Wishing upon God

Ed Feser posted an interview he gave on the Drew Marshall show, which Marshall prefaced by explaining that after being a pastor for nine years his beliefs about God changed and could now be described in three ways:

1.) He was no longer certain about the existence of God. I italicize the word because Marshall himself stressed it repeatedly, and clearly took it as the best description of his beliefs.

2.) He said his beliefs shifted “from faith to hope”, i.e. he now does not say God exists but that he hopes he does. God, that is.

3.) He said he envied others who had religious experiences, and he wants the same sort of experience in order to start believing in God.

Marshall’s predicament is sympathetic and probably common, but he’s missing the key verb that describes it. He’s not hoping for God and he isn’t exactly looking for faith: he’s wishing for God.

Wishes are for unattainable things, which is why we can even wish for the impossible- like the familiar wish that we hadn’t done something. We wish when we want some good without taking even the first steps to attain it. It is a conscious want that never rises to the level of being willed.

“Hope” can be a synonym for “wish” but when used in this sense it is different from the virtue of hope. Hope as a virtue is a confident expectation of good things – so Steven Pinker or Gene Roddenberry has hope in science and a shrewd investor might have high hopes for his stock portfolio. Hope requires a commitment that has changed your actions, the way that the investor has put skin in the game by buying stocks or Pinker has tied his reputation to the success of the sciences. So Marshall hasn’t shifted from faith to hope in the way Christianity means it, but has lost both faith and hope and retreated to a wish.

Since wishes are viewed as unattainable their only possible fulfillment is from another. You can wish upon a star, say, and Marshall clearly is wishing upon God in asking for some religious experience to break though nature. How Marshall figured out that nature was autonomous and executes all its actions independently of God he does not say. Presumably he has a knock-down refutation of all cosmological arguments, since the success of any of these would mean that his experience of nature would be an experience of God.

This last claim is crucial because it points to the place where Marshall really has put his faith, though he might not have done so with full awareness. He really is confident that the world of everyday experience is one in which God can only be present by intrusion, and not by creation, conservation, or through other modalities of instrumental causality like sacraments, ritual, sacred hierarchy, etc. He’s wishing for the existence of God only from a real faith and robust hope in what Fr. Stephen has rightly critiqued as the two-story universe.

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