Faith VS Reason

It's an argument that has been going on for some time now. Namely, that "faith" and "reason" are somehow in opposition to each other. Here are some examples I plucked at random from the World Wide Web:

"Behind the political divide in America, there is also a religious divide. The split is not just between people who believe and people who do not; it is between those who see religious faith as society's foundation and those who see it as society's bane."

"In today's episode we take a look at the relationship between faith and reason in the Catholic tradition and see whether they can work together and what they can tell us about our relationship with God."

"Many people, like this author, require a firmer basis for their beliefs than a blind appeal to authority. In fact, one can go further, and point out that it may well be immoral to have beliefs without a logical basis."

"Objectivists have a very clear and specific concept of faith. Faith is accepting an idea as true without reason, or against reason. The first half of this is accepting an idea in spite of the fact that there is no justified reason to believe it. Obviously someone can try to rationalize anything, so we're not talking about just giving an excuse for a belief. We're talking about actual evidence that leads to that particular belief....

Reason and faith are completely incompatible. Faith is the destroyer of reason. It takes particular ideas and divorces them from reality and from reason. If you accept something on faith, you are essentially saying that you will take it off of the table with regards to reason, and treat it how you feel like treating it. Wherever faith goes, reason is pushed out."

OK - that's enough I think. You can find thousands of similar statements.

So, is "Faith" in opposition to "Reason?" Here's the trick - all of these quotes DEFINE faith as something opposed to reason. Get it? It's a silly argument at its core because it is merely a set of a priori definitions that lead to a foregone conclusion.

That wouldn't be a problem except that the word "faith" is used throughout the New Testament. Because of the current definition of faith (belief without evidence), most people never understand what Jesus and His followers were actually talking about. I've written extensively about what the Bible means by faith, something completely different from the definitions above. What I want to look at in this writing is where this idea of "faith is blind belief" came from and why it is such a controversial subject.

Here is the key - all of those who argue "Faith vs. Reason" make "Faith" and "Religion" equivalent. The argument is not about faith; it is an argument about religion. Historically, religion has been based on the authority of the Priest, Prophet, Shaman, Spiritual master, etc. The Priest acts as the intermediary between man and the Divine, and ONLY the Priest has that position. Thus, to know what to do, you are required to obey without question the dictates of that authority.

You can see how this idea of religious authority developed in the history of Christianity, and how it changed things. Initially, each Apostle was treated as a "messenger" who brought the "Good News" about Jesus. They were reporters of FACT, in other words, and no one was expected to just believe them. They were obviously effective reporters, because people did believe them, changed their lives, and became followers of Jesus. Over time the facts they reported were written down in books, what we today call the New Testament. We know what facts they reported and can evaluate them today just as the first century listeners did. The point is, Christianity did not start with a claim of "divine inspiration" to a Priest that must be believed without evidence, but with statements of fact that were spread around and accepted as true. That statement itself is a statement of historical fact that cannot be denied. Whether a person believes in Jesus or not, it would be irrational to deny that Christianity started as I have described. It was never a matter of "blind belief" by the followers of Jesus.

The arguments that rose up over time were not over facts, but over interpretation of the facts and what they meant to a Christian. In time, the divisions over interpretation led to Church councils of "experts" who would define the orthodox interpretation. Eventually, the authority of the Church council was centered in the Pope as the "Vicar of Christ" and ultimate authority on correct interpretation. Western Christianity had come to be another religion based on the authority of a Priest.

It was in that context of Medieval Roman Christianity that the current debate of "Faith vs. Reason" got started. The conflict was and is over the obedience of the people to religious authorities. This debate developed and became passionate as literacy spread throughout Europe. Once people had Bibles in their hands and could read for themselves, reliance on Church authority began to diminish. It turned out the authorities were often abusing their authority and a rebellion (reformation) against that abuse began. Because the Church also had significant political power and influence, those wanting to change the political structure also had to contend with the religious authorities. Many of them rejected the Church in part because they wanted to create a new form of political society based on democracy, socialism, etc. Unfortunately, the use of the word "faith" as a euphemism for religious authority remains with us today and has colored the interpretation of the Bible. My argument for some time has been that even most Christians don't know what Biblical faith is, much less how to live by faith.

If we are to accurately represent Jesus to the modern world, we must do so using language as Jesus did. We must understand faith as reliance on God because God has proved Himself reliable by the resurrection of Jesus and the change that occurs in those who rely on Him. We must understand that, in the teaching of Jesus, faith is always an active principle, involving action by the person, that then makes the power of God manifest in the person's life.

The contemporary proof that the skeptics look for is the change of moral nature that happens in every true follower of Jesus. ("By their fruits you shall know them.") Our faith (reliance on God) is proven valid because it changes us by an invisible force (Holy Spirit) rather than by our own will power. That change in a person's life is a FACT that forms the solid basis of our REASON. However, that change in a person cannot happen until a person is willing to let go and let God direct events in the person's life. This is why so many never come to know God. It has nothing to do with reason.

In fact, most "rationalists" don't seem to understand reason at all. Here is a little clue: all logical arguments must start with an a priori premise that is assumed to be self-evident. And, (please pay attention) the only conclusions you can draw are those that are inherent in the a priori premise. Thus, as Wittgenstein pointed out, reason can only help you organize what you already believe to be true. Reason helps us understand the cause and effect relationships of our experience and communicate our understanding to others. That proper use of reason. It can NEVER discover new truths, only develop broader understanding of what we already know. The way you discover new truths is to change your a priori premise(s) and see what you get. (As the philosophers like to say, "check your premises.") Once we know the power of God directly in our lives, we have an a priori premise to start with that will allow us to reason to a better understanding of God's ways. OK?

What the so-called rationalists mean by "reason" is human will-power. Thus, the conflict is not "blind belief" vs "reason." It is a conflict between human will and God's will. That is the contrast described in the Bible beginning with the story of the Garden of Eden. Man wants to be god and will find every excuse to justify that desire. Thus, they change the meaning of "faith" into something that can be belittled and ignored so that they can "do as they desire" without regard to God. Or, they equate faith with religion and demand conformity to a set of rituals defined by a religious/political authority. In both cases, it has nothing to do with faith or reason, only with conforming others and a reliance on man and man's will power.

This is the conflict between those who live by faith and those who don't. Those who live by faith in Jesus do not need the approval of others, neither the "reason" of the atheists or the dogma of religious authority. That, unfortunately, makes us the true outcasts in the world. So be it. This is how it has been from the beginning:

"Those who have the desire to seem important in the flesh, put force on you to undergo circumcision; only that they may not be attacked because of the cross of Christ. Because even those who undergo circumcision do not themselves keep the law; but they would have you undergo circumcision, so that they may have glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to have glory in anything, but only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which this world has come to an end on the cross for me, and I for it. For having circumcision is nothing, and not having circumcision is nothing, but only a new order of existence. And on all who are guided by this rule be peace and mercy, and on the Israel of God. From this time on let no man be a trouble to me; because my body is marked with the marks of Jesus." (Gal 6:12-17)

Just replace "circumcision" with any religious ritual or observance, or with some scientific theory, and you get the point Paul is making in contemporary terms. It is the "new creation" in Jesus that is the mark of a Christian. And, that is what "faith" is - a new kind of existence. And, there is absolutely nothing irrational about it.



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