The Evangelical Universalist Forum

JRP's Bite-Sized Metaphysics (Series 104)

[The previous series, 103, can be found [url=]here. An index with links to all parts of the work as they are posted can be found here. This series, 104, picks up with the topic arrived at the end of the previous series.]

[Entry 1 for “One Brief History of the Reason/Faith Dichotomy”]

There are many devout people who (rightly, I believe) value a faith in God above all other possessions, but who will also see my attempts as striking against a true relationship with God.

I think they are quite correct (as I will discuss much later) that it is better to have a living relationship with God and to work with Him, than only to understand God in some technical sense. Furthermore, I agree that if it is possible to discover the existence and character of God by reasoning from neutral propositions, this neither can nor shall ultimately benefit the thinker unless he takes the next step and chooses to work with God personally.

[Footnote: Such work might, by necessity, entail service–assuming we discover we are not equal to, or superior to God; and perhaps even then!–and I suspect the concept of being a [u]servant is an emotional barrier for many sceptics. At least, I find it to be an emotional barrier for many believers (including myself!); and I do not know why a sceptic, of all people, would have an easier time with the concept, especially in today’s individualistic Western society. Nevertheless, emotional barriers are not logical barriers. If the best I can be is a servant of God, in the work that He works, then it would be unrealistic (to say the least) for me to treat the situation as being otherwise. I will have much more to say about this later.]

But although I agree with these notions, I do not think it logically follows from these notions that such a discovery by logical analysis must necessarily fail. Consequently, these notions do not stand in the way of making attempts along this line.

[Entry 2]
Yet again, for some people, that is just the problem with my attempt: I am using reason to build (or to build up) faith, and they have been taught all their lives that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. These people would say, at best, that my attempt must fail to reach any useful conclusion; maybe even that I am blaspheming by even suggesting that human reason can search out the Infinite.

This sort of opinion comes and goes throughout Christianity’s history. (It certainly isn’t restricted to the history of Christianity, but it seems best for me to focus there, as a Christian apologist.) In this case, it last rose in ascendance between the middle of the 17th century and the beginning of the 19th, where it climaxed into a supposed schism between ‘religion’ and ‘science’.

The roots of the widespread acceptance of this strategy are too complex for more than a brief summary in this entry. But the result was that during this period great sceptical thinkers were becoming more numerous than they had ever been previously; great sceptical moralists were culminating a barrage on the abuses of the various branches of the Church (and there were certainly abuses taking place for them to legitimately snipe at); and the Church had managed to remove or suppress the majority of its own great thinkers who might have met the opposition steel-for-steel in philosophical dispute.

The various branches of the Church became aware that they were losing ground. They had to choose between educating people to be able to take care of themselves (because people were becoming increasingly exposed to alternate viewpoints in the media–a situation obviously still in effect today); or else setting up an ideological fortress mentality.

But the branches had previously, in their complacency, let the opposition get too far ahead for anything less than a multi-generation educational program to work. And such a plan might entail the loss of massive numbers of people from the Church until the regrouping and regrowth could be established–and I remind the sceptic that most Christians would equate such a departure with the damning of those souls.

[Footnote: My point being, that what can with some legitimacy be called over-restrictiveness, may be the best charity the people involved can imagine or can implement at the time. Whenever I hear Christians being morally horrified that Muslims persecute Christian missionaries in some countries, I remind them that to devout ultraconservative Muslims, we Christians are worse than mass murderers, because they think we are seducing people into an atrocious blasphemy and thus damning their souls. Those people are doing their best to stand up for God and to protect the good, against evil. The Christian Church has occasionally executed people on similar grounds.]

[Entry 3]
Aside from all this, such a program would have had serious political ramifications; and the Church at that time, although divesting itself (slowly) from the political arena, was still very much more a political creature than we find her today.

Thus, erecting a fortress mentality must have seemed (as it has seemed so often before in the past as well), the safest, quickest, most (relatively) effective means of ensuring that as many people as possible were not deceived by these opponents and, thereby, lose their souls. And, when it came to it, these new generations of vocal opposition were formidably skilled; disputing with them would be dangerous and difficult.

[Footnote: The sceptic may reasonably ask why it apparently occurred to very few people that God, not being stupid, would understand and charitably allow that many of these people would not be leaving the Church out of willful rejection of perceived truth, but out of an honest mistake. A large part of why this didn’t occur to more people can be explained from this observation: even though the vast majority of people who call themselves ‘Christian’ (including myself) agree that it is Christ the Redeemer and Advocate who (in various ways) delivers God’s grace to the world, it is also true that many Christians think God is limited to Christianity (the religion) as the only vehicle for this communication. The question, in practical effect, tends to come down to whether the claim ‘Christ is the Way, the Truth and the Life’ entails or equals the effective claim that ‘the Church and/or Christianity is the Way, the Truth and the Life’. I will be discussing this much later.]

So, near the turn into the 19th century, we find a long-running development in Western thought to the effect that religious ‘Faith’ and intellectual ‘Reasoning’ must be considered to be mutually exclusive operations.

[Footnote: This development hardly stopped there. On the contrary, it accelerated so effectively that by the end of the 19th century there was a general feeling, still popularly in effect today, that it began in that century. Meanwhile, although the Eastern Church did not undergo the same historical process, it had long ago incorporated so much apophatic or ‘negative’ theology as a primary tool, that it had already long-since arrived at a largely counter-rational theology result.]

[Entry 4]

Naturally, this sort of lesson went down very smoothly (as it always has done) for the vast numbers of people who had no great mental strength or training themselves: they need not worry about the arguments of the opposition (or even worry about the scripturally sanctioned duty of understanding their own position as well as they can); for they have Faith!

[Footnote: I still have had to be very brief in covering this issue, though hopefully I have done so in a fashion that a sceptic will find recognizeable.]

It would be a caricature (although one occasionally employed by sceptics who prefer dealing with straw men) to say this is the final position of any Christian since those times–or at least (they might say) the final position of any Christian who really is a Christian and is not really something else (merely claiming Christian coloring for, say, political purposes or social standing).

But there have also been Christians responding against this dichotomous division of principle, including as the 19th century began changing to the 20th; who have truly and seriously been engaged in defending a ‘rational faith’. As in every field, not all these people have been especially proficient; and so the actual number of Christian ‘apologists’ who are worth time disputing (or paying attention to) remained small. Here, at the beginning of the 21st century, there are more of these people doing better work than ever; yet they are still drowned in Christian literature (and in Christian outreach programs) by primarily emotional appeals. And this disproportion can leave the ‘taste’ that ‘real’ religion (including ‘real’ Christianity) is not concerned with positively analytical thought.

For many people, then, a division of faith and reason remains a cornerstone of ‘real religion’–including ‘real’ Christianity.

And here is the crushing irony: it is a lesson that sceptics have learned very well from believers.

[Entry 5]

What is the typical sceptic likely to see and hear, even today, when, by happenstance, she is exposed to a typical Christian witness? She will probably receive the impression that to accept Christianity she must reject her own ability to think; and/or that there can be no ‘reason’ to believe in God–she must have ‘faith’ instead.

She is given no reason to believe. Not surprisingly, she doesn’t believe.

“Well, tough for her!” the believer may snort. “I don’t know ontological or cosmological arguments either, and I believe. I ‘only’ have Faith; if I can do it, she can do it. Therefore, she should have done it!”

But such a reply (felt at bottom, I suspect, in many believers, even if not always expressed so directly) flies against a charitable attitude towards witnessing.

The sceptic does not have any of the advantages a believer already has (presuming the believer is in fact correct). The believer may be mistaking his privileges for humble submission on his part and sinful intransigence on the sceptic’s. Is he quite sure he would accept Christianity given no reasons at all (plus what seem to be many reasons against it, which the sceptic may be exposed to and the believer often will not have been)?

Yet if any particular reasons have helped to ground an accurate religious belief, then for all one can know beforehand other reasons may work just as well or better! The cases must be judged on an individual basis.

[Entry 6; next to last entry for this series]

“Yes,” the believer may reply, “but as it happens, I am quite sure I would accept Christianity if I were like her and given no reasons at all; for I have been given no reasons and I accept it.”

In Proverbs chapter 14, verse 15, Solomon (the attributed author) states that “The simple believe everything while (in contrast) the prudent man considers his steps.” That whole chapter and many of the surrounding ones equate the prudent man with the good, and both with the man who fears and obeys and loves God. So, if you really have no reasons to believe–if you are not “prudently considering your steps”–which of these two men described by Solomon do you represent if you nevertheless give assent to a ‘belief’!?

“But this case is different!”


“Because now we are talking about a belief in God!”

What makes that a different case?

“Because… the rewards and perils and duties are the greatest?”

[Footnote: I am obviously dealing in this series with a fairly common and unsophisticated version of the question of faith and reason. I will be considering it from a far more technical standpoint soon.]

[Entry 7; grand finale for this series]

But this begs the question: how do you know there are rewards and perils and duties?

“The Bible says so.”

Why should we believe it?

“Because it is true.”

How can a sceptic know it is true?

“She cannot, she must just trust it.”

In other topics you would call this the irresponsible behavior of a credulous fool. [See footnote below.] You yourself would not agree to a belief on other topics in this manner; you would consider it an insult for other people to assume that you would or require that you should. She does not know these scriptures should be trusted, and you give her no means of help.

“God will help her.”

Then your witness is useless; God must come to her in some other way than through Christian witnesses.

“He can reach her through the Bible.”

The Bible says that God has chosen to work effectively through us as witnesses; you have just testified this is functionally impossible! Why should she trust Scripture when you yourself deny it speaks sensibly on such a basic issue?

“There is no reason why she should, she simply must.”

Then Scripture is no help to her either.

“God will help her.”

But apparently not through Scripture or Christian witnesses. You (not I!) would say this essentially denies the superior truth of the Christian religion. No wonder she is a sceptic! Who is God more likely to punish for this: you or her!?

As I have just illustrated, a denial of a link between faith and reason not only erects an unnecessary barrier between a sceptic and the truth (as I think Christianity to be), but also undermines any claim Christianity (or any other theism) may have to truth–even if we stick to a ‘simple’ faith.

But an even more pernicious problem rises in this situation; and although a believer of this sort may not recognize it, the sceptic very probably will.

[Next series: [url=]An Important Recognition About Religious Faith]

[Footnote: The “folly of the cross” mentioned by Saint Paul early in [i]1st Corinthians, refers to the criticism Christians received for insisting on retaining the crucifixion as a historical event, which in Judaism had shameful religious connotations, and which for the Greeks was virtually a call to be destroyed by Rome as a rebel against the Empire. Paul’s remarks concerning the ‘foolishness’ of God being wiser than men need to be kept in their topical context.]