Since this journal is, at bottom, a way of discussing my own religious beliefs, it is I hope, not too great a handicap to confess that I do not know what beliefs are, in the philosopher’s sense. I could not stand up under Socratic questioning about what they are; I can neither define them nor distinguish them in a fully satisfying way from other concepts like trust or faith. Contemporary philosophers, of course, like to define things in terms of hypotheticals and counterfactuals – in terms of what someone would do or say if something else were the case – and that is certainly a good form of mental exercise and enjoyable in its own way, especially when done in company with others of similar disposition. But I am not clever enough for that conversation, nor do I have patience enough to wait until its conclusions have all been examined and certified by at least a respectable majority of those who are.
So I must muddle along in the old-fashioned way of talking about beliefs, as if the topic were one intelligible to those without rigorous training in epistemology and linguistic analysis. I know – and I use ‘know’ advisedly, since I can’t define it either – that this procedure will leave some questions unanswered, and will almost certainly not satisfy those who march under a bleaker standard. But forgive me if I compare them to the child who demands a written guarantee of safety, complete with corroborative testimony and perhaps an independent measurement of depth, before releasing the tire and joining the children already splashing about in the forest pool below.