Sunday, December 10, 2017

William Alston's Return to Faith

HT: Steve Hays. 

The main bar to faith was rather the Freudian idea that religious faith is a wish fulfillment–more specifically, an attempt to cling to childish modes of relating to the world, with the omnipotent daddy there presiding over everything. A powerful case can be made for the view, which is not necessarily tied to the complete Freudian package, that the most important psychological root of religious belief is the need that everyone has for such a childish relationship with a father figure. Be that as it may, I had been psyched into feeling that I was chickening out, was betraying my adult status, if I sought God in Christ, or sought to relate myself to an ultimate source and disposer of things in any way whatever. The crucial moment in my return to the faith came quite early in that year’s leave, before I had reexposed myself to the church or the Bible, or even thought seriously about the possibility of becoming a Christian. I was walking one afternoon in the country outside Oxford, wrestling with the problem, when I suddenly said to myself, "Why should I allow myself to be cribbed, cabined, and confined by these Freudian ghosts? Why should I be so afraid of not being adult? What am I trying to prove? Whom am I trying to impress?

Whose approval am I trying to secure? What is more important: to struggle to conform my life to the tenets of some highly speculative system of psychology or to recognize and come to terms with my own real needs? Why should I hold back from opening myself to a transcendent dimension of reality, if such there be, just from fear of being branded as childish in some quarters?" (Or words to that effect.) These questions answered themselves as soon as they were squarely posed. I had, by the grace of God, finally found the courage to look the specter in the face and tell him to go away. I had been given the courage to face the human situation, with its radical need for a proper relation to the source of all being. William P. Alston, "A Philosophers Way Back to the Faith." God and the Philosophers: The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason, ed. T.V. Morris (New York: Oxford, 1994).


Starhopper said...

The problem with passing Faith off as a wish fulfillment fantasy is it presupposes (at least) one of the following:

- There are no wishes to be fulfilled.
- If there are such wishes, their fulfillment is an impossibility.
- It is somehow wrong to have wishes in the first place.

I recall that J.R.R. Tolkien was impatient with people who dismissed faerie stories as "escapist", commenting that the only people who disliked escapes were the jailors.

Bilbo said...

I read the Ace editions of the whole trilogy. I still think they had the best covers, even if illegal. Yes, Tolkien nailed it in that great essay, "On Fairy Stories." I had a somewhat similar experience to Alston. I used to be afraid I would be mistaken in believing in God and that people would make fun of me. Then I realized that the only way I could be proven wrong was if I didn't wake up after I died. But in that case, nobody else would wake up, either. So there wouldn't be anyone to laugh at me.

Starhopper said...

I have to put in a word for the Ballantine covers. Yes, I know they only peripherally have anything to do with the trilogy, yet they somehow managed to nevertheless capture the essential magic of the work. To this day, they remain amongst my favorite paperback book covers.