Believing and Believing In

One of my favorite stories is about the Baptist preacher who was asked by one of the members of his church if he believed in infant baptism. "Believe it," he replied horrified, "I've seen it!"

I admit that many of those I tell this to greet the story with puzzled silence. While some may not be aware that a central feature of the Baptist tradition is that the sacrament of baptism is only administered to those who have attained the age of reason and thus reject the baptism of infants, I think mostly the silence comes from the expectation that there is more to the story.

The story, to my ear, is the distinction between what we believe and what we believe in.

We believe what we find to be a true fact. We believe in what we find to be a true perspective or frame of reference. In either case we are referring to what we experience as an accurate representation of reality. But the belief has to do with an item of that reality and the belief in has to do with a much more complex map. When we believe in something we are looking out at the world from within the frame of the belief system.

When people say they believe in Jesus they are not saying simply that they believe that there was an actual historic person named Jesus; they are saying that they hold to a complex set of beliefs about him, about the nature of God, about the purpose of life, and so on.

When people say that they don't believe in divorce, they are not saying they don't believe people get divorced, they are saying they will not choose divorce for themselves and they may even be implying a critical judgment of those who do so choose.

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