As a theology instructor, I’m sometimes asked the question: Why do you believe in God? There is hope lingering in the question, especially from my students, that my answer would be clear, concise, and reasonable. The following is my a little piece of my usual response:
I will begin by saying that as a Catholic I believe in the God of Christianity, but the hard question to answer is why. Let me begin by saying that as a student of philosophy, I have observed through my studies that philosophers seem to disagree on quite a few things. The question then is why do men and women of such formidable intelligence who are aware of the arguments for and against a certain position can choose to believe in opposing positions? How is it that St. Thomas Aquinas can affirm causality and David Hume, who is of the same credibility and formidable intelligence, denies any sort of causal relations between any events? These are the questions that I entertain when I study philosophy and questions which I treat as I assent my belief to Catholicism. However, as an atheist peer once asked me, “why do you assent yourself to such propositions?” The propositions to which I assent I myself cannot give reasons for, but here I’m reminded of St. Anselm’s prayer in Proslogion:
Be it mine to look up to your light, even from afar, even from the depths. Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me, when I seek you, for I cannot seek you, except you teach me, nor find you, except you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in longing, let me long for you in seeking; let me find you in love, and love you in finding. Lord, I acknowledge and I thank you that you has created me in this your image, in order that I may be mindful of you, may conceive of you, and love you; but that image has been so consumed and wasted away by vices, and obscured by the smoke of wrong-doing, that it cannot achieve that for which it was made, except you renew it, and create it anew. I do not endeavor, O Lord, to penetrate your sublimity, for in no wise do I compare my understanding with that; but I long to understand in some degree your truth, which my heart believes and loves. For I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.
I am well aware of the arguments for God’s existence, e.g. the ontological argument, the argument from causality, the argument from necessity, the teleological argument etc., but I am also aware of the arguments against them, even though I do not think that the arguments against them hold up. Just as Aquinas and Hume do not agree on the nature of causality, the question of God also leaves many brilliant minds in opposition regarding His existence. Therefore, my assent to God and Catholic propositions are, for me, indescribable and can only be understood in light of faith and not pure reason (otherwise, I could convince all those who are sensible and intelligent enough to understand my arguments to believe what I believe, but this clearly is not the case). Yet, even though I lack the ability to explain my assent to these propositions in light of pure reason, they are to me undeniably true because they are not contrary to reason. Just like there is something about my wife’s face that I cannot put into words and yet gives me reason to believe she’s extremely upset, my assent to Catholic propositions begins with something inexplicable grounded in faith and purified by reason.