Reason is the greatest enemy that faith has: it never comes to the aid of spiritual things, but--more frequently than not --struggles against the divine Word, treating with contempt all that emanates from God.
That we may be altogether of the same mind and in conformity with the Church herself, if she shall have defined anything to be black which appears to our eyes to be white, we ought in like manner to pronounce it to be black. For we must undoubtingly believe, that the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the Spirit of the Orthodox Church His Spouse, by which Spirit we are governed and directed to Salvation, is the same.
St Ignatius Loyola
Faith: virtue or vice?
The value of faith is something I have taken for granted most of my life. Only three things last forever faith, hope and love and faith more than anything else in the evangelical worldview is understood as the key to one’s salvation. Yet like so many things faith comes at a price and that price is reason.
Can faith and reason coexist? Growing up this question did not concern me much. Instead I focused on the value of faith and grooming it in any and all possible ways. I knew the truth of Christ’s work in his life, death and resurrection. I knew that it was by grace we were saved through faith and so I sought to mature my faith and to trust the God I believed in with my whole heart. In my pursuit of maturity I studied the bible constantly and soon I studied theology, then history and then I examined other religions and philosophy. Perhaps the greatest thing I learned as I studied was how little I knew. With each book I read and each class I took I found more and more ideas, events and people that I simply never knew existed. Soon my faith began to shake because as I looked at so many other systems of belief and thought I had to try and find a way to justify why I held the beliefs I did while rejecting the ones I learned about. The longer I tried to do this the more I found faith unhelpful in justify itself. Faith couldn’t provide any answers rather it simply told me to stop asking questions and just believe what I was taught oh so long ago as a child. So in my effort to justify and save my faith I turned to another source to do it and that was reason. I began to question more critically the things I had been taught in order to measure them fairly and equally over and against other systems of belief and prove to myself that my faith was in fact the true one. Instead as I did this I came to find that there were just as many holes in my own belief system as those of the other religions, sects and philosophies I was studying. As I placed my own faith under the microscope I had to laugh as I began to see that all along I had been using reason in order to show the shortcomings and inadequacies of other faiths and yet I had never bothered to place my own faith under that same microscope. As I have been willing to place more and more of my own Christian beliefs under the examination of unattached reason I have found them to be filled with numerous shortcomings and inadequacies of their own. This process has taken years but the further I move from the faith of my childhood the harder it becomes to understand how such a faulty system could hold such great sway over me.
Martin Luther and Ignatius Loyola were giants in the Reformation and Counter-Reformation. As I read their words I cannot but be saddened in the sheer foolishness of their ideas. Their words seem to be built upon fear and arrogance as much as anything else. But in a way they were wise for truly the best way to defend any system of thought is to say it demands faith in order to be correctly followed. Faith is not meant to be questioned, studied or examined rather it is meant to be followed blindly, which is great for those in charge. Few things are as abhorrent to me as blind faith. Far more often then not it produces the fruit of ignorance, apathy and hate. The attraction of blind faith is of course it provides you the reassurance that you are safe and that you know everything you need to know. Basically it “frees” you to not ask difficult questions about the world around you further it encourages you to be lazy. One of the things I have found the most valuable about philosophy is the work ethic it instills in those who would pursue it. Truth may be the goal of both the prophet and the philosopher but it is the philosopher who works hard in pursuit of it while the prophet sits around waiting for it to drop from the sky. The prophet accepts the truth to be whatever he is told whereas the philosopher takes what he is told and questions it, examines it and then decides. The key to the philosopher’s pursuit of truth is disinterest. Disinterest is not the same as uninterest rather it means the philosopher comes at questions of truth without predetermined answers. The philosopher accepts the fact that the truth may turn out to be unsavory but does not let that hinder his quest or persuade him to use simpler, faster and yes inadequate means to finding the truth such as revelation. The divine game of telephone that is revelation is not enough for the philosopher. Even if the sky itself parts and God speaks telling the philosopher what is true the philosopher would still have to question what he was told because the truth of an idea should not be determined by who is speaking but by the validity of the idea itself. If God spoke to me I honestly hope I would remain “faithful” enough to the honest pursuit of truth that I would make sure to openly question what I was told. “Because I said so” may be an answer that a child is willing to accept for a time but it does not take long even for a child to see the inadequacy of such an answer. Faith is saying okay while reason is asking why.
Can faith be reasonable? I don’t know it seems to me like the answer is no. If faith could be obtained through the use of reason then it would no longer be faith. As I read the words of Luther and Ignatius I can see why so many people have died throughout history in the name of religion it is because faith demands unquestioned obedience and so few were brave enough or more likely so few were diligent enough to scrutinize the faith they were handed. The beauty of faith for Luther and Ignatius was that it made their belief system impenetrable to critique from the inside but it also made them equally useless from the outside. To an unbiased or unconnected seeker there is no way to pick one system over the other for both reject reason and demand blind faith and as seen before blind faith cannot justify itself to those on the outside genuinely seeking the truth. Faith is useless to the honest seeker.
Faith comes with a dark side one that more often then not is manipulated by those who see it and hidden from those do not know it exists. Faith seeks to trap those under it from seeing its other side. It demands that what is white must be seen as black simply because someone else says it is. Now if that doesn’t raise a red flag then I do not know what else can. The words of Luther and Ignatius are clear, faith demands blind obedience above all else and that is truly disheartening. So then if faith is a virtue then reason must be a vice and so I say give me the vice of reason, give me the sin of doubt, give me the depravity of inquiry, give me the wickedness of study and give me the corruption of thought because these vices work hard to discover the truth and are not satisfied with the answer which is provided by faith, “because I said so.” So thank you Luther and Ignatius for showing so clearly the true virtue of faith.