Losing A Sense of Taste

Michael Metzger

Older people occasionally lose their ability to taste food. They lose interest in eating. This is similar to what many younger folks are experiencing, but they’re not losing interest in food. They’re losing interest in the faith.

Last week I suggested the Mounds candy bar moniker—indescribably delicious—echoes David’s sentiments in Psalm 34: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” In both cases, you have to taste it to believe how good it is, to fall in love with it. Mounds is still advertised this way. Faith isn’t however. We’ve forgotten how belief and love are one.

In a recent book review, Iain McGilchrist notes how the word belief comes from the same root as the word love, “a sense preserved in the now archaic word ‘lief,’ familiar to us from Shakespeare. A friend is someone in whom you believed. Love and belief were synonymous, gained by commitment and experience.”1

Commit and experience are how we fall in love with truth. The word “true” is not so much rooted in a thing, McGilchrist notes, but in a trusting relationship. The German word for “true” is treu, meaning faithful, and is related to “trust.” We find someone to be true by committing to them, experiencing a friendship with them. In this way, we come to trust and love them.

We’ve forgotten the seamless of love and belief. Belief is not tasting but instead “signing up to a proposition,” McGilchrist writes. “Truth and belief are no longer relational, but have become propositional.” They no longer involve commitment but can instead “be achieved by simply sitting back and waiting passively for information to accumulate.”

Much of this is due to the Enlightenment. John Locke, one of its most influential thinkers, viewed knowledge as coolly examining evidence as a disinterested observer. No risk-taking. If there is insufficient evidence, the object being observed doesn’t qualify as knowledge. It’s relegated to beliefs, what Locke called “a persuasion which falls short of knowledge.” It’s a feeble form of knowing.

This yields a feeble faith. It touches your mind but not your heart. This problem plagues the Protestant tradition according to James K. A. Smith. “The Protestant tradition has taken on board a picture of the human person that owes more to the Enlightenment than it does to a holistic, biblical vision of human persons.”2

You can hear the Enlightenment’s influence in our word choices. Take concept, a 16th century term from the Latin conceptum for “abstract.” In some cases it was a refashioning of conceit. This is the Enlightenment conceit that we can discover truth by coming up with concepts. It’s knowledge without tasting.

Theory is also a term derived from the Enlightenment. From the Greek word for observing, theorists purport to explain things having merely recorded observations. It’s a form of knowing that doesn’t require tasting the goods. It’s analysis that doesn’t arouse appetites.

Worldview—well, just break the word open. World view. As my friend David Naugle notes, the philosopher Immanuel Kant coined the term Weltanschauung, that is, worldview in his work Critique of Judgment, published in 1790. It’s the Enlightenment assumption that learning is based in the power of the perception of the human mind.

I have friends who follow Christ yet use these terms all the time. They talk about “biblical concepts” for example. They’re describing knowledge devoid of tasting or touching. Such knowledge might touch your mind but rarely your heart. Imagine trying to woo your spouse by describing the “worldview” of nuptial union. Ugh.

Enlightenment knowledge is risk-free discussions about abstractions. Over time, this yields risk-adverse people. Last week I referenced a study indicating the longer you attend church, the more risk-adverse you become. This resonates with Alan Hirsch’s contention that churches are risk adverse (https://vimeo.com/19910809/).

Flannery O’Connor believed that the things we taste and touch affect us long before we believe anything at all. They do. They instill love. A faith that doesn’t involve taste and see yields believers who lose interest. This might explain the rise of evangelical exiles and religious nones. Having lost a sense of taste, they lose interest in the faith.

The solution is aligning with a pre-Enlightenment understanding of human nature. It’s not connecting the “18-inch gap between head to heart.” It’s remembering how truth, belief, and love are seamless. Knowledge starts with our senses, including taste, and migrates from our heart to our head. That’s why David urged us to taste and see the Lord is good.

Follow me on Twitter: @Metzger_Mike

1 Iain McGilchrist on Unbelievable: Why We Believe and Why We Don’t (Los Angeles Review of Books, April 15, 2015)
2 James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2009), p. 31.


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  1. At least “Anschauung” is an active verb, in a way that “view” – somehow – is not. . . . (don’t get too down on my man Immanuel! 🙂

    Interesting that you pose what could be seen as a rationalist/empiricist conflict on the faith level. I love William James’ essay,The Will To Believe, in a complementary regard. Instead of tasting, he uses the idea of friendship, and acting like a friend in order to become a friend (rather than waiting until one is a friend, to act like one – because in that case, one never will become a friend).

    Like becoming friends, he reasons that some things can’t be “proven” unless one first approaches them with an element of trust/faith. He makes short work of Pascal’s “Wager”, by the way, which is a beautiful thing to see.

  2. Marble:

    Tru dat. You hit the nail on the head, driving home Augustine’s point that we believe (trust) in order that we might understand. Thank you.

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