Object Permanence

Photo Credit: Nils van Rooijen Flickr via Compfight cc

I came across an article entitled “Though You Do Not See Him, You Love Him” by Mike Schumman. It sounded like a typical devotional piece that I would often come across back in the day. I thought it would be interesting to read it with a former believer’s eyes and record the thoughts that come to mind.

The author writes with a dramatic flair, opening with a scene of a hailstorm. Then he lends an air of science as he cites John Piaget’s concept of object permanence — that even through the darkness of the storm, he knew that the sun did not disappear but was simply covered behind the clouds, even if he could not see it.

I know where this is going, I say to myself, and true enough, the article goes on to compare this with God and that people ought to have this idea of object permanence when it comes to their belief in him. Schumman asserts: “Many unbelievers know this, and yet are inconsistent about it. When asked why they struggle to believe in Jesus, a common reply is that ‘if I could only see him, then I would believe.’”

Hang on now. That’s a dubious claim. Many unbelievers know this? That kid born in a war-torn village in Africa, he knows this? That kid born to Muslim parents in Iraq, he knows this? Yes, I’m sure that Buddhist couple in a remote village in Nepal know all about Jesus but are simply being “inconsistent” about it.

Quoting Piaget does nothing for his case because Piaget’s studies require that one first sees the object in question before it is hidden. You cannot have object permanence to something you have never seen in the first place. How would you convince a man born blind that there are stars in the sky, even on a cloudy night? He would simply have to take your word for it, but if he doesn’t, you cannot claim object permanence because he has not fulfilled the first requirement for that to happen.

So no, an unbeliever is not being inconsistent when he asks first to see before believing. He is, in fact, being consistent with the reality he knows.

Schumman knows very well about this hole in his argument because his article takes a predictable turn as he scrambles to address this. He says: “You cannot develop object permanence with Christ unless you first receive a true Spirit-enabled sight of Jesus. This is the reason why some fall away in the midst of persecution, while others are choked out by the cares of the world — they had never truly seen Jesus in the first place.”

Now this is pretty convenient because now those who have never believed in the first place were never gifted with the “Spirit-enabled sight of Jesus” and those like me who previously believed but now do not, “had never truly seen Jesus in the first place.” It also introduces guilt-feelings in believers who are beginning to doubt. After all, you wouldn’t want to be the one person in your little Bible study group who hasn’t actually seen the Lord or felt his touch, would you?

Instead of strengthening his argument, however, this actually goes against it because it all the more reinforces the fact that an unbeliever has never seen God or Jesus and therefore cannot have any sort of object permanence with him, her or it. This claim contradicts his earlier statement that the unbeliever knows about God but is being inconsistent about it. If anything, it is this muddled teaching that is inconsistent with itself.

The article ends with an exhortation to believers to continue believing in the Son they cannot see, who is just hiding behind the dark clouds of life, and would soon (very soon) be showing himself. And again, there is the unstated threat that you wouldn’t want to be caught doubting him when that happens, would you?

I understand that many people find comfort in stuff that people like Schumman write, but I am not one of them. In fact, I have never found such clarity and peace in my life as when I shed off my beliefs like one discards old clothes that no longer fit, like throwing down a heavy burden on one’s back. It is seeing through the smoke and mirrors of religious dogma.

It is freedom.

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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