I believe… today, and everyday these two words cross the lips of many millions of Christian believers all over the world. They are the opening words of the great creeds – belief statements – of the Christian faith. They are intoned with more or less reverence, more or less meaning, more or less conscious awareness of what is being declared. However spoken, they are words loaded with meaning. They are words that are intended to call back to the believers mind the incontrovertible, and essential elements of the faith he shares with other believers around the world and throughout time. The most general of the creeds – termed the Apostle’s Creed – is held in common by Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Christians.
The declaration “I believe” is a faith declaration – an agreement with the collected wisdom and witness of ancient Christianity. It is a faith declaration because those who intone the words are not first-hand witnesses of the things they declare. They “believe” that God the Father is the maker of heaven and earth, but were not present to see it. They “believe” that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, but did not witness his sufferings nor hear his cries. They believe, partly because of what they have been taught, but for many, they believe because they have personal experience of the things they declare. These are experiences that cannot usually be put into words that would pass muster in a court of law. They “met” Jesus. They “felt” the Spirit. They “know” the love of God. They believe.
Here lately, the words “I believe” have been most often used as a prefix to a personal pronoun – “I believe, her”; “I believe, him”. Her – Dr Christine Ford. Him – (now) Justice Brent Kavanaugh. Though it may seem a contrived or even irresponsible comparison, these declarations of belief are also faith based. No one who has declared their belief in the assault against Ford or in the innocence of Kavanaugh can claim anything like first-hand knowledge of the facts. There is, of course evidence that can be marshaled for either confession. There are many who cite their own experience of sexual assault, or the testimony of others who have been assaulted to point to the plausibility of Ford’s claims. There are others who cite the lack of corroboration of those claims, and perhaps their experiences and the testimony of others who have suffered from false or misplaced allegations. Yet it seems to me that the evidence in this case is much less important than the confession.
The confession, “I believe”, is more often an indication of inclusion in a particular community than it is of conscious faith. Most people who declare their belief in the resurrection of the dead have not seriously examined the evidence for the claims of Jesus’ resurrection. This does not make their claim deficient, nor does it invalidate the underlying claim. It is simply true. They believe it, at least in part, because that is who they are. They are people who believe in the resurrection.
So too many (though certainly not all) who have made their confession in the midst of the current debate have not really thought it all through. They believe him, or believe her because that is who they are. They are part of a community of belief, a community of faith. Because of this, the confirmation or failure to confirm Kavanaugh the Supreme Court is not simply a matter of politics, or judicial philosophy, or even of evidence – it is a matter of divine import. The wars of religion, long thought to be banished to the annals of history, are beginning to rear their heads again, because how we order our common life is, in the end, always a religious question.