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The World Needs Faith and Reason to Soar Again

Posted on Sunday, September 17, 2023
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by David P. Deavel
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AMAC Exclusive – By David P. Deavel

Children sitting in church pew reading the bible and learning about Faith

What ails the world at this moment is not merely the usual cocktail of selfishness, narcissism, vanity, and anger. Though the modern world (or at least our computers) seems capable of ever greater feats of mathematical and technical tabulation, and consequently wonders of technology and organization that would have seemed marvelous to any other age, we have our own particular Achilles Heel. Oddly enough for an “information age” that prides itself on having all knowledge at our fingertips, our weakness is itself intellectual: our ability to come to any sane conclusions about political reality or the human condition seems to have evaporated. Too many people don’t believe that the human mind can do much more than calculate—meaning and wisdom seem beyond our grasp. It might seem cold comfort, but the fact that we can laugh at the absurdity of so much nonsense means that, as at any time, there is hope. There is laughter at the nonsensical because sense hasn’t disappeared.

We also have had great modern writers who have helped us diagnose the times. We also have had great modern writers who have helped us diagnose the times. G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Francis Schaeffer all still speak to our times. The prophets of faith and reason continued to come. The anniversary of an encyclical, or teaching document, from one particular prophet, the late Polish Pope St. John Paul II (1920-2005), offers an opportunity to examine how the world might enjoy our technology while again becoming more reasonable.

 A few hundred years ago, a prediction of an unreasonable and unreasoning world would have seemed surprising. The great 18th-century German and French Enlightenment thinkers claimed for human reason powers to know all there was to know in this world without faith. The hypothesis of God was no longer necessary! Knowledge of mathematics and the scientific method would deliver us into a world of pure reason in which superstition would be conquered and the world would sing in harmony because its song would no longer be of God and his heaven. Instead of the supernatural, mankind would focus its attention on the natural. Instead of charity, rational planning would provide daily bread for the masses. Instead of a kingdom of God, the brotherhood of man would take its place, free of any notion of a God who judges us. 

Yet a funny thing happened on the way to this rationalist utopia. Though math and science would yield marvels of technology, they were themselves often sacrificed on the altar of politics. And curiously this utopian project did not yield much humanity. Rather than universal brotherhood, a godless modernity yielded political regimes that claimed to have no limits on their powers and elite classes who promoted eugenics. The latter operated on the idea that human beings could be bred for quality as one breeds dogs or horses. The former operated on the idea that the state could dispose of human beings as one does with dogs or horses.

Even as the Soviet republics, with their hard “scientific” atheism, were breaking down in the 1990s, the free west was sliding toward a soft agnosticism and a breakdown of confidence in reason itself. Today we see that loss of reason in academics who can’t identify humans in the womb or say what a woman is. We see it in education officials who think that math and science are racist.            

There were many figures who saw this coming. One of the most prominent was John Paul II. This past Thursday, September 14, marked the twenty-fifth anniversary of his letter Fides et Ratio, “On Faith and Reason.” This massive 38-thousand-word teaching document that treats at length the relationship between theology and philosophy might seem far removed from the concerns of today. But though the Polish philosopher pope’s language and terms can sometimes seem heady, his treatment of how people in the modern west have gone astray and how they can return to the path of reason is still a gift both to Christians of all stripes and to all those of good will who seek to live a reasonable life amid a culture that often seems given up to agnosticism, moral relativism, and even nihilism.

  How did we go astray? How did we get to the point that basic biology and math are distrusted? John Paul’s answer was that humans in the modern world had lost the conviction that humans were called to know “truth that transcends them.” While data and facts had been multiplied, the pope noted, human reason “has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being.”

John Paul II believed that we were called to seek out the meaning of life. Without the confidence that there is such a thing, people judge their own humanity “by pragmatic criteria essentially based upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all.” No doubt he had in mind in part the tendency of modern public health services and insurance companies to figure out whether medical treatments should be given based on mathematical analyses of projected years of “quality” living.

Given the absurdity of that project, some people will unsurprisingly turn to nihilism, believing that “the search is an end in itself, without any hope or possibility of ever attaining the goal of truth.” John Paul rightly saw that such a belief leads to a human existence focused on “sensations” and the “ephemeral.” He also saw rightly that it led directly a life where commitment was impossible.

The human person’s dignity (and questions such as whether ordinary medical treatments ought to be given them) is not something measurable by calculators and formulas. Dignity is not recognized in a world of nihilism. John Paul believed that our dignity is given in our very nature that seeks out truth. “Everyday life,” John Paul writes, “shows how concerned each of us is to discover for ourselves, beyond mere opinions, how things really are. Within visible creation, man is the only creature who not only is capable of knowing but who knows that he knows and is therefore interested in the real truth of what he perceives.” 

But our full rational nature does not stop at simply seeing the truth. Speculative truth is not enough. We are moral creatures. We want practical wisdom and are not fully satisfied until we know what we ought to do. And though our knowledge and our language in such matters will always be limited by our time and place, he writes, nevertheless “the human being can still express truths which surpass the phenomenon of language.” We can know how things really are and we can say it, too. We can trust our reason.

Yet reason in the modern sense of scientific method, empirically verifiable facts, and some math or logic doesn’t cut it. John Paul argues that we need a broader sense of reason, one that might include intuition and even faith. Though secularists will blanch at the last part, John Paul’s argument is that much of our life operates on the basis of a kind of human faith. Rather than doing experiments or fact-checking everything, we rightly accept the testimony of others, living and dead. “…[T]here are in the life of a human being,” he writes, “many more truths which are simply believed than truths which are acquired by way of personal verification. Who, for instance, could assess critically the countless scientific findings upon which modern life is based? Who could personally examine the flow of information which comes day after day from all parts of the world and which is generally accepted as true? Who in the end could forge anew the paths of experience and thought which have yielded the treasures of human wisdom and religion? This means that the human being—the one who seeks the truth—is also the one who lives by belief.

It is reasonable for us to take many things on faith—including the remarkable claims of Christian faith itself. John Paul’s argument is that the truths of natural science and philosophy are not at all opposed to the truths given in revelation about the Creator God and his son, the savior Jesus Christ.. In fact, it is only when we take those two modes of knowing (natural reason and faith) that we can see the world as a reasonable whole and begin to pierce the mystery of its meaning: “It is the one and the same God who establishes and guarantees the intelligibility and reasonableness of the natural order of things upon which scientists confidently depend, and who reveals himself as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Many of the makers of our modern world thought that reason would be freed to soar if faith could be gotten out of the way. What too many have discovered is that reason without faith can’t rise above the facts and figures to get a vision of truth. Without confidence in reason’s ability to understand the meaning and coherence of the whole, we soon lose confidence in our ability to understand seemingly basic facts—we don’t know what a woman is and math is racist! 

John Paul II urged us to think differently, to understand that soaring is only possible when faith and reason are together. With that, we can get a vision of the truth, which is really a person and not a thing: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves.”   

David P. Deavel teaches at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas, and is a Senior Contributor at The Imaginative Conservative. Follow him on X (Twitter) @davidpdeavel.

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Rob citizenship
Rob citizenship
8 months ago

Thank you for writing this very important article Mr.Deavel — it should be appreciated by all who give thought to the meaning of words such as soul , spirit, prayer, and think about the qualities that make for good character. The way faith and reason and truth hold other things together — and give understanding and insight — the will of God , the respect that is felt for doing what is right. I like the last sentence in the first paragraph — “There is laughter at the nonsensical because sense hasn’t disappeared .” I do believe that thought is important because it indicates that there is Hope ,if sense is still around and also because of the great value of having a respectful, uplifting sense of humor. It can help in so many ways. The quotes from John Paul the 2nd are appreciated. The mention of Jesus Christ is appreciated . The dignity of the human spirit will always soar far above any form of technology ( I have been a toolmaker for about fifty years ) if that technology is out of touch with the will of God. Dr. David Jeremiah wrote something profound in 1996 about the connection between nature, science and God — ” Nature is God’s mouthpiece, the design reflects the Designer. And since true science is the observation and understanding of nature, science’s full and proper purpose is to point us toward God.” That was in the David Jeremiah book entitled ” Angels , The Strange and Mysterious Truth”. You did something profound by writing this article David, Well Done, for sure !

Susan
Susan
8 months ago

We need to be on our knees asking our God the maker of everything to forgive our immorality, killing, stealing, and lying. God makes our weather no one else (no green problem a spiritual problem plain and simple) We are willing to buy into every lie but we won’t do the thing that will really help us. Don’t be afraid of who can kill the body. Be afraid of who can kill the soul. There is a heaven and there is a hell. Which will you choose?

David Millikan
David Millikan
8 months ago

Very interesting and educational article.
Those that turn their back on GOD always pay a price.
The United States is GODS country and for good reason. Our country was founded on principle belief of following GOD and we soared as a nation.
Today, we are paying the price for turning our back on GOD and look where we are now. Just look at what is in the White House.

Eileen Erikson
Eileen Erikson
8 months ago

Why I love AMAC

David
David
8 months ago

With out Truth based in faith in the Messiah our Lord Jesus there is only futility. He is the basis for all truth, beauty, hope and love.

Creswell A Scott
Creswell A Scott
8 months ago

Thank you AMAC for posting such insightful & encouraging article as usual.

Cincinnatus
Cincinnatus
8 months ago

While some “diversity” is useful in any culture, the unlimited diversity, which has infected our nation has made the concept of “compromise” an unworkable exercise. That Kid from “Kindergarten Cop”, whose inimitable wisdom states that, “men have a penis and women have a vagina”, confounds about half of our “diverse” citizenry, proving that we are now far beyond any possibility of compromise on anything of consequence.

Cam
Cam
8 months ago

Only fools believe in his or hers mind that God does not exist. Therefore, such would not be open to religion, inclination, or embedded truths. There are no sciences, or nowadays, manufactured perceptions going to lead us to the truth unless that truth is based on the Creator and His beautiful Wisdom. Godly wisdom is supreme to that of man’s.

Brian
Brian
8 months ago

Keep a close watch on the Catholic church. It’s not what they’re saying, but what they are not saying or revealing. “Mary” has been quietly moving up in the ranks and will soon be crowned as co-redeemer with Jesus along with numerous heretical practices not found in Scriptures or the Christian church. Hear the silence given to Catholic Biden and Catholic Pelosi and how they’re helping to destroy this nation?? We’re in a spiritual battle folks…… taking God out of everything is destroying this once Christian nation. God will not bless this nation if this continues. It’s past time that these dishonorable vessels created by God be exposed and dealt with……it’s pretty evident that it’s Truth verses lies.

Frank Snell
Frank Snell
7 months ago

There are no atheists in foxholes. People only appreciate religion and belief system based on God, rather than on feel-good, drug-permissable, fluid-gender(sic) philosophy when they are in need.
I love the religious Credo of the left, save the whales, kill the babies(worth much less than a whale infant, tear down stautues and debunk American goodness with nothing to replace it with. If you differ with one issue in there Credo, you are a pariah and need to be sent to reeducation camps-3rd Reich, Stalin’s Russia anyone?

Paul
Paul
8 months ago

“faith” and “reason” are polar opposites and incompatible in thought. Sorry!

Gin
Gin
8 months ago

Oh my gosh! This is overload.
It’s an absolutely beautiful Sunday morning blessings to everyone in their comings, goings and doings. I pray that you all look around you and see the great God our Creator. Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Put a smile on your face and grin through your misery for the devil will be gaslighted. ????

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