Yesterday the topic for Confirmation Class was "What does it mean to 'believe in' God?" Over the course of our conversation, I watched how various class members talked with their hands. I noticed that one of the students would put his index finger on his temple when he would be talking about what it means to believe something, and another would put his hand on his chest, over his heart.
When answering a question about what evidence or criteria you would need in order to believe something, the first student answered that it would have to be logical, it would have to make sense. In other words, he said, you couldn't just say that aliens had landed and were planning to take over the school. He wouldn't believe that, because it doesn't make sense.
Answering the same question, the second student said he based his beliefs on what he experienced, the things he saw around him, and his feelings about things. You believe things because you sense it, like you would believe that the wind is blowing because you can feel it on your face and see the trees moving.
Toward the end of the class, I pointed out how these two students seemed to talk about "belief" in very different ways. In fact, each one's answers had seemed not to make much sense to the other. And that's no surprise, since they were each looking at faith from two different perspectives. But really both of them are right.
Without my really planning it, our conversation about believing nicely illuminated the dynamic interplay between experience and reason that has been a part of theological conversation for centuries. Both aspects are very important for Wesleyan theologians, as they were to Mr. Wesley himself, product of the enlightenment as he was.
I thought it was pretty cool that, there in our little confirmation class, we had a pretty good case study to talk about the different ways people come to believe what they believe.