Hypothesis and Belief

Believing with a measure of doubt; belief with the spirit of hypothesis:

"If a member of the so-called intellectual class joins any religious group or openly subscribes to its teaching, he will have to prepare himself for a good deal of criticism from his unconverted and more skeptical friends. Some of these may be sympathetic and genuinely interested; others will be covertly satirical, suspicious, or quite frankly hostile and dismayed.... One question, especially, he must learn to expect. It will be asked by the most candid, by those who really want to know: "Yes, of course, I can quite understand why you did it, in a way . . . but tell me, do you actually believe all that?" This question is particularly distressing to the convert, because, if he is to be honest, he will have to answer: "No. I don't yet."

The "all that" to which the questioner refers will vary in detail and mode of formulation, according to the religious group the convert happens to have chosen. In essence, however, it can always be covered by what Aldous Huxley has called "the minimum working hypothesis." This word "hypothesis" is extremely significant, but it will probably be overlooked by the outside observer, who prefers to simplify his picture of the world's religions by regarding their teachings as "creeds" and "dogmas." Nevertheless, a statement of religious doctrine can be properly called a creed only by those who know it to be true. It remains an hypothesis as long as you are not quite sure. Spiritual truth is, by definition, directly revealed and experienced: it cannot be known at second hand. What is revealed truth to a Christ is merely hypothetical truth to the vast majority of his followers; but this need not prevent the followers from trusting in Christ's personal integrity and in the authenticity of his revelation, as far as Christ himself is concerned. One can feel sure that Einstein is neither a fraud nor a lunatic, and that he has actually discovered the law of relativity; and still fail, in a certain sense, to "believe" in the conception of Space-Time, just because one has not yet personally understood it."

Christopher Isherwood, Hypothesis and Belief


Komal said…
Hmmm... he's right.