Friday, September 25, 2009

Faith OR Reason?

I talked in the last post about Catholic philosophy and modern science. When persons claim that faith has more to do with belief than reason, they are often accused of being "fideists." Some people seem to claim (in so many words) that if you have faith in God without studying philosophy, your belief is not adequate. That claim in itself is unreasonable.

People come to God in many ways. There are masses of faithful who live and die never having studied philosophy. These people can have as real a relationship with God as professors. Yet, others take the journey to God by means of reason. They may not have an emotional conversion experience, yet they convert all the same. There is a sense, though, in which the stress on philosophy can lessen the importance of relationship, and that is a mistake. We need some balance of both heart and head.

Faith is a mystery, a word which probably makes philosophy professors shudder. Yet the Bible gives us some beautiful passages about it to get us on track. One is Ephesians 2:8 (taken from the USCCB webpage of the New American Bible):

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God;
it is not from works, so no one may boast.

This means, for one thing, we need to get rid of all pride in order to believe well. God gave us intellect, and we are to use it. But we are so susceptible to making pronouncements that put us above others, we must be very careful. The focus is always on God Himself.

Another verse is from John 6:29:
So they said to him, "What can we do to accomplish the
works of God?"
Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent."

These verses may seem contradictory, but I don't think they are. God teaches us by varying the approach. Unfortunately, we grab onto one idea or the other, then fight about it with others. I think the passages when contemplated together may mean that our work is at least in part reason because everyone thinks, but while you think, don't forget mystery. To give examples, if you simply as a child accepted Jesus as soon as your parents or priest told you about Him, perhaps it was because you trusted these authority figures, and perhaps an element of faith which is beyond our understanding also had a part. In fact, that part may be a factor in the learned professor's conversion though s/he is unaware of it. Yet to follow historical philosophical thought, to question and reach your own conclusion that God exists is certainly a help in strengthening that faith.

Modern science does not completely understand consciousness, even though they have learned much about the brain. My belief is that neither consciousness nor the soul will ever be understood completely by human beings. There will always be mystery, and for that reason we need faith.

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