Sunday, November 22, 2015

Recommendations for Those Struggling Between Faith and Reason

Many within Western Culture have struggled with just how faith and reason interact and some have erroneously maintained that these are incompatible, and that faith somehow suggests a rejection of reason.

For those struggling between these philosophical and cultural forces, I have a couple of recommendations, as I too have found myself at a similar crossroads and wrestled deeply with issues of faith and reason. I will go ahead and tell you that I do affirm my Christian faith and I also fully affirm the reliability of reason in determining and judging scientific discovery, but through this struggle I have both greatly expanded my ideas regarding who or what Christ is, and how this translates into purpose for my life. Anyway, here are some brief suggestions as you continue your journey:

1) Do not be afraid to doubt. Doubt is the means by which we humbly question our own assumptions. It provides the opportunity for self-reflection and discovery. Never fear doubt. If you decide to continue living a life of faith, remember that scripture never presents God as One who punishes doubters and that doubt forms a foundational catalyst for transformation in many scriptural stories (cf. dialuges beteween God and Abraham, Gideon, and Moses; the Lament Psalms; the books of Job, Ecclesiastes, & Lamentations).

2) Challenge your own definitions. Many on here argue from basic assumptions regarding what words like "reason," "faith," "spiritual," and "good," really mean. These are all philosophically, culturally, and historically complex terms each with many, often competing definitions. For me, a major turning point was when I no longer defined faith as "blind belief" or "belief contrary to evidence," and instead defined it as "relational trust" in a God who is present in the Incarnation of Christ, and who died and resurrected. This definition was shaped by a re-evaluation of the often misquoted verse in Heb. 11:1 (which refers to hope in the future based on the evidence of Christ's resurrection, and not in a baseless past). I realized that the only God which could matter at all is not a cosmological-derived god found in the gaps of reason; but instead in a relational God found in the Incarnation of Christ.

3) Challenge your cultural assumptions. Despite my belief in objective truth, I know that we all view life through our own cultural lens. For Evangelical Christianity in America, this has often meant that people equate faith with right-wing political machinations and the heavy collusion of state and church forces. This is unfortunate, because it turns a lot of people off to Christianity, who see it simply as another corrupt means of control. But the more I have studied the teaching of Jesus, the critical, textual, and historical development of the New Testament, and the effects of cultural biases; the more I have fallen in love with the promise which Christ has provided and represents even today.

4) Do not fall into the trap of confirmation bias. So many people, whether theists or atheists or any other stripe of religious philosophy (or the lack there of) actively seek out sources that only reinforce their current beliefs. Don't be afraid of contrary opinions, but at the same time, don't give undue weight to those who reinforce ideas you may already be forming simply because they are convenient. For example, I personally have become convinced of the relative historical reliability of the gospel accounts and the conviction that the disciples believed they had witnessed the resurrected Christ. I think the historical record confirms this (as do most scholars), despite the recent influx of scholars and writers who suggest that Christ never existed. I think the often overly vocal minority opinion is given so much weight in some circles because it confirms the preconceived notions of those who hold to it.

5) Expand your ideas concerning what is possible. A large part of my theological development has been heavily influenced by the works of the Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and his writings positing the noosphere and the idea of The Omega Point as a realization of the hope that all of Creation will one day be fully integrated, fully self-realized, and fully united (cf. theosis) in the Body of Christ itself; as well as the works of Carl Jung within the field of analytical psychology. So many people lose sight of the great promises of what someday will be, that their philosophy collapses into nothing more than a self-serving, hedonistic practicalism.

You'll notice that in the recommendations above, I have tried to guide you to some influential thinkers while at the same time I have avoided telling you exactly what to think. I want you to discover that for yourself. Still, it may be provide some comfort during your intellectual and spiritual struggle ahead that others have fought along the same path you now undertake and many have found fulfilling insights (which are usually accompanied by more questions) along the way. God bless you as you look for answers and I hope that you find what you are looking for.

#faith #reason #philosophy #belief


Ty J. Wilson said...

I'm interested in how you define faith, and why faith is necessary if you have reason to believe.

Brother Ivan, the Sinner said...

That's a good question (and I've been meaning to write a post on the importance of using common definitions in dialogue, especially when talking about faith and reason). I define faith as relational trust. In pretty much any relationship, trust is based on how both parties have interacted in the past. In the case of belief in God, or more specifically Christ, this trust is based on whether or not the historical evidence for the incarnation, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is compelling. Since I think it is (and I understand this is debatable for many people), my faith is built on the understanding that God has already proven His trustworthiness by raising Christ from the dead. This is also the argumentation (adapted a bit for my purposes here) of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15.