Belief in God and irresponsible disbelief...Excellent article.
A Reasonable Belief
"Lecturing at a Veritas Forum several years ago, Dallas Willard spoke
pointedly on the topic of "irresponsible disbelief." That is, choosing to
disbelieve in something without a commitment to coming to that disbelief by
way of sound reasoning. The burden of proof, he argued, is equally
significant for both belief and disbelief. To ignore this is to address
reality irresponsibly and foolishly.
If belief is the readiness to act as if something is true, it follows that
unbelief, whether chosen consciously or unconsciously, still affects our
behavior. There are consequences to our non-answers in the same way that
there are consequences to our answers. And yet, in our society where
skepticism is almost encouraged, belief and unbelief are treated quite
differently. We do not feel compelled to justify our disbelief in the
same way we feel compelled to justify our belief. We expect a certain
reasonableness about belief that we don't expect of disbelief, in
part because we've been conditioned to see skepticism and disbelief as
logical, and belief as emotional or irrational.
This is largely the case when it comes to belief or disbelief in God. As
Napoleon once quipped, "Religion is excellent for keeping the common
people quiet." Belief in God is seen as a superstition reserved for
non-thinkers, while disbelief is thought scholarly. On the contrary, Paul
Vitz, a professor who has written extensively on the psychology of
religion, observes that quite often the decision to disbelieve in God is
largely made apart from logic and sound reasoning. He writes,
"The major barriers to belief in God are not rational but--in a general
sense--can be called psychological.... I am quite convinced that for every
person strongly swayed by rational argument, there are many, many more
affected by non-rational psychological factors."(1) His words are
noteworthy; disbelief in God is more often a decision made by personal
biases and emotions, than it is a decision made by sound reasoning.
In fact, such was often the case in the crowd's responses to Jesus.
Speaking to the religious leaders of his day, Jesus once observed, "You
diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess
eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me! Yet
you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39). Jesus points to their
irresponsible disbelief, their resolve that under no circumstances
could he be the one they read about, the one to whom Moses pointed and the
prophets announced. Therefore, Jesus concludes, "Your accuser is Moses, on
whom your hopes are set" (5:45). All too often, the question of Jesus's
identity is answered by a determination not to see the one standing
Yet Jesus repeatedly voices the subtleties of our hearts, calling out our
false hopes and misguided determinations. He reveals how often our
expectations and biases establish our beliefs and disbeliefs instead of
sound reasoning and honest investigation. His words pierce our faulty
logic and the conclusions we have drawn irresponsibly, and he calls us to
account even as he calls us home. The burden of proof is a burden the
heavens have not overlooked; the God of all wisdom has not asked us to
believe in Him without extraordinary attempts to be known."
Jill Carattini is senior associate writer at Ravi Zacharias
International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) Paul Vitz, Faith of the Fatherless: The Psychology of Atheism
(Dallas: Spence Publishing Company, 2000), 33.