Faith and Reason
Is faith based on knowledge or ignorance?
If based on ignorance then how can it be faith? How can you have faith in something of which you have no knowledge?
You say God can do the impossible and when someone asks why, you respond with “Because He is God.” Implicit in that answer is the idea that God = Ability to do Anything is a rational connection. But If your faith is truly based upon ignorance, then you cannot make that connection. You cannot know that God=Ability to do Anything; and since you cannot know it, you cannot possibly have faith in it, because how do you have faith in what is for all rational purposes, nothing at all? For what you cannot know in your ignorance precludes you having faith in it.
But if you insist that God=the Ability to do Anything then the connection must be a reasonable one. Meaning that you cannot be ignorant of a rational connection between God and His power. You know that God has power and that that power is a direct function of the person of God, therefore, your faith is not based upon ignorance, it is based upon reason. Now, you may not have the details of exactly how or why God can do anything, but you do claim that it is indeed reasonable to assume that God possesses a power to act in the ways that He does. This makes your faith not irrational, but rational. That you don’t know exactly how God does what He does does not mean that you do not base your faith ultimately upon the idea that it is reasonable to assume that because He is God, He can do what He does (which you might argue is “anything”…which, incidentally, I do not concede. For example, God cannot be me, or you, or an orange).
Therefore, I only accept that faith is rooted in reason, not ignorance.
But what is the limitation then of that reason? If faith is ultimately based upon assumptions that we assume to be reasonable (not that they always are…in fact, more often, the opposite is true), then where exactly must that reason come to an end? If we understand that it is reasonable to say that God who created the universe can do anything then why cannot we understand HOW God does anything? What is the deeper rationale behind how God can do the impossible besides the perfunctory response of: “Because He is God.”?
Is there a limit to man’s ability to rationally explain his beliefs? Need there be?
Enter the “Mysteries of God”.
This concept of mystery, and its connection to faith has interested me for a while. What is “faith” exactly, if we can explain everything we know and see according to reason (that is, using non-contradictory interpretive premises which then lead to non-contradictory interpretive conclusions)? For me, I maintain that the prerequisite for human epistemology is direct sensory integration and REASON; man knows what he knows because A.) he learns it, and B.) it is reasonable. There is no mystery in my epistemology paradigm. I do not believe that mystery can ever be the root of anything man knows. For by definition if what man understands is rooted in mystery, then man does not really understand. Thus, true understanding does not come from mystery it comes from rationally consistent premises and conclusions. Also, it must serve man’s life, as human existence (the state of being man) is the infinite prerequisite for and thus is the source of all moral good and truth. If anything man understands requires the death or absence of man to be true (like, for instance, the Reformed doctrine of Total Depravity) then it cannot be true by definition; for nothing can be true which does not require man to acknowledge that it is true. Truth, therefore, is only relevant insofar as man can know it according to reason. Without man, anything true is irrelevant to him; and what is irrelevant cannot by definition serve his truth. Thus, it cannot be said to be true.
Then what of faith?
If all knowledge and understanding must be rooted in reason (for I submit that reality MUST be reasonable or it cannot be qualified as real, but that’s another article), then what exactly is faith? What is “faith without seeing”…”blessed is he who believes without seeing”? Does this mean that true faith does not necessarily require observation which translates into logically consistent premises and conclusions?
Well, yes and no. First, faith is always in some way a function of observation, even though the application of that observation may be “indirect” depending on the circumstance. For there is no knowledge without the senses…you cannot know SELF without the ability to be consciously aware of OTHER. Therefore, anything you know and believe is because you have been integrated into your environment via your senses (what I mean when I refer to “observation”).
But this does not mean that faith is always a function of directly viewing the object or event that you are to have faith in. Why was Thomas rebuked for needing to see Jesus’s hands in person before He would believe? Does this imply that the other disciples had irrational faith because they believed by word of mouth that Jesus had actually been resurrected?
No? You don’t like the idea that the faith of the other disciples was irrational?
Well, what makes their faith rational, then? Without the direct observation of Jesus’s hands, how could they be so sure?
Well…because they reasoned it so.
They had seen Jesus perform miracles before; they already conceded that He was God incarnate. Their rational thinking did not require Him to stand before them in the flesh as Thomas demanded because they already had a consistent understanding of who Jesus was and what He was capable of. In short, their faith was the more sensible…they used a rational integration of known information according to logical premises they already possessed intellectually. They were able to apply discursive logic to their faith…they did not need their awareness of truth and reality to be constantly dictated by instantly observable events or objects. Thomas’s need to observe Jesus then and there in the flesh meant that he had denied his rational brain; questioning what he saw; and conceding that drawing logical conclusions about previous observations was ineffectual in forming a rational understanding of reality and the world at any given moment.
This is the fallacy of “all truth must be based upon what is directly observable”. This is false. Truth is based on reason, and reason alone. That is, it is based on ideas, doctrines, or philosophies which have logical conclusions derived from logical assumptions which are a function of the integration of man to his environment via specifically defined and organized conceptually abstract constructs created at the cognitive level.
Again, the ability of the disciples, besides Thomas, to acknowledge the validity of third party testimony concerning the risen Christ indicates a faith that is rooted in the ability of man to THINK; the ability of man to observe his environment and conceptualize it into systematic abstract constructs from which he can reconcile what he observes into logical premises and conclusions. “If I see Jesus raise someone from the dead by the power of God, then I can assume that Jesus, Himself may also be raised”. “I do not need to see Jesus feed the four thousand to know he is able to feed the four thousand because I just witnessed Him feed the five thousand.”
That is where our faith is based. Upon our ability to conceptualize what we observe, and then integrate these concepts in a logical, consistent way. Therefore, true faith comes from understanding; and understanding is always based on reason. We know that this is red and that is blue because that is how we have decided to define these aspects of the overarching concept of “color” (notice that “color” is a concept, not an actual thing). This implies then that blue cannot also be red, for that would render the entire concept of color contradictory, and therefore, it would be an irrelevant and useless way to organize what man observes. Thus, if we say that God can do anything because He is God, we must understand that there is a logical connection between God to Ability, and Ability to Outcome. If God is able because He is God, then there must be a rational explanation for why God, being God, can do anything. Whether it is rooted in the observation of God doing impossible things in order that we deduce this ability, or in some other way. And why then should that “some other way” be closed to the reason of man? If man can codify and thus understand how the world interacts with itself, why can he not conceptually codify how the world interacts with God and vice versa? If we can say that He is able, why can we not also say WHY He is able and HOW He is able? I do not concede that the HOW and WHY of God’s power is necessarily beyond the rational comprehension of man. Indeed, in order for our faith to be fully bulwarked, I would think a rational explanation of just how and why God can do the impossible (thus, no longer making it impossible, but utterly possible; which…really, “doing the impossible” is a contradiction in terms, anyway) would be of immense value.
Certainly I am not suggesting that humans have the capacity to DO what God does, for what God does comes from Himself, and man can no more be God than God can be man. But if having faith in God ultimately boils down to some manner of reason, because reality MUST be reasonable, then there can be no boundaries for reason except those things which are mutually exclusive to man’s existence. And certainly, God is not one of those things. So, what I mean to say is that just because man cannot DO what is impossible for man to do, does not mean that it is impossible to reasonably explain in a way man can understand (according to the rational use of concepts to explain man’s reality) just why what is impossible for man is in fact imminently possible for God.
The Contradiction of Mysteries
Christians love to appeal to the idea of “mystery” as a justification for holding ideas that we cannot rationally defend. As John Immel, notable metaphysician and historian puts it: Christians tend to punt their rational contradictions into the cosmic abyss of God’s mystery.
This statement could not be more true.
In Christian circles, the concept of epistemological mystery (those things which man cannot know) is very popular. Just today, in reading the comments section of a blog post a reader here linked to, I read that “predestination and free will exist in tension”. What this means is that, for this person, human existence is defined by literally two mutually exclusive versions of reality. Reality is both a function of man’s freedom of choice AND God’s absolute control over all events, past, present, and future.
And how does this person defend such rank nonsense?
How do you think?
Mystery. We just don’t understand. And so human beings I supposed are doomed to a life of unremitting inconsistency. Of living out the immensely painful “tension” of being scolded and tortured for their “sins” and yet never quite able to concede that they are the ones to blame. Reaping the rewards and comforts of their hard work and wise choices, and yet understanding that nothing they’ve done really made any difference at all. That the abuse and exploitation of children is a dreadful evil and yet is also somehow a part of God’s sovereign Will.
There are a lot of people who will not be saved because they insist that somehow evil is God’s fault because, being God and being “sovereign”, He must have created it. Which also means, predictably, that in their prevarications they insist that evil isn’t really evil at all. But rather evil is somehow good, because it is in keeping with God’s determinist power over all Creation. Oh my…how much they refuse to understand. This is a dreadful blasphemy.
THAT, my dear fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, is precisely why the world wants nothing to do with us. We preach “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” and then declare that the only way to repent is if God does it for you, making the entire message of repentance fucking pointless. They are not idiots. And they are right to reject the bullshit.
You, but not you, goes the Christian metaphysic.
Sigh, and motherfucking, sigh.
Now, two problems with this idea of mystery, and both can be summed up with this question:
Why don’t we understand the mysteries we don’t understand?
Now, know that in my exegesis of the idea of “mystery” as it functions as a root of Christian epistemology, I am not speaking of the individual and his or her particular circumstance. What we need to grasp is that Christians, thanks to 1500 years of whoring it up with Platonist philosophy, are essentially the consummate example of rank collectivism. When they speak of “you cannot know” or “you must assume” or “you must trust” or “you are inclined” they are not speaking of YOU as an individual, but collective humanity on the whole. Christians, in their disappointingly non-Jewish theological roots, have almost completely eliminated the concept of the individual. A “personal relationship to Jesus Christ” is about as close as they come, and one quickly finds out that this “personal relationship” is anything but personal. On the contrary, it is quite corporate. Once you are “saved” you are amazed to see how quickly your salvation depends on how successfully you integrate yourself into the “body”. For truly they believe that no man is an island, but even more than that, they believe that no man is a man. You ARE the group, or you are not. This is an assumption that is founded upon, as I said, thousands of years of Greek paganism rooted in Plato’s destructive philosophy. The removal of the individual man from himself is the key to God’s love according to modern Christian orthodoxy. God can love you as long as there is no YOU, so to speak, getting in the way and fucking everything up. Your primary problem was and is the fact that you have an annoying tendency to think of yourself as an autonomous conscious SELF. Avast! Remove that mortal apostasy from your mind! You died to Christ, yes, and rose to the obscure abstraction of the group collective. And that is why being “put out of the church” is often waggled before the laity’s eyes in an effort to whip the aloof back into line. For apart from the “body” you don’t really exist to God goes the logic. Without the “church” as your proxy before the Almighty, you are just a shadow, fading into oblivion after the dusk of excommunication.
So, my point is that Christians, whether they are conscious of it or not, almost categorically speak in collectivist metaphysical terms. Meaning that the statements they make about your ability as a member of the human race verses God’s ability as the Grand Deity are rooted in the existential elements of humanity’s very being. When they say “you have not been given the grace to perceive God’s truth, which is why you need a Pastor to submit to in the context of the local church”, they mean that YOU, humanity in general, are metaphysically incapable of seeing the things the pastor sees. You are flawed at the root of SELF. God’s truth is utterly exclusive to your very existence. It isn’t a matter of choice, it is a matter of your rank metaphysical failure. That is why Christ had to die: because you cannot help but sin; and why Pastors are indispensable, because they hold the keys to the kingdom as the gatekeepers and the personification of the collective of the “body”. They have the knowledge that you cannot have because and for no other reason than you were born wanting in your very being.
And this is the first problem. If human beings are metaphysically incapable of understanding God’s mysteries, then I submit that man cannot even begin to know what the mysteries are that he cannot know; they are a blind spot to him, epistemologically speaking. For example, one might argue that we cannot understand the mystery of how predestination and free will co-exist “in tension” and yet also in a way that is somehow efficacious to a rational existence. And the reason we cannot understand is because “it has not been given us”. Which is Christian bible proof-textingese for “you lack the ability to understand as a function of your metaphysical context”. Your very life and the way it is observed by you utterly precludes your ability to apprehend a concept that nevertheless is somehow supposed to drive you to logical conclusions concerning yourself and God and His power and His truth and your purpose and proper response to it all…as if any of those things can have any meaning whatsoever in an existential paradigm that is perpetually at war with itself. There are two mutually exclusive ideas: free will and predestination. And yet there is only one of you and one life you lead. Thus, how you integrate two categorically opposite absolutes into the singularity of your life is…well, yeah, a mystery.
But here is the thing. If it indeed is a mystery that you lack the metaphysical sufficiency to apprehend, then it is quite impossible for you to even possess a frame of reference for it so that you can define the mystery which you do not possess the inherent capacity to grasp. If the integration of free will and predestination is truly beyond your capacity to apprehend because your very EXISTENCE precludes it, then you cannot rationally argue that there is any frame of reference for the integration of the two, since they would need to reconcile to the context of your life in order for the mystery to be in any way rational and applicable. But since your life is the very reason why you cannot understand the “truth” of the coupling of these two exclusive ideas, then how can you argue that these ideas and the issue of their compatibility has anything to do with you at all? There is no argument. For the very idea of the rational integration of predestination and free will is beyond your reach as a function of your existence. And since your understanding (epistemology) is a direct function of your existence (metaphysics), then what is beyond your ability to know is beyond your ability to proclaim as actual. For what is real to you is only real if it can be observed…and observation is a function of the metaphysical SELF. So if you cannot understand something because your metaphysical root is insufficient and removed from it then this is the exact same thing as declaring that that thing which you cannot understand does not effectively exist to you in the first place.
I know this is tedious, but the logic is sound. If you cannot know something, then you cannot define it. And if you cannot define it you cannot proclaim that it exists at all. If you cannot know how predestination and free will integrate themselves to your life then you cannot possess a rational definition of the concept of the integration of these ideas. Their very integration is meaningless to you and your life, by definition. Because it is your metaphysical being which denies you access to the idea. And if the idea is withheld from you at the metaphysical level then it must be withheld from you at the epistemological level. You cannot exist to it therefore you cannot know it. You cannot thus proclaim that it is “true”…for a truth that is incompatible with existence is a contradiction in terms.
And this is why I deny that ANY mysteries can form the crux of truth in any rational way. Because “mystery” according to Christian orthodoxy always boils down to the assumption that man is incapable of ever solving it, and that this inability is a direct result of metaphysical insufficiency. Which makes the mystery completely outside of man’s existence, which means that it can have no causal power over man’s life, being exclusive of it and thus of man’s knowledge. And if man cannot know it he cannot define it. You cannot know (define, acknowledge, proclaim as truth) what you cannot know as a function of the root SELF. If you cannot know it then you cannot proclaim that it exists, which means that it cannot form any part of your understanding of your life and reality.
Literally speaking then, there is nothing that man cannot know that is of any relevancy to him. And to get even more precise as to how epistemology works: there is nothing that man cannot know because knowledge is always a direct function of man’s SELF on the metaphysical level–the level of existence–and the SELF of man is absolute. “You ARE” is rational statement. You are, and because you ARE, you cannot also be ARE NOT. Which means that you “know what you know” is the sum of man’s epistemological substance in actual, literal terms. What you don’t know is not relevant to your SELF. For you are never a function of what you do not know, but only what you know, since only knowledge, not NO knowledge, is a function of the singular SELF. Not knowing is not a part of the singular SELF because the SELF is an IS, not a NOT.
And thus we have arrived at the second problem: the irrelevancy of mystery. If indeed there are mysteries and they are unattainable by man because his SELF is incompatible with them, then they are wholly irrelevant. What man cannot know as a function of metaphysical essence cannot possibly matter to him. Why? Again, because of the reason he cannot know it: because HE IS MAN. Meaning that the mystery is once again completely exclusive of the life of man. And thus, the mystery which cannot be known because it cannot be known is of no consequence to man because it does not EXIST to him.
Again, I know this is all tedious. I really, really do. And I hate to do this to you, my dear readers. But the key to truth is recognizing that most of what we assume is rooted in the idea that man both is and is NOT at the same time. He is an individual and a collective. He is non-existence and existence. Conscious yet blind. Predestined yet free willed. A function of choice and determinist force. A function of both the past and the future. Absolute and parceled in SELF. Loved and hated. Efficacious and irrelevant. True and false. A son of God and a son of Hell.
These assumptions are at the root of almost everything we believe today. And it has been this way for a long, long time. But the reality is that man is an IS. And if that is the case then we must concede that all of the notions which set man as a walking contradiction in terms cannot possibly be rational at their foundations. There is no true freedom or salvation to be found in running in existential circles. If man is aware of SELF then self must be absolute. You cannot be aware of both what is and what is NOT. There is so much contradiction in our thinking that it takes this kind of discursive parsing and philosophical microsurgery just to begin to remove the deep seepage of mysticism, and the oppression of our untenable collective psyche.