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Regarding Faith and Reason   Leave a comment

Above:  Richard Hooker, Who Gave Us the Anglican Three Legged Stool:  Scripture, Tradition, and Reason

I have observed over the years how, particularly in Bible Belt, my geographical context, many people suspend critical thinking in matters of faith and religion.  This is an unfortunate human tendency.  We are the species Homo sapiens sapiens.  Our Latin name indicates that we think.  So, why do so many of us choose not to do this?

One reason is the power of tradition, doctrine, and dogma, which combine to induce the fear of an unpleasant afterlife in many.  A common characteristic of many religions is the injunction to believe X, Y, and Z…or else.  This, I think, is mostly a social control mechanism of human origin.

I do not say, however, that we should believe just anything.  My library contains many books that contain theology I describe charitably as “interesting” because that term is polite compared to my actual opinion.  (“B.S.” is the abbreviation for my actual opinion of certain theology.)  The Book of Mormon, for example, is “interesting.”  Also, it contradicts archeology.  I side with the archeologists.  Yet one aspect of Mormonism is the downplaying of critical thinking (and the emphasizing of having faith) in cases of conflicts between Mormon teaching with science and history.

I cannot divorce faith and reason, however.  So I reject The Book of Mormon as rubbish and a bad forgery.  So I accept the reality of the biological processes of evolution through natural selection.  So I accept the fossil record and recognize that the beginning of Genesis is not a science text.  (The first few chapters of Genesis teach me profound truths about human nature and divine nature–that God is one and possessed of a stable personality; that we bear the image of God, with some free will–and that is wonderful. )

The Episcopal Church, to which I belong, has a poster bearing an image of Jesus.  It says, “He died to take away your sins, not your mind.”  This summarizes much of what I like about my adopted denomination.  Anglican teaching rejects Sola Scriptura, or scripture alone, the standard of many Protestants.  Rather, we learn that we must use tradition and reason in addition to scripture.  I agree with this.

My intellect constitutes an essential element of my life of faith.  There I recognize part of the image of God within myself.  There I see what separates me from many other sentient species.  So I refuse to discount the importance of the intellect in relation to tradition, scripture, dogma, doctrine, or emotion, the latter of which is especially popular among many Evangelicals.

No, I prefer a cooler, more intellectual Christianity, in contrast to an ecstatic, experience-oriented variety.  This is who I am.  Here I stand.  I will do no other.   I can do no other.

Faith and reason are different ways of knowing.  Reason carries me far–to the foot the cross, in fact.  There faith takes over.  The resurrection of Jesus is an essential element of Christianity.  Without it I would have belong to another tradition.  I cannot prove that the resurrection occurred, nor can I prove that it did not occur.  It resides in the jurisdiction of faith.  Through faith I believe–I trust–that it happened.  Through faith I interpret its meaning.  The fact that the resurrection is a matter of faith, not documented history, does not bother me.

I have harbored more doubts that certain answers for years.  This does not concern me, for asking questions increases the probability of finding answers.  And even if I do not find certain answers that is fine, too, for I do not need to know everything or most things.  God knows them, and I am content with that.

Years ago, when I was an undergraduate at Valdosta State College, Valdosta, Georgia, two dorm mates (of Evangelical persuasions) told me that I think too much.  I should be content to believe–just believe–they said.  One of these individuals informed me that my excessive thinking was sending me to Hell.  I restrained my tongue and did not offer to save her a seat, but I had no more substantial conversations with her.  I had nothing else to say to her.

I reject all forms of fundamentalism.  They shut down debate and ignore evidence that runs afoul of the fundamentalist’s established worldview.  Religious fundamentalism is just as bad as atheistic fundamentalism, such as that of Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, or Richard Dawkins.  All these varieties represent extremes, and truth, I have found, is seldom at the extremes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 29, 2009

Published originally at SUNDRY THOUGHTS OF KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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