I’m reading George MacDonald’s “The Curate’s Awakening”, a book that explores what it means to believe. It explores a distinction that I’ve been trying to articulate for a long time, a distinction that is very hard to discuss with the adequate weight the distinction requires. I often call it the distinction between the mind and the heart, but it often communicates too allegorical and whimsical. I sometimes call the distinction the one between “the deep self” and “the shallow part”. This comes off too cultish and reeks of new age hog wash. MacDonald’s book presents it in a way that is round about but helpful.

A man asks a curate (a kind of stand in for a priest in the Church of England) if he really believes any of this Christian nonsense. The question rattles the curate to his core. What is interesting about this question is how seemingly simple it is. If you had asked the curate if he believed in the church, in Christ, in any of the doctrines, he would have responded yes without a moments thought. But, somehow, when the man asks him if he really believes any of this, it stops him cold. He realizes his entire life has been one large lie. What’s the difference between these questions?

Is there some kind of distinction between “belief” and real belief? I don’t think so. At least not strong enough to depict what this distinction is. But there seems to be something very different in asking, “Do you believe this?” and “Do you really believe this?”, the two questions bear a different sense. It’s as though the first has a kind of thinness that doesn’t require much self understanding, but the second requires one to stop and search himself for the answer. Is the first question asking something different than the first? I don’t believe so, but the difference is there. The second seems to put the mirror on the person himself, asking if the belief flows from and in himself rather than outside himself. Why does it do this? I don’t know.

This seems to touch on the distinction I wished to make in the beginning. The second question seems to touch on the “deep self”, while the first appeals to the more shallow parts of the person. MacDonald uses this distinction throughout the story to explore the beliefs of the various persons involved. He often exposes them to not be beliefs at all.

~ by Barky on August 10, 2011.

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