What Is the Cause of Unbelief?

01-14-2024Weekly ReflectionFr. Leonard F. Villa

The Gospel reveals this to us: ….Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. John. 3:19-20 Unbelief is sinful because the world is able to believe: the Light has come into the world and has shone in the darkness, to people is given the possibility of exiting the darkness and come into the light. But only he who freely desires it arrives at the light and people often prefer darkness to the light. What is the reason for this mistaken choice?

The real reason can be found in evil deeds and in the act of the will, which can only be internal like intellectual pride. Evil deeds are not only those of gross immorality: disordered attachment to the pleasures of the senses but also a subtle immorality: the exaltation of the ego seeking human praise and the glory of the world.

So the person who does evil flees the internal light of truth that reproaches him, just like a thief flees the light of day and looks for the cover of darkness in order not to be seen. Such a one will not come to the light, and will not come near teaching (even when he knows it to be true) which condemns what he is doing. It’s impossible not to think of those who proclaim observance of the Law but whose lives do not correspond to the ideal. Unbelievers love, therefore, the darkness, not in itself but to justify their outward conduct and they hate the light because it would unmask their inward, hidden perversity. Jesus Himself has affirmed that he who does the will of God will know whether the doctrine He teaches is of God or not. It’s worth pointing out that the doctrine of Jesus will appear to be of God and not from the Evil One to every soul who desires what God desires and not what the devil desires, that is to say “sin.”

Jesus says in chapter 8 of the Gospel of St. John: He who is of God, hears the words of God. The person who looks for the truth with purity of intention and aspires to this truth in daily life will be disposed to hear the word of God. The Savior unmasks His enemies stripping bare inexorably the hidden passion which corrupts them. They do not have the love of God: I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts. John 5:42. Hence ambition blinds them and is for them the great obstacle to belief. Thus, it is above all pride that holds the dominant class in their unbelief. The true and in-depth reason for their unbelief is else-where: it is in themselves, in their will. …. (Y)ou refuse to come to me to have life. John 5:40 Isn’t this in fact which confirms that pride is the passion that most tenaciously keeps people far away from God?

37 Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. 38 This was to fulfill the word of Isaiah the prophet: “Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”39 For this reason they could not believe, because, as Isaiah says elsewhere:40 “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn—and I would heal them.”[i] 41 Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him. John 12:37-41 In brief, evil dispositions of the will are the ultimate cause which prevents the crowd from recognizing God. The ultimate reason for unbelief is not to be found in the understanding but in the will not to believe because of an evil will indisposed morally. For this reason you can conclude that the will and an evil life are the cause of all unbelief. As the devil is a fallen angel because of an evil will (he preferred to affirm himself, damning himself rather than submit to the will of God) so unbelievers prefer the refusal of the Savior and salvation so to be able to satisfy a perverse will of earthly control. Because of this justly St. Thomas holds that a person who is good is not the smart person but the person of good will. (Sepherinus)

Some Notes on Pride

What is pride? An excessive love of ourselves, especially our own greatness or excellence.

Was pride the original and most dangerous vice? Yes. It was the first sin of a rational creature, the fallen angels: “Satan was not thrown out of heaven because of fornication or adultery or theft, but rather pride has thrown him out of heaven into the deepest depths of hell.”

Why is pride an excessive self-love? Because a well-regulated and legitimate love of self, based on truth in the sight of God, is commendable; only its excess is sinful.

What vices spring from pride? Pride begets: 1. Presumption, whereby we undertake tasks beyond our capacity; 2. Ambition, an inordinate longing for positions of dignity and honor; 3. Vainglory, an inordinate love of human praise.

Is human respect also connected to pride? Yes. Especially common today, human respect is excessive regard for public opinion, and fear of man as opposed to fear of God. To avoid the contempt and ridicule of others, one might pridefully hide his faith or neglect his rightful Christian duty; but, “whoever denies Me before men,” says Our Lord, “I will also deny him before My Father” (Mt 10:33*). Schneider, Bishop Athanasius. Credo: Compendium of the Catholic Faith (p. 299).

Passive unbelief in God as Atheism

It would seem that nowadays not many are grievously concerned by (God’s) absence from their lives. There are Christians for whom the presence or absence of Christ from their souls means practically nothing. They move carelessly and with equal facility from sin into grace but fail to give the impression of men who have just returned from hell, or of having miraculously passed from death to a new life. One does not see in them the thankfulness, the joy, the peace and serenity of one who has, to his vast relief, rediscovered Jesus. F. Suarez, Joseph of Nazareth

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in discussing atheism points to the behavior of believers as a cause of unbelief. #2125 Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. 61 The imputability (whether someone is personally guilty) of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion." (emphasis added)

A practical atheist is a person who nominally belongs to a religion, but whose decisions and activities are not affected by religion. They live in their personal lives as if God did not exist.

In his 1949 article, On the Meaning of Contemporary Atheism, Catholic philosopher, Jacques Maritain writes (pp. 267- 268):"[...]there are practical atheists, who believe that they believe in God, but who in reality deny His existence by each one of their deeds—they worship the world, and power, and money." and (p. 279): "It is not nonsense to reproach the many people in modern times who pay lip-service to the God in whom they believe themselves to believe, for having been in actual fact practical atheists."

2123 "Many . . . of our contemporaries either do not at all perceive, or explicitly reject, this intimate and vital bond of man to God. Atheism must therefore be regarded as one of the most serious problems of our time."

2124 The name "atheism" covers many very different phenomena. One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time. Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history." Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth."

2126 Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God. 63 Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God...." "For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart." Catechism of the Catholic Church