As provoked by recent conversations with writer Chuck Gannon, writer/artist James A. Owen, artist Bob Eggleton, writer/philosopher Steven Barnes, and writer Jay Lake. Also, this is not an imperative. I am not telling you, the reader, what you must or must not do, or what you must or must not feel, believe, or think. This is me talking for me.
Okay then . . .
I believe the human ability to deduce and employ logic is one of the great gifts God gave us, and is a primary benefit of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden. Yes, I said benefit. Because reason involves choice, and choice is why I believe we are here on this Earth in the first place. Choice is why the Fall was required, just as Christ’s Atonement was required. Without free agency, we cannot realize our full potential. Free agency is the keystone to Heavenly Father’s plan.
And where free agency is concerned, our reason is our primary instrument. Our choices will be and should be greatly influenced by it. And it is to our benefit as individual sons and daughters of God to refine our ability in this capacity. Because our intellect, above all else, is what makes us truly human. Not just tool-using animals with big brains.
But what about faith? Is reason the enemy of faith, and is faith the enemy of reason? There are powerful religious, political, and social forces which tell us that reason and faith are at war with each other. Activists have recently invested a great deal of time and effort to convince us that we must fear the one, and embrace the other. As well as vice-versa. That to trust one, is to automatically distrust the other. And so on, and so forth.
My questions, when faced with that kind of a dichotomy: must the two be eternally opposed? And, is there not a third way?
To answer, you will permit me to go Full Trekkie. Despite the film’s somewhat degraded reputation, STAR TREK: THE MOTION PICTURE does have two overwhelmingly wonderful scenes, both of which speak to me.
Scene #1 – USS Enterprise sick bay
SPOCK: I saw V’ger’s planet. A planet populated by living machines. Unbelievable technology. But with all of its pure logic, V’ger is barren. Cold. No history. No beauty. I should have . . . known . . .
KIRK: Spock . . . what should you have known??
SPOCK: Jim. (takes Kirk’s hand) This simple feeling is beyond V’ger’s comprehension. No meaning. No hope. Jim, no answers. It’s asking questions. ‘Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?’
Scene #2 – USS Enterprise bridge
SPOCK: I weep for V’ger as I would for a brother. As I was when I came aboard, so is V’ger now: empty, incomplete, and searching . . . Logic and knowledge are not enough.
When I was a teenager I almost left my church and my faith, because my reason kept finding too many flaws, faults, and what I considered to be inconsistencies. Especially when it came to the membership acting contra to the professed beliefs and doctrine. (“Hypocrites.”) But as soon as I walked far enough away from my faith, I realized that (for me) reason alone was insufficient to provide the kind of meaning I knew I’d need to successfully navigate my way through life. There were key, fundamental questions (“Is this all that I am? Is there nothing more?”) for which reason alone did not suffice for me.
That was over 20 years ago. A key moment — when I decided to stop living reactively to the dilemma, heart versus head — and instead deliberately live (or at least strive to live) a life balanced between the two. Logic, and passion. Intellect, and faith. Empirical fact, and testimony of the soul.
I suspect most people do the same, to one degree or another. I might be wrong about that, but I think I am not. Seems to me even those who don’t operate within a defined religious structure do have, on some level, a kind of faith in a Higher Power, or even just a basic reverence for the humbling grandeur of the cosmos: a universe so great and so vast, there are aspects of it which we (as finite beings) may never comprehend, and that perhaps we are still tied to, even when our physical existence has ended.
Regardless, for me, if ever the balance (“faith vs. reason”) is upset, I usually end up making choices which I later regret. By nature, I live my life in my head. I am an instinctual skeptic. So there are many times when I realize I am thoroughly overthinking a thing, and that a little heart-felt spiritual contemplation and prayer can shine light on paths previously cloaked in darkness. I call these my “I know that I do not know” moments. (“Logic and knowledge are not enough.”)
I am always learning about myself and the people around me based on my desire to expand and deepen my understanding of a universe in which thought and feeling both seem integral to attaining actual wisdom. I resist the activists (on both sides of the debate) who seek to push, shove, cajole, shame, sue, or threaten us all into abandoning our reason for blind belief and doctrinaire lockstep, or forget our testimonies of what we know to be true, simply for the vagaries of the material world. Which too often seems (to my mind) capable of making anything appear “reasonable.” Even that which is deeply wrong in the eyes of the Lord. (That’s me speaking for me again, you will note)
Of course, America (and indeed, the West as a whole) has become a tremendously polyglot society. Different forms of belief (and unbelief) guide each of us down different paths of choice. Often, these choices collide; or at least appear to collide. In the era of social media, we are all inside each others’ heads, as it were. And we don’t always find the furniture to our liking. Even people we’d call colleagues and friends. Their mental and spiritual spaces can be foreign. Sometimes, so foreign that these spaces offend either our own spiritual information, or our center of reasoning; or both.
Again, I strive for balance. I also try to remember that different minds, equally equipped, think differently. Believe differently. Reach different conclusions. It’s vexing. But, it’s also the best we have to work with. Can our society teach itself to accommodate the believer and the disbeliever alike? Can we as people develop our personal emotional-ideological bubbles to the point that rubbing up against the emotional-ideological bubbles of others, results in a gentle flexing, as opposed to a shattering POP! — for one or both parties?
The older I get, the more I want to be the kind of person who can flex. Not abandon my own reasoning, belief, or principles. I don’t think that’s what flexing requires. But . . . smoothly slide through a world filled with other bubbles. Interacting with many. Occasionally, arguing where the argument has merit. But not turning it into a bona fide melee — where the rigidity of one person’s bubble, similarly makes mine go rigid. Like billiard balls. Crack!
My day to day philosophy is live and let live and try not to bother people too much.
Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves
— Ioannis Pauli PP. II, Fides et Ratio
Beautifully written, brad– and yes, I firmly believe that the Third Way leads to balance, which the Universe demands if we are to live successfully within it. Balance and intent– the right and left hands of the Numinous.
When it comes to faith vs. reason, I cannot help but remember this observation: if religion is having faith in something that cannot be proven, then Mathematics is the only thing that has formally been proven to be a religion.
As a mathematician, I sometimes feel a little uneasy about this consequence of Gödel’s Theorem, even though I also have (an albeit sometimes wavering) faith in a Supreme Being…but sometimes I amuse myself by thinking about all those who claim that Science and Reason are the only way, who don’t appreciate how much Reason itself relies on faith, even if it’s just the simple faith that we didn’t screw up our axioms of logic, math, and science…
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