It is generally recognised when a man first turns from one form of religious belief to another, or from a state of unbelief to belief of some sort, that an important element in the change of his mind is a sense of the beauty or of the consolations afforded by the new creed, or of the need in him which it answers, and his consequent wish to believe in it if possible. If we go back half a century to the Tractarian movement, we see in the history of all the leading minds which came over to the Catholic Church, that their love of the Church, their interest in its history, their sense of the union Rome so plausibly claimed with the Church of the past, or their admiration for the completeness of the Roman system,-all sources of a strong wish to believe in Rome if possible,-preceded by a considerable period their actual belief. Twelve years before Newman became a Catholic he wrote the following lines, well known to his admirers :- " Oh that thy creed were sound, For thou dost soothe the heart, thou Church of Rome, By thy unwearied watch and varied round Of service in thy Saviour's holy home." And the same feeling, or substantially the same, is apparent throughout the pages of the old “ British Critic," which represented the opinions of the most active-minded of those who took part in the movement. And to go to what is unhappily a commoner case in our own day, the case of one who is destitute of firm belief altogether, who has been so much puzzled by the plausible objections of Mr. Huxley or Mr. Spencer against the possibility of knowing anything at all about God or a future life, that his mind is blank of any conviction whatever in the matter; it is commonly the case that, where religious belief is gained by such a one, his first step towards it is a sense of the need of it, of the assistance it would be to him if he could attain to it, of the importance of knowing that there is a God and a future life, and of guiding his life by that knowledge if perchance it is true, or other similar considerations. If there is no wish to believe, considering the difficulties with which every form of belief is beset, it seems plain that there will be no motive force sufficient to arouse the mind to active inquiry from the negative state which neither affirms nor denies, but remains passive, confessing that the whole thing is a riddle and a puzzle. But when believers admit that the natural and in most cases the necessary condition of coming to believe is a strong previous “wish to believe," their opponents come forward at once with a charge which seems very plausible. Your religion, they say, implies belief in a certain set of facts proved by evidence; this evidence is before all who take the trouble to look into it; the one necessary condition in order that it may be judged of rightly is that it should be viewed with absolute impartiality; that he who judges of its value should have a mind free from all prepossession in favour either of its sufficiency or of its insufficiency. But to suppose that it is necessary in order to believe that one should approach the matter with a strong wish to believe, is to acknowledge that belief is irrational. If an impartial judge finds the evidence insufficient, and one who has a wish to believe finds it suffice for him, it is plain that his belief is not reasonable, but is biassed by his wish; that his wish has been father to his thought.
Wilfrid Ward, Brother Hermenegild TOSF, Paperback, ISBN 10: 1503308448, ISBN 13: 9781503308442