FAITH AND REASON
Faith and reason are often antithetical concepts in the history of Western thought. For instance, those who stress "reason" over "faith" are more likely to build their worldview on a foundation of scientific principles and other truths that one cannot deny or falsify, sometimes called "necessary truths" like mathematical equations (E = mc2, 2 + 2 = 4) and cognitively meaningful language like "all whales are mammals" or "all bachelors are unmarried males" or "I think, therefore I exist" or "all triangles have 3 interior angles whose sum is 180 degrees." Faith does not fit this worldview because faith requires "belief" in things that are not always verifiable in a manner that can be demonstrated to all as being "true" or "real" like the statement 2 + 2 = 4 or "we all breathe oxygen." The "reasoned" worldview can sometimes lead to a purely materialistic worldview that says all reality is material. There can be no God, no soul, no spirit, and no immaterial mind.
But faith, in and of itself, is not necessarily an intellectual "cop out." We all carry with us a faith of some sort. If by faith one means "trust," then we all have faith in one another driving on the highway or faith in the pilots who fly us all over the planet or faith in our elected members of parliament and government or faith in our friends that they will do what they say they'll do or faith in our spouse. Of course, when one talks about faith in God, one takes a leap beyond faith in people: now we talk about faith in a Being whose Existence cannot be easily verified. Thus, we embark on a different kind of faith, a faith that not only requires trust but also another element that many "reasoned" persons dislike: belief. To simply believe without further thought or investigation, a sort of "blind faith," is highly suspicious to the "reasoned" person. And it should be. Whereas the Scriptures do speak highly of "belief" (John 3:16), the very same Scriptures recommend that believers be mentally on guard and remain inquisitive. This is clearly seen in passages that admonish believers to "discern" (1 Cor 12:10), to "test" (1 Thess 5:19-20, 1 John 4:1), to "seek and ye shall find," to "knock and the door shall be opened," to "ask," and to pray for guidance whenever a problem arises concerning belief and matters related to God and religious problems. The believer is admonished, indeed, to have an active mind that engages in the discernment of religious beliefs and to sift false from truth (1 Tim 4:1). The very notion of "true" and "false" prophets requires believers to discriminate their thinking with regard to what they believe and why they believe what they believe to be true or real.
It is unfortunate that many reasoned persons turn away from Christianity as a "blind" faith. But this is not the fault of anything Christ may have done while on earth. It is the fault of the early Christian Church whose bishops drew up creeds that were eventually spoon-fed to an unquestioning congregation. And so it goes to this very day in all of the mainline Christian churches, the zombie-like recitation of creeds whose contents are no more understood than they are questioned. To add greater security to the maintenance of the zombie-like mentality of believers, the word "mystery" is often used in place of any thoughtful investigation, an investigation that is otherwise demanded by the Scriptures: "seek and ye shall find" and "knock and the door shall be opened" and "test everything, keep only what is good."
The point here is that reason is required for faith. But who wants to take the trouble to investigate the tenets of one's faith or one's church? It is a task that not many are willing to take, simply because many wouldn't know where or how to begin such a task. It's far easier to simply believe what you are told on matters related to God, especially if one views "belief" and "faith" as the same thing, that is, to believe is to have faith. But one need only reflect for a moment: Christianity is not ONE institution. Whereas all Christians begin with a belief in God and Jesus as the Messiah, they all diverge from these two basic points. This alone should prompt honest believers to take another look at Christianity. Is the Bible the final "revelation" of God to mankind? If so, then WHICH Bible? The one with the deuterocanonical books (Sirach, Wisdom, 1 and 2 Macc, Judith) or the one without these? Which version does one read? NIV? KJV? NAB? GNT? And do I read it as a Catholic? A Baptist? A Presbyterian? A Lutheran? A Methodist? A Mormon? A Jehovah's Witness? A Jew?
One's reading of the Bible will definitely shape the way one understands the meaning of certain passages. But how does one verify a meaning of a passage? Is it enough to say "this is what I believe it means"? If so, then what basis does one use to come to a particular meaning of a biblical text? Would knowing the original language (Hebrew or Greek) make any difference in the meaning of a biblical passage? Unfortunately, the answer is Yes. I say "unfortunately" because most English-speaking readers of the Bible cannot read Greek or Hebrew. So the English Bible is somewhat of a barrier to getting at a more nuanced meaning of a biblical passage. The different English versions are a testimony to the ambiguity and flexibility of both English and the original languages of the Bible. At best, the English reader would do well to purchase a "parallel Bible" that provide multiple translations of the same books of the Bible. Then one can begin a "reasoned" approach to getting at the question "Why do you believe what you believe?" But not even the parallel Bibles will settle many issues. One needs to go further into a knowledge of history: a history of the early Church, early Church Fathers, early Christian doctrine, and the first Church Councils of Nicaea (325) and Constantinople (381) that gave us the Nicene Creed. Once again, all of this requires a great EFFORT on the part of the believer. For this reason alone many believers are content to accept what they have been told since childhood. Otherwise, to begin asking questions makes things difficult. But such an attitude does not live up to certain Biblical standards for discriminating what one believes and accepts as divinely true. There is falsehood. And one is expected to "sift the wheat from the chaff." How many believers would ever suspect that any part of their church doctrine may be more chaff than wheat? People are often "offended" if you so much as question their religious beliefs. Therefore, how much more will these people question themselves?
An interesting point to observe here is that whereas one denomination believes that its doctrines and tenets are true, all other denominations fall short of the truth. Many (or most) Christians are not encouraged by their Priest or Preacher or Minister to seriously question the basic tenets of their faith, but this same Priest, Preacher, or Minister may have no trouble at all with calling other Christian groups "wrong" on certain faith-related issues or liturgical practices. For instance, Catholics are taught to believe that the Mass and especially the celebration of the Eucharist is the true pivot of ANY real Christian. For this reason, the Protestants who do not understand the Eucharist in the Catholic way as transubstantiation are often depicted as sects that have fallen away from the true faith, from the mother church, from the church of Peter upon whom Christ founded His church. Protestants, on the other hand, have another story to tell about what it means to be a true Christian.
Calvinistic predestination is certainly not shared by all Christians, yet some Christians believe in it thoroughly. One Christian denomination believes it is closer to getting into heaven than other Christian denominations. And as for non-Christians? Well, that's just their tough luck. There is no real uniformity in Christianity, only chaos. What's the seeker to do?
On another point, the word "immaterial" is an unfortunate stumbling block because its meaninglessness gives power to materialists who argue that there can't be anything that isn't made of some kind of matter. Religious folk are fond of describing spiritual realities as "immaterial" realities in order, maybe, to stress the nature of spiritual reality as something opposed or quite different from material reality. Immaterial reality, however, suggests that such a reality lacks a body and therefore lacks any spatial dimension (that is, it lacks the ability to be located in space somewhere). How can anything be said to exist if it didn't occupy some kind of space? Furthermore, Paul himself in 1 Corinthians 15 explicitly talks about "spiritual bodies" in contrast to "natural" or "ensouled bodies." The popular phrase "disembodied soul" suggests a soul without a body and therefore without spatial dimension. But this does not fit the picture of "spirit" in biblical terms. So the term "immaterial" might not be the most appropriate way to talk about spiritual realities, at least not from a biblical point of view. Spirits possess bodies (of a kind) and therefore must be composed of some kind of "stuff" (a kind of matter?) and possess spatial dimension. A materialist who claims that if spirits are real, then they are so because they are made of some kind of matter and can be located in some kind of space, might be closer to the truth than the immaterialist worldview.
Biblical reports of spirits in human form (sometimes called angels) give us a picture of spiritual realities in bodily dimensions. Some might argue, Well, that is simply the way a mysterious spiritual reality "chooses" to manifest itself so that we will be able to understand. This attitude suggests that the one who holds it actually knows beyond doubt what spirits are "really" like apart from their manifestations in our world as human beings. But do they?
If we study reports of near-death experiences whereby people who have died leave their body and enter into what they perceive as "heaven" or "hell" or "paradise," then we see here also that the "beings of light" or "of darkness" are described as possessing bodies with faces and limbs that look and feel as solid in "heaven" as humans do to one another on earth. What are we to make of this? Might these experiences give us some insight into the nature of spiritual reality, that such reality is not that different from our own "material" reality? Matter in the material world, then, is simply another state of spirit, a state in which all things spiritual have been "incorporated" into a variety of different material bodies whose constitutions are derived from different mixtures of the "odic force" that serves as the vital source for all organic living things in the physical world, from plants to animals, from microbes to human beings.
Spirit reality has a very difficult time being an accepted reality among the intellectual elite. Materialists completely dismiss a spirit reality simply because "immaterial" makes no sense. Those who do believe in a spirit reality often have a hard time describing it or talking about it in persuasive and understandable terms. The use of the term "immaterial" should not be used in a discourse about spirit reality, simply because the term does not correctly define spirit reality; material reality is a kind of spirit reality, and spirits are as solid to one another in their dimension as humans are in the physical dimension.
The Christian depiction of God is often marred by readings of biblical passages that are rendered in such a way that paint the picture of a God of hate. For instance, even though God is called merciful, loving, and a forgiving Father, many Christians simultaneously believe in eternal punishment which flies in the face of all-loving (omnibenevolent), all-merciful, and all-wise (omniscient). Sending His creatures to eternal punishment is inconsistent with forgiveness and mercy from a loving Father. To use words like "love," "mercy," and "forgiveness" is a deception or a lie in the face of the doctrine of eternal punishment. There might be punishment, but not forever and ever, for God in His wisdom would find a way to redeem the erring souls, if God is truly wise and forgiving as Christians profess Him to be.
God is said to be a just God. But justice, as it is universally understood, requires proportionality between the offense and the punishment. Punishment into infinity (forever, eternal) cannot be proportioned to any offense committed by a human being in a short lifetime, regardless of the crime. To claim that God's justice is far above and beyond ours is a non-answer since it would show the revelation does not reveal to us the way God really is; the meaning of its terms is not the same as ours. Nor can one defend eternal punishment on the basis that any sin against God is an injury against his infinite character, and so any judgment that God renders on his erring creatures would, likewise, have to be infinite. Justice also forbids punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty. But the Christian doctrine of Original Sin teaches that all are guilty because of the sin of Adam and Eve that is transferred down to each human in history. But how does punishing an innocent babe for the sins of the guilty serve justice? It is not a biblical concept. Ezekiel 18:21-29 actually relates that the son is not guilty of the sins of the Father, and the Father is not guilty of the sins of the son, i.e., the prophet stresses self-responsibility. So the Christian doctrine of Original Sin is not consistent with the biblical record for self-responsibility.
Belief in Jesus for many Christians is accompanied by the consequence for non-belief in Jesus: eternal punishment. Again, this does not serve the doctrine of a just, all-loving, forgiving, and all-wise God. Jesus often warned against false prophets which suggests that believers in Jesus need to be on guard for those who preach "another Jesus" or who have "a different spirit" (2 Cor 11:4). And yet, how many Christians can be sure, or take the time and the care to be sure that the Jesus preached to them is the "real" Jesus? The many different Christian denominations may illustrate the problem.
If God knowingly created failed or failing creatures, then the test in the Garden of Eden would have been a sham and so too the rest of creation. But some Christians teach that a "few" will not suffer eternal punishment. If that is true, then these few are still suffering under Original Sin for something they never would have done, IF they are already predestined for Heaven.
The author of the Gospel of Matthew records Jesus' own words as "Love God with all of your heart, soul, and MIND." What does one do with the mind? One works through problems, asks questions, inquires, wonders. A mind for God is an engaging mind that inquires into the things of God. And yet, there are so many different ways of talking about the things of God (compare Baptist "born again" theology with Presbyterian predestination theology) that one is forced to sift through the differences. Those who truly have a mind for God will do the sifting themselves to seek out the truths and falsehoods in man-made Christianity. As one early Christian put it: "Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:6).