Sunday, May 25, 2014

The doctrine of the concealed wish

A redated post.

There are of course people in our own day to whom the whole situation seems altered by the doctrine of the concealed wish. They will admit that men, otherwise apparently rational, have been deceived by the arguments for religion. But they will say that they have been deceived first by their own desires and produced these arguments afterwards as a rationalization: that these arguments have never been intrinsically even plausible, but have seemed so because they were secretly weighted by our wishes. Now I do not doubt that this sort of thing happens in thinking about religion as in thinking about other things; but as a general explanation of religious assent it seems to me quite useless. On that issue our wishes may favour either side or both. The assumption that every man would be pleased, and nothing but pleased, if only he could conclude that Christianity is true, appears to me to be simply preposterous. – C.S. Lewis "On Obstinacy in Belief"

10 comments:

Ilíon said...

In other words, he's talking about motive-mongering (that is, anout "Bulverism").

Lewis: "... but as a general explanation of religious assent it seems to me quite useless."

Ah! But let's apply "Bulverism" to the "Bulverists!" When we do that, we see at once the utility of this "doctrine of the concealed wish" -- for its use gives the "Bulverist" the excuse and permission to dismiss Christianity as irrational and anti-rational without out even looking at the arguments of Christianity. In other words, the "Bulverists" first desire that Christianity be no worth rational consideration, then they come up with the rationalization to justify treating the desire as though it had already been found to accord to reality.


Lewis: "... The assumption that every man would be pleased, and nothing but pleased, if only he could conclude that Christianity is true, appears to me to be simply preposterous."

I think every Christian, if he is honest with himself, will admit that at least one time *after* becoming a Christian he has wished that Christianity were false and that atheism were true.

Joshua said...

appears to me to be simply preposterous

Exactly!

Most of my friends and colleagues are atheists and secularist, and I often hear this one. "People invented religion to comfort themselves". I never try to proselytize people, but I can never let such arguments go unanswered. It's utterly, farcically absurd.

I reply, "Christianity tells you to give everything you have to the poor, strive to extinguish all selfishness in yourself, and live in service to others. Is that really your heart's secret desire?" Invariably, they look confused, and then admit that Christianity is a lot more terrible than they assumed.

Christianity is the exact *opposite* of what man's fallen nature desires.

Ilíon said...

Joshua: "Christianity tells you to give everything you have to the poor ..."

That's not *exactly* true. Christ requires this of some persons and not of others. For instance, the person who is enchained/possessed by his possessions can be free to be Christ's possession only by getting rid of the possessions. On the other hand, for the person who holds his possessions lightly, having possessions is no impediment to being Christ's possession.

Joshua: "... strive to extinguish all selfishness in yourself ..."

I think even that is not *exactly* true. Christ calls us to abandon self-seeking, not to obliterate our selves.

mattghg said...

The assumption that every man would be pleased, and nothing but pleased, if only he could conclude that Christianity is true, appears to me to be simply preposterous.

Preposterous and demonstrably false, given the following quotation from Thomas Nagel, which I like to wheel out at moments like this:

"I want atheism to be true and am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn't just that I don't believe in God and, naturally, hope that I'm right in my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that". (The Last Word (Oxford: OUP), 130)

Joshua said...

@Ilion: Yes, my point could be made even more strongly by saying that "Christ commands us to give up whatever we love the most, whether it is money, power, sensuality, or family" For people who weren't attached to money, Christ made equally extraordinary demands, which are violently opposed to the desires of man's fallen nature.

While this is strong enough to make the point, I am not convinced that this is the only reason Christ encouraged us to give our money to the poor. For the early Church, spreading wealth to the poor was an expression of love for God, and not a way of "dying to the world".

Ilíon said...

Joshua: "... I am not convinced that this is the only reason Christ encouraged us to give our money to the poor ..."

He did no such thing. He told one individual, for very specific reasons, to do that.

Joshua said...

@Ilion: Well, one way that people make Christianity more palatable to themselves is by distorting its truths and selectively looking at scripture. I'm not sure why they bother, since it's much easier to just reject Christ outright.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, I agree each person has desires, wishes. I tried to outline them for both Christians and atheists here: http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2014/04/what-do-christians-want-what-do.html

Victor Reppert said...

The problem I am posing here is whether one side or the other can be accused of more influenced by non-truth-conducive considerations than the other. Is there anything to be gained on either side by saying "you only believe that because you want to." It is my contention, going back to C. S. Lewis, is that these wish considerations pretty much cancel each other out. and nothing is to be gained by motivational speculations. We are not in a position to judge our opponents' thinking as "motivated" while our own position is free from motives.

Jakub Moravčík said...

@Joshua:
What would you reply if somebody told you that simple being conscious of yourselves is selfish? Do you think the habitants of heaven are aware of themselves as individuals?