The topics for this week's Orientation to Theological Studies course (the course I'm taking this semester in the diaconate program) were about faith and reason. I found this to be a really interesting topic on a lot of levels. There were so many notes I made about the nature of faith. And I've always found the balance of faith and reason to be interesting given my background in science. For those of you that are not aware, although my current career is in information technology, my bachelor's degree is in Chemistry. While research wasn't my forte, I get the quest of science to understand the world around us.
Where to begin? I think one of the most profound things I took away from the weeks' reading and discussion was that faith is a gift from God. You would think that faith was something that sprang from the human spirit. But in actuality it is a gift. The other interesting thing I read is that a gift is not really a gift unless it is 1) freely given, and 2) received by the person its given to. Furthermore, a gift becomes a true gift when the recipient opens their heart and accepts it. The act of giving something to another makes it a gift on your part. But the giving process is not complete until it is accepted by the recipient. How many of us have received a gift from someone and cringed because the didn't want it? It's not a true gift then, is it?
Faith is also something that you receive from someone else. God provides the gift, but it usually comes through another person. For example, in my case it was my wife's invitation to me to join her in going to Mass that planted the seeds of my faith. Had it not been for her, I probably would not be where I am today. In turn, it is our responsibility to pass this gift on to others. How do we pass on this faith? Any way we can. Ellen and I certainly tried to pass this faith on to our children. But I also hope that by my words and actions, someone my either come to know God or know Him more deeply from the example I provide.
That's certainly something I think about as I begin the path to becoming a deacon. I've never believed in forcing my faith on anyone. I truly believe that everyone is trying to find God in their own way. God made us as spiritual beings with a natural desire to know Him. None of us can understand God in His entirety, but we understand Him in whatever way we can.
The other big theme we've been discussing is that "faith seeks understanding". If you have faith in something, you want to understand it better so you don't think your faith is misplaced. In the case of faith in God, this seeking understanding leads to a deeper faith which leads to deeper understanding and so on. It's an amazing circle that allows your faith and understanding to deepen over time.
This is why faith and reason are not mutually exclusive. So many people think that you can't be a rational person and still have faith. I find just the opposite. While I was in college, I learned about so many scientific principles that seemed to almost be "magic". My favorite example is quantum mechanical tunneling. It is the phenomenon where a particle breaks through a barrier that our current science says it should not be able to. Like magic, we observe the particle where our reason tells us it can't be. But, you may say, that just means our math and equations just cannot describe this phenomenon correctly. My answer is that this is God. Not in the sense that God is the one creating this observed phenomenon, but that it was God that created a universe so amazing that the deeper we go in understanding it, the more mysterious it becomes. How could a universe so complicated be the work of random chance? I just don't believe it. To me, science is just more rational evidence of the existence of God.
Which is why faith and reason are not mutually exclusive but complementary. There are some Christians that seem to think you must ignore science in order to believe in God and the Bible. I'm thankful Catholicism does not teach this. The Bible is not science. It's historical but not in the classic text book, fact checking sense. Reliance on God does not mean being blindly obedient to what we're taught about the faith.
Probably the most interesting thing I read was that doubt is actually a very healthy think in respect to faith. It is ok to doubts about what you believe. It should cause you to look into your faith more deeply and learn more to ease your doubts. Having a healthy questioning attitude is very human. Even people we revere like Mother Theresa had doubts about her faith. The best thing I read is that faith without doubt is not stronger, it is merely more ideological. And isn't that what we see in our world today? Religions teaching their followers that they must not doubt what they are told but believe without questioning. And where does that lead us? Ideologies that are perversions of faith and justify every sort of evil act in the name of that faith. In the final analysis, doubt is good. Questioning and seeking understanding is good. Faith and reason can coexist.
At the risk of being very cheesy, I will quote Rush, from the classic song Hemispheres:
"Let the truth of love be lighted, let the love of truth shine clear, sensibility, armed with sense and liberty, with the heart and mind united in a single, perfect sphere."