Blind Faith and the Age of Reason

There’s an article today on the Scientific American web site about our brain and belief.

They say that the idea that there is a difference between religious belief and any other kind of belief is "popular in the scientific community as well as among the general public."

I don’t know if that’s true, but I do know it’s true that the idea that reason doesn’t play a role in religious belief is popular in devout fundamentalist circles. Fundamentalists like to argue that we need to believe in God by faith, without proof. They call it "blind faith."

Blind Faith

I’m not a believer in blind faith. I think blind faith is stupid and dangerous.

Think about it. If blind faith is a good idea, then why shouldn’t Muslim children grow up exercising blind faith in Mohammed? Why shouldn’t Indian children grow up exercising blind faith in the Hindu gods?

Let’s take it a step further. Why shouldn’t Hamad children grow up exercising blind faith in the adults who raised them to believe that America is the great satan and that blowing themselves and others up for Allah will win them rewards in the afterlife?

As I said, blind faith is stupid and dangerous.

Reason and Faith in the Early Churches

Paul’s letters are full of reasoned arguments for belief in God and for his Gospel. He never says, “You should either just know what I’m saying is true or you should just take my word for it in blind faith, one or the other.”

The early Christians sure didn’t have our view of blind faith. They not only honored reason, but they knew both that Jesus was the Logos of God and that the Greek word logos can as easily be translated "reason" as it can "word." In fact, it’s the word from which we got the English word "logic."

The anonymous Letter to Diognetus, which dates from the late 1st or early 2nd century says:

He who thinks he knows anything without true knowledge, and such as is witnessed to by life, knows nothing, but is deceived by the Serpent, as not loving life. But he who combines knowledge with fear, and seeks after life, plants in hope, looking for fruit. Let your heart be your wisdom; and let your life be true knowledge inwardly received. (ch. 12)

Don’t miss what he’s saying here. True knowledge looks for fruit. It believes what is witnessed to by life.

If what you believe doesn’t produce good results—if it’s not witnessed to by life—then you need to reject it, not exercise blind faith in it.

Ignatius of Antioch, who was appointed bishop of Antioch by the apostle John, wrote the following on the way to his martyrdom:

It is in line with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct] and, while we still have opportunity, to exercise repentance towards God. (Letter to the Smyrneans 9)

Reason in the 2nd Century Apologists

When you get to the time of the apologists, in the middle and end of the 2nd century, then the arguments from reason really come out.

It’s not hard to know why. The apologists were not teaching the Scriptures and the Christian life to people who already believed in Christ. They produced the first writings directed at those outside the church.

As you will see, there was certainly no call to blind faith! Like Christ’s words and Paul’s, their letters and books are full of appeals to reason, which they said was given to man by God to be put to good use!

Reason directs those who are truly pious and philosophical to honour and love only what is true, declining to follow traditional opinions, if these be worthless. (Justin Martyr, First Apology 2)

This was written about the year 150, and it was directed to the emperor, though it is unlikely that Antoninus Pius ever read it.

Think about what the situation would be if Justin could only appeal to blind faith! He would have to leave the Romans to the worship of their false gods. Rather than do it, he appeals to reason, asking them to consider that statues made of wood and stone could never be gods.

One of my favorite such quotes can be read as part of an early Christian debate that I have on my Christian history site …

Even dumb animals judge concerning your gods. Mice and swallows know that they have no feeling. The gnaw them, trample them, and sit on them. Unless you drive them off, they build their nests in the very mouths of your gods. You wipe, cleanse, scrape, and you protect and fear that which you make, while not one of you thinks that he ought to know God before you worship him. (Minucius Felix, The Octavius)

A Pagan Appeal to Blind Faith

That quote is in response to a Roman argument that sounds remarkably like modern arguments for blind faith.

Isn’t it obviously better and more respectful to simply receive the teaching of your ancestors, to cultivate the religions handed down to you, and to adore the gods that you were trained by your parents to fear? You should believe your forefathers rather than assert your opinion about the deities.

Octavius doesn’t put up with this argument. He mentions the animals lack of reverence for the Roman gods in the quote above, but he begins his answer differently …

If the world is directed by the will of one God, then it shouldn’t matter how old the opinions of unskilled people are. They should not be enough to make us agree with the gods of our forefathers.

It is important to reason. One cannot "contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints" unless he is willing to reason rather than accept by blind faith errors handed down to him by tradition.

Conclusion

I want to tie this all together by saying that of course scientists found that the same parts of the brain are used for religious beliefs as for any other belief.

God gave us reason. His Son is known to Scripture as the Reason or Logic of God (alternative translation of Logos, see above). He wants us to use that reason in the pursuit of truth, even Christian truth.

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