"Beliefs and Authenticity"
Creativity and Method:
Essays in Honor of Bernard Lonergan
edited by Matthew L. Lamb
(Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1981
The article treats a question which must arise "for every thinking person who is religious and for every religious person who thinks. 'If I am loyal to this conversion/love/faith experience I feel to be mine, to what extent must I yield unthinking commitment to the religious tradition in which this faith experience has come to me? And how can I then be loyal to myself as a seeker after truth, a lover of wisdom, an honest human being?'" The article follows Lonergan's treatment of "the Permanence of Dogma" in Method in Theology.
Then that which I have to believe without questioning are the mysteries; and the mysteries are defined in terms correlative to my lack of knowledge and need of revelation: they are the truths so hidden in God that they could not be known except by revelation. Analyzing this, as Lonergan does, against the background of Aquinas' orthodox teaching , one concludes that loyalty to the Catholic tradition requires that I believe what I do not yet know and what no human being can ever know.
There are some not insignificant consequences. Believing, and not reasoning, is the proper response only to truths so hidden in God that they could not be known without revelation. These are truths that do not leave tracks. There is not by definition any evidence for them; but there is not by definition any evidence against them. Whether there is one person in God or three or a baker's dozen there are no compelling evidences one way or the other; nor is anyone able to specify in what exactly such evidences might consist. That God was or was not incarnate in this man, Jesus of Nazareth-- how would you prove it? Besides the intrinsic philosophic absurdity of the attempt, so powerfully described in Kierkegaard's Postscript, there is the fact that the belief system itself says you could not prove it and must not try: it is a truth hidden in God. There is no natural effect to be checked out, and therefore there is nothing for reason to do.
That each of us is conceived in original sin; that one woman, some two thousand years ago, was conceived without it; that God does or does not sanctify us with his grace, elevate our good actions, will punish our bad ones-- not one of these is evidential. If any of them were evidential, they would not be objects of belief. As soon as there is anytthing for reason to work on, reason ought to get to work. If there is contrary evidence, or seems to be, that is to be reasoned upon. If a religious teaching said the moon is made of green cheese, that would not be a mystery to be believed, but a thesis to be investigated. If it were Catholic teaching that human society functions better under capitalism than communism, with a wider distribution of wealth, security, and happiness, this might be something to be checked out. But if the belief is that a certain woman many centuries ago conceived a child without the intervention of a male, the a priori's may be strongly against it, but the fact itself cannot possibly be checked.
The principle then is clear: you believe only what you do not know and what you cannot know. The mysteries of faith calling for belief and restricting your right of investigation must by definition be teachings on matters for which there is no evidence either pro or con... But on the other hand, as soon as any claim is made which could produce perceptible effects or evidence, that claim is to be met not by belief but by critical reflection, and accepted if found true, rejected if found false.