Is Faith Reasonable?

As I attacked the sweet, sweet powder at the summit of Big Mountain — daring Canada to the north, stalwart Idaho to the west, hauntingly prehistoric Glacier National Park with its wisely sleeping grizzlies to the east, and the Kalispell-Flathead valley laid out like a magic carpet behind me — I worried at a simple question with an impossible answer, namely: Is Faith Reasonable?

Ayn Rand: Reason > Faith

What got us going was the provocative Sam-I-Am Harris, whose best-selling The End of Faith was quite explicit in saying: Hell, no! Faith is an abdication of the mind, like a willful astral projection of thought. Modern atheists (like the super-serious Ayn Rand, left) find faith not only irrational but immorally so. “The alleged short-cut to knowledge, which is faith, is only a short-circuit destroying the mind,” Rand wrote in Atlas Shrugged.

But we’d just spent some considerable time, as you may remember, with our old Benedictine friend Thomas Aquinas, who used his own genius-level reason to meticulously pick apart faith, and so embodied Anselm’s self-definition of faith seeking understanding. Faith came first for pre-moderns; understanding could not contradict the truth, which comes from God, and so it’s up to us to make it work.

As I see it now, those of us who are willing to accept there may be something worth calling God in this world can go two ways:

  1. Faith is mysterious, beyond words and explanations, more of a feeling, perhaps in the body; we may accept and commit to it but will never really be able to explain it
  2. Faith is difficult, and may seem irrational, but that doesn’t mean we have to give up on finding logical reasons to believe — we may believe there is good evidence for God (argument from design), believe it’s useful to believe (pragmatists), think we can get at least part-way to God using logic and syllogisms (Aquinas), or convince ourselves God must exist (Descartes, Aristotle)

Put another way, people who think there is a God and have a reason for thinking this do so either because (1) God revealed Itself to her either through the church or scripture or personal experience; or (2) God became a necessary condition to help her understand what she saw and thought.

Put another another way: (1) God finds us; or (2) We find God. The second path is that of reason and faith.


2 responses to “Is Faith Reasonable?

  1. I hate being in the same boat with Ayn Rand on anything. Her above quote typical of her reactionary, insane outlook, but I can’t help feeling like there’s some truth in it. I probably missed that quote while I was laughing at the “we smart people are going to take our ball and go home if you welfare grubbing leeches don’t start doing your part” theme that runs through all 9,102,453 pages of the book.

    (in terms of your we find God/God finds us question) The second of your final choices seems to make more sense. I’m not sure how God can find someone who isn’t looking for God. If God tried to make himself apparent to a non-believer who is not searching, why would the person not searching bother to take the clues and add them up to God? Doesn’t a person have to be trying to find God on some level to find God? Otherwise, how would a person know God when It reveals Itself? If a person lived alone and had never heard of God before and God suddenly appeared, why would a person believe that this Creature was what it said it was?

    “Faith is mysterious, beyond words and explanations, more of a feeling, perhaps in the body; we may accept and commit to it but will never really be able to explain it”. I believe this is very true. In fact, I couldn’t think of a better way of putting it. I think sometimes this feeling is so strong it creates the willingness to attribute its existence to reason. Maybe people come out of the search for God with nothing more than reasons to justify to the world what they already think they know or (in my case) reasons that negate what I already think is impossible.

    It’s a catch 22 anyway you look at it. The minute you try to explain God you are trapped within the boundaries of language which can barely give us words to properly express what a hug feels like let alone connection to the force driving the entire universe. Rationality is limited to what can be expressed. The catch 22 on the other side of this coin is you can’t possibly talk people out of what they instinctively feel, no matter how hard you try, even if that feeling leads them towards self-destructive tendencies (to paraphrase Rand). I’m not even sure it’s worth trying.

  2. Great post Keith – love what you say about Rand. She’s one of those people I love/hate … but those huge, loooong novels she wrote are a lot of fun to read, particularly if you’re an underpaid twentysomething with delusions of grandeur (as I was, once) … I’m looking forward to the “Atlas Shrugged” movie, though sad Angelina Jolie isn’t in it (she was the original lead, I think). Talking rationally about the irrational is fiendishly difficult: it involves three things (words, reason and mystery) that don’t travel well together. But every day I’m encouraged to see I’m not the only person troubled by an inability to “figure it out” … not just philosophers but people like us, millions and millions … I agree with you that even if someone could prove, once and for all, there is no God, they probably wouldn’t convert a single believer. And vice versa.

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