Monday, December 29, 2014

The Magical Thinking of Devout Catholics

There was a potential murder mystery client that I was hoping to land.  He had worked with every other murder mystery company around, and at that time there were three or four others in St. Louis.  They all told me the same thing, "The man is impossible to work for."  None of them lasted more than a few years performing at his venue.

"But I can do it!" I said to myself.  "They can't work with him, but I can work with him!  After all, I'm more intelligent and sensitive than they are.  I do well with difficult people.  I'll win him over, get him to like me.  I can succeed where all others failed!"

We lasted three months.  He was a monster.


I've noticed a strange sickness in Devout Catholics.  We don't seem to understand that trust is a form of rational assent.

This goes hand in hand with the malaise of our age - Unreality.

Let me explain what I mean.

We have faith in God because He is worthy of belief.  He exists.  Faith rests upon reason.  It goes beyond reason, for faith is an intellectual and emotional assent to something we have a rational basis for believing in, but which is not before our eyes.  Faith bridges the gap between indication and demonstration.  I have faith that the sun will rise tomorrow, for all indications are that it will (as it always has, and I notice, even late at night, the stars turning and light breaking in the east; therefore the indications are that it will again).  But once the demonstration is present, and the sun has risen, I need no longer exercise my faith, as the evidence is no longer hoped for, but present.

However faith can also be misplaced.  Every episode of American Greed demonstrates that the worst thing we can do is have confidence in a confidence man.

Faith, then, is justified in reality, in the test.  Faith is an exercise of the will.  It serves as a correspondence between the reality of the object-of-faith and our own belief in that object, even when the object is absent from our view.

However, when a man gives no indication of being trustworthy, it is foolish to trust him.  This is obvious, but Catholics too often indulge in magical thinking, and in that magical thinking lurks a good deal of pride, naive though the thinker may be: for even naive people, even the innocent, can be brim full of pride.

To say to someone, "I don't trust you" is not - or should not be - a subjective statement.  Unpacking that statement would go like this: "I don't trust you because you are not worthy of trust.  You have demonstrated bad behavior in the past, and there are no indications of good behavior in the future.  Because you are not trustworthy, if I were to exercise trust in you, my will would not be corresponding with truth, with reality - and that is a sin."

If a man burns through every murder mystery company in town, he will burn through you.  If you flatter yourself into believing that you can achieve what no one else has been able to achieve before you, you are both Innocent of the way the world works, and you are an Innocence soaked in Pride.

And yet, fellow Devout Catholics, we somehow think that faith justifies itself, or that - as the pop slogans and motivational posters tell us - it is a virtue to believe - though what the hell we're supposed to believe in is never hinted at.  Faith and trust are transient verbs (so to speak), they are actions that must take an object, and they are true if the object is worthy, false if the object is not.

Belief, faith, trust, hope - these things are not magical.  You can't make a man trustworthy by trusting in him.  You can't make a false god exist by believing in him.  You can't make Tinker Bell come back to life by gritting your teeth and believing really hard.   You can't make a bad actor a good actor, even if you're a brilliant director.  You can't make a bad husband a good husband, even if you think that by marrying him you can reform him.  You can't make neglectful bishops into caring bishops, no matter how many lawsuits you file or Dallas Charters you pressure them to pass.

Our wishes are not magical.

We need to get over our pride and start realizing, once again, that the whole purpose of virtuous living, for a Christian or a Pagan, is corresponding what we think and do with what actually exists.  We are to correspond with reality.  Anything less than that is not only hardly Christian, it's hardly human.

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