Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The most reasonable faith in the world

Anon posted the following: “Is it possible for someone to be psychologically, innately incapable of accepting the religious truths discussed here and generally believed by Catholics? Think about this: Some people think so logically and so concretely that they have no aptitude to grasp the things that are at the core of Catholic doctrine: that a man rose from the dead for the sins of humankind; that Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit; that God is present at all in our lives, to name a few. This takes believing in the supernatural, in the divine. Some people simply are not wired in such a way that they could ever accept that. Am I just describing agnostics?”

Thanks, Anon, for laying out your thoughts in a well-constructed manner. Yes, they represent an agnostic view of faith, particularly the Christian faith. But, I do appreciate the probing nature of your post because it allows all of us to look more deeply at what is at the core of Catholic doctrine. Unlike any religion in the world, Catholic doctrine has faith and reason as its foundation. In fact, Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical titled, “Faith and reason”, in 1998. I will refer to it to help answer your questions.

The persons you describe – those who “think so logically and so concretely that they have no aptitude to grasp the things that are at the core of Catholic doctrine” – would be capable of accepting the religious truths discussed here and generally believed by Catholics. I can say that because it is entirely reasonable to believe what Catholic doctrine states. And, what does Catholic doctrine state? That which God has revealed to us. As John Paul II wrote, “The knowledge which the Church offers to man has its origin not in any speculation of her own, however sublime, but in the word of God which she has received in faith (cf. 1 Th 2:13)”. It does take faith to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but it is reasonable to believe it.

The whole idea of how we think logically (how we use human reason) can be traced back to early Greek philosophers. Catholics and any other persons who are in pursuit of “the truth” share a foundation in Greek thought. The Greek philosophers – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, etc. – tackled the questions of who God is and how we all came to be. They helped us to understand (what Vatican Council I confirmed) that we can know that God exists through human reason alone. The Church has even based its “5 Proofs for the Existence of God” on Greek logic.

Now, agnostics might separate from the Church in thought based on this alone because agnostics posit that truly attaining knowledge of the divine is not possible. But, let’s say, for the sake of argument that they agree with us that we can know by reason THAT God exists. So, then, how can one know by faith WHO God is? In Vatican I, the Church says that this kind of knowledge involves “mysteries hidden in God which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known”. We can only know by faith WHO God is (Father, Son, and Spirit) because God has revealed himself to us as he is. As I wrote earlier, it takes faith to believe in Divine Revelation, but it is also reasonable to do so. ‘God has said it, it makes sense to me, so I believe it’ is how I approach the Bible.

Anon, I would probably suggest to the persons you are describing that they should refresh themselves with some solid philosophy courses. These can really help to understand how it is we think. When I say that what’s revealed in the Bible makes sense to me, of course I don’t mean every single line and book; I mean that the whole makes sense. The story makes sense: God is hidden from human experience for a while, then slowly reveals himself, and then the truth about himself is, as JP II wrote, “declared once and for all in the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth”. The Catholic story about who God is and who we are makes the most sense of any religion or movement in the world. In fact, I would say that to not believe it would be unreasonable and illogical.


At 3:38 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I struggle with the concept of reason. It still seems like quite a bit is without much "reason", unless I just don’t understanding the word. Aren't there things that simply defy reason? Defy logic? Is faith to define our reason or reason to define our faith? I'm confused!

On an unrelated note-
It’s off topic, but stuck with me. I had a conversation with someone and said something that I was thinking about well after the conversation had ended. I said that I don’t lie. Well, last night I told a whopper (thought I had a good reason for it, but I know it was still wrong)), but aside from that “whopper”, I thought, “I don’t lie.” In thinking about that statement, it’s really not true. It’s not so much that I propagate a bunch of stuff I know to be untruths, but maybe there are several forms of lying. Mostly for me, it’d probably be not offering my “real” self to people. I realize that I’ve become pretty rehearsed at being who/what I want people to see. I can count on one hand the number of people, at least in recent years, who really have any idea about who I am, and so people make “assumptions” regarding the kind of person I am and what my “intentions” might be. So, my not being “honest” and open with people has served to create conflict in my life. I keep wondering why I am having the same kind of conflicts with so many different groups of people, and although I understood that I was the single common denominator, still couldn’t figure out why. I know who I am, and what’s in my heart, but if I never show it to anyone else, they can only but guess. Now, I do NOT take responsibility for the actions of others, but perhaps it’s finally time that I take some for my own.

At 5:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...





At 8:02 PM, Blogger Christine said...

I was always taught that it is part of our human nature to search for God in something at some time in our lives. Of course it may be harder for some than others because of their background or environment, but every person still searches at some time or another. I think that it is an important part of our human nature to question and to search for God because it wouldn't be fair to everyone who didn't have that opportunity to be judged if they go to Heaven or not. Obviously, if a human is somehow abandoned at birth and raised by wolves and doesn't know how to speak, it is going to be much harder for them to know who God is, but if it is part of our human nature to look for God, and the person thought about some kind of equivalent to God and believed, is it unreasonable to think the person would go to Heaven? I think if they didn't have the opportunity to think about it, it would be unfair to be judged at death. I think God is very fair, even if life isn't, so it would make sense that every person would naturally be inquisitive about the concept of God, no matter what their background.

At 8:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not really fond of that last post- 39 an still holding. Not terribly funny!

At 9:35 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Last anon,

I am sorry if I offended you. I thought it was cute.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger fran said...

3:38 Anon-
Does this help?

From the Catechism of the Catholic Church 159

Faith and Science:"Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God canot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made them what they are."

At 2:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It wasn't offensive- I was teasing. I was having a related conversation with a few ladies today about this topic and I thought you were one still poking fun at me. It is a sentiment I can easily embrace.

At 3:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for answering me back on my reason "?". Now I'm into my insomniac thing, so maybe my brain isn't working right, but here is what has me stumped-

I think it's part of human nature to look for "truth". It's why we always ask the big questions- Why am I here?, Who am I really?, and for many- Is there a God? It seems to me, the answers to those questions (except the last) can't be answered by reason. So, I would think- that's where faith comes in. If you have faith in the revelation of Christ, then you can begin to tackle those questions. The only "reason" that I can wrap my brain around is the fact that we exist- regardless of what beliefs there are about the origin of the world- it all started somewhere. Belief that God created all compliments each origin theory, at least for me. Other beliefs I hold come from my faith that what God has said is "truth"- not what I deem as "most reasonable". So really, the only "reason" I understand is that because we exist, God must exist.

At 6:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why are people so resistent to the creation idea? Its the only one that makes logical sense.

At 7:48 AM, Blogger fran said...

"So really, the only "reason" I understand is that because we exist, God must exist."

More importantly, because God exists, we exist.

"Why am I here?" Because God created you and me and placed us where we are.
Who am I, really? A human being made in His image and likeness.

Isn't it really rather simple? That's the way I see it anyway.

At 9:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Why are people so resistent to the creation idea? Its the only one that makes logical sense."

I think many fear that it negates or discounts science. CNN televised a debate the other day regarding the inclusion of all concepts of creation into some (can't remember where) school system. It was interesting to hear the opposition, but, at least I thought, more interesting to hear the arguments for it. The person who was for teaching all forms of origin theory in schools simply stated that she, as a Christian (dn't know which particular denomination) could accept most scientific teaching regarding the origin of the world, for her theology complimented most. For example, the "big bang" theory- if the world began that way, then what/who created "THE BANG"? God did. There was little true rebuttal to this persons point, only further (and louder) accusation that the church wants to negate science. People don't often inform themselves before criticizing the church. Ignorance is usually the source of fear.

At 11:14 AM, Anonymous Tom said...

Other beliefs I hold come from my faith that what God has said is "truth"- not what I deem as "most reasonable".


What I think Fr. Greg means by "the most reasonable faith" is that Catholicism explicitly insists on the role of reason in human life. The opening words of Pope John Paul II's encyclical on the subject are, "Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth."

Catholics don't reject reason, and we don't abandon it when we think we see some conflict between reason and faith. (We don't abandon our faith, either.) We believe that what can be known by reason to be true is consistent with what can be believed by faith to be true.

Not everyone believes this. Some people think reason and faith can contradict each other; of these, some think reason trumps faith, others that faith trumps reason.

So Catholicism may or may not be the faith our natural human reason judges the most probable; how likely is it, really, that God would love us enough to die on a cross for us? But there is nothing in our faith that is, or can be, contrary to reason, and it whole-heartedly accepts and promotes the use of reason, both for understanding the world around us and for understanding God's revelation to us.


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