The Crisis between Faith and Reason


Here are my thoughts for Trinity Sunday.
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It was noted that President John Kennedy, if he had lived, would have turned ninety last week. Discounting everything else, with the medical problems that we now know plagued him, I don’t think that he would have lived to be that old. It would have been an interesting and most likely better world if he had not been assassinated in 1963. From the prospective of 47 years of history and because it is the only way that I can evaluate what might have happened, this country was on the verge of something great.

It seems to me that with the struggles of equality and the attempts to reach the moon, there was vitality in our lives. There was a sense of involvement by the people. It was a country where there was a drive for excellence in all ways, from the arts to the sciences, from social equality to financial equality. Yes, there was the war in Viet Nam and one of the great debates of history will always be whether John Kennedy would have kept us there after the 1964 elections. But that question, like all questions of history, can never be answered because of November 22, 1963.

But today, we have to wonder if any of the greatness that seemed possible back then has been achieved. Yes, we accomplished the goal President Kennedy set forth of landing a man on the moon before 1970 but we have not been there since Apollo 17 returned to earth on 19 December 1972. We have, to the best of my knowledge, no plans to go back to the moon and the plans for the orbital space station are contingent on funding. It is unlikely that we will be returning to space in the next decade because, to paraphrase President Kennedy’s challenge, “it is too dangerous and too expensive, so we will choose not to go.”

Our schools today are no better than they were; in fact, I would propose that they are worse than they were. The space race that began in the late 50’s drove our schools to improve science and mathematics teaching but the funding for these programs dried up when the race ended and now we worry about the quality of science and mathematics teaching. We worry about the quality of all the teaching but instead of improving teaching through support and the education of teachers, we seek to improve our teaching by constantly testing our children.

One thing is certain; in our drive to improve teaching, we have the best tested children in the world. But they know little more than what is on the test. Test skills, while important, do little to improve thinking and reasoning skills. The tests that we require our children to take only test them on the factual knowledge that they have gained in the previous six months; if we were really interested in what they learned, we would wait some six more months and then test the children. Right now, I would suggest that if that were to happen, test scores would plummet because nothing was ever learned.

It is quite apparent that we as a nation cannot adequately think or reason. If we could, would our news broadcasts be filled with stories about which starlet was caught driving while intoxicated or which star did something equally outrageous? If we were a nation that could adequately think or reason, would we have fallen for the lies and half-truths that were given as rationale for invading Iraq? Would we, if we had adequately thought about the consequences, ever allowed ourselves to be in the midst of a civil war that now seems never to end? And, if we could adequately think and reason, would we stand back quietly and let President Bush suggest that we are going to be in Iraq for the next fifty years when less than four years ago, he strutted across an aircraft carrier deck and proclaimed that the mission was accomplished?

There is a crisis between faith and reason in this country. There is also a crisis of faith and reason in this country. Back in January, I wrote

“If you lead a life based solely on empiricism and have no faith, you will lead a life without vision. You may be successful in what you do but you will not know where you are going or if you are ever going to get there.

If you lead a life based solely on faith but ignore the world around you, you will have a vision of what you want to be and where you want to go but you will not have the means to fulfill your vision.

Life is both faith and reason – the day-to-day activities of life hand-in-hand with one’s vision of the future. (1)

To live without reason is to live without the means of creating and solving the problems of this world. By the same token, to live without faith takes away the ability to have a vision of the future. But there are those in the faith community that would limit what we can do with reason.

For some in the faith community, the world is determined by the Bible and all thoughts and ideas that we might develop cannot contradict what is written in the Bible. We are to accept the creation of the world as described in the Bible as fact and accept it without question, even when the physical evidence suggests otherwise. Now, I am not denying that God created this world but I think it was done in a manner that we are just beginning to understand. To limit what we teach in science or demand that science teach in a manner that does not reflect the process of science can only limit our potential, a potential given to us and created in us by God. It was God that gave us the gift of rationale thought and a mind to use.

I sometimes think that those who want an alternative theory of evolution taught in the classroom are afraid. They are afraid that people will see their faith as shallow, immature, or weak. They do not want their children to learn new ideas because new ideas can only cause challenges in their faith.

In the same manner, there are those today who belittle people of faith. They argue and write that there is no God. They choose this line of thought for any number of reasons, among them how people of faith treat other people and the lack of empirical evidence for the existence of God.

But how people treat others is not a sign of the presence of God (if anything, it is a sign that the presence of God is not present) and it is impractical or improbable that one will ever find empirical evidence that God exists. And those who insist on the need to find evidence that God exists are like those who insist on a line of thought that concludes that this earth is only some 6000 years old. It is faulty thinking from the beginning and it can never adequately explain what this world is about and who its people are.

The Old Testament reading for today comes from Proverbs (2). The commentary for the first part of the reading tells us that wisdom wants to reach everyone and broadcasts its message openly. Wisdom’s words can be trusted and will deliver on its promises. The words of wisdom are truth and are open for all to see and hear. This compares to wickedness which hides behind a veil of deceit and lies; wickedness uses privacy and deception to achieve its goals.

The commentary continues by noting that wisdom comes to those who fear the Lord but I have come to understand that such fear is actually knowledge of the Lord. It means coming to God and turning away from all that God hates: evil, pride, arrogance, misbehavior, injustice.

In verses 22 – 31, the commentary tells us that God produced wisdom and brought forth knowledge. A proper study of the universe is a progressive discovery of God’s wisdom; in other words, as our ability to reason develops so too does our faith. If we limit either, then the other will suffer.

It is our faith that sustains us and allows hope to grow in us. These are not my words but what Paul wrote to the Romans in the Epistle reading for today (3). Faith generates hope and hope never disappoints us because hope comes through knowing Christ. It is that moment in time when we come to know and trust in Christ that we receive the Holy Spirit.

And in that moment, when we receive the Holy Spirit, then our lives change. As John noted in the Gospel reading for today (4), our ability to understand becomes clearer in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is the Holy Spirit that will guide us in our search for the truth.

Those who say that we can live in a world of faith alone and who seek to make this a world where faith is all there is will produce a world that does not have the ability to think or reason. It is a world that will die.

Those who say that we can live in a world of reason alone will produce a world without vision. And a world without a vision cannot know where it is going.

We live in a society today where there is a crisis between faith and reason. We must seek to live in a world where faith and reason are equal parts of our lives, for only then are we able to truly know God and be God’s people.
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(1) “Just a Thought”
(2) Proverbs 8: 1 – 4; 22 – 31
(3) Romans 5: 1 – 5
(4) John 16: 12 – 15

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2 thoughts on “The Crisis between Faith and Reason

  1. Very good–LOVED THE PART ABOUT TESTING THE KIDS ALL THE TIME.

    I just got back from Conference in Springfield—I came back a day early–it does not end until tomorrow.

    The Biship from Iowa gave the Ordination sermon last night and was talking about some of the same things you said about us all receiving and having the HOLY SPIRIT

  2. Pingback: At What Point? « Thoughts From The Heart On The Left

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