Thursday, July 12, 2018

Faith and fear

Every so often I worry that my fear of death (which, I have to confess, is more a fear of non-existence than a fear of hell) shows that I lack faith in the afterlife. I think this is a mistaken worry.

I regularly climb our 53-foot climbing wall. One can “rainbow” climb, using whatever holds one sees fit, or one can follow a route, with a broad range of route difficulties. On the easiest routes, at least if I am not tired and am wearing climbing shoes, I know I will succeed. On the hardest routes, I know I would fail. Of course I always use proper safety equipment (rope belay, and there are also mats around the base), and usually I am not scared, because on the basis of good empirical data I trust the safety setup.

Now imagine that all the safety equipment was gone, but that to save someone’s life I needed to climb to the top. Once at the top, I’d be safe, let’s suppose (maybe there would be an auto-belay there that I could clip into for the descent). I could choose the side of the wall and the holds. Without safety equipment, I would be terrified. (The mere thought experiment literally makes my hands sweat.) But you could would be quite correct in telling me: “Alex, you know you will succeed.”

Here’s the simple point. When much is at stake, knowledge of success is compatible with great fear. But if knowledge is compatible with great fear, why shouldn’t faith be as well?

23 comments:

Epistle of Dude said...

"But if knowledge is compatible with great fear, why shouldn’t faith be as well?"

That's a good point! Thank you for making it.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I struggle with these kinds of things too. It really boils down to trust. Do you trust yourself? Do you trust God?

Eventhough I know Heaven, Hell and Purgatory are real, I still fear that after death there is only nonexistance, eventhough I know better. It is a trust issue. Do I really trust Jesus's words. I believe. Howeber, do I trust?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dagmara:

Trust is also, I think, compatible with fear, just as knowledge is. I can trust myself, and yet be afraid. Similarly, I can trust God, and yet be afraid.

There is a further question which my post doesn't address: Can one have faith and be *rationally* afraid? I.e., is the fear in these cases irrational?

I don't know. It may well be irrational. When one trusts God in some respect and yet is afraid in the same respect, that's an imperfection. But the point of my post was just that faith (and trust and knowledge) is not negated by fear.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

It us said that perfect love casts out fear.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Fear can be a liar.

https://www.godtube.com/watch/?v=YYL7WGNX&utm_content=buffer56383&utm_medium=fbpage&utm_source=gtpg&utm_campaign=gtupdate

Unknown said...

Hello Dr. Pruss,

I would love it if you have some feedback for me on the following questions:

How do we know that matter itself is contingent? How do we know matter itself, not just arrangements of matter, have the potential for non-existence? And even if they did, how do we know this potential has to be actualized (not only in the past, but also right now)? We only ever observe the arrangement of matter having a sufficient reason for its existence, such as a cause. But we never see this in the case of the existence of matter itself. Take, for example, a penny. When a penny begins to exist, it is merely a re-formulation of pre-existing matter. We never see such a thing in the case of matter itself. So, how do we know matter, or physical substance, is contingent? I hope you get the chance to read this! Thanks!

One last thing. I was wondering if you could perhaps make a blog post in response to the criticisms leveled at the PSR found in the paper "the paradox of sufficient reason" here: http://www.academia.edu/18591080/The_Paradox_of_Sufficient_Reason

Thanks!

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steve said...

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
"Alex: It us said that perfect love casts out fear."

Which in context has reference to fear of divine judgment. But Alex's example was predicated on a somewhat irrepressible fear of oblivion. Like a phobia. Even if you know it's irrational, you can't shake the feeling, although you can override it in terms of how you act.

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

I am currently reading the book "Following Mary to Jesus, Our Lady as Mother, Teacher and Advocate" by Andrew Apostoli, CFR. There is a section on this book that covers these fears.

In the ook is this verse by an unkmown author:

Trust Him when dark clouds assail you;
Trust Him when your strength is small;
Trust Him when to to simply trust Him
Seems the hardest thing of all!

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

Here is something I pray every day:

https://www.catholicdoors.com/prayers/novenas/p03530.htm

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

The main question here is, I think, whether some amount of doubt is compatible with faith (or knowledge or trust).
Your fear of oblivion is based on doubt. If you had no doubt whatsoever, you wouldn't have this fear.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Unknown:

There is some amount (finite or infinite) of matter. It seems contingent that the amount of matter is exactly that amount rather than less or more. But if there were less, then some of the matter that exists wouldn't have existed. And if there were more, then the "extra" would have to be contingent. So at least some matter is contingent. But it seems implausible to think some matter is contingent.

Walter:

I think fear is often disproportionate to the degree of doubt. Maybe fear of flying in an airplane is an even better example. An epistemically rational person will assign a credence of 0.000001 to dying in a 2000 mile commercial flight. But one can surely nonetheless have a fear far disproportionate to that credence. For instance, there are people who are more afraid of an airplane flight than an equal-length car trip, even though they know that the latter is much more dangerous. So the degree of fear can be very much disproportionate to the degree of doubt (where I assume that the degree of doubt in p is 1-Credence(p)).

But if one can have a fear far above the degree of doubt, I don't see why one couldn't have a fear in the absence of any doubt.

It seems to me that fear is an emotional perception of danger. And just as there can be a visual perception that goes against what one has no doubt about -- visual illusions work like that -- one can have an emotional perception that goes against what one has no doubt about.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Dagmara:

But does perfect *faith* cast out fear? I guess perfect *living* faith might imply perfect love, so it might cast out fear.

Thanks for sharing the novena.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Alex

Yes, of course fear is often disproportionate to the degree of doubt but that doesn't mean one
could have fear in the absence of any doubt. Anyway, I wasn't talking about fear in general but of your fear of oblivion, which is obviously the result of doubt. Mind, I am not claiming you are aware of your doubt. And for what it's worth, I don't think there is anything wrong with doubt.

Red said...

How do you respond to the Epicurean argument if you fear non-existence?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

You're welcome. I have often been tormented by doubts and fears about my faith. Do you have a spiritual director?

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

The Catholic Faith teaches that we can know God through reason. Also, the Apostle Paul writes about hope in things unseen. If we hope in things we see is that then really hope?

Let's take a look at the resurrection of Jesus. Was the first Pascha (Easter) a time of joy? The Gospel accounts portray a mixed view of this. You have fear, confusion, dismay and some "hysterical" women claiming Jesus to be back from the dead. Each of the confused, frightened and dismayed apostles encounters the risen Christ. There are the two disciples on the road to Emaus. Jesus joins them. However, their eyes are deliberately held by the Lord so that they do not recognize Him until the breaking of the bread. Then there is Saint Thomas who sees the risen Christ, but doubts saying unless he can see and feel the wounds of the crucifixion he can't believe. Thomas is asking for tangible proof. In other words - scientific evidence. Does Jesus rebuke him? No. Jesus tells him to examine His hands and feel His side. Upon examining these wounds, Thomas exclaims "My Lord and my God!"

It is those of us who have scientific backgrounds that struggle here so much. Science is so commonly and often incorrectly portrayed as opposing religion. However, there are still many scientists who believe in God. Google them up.

As for your fear of oblivion, read about near death experiences. Read as many accounts as you can. Delve into this area. There is even a journal of near death studies. I have done some diving in these waters. It should be helpful.

These doubts hit people one way or another. You are not alone in this. Do reread the accounts of the first Easter. With which Biblical people do you identify most with and why?

Wielka Miska said...

I experience the same fears. I think that the sophistication of the machinery that usually supports my faith is a factor - what if I made a mistake somewhere? Usually, a close re-examination of the arguments that convinced me in the past works, though doubt reappears after some time.
But a direct revelation works better. The best explanation I can think of of some events in my life is a divine intervention (not necessarily physics-defying miracles, but a series of very unlikely events pointing at a result). But even the effect of that seems to wane a bit with time, but it takes a lot less time to recall these events in case of a sudden appearance of doubt.

Wielka Miska said...

Also, we've been given some public miracles, and they help me a lot as well. It's easy to doubt the ones from a distant past, but some are very new, like the one from Sokolka in Poland, that happened in 2008. Two pathomorphology professors have investigated it, with a clear conclusion that the bread matter is interweaved at the microscopic level with the flesh of a human heart that went through a state of agony.

The pathomorphologists:
https://www.researchgate.net/scientific-contributions/16063211_Joanna_Maria_Lotowska
https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Stanislaw_Sulkowski

Dagmara Lizlovs said...

Alex:

I have had someone hack one of my passwords. Giving you the heads up.

steve said...

In addition to near death experiences, there are many reported apparitions of the dead.

Scott Hill said...

Two thoughts:

1: This reminds me of an example Gendler uses to illustrate the alleged distinction between alief and belief: There is a glass walkway over the grand canyon. People on it believe they are safe. But they are nevertheless afraid

2: It seems like there is an evolutionary explanation of why this might be the case. Evolution selects for a deep, recalcitrant fear of death: Organisms that do not fear death are less likely to survive and reproduce than organisms that do. And organisms with a fear of death that can easily be changed by reasons are less likely to survive and reproduce than organisms that have a fear of death that is resistant to reasons. Given our evolutionary history, it should be no surprise that those with reasons to believe in life after death still feel fear as death approaches just as it should be no surprise that those with reasons to believe they are safe still feel fear as they stand on a glass walkway over the grand canyon.