Christianity and Reason

On Sunday night I was up late, as usual, and decided to take the opportunity to clean and dust my books.  This was the right decision, because I had forgotten what treasures that had been lurking there.  I’m very old fashioned when it comes to books–I can read an infinite number of articles online but, for some reason, I must have a physical book with pages.  My mother bought me an e-reader a couple of years ago and I never took a real interest in it.  There is something about holding a book that comforts me so.  I remember when I was about fifteen and I began sobbing uncontrollably, as teenagers are prone to do without any particular reason.  I held a stack of books to my chest and it calmed me right down.

But enough sentimentality.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had a copy of On the Reasonableness of Christianity by John Locke.  I remembered the volume well: I had rescued it from dumpster purgatory about seven years ago.  Fascinated, I sat down to skim the brittle, musty pages (don’t old books have the most wonderful scent?) and was a bit disappointed to discover the book was little more than a sermon; it did not have thesis that posited a viable intersection of belief in God and belief in scientific reasoning I hoped it would.  Still, it was enough to jumpstart my thinking.  Locke chose his title deliberately: his book was on the reasonableness of Christianity, not its rationality or conformity to principles of empiricism.  But most viewpoints, barring the extreme ends of the spectrum, have some level of reasonableness.  The level of skill one demonstrates when expressing an opinion is largely responsible for making a view seems reasonable at all.  But if something is reasonable, can it be rational, and if so, what is the link between belief in God and rational thought?

This is not an original question.  I’m sure it has been tackled by philosophical minds far more astute than mine.  But religion and science are presented in modern American culture as two discrete entities that are irrevocably at odds.  Add yelling pundits to this mixture and one gets the impression that being pro-life and anti-gay will automatically punch a hole in a one-way ticket to the pearly gates.  I can’t help but reject this premise about God and science.  I’ve always identified as someone who simultaneously believes in God and empiricism.  What I haven’t been able to do is find what traits those two aspects of me share.

I’m disturbed by the preponderance of the material out there that paints Christianity as  anti-intellectual, anti-elitist dogma.  I can’t tell you to the extent I’ve seen Christians mocked, scorned, and ridiculed for expressing their beliefs.  It’s as if allegiance to a heavenly being obscure all other aspects of a person’s humanity.  I went to a secular school and dealt with teasing, social isolation, and the implicit sense that my thoughts were somehow less valid because I believed in a benevolent, loving God and committed to a value system to please Him.  A few of my classmates tried to respectfully engage with me and have honest discussions.  Most did not.

Granted, some Christians are ignoramuses who conflate embodying the love of Christ with spewing knee-jerk platitudes whenever they encounter something that doesn’t fit their PG-rated version of the world.  But those are ignorant Christians.  That’s not Christianity.  Until very recently, Christianity was associated with the highest levels of education available.  In the nineteenth century, clergymen in England and the United States had to have a solid grasp of Latin, ancient Greek, and Hebrew in addition to their native tongue.  The abolitionists and founders of the Second Great Awakening were educated men, and founded universities that flourish to this day.  During the Dark Ages, one of the main groups responsible for preserving language were monks.  The Apostle Paul was an exposed, cosmopolitan man of his time.  Oh, and Jesus, that guy who did that thing with the loaves and fishes?  He was a rabbi.

Religious and intellectual history are intertwined, that much is obvious.  The next step in my journey is to find the common ground between my belief in a higher power and my insatiable need for proof.  Until next time.

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