Friday, August 01, 2008

Faith in Reason, Pt. 2

In Part 1 of Faith in Reason, I said that, if I were asked to explain my Christian belief, I would begin with the impotence of reason to answer the questions that it sets for itself.

But I expect that critics will respond thus:

Let's say we agree that reason is impotent in the way you think. But from this nothing about the truth of Christianity follows. If reason is impotent, we must be skeptics about the big questions - the purpose of life, God's existence and the rest.

I certainly do agree that, from the impotence of reason alone, Christianity does not follow. But where reason cannot see, another faculty begins to discern the outlines of a greater truth. At times, I call this "the heart". Others call it "the conscience". There is within us a capacity to discern moral truth, a capacity that cannot be reduced to reason or to emotion alone. It is, I believe, sui generis - unique in kind. Where reason is silent, it speaks.

It speaks in me. It always spoke in me. When I was still a materialist and an atheist, my most deeply held convictions were moral. I believed that all persons were of equal worth, that the interests of all were of equal importance, and the root of evil was the denial of this.

This I still believe. I don't think that this conviction admits of rational proof. But I do no think that it needs proof. Nor do I think that my conviction is simply a way that I feel. It is genuine belief - genuine knowledge I would say. The equality of worth is, in itself, quite clear and quite obvious; and that by which I discern its truth is the conscience, is the heart.

So here then is my view. Reason is impotent. Mere emotion is not adequate to the task of discernment of moral truth; emotion does not yield knowledge. In the space that is left when reason and emotion retreat, conscience speaks; and it directs us to the truth.

How does this link up with Christianity? Over time, I have come to the opinion that Christianity best articulates what conscience first revealed to me. So it isn't that Christianity follows from the impotence of reason. Rather it's that, when reason knows its place and is silent where it cannot lead, another (and I should think better) faculty can speak; and if thought through, Christianity is the inevitable end.