Doing What We Want, Not What We Believe


What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies. (Thomas Cranmer, 16th Century)

Today, I ran upon this quote from Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1533-56 and leader of the English Reformation.  Maybe you have heard it before, but it was new to me.

Cranmer captures in one line of poignant prose what I have been thinking recently.  Why do we do what we do as humans?  Do our actions arise from our thoughts and beliefs, from our head?  Or are we carried along in life primarily by our hearts and souls, because of what we want in life?  Or is it more complex than a simple either-or?

For twenty-years now I have solidly been in the “worldview” camp that would say a person’s beliefs about life create a way of seeing the world that generates all of our values, emotions, and behaviors.  We do what we do because we believe what we believe.  You could diagram it like this.

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Think of this like a cross-section of a tree.  Only our behaviors are visible to the world, but they are produced by the layer below it, fundamentally our beliefs.  Of course, the correlated assumption is that if a person changes their beliefs that will change their behaviors.  But it doesn’t always work that way all of the time, does it?  And why do we believe what we believe?  I once had a student who said to me, “Mr. Knight, I know what I should do.  The problem is that I don’t want to do it.”  Her wants were trumping her beliefs.

I am feeling a sea-change happening in my thoughts.  I am not ready to jettison “worldview” thinking completely but I am thinking that the “desiring” nature of our heart (to use the language of James K. A. Smith), that which makes us want, may have much more fundamentally generative power than I have allowed.  In other words, we are desiring beings more than are are thinking beings.

Cranmer’s words are a good way of summarizing what I am thinking these days.

How do you see it?