On Faith

I’ve been lingering on this question: are reason and faith enemies or friends?  According to some, reason and faith are enemies—they are essentially incompatible ways of knowing.  Reason is pro-thought; faith is anti-thought.  Reason is always supported by evidence; faith is always unsupported by evidence.  Personally, I’ve come to doubt these simple dichotomies.  I’ve come to doubt that reason and faith exist on opposite ends of these sorts of polarized spectrums.  I have actually come to understand reason and faith as friends; as deeply compatible and inseparable aspects of knowing.  As far as I can tell, we cannot know anything or anyone without exercising reason and faith.

In the previous post I argued that all knowledge is supported by a-rational assumptions that must be accepted in faith.  What this means is we cannot exercise reason—that is, we cannot follow the rules of deductive thinking or even the methods of inductive investigation, for that matter—without working with assumptions.  These assumptions may be the premises of logical syllogisms or the principles in philosophies of science.  They sometimes seem elusive and difficult to pin down because they’re often so basic in our thinking, so deeply assumed, that we take them for granted.  Regardless of whether we’re aware of them or we take them for granted, the point is: all rational thought and inquiry is supported by assumptions.  But I want to move on from somewhat abstract epistemological musing to something more practical.  What I want to explore is the role of reason and faith in relationships.

The simple truth is reason and faith have vital functions in any healthy relationship.  They are necessary ingredients in all intimate friendships.  Take a moment to think about it.  Think about the most intimate relationship you have and think about how your relationship developed as you and your friend mutually exercised reason and faith.  My best personal example is my friendship with my wife.

Let me share some of the (surely unoriginal) bits of our story that highlight how our friendship developed as we exercised reason and faith.  Sarah and I met at school.  We had plenty of classes together seeing as we were in the same program.  But plenty of time passed before we started getting to know each other.  That’s mostly because I was doing my own thing; I lived out of town, so I pretty much came to school for class and split campus as soon as classes were over.  So I wasn’t that involved in student life and I certainly wasn’t looking for a serious relationship.  But we gradually—and I mean, gradually—got to know each other while we shared brief moments in the cafeteria or we worked on assignments and projects together.  The early stages of our relationship were slow going.

Eventually we started hanging out outside of school.  Sarah started inviting me over to her place for parties or jam session (we were in a music program).  As you’ve probably guessed since these romance stories are fairly predictable, I started realizing that I liked spending time with Sarah.  Once I realized that I liked spending time with her and, well, I liked her, I started thinking a lot.  We didn’t have a real deep friendship at this point, but we had gotten to know plenty of things about each other.  So I became consumed with thinking about her, with thinking about me, with thinking through our compatibility.  I would think about her qualities and my qualities, about her interests and my interests, about weather we’d be a ‘suitable match.’  At this stage I hadn’t placed any deep trust in her, which is to say I hadn’t exercised much faith.  But I was thinking a ton about what I had learned about her, what I knew about myself, and about the potential for a relationship, which is to say that I had been exercising plenty of reason.

Eventually my reasoning turned into faith.  I was so tongue-tied when I first tried to ask her out on a date.  She picked up on my stumbling—so she asked me out!  The moment we chose to begin dating was a significant moment for our mutual faith: we each made ourselves vulnerable enough to admit our thoughts and feelings, and we put a degree of trust in each other.

We first trusted that it would be worth getting to know each other more.  We trusted that we wouldn’t carelessly hurt each other, even if our relationship didn’t last.  We began to put a great deal of trust in each other, but we mutually extended our trust because we had each provisionally decided that the other was trustworthy based on the knowledge we had accumulated and the reasoning we had done up to that time.  And it’s not as though we used our ‘reason’ in the first stage of our friendship and ever since we’ve just been exercising ‘faith.’  At every time and stage we’ve been exercising both our reason and our faith simultaneously, in tandem.  We continually get to know things about each other through thoughtful reasoning, and we continually get to know each other and strengthen our friendship in other, often deeper, ways through mutually trusting in each other.

It’s hard to say which came first: reason or faith?  Because at the very beginning of our friendship we began exercising reason in little amounts and faith in little amounts, and our reasoning and faith-ing have simply grown—and continue to grow—as they work together over time.

Here’s another epistemological angle: the way we get to know something is much the same as the way we get to know someone.  In other words, the way we go about knowing something, like an idea, in an abstract, theoretical way follows similar patterns to the way we go about knowing someone in a relational way.  When we encounter a new idea, we usually have an initial reaction to it.  Often without giving it much careful consideration, we have an intuitive gut-response to it that either attracts or repels us from it.  If we find the idea attractive, we’ll intentionally get to know it by thinking it over; we’ll do our best to understand it’s meaning, significance, and implications; maybe we’ll consult some other sources and see what our friends, teachers, or published authors think about this idea; we’ll compare it with our own existing ideas and see how it fits with our current philosophies; we might change it slightly in order to fit it alongside our own ideas, or we might change our own ideas, philosophies, or maybe even lifestyles to accommodate and incorporate this new idea into our thinking.

We essentially go through a feeling-out process of ‘relational compatibility’—though its not a real relationship because, no matter how much you might love an idea, it will never love you back.  We go through the process of determining whether we’d be a ‘suitable match’—though I hope you don’t take it too far since ideas are not people and you can’t literally marry a thought.  But figuratively, we couple ourselves with ideas and marry ourselves with philosophies all the time.  School is like speed dating in a lot of ways: as a student, you move around from desk to desk, encountering a bunch of different ideas during a constrained period of time in which you’re rapidly doing you best to become familiar with them; and hopefully it will be time well spent and some of the relationships formed at school will actually last (though that’s unfortunately not a guarantee).

The bottom line is, through both my experiences of ‘knowing’ and my reflections on the nature of relational, practical, and theoretical ‘knowledge,’ I’ve come to conclude that reason and faith are not conflicting enemies but closely-linked friends.  Reason and faith are reciprocally linked, they are symbiotically joined, in all acts of knowing by necessity.  They form the integral supports for all structurally-solid knowledge.

As always, your thoughts and pushback our welcome.

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