Friday, March 12, 2010

More Faith and Reason

My friend, The Philosobiker, seems confused by the way some of my friends and I talk about faith and reason. Specifically he was confused by

"there is nowhere to go spiritually in our culture once the rational mind awakens”

- this is not referring to an inherent quality of religion - it is referring to the way we practice religion in Western culture. Some religious groups are trying to do something about this (Methodists, Episcopalians, Unitarian, Unity) but they remain controversial. What is a Southern Baptist (as I was) to do when we become proficient at rationality and are brave enough to apply it to real parts of our lives, not just classroom abstractions? The choices, apparently, are to abandon rationality in some domains of your life, or to abandon your religious beliefs. This is the steel ceiling. It is exceedingly difficult to embrace rational religious beliefs. We polarize religion and rationality so that the gulf is only bridgeable by changing sides. What Daniel and I are interested in doing is building a broad bridge by which these two opposing nationalities can intermingle and perhaps make peace.

So there are at least two big parts of this:

1) Open religion up to rationality
2) Open rationality up to religion.

This discussion gets confusing because there are two conditions involved - the way that reason and faith are currently perceived by many, and what may be other possible ways to deal with reason and faith. So I may say "reason and faith are not incompatible" meaning there is no reason we can't build this bridge. And I may also say, "there is a steel ceiling on religion that won't allow the faithful to develop into reason." meaning that many of the "reasonable" and the "faithful" have adopted this antagonistic stance and are preventing the successful integration of the two.



  1. So, how do we soften the borders without blurring people's sense of self? Good question.

    Modernist faith looks awfully cold to so many. It feels dangerous to step into such swiftly moving currents.

    A bridge. Such a lovely metaphor for this. Take me to the bridge...

  2. Sounds like Kierkegaard's leap of faith, perhaps? I guess that doesn't mix well with the bridge metaphor. But in my superficial understanding of his argument, he does want to preserve both reason and faith.

  3. Perhaps, although I'd say that Kierkegaard is getting on toward post-modernism which is another question altogether. Like you, I'm no expert on him.

    I view this problem primarily as social. We have this strange notion that no reasonable person would be interested in religion, and conversely that no religious person would be interested in reason. Part of the problem is just what do we mean by words like "faith", "religion", "spirituality". I don't mean that we have to contort ourselves into thinking that believing in young earth creation and a big bearded man in the sky is compatible with reason. But there are forms of spirituality and religious practice that are. As it stands today, when one begins to question the literal stories of their faith, there is no deeper faith waiting for them, so they just have to quit.

    What does it mean to have faith in Jesus if you don't believe in his literal divinity? I think it can mean quite a lot. In my book, Jesus *did* die for our sins. He wanted to help people and for that he was killed. Some are really working at what a rational faith would look like. I think Rob Bell is one of those. I think Thomas Keating is another. If the fundamentalists and the scientismists would stop clubbing each other long enough to listen, we might get somewhere.


Please keep it civil, folks.