, retired professor and author of Death, Immortality and Resurrection, From Inspiration to Understanding: Reading the Bible Seriously and Faithfully, Philosophy for Believers, Creation: The Christian Doctrine, History and Christian Faith and more!
Does that question mean that we try as believer to say how to believe, or does it mean that we as non-believer are trying to say how not to believe? The question is ambiguous. Whichever way we take it, the exploration is interesting and serious. Shall we contemplate taking it in the first way and then in the other? To discover what we can believe will enable us indeed require us to refuse alternative beliefs. To realise what we cannot believe may lead us to discover what we can believe.
In the one case we are trying to say what to avoid when we are believe. We are then believers, or prospective believers. We conclude, ‘This I can believe.’
In the other case we are trying to say how we shall come not to believe. We are then prospective unbelievers. We conclude, ‘This I cannot believe.’
In both cases, we are concerned with giving ourselves assurance that we are rational in holding our belief on the one hand or on the other rational in abandoning our belief.
To ask the question means that we are serious about our belief. The alternative is to dismiss the question and go on with our belief as if it had never crossed our minds to raise such question. Once it had not. It had become near impossible at a given time for us to be able to raise the question, as we have put it. How can a young child not believe in Father Christmas? How could the medieval churchman, or any other medieval, not believe that the earth was the centre of the universe? How could either raise our question? How can one avoid being deceived when one has neither the means nor the incentive to inquire?
The fact is we find ourselves holding our belief without ever having had to raise any question about it. The corollary to this is that we may find it easy to abandon a belief, easy just to let it go, having become indifferent to asking how we held the belief in the first instance or how we have held it for as long as we have. The belief that promoted and sustained action in our past may become irrelevant in the present. Social support for our belief may no longer sustain it. Changed circumstances may make it otiose.