Faith Without Reason?
Mr. Spangler makes a wide range of claims based on his premise that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. What he fails to establish is why this premise is true. There have been many attempts to rationally establish the validity of the Bible with proof. Books I have personally read include “The Case for Christ” and “More Than a Carpenter”. Both of these pieces present coherent, logic-based arguments for belief in the Bible. However, there are also very robust arguments to counter these. In my experience with Christians (and I believe this to generally be the case with Christianity), emphasis is ultimately put on faith. It is difficult to nail down a definition of faith, but in the face of opposition, Christians typically indicate to me that faith involves believing something without proof, and often without the necessity of applying rational argument. There are a number of inconsistencies with this concept.
First, I ask the question, how is it that someone comes to know their faith? Surely it requires some level of rationality and acceptance of the validity of sensory experience merely to be able to physically read the Bible and have conversations with those who held individuals come to know their faith. It requires a basic acceptance of logic to perform the act of contemplating the possibility of faith, to understand sentences in the Bible, and to make inferences based on these sentences. To reject the role of rationality altogether in faith is simply nonsense. As such, I propose that rationality is necessarily the basis for acquiring any faith. Faith cannot be divorced from reason. It is precisely reason that endows us as intelligent beings capable of understanding any faith, and consequently choosing to accept or reject it.
Secondly, I ask, what is one's basis for accepting the Bible as the ultimate truth? To argue that the Bible offers infallible truth because it says it does so in the Bible is clearly not a valid position. The circularity of logic here could apply to any text or speaker who declares that he/she/it contains the real truth of existence and morality. More often, Christians answer this question by saying that they know it to be the ultimate truth by faith alone, without proof. This is sometimes described as a gut feeling or intuition (“I just know it in my heart”), or more specifically as the result of some personal revelation. The problem with this answer is that fervent believers of other religions have equal claims. If someone were to try and convince me that the Bible is the ultimate source of all truth because they know it on faith, then I ask, how is their faith is any different than that of a devout Muslim who proclaims the truth of the Koran, or the faith of a devout Hindu proclaiming the truth of the Vedas or Upanishads? In other words, if it really is all about faith alone, then what is the tie-breaker? How would I know who to believe? There can be no answer based on faith alone. Without reason, there is no argument for the primacy of one religion over another. Without reason, there can be no persuasion one way or another. Without a rational foundation for faith, a belief in the Christian God is no more valid than my devout belief in Richard Dawkins’ “Flying Spaghetti Monster”.
Third, I’d like to probe further into the question of a person's basis for accepting the Bible as the ultimate source of truth. Generally-speaking, the Christian tradition affirms belief in the existence of both God (good) and Satan (evil). Satan is described as deceitful and tempting, always trying to craftily draw followers away from God and toward himself. The question I ask, is how do Christians come to know God is good? In other words, how did they determine in the first place that it was appropriate to follow this God? With no prior basis for determining what should and should not be done, we could not determine with any certainty that subscribing to God’s brand of rules for morality (as opposed to Satan’s) was the correct decision. If someone has no pre-existing notion of what is good and what is bad, then choosing God over Satan would be merely an arbitrary decision. There would be no way of knowing that it was not God doing the deceiving and Satan offering the truth.
No, what I propose is that we each have an innate sense of what is good (right), although the specifics of this are certainly not equivalent among people. It is this sense that directs some toward belief in the Christian God and rejection of Satan, some toward belief in Allah, some toward Yahweh, some toward other deities or spiritualities, and some toward nothing at all.
What I am trying to do here is not to discredit the Bible or Christianity. I find Christianity to be primarily a beautiful religion that teaches people first and foremost to treat one another with respect, compassion, and love. It would be difficult to find fault with this aim. My point is only that the validity of any particular religious tradition cannot be proven. Even the most fervent Christians I have ever known have expressed periods of doubt in their faith at times in their lives. Given this uncertainty, it is simply inappropriate to impose the particular moral obligations of a religious text that cannot, itself, be validated, when these moral obligations are not compatible with our basic notion of decency and equality. Christians generally no longer stand by the Bible’s support of human slavery, because it offends their notions of what is good and decent (a guiding force in choosing the faith initially). In like manner, passages that allegedly condemn homosexuality (although it is disputed that they actually do so) should be subjected to the same test of goodness, decency, and reason before becoming measurements of morality. Let us err on the side of respect, love, and compassion for all.