My local newspaper recently ran a column about biblical faith written by the founder of a group called the Twin Ports Humanists. Reading it felt something like what an astrophysicist might feel listening to a member of the Flat Earth Society “refuting” a college physics text.
|Deacon Kyle Eller
The writer listed several biblical quotations, such as St. Paul’s beautiful reminder that “we walk by faith and not by sight” and the words of Jesus to the Apostle St. Thomas in the Upper Room blessing those who would believe without having personally seen him risen and the wise advice of the book of Proverbs to trust in the Lord and not rely on our own understanding.
From these, the writer drew the false conclusion that Christianity demands absolutely blind faith, to the point that we should exclude evidence and would err to even consider it. This is, of course, completely untrue, but this conception of faith as being totally opposed to reason is such a common trope among those hostile to the faith, and even a few misguided Christians, that it’s worth refuting in detail.
To begin, let’s be clear that the Christian faith explicitly rejects this view — the Catholic Church, for instance, dogmatically rejects this error, called fideism — and none of the Scripture passages quoted, read in their immediate context or in the context of the whole Bible, demands blind faith.
St. Paul in his Second Letter to the Corinthians (5:7) is talking about persevering in faith amid trials and difficulties even if we don’t see everything clearly, looking with confidence and hope to eternal life in heaven and the fulfillment of God’s promises to us. This is the same Paul who wrote, in his Letter to the Romans, that God’s existence and many of his attributes can be known even to those without the divine revelation through examining the works of creation (1:19-20), which is about as definitive a rejection of “blind faith” as one could imagine.
Jesus, far from demanding “blind faith” from Thomas, is talking to a disciple who has already heard about his resurrection from several trustworthy eyewitnesses and, prior to Good Friday, had heard Jesus repeatedly say he would rise from the dead. Again, this is hardly a call for “blind faith.”
And Proverbs? That’s a call to humility, recognizing our limitations and not imagining ourselves to be wiser than God.
Numerous scriptural passages refute the idea of blind faith. St. Peter urges Christians to “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” (1 Peter 3:15). The Old Testament (Wisdom 13:1-9) offers an extended meditation similar to the passage from Romans already mentioned, showing how God’s existence can be known from creation: “For from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen,” it says at one point. And throughout the New Testament, as we hear during the Easter season in the Acts of the Apostles, the church goes forward evangelizing not demanding blind faith but offering, among other reasons, their testimony of having witnessed the risen Christ personally and the physical evidence of an empty tomb, where the most sought-after body in history is not to be found.
Throughout the centuries since, this has also been the case. Consider St. Augustine’s beautiful sermon challenging us to “question” the wonders of creation and to see that “their beauty is a confession” of the “Beautiful One” who made them.
Or read the First Vatican Council, which defined the relation of faith and reason with profound precision, noting: “Not only can faith and reason never be at odds with one another but they mutually support each other, for on the one hand right reason established the foundations of the faith and, illuminated by its light, develops the science of divine things; on the other hand, faith delivers reason from errors and protects it and furnishes it with knowledge of many kinds.”
One might consult Pope St. John Paul II, who, in his magnificent encyclical letter on faith and reason, began by describing them as the “two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”
The Catholic faith is the faith of some of the great minds who ever lived, of Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Blaise Pascal, Thomas More, Gregor Mendel, Nicholas Copernicus, Louis Pasteur, George Lemaitre, Dante, and so many more. Its glorious intellectual tradition, a marriage of faith and reason, itself is a powerful reason to believe.
How, then, should we understand the role faith authentically plays in our coming to “contemplation of truth”? Consider an analogy with simple human faith. Much of what we know comes not from personal experience but from the word of someone we trust, our parents, teachers, mentors, friends. Even in the hard sciences, we cannot possibly replicate every experiment or verify every observation; we rely on trust.
In the life of faith there are things we can only know because God has told us, with no way of knowing them through logic or investigation — his being a communion of three persons or his love for us, for instance. There are supporting reasons but no absolute proof.
But this, too, is consistent with the human experience. Some of the most important things we know, such as the inner lives of our loved ones or their love for us, are things we know because they tell us. Their actions may give supporting reasons to believe, but it is fundamentally a matter of faith.
The big difference with God is that he is, in fact, more trustworthy than anyone else, all knowing and perfect truth in his very person. Faith in what he has revealed to us, then, is not only reasonable, it’s the only just and reasonable response to him.
Deacon Kyle Eller is editor of The Northern Cross. Reach him at [email protected].