Faith and Contemporary Society

Introduction

When you think about it, faith is a strong and compelling word. Derived from the Latin, fides,[1] it describes a relationship of trust and confidence in someone or something, in most instances without proof – but is this the way to approach faith – without any form of reasoned contemplation?

John’s Gospel describes this poignantly in chapter 20, verse 29:

Jesus saith unto him, Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed.

Yet do not mistake this as the approbation of blind faith; it is not but is, in my opinion, illustrative of the difference between the need for sensory proof and faith supported by reasoned deduction.

In Proverbs (Prov.18:15), the author’s explication of knowledge, which is the mortar of reason, provides clarity concerning the importance of a reasoned faith.

The heart of the prudent getteth knowledge; and the ear of the wise seeketh knowledge

In his epistle to the Colossians (Col 2:2-3), Paul further illustrates this point by exemplifying the Christians need to search for the knowledge with which to support his faith.

…unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, and of the Father, and of Christ; in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Faith has regularly attracted the derision of a contemporary society – particularly within the secular or humanist sector of our communities – why?

Because so many equate faith to the acceptance of an idea, a thought, a person, indeed a way of life without reasoned deliberation; it is thus hardly surprising that faith attracts such derisive commentary.

Faith today, it seems, has become juxtaposed between two extremes:

The perception of faith as being blind trust, ‘sight unseen’ and without any knowledge aforethought

against

Empirical Rationalism or perhaps better worded as ‘empiricism’, in the main a product of the enlightenment. It is a nihilistic train of thought that does not allow for any reasoned deductive approach and relies solely on sensory experience; that is, unless I can see or feel it (proof), it cannot be true!

Faith on its own is like a house built without a foundation – fragile and unsustainable – viewed as superstitious delusion, it will come tumbling down. Likewise for me, reason and rationalism on their own result in ‘straw men’ – empty and without substance.

Sztanyo puts it well when he said, “In practical terms, this is not a situation of ‘either/or’ but ‘both/and’.” He mentions, “The proper relationship should be that of reason and revelation“. (Sztanyo, 1996)

Pope John Paul II in his encyclical, Fides et Ratio, is even more emphatic. He postulates that faith and reason are not only compatible, they belong together. “The Church remains profoundly convinced that faith and reason mutually support each other” (H.H. Pope John Paul II, 1998, p. Sec: 100)

Therefore, it seems that faith and reason are two sides of the same coin! You can’t have one without the other, without the risk of imbalance; this then would seem to be the embodiment of modern-day problems. There is a longstanding polemic between the sides of faith and rational thinking, with both sides suffering as a result. The proper place is for one to compliment the other.

Benjamin Franklin once said ‘The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason’ but this just typifies the inaccuracy and perpetuates the stigma of superstition![2] Perhaps a better way of describing faith would be to say, faith supported by reason opens the window to true knowledge!

Faith in What and Why?

There are surely very few people who do not think about some of life’s fundamental questions to a greater or lesser degree – Why am I here? What is the purpose of my existence? Where did I come from? Do I have any ‘universal’ worth? – Probably the most contentious of which is Does God exist? Indeed, consciously or unconsciously, in some form these questions will be a formative part of our worldview. Those who say they do not consider these foundational questions either prevaricate or have some other agenda in mind!

Whether admitted to or not, everyone has a worldview, a philosophical conception of the life they live; it may be naïve and unsophisticated or complex with many different facets but I would posit that it is on this worldview that each builds their faith.

On either end of the philosophic spectrum, there resides two opposing worldviews:

Atheism (including empirical humanism) is a view holding that there is no god or supernatural force that actively or otherwise intervenes in the affairs of mankind; mankind views itself as the ultimate measure of the greater moral good. This leads to the extrapolation that the physical and philosophic origin of man must lie in some unintelligent, accidental organic happening for which there never was, has been or ever will be any purpose!

Theism on the other hand puts forward the antithesis, holding that there is a God actively participating in His creation. While elements within theism may or may not agree on the physical origin of man, theism does consider man to originate from within a divine plan and would definitely consider purpose as a core fundamental of mans existence.

Thus philosophically, it makes sense to consider the question ‘Does God exist?’ as a priori the principal question, for without a moral absolute existing beyond the horizon of man, the other questions would be irrelevant. To this prime question, a theist would answer yes and know that his or her existence had purpose, worth and moral direction and would be justified in searching for answers to the other questions. An atheist on the other hand would answer no and would have to accept that his or her life was as meaningless as the impersonal natural accident that brought humans into existence! [3]

In either case, individual faith is built on a personal worldview; as stated previously, everyone has a worldview whether based on the premise of a metaphysical reality or on an existential humanist view of man, or indeed of something which lies between these two paradigms.

Conclusion

Whatever the circumstance, in western culture in particular faith has become passé, replaced instead by an insistence on a totally rational humanistic view of mankind. The pendulum, it seems, has swung too far toward one extreme within the worldview continuum.

Conversely, up until the age of enlightenment, faith was not questioned. It was de facto, the accepted worldview of a society yet to advance beyond ‘sticks and stones’ and, continuing our analogy, the pendulum was stuck at the other end of the continuum – this was not a healthy state of affairs either.

However, with our capacity to learn came an increasing sense of natural awareness – the need to question and determine became more acceptable and more urgent and led to what we now know as the Age of Enlightenment. This was certainly not a bad thing and led to a breath-taking progression of mankind (although sometimes one truly has to wonder!). This ‘burning of the grass’ got rid of a lot of bad philosophy, superstition and a lot more besides; but it also overreacted and man’s thought, I would posit, became sterile, almost vacuous!

Faith, I think, needs to meet reason somewhere at the bottom of the pendulum swing so to speak, where faith contemplated and considered, is supported by reasoned judgement.


[1] FAITH – Online Etymology Dictionary: http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=faith

[3] (All About Philosophy)

BIBLIOGRAPHY

  1. Sztanyo, D. (1996). Faith and Reason. Montgomery, Alabama, USA: Apologetics Press, Inc.
  2. Ratzinger, J. (2006). Faith and the Future. Los Angeles, California, USA: Ignatius Press.
  3. H.H. Pope John Paul II. (1998). Fides et Ratio. Vatican City, Vatican, Italy: Libreria Editrice Vaticana .
  4. Author(s) specifically unknown. (1611). The Holy Bible – Authorised 1611 King James Version. United Kingdom.
  5. All About Philosophy. (n.d.). Why am I here? – Worldview. Retrieved 05 06, 2013, from All About Philosophy: http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/why-am-i-here.htm
Advertisements

About Anthony

I am a married Catholic who is interested in Theology, History, Philosophy and the search for truth. I also have a penchant for photography.
This entry was posted in Atheism, Discussion, Ethics, Morality, Observations, Opinion, Religious Philosophy, Theism and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Faith and Contemporary Society

  1. Pingback: The Reality of Faith | Defensio Credam

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s