Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Three Divorces I: Faith and Reason

In his book, The Great Divorce, the Christian philosopher and theologian wrote about two things that ought never to have been joined, heaven and hell.  The two were never meant to be joined, but often were by a modern world that denied God and so denied the existence of a real right and a real wrong.  What God has joined, man must not put asunder; but neither ought man to join those things that God has placed asunder. 

Lewis wrote about the attempt to join what ought never to be joined and to put together what ought always to be kept separate.  If a modern world without God will sometimes put together things that ought to be kept apart, it will also keep apart things that ought to be put together.   The separation of a man and woman who have pledged their faith to God and each other in marriage is a common example of this today.  While this separation, divorce, is most common today, other divorces are also common to a pagan world.  

One is the divorce between faith and reason.  Today, many are convinced that to accept one is to deny the other.  To be a man of faith is to deny reason, and to be a man of reason is to deny faith.  Both camps have found adherents throughout history.  In the present day the “new atheists,” led by their prince, Richard Dawkins, call faith, “the great cop-out... belief in spite of, or perhaps even because of, lack of evidence.”  For them, to be rational is per se to reject faith.  At the other end is the fundamentalist Christian who would deny reason, who considers the Bible the only science book necessary, and who would benefit greatly from Galileo’s remark that the Bible tells us the way to heaven, not the way the heavens go.  

The atheist, thinking reason demands the rejection of faith, fails to understand that reason itself is a matter of faith.  As Chesterton remarked, “it is a matter of faith to assume our thoughts have any relation to reality at all.”  The atheist cannot prove reason is trustworthy, he assumes it.  In short, he takes it on faith.  

The attempt to reject faith leads only to absurdity and the atheist must do one of two things.  Either he must be consistent to his claim to take nothing on faith and accept only what may be proved by evidence or else he must surrender his principles take reason itself on faith.  In the first case, his position leads only to what Chesterton called “the suicide of thought.”  Accepting only what may be shown by evidence, he is forced to deny reason itself for which no evidence may be found save on pain of circularity.  In attempting to accept only reason, he has destroyed reason.  Only one thing will save him: a leap of faith.  

The fundamentalist attempt to accept only faith and deny reason leads to equal absurdity.  He ought to consider that if the universe is reasonable and the mind able to know it, it is because God made it so and one does no honor to God to reject His gift of reason.  If God made the universe knowable and gave man the ability to know it, then to renounce the attempt (1) can hardly be termed an act of faith at all. 

Some things were never meant to be divided.  What God has joined man must not put asunder.  Two of these things are faith are reason, though there are others.  When one is separated from the other only absurdity can result, in one case, the suicide of reason itself, in the other, the end of faith.  The only hope is to recognize that faith can be eminently reasonable, and that reason itself demands faith.  

See also:
The Three Divorces II: Love and Responsibility
The Three Divorces III: Body and Soul

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