Archive for the 'Faith and Reason' Category

Faith and Reason

Monday, August 21st, 2006

There has recently been renewed interest in religious matters particularly so with the rise of the religious right in the United States. This has fuelled much comment in numerous newspapers and periodicals, justifiably so, but one thing that I cannot help noticing is the obvious confusion in the minds of many commentators who wrongly assume that faith and reason are two separate and conflicting ways of viewing life. That there are conflicting ways of viewing life is undeniable but to claim that to have faith is beyond reason and conversely to live by reason is to live without faith is an untenable position to take. What is often meant by reason is a belief that there is nothing that exists outside of the material universe or that to have a belief in something that cannot be apprehended by the five senses lies beyond the domain of human experience and hence is an unreasoned response. Both of these contentions are unprovable axioms and hence can only themselves be labelled as belonging to 'belief systems'. The truth is reason cannot exist independently of faith. What we put our faith in determines how we reason. Those who claim to live by reason rather than faith are really putting their faith in their own ability to reason. But what they fail to grasp is that it is the reasoning faculty in man that has produced the superstitions and dogmas they find objectionable.

Reason is therefore not supreme but is subject to ourselves and to our existence! We exist independent of our reasons. The 'reason' for our existence is therefore supreme over our own reason. To be at peace, to be complete, we have a bridge to cross that links us to that which we depend upon for that existence. That bridge is faith. Separate identity does not mean independence. To be separate and yet dependent means that we are necessarily linked to something outside of ourselves regardless of our reasoning process. We are, for example, dependent on a power outside of understanding in every breath we breathe. We can make a reasoned response to our situation of existence, but only within limits, and even these limits are beyond our control. That which links us in our understanding to that which we are necessarily dependent is faith – either real or misplaced.

Faith in something unseen is an essential foundation of reason. Reason is the articulation of the faith we have. Before we could think we were totally dependent on our mother's breast (unless she had reasoned a substitute). Now that we have been weaned from that dependency we are just as dependent on the world to supply us with all our needs. Really nothing much has changed, except what we 'think', what we 'reason'. We were taught faith in our mother's love before we could reason. Love is beyond reason. When our mother's love failed, when she was cranky or couldn't cope, we had reason to respond – either with love toward her or with bitterness. Reason doesn't exist in a vacuum. It has reason to exist for there is a reckoning to be done. What we reckon how, we reason, is dependent upon what we have put our faith in to satisfy our real needs.

Unfortunately, just because our needs are satisfied it does not follow that our faith or reason is the cause for that satisfaction. In other words, results that satisfy reason can entrench us in untruth rather than liberate us. We can seek and find justification for any of our beliefs, individually or collectively: this, for example, is the birth of our cultural identity. Within this cultural framework there are different processes of rationalisation, arriving at different conclusions to address identical social needs. In politics, for example, we are often confronted with polarized public opinion, based upon contrary reasoned responses, to various issues. It isn't reason that divides but rather the axioms upon which that reason is based. These axioms, these beliefs, this faith we have in the direction of our reasons, are that which we need to confront to arrive at just and workable conclusions to the challenges that confront us.

To believe in the supremacy of reason is to believe that we, within ourselves, are capable of knowing all things – this is of course absurd. If we are born knowing nothing, and subjected to an education by those who know as good as nothing, where does this propensity to know all, by reason alone, spring from? I know I don't know; I don't know which way the wind blows tomorrow or the day after, whether there will be drought or famine, depression or revolution. I can, at best, read the signs; but like reading the future in tea-leaves, the signs make myriad of patterns, of possibilities, too vast for me, through reason alone, to find a path for my feet to travel in perfect safety and security. If I cannot find a path with certainty for myself, using reason alone, how can I hope to guide others?

My life is not subject to my reason alone, neither my living nor my dying. I do not create my life. I am in fact powerless in regard to its occurrence. Reason therefore tells me that there is reason beyond my reasoning for my existence. To fulfil the purpose of my being, there must be a propensity within me to place my faith in a reason beyond me, to guide me in a path that is for me. Just as there is an external light that guides the eyes of my body, there needs be a light that illumines my internal eyes, that I might walk the spiritual path of my life without stumbling. If this is true for me, faith tells me it is true for all men, no matter how they reason.

Ultimately to say that we have lost faith in all things, except for our ability to reason, is an absurdity. It is in fact a most unreasonable statement. If we have reason to believe in the perfection of our reason we must reason our claim, we have a responsibility to show all and sundry how we have arrived at this deduction that all may share in its bounty. If it is impossible to prove, as you will no doubt find, how can we keep holding fast to an unprovable axiom? Why do some believe as true an unsubstantiated claim? By doing so are they really 'preferring evidence to faith'? In a moment of weakness have they not been blinded by the’ light' of their own reason? They have found all other systems of belief unpalatable and have trusted in their own taste as supreme. It is not reason per se, however, that they believe in, but rather the 'light' of assurance they feel that their reason is correct. It is the 'Eureka' of Archimedes, the Newtonian apple of inspiration; it is this dawning of understanding that they trust in. But what is this light that gives man this assurance in his search for knowledge? Is this light always unerringly right and what is its source?

As I have mentioned all beliefs and dogmas and superstitions are the fruit of man's reasoning. Man has had numerous feelings of illumination, inspirational assurances that he has arrived at truth. But how many of them were true? Those who believe in the supremacy of reason would maintain only those insights that are not based on faith, but are they right? Today we believe we have arrived at truth because we have arrived at deeper and deeper analysis of observable reality. But if we take any field of science, and plumb its depths, we always come up with a brick wall. The light that illumines man's understanding has not yet revealed the ultimate truth that he is seeking. Rather than accept his limitations – a reasonable choice – man decides to reason otherwise. Why? Because he needs to put his faith in something! Without faith he has no reason! Only a man of reason calls a brick wall a door! A man of faith calls a wall a wall!

If reason tells me that it is not reason that I seek but light, then I must ask "What light?" As we can see there are many lights that illumine men's understanding, but not all light is reliable. Or in other words not all of which man puts his faith in proves faithful. Now just because we can be wrong about what we trust it does not follow that their is nothing that is trustworthy. For example, just because many men are unfaithful to their wives it does not mean that all men are unfaithful. So what we are seeking is a spiritual husband, a light which is never wrong to illumine our understanding; a faithful husband in whom we can put our faith.

As men of wisdom and learning we know that there are many faiths, many beliefs and many men who claim to speak the truth, but in whom we see no truth at all – Men who preach in a loving God but in whom we observe no love at all. Because we are wise men we reason thus – "All these men are fools, therefore there is no God at all". The reason we reason thus is not because we know, not because we want to believe "that though all men are liars God Himself is true", but it is because we know we are all flawed men, full of faults and failings, and we find it easier, more convenient to cope in unbelief, than to face the truth about ourselves. We can breathe a collective sigh of relief, if we choose to believe that there is no just and loving Father of us all who is rightly displeased with our meandering ways.

Seeing this is the state of all men unbelief not only flourishes but it is also strengthened by a sense of camaraderie, as if the weight of numbers alone equals truth. Not only this but we borrow from one another's reasoning to confirm us in the choice we have already decided to take. Hence we live in a world of collective amnesia, a self-induced hypnosis, a preparedness to believe anything but the truth.

Men of 'reason' rightly scorn on men of 'faith', for men of 'faith' use their reason to justify their own inability to live by what they preach. Men of 'faith' look at men of 'reason' and rightly say – "You say that there is no God to put your faith in, but you do not see that what you believe in is a new creed cast in your own image". Both use reason to justify their own existence. All are in error.

It is not that men who claim to trust in reason have no faith, but rather that they have no faith in what they perceive to be systems of belief. It is not that systems of belief are founded on no evidence, but that we choose to decide if the evidence of their claims allows us to be persuaded of their veracity.

If one reads Scripture, one finds that the faith expressed in both the Old and New Testaments is based on evidence. Noah heard God, listened to Him, built an Ark and then there was a flood. You can argue whether you believe in the events or not, but you cannot argue that Noah's faith, as depicted, was not based on evidence. Similarly Moses saw the Burning Bush and responded. Samuel heard God and listened. Isaiah saw God high and exalted and cried out in alarm. All of these men first saw or heard and then believed. Similarly the disciples saw Christ. He was in their midst he spoke to them and they believed him. His crucifixion was witnessed, as too was his appearance after his resurrection. Doubting Thomas was given the evidence he required, as was Gideon in the Old Testament. Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus. John was shown all that he wrote in the book of Revelation, as was Daniel whilst in captivity in Babylon.

There is in fact a substantial body of evidence recorded, what we are choosing to do is cast our vote as to whether we are willing to believe these men's experience or not.

In summary, as reasonable men, I hope we are not deceived in our reasoning. I hope we do not fall into the trap of regarding our own ability to reason as superior to another's, simply on the basis of our own perceptions. For surely, unless we are prepared to have even the very foundations we stand upon shaken, real enlightenment and truth have no way of proceeding.