St Francis Q&A

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The most reasonable faith in the world

Anon posted the following: “Is it possible for someone to be psychologically, innately incapable of accepting the religious truths discussed here and generally believed by Catholics? Think about this: Some people think so logically and so concretely that they have no aptitude to grasp the things that are at the core of Catholic doctrine: that a man rose from the dead for the sins of humankind; that Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit; that God is present at all in our lives, to name a few. This takes believing in the supernatural, in the divine. Some people simply are not wired in such a way that they could ever accept that. Am I just describing agnostics?”

Thanks, Anon, for laying out your thoughts in a well-constructed manner. Yes, they represent an agnostic view of faith, particularly the Christian faith. But, I do appreciate the probing nature of your post because it allows all of us to look more deeply at what is at the core of Catholic doctrine. Unlike any religion in the world, Catholic doctrine has faith and reason as its foundation. In fact, Pope John Paul II issued an encyclical titled, “Faith and reason”, in 1998. I will refer to it to help answer your questions.

The persons you describe – those who “think so logically and so concretely that they have no aptitude to grasp the things that are at the core of Catholic doctrine” – would be capable of accepting the religious truths discussed here and generally believed by Catholics. I can say that because it is entirely reasonable to believe what Catholic doctrine states. And, what does Catholic doctrine state? That which God has revealed to us. As John Paul II wrote, “The knowledge which the Church offers to man has its origin not in any speculation of her own, however sublime, but in the word of God which she has received in faith (cf. 1 Th 2:13)”. It does take faith to believe that the Bible is the Word of God, but it is reasonable to believe it.

The whole idea of how we think logically (how we use human reason) can be traced back to early Greek philosophers. Catholics and any other persons who are in pursuit of “the truth” share a foundation in Greek thought. The Greek philosophers – Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, etc. – tackled the questions of who God is and how we all came to be. They helped us to understand (what Vatican Council I confirmed) that we can know that God exists through human reason alone. The Church has even based its “5 Proofs for the Existence of God” on Greek logic.

Now, agnostics might separate from the Church in thought based on this alone because agnostics posit that truly attaining knowledge of the divine is not possible. But, let’s say, for the sake of argument that they agree with us that we can know by reason THAT God exists. So, then, how can one know by faith WHO God is? In Vatican I, the Church says that this kind of knowledge involves “mysteries hidden in God which, unless they are divinely revealed, cannot be known”. We can only know by faith WHO God is (Father, Son, and Spirit) because God has revealed himself to us as he is. As I wrote earlier, it takes faith to believe in Divine Revelation, but it is also reasonable to do so. ‘God has said it, it makes sense to me, so I believe it’ is how I approach the Bible.

Anon, I would probably suggest to the persons you are describing that they should refresh themselves with some solid philosophy courses. These can really help to understand how it is we think. When I say that what’s revealed in the Bible makes sense to me, of course I don’t mean every single line and book; I mean that the whole makes sense. The story makes sense: God is hidden from human experience for a while, then slowly reveals himself, and then the truth about himself is, as JP II wrote, “declared once and for all in the mystery of Jesus of Nazareth”. The Catholic story about who God is and who we are makes the most sense of any religion or movement in the world. In fact, I would say that to not believe it would be unreasonable and illogical.


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