The Root of All Unbelief
A post on another blog had a title that I think was worded a bit more strongly than they perhaps had intended. Or maybe not. Either way, the result was that it made the claim that the desire for the approval and praise of other people was the root of all unbelief. It’s the word, all, that I don’t agree with. Some unbelief? No question. But not all of it.
Take C. S. Lewis, for example. If a desire for praise and fame is the root of all unbelief, then this is what prevented Lewis from coming to Christ for many years. I don’t think this was it. I would suggest that his dismissal had a great deal more to do with the loss of his mother, the difficulties his father had in raising him, and the traumatic (though I’m sure he wouldn’t characterize them that way) experiences he had in school. None of those really lend themselves towards a desire for fame or praise unless you count the problem inherent in these situations as a lack of love that he tried to replace with a love-substitute in the form of adulation. But Lewis didn’t seem to chase after fame. Half the time he seemed far more interested in being left alone. It just doesn’t seem to fit.
In addition, what would make a desire for praise and fame cause one to negate the possibility of God? Is it that the existence of God would necessarily prevent one from obtaining them? Or perhaps that God would demand that one praise Him and one believes there is insufficient praise to go around? There’s something underneath that desire, something even more root-like in my mind.
Anna Maria Rizutto did some psychological surveying that suggests that everyone possesses an image of God, in part conscious and in part unconscious, that comes from images and experiences of parents, experience of religious sources, and childhood fantasies. Unbelief is a partially conscious rejection of that partially conscious image. It is an unwillingness to count that image as true. What makes that image unacceptable, then? I think the real issue is based in some sort of fear of that image or what that image implies about life, the self, or the universe.
For Lewis to believe, he would have to accept that God were in control of the universe. But if God were in control, that would mean that God were in control of the horrible experiences of childhood. An easy, though mistaken, conclusion from this reasoning is that God must be cruel, uninvolved, or irrelevant. To believe in a God that is cruel is terrifying. To believe in a God that is uninvolved or irrelevant is to have a God that is uncaring in another fashion, which is also frightening, but due to the emptiness that it creates. It is strangely easier to accept an empty universe than one that is filled with a supreme being, yet a being that doesn’t care. It sort of adds an element of despair to the emptiness.
If this is the case, no wonder the most repeated command in the Bible is, “Do not be afraid.” If fear is so destructive to our belief, then fear is what must be dealt with. And the primary means of dealing with fear is with love (1 John 4:17). The man cried out, “I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) Jesus’ response to the father’s cry was to heal his son, a response of compassion, that is, love.
We will never grow beyond our own places of unbelief, nor will we help others to move past theirs, unless it is accomplished through love. If we had perfect love, would we need the praise and fame of men? It wouldn’t be an issue any longer. This, then, is one of the primary tools of our spiritual formation: love.
Now, I realize I may not have made the strongest case, here. I’m not putting together a formal treatise as much as I’m putting thoughts up as they come to mind. Any commentary? I could be wrong…