He had performed … many signs, yet they were not believing in Him … they could not believe because Isaiah said … “he has blinded their eyes and he hardened their heart, so that they would not see with their eyes and perceive with their heart …”

Jn 12:37, 39, 40

One of the fundamental aspects of life in the past 100-150 in the West has been the changing landscape of belief – its decline, its variation, and the emergence of unbelief and of phenomenology – the study of human experience and the conscious perceptions that foster human behavior, influence belief or its absence or dissipation.

If there is but one thing we might be wise to attend to in this chaotic and disintegrating age we live in the West today, it is belief – and the rise of unbelief.

When you think about it belief and unbelief are central to human relationship, the nature and quality of human existence, the perceptions that govern individual and collective conduct – especially government conduct, policy and behavior – both things pursued and things shunned.  Is it not, as a result, important to take account?

Yes, the conflicts we have in our culture and politics are based in belief and unbelief.

But what separates the two?

Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age gives a brief way to distinguish belief from unbelief.

To him belief as manifest in humans has these characteristics:

  • an understanding that human fullness comes to us from another loving source who gives freely
  • it prompts the practice of devotion, prayer, charity and self-giving
  • it produces an understanding that one is far from fullness in its perfect state – i.e., it fosters humility
  • it reminds us that as humans we are bound to lesser things and goals – i.e., that we are not the source of life nor the embodiment of perfection
  • it evokes knowledge that power and fullness come through relationships
  • it teaches that the reception of fullness transforms a person for the better
  • that morality is heteronomous.

In contrast, unbelief carries these characteristics:

  • the power to reach fullness is within oneself, one’s own ability and doing – i.e., that we are agents of our own fullness
  • that reason exceeds nature and elevates above all else the human person as a rational agent
  • that our genius for reason allows us to be fully self-governing with laws as the vehicle of our genius
  • that morality is autonomous
  • that reason fully engaged creates a reverence for our own power and for power itself – coming in turn to see fullness as power fully employed
  • that in this context (construal) we are individualized and relationships with others less likely and less necessary – we become in reason and power atomized, divided.

Perhaps in this, you can sense the crisis we face.

Are we to form a more perfect union as unbelievers?  Know peace?  Community? Love? Brotherhood?  Pursue the full development of the human person and come to know happiness and contentment as unbelievers?

From the look of things it hardly seems likely.

” … he has blinded their eyes and … hardened their heart …”