Dynamics of Choosing Faith- does God have to believable to be believed

Here are some insight I really like from Viktor Frankl (founded a school of psychotherapy and was a holocaust survivor) from Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning (previously titled “the Unconscious God”):


[M]any representatives of denominational and institutional religion . . often depict, not to say denigrate, God as a being who is primarily concerned with being believed in by the greatest possible number of believers, and along the lines of a specific creed, at that. “Just believe,” we are told, “and everything will be okay.” But alas, not only is this order based on a distortion of any sound concept of deity, but even more importantly it is doomed to failure: Obviously, there are certain activities that simply cannot be commanded, demanded, or ordered, and as it happens, the triad “faith, hope, and love” belongs to this class of activities that elude an approach with, so to speak, “command characteristics.” Faith, hope, and love cannot be established by command simply because they cannot be established at will. I cannot “will” to believe, I cannot “will” to hope, I cannot “will” to love – and at least of all can I “will” to will. Upon closer investigation it turns out that what underlies the attempt to establish faith, hope, love, and will by command is manipulative approach. The attempt to bring these states about at will, however, is ultimately based on an inappropriate objectification and reification of these human phenomena: They are turned into mere things, into mere objects. However, since faith, hope, love, and will are so-called “intentional” acts or activities, along the lines of the terminology coined by Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, the founders of the school of “phenomenology”, these activities are directed to “intentional” referents – in other words, to objects of their own. To the extent that one makes intentional acts into objects, he loses sight of their objects. Nowhere, to my knowledge, is this brought home to us more strikingly than with the uniquely human phenomenon of laughter: You cannot order anyone to laugh – if you want him to laugh, you must tell him a joke.

But isn’t it, in a way, the same with religion? If you want people to have faith and belief in God, you cannot rely on preaching along the lines of a particular church but must, in the first place, portray your God believably – and you must act credibly yourself. In other words, you have to do very opposite of what so often is done by representatives of organized religion when they build up an image of God as someone who is primarily interested in being believed in and who is rigorously insists that those who believe in him be affiliated with a particular church. Small wonder that such representatives of religion behave as though they saw the main task of their own denomination as that of overriding other denominations.”

(emphasis added by me)


Frankl was deeply against reducing religious experience to somatic or psychological states of the mind, or just “feelings”. In this book he makes some relatively brilliant analysis of human psychology in relationship with religious feeling. (Compelling chapters include “The Spiritual Unconscious”, “Unconscious Religiousness” and “Psychotherapy and Theology”. I agree with Frankl in that we have to be very wary of the tendency to simply classify all feelings and emotional responses as simple “feelings” drives etc. Frankl points out:

Many psychotherapists have intepreted all religion merely in terms of religious experience, be it conscious or unconscious and repressed, to infantile sexuality. To this one might say: No one will be able to make us believe that man is a sublimated animal once we can show that within him there is a repressed angel.

Frankl’s words can be seen as critical of LDS and Evangelical positions alike, but in some ways his insight is compatible with what Mittleberg is saying regarding reasons for belief. Does Frankl have a point regarding faith? Are his criticisms valid?

15 thoughts on “Dynamics of Choosing Faith- does God have to believable to be believed

  1. Evangelicals generally hold that if our faith is not (capital T) true, then it is not worth believing.

    The pragmatic benefits of faith, hope and love are incidental to practicing them in honor of a very real and very personal God.

  2. Tim, would this mean that God should be worshiped, not for the rewards or benefits that worship of Him brings, but for His own sake?

    Is this even possible for a human being?

  3. What is the consequence of a God that does not make himself believable, but requires belief. I.e. if Christianity is unbelievable and you go to hell for not believing, it seems like God is playing a cruel joke.

  4. I agree with Frankl on this point, that at some level its hard to will ourselves to have faith, it seems that there must be some thing that resonates within us, something that strikes us as worthy of our faith.

    I think this sort of mechanism also is needed if we are to understand God someone who makes belief available to all of his children, no matter how intellectual or non-intellectual they are.

    I think the evidence is slim enough that un-belief is reasonable. However, even when un-belief is reasonable. I think a just God should and does provide a mechanism for people to recognize God as a child recognizes a voice, or a sheep recognizes the voice of the shepherd (to steal an analogy).

    From an evangelical perspective, doesn’t faith come by primarily from a person’s reaction to hearing the word rather than examining the evidence?

    This is not necessarily simply an emotional response, at least no in my case. God makes sense to me in a way that I cannot really explain.

    I think Frankl is not necessarily denouncing all organized religion, but those who simply say “believe” without tapping into the capacity of human beings to recognize the truth.

    Mormons call this capacity the Light of Christ, do Evangelicals have a similar understanding?

  5. Tim, would this mean that God should be worshiped, not for the rewards or benefits that worship of Him brings, but for His own sake?

    Is this even possible for a human being?

    I think an encounter with God makes it possible. The side benefits sure are nice. As I’ve stated before, if God were a mean, capricious, cruel being who exist to torture us, I think he would still have to be worshiped and we would need to do our best to avoid angering him.

    I think this sort of mechanism also is needed if we are to understand God someone who makes belief available to all of his children, no matter how intellectual or non-intellectual they are.

    There’s a phrase I’ve heard that says the gospel is simple enough for a 5 year old to understand, but rich enough for a man to spend his life plumming its depths.

    From an evangelical perspective, doesn’t faith come by primarily from a person’s reaction to hearing the word rather than examining the evidence?

    From an evangelical perspective there are many ways people come to faith. I think people become Christians in every way Mittelberg descirbed, the question is, do they have to hold solely to the way they initially came to faith?

    God makes sense to me in a way that I cannot really explain.

    And do you think others who were not born into the LDS church would be able to come to an equal understanding?

    Mormons call this capacity the Light of Christ, do Evangelicals have a similar understanding?

    Evangelicals believe that the Holy Spirit is calling all people, but that many come to faith without a spiritual experience.

  6. “And do you think others who were not born into the LDS church would be able to come to an equal understanding?”

    It happened for my dad.

  7. God makes sense to me in a way that I cannot really explain.

    And do you think others who were not born into the LDS church would be able to come to an equal understanding?

    I have to believe that everyone has the capacity to gain some understanding of God.

    I honestly think the arguments against the existence of a personal God are at least as convincing as those that attempt to demonstrate his existence (if not more). As a student of law and philosophy, I have learned that knock-down arguments just won’t be there for any side in a debate. I am not waiting for or searching for the formula or the evidence that is uncontrovertable.

    I really am going on faith (and/or hope) and my understanding of my experiences related to God.

    I have seen and participated in dozens people becoming converted to the LDS church and its brand of Christianity by the method described in Romans 10:16-17. I see them adopt a relatively similar and uniform understanding of God from their experiences. This is not a “proof” of the LDS church, I think you would probably be able to say the same thing from your experience within Evangelical Christianity.

    I think its important for me to make sense of this diversity, to attempt to filter out the human element and really understand how God is communicating through people. If God has set things up this way, i.e. a very imprecise system of communication, assuming He is a personal God, what does that mean? This question directs me to Frankl’s conclusion that He must not simply be interested in belief alone, since He doesn’t give much evidence that compels belief.

  8. Jared C. said: “God makes sense to me in a way that I cannot really explain.

    Tim asked: “And do you think others who were not born into the LDS church would be able to come to an equal understanding?

    I did. In my ward, probably about a third of the active members are adult converts, so I don’t think it’s all that unusual.

    One of the things I found interesting about the original post is that part of what Frankl said is kind of a rebuttal of Pascal’s wager — the idea that you can “choose” to believe in God because it seems to be a logical thing to do.

    I really don’t feel like I chose to believe in the Church as much as I believe God chose me to believe in it (or, more accurately, that God chose me to relate to Him in a way revealed through the Church). I’m not saying there was no free will involved, more like a response to a call.

  9. “As I’ve stated before, if God were a mean, capricious, cruel being who exist to torture us, I think he would still have to be worshiped and we would need to do our best to avoid angering him.”

    I would disagree with that idea.

  10. I really agree with Seth on this one. If God really were mean, capricious, and existed to torture us, it wouldn’t matter how much we tried to worship him. He would do whatever he wanted. Such a god is not worthy of worship.

  11. That brings up an interesting point, it seems to imply that we have the capacity to identify what is God or how he should be. This suggests a deep, innate understanding of things that are Godly, i.e. justice, love, mercy, compassion, etc. I would suggest that this is part of what Jesus was getting at when he said that his sheep will hear his voice.

    One point that Frankl’s comment alludes to is that we may need to reevaluate our theology to comply with this innate understanding, the (Light of Christ in LDS parlance) in order to make sure our theology is believable.

  12. Touching story of an Indian Revert

    “Things are made clear through their opposites”……..proverb

    “Nothing makes Truth stand out more clearly than Falsehood!” I embraced Islam 6 months after I arrived in the US, thanks to my encounter with Christianity!

    I was born in India and grew up among people who worshipped many gods and goddesses- the Hindus. At every street and corner in India, you will find temples housing idols of wood, stone, ivory, even gold and silver.

    I do not come from a Hindu family. My parents do not believe in God. They are atheists. They taught me there was no such thing as God. As a child, I believed whatever my parents told me. I looked up to them and believed they knew everything. I thought they were perfect. As I grew older however, I realized that my parents did not know everything. They were certainly not perfect. And they made mistakes.

    At some point, several questions about life began to arise in my mind. I’m sure these questions arise in the minds of most people at some time or other:

    What is the meaning and purpose of life?

    Why is man faced with the predicament to choose between good and evil?

    Why do people die?

    What happens after death?

    My parents did not have the answers to these questions.

    I began to think independently and eventually, after deep contemplation and reflection I came to the conclusion that God did exist! In fact, God was the only reality!

    There is order and perfection in nature which cannot possibly be the result of chance. There can be no design without a Designer, and no creation without a Creator. We human beings are products of creation, not chance, accident or evolution.

    It was obvious to me that there was only one Creator. There could not be more than one since that would cause a division or split in power and consequently result in chaos and disorder. Isn’t there a saying that goes, “Too many cooks spoil the broth”? or See the quote from Quran:

    “If there were, in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides Allâh, there would have been ruin in both! But glory to Allâh, the Rabb of the Throne: (High is He) above what they attribute to Him.” (21: 22)

    So, I began to believe in God. I also believed in accountability for my actions. Our actions are the only things we can control. Nothing else besides that lies in our power. Since God created us with the freedom to choose between right and wrong, it was evident to me that it mattered a lot what I chose to do or how I chose to act. Deep down inside I knew that one day I would have to give an account for all my deeds. God has all power, and He has the ability to reward and to punish. So I greatly feared God.

    I believed in God, but I did not have a religion. I used to think it didn’t matter what religion a person belonged to as long as that person was good. Now, there is something seriously wrong with that kind of thinking. Anyway, I had no understanding then, and all I cared about was finding a God-fearing man to be my husband. Being a monotheist, I was willing to marry a Christian, a Muslim or a Bahai.

    I met my husband under the most peculiar circumstances. He was a Christian. And he was from America. We had known each other for only three days. But he proposed to me. I thought he was very honest and had his heart full of the fear of God. We got married. Two weeks later, he had to go back to the US. He couldn’t take me with him. It was a year and a half before I got my visa to go to the US.

    America is very different from India. It took me a while to adjust to the American lifestyle. My husband was a very devout Christian. He was a member of the Worldwide Church of God. He read the Bible regularly, frequently, almost fanatically! He used to observe the Sabbath and attended the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I went to church with him several times. I also read the Bible and found a lot of things in there that supported what I believed about God. I liked the proverb “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”. I met many nice people at church. I even made some very good friends. I was particularly attached to an elderly couple. I was pretty happy with the way things were going……..until I went to California to visit my in-laws.

    It was when I was travelling in the metro train, on my way to Los Angeles, that some people entered the train and passed slips of paper to the passengers. I looked at the piece of paper in my hand and read it with utter disbelief. I have carefully preserved that piece of paper. This is what it said:


    The answer to this question is, absolutely nothing! The only requirement is to believe what God has said in His word, and He says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved”. Only believe? Yes, that’s all! Believe means to trust completely in what God has said concerning salvation. What do we have to believe? That Christ died for our sins, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day. Christ died to give us eternal life. If you desire to have eternal life make the following prayer:

    Heavenly Father, I know that I am a sinner and that I have a need to be forgiven. I now receive Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior. Thank You for having forgiven my sins. In Jesus name. Amen. John 1:12 But as many as received Him, (Jesus) to them gave He (God) power (authority) to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.

    This little slip of paper changed my entire life! My heart was screaming that this simply could not be true! It was so evidently false that I was surprised that anyone actually believed in it! This was the beginning of my first real acquaintance with modern Christianity.

    I was completely overwhelmed with amazement to learn some of the fantastic beliefs of modern Christians. The following is a list of beliefs which made absolutely no sense to me:

    1. That Jesus is God.

    2. That Jesus is Lord and our Savior, who came down to earth in the form of man to die for our sins.

    3. That God is three in one…….a concept called the Trinity.

    None of the above beliefs are supported by the Bible! Jesus never claimed to be God. He never said that he had come to die for our sins. And you can scour the Bible from cover to cover. You will not find the word Trinity in it!.

    Several questions arose in my mind about the above mentioned beliefs.
    Why would God personally need to come down to earth if He has all power?
    If He wants to get something done, all He needs to do is say the word and it is done! Jesus was a man. If he was God, then how could he die? Can God die? Furthermore, if Jesus was really God in the flesh, who did he pray to? Did he pray to himself?! If Jesus is God, how can we even think of God subjecting Himself to the temptation of the devil? How can the devil offer Jesus the kingdoms of the world, if everything in the heavens and earth all belong to God? Besides, wasn’t it God who created the devil?! If the Trinity is indeed an important article of faith, why does not Jesus preach this

    It doesn’t take a lot of intelligence to understand that the Creator cannot become His creation, or part of His creation. Even if God could become His creation, why would He want to do that?!! And if it is true that God became Jesus and did indeed die for our sins (which sounds like a very drastic step to me), then the world as we know it today should be free of sin. If it is not free of sin, then what was the point in dying for our sins? What did it accomplish?!

    I was staring at first-class Falsehood. I knew it was false right to the very core.

    You will not find a single flaw in God’s creation. It is perfect. It is God who has given us the power of reason and common sense. Would God ask us to believe in anything that didn’t make sense? Truth must make sense. When a detective wants to find the truth, he looks for clues, examines the evidence and uses his power of reasoning. People employ this method for all matters, except in the field of religion! This is where they abandon their reason and believe blindly in whatever they are taught!

    I wondered how people could actually believe that Jesus died for their sins! I want to ask this question to you. If you were sitting for an important exam, would you believe anyone who said that you had to do absolutely nothing in order to pass that exam?! Would you believe anyone who said all you had to do was believe that your teacher himself would study for the exam and do all the hard work for you? All you needed to do was believe and that’s it!??

    Well, you could believe and believe all you want, but when the results of the exam are announced, you will discover that you’ve got zero! Not only that, when your teacher learns that you had been entertaining the funny thought that he was going to do the studying for you, he would probably expel you from school and send you to the lunatic asylum to have your head examined!

    In India, with its many temples, I knew people were worshipping falsehood. Hinduism, with its many gods and goddesses never made any sense to me. I always used to wonder how the Hindus knew what their gods and goddesses looked like. In America, I discovered the situation was more or less the same. The only difference was, at every street and corner, you did not find a temple, you found a church! Christianity as it is practised in America didn’t make sense to me either! People drew pictures of Jesus as if they knew what he looked like. I’m sure the real Jesus never looked a bit the way they depict him!

    I confronted my husband with my questions about Christian beliefs. He had no answers. I also asked my Christian friends. They did give me some answers, but their answers were so preposterous that I soon gave up asking them! Want to know what they told me? Frankly, I’m just dying to tell you about it!

    This is what they had to say:

    “No evil or sin can stand before a Perfect God. Even what to us is just the tiniest of wrong is totally intolerable to His perfection. All it takes is one sinful act. Look at Adam and Eve. They committed only one act, and a very small one at that, but that act allowed sin to enter this world. They knew that the consequences of that one act was death, but God made a promise to them that there was a way they could be redeemed from those consequences. It is that promise that the prophets wrote about. It is that promise and its fulfilment that is the underlining theme throughout the rest of the Bible. The message is that not only were the Jewish leaders who crucified Christ evil, but so were David, Lot and the others. That also includes you and me. Even the smallest evil makes us deserving of death. Just as there was nothing Adam and Eve could to do undo what they had done, there is nothing we can do to undo the evil we have done. But the same promise God made to Adam and Eve He makes to us. He only asks us to accept that promise.”

    How could anyone believe in such a theory!? But that is precisely what my good Christian “friends” believed. According to them, all evil, all sin is the same in the eyes of God. So the penalty for a man who steals a loaf of bread is the same as the penalty for a man who goes out and murders ten people! What kind of justice is that?! I’m thankful the law and order system in America does not treat all crime with the death penalty! Is justice here on earth better than God’s justice?

    And what utter rubbish to even think that we are all deserving of death for the small sins that we commit and that we can be saved simply by believing that God died for our sins!!

    Whether we believe or we don’t believe, it still doesn’t save us from Death, does it?!

    If we commit a sin, it is not because of Adam and Eve! We commit a sin when we choose to do wrong or evil of our own free will. We alone are responsible for our actions. For the mistake I make, nobody else can be held accountable. That would simply not be justice! Therefore, even if somebody were to come up to me and say he or she was willing to take the burden of my sin, I would not agree to it! Since it is I who committed the sin, it is I alone who must face the consequences of that act! It just does not make sense that we should consciously make mistakes and commit sins and all kinds of crimes and put the whole burden on somebody who is totally innocent. There is no law and order system in this world where Tom commits a murder and instead of Tom, Dick is hanged for it!! If such a thing were to be done, this whole world would be upside down!

    I went to the library and began to look for answers. I began to study Islam, the other monotheistic religion. I read the Qur’an. I didn’t need to look any further. I found the answers to all my questions there!

    The Qur’an is very clear in its message:

    1. That God (Allah) is one.

    2. That He is eternal and does not die.

    3. That He does not beget nor is He begotten.

    4. That there is none like unto Him.

    5. That every soul will be have to give account for its deeds on the Day of Judgment.

    6. That no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another.

    7. That Jesus was one of the messengers of God.

    8. That those who believed in the Truth and did good will be rewarded with paradise.

    9. That those who disbelieved and rejected the Truth will be flung into hellfire.

    10. That there is no other god but Allah. He is the Lord of all the Worlds, the Creator, the All Knowing, the All Hearing.

    All the questions I had about Christian beliefs were answered. I learnt the following things from the Qur’an:

    1. Jesus was not God. Neither was he son of God.

    2. He was not crucified.

    3. He did not die for our sins.

    4. There is no such thing as the trinity.

    5. All of the above is blasphemy.

    6. Finally he is one of the mighteous Prophets of Allah and a word of God.

    In fact, I found all answers to other questions about life and death in the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the Word of Allah. There is no doubt about it. I investigated the source of the Qur’an. I studied the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). I was moved to tears reading his story.

    There is no place for blind faith in Islam. God asks us to use our powers of reasoning and common sense to arrive at the Truth.

    I had found the Truth. The only thing I needed to do was embrace Islam by declaring that there was no god but God (Allah), and Muhammad was the Messenger of Allah.

    I could think of nothing else. I talked to my husband about Islam. We argued almost everyday about religion. My husband held even more closely to the Bible, telling me that he could not deny Christ. He didn’t take me seriously at all. He told me I could believe whatever I wanted. He had no objection if I wanted to embrace Islam.

    However, there was a problem. I discovered that if I were to embrace Islam by saying the Shahadah (the muslim declaration of faith), my marriage to my husband would automatically be dissolved. A muslim woman is not permitted to marry a non-muslim or disbeliever. In Islam, a woman must obey her husband. The husband is the head of the house and the leader. So, if the husband is a Christian, how can a muslim woman obey him?! Islam cannot occupy a secondary position in the house. Truth, not Falsehood must
    have the upper hand!

    I had to make a choice. Either I embraced Islam (the Truth), or I continued to live with my husband like a Christian. I loved my husband dearly. I had left my country to come and live with him, and he mattered to me more than anything else in the whole world. However, I could not live with Falsehood. I knew it would be very difficult for me to practice Islam in such circumstances. So, I made up my mind to leave my husband.

    It broke my heart to think about leaving him. I cried non-stop. But I was firm on my decision. I had no idea what was going to happen after I left him. I left it all in Allah’s Hands. I told my husband about what I was going to do. It was only when he heard what I said, that he began to take me seriously. He decided to investigate Islam. He asked me to give him some time to learn about this new religion.

    At that time, the first thought in my husband’s head was that he did not want to lose me. He probably thought I was nuts then. But he continued to study and read about Islam. All his life, he had been a Christian and whatever Islam taught was very new and strange to him.

    On the 6th of October, 2000, I and my husband both embraced Islam. However, my husband still did not understand a lot of things. He didn’t know what was going on in his life, and probably thought his whole life had turned upside down. He embraced Islam because he didn’t want to lose me. He did read the Qur’an sometimes, but he read his Bible more. I didn’t care what he did. I was happy that I didn’t have to leave my husband, and was confident that Allah would guide him eventually.

    All praises are due to Allah! My husband was in the Navy, and he had to go out to sea for 6 months. During this time, he got the opportunity to read the Qur’an from the first page to the last. He e-mailed me one day, and told me that he had been doing nothing but reading the Qur’an. He simply could not put it down! Finally, he told me that he was convinced it was the Word of God. He was now overcome with a great desire to make a declaration of his faith. When his ship reached Australia, he immediately went to the nearest mosque and told the brothers there that he wanted to say the Shahadah. The brothers told him he had already said the Shahadah with me, so he had no need to do it again. My husband then explained to them that at that time, he had no understanding. He did it for me. This time, he wanted to do it for himself. I shed tears of joy when he wrote to me and told me he said the Shahadah there in that mosque in Australia.

    Of all the billions of people in this world, we are indeed thankful and utterly grateful that Allah chose to guide us to the Truth. It is the greatest honour anyone can have.

    Alhamdullilahir Rabbil al Ameen!!


    If Islam is truly a bad and hateful religion, then the miscreants would not have to go all over the net and tell everybody how bad and how hateful Islam is.

  13. “…and what utter rubbish to even think that we are all worthy of death for the small sins we commit and that we can be saved simply by believing that God died for our sins.”

    I understand where you’re coming from. I remember having conversations about this with my Muslim girlfriend. I remember her saying to me, “Lisa, who is going to be motivated to do the right thing when they know they get rewarded for doing the wrong thing?” I would submit to you that for truly devout Christians, “belief” entails appropriate actions as well. I’ve spent much time in an Islamic environment, five years with a major Arab Embassy when I was fresh out of grad school. While I have a lot of respect for Islam, ultimately I reject it as not being a true religion because, in my opinion, it teaches salvation by works. In spite of everything you say, and I do believe you made some good points, I believe that none of us can do enough good works to earn our salvation, none of us makes the right choice all the time. And I believe that it’s not a matter of “small” sins keeping us out of heaven. I believe that it’s human nature to discount our own sins while overemphasizing the sins of others. Sure, most of us are not murderers, but how many of us have helped to spread a rumor which has resulted in the destruction of someone’s reputation? There are maybe one billion people in this world who live on less than $1. a day, yet how many of us feel that even giving $25. once a year to charity is too much? I’m glad you have found your peace in Islam, but I know that for me, I am a sinner, and even though I’ve tried to do the right thing in my life, there is no way I would deserve to get into heaven if it weren’t for God’s grace.

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