Monday, June 4, 2012

The Myth of Certainty

O'Malley, William J. Help My Unbelief. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2008. pp. 152. ISBN: 978-1-57075-803-4.

Bertrand Russell, a famous atheist was once asked,  when you die and you face God, what would you tell him? Russell responded, why didn't you provide more evidence? Many people require an absolute certainty to believe. Is absolute certainty possible in this life? Is faith necessary? I have a quote on my wall that says, "A life without faith ... is too narrow a place to live" (George Woodberry). William J. O'Malley addresses the problem of unbelief in his book, Help My Unbelief. He is referring to the episode in the Gospels where Jesus tells a man to believe and the man responds, I believe, help my unbelief. How can you believe and not believe? That is a good question.

William J. O'Malley has published many popular books on Christian living. He has taught high school and college students for over forty years. He has paid attention to the questions his students ask. What are some of these questions? "Who am I?" "Where do I fit into all this?" In regards to absolute certainty, O'Malley notes, "there are precious few conclusions I haven't the faintest doubt about." He says "being at least somewhat uncertain is a quite fitting position to take on nearly every serious question."

In chapter one O'Malley addresses "The Need for Certainty." He discusses the challenge of the new atheists, people like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. He also discusses the idea of proof and if the faith can be proved. He also addresses what is faith. How can we really know what we believe is true? O'Malley disagrees with the idea that faith is a leap into the dark. The author says, "An act of faith is an opinion. Seeing is not believing, it's knowing. Belief is accepting something as true without overwhelming certitude---an opinion based on objective evidence and honest reasoning but with no pretensions to absolute closure." See my earlier blog on his method for forming an opinion.

I think there is a lot of truth in what O'Malley is asserting I do not think we can experience absolute certainty is this life. That is why the Bible calls us pilgrims, sojourners. Some other important themes addressed in this small book are: the human condition, the quest for the self and God; the Bible and myths, the teachings of Christianity, the imperfect church, science and faith, and suffering. O'Malley gives an excellent overview of the suffering of Job. O'Malley notes, "God gives Job no rational answer. Hed gives Himself as the rational answer." 

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