Actually, “Seeing Is Believing”

Don’t try to find “seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing” in the bible, for though Christians at times use these precise words to encourage devotion, they come from an elf in the 1994 film The Santa Clause, an instructive fact. It is a biblical theme, however, with Christ telling the doubting Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29), 2 Corinthians 5:7 proclaiming “We walk by faith, not by sight,” and more.

The theme falls under the first of two contradictory definitions of faith used by the religious. Faith 1 is essentially “I cannot prove this, I don’t have evidence for it, but I believe nonetheless.” Many believers profess this with pride — that’s true faith, pure faith, believing what cannot be verified. This is just the abandonment of critical thinking, turning off the lights. Other believers see the problem with it. A belief can’t be justified under Faith 1. Without proof, evidence, and reason, they realize, their faith is on the baseless, ridiculous level of every other wild human idea — believing in Zeus without verification, Allah without verification, Santa without verification. Faith 2 is the corrective: “I believe because of this evidence, let me show you.” The “evidence,” “proof,” and “logic” then offered are terrible and fall apart at once, but that has been discussed elsewhere. “Seeing isn’t believing, believing is seeing” aligns with the first definition, while Faith 2 would more agree with the title of this article (though room is always left for revelation as well).

I was once asked what would make me believe in God again, and I think about this from time to time. I attempt to stay both intellectually fair and deeply curious. Being a six on the Dawkins scale, I have long maintained that deities remain in the realm of the possible, in the same way our being in a computer simulation is possible, yet given the lack of evidence there is little reason to take it seriously at this time, as with a simulation. For me, the last, singular reason to wonder whether God or gods are real is the fact existence exists — but supposing higher powers were responsible for existence brings obvious problems of its own that are so large they preclude religious belief. Grounds for believing in God again would have to come from elsewhere.

“Believing is seeing” won’t do. It’s just a hearty cry for confirmation bias and self-delusion (plus, as a former Christian it has already been tried). Feeling God working in your life, hearing his whispers, the tugs on your heart, dreams and visions, your answered prayers, miracles…these things, experienced by followers of all religions and insane cults, even by myself long ago, could easily be imagined fictions, no matter how much you “know” they’re not, no matter how amazing the coincidences, dramatic the life changes, vivid the dreams, unexplainable the events (of current experience anyway; see below).

In contrast, “seeing is believing” is rational, but one must be careful here, too. It’s a trillion times more sensible to withhold belief in extraordinary claims until you see extraordinary evidence than to believe wild things before verifying, maybe just hoping some proof, revelation, comes along later. The latter is just gullibility, taking off the thinking cap, believing in Allah, Jesus, or Santa because someone told you to. However, for me, “seeing is believing” can’t just mean believing the dreadful “evidence” of apologetics referenced above, nor could it mean the god of a religion foreign to me appearing in a vision, confounding or suggestive coincidences and “miracles,” or other personal experiences that do not in any way require supernatural explanations. That’s not adequate seeing.

It would have to be a personal experience of greater magnitude. Experiencing the events of Revelation might do it — as interpreted by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins in their popular (and enjoyable, peaking with Assassins) book series of the late 90s and early 2000s, billions of Christians vanish, the seas turn to blood, people survive a nuclear bombing unscathed, Jesus and an army of angels arrive on the clouds, and so forth. These kinds of personal experiences would seem less likely to be delusions (though they still could be, if one is living in a simulation, insane, etc.), and would be a better basis for faith than things that have obvious or possible natural explanations, especially if they were accurately prophesied. In other words, at some stage personal experience does become a rational basis for belief; human beings simply tend to adopt a threshold that is outrageously low, far outside necessitated supernatural involvement. (It’s remarkable where life takes you: from “I’m glad I won’t have to go through the tribulation, as a believer” to “The tribulation would be reasonable grounds to become a believer again.”) Of course, I suspect this is all mythological and have no worry it will occur. How concerned is the Christian over Kalki punishing evildoers before the world expires and restarts (Hinduism) or the Spider Woman covering the land with her webs before the end (Hopi)? I will convert to one of these faiths if their apocalyptic prophesies come to pass.

The reaction of the pious is to say, “But others saw huge signs like that, Jesus walked on water and rose from the dead and it was all prophesied and –” No. That’s the challenge of religion. Stories of what other people saw can easily be made-up, often to match prophesy. Even a loved one relating a tale could have been tricked, hallucinating, delusional, lying. You can only trust the experiences you have, and even those you can’t fully trust! This is because you could be suffering from something similar — human senses and perceptions are known to miserably fail and mislead. The only (possible) solution is to go big. Really big. Years of predicted, apocalyptic disasters that you personally survive. You still might not be seeing clearly. But belief in a faith might be finally justified on rational, evidentiary grounds, in alignment with your perceptions. “Seeing is believing,” with proper parameters.

Anything short of this is merely “believing is seeing” — elf babble.

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