I wrote this paper for my last philosophy class which I finished just today. This paper explores the origin and morality of beliefs from a broadly theistic position. I admittedly redefine belief in this paper in order to better articulate what I mean by use of the word in this context, so I hope anyone who reads this will appreciate the distinction I draw between belief and assumption.

It is of particular significance to note that this paper assumes a certain level of competence in this particular genre of philosophical thought, as many of the terms I use will likely be unfamiliar to anyone who has not been at least exposed to them.

1. The subject of belief will here be considered, specifically, for which beliefs human beings can rightly be held morally responsible by God. It is proposed that beliefs exist for which human beings can rightly be held morally responsible. This is a difficult discussion, relying on the acceptance of many presuppositions, so it will be necessary to begin by clarifying several of these (though not exhaustively, for it will be assumed that the reader is familiar with the subject matter and terminology concerned) as the conclusion is contingent upon the line of reasoning proceeding from them. This discussion will be in point-format, that is, a series of points, each consecutive point of which builds on those preceding it. This discussion will conclude with an evaluation as to the ability of this process to provide adequate examination of the thesis here stated.

2. In order for God to hold human beings morally responsible for the beliefs they hold, it is necessary that it be recognized that God exists; if in fact God does exist, then it must further be accepted that He is possessed of certain necessary attributes. (These have been variously defined and debated, but for the purposes of this discussion, it will be simply understood that God does indeed possess necessary attributes in order to be God, and that it is essentially His possessing of these necessary attributes that makes Him God.) In order for God to exist, He must be the only necessary Being, that is, the only Being that must exist. He is obviously therefore possessed of irreducible agency. As such, He must have had motivation to create existence as it is understood by humankind.

3. Accepting that God was motivated of Himself to create ex nihilo the universe and all else that exists, it then becomes apparent that a purpose for existence is needed. God could have as easily chosen to not create over against His decision to create. Because He chose to create, it is needful that a purpose be provided for His creation, for He could have just as easily chosen to create something other than that which He did indeed create. This purpose must be derived from God Himself, for it cannot come from any other source, else God’s agency becomes contingent upon something other than Himself, in which case He would no longer be God. Thus, the purpose for existence must come out of God’s self-contained state prior to existence, that is, that existence in which human beings exist.

4. In order to arrive at a recognition of the purpose for existence, it is necessary to evaluate the nature of that existence itself. It is understood that all things that exist only exist in relationship to one another. Nothing has real existence that is not understood as distinct from something else in existence. Hence, existence is contingent on the self-evident principle of relationship. This is the most basic and fundamental rule of existence, because it provides differentiation between existence and non-existence.

5. If the most basic principle of existence, then, is relationality, it can be inferred that the first purpose of existence is relationship with, and to, God. In order for this to be a self-contained principle of God’s existence, upon which He would then provide Himself with motivation to create what does exist, it must be assumed that God must exist in relationality, that is, in relationship to Himself. (Not only does this provide a basis for the doctrine of the Trinity, but it also provides for the ability of God to be self-reflective of Himself. Thus, that which God created brings glory to Him in its imitation of Him in terms of its existence in relationship to Him.)

6. Having therefore established the purpose of existence as relationship with, and to, God, it is possible to proceed further to the development of the nature of that relationship in human terms. It is understood that humans are singularly unique out of all else that is known to humankind in existence, for human beings alone possess the ability to reflect upon themselves reflecting. (Hence, Descartes’ famous exclamation, “Cogito ergo sum.“) The existence of humankind must have a singularly unique form of that purpose of existence which is to be in relationship with God. This special ability of self-reflection, then, is understood to be that which is uniquely human, that which lends meaning to being human over against being any other sort of existence. Hence, it is understood that as such, humankind has a unique relationship with God, over against that of any other sort of creation.

7. The nature of this relationship is actual relationship. Whereas a rock exists in relationship to God in that it is differentiated from Him, and whereas a rock exists in relationship with God as entirely subservient to Him, humankind, while by nature of existence must be universally bound by the former, is experientially possessed of the attribute of agent causation and, therefore, free to the latter. Hence, a human being is not necessarily bound to a relationship with God and, therefore, subservience to Him. This means that humans possess the ability to know God and to be known by Him. As a rock does not exist in terms of its ability of self-reflection, it is unable to know God or be known by Him. Personal agency, then, can only be consistent with personhood in human existence.

8. Because God’s purpose for human existence is relationship with humankind, this relationship requires mediation between the infinite and the finite. Humankind is not, and cannot be, God, simply by definition, and must therefore be limited in the scope of its knowledge of, and relationship with, God. This fundamental differentiation between God and humankind has led some to assume that the proper implication is that it is ultimately impossible for humankind to have any true relationship with God whatsoever, for it is impossible for that which is finite to understand or recognize that which is infinite. However, inasmuch as humans have the ability of self-reflection, they are capable of recognizing the difference between these. Hence, it is possible for humans to have meaningful relationship with God inasmuch as they are capable of recognizing the difference between God and themselves.

9. This mediation must be provided by God. As the arbiter of causation in the equation of existence, God must therefore also provide the means by which the nature of the relationship between Himself and that which He creates may have relationship. Humans are incapable of affecting God’s necessary agency on the basis that they themselves are not necessary agents. While humankind can recognize God, it is only possible for humankind to know Him on the basis that He reveals Himself to human beings.

10. Thus, as this relationship between God and humankind is the reality in which the human person exists, God has provided the system in which that person can interact with, and know, Him in a meaningful way. God, then, both enables the existential framework for human learning concerning the Divine and then initiates and sustains relationship with humans (and humankind as a whole) by revealing Himself to them through their experience with Him. In other words, God reveals Himself to humankind through history as the medium used by God to initiate and sustain relationship with humankind. Hence, it is God’s work whereby the requirement of mediation of this relationship is provided, God being the active agent and humankind the receiving object.

11. Having provided for the required mediation between the infinite (God) and the finite (humankind), human beings are made responsible to God for their individual and collective relationship with Him on the mere basis that they are cognizant of God, and therefore, their requirement to the fulfillment of the purpose of their existence. In order to allocate any culpability to human beings for their part in their relationship with God, it is necessary that they be allowed personal agency. Otherwise, existence deteriorates into the situation of God merely interacting with Himself in that He, ordering the actions and thoughts of each human being, would thereby provide no system in which real and meaningful relationship with Him could be established with them as truly possessed of the quality of personhood; this would essentially be a system wherein God has relationship to humankind, as He has to a rock, but no relationship with humankind.

12. Accepting personal agency as the medium wherewith human beings are therefore able to interact with God in a meaningful way, it can be concluded that they are thus responsible to God for their responsiveness to Him. In practical terms, this can be understood to mean that humans are responsible (at least in some sense) to God in that they recognize 1) His existence, 2) the relationship they have both to, and with, Him, and 3) His authority. Other terms or categories could be used here, and many have been proposed; however, these will be the three assumed principle categories for the purposes of this discussion to define those points whereat humans are morally culpable toward God.

A.) Human beings are morally responsible for recognition of the existence of God, because they have the capacity to recognize the principle of relationality; to reject the existence of God is therefore not simply fallacious (for it is fundamentally an impossibility), but it further rejects the principle of relationality.

B.) Human beings are morally responsible for recognition of the relationship they have both to and with God, because they have no other existence apart from their relationship to, and with, Him. To fail to recognize this, provided they have recognized the existence of God, is to again fail in recognizing the fundamental principle of relationality.

C.) Human beings are morally responsible for recognition of God’s authority, because, unlike rocks, they have agency. Just as B is contingent on A, so C is contingent on both A and B.

13. These three beliefs stated above, though properly basic beliefs, are also specifically moral beliefs, because it is entirely possible for the individual human being to refuse acknowledgement of the veracity of these fundamentals of existence. To provide oneself with alternative explanations, or to keep oneself in denial of the nature of existence, is ultimately rebellion against God, for to do so is to refuse God His position as the arbiter of existence. These beliefs must necessarily be implicit as fundamental to personal agency apart from the Divine, else human beings have no means whereby they are able to interact with existence. In other words, these beliefs are held intuitively by human beings. Thus, it is more accurate to say that the moral responsibility of human beings towards these beliefs is not in holding them (for they have no choice but to hold them), but rather in their acceptance or rejection of them. Those who accept these beliefs do so out of an acknowledgement of the nature of existence, while those who reject these beliefs do so out of a self-possessed desire to discover some means by which they may disprove them or nullify them in order to get out of, or around, the moral implications they impart. One’s development of further beliefs is contingent on, and proportionate to, his or her acceptance or rejection of these first three.

14. It can be readily recognized that the nature of the created universe is essentially amoral in terms of its existence: this includes the entire spectrum of dimensions (i.e. the natural universe -time, space, matter, all three of which are, in their simplest expression, merely three manifestations of the single entity herein referred to as the “natural universe”). In other words, it is false to say that matter -of any sort- is morally evil, as it is also false to say that time or space is morally good. Hence, it will not be anything like a stretch to infer that the realm of morality is confined to the realm of agency, and specifically human agency. If this is accepted, then God, as the only necessary agent, must necessarily be the standard against which all morality is measured; and if God is such, it must be accepted that God is therefore perfectly good. (Remember that it has earlier been established in this discussion that all existence exists in relationship to God, as differentiated over against God. This relational aspect of existence implies that God must be the most perfect, in-and-of-Himself, as the only necessary Being, and as such, all else must be necessarily inferior, even if merely in that its existence is contingent on the existence of God.)

15. If, then, morality is confined to human agency (for God can be, by definition, morally good only in an infinite sense), morality consists of the response of humans to God in terms of their responsibility toward the fulfillment of relationship with Him. This means that all morality consists of human decisions to respond positively to God or negatively to God. A positive response is understood to be good (moral), while a negative response is understood to be evil (immoral). It can be inferred, then, that humans are culpable for the beliefs that they hold in terms of their acceptance of the truths about God of which they are knowledgeable.

16. Because God is perfectly good, He is necessarily perfectly just. Human beings, then, cannot be required to be morally culpable of that which they do not have the capacity to understand, because only a person with understanding of the requirement of the fulfillment of relationship with God can be held accountable for his or her acceptance or rejection of it. Hence, guilt can only be applied to those who have knowingly rejected truth about God. For God to do otherwise would be inconsistent with that which is His necessary attribute of relationality to existence. In other words, this would be equivalent to God applying guilt to a rock that has neither self-awareness, nor awareness of its relationship to anything else, much less its relationship to, or with, God.

17. In order for morality to be universally applied to all humankind, it is necessary that God establish a universal knowledge of Himself -at least to some extent- in all humankind. He has done this by establishing human existence insofar as its nature is in relationship to Him. As noted above, humans are thus provided implicit knowledge of His existence, relationality, and authority. Hence, human beings can be held morally culpable even along the lines of their rejection or acceptance of these alone. This provides the basis for a universal moral values -and, ultimately, that which provides meaning to any value judgment or claim.

18. Having established a universal moral standard against which to measure the rightness or wrongness of something, it is now possible to proceed to a discussion of those beliefs for which human beings can be held morally culpable by God, at least, in terms of the portion of this discussion concerning morality; however, it is still needful that belief should be defined more clearly for the purposes of this examination. Belief will here be understood to mean the knowledge of the truth of a proposition or the reality of a certain state, being, or phenomenon, regardless of acceptance of that knowledge; this is not merely intellectual assent, but is assumed to also comprise some measure of credit. Hence, use of the term belief can refer to both properly basic beliefs and those beliefs that are not properly basic.

19. It might be argued that morality is not universally applied to all humankind. If this is the case, morality is subject to the individual relationship with God of each human being. In this case, it is impossible to infer any universal moral truth except in that each individual relationship between a human being and God would be characterized by the same principle of morality, applied on an individual basis. In this case, morality would again be governed by the universal principle outlined above. God cannot change, for if He changed, He could no longer be God; therefore, He will apply moral culpability in exactly the same way in every situation at all times with all persons whatsoever. Hence, morality on the basis of God’s existence stands in reference to its universality regardless of the subjectivity of its application by Him.

20. Those beliefs that are properly basic cannot be denied by human beings. The three implicit beliefs all human beings hold, provided above for this discussion, are properly basic. This means that the individual human being holds these propositions to be true, whether he or she believes himself or herself to do so or not. Hence, it is impossible for a human being to choose properly basic beliefs.

21. Those beliefs that are built upon properly basic beliefs must necessarily be consistent with them. This means that it is impossible to develop wrong beliefs. This seems, at first glance, to be a fallacious proposition itself; however, one has only to examine any belief held by anyone at any time in order to ascertain the veracity of this proposition. Take the vignette of a person who believes that Mr. Hollis is guilty of murder, given examination of pertinent and available evidence; however, Mr. Hollis is actually not guilty of murder. The development of the belief herein concerned is not truly a belief, then, but merely an assumption as to what may or may not be true. Providing the evidence of Mr. Hollis himself, pleading his own innocence as evidence for his innocence, grants the juror contrary evidence to his assumption. Because of whatever other motivations or purposes present within the juror, he nevertheless continues to pursue the false assumption. However, it is not possible that the juror would stake his own life on this assumption; and even if he was indeed called upon to do so, he would not do so for any belief that he held, but rather, for fear that he would show himself to be lacking in rightness or justice.

22. No false assumption can be given the label “belief”. This is because a belief cannot truly be based on a mere assumption. A belief is formulated as a logical conclusion of properly basic beliefs. Thus it is wrong to say that the medieval thinkers believed the world to be flat; it would be proper to say that they assumed (falsely) the world to be flat. Similarly, it is wrong to say that an atheist believes that no God exists; it would be proper to say that, while the atheist believes that God does in fact exist (because recognition of this is a properly basic belief), he or she merely assumes (falsely) that God does not exist: he or she has chosen to reject that intrinsic reality of existence.

23. Thus, beliefs will not be referred to further as either right or wrong. It is possible, however, to develop a warped understanding or a misunderstanding of a belief by choosing to reject beliefs. Beliefs are never moral or immoral, then, but instead belong to the realm of the amoral, as a metaphysical aspect, so to speak, of the natural universe (see 14 above). Personal human response to these beliefs, then, must be either moral or immoral. Misunderstanding of beliefs must be self-inflicted or other-inflicted, of course; but it cannot be God-inflicted, because for Him to do so would be to act against the relationality of both Himself and the nature of existence.

24. Mistaken understanding of beliefs and the implications of beliefs may come from either one’s self or from other human beings. It is here maintained that it is impossible to hold wrong beliefs. Yet it is an observed phenomenon in human interaction that human beings differ greatly from individual to individual on what is perceived as truth. It is argued that this situation arises out of the power of contrary choice. It has already been established above that human beings have the power of contrary choice on the basis of their personal agency and that actual relationships would be impossible between human beings and God without this (see 7 and 8).

25. Misunderstanding of beliefs is fueled by the rejection of beliefs by human beings. This may be self-induced through self-influence, or it may be otherly-induced through influence from other human beings. On the other hand, influence can be exercised to produce right understanding in a similar fashion.

26. Since misunderstanding concerning beliefs comes from human beings, it can be deduced that human beings misrepresent beliefs to themselves and to others. This is essentially immoral, because it is ultimately a misrepresentation of the nature of existence, and, therefore, a misrepresentation of God. Hence, rightly discerning all beliefs in existence stems from rightly discerning the nature of God. Right discernment of beliefs is accomplished through relationship with God. Hence, it is rejection of relationship with God that allows other influence to misshape human beings’ acceptance of beliefs.

27. Human beings are morally responsible for the acceptance of beliefs. Any belief that a person encounters must be either accepted or rejected. In this sense, each instance becomes an opportunity for the person to either respond positively or negatively to God in that he or she responds positively or negatively to the new information they have of God. Ultimately, this is the process of learning in human experience. Each new piece of information about God to which the individual person is exposed presents a new belief about God that he or she develops, the process of the purpose of existence whereby he or she is continually encountering God and developing relationship with Him.

28. Inasmuch as beliefs provide the system of existence in which relationality is accomplished between God and humankind, human beings, while not responsible for the beliefs they hold, are responsible for their acceptance or rejection of those beliefs. Hence, it is at this point that human beings are morally culpable before God.

29. In conclusion, it has been shown that beliefs do not exist for which human beings can rightly be held morally responsible. While all beliefs are moral in the sense that they elicit a moral response from human beings, in-and-of-themselves, beliefs are amoral truths of existence. The thesis stated above at 1 is thus false as adequately shown through the process of this line of reasoning.