Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reason, God's Means of Communication

Posted by Friar Rick.

I made my first erstwhile splash into The River by attempting to lay a foundation. That foundation was the assertion that reason, far from being the enemy of the Christian, was actually the friend, indeed the tool, of the Christian theologian. A rudimentary knowledge of Christian theology would suffice to instruct the atheist of this truth were he not too arrogant or lazy to inform himself on that which he denies.

First, understand that, in Christian theology, reason is the means by which the God Who Is has chosen to communicate with his people. Both Christians and Jews believe that God has chosen to reveal himself to his people through the vehicle of special revelation. This special revelation is found in the form of written communication. Whether one is Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or even Orthodox Jew, this written communication is the foundation and, to one degree or another, the source of every tenet of faith in these systems.

When one entity communicates with another through means of the written word (or any means, for that matter), it assumes the use of intellectual faculties. Reason is utilized both by the communicator and by the one with whom he is communicating. Without the faculties of reason this process could not take place. Words and sentences become the vehicle of thoughts which are conveyed and understood because the meaning of those words, those sentences, is commonly understood by both participants. Without reason this would be impossible.

Listen to the author to the Epistle to the Hebrews as he introduces his readers to the Christ, the theme of his letter, and explains how Christ is the culmination of all God's attempts (if one may use such a word when speaking of anything done by the Almighty) to communicate with his people. Christ, in his assertion, is the ultimate communicator of God's message.
Hebrews 1:1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. (ESV)
And see what St. Paul writes in his letter to Timothy:
2 Timothy 3:14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (ESV)
Everything to which the apostle alludes in those two sentences involves the use of reason: learning, teaching, correction, training, competence. . . .

St. Paul also exhorts his readers to the exercise of discernment. Witness his second epistle to the church at Thessalonica:
1 Thessalonians 5:20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. (ESV)
How are we to "test everything" if not through the use of intellect, reason? Witness also his words to the church at Rome when, after giving his great soteriological treatise which encompasses the first eleven chapters he exhorts them thus:
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (ESV)
The phrase which St. Paul uses at the end of verse one above, the phrase translated "your spiritual worship" in the English Standard Version, can also be translated, and often is translated, in the following way: "your rational service." In fact, this is the alternative rendering given in the margin of the English Standard Version, given because the phrase in Greek conveys both ideas.

Think about that. In Christian theology both "worship" and "service" are intertwined and interchangeable and, it would seem, so are the adjectives "spiritual" and "rational", at least in some cases.

We should present ourselves to God, in the manner which St. Paul describes, because it is spiritual and rational to do so. And if we are to follow both the negative and positive commands of the following verse, if we are to be non-conformists to this world, and instead, transformed, it must be through the renewing of our minds that by means of discernment we might understand fully what God's will for us is.

We are commanded to use our minds. In fact, we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds and this is the first and greatest commandment, according to Jesus.

The Christian faith is to be a cerebral faith--not solely cerebral to be sure, but our minds are definitely a part of our worship and faith.

I wanted to point this out both as a reminder to those of you who are Christians and as a point of emphasis to those who are not. Christians do not throw reason to the wind, or at least we are not supposed to. Nothing in the Christian faith is unreasonable, and the idea atheists promote and insist upon that reason is the antithesis of faith is a straw man. Let us dispense with it.

3 comments:

Friar Rick said...

My wife read this post and informed me that it was a bit technical and that perhaps I needed to make a better effort at putting my thoughts on "the bottom shelf", to use her terminology.

In that spirit, allow me to offer the following synopsis.

Ready?

Look, dudes, the idea that faith and reason are opposites and that those of us who have faith can't or won't think is just stupid and only someone who is ignorant, like, say, Richard Dawkins, would think that.

A basic understanding of Christianity or even just the ability to think should make that obvious. After all, we read a Bible, don't we? And don't we believe God spoke or speaks to us through it? Isn't that a rational process? Doesn't the attempt to communicate involve reason? And doesn't the Bible tell us Christians over and over and over and over and over and over again to think and use our minds, and test things with our minds and love God with our minds and use our minds and think?

The obvious answer is "Why, yes, Friar Rick, it does."

So, again, when atheists like, say, I don't know, Richard Dawkins, try to claim that faith is the opposite of reason they are just showing their ignorance.

Did that help?

Thank-you, and God bless.

Tom Sawyer said...

Tell your wife thank-you for me, will ya? LOL

Allen Lewis said...

Technical yes, but thought-provoking!