Jon Kennedy's 'Postcards from
his sojourn in Northern Ireland'

Word study: credulity and faith


Jon Kennedy  

JONAL ENTRY 1278 | April 11 2013

A wise son hears his father's instruction, but a scoffer does not listen to rebuke.

— from Proverbs 12,
from today's lenten Orthodox
lectionary readings

Tomorrow, three students from a Los Angeles university are scheduled to arrive here at the Loom for a home stay over the weekend, and as I am alone here with the Stothers on their break back in the States, this may be my last chance to write before next week.

I was wondering a week or two ago about my "general optimism" about life in general, especially in light of my frequent "pessimism" and downright grumpiness about lots of the smaller things. And since then I've watched a BBC crime investigation show in which an inspector describes people who exploit believers in aliens and paranormal occurrences as preying on "the credulous." He kind of spat the word out as though the credulous are to be pitied at best or banned from polite society at least. The way the line was delivered so marginalized all those he was mentioning, that he was accomplishing part of that goal by its very mention. He shared the establishment disdain and dismissal in general of people of faith.

"The credulous" can be seen as an opposite of the cynical; credulity opposite cynicism. An online dictionary defines credulous as "willing to believe or trust too readily, especially without proper or adequate evidence." Believing, trusting, are synonyms for "crudulity," the root form of credulous, but are also synonymous with faith. But I take issue with the attempt of the dictionary definition just cited and the character in the BBC drama to equate credulity and being credulous with being naive and gullible. I think that to be credulous is to have an attitude often attributed to Ronald Reagan: "trust, but verify." It is giving the testimony received the benefit of the doubt, while also hedging against giving it whole-hearted support.

If a trusted friend tells me he's been abducted and later released by aliens, I'll be credulous to a point. I'll assume that something not explainable in categories he is familiar with has happened to him. As I have never seen firm evidence of alien life forms in our world, I'll also reserve some of my judgment to use for the possibility— even the strong possibility—that whatever has happened to him may eventually be explained as something less than alien abduction. But I will not pretend that I know better than he does what happened or dismiss his claim without proof that counters his claim. I will want to hear his eyewitness accounts of what he experienced, because I also know that there are hundreds, possibly thousands, of people who are convinced they have been abducted by aliens and their claims have never been satisfactorily disproved. So to the extent that I can't prove them wrong, I'm credulous; yes, trusting, believing.

Most people in secular societies probably believe that miracles happen, but many of those who believe, even a lot of those who've witnessed "miracles" in their own lives or among members of their own families, suspect that the miracle(s) they know or know about are at best evidence that some things just cannot be explained in "scientific" or "experimental" terms. Cancers have spontaneous remissions; something analogous to spontaneous remission may be behind most of the so-called miracles we know, they suspect. Most "miraculous healings" of things like chronic back pain can probably be explained as psychosomatic or in naive terms, "mind over matter." But Jesus said in his parable of the rich man and Lazarus that Abraham told the rich man that even if they saw someone returned from the dead, the rich man's survivors would not believe that God's teaching about the meaning of life and the inevitability of death and judgment was true and sufficient to make them alter their way of living.

If you believe there is a God, you have to believe that anything is possible in Him. If He has revealed himself and His grand plan for His creatures, which is what Christians call the Scriptures, He has made it plain that when He tells us something, we should be credulous, trusting, not doubting. Eve and then Adam doubted, and lost. Noah believed (a less believable account than tales of alien life forms), trusted, and acted on his implicit faith in God, and he won. Abraham believed and trusted, and won. When God speaks or leads, I want to be a wide-eyed optimist. When I make the mistake of relying on my own resources, may I be full of doubt and uncertainty.

§     §     §

If you missed my overview of my venture in Northern Ireland, check it out here.

Webmaster Jon Kennedy

 

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