Faith versus Reason

In False Dichotomies - the lines between on March 17, 2015 at 12:39 am

Faith no parachuteThis was an image on Facebook a while back.  It portrays a popular understanding of faith.  It describes what we might call blind faith. The adjective blind distinguishes this faith from reasonable faith–or simply, faith.

There is a popular, but mistaken, notion that religious people base their conviction of the existence of God on a faith that is opposed to reason. I am mildly frustrated when I read this error in an online rant from some guy trying to prove religious people are idiots because they are so irrational. But what really drives me nuts is when Christians to it. Both the atheist and the theist are mistaken when they think faith is the opposite of reason.

Reason is really important. It is important that Christians are reasonable. Without reason, faith will become nothing more than sentiment. The more sentimental faith becomes, the more it will be pushed around by the values of the dominant culture, or some mutant form of Christianity.

Christians need to understand that reason is not a bad thing–God made it.  It is important that we clarify terms. Luigi Giussani’s in the second chapter The Religious Sense discusses what reason is not.  First, rational is not the same as demonstrable.  This is the empirical approach which says that a thing is true, only if we have evidence. (I will point out that this principle itself is not empirically verifiable, so empiricism is self-refuting as a complete theory of knowledge.) There are many things that are rational, that are not demonstrable. Second, rational is not the same as logical. Logic is all about coherence. It is logical to say, as my son once did, that creatures eat what they like; beavers eat trees; trees taste good. It’s logical, but based on a false premise–not rational. Logic and demonstration are two of the tools in the hands of reason. Reason, as it has been understood for millennia, and as it is lived by every human being who has ever lived, is much bigger than the merely demonstrable or logical.   Giussanii says that rationality is  adherence to reality, and because reality is so very big and deep and wide, rationality is a lot bigger than we often think. There are different procedures for using reason–all depend on the object.

  • It is rational to say that water is H20. My certainty comes from a scientific or analytic procedure.
  • It is rational to say that (a+b)(a-b)=(a² -b²) The procedure here is mathematical.
  • It is rational to say that a woman has the same rights as a man. This claim is based on a philosophical approach: all humans are equal; women are human; women are equal to men.
  • It is rational to say that my mother loves me. This moral or existential certainty is derived from many thousands of encounters with my mother.

Importantly, we can be in error when using any of these methods. But we will always be in error–we will be irrational–if we use the wrong procedure. As I said before, the method one uses is dictated by the object. It would be irrational of me to attempt to use the philosophical procedure to attempt to understand the chemical composition water.   It would be equally irrational to use the scientific procedure to determine a mother’s love for her child. When I sit down to dinner at my mother’s house, I do not need to test the food to know that the food isn’t poisoned. It’s irrational for me to think it is. It would be irrational to have to test each component of the meal in order to ascertain that it was safe for consumption.

We aren’t being rational if we are limiting reason to only two or three categories.

Now for a definition of faith. When we are not talking about blind faith, we are talking about faith in relation to reason. Giussani’s definition of faith is “adhesion to what another affirms.” Faith is unreasonable if there are no adequate reasons for the faith. I have reasons to adhere to what my doctor tells me about exercise.  I have reasons to believe what others tell me about the molecular composition of water. I have reasons to believe in the eyewitness accounts of Christ’s resurrection.  Faith is reasonable if there are reasons to adhere to what another affirms.

Imagine if humanity never practiced this type of reasonable faith. We’d never move forward because each individual would need to start at square one.  I’d have to study the effects of exercise on the cholesterol levels myself.  We’d never get anywhere as a civilization.  So, I accept it as true and act accordingly. It’s rational to do so, because I have good reason to believe it to be true. So even the knowledge made certain by the first three methods require faith.

Perhaps these definitions of faith and reason are still unacceptable to some, but these are the definitions that human beings live by–they are the definitions most attuned to reality of lived experience. If one lives by them, one can be said to have a personal relationship with reality.

“A personal relationship with reality”?

In When Atheists are Right on March 16, 2015 at 6:29 am

Billboard 1This billboard communicates an important truth: it’s good to have a relationship, personal or otherwise, with reality.  It is, however, contestable that atheism brings us into this relationship.  It does so only if there isn’t a God.   If there is a God, then this is false advertising.




Diamonds don’t burst inside us and wildfires don’t search or sing.

In Rants on February 9, 2015 at 7:47 pm

Praise 1Barrak Obama said in his Inaugural Address, “As we consider the road that unfolds before us…” (2009).

This is an error called a mixed metaphor; they can be funny.

Cher reportedly once said, “I’ve been up and down so many times that I feel as if I’m in a revolving door.”

Here’s a healine: “Ahmadinejad wields axe to cement his position” (Independent, 14 December 2010).

OK, they aren’t hilarious, but they are amusing in appropriate places.  I don’t think we want them in our praise and worship songs.

“Like a rose, trampled on the ground you thought of me…”

“Like a flood, his mercy reigns . . . ”

There is such beauty and power in language, and to neglect them in one of the most important language acts in which a human being can participate is a problem.

There are wonderful songs that we sing in church where every line is worship and revelation: “Blessed Be Your Name” and “10,00 Reasons” are examples of such songs. But for one line, “Revelation Song” comes close.

Then there are those songs that trade in cliché, clunky diction, vague purpose, awkward syntax and mixed metaphor.

They are not usually all bad. I can usually sing them without too much discomfort, but is this something that should happen in communal worship? I often feel as if I am too critical, but I cannot reject what I know about the potential of language as a vehicle for worship.

What am I to do? Get off my high horse and realize that to heaven even Mozart sounds inferior to a toddler banging on his 8 note Fisher-Price piano? I do try. I try to focus on the one we are there to worship. I try to look past the lyrics to the intention of the writer. I try to absorb the sincerity of the singers that surround me. Sometimes I just block out the sounds and talk to God. Perhaps, I should be more than content with this, but I love to sing–and it’s a powerful and symbolic experience to participate in communal singing.

Is any of this the responsibility of those who write praise and worship songs?

My theory is that the priority of many (not all) song writers is to engage the heart of the people during worship sets.

I have a theory as to why: many song writers encounter God by music through the heart, so they write songs that would bring them into worship, but this one approach is too narrow.  Not everyone enters worship through the same door.

The best praise and worship songs are not reductive they engage the heart, mind, soul and body. The best songs have a specific focus and therefore unity, the sense is communicated through carefully selected words and often echoed in the music, syntax and diction aren’t forced and sometimes surprising, figurative language is effective: it has a deliberate effect.

The mixed metaphors are funny when someone says, “It’s like pulling hen’s teeth.” But they do get in the way of some people being able to praise and adore the most high God.

The song “Multiplied” has two in the first verse:

Your love is like radiant diamonds

Bursting inside us we cannot contain

Your love will surely come find us

Like blazing wild fires singing Your name