WILL TO BELIEVE

Lynn & grandchildren

Lynn & grandchildren

Friday is “ski with the grandchildren day” in my family. We go up for the afternoon and practice our turns on the intermediate runs. The seven-year-old is working on parallel turns, while the four-year-old, who started out turning very gradual parallel turns has spontaneously adopted a snowplow turn style.

Emma, the younger, was delighted one day when she found a nickel and a penny in the old Suburban we use for our ski car. So last Friday, I left a quarter for her on the console and sure enough, she found it. “Look, grandpa, a nickel.” I told her it was actually a quarter, with a value of five nickels, and she should take it home and add it to her collection of found money.

Having money gives one a sense of security. Emma was being tended by some neighbors who knew she is a very picky eater. The father in the family said, “Emma, I will give you a dollar if you eat a slice of pizza.”

“No, thank you,” she replied. “I hate pizza and I have my own money.”

I have added to her security by leaving the quarter to be found. It is a good thing to be free to do as one wants, and not be coerced into things others believe are in your best interest.

Now Emma doesn’t ask who lost the quarter. My cat doesn’t ask where cat food comes from. We go through life, finding quarters and never wondering whence they come. I choose to believe in God, and that is where I attribute their provenance.

The advantage to me is a sense of security and relationship with my understanding of God. (Should I say, “my current misunderstanding of God”? Isn’t is certain that all our beliefs are tentative and misunderstandings? Isn’t it inevitable that my understanding will develop?) There are many benefits one accrues, including a sense of meaning and purpose. Rodney Stark at Baylor has shown that a belief in a personal God does give one more happiness, greater sense of meaning, and hope than either a belief in the distant, impersonal God of Spinoza and Einstein, or a will to disbelieve.

The reader may have already figured out that I am alluding to William James’ great lecture, “The Will to Believe” which is available on the web. James was reacting to William Clifford’s essay, “The Ethics of Belief” published in 1877, two years before his untimely death. Clifford argued that it is immoral to believe anything for which one has no evidence. Specifically, he argued there was no evidence for Christianity and so it was sinful to believe.

James argued that, to the contrary, it is impossible to proceed in life without belief, and that such belief propels one to work that, when it turns out well, ratifies the original belief. One can still see the echoes of Clifford today. I saw it recently. Eating lunch with an academic friend who is horrified at me being a believer, he cried, “But there is no evidence!” While the cry is heartfelt, it is wrong.

Speak respectfully to any group of believers and you will find many instances of finding quarters in unexpected places. The believer finds abundant evidence in miracles large and small. A friend owned a motorcycle, and approaching an intersection with a green light, he felt a powerful compulsion to stop. A small car whizzed through the red light with a young woman holding a cell phone in front of her. He attributed that to a divine prompting. He found a quarter.

And while you may criticize a loving grandfather for salting likely locations with quarters, that same grandfather sees abundant evidence of a loving God who likewise drops hints and taps us on our shoulder. That grandfather justifies his actions based on a general delight in seeing his granddaughter’s delight. As below, so above. Can we not then imagine a God who simply delights in creating tender mercies for his children to stumble upon?

Each of these spiritual quarters has an ambiguous quality. That is, life is like a Rorschach, that collection of inkblots that present an ambiguous stimulus and onto which we project our perceptions. We see the world, as the saying goes, not as it is, but as we are. So while my materialist friend says that it was a lucky coincidence to find that quarter, I see an invisible hand dropping it into my path.

I find great confirmations from my will to believe, just as my skeptical atheist friend finds that when others tell him that there is no evidence, he believes that. Were I to explain my basis for belief, he would scoff and attribute randomness where I see purpose.

James was a pragmatist, who argued that we know generally of truth because it works. He argued that mere prediction is not enough, that there is a general robustness to living a life enhanced by positive beliefs. Both James and Clifford did important work that is still of great value today. Clifford was reacting to his own time in which there was a vigorous debate between religion and science. James’ pragmatism has, in my eyes, a more timeless quality.

I find it comforting to believe in a God who is purposely ambiguous. I resonate with the hymn:

 

Know this, that ev’ry soul is free,
To choose his life and what he’ll be;
For this eternal truth is given,
That God will force no man to heaven

He’ll call, persuade direct aright;,
Bless with wisdom, love, and light;
In nameless ways be good and kind;
But never force the human mind.

Cf: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Know_Then_That_Every_Soul_Is_Free

What will you believe the next time you pick up a quarter? You get to choose.

By | 2016-04-13T05:19:18+00:00 April 11th, 2016|Articles, Core Happiness Skills, Ethics, Resiliency|19 Comments

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19 Comments

  1. Rob Mcneilly April 11, 2016 at 8:19 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your generous post, Lynn.
    I believe it was Oscar Wilde who said that all our human dilemmas are caused by the sloppy use of language, and the word “belief” is a beautiful example. The word derives from “lief” which also gave issue to “love” and means “to hold dear”, so “I believe” translates into “I hold this dear”. From this point, asking for evidence is irrelevant, incongruous, and lacks logic. What could the possible relevance of evidence about “I hold this dear”?
    Thanks for your post and sharing your willingness to believe without the nonsense of providing evidence.
    Rob

  2. Ivan Emery April 12, 2016 at 8:27 am - Reply

    Very, very good!
    Thank you.

  3. paul finch April 12, 2016 at 9:48 am - Reply

    Nice…love hearing about your life, family, thinking/feeling…This one reminded me of Doug Marman’s new book, Lenses of Perception: a surprising new look at the origin of life, the laws of nature, and our universe. Thanks for all your blogs, work and life.

  4. Janet Winward April 12, 2016 at 10:16 am - Reply

    I believe with all my heart in miracles and in God. I admit I have sympathy for anyone who doesn’t. Many miracles happen because the Spirit prompted someone to do something good. God is truly our Father, thus He loves us as we love our family and would indeed, and thus I can indeed imagine, as you said: “Can we not then imagine a God who simply delights in creating tender mercies for his children to stumble upon?”
    Thanks for all your news letters.

  5. Dave Ericksen April 12, 2016 at 10:42 am - Reply

    Thanks for this Lynn. Our field tends to be very secular so expressions like this are refreshing for those of us who feel there is much more than what the secular world view envisions (or allows?).

  6. Otto Zinser April 12, 2016 at 11:58 am - Reply

    Lynn — I thought it timely to file this post in response to your personal report about your faith. I am a PhD experimental psychology professor at a university with the traditional professional responsibilities of teaching, research and service. Despite my research history, I turned to reading positive psychology late in my career (taught the course several times before retiring) and stayed up-to-date on the literature, including keeping up with Martin’s listserv where I appreciated your posts very much especially while you were catching flack for your faith while also a psychologist. I am motivated in particular to respond to your post because within the past month I have been diagnosed with not only one but two cancers, acute leukemia the most worrisome. Well, while still stunned by the news I was inoculated by my faith throughout my life and therefore am not asking, “Why me!” My GP also counseled me against this reaction. “Rather, Why not me?” I remain grateful for the remarkably gifted life I and my wife have led together. I have not struggled either with the ambiguity of God’s Plans and the workings of His Kingdom — the disciples of His son also failed to understand. God is God. If He shared more with us would we understand? I have wondered why so many of our scientists cannot get past the ambiguity. They insist on setting conditions on any faith they might be able to generate which is irrational to me given that we do not choose to be born and when we die. Like we yearn to be in control when we are not. Atheists have turned from God because for example they cannot reconcile have lost a child — as if we own a child and resent what has come of it. I struggle with intolerance of ambiguity on the left that is normally attributed to the right. Another intolerance what is this about heaven — it should be boring, when we have no idea what heaven is like. In my new found state in life — I am looking for God prayerfully to tell me what do I do next? Rather than taking my short time remaining of quality of life — I have chosen to do battle with the disease. Any Comments?

    • Dr.J April 13, 2016 at 5:25 am - Reply

      Otto points out that life is difficult and challenging, and he faces a double whammy that would knock the wind out of the most resilient.

      My heartfelt thanks for your wise and deep words, Otto, and my prayers are with you at this time of trial.

  7. Tom Faudree April 12, 2016 at 2:12 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this Lynn – well said! Keep up the good work – you are appreciated!
    Tom

  8. Will April 12, 2016 at 2:16 pm - Reply

    Lynn, thank you for the quarter, the reminder of the tender mercies that occur more often than we probably give them credit for happening. Will

  9. Amy Larson April 12, 2016 at 2:26 pm - Reply

    Thank you, I feel truly blessed and thankful as a professional and a human being to read your work and learn from your insights.

  10. Laurette Fogel April 12, 2016 at 3:37 pm - Reply

    Your blog post was inspiring and comforting. Thank you so much.

  11. MrSportPsych April 12, 2016 at 4:09 pm - Reply

    Divinity Poem to 15 yr old daughter

    My daughter feels that God is not,
    Real, Really. But she is caught
    In the existential dilemma where logic
    is powerless for matters not pedagogic.

    To ponder the enormity of billions of galaxies
    and trillions of planets, has throughout history
    Turned linear thinking into a sop.
    Of mental gymnastics which can not stop

    the realization that logic and reason
    are mundane tools. It is mental treason
    to think that a word can encompass the whole
    complexity. And that the human soul

    is the end all and be all, “Oh Glorious me”.
    And that we are the rulers of all we can see.

    Copyright Lawrence Klein December 1, 2004

    • Dr.J April 13, 2016 at 5:23 am - Reply

      Appreciate the wonderful poem. By the way, Lawrence is associated with Thought Technology, a leading biofeedback firm.

  12. Katherin Galieti April 12, 2016 at 7:26 pm - Reply

    I have found many quarters in my life’s journey. I truly believe. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Larry Schwarz April 13, 2016 at 8:13 pm - Reply

    Your thoughts, while not exactly my own, mirror those of my best friends, people whom I admire. It is a bold stance in these times and, as always, I appreciate your thoughts. Frankly, I am surprised by the absence of negative responses. A positive commentary perhaps, on your readership. A Baby Boomer myself, I appreciate and am inspired by your willingness to share on so personal a level.

    • Dr.J April 14, 2016 at 4:16 pm - Reply

      I had three opposing comments emailed directly to me, and not left on the page. The three comments were actually heart-warming in that they appreciated me sharing but don’t find the higher power a useful concept. Fine with me. As I said, there is a real Rorschach quality to these questions, and I find some things helpful that others do not.

  14. Bryan April 16, 2016 at 9:18 am - Reply

    Dr. J, your post here catches me at a time in my life where I am actively and consciously trying to decide how to view the quarters I find in my life. Your post helps me affirm some of the ideas that were floating around in my mind lately. I’m really grateful you were willing to post on this topic. Also, thank you Rob Mcneilly for a great response below. In addition, @Otto Zinser your post was extremely touching and I thank you for sharing your story and your thoughts on going forward, it was inspiring. Thanks to all!

    • Dr.J April 17, 2016 at 7:19 am - Reply

      Many thanks to you, Bryan. The universe is a very large and strange place, and I suspect that those who think they have it figured out are here because God like humor. As well as diversity, which He also likes, res ipsa loquitur, or, “the facts speak for themselves.”

  15. Sharon April 17, 2016 at 4:44 pm - Reply

    Wonderful! Thank you Lynn.

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