One sense of belief is about claims or propositions: “I believe in extraterrestrial life” or ” I believe that most pennies aren’t copper but aluminum.” Another sense is directly in things: “I believe in the Independence Party” or “I believe in direct democracy”. Belief in the second sense means trusting in something to deliver good things, and so its natural concomitants are (minimally) trust and warm regard or (in stronger modes of belief) hope and love.

This division of types of belief is crucial to the question of belief in God. In one sense, all such belief might mean is that we think that God in fact exists, in the same way we might think aliens exist or the planet Vulcan doesn’t. In the second sense we mean that we have confidence in providence and in the divine plan at work in the world. In philosophy or in the various attempts to prove the existence of God, belief is largely in the first sense. In religion, it’s also possible to have faith the first sense but not in the second, which is one way of understanding the distinction between a living and a dead faith, or to harmonize the Pauline account of saving faith and James’s claim that even devils believe in God, and tremble. Pascal’s God of the philosophers and God of faith is also probably better reframed as a belief of the philosophy and a belief of religion. There’s a sense in which these are compatible, since you can’t have belief 2 without also accepting the truth of various factual claims, but it’s just as important to remember that it’s possible for them to be opposed to the point that the first sort of belief is seen as substituting for the second. This arguably happens any time natural religion or spirituality is pitted against revealed religion.

Existentially, it’s relatively easy to say any of the Christian creeds in the first sense. One simply has to mentally check “yes” to claims like “there’s a Trinity out there somewhere”, and “Christ is present in his Church”. But to say the creed in the second sense is much more challenging. Not only do you now have to put real skin in the game, you are suddenly attempting to see the world as a theater of transforming divine power and reframe all the claims of those who oppose it, in the words of the baptismal rite, as “empty promises”.


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