Many people best understand faith as a religious concept, particularly, the belief in things not seen but that are true (Lewis 56). By contrast, the conventional definition of reason is far from religious; it has to do with the natural sciences deductive thinking and dialectical theories. However, this paper seeks to correct these narrow-minded views and establish a comprehensive position that clearly explains the relationship between faith and reason, since these two qualities are not mutually exclusive.
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Faith, as per Thomas Aquinas, refers to the alignment of a person’s being, including his or her mental faculties to “divine truth” (Aquinas 67). To achieve this state, one has to subject himself / herself to the “grace of God”. It refers to a state of total surrender to God’s will that almost requires mental or intellectual blindness.
One has to forfeit a bit of logic for faith to work. Albl gives several descriptions of faith that can better explain this concept. For instance, he says faith triggers a person to wonder (Albl 32). It is not enough for instance to appreciate the enchanting nature of the blue sky, faith asks who made it blue and why.
Another description of faith pertains the view that all that exists because of the creation is a gift to humanity and that all should be grateful for it (Albl 33). It is also the foundation of a person’s trust in anything or anybody else, including self-confidence (Descartes 76). Trusting in what is intangible increases a person’s capacity to believe in what he or she can see or touch. Aquinas imparts that faith requires a portion of the grace of God for it to be fully fledged (Albl 34).
This will is what pushes one’s will to defy their logic and succumb to pure belief. The result is conversion of the whole person, not just their thoughts. Acquiring it is a continuous process that requires a person to train or discipline their minds constantly before it can become a “habit of the mind” (Albl 37).
Reason on the other hand has to do with man’s intellectual faculties. The cause of questioning things in a bid to understand them better, or assessing various options to come up with a sensible decision over what makes sense and what does not. Consequently, Albl posits that faith and reason are actually inclusive of each other and one requires the other to achieve its maximum potential. He puts it succinctly in the statement, “balanced Christianity needs a body of reason animated by the fire of faith” (Albl 38).
This makes clear the jeopardy of being an extremist. Feudists are scholars who restrict the understanding of divine attributes to pure faith and they include theologians such as Tertullian and Soren Kiekegard among others. This school of thought is of the opinion that logic muddles up a person’s understanding of God (Hart and Fischer 87).
Their critics are quick to assert that the same God created man a rational being, and expects him be rational about everything, including religion. On the other extreme end are rationalists who believe in cold reasoning at the exclusion of faith. They include philosophy scholars like Rene Descartes and Immanuel Kant among others.
However, a modernist view that most people embrace nowadays posits that faith and reason interrelate, with each complementing the other for a fuller understanding of spiritual matters. Albl captures this as “faith seeking understanding” (33). Thomas Aquinas proposed that anyone seeking to strengthen his or her faith should find an authority upon which to base this faith. For Christians, he proposed the scriptures and by extension the Quran for Muslims.
Reason is a necessary ingredient in theology as it enables scholars to apply mental processes while interpreting scriptures and other religious teachings. Employment of rational thinking of logic further strengthens a person’s conviction that whatever they are studying is true (Hart and Fischer 99).
This is because people tend to trust what they have deduced for themselves better than what they do not understand. The connection of reason with faith makes it an even more important tool. It takes faith in the rationality of the world to accept the results one obtains from employing reason to deduce truth.
Faith and reason are supplementary qualities whose development needs to be at par. When one exceeds the other, one risks acquiring dangerous perspectives that are extremist and close-minded in nature. Theology as a study of religion requires both in equal measure. Reason will enable a scholar to pass judgment on the accuracy of various points of view, whereas faith will turn him or her into believer.
Albl, Martin. Reason, Faith and Tradition: An Exploration in Catholic Theology. New York: Saint Mary’s Press, 2009.
Aquinas, Thomas. Summa Theologica. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, Christian Classics. Notre Dame: Ave Maria Press, 1981.
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Descartes, Rene. Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Descartes, Rene. Philosophical Essays: Discourse on Method; Mediation; Rules for the Direction of the Mind. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merill, 1964. 192.
Hart, Thomas and Fischer, Kathleen. Christian Foundations: an Introduction to Faith in our Times. New York: Paulist Press, 1995.
Lewis, Carl. Surprised by Joy:The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcout Brace, 1955.