05 Epistles to Ansgar: On Faith

21 April AD 2024, Good Shepherd Sunday

Dear Godson,

Over these several letters, I mean to discuss the source, the substance, and the spirit of our faith, which is to say, why we believe, what we believe, and how we are to live our belief in practice.

Because myriad confusions surround the matter, let us say what faith is, and what it is not.

Faith is the virtue of sustaining fealty to the truth in the face of undue doubt.

Undue doubt can spring from ignorance, from dishonesty, or from pride. These can arise from thoughts, passions, and appetites ungoverned by reason and wisdom; or can arise from worldly worries, fears, and obsessions; or can arise from spirits in the air who find ungoverned thoughts or worldly worries to repeat and magnify in the imagination.

Faith is the armor proof against all such fiery darts. It satisfies undue doubt in unseen things just as seeing evidence satisfies doubt in seen things: hence faith is called the evidence of things unseen, for that is the role faith plays.

Faith is not merely an intellectual assent to a proposition. A heretic or pagan could assent to the proposition that there is one god ruling the universe, and this would make him a monotheist, without being a Christian. A devil in hell knows full well all things taught by the Church of Christ are true, and knows Christ is Lord and Savior, but he hates that knowledge, and is tortured by that truth. Hence, for the baptized Christian who embarks on the Christian pilgrimage through the troubled waters of life, faith is the underpinning and foundation of that life.

Faith is not merely to assent to what Christ teaches, but fealty to the teaching, obedience, right action. Faith means more than listening, taking notes, and nodding in agreement. It is more than just reading the blueprints; it is raising the tower. Faith is to takes up Christ’s cross and follow Him faithfully, in the firm hope that what He promises us shall come to pass.

For this reason, faith is called the substance of things hoped for. The word substance can mean the matter of a thing, or it can mean the foundation, axiom, starting point, underpinning.

Faith is not blind faith. Blind faith is to shut one’s eyes to contrary evidence concerning matters where the evidence is clear. In life, Christians are often accused by the blind of being blind, because we cannot see the darkness men who live with eyes shut see.

In my day, the term commonly used for telling a man to shut his eyes to evidence was called gaslighting. The term will be quaint and outdated by the time you are old enough to read this, but allow me to explain it. This has nothing to do with whether things seen by gaslight or less certain than when seen by electric bulbs, no.

The term comes from a 1944 film called GASLIGHT starring Ingrid Bergman as an innocent young heiress whose nefarious husband deceives her into doubting her senses and sanity. When alone, she sees the parlor gaslamps darken and flicker, and hears the creak of floorboards overhead. She finds heirlooms or important letters inexplicably missing, and is accused of stealing trinkets later found in her handbag. In reality, the husband is secretly searching the attic for a lost treasure related to an unsolved murder, and his use of the gaslight upstairs dims those below.

She puts full faith in her husband, as a dutiful wife in love is prone to do, and would rather doubt herself than doubt him. The puzzle of why the gaslights flicker in replaced in her mind with the puzzle of why she sees the gaslights flickering when they are not. The deceptive husband has reframed the narrative, that is, changed the topic, to deflect her curiosity from the prime topic and into a dead end with no answer.

In my day, not just the news media and academia are actively engaged in deception and misdirection concerning not just the basics of the Christian faith, but the reality of reality itself. In my day, a newscaster standing before a burning building solemnly assures his viewers the rioters and looters visibly committing arson were not rioters, but peaceful picketers. Meanwhile harmless grandmothers picketing a public building are arrested and tried as rioters, and called insurrections.  I hope that by the time you are old enough to read this, only historians will remember the madness of these current years, and it will be merely an oddity of history, like puritan witch-hangings, or the Dutch tulip craze, theosophy, communism, St. Vitus’ dance.

Faith is not blind faith. Blind faith is believing a newscaster who dismisses evidence as misinformation. Blind faith is believing someone who asks you not to believe your eyes. Blind faith is believing an official report who tells you prices have gone down when your wallet says otherwise. Blind faith is believing a college professor who tells you the science is settled, climate panics are real, Darwinism is fact, morality is subjective, free will is an illusion, and cause and effect do not exist.

Undue doubts are those that arise by putting blind faith in the gaslighters. When asked to justify such doubts, they fall silent, or change the topic. When asked to justify such doubts, they accuse you of mental lapse or moral error: you are stupid to ask, or wicked. The topic is changed again, and the discussion is now about the degree of your unintelligence or immorality. The doubt you are being asked to entertain about your eyes is never justified.

Note especially that newscasters, state officers, professors, pundits, and experts who speak outside their field have no claim on our fealty, nor on our credibility.

When an award-winning astrophysicist or famed grammarian makes some ponderous pronouncement on philosophy or political economy, or any other field where he is more an amateur than we, he should be given the same credence we give a plumber or violinist or able seaman issuing ex cathedra statements about the Lorenz Contraction or Grimm’s Law. But if the conversion turns to P-trap drains, the Dorian Mode, or how to reef the Flying Jib Boom, let us be silent and put faith in the expert opinion of plumbers, musicians, and sailors.

Philosophers with too much time on their hands enjoy pondering paradoxes such as how we know other men exist as conscious beings, rather than being cunningly contrived waxwork automatons; or how we know external reality is real; or how we know we have free will; or whether a ship whose boards are replaced one by one over generations is the same ship or different.

These are perhaps useful exercises for sophomores, but make no practical difference in the life of any Christian man or virtuous pagan. Most such questions serve to show that man is not born with a blank slate in his mind on which experience paints whatever images it will.

The effort to reinvent philosophy as if from a state of radical skepticism, pretending as if we know nothing before we begin, allegedly in order to be more certain of our results, is either pointless or actively deleterious.

You know other men with self-aware minds exist because, if not, there would be no one to bring up to you the idea that other men with self-aware minds do not exist. This idea is called Solipsism, and you did not make it up. It did not come from nowhere, so someone other than you made it up. That someone therefore exists.

Likewise for the argument that all external reality is dream or illusion or simulation. If all external reality is illusion, the illusion did not come from nowhere, and did not come from within you, so it came from external reality.

You or I might have some false ideas about reality, or might dream we are awake when we are not, but the only way to correct false ideas is by comparing them to true ideas.

Since every child as he grows encounters new experiences, some of which correct false impressions created by the old, we know without doubt that at least some true ideas about reality are true. We call this process of correcting false ideas with true ideas learning. When learning is done in a rigorous and disciplined fashion, it is called philosophy.

Any idea which logically implies that learning is impossible cannot be true. Such ideas testify against themselves.

Wright’s First Rule of Doubt is this: Any philosophy that eliminates philosophy is bunk.

So, if your professor says science proves there is no such thing as free will, ask him whether he freely willed to say that, or whether he is merely an inanimate Dictaphone making meaningless air vibrations, which we should not misinterpret to be words?

The mere act of presenting evidence in hopes of convincing a thinking mind to assent to a proposition testifies that the presenter is himself convinced other thinking minds exist.

If assent were an automatic hence unwilled process, no one would try to talk us into anything. They would merely open our skulls like automobile hoods and reprogram us. No one talks a broken clock into keeping time dutifully: the clockmaker tinkers with the gears and winds the mainspring and so on: he does not present a legal case concerning the legality of Daylight Savings Time.

So do not heed the gaslighters, my dear godson. When they ask you why you think existence exists, or creation is created, or why the design in nature betrays the hand of the designer, or whether there can be objective moral law without a lawgiver, or whether life that arose from blind nature without meaning can have meaning, remember that in all such questions the burden or proof is on the man making the paradoxical assumption.

Man has always known the God exists. The impulse to worship, sacrifice and serve has been in us since before the tale of Cain and Abel was written down. Even prehistorical evidence, cave paintings and buried mounds, shows that the creature called men, since ever he was first recognizably man, had due concern for the supernatural, showed devotion to the dead, and made shamanic propitiation to the spirits.

These traces would not exist were ancient man atheist. Pagans, no matter how many gods might crowd his pantheon, or how many lesser spirits might be seen in wood and water as nymph or dryad, always spoke of a king of gods, a heavenly father, or an eldest source of creation, even if they illogically held creation to arise from chaos.

Hence, atheism is the innovation.

It is not sound argument to say that if a solitary being, born in undiscovered  isolation cut off from any parents or teachers, born with a perfectly blank mind he could only fill with conclusions born of the experience of his senses, and expressed only in whatever language, if any, he devises by himself for himself, that such a blank-slate being would not believe in God on the grounds that there is no evidence of God.

The argument is both circular and ahistorical.

It is circular because it assumes that the man who springs fully grown out of the dust of the earth, seeing the fruit trees and rainfall, the wonder of the night sky, or hearing the first trill of birds at dawn, would not immediately see that what was around him was a work of art, to which his mind and body were suited. The apple is eatable, and it cannot be coincidence that eating grants nutrition, nor did the first bird design the first wing by itself for itself. Creation is evidence of a creator.

The hypothetical blank-slate man springing into existence argument assumes there is no evidence when the argument itself presupposes evidence: the man’s own existence is evidence, as is the earth from whose dust he springs.

That blank-slate man who finds himself fully born out of the dust of the earth will know himself to be created by a creator who granted him the tools of reason and conscience. If these tools were not designed by a designer whose purpose was to give man instruments to discover truth and virtue, then these instruments are not reliable. But if our first man doubts his reason, he will not use reason, and will not be a man. He himself is evidence for God.

Only if you presuppose that no evidence for God exists or can exist do you have leave to conclude our first man will not encounter such evidence.

The argument is logically absurd, but also ahistorical. Of course the solitary being, fully born out of the ground like an autochthon with no knowledge of the past would naturally believe in some form of god. We know this because every isolated tribe of savages ever discovered by civilized man believed in some form of god. The experiment has already been performed.

Of course, if the Darwinian, like the pagan of old, insists that the world arose out of chaos without design and without purpose, and that the design caused itself by itself, it is sufficient to say that nothing comes from nothing. To say there is no cause for something whose cause is obvious is not just false, it is gaslighting. It is not asking us to deny the doubtful, but to deny the self-evident.

But the Darwinian might say that primitive men are primitive, therefore uneducated, and that uneducated men are designed by the undesigned force of blind nature to believe in a god or gods. The belief in the gods is universal among all illiterate tribesmen because some Darwinian gene unintentionally found itself in an environment where that belief just so happened to increase the longevity or fertility of the tribe. But modern and scientific civilization is no longer such an environment: the Darwinian gene that inclines man toward monotheism is now deleterious or suboptimal.

Well, there are two answers here. One is to say that if monotheism springs from an irrational gene, then so does atheism. If genes determine beliefs, not argument, the argument is over. If not, then the presence or absence of any belief-inducing gene is irrelevant.

The other answer is to point at the evidence of the Twentieth Century. There have only been two major nations in all history which were openly and officially atheist: the Soviet Union and Red China. Whatever else one might say about those nightmare deathcamps and their astronomical number of mass-murders, genocides, pogroms, and orchestrated famines, one cannot say that this shows that atheism leads to longevity or fertility. From a Darwinian viewpoint, Catholicism encourages fertility, while atheism encourages underpopulation.

The atheist argument, like the solipsist argument, flies in the face of reason, of common sense, and of the testament of history. If Christ is false, how does one explain Christendom?

Was the entire change between the classic Roman world and worldview and the modern civilization with its prosperity, decency, and concern for the downtrodden, and all its accomplishments in science and philosophy and art merely a mistake based on a clever fraud perpetrated in the First Century by twelve cunning Jews, spread by gullible slaves addicted to self-deception, upheld by Constantine and later emperors as a state-run hoax?

Is our entire European civilization the product of mass hysteria, superstition, priestcraft, and pious fraud?

And not just Europe must ponder the question. If a fraud, the perpetrators have power to reach far beyond the bounds of the Roman Empire, and long after the Fall of Rome. Apparitions of Our Lady have been reported in Europe, India, Mexico, Wisconsin, Brazil, China, Japan.

The question is misdirection, just as the evil husband gaslighting his gullible bride misdirected her. We are no longer discussing the worldwide historical evidence for Christ, but discussing why we all have been so foolish as to believe a worldwide bimillennial evidence.

The fraud is on the part of the atheists and communists who argue that any report of Christ or His saints and miracles, whether from eyewitnesses like Luke and John, or historians like Tacitus or Josephus, or physical evidence like the Shroud of Turin, the Tilma of Guadalupe, the Dancing Sun of Fatima or the healings of Lourdes, must be dismissed unexamined, on the grounds that empirical evidence leading to this conclusion is and must be untrustworthy.

But if the evidence for Christ were trustworthy, countless millions of people for century after century would believe it, and only a few cranks, crackpots, misfits, and criminals would say otherwise, or a handful of intellectuals eager to commit adultery, or to undermine the authority of the Church.

I will pass over the obvious conclusion in silence. As you get older, and have opportunity to read the works of Marx, and Nietzsche, Rousseau, and Ayn Rand, and read their biographies. You will see what the foremost advocates of atheism can put forth as their best arguments. You will also see whether they lived lives of admirable virtue and honesty, or whether they were adulterer and adulteress, or ended life in a madhouse.

If honest teachers and honest records can still be found by your day, you will be able to count and reckon the number of people killed by the centuries of Spanish Inquisition under the Most Catholic Monarchy of Spain, versus the number killed on one average day of Stalinist rule in an atheist empire.

Finally, regardless of reason and sense and history, the question of faith in God versus faith in nonsense boils down to a simple two-sided question with no third option.

Is life meaningful? Can words be truthful, can ideas be logical, can acts be virtuous? Can civilized men uphold just laws and institutions that promote peace, prosperity, decency? Is all life vanity and all deaths nothing more than endless and dreamless nonbeing?

The answer must be yes or no. Choose life or chose death. Choose being or nonbeing. A or non-A. There is no nuance here, no half-answer, no third way, no gray area.

Life on earth cannot be meaningful unless we are placed here on earth for a discoverable purpose. Merely selecting our own purposes will not do, because if the matter has no meaning beyond what we select to give it, it has no meaning.

Any purpose man may arbitrarily select man may arbitrarily unselect. A meaning that is invented by human will is no meaning at all. Meaning must be discovered, not made. Meaning must be real.

We cannot be here for a discoverable purpose unless the process of discovery, of leaning and philosophy, is a process the instrument of human wisdom and reason can perform. No instrument can perform its designed task unless it be designed by a designer. The human brain cannot be “for” reasoning unless the brain is a tool made by a toolmaker. Nothing can be “for” anything unless made by a maker.

Darwinians who say that the organs can serve purposes for which they are not designed merely by the design of blind non-design are speaking nonsense.

Likewise if to look at a beautiful and beautifully designed beast or bird, tree or flower, or to be amazed at the microscopic architecture of the simplest amoeba, and see this work or art as if not a work of art is self-induced autism. It is akin to sociopathy or psychosis, treating the living as if dead, treating the real as unreal.

To see no art in nature, one might as well join the paranoid schizophrenic solipsist in the madhouse, insisting all human persons in view are waxworks automatons. Except one’s madness will make even less sense than the paranoid schizophrenic, because his waxworks automatons allegedly were made by evil conspirators for the sake of deceiving him, whereas these automatons allegedly arose from chaos for no reason and serve no purpose.

If life has meaning, philosophy can reason about life, and discover its truth, and experience can find wisdom and pass it along. If life has no meaning, there is no philosophy and no wisdom.

If there is no god, all reasoning is in vain, and thought is empty wind, and all wisdom is vanity. If all wisdom is vanity, no belief is better or worse than any other, and we will believe anything and everything, no matter how nonsensical.

As G.K. Chesterton once famously did not say:

One who does not belief in God does not believe in nothing. He believes anything.


John Charles Justin-martyr Wright