Throughout our daily life, we encounter many people; we treat these people based on a certain perception we have developed for each one of them. These perceptions are built upon some common conceptions or misconceptions. For example, when we encounter a rich person, we commonly think of a proud person; when we encounter an educated person, we commonly think of a sophisticated person; and when we encounter a religious person, we commonly think of a naïve person. Even though all of these perceptions are built upon misconceptions, in my article today I would like to focus on the last one. Is it true that every religious person is naive? Can someone be religious and intellectual at the same time? Can a religious person have reason? Common belief says No. However, I will try to prove otherwise in this article. We will consider the topic of faith and reason from three different perspectives.
First is the human perspective: Humanity understanding of faith and reason has evolved over time. Traditionally, faith meant trusting in someone or something even if I don’t experience it tangibly. Faith was always understood as a gift given by God. Today, faith to most people means giving in to some superstitions, Karl Marx says “Religion is the opium of the people.” Reasons understanding is no exception to this evolution. Reason traditionally meant having the willingness to consider any reality whether it is tangible or not. Today, reason has limited itself only to what can only be proven scientifically. The common saying goes like that “If you can’t prove it to me scientifically then I can’t believe in it.” The question how? How did this shift in the understanding of faith and reason occur? And more importantly why?
The shift occurred due to some philosophies or schools of thought that moved man’s understanding of reality from one belief system to another searching for meaning and answers. Before the coming of Christ, humanity believed in many gods “Polytheism” but, when Christ manifested the one true God in His person” Monotheism “man’s hunger for the truth was satisfied. With time and due to the ignorance of many including some clergy members irrational acts and practices infiltrated religion and people started looking for answers elsewhere. The compromise was in taking God out our everyday life “Deism” which made God impersonal, similar to a watchmaker who made the watch but has nothing to do with it after. This understanding paved the way to a complete rejecting of the super natural God and moved man to a purely Natural understanding of reality” Naturalism.” Naturalism, promised to give an answer to every question through natural sciences. This period of history is called Modernity. Even though Modernity ended in the eighteenth century but its marks remain with us to this day. Modernity which presented the truth through science only has no room for a supernatural God. Why? Because science deals with matter and God is beyond matter. So, the logical conclusion is God and science are at odds and since science became the new name for reason, therefore faith and reason are at odds with each other as well. That’s where the common misconception of the incompatibility between a religious person and reason are developed.
This is the historical and erroneous process that made the shift in the human understanding of faith and reason and left them at odds with each other. This is the human understanding; does God understand it the same way? Let’s consider God’s perspective.
Theological perspective: To understand God’s point of view regarding any topic we need to consider His word in sacred scripture. Let’s start by asking ourselves a question. Does God want us to use reason? Does He want us to be intellectual? The answer is YES. St Peter in his first letter writes “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Pet. 3:15). The word Hope here refers to our Christian faith so, God is demanding from us the use of our intellect so we can explain our faith to others. On the other hand, God demands faith from us as well. In the letter to the Hebrews the author writes “But without faith it is impossible to please him, for anyone who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb 11:6). By examining these two simple verses we come to the conclusion that God demands faith and reason from us. The mere fact that he demands them means that they don’t contradict each other for God is the creator of both. God is the creator of all that is true and if we as human beings are finding them not compatible then we need to reconsider our position and that’s what we will deal with in our final section of this article.
Practical perspective: A great saint by the name of Anselm has given us the solution to this problem. St Anselm who was a philosopher himself urged all Christians to live their lives following the model of “Faith seeking understanding.” For Anselm to be a balanced human person you would need to have both. It is very true because if we divorce reason from faith, it becomes blind and God doesn’t want us to have blind faith. The prophet Hosea writes “My people are ruined for lack of knowledge” (Hos. 4:6). On the other hand having reason alone without faith leads a human person to disparity since no human mind can comprehend the reality of God’s creation. Many of the philosophies we mentioned above tried this route but the end results were failures. St John Paul 2nd started his letter on faith and reason by saying “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” Let us all start with this little faith and open ourselves to understand it so we can truly encounter the creator through mind and soul.
Karam Bahnam has a BA in Philosophy and is currently working on his MA in Theology; he is a co-founder of the Eastern Catholic Re-evangelization Center (ECRC)