I’ve been thinking a lot about completeness when it comes to our beliefs. I guess my biggest stumbling point is over the following question: Can the beliefs that govern a self’s attitudes be simultaneously informed by both faith and reason, and not have there be cause for concern over a broken self? It would seem that what faith has to say is almost always opposed to what reason would have us do. And so I’m thinking that in order to be the most complete person that one can be, it makes sense to side with one side or the other. Because if one’s fundamental attitude toward truth is derived from one’s faith, then reason need not apply; one believes the things which, to reason, are inconceivable, yet nevertheless true. Similarly, if one believes that truth is in the domain of reason, then it’s apparent that any claims that lead to contradictions must be discarded, given that the faithful person would be mistakenly ‘leap’ -ing right into falsity, rather than over the metaphoric chasm that divides the supernatural from the natural.
But now it would seem to be problematic to take the middle route. What I mean is that, from the standpoint of reason, one who admits any degree of faith into one’s beliefs is committing intellectual dishonesty by an inevitable appeal to faith to fill in the gaps of one’s ignorance. But supposing that faith is the foundation for truth and knowledge, then it would be irrelevant to worry about inexplicable contradiction in one’s choosing faith – these must be wholeheartedly embraced. This brings us to the familiar paradox of the torn and divided self, who is made this way because of a nature which he attributes to the seemingly incompatible components of reason and faith, although he is still an agent with an ability to produce unified beliefs. To be more clear, the paradox is contained in the idea of ‘beliefs,’ since these take root from opposing ‘resources’ of faith and reason, which would intuitively wish to push one in different directions; though, they allow one to have an ability to have beliefs about the world.
We have to assume, of course, that the self whose beliefs are in question is informed by both faith and reason in his search, as hopefully most of would concede is true about ourselves. Neither faith nor reason gets us anywhere alone. We discover the limitations in reason and strive to ‘understand,’ through faith, the barriers of infinity which are imposed on a finite mind. And we look to reason to ground our faith from what could be possibly disagreeable, overly superstitious consequences (i.e. the Salem Witch Trials).
But back to the problem. If we analyze the question in terms of reason, then of course we see, in faith, inconsistency. This is a notion of logic that must apply itself when faced with contradiction. For example, when Jesus is described in the Bible as a human incarnation of God, many would doubt the validity of such a description, given that ascribed to Jesus, then, are contradictory properties – mortality and immortality. But if we look at the same problem through the lens of faith, then we are plausibly left without an intelligible (reasonable) way of communicating this truth at all, and so cannot rely on anyone else to teach us this; it is only through our prayer and the following revelation that we receive that lets us believe. Reason falls short here, because no amount of explanation can do it for us, though that is exactly the work that we, or the minister, perform(s) in reading the Bible verses relevant to the issue. Our brain necessarily interprets what we read or hear. So even without this, praying about something which we have had no prior experience with would seem to be lacking something, given that we couldn’t even submit a deity a question to be answered.
If both faith and reason are necessary, then, it seems that they antagonize each other. They want to negate what the other is saying, just as an angry teenager wants to disagree with everything her mother says just for the sake of disagreeing. But how can we believe anything then, at all? If we reevaluate the assumption that faith and reason are direct opposites and suggest that they belong to different domains, and thus, cannot be compared, this wouldn’t help us along. We would just be left to shake our heads in confusion. Similarly, if we thought that what we call beliefs are really not as structurally unified as they seem to be in practice, then what use would there be in testing our kids at school? This isn’t the kind of skepticism that we should be comfortable falling back on. Aren’t we taking it for granted that our beliefs do tend to teach us something true, at least in the sense of explaining a valuable idea or concept, that most of us tend to agree leads to a point in the network of knowledge which makes up an understanding of an academic discipline?
We seem to need another, independent resource that informs belief. But how do we step outside our intrinsically human device of logic to recognize it? Or, even worse, how could we explain it, through faith, even if we’ve found the supposed answer? It seems natural enough to think that there is a definite pattern that governs human beliefs – though everyone doesn’t go around claiming to have revelations all of the time.
Are we really the broken selves that I had said at the outset? Is this why the question of human nature is so dense and perturbing? I don’t have an answer to this one yet. I’m agnostic here. But I hope not. It’s maybe the closest thing to a true paradox that I’ve been hit with. Maybe I’ll just have to accept it as that. But before giving up on it completely, I’ll be back soon to give it another thought and try to write up some kind of answer, explaining it the best I can.
If that’s even a possible task to fulfill :S.