I will admit…I did NOT expect the engagement in last week’s “Ask Anything: Open Combox” that we had. Thanks to everyone who chimed in.

This week, we’re starting a new format: one of us will open the discussion and the other will continue it. This week, Brittany opens things.

atheist and catholic

Brittany on Faith and Reason:

We usually think about these things as pitted against each other. Psychologists use a similar dichotomy between emotion and cognition. Faith is knowing something, or being certain in it, without evidence. I have been told many times when questioning believers, that “you just have to have faith,” sometimes accompanied by a shrug. For many nonbelievers, “faith” is the conversation-ender in discussions or arguments about belief. So it’s not surprising that faith has a bad rap around freethought circles. Atheists hold up reason as a virtue; the process that puts them in an unassailably superior position in an argument. Reason gives you the right answer or at the very least, reasons why you’re right. It’s certainty with reasons.

But faith can also be thought of as trust, which is absolutely essential in relationships. We could also argue that faith is what we place in experts: scientists, teachers, doctors. We trust them to tell the truth, to have knowledge and skills we don’t have. “Ah,” you’re thinking, “but we have reasons to trust experts.” And if you’re a believer, you have reasons for your faith, even if you can’t or don’t want to articulate them in an argument. So faith needs reason.

Reason is not unassailable either. There’s actually research that shows that if you are instructed to generate reasons for certain types of decisions, you make worse decisions, as compared to experts or as measured by your later satisfaction with the decision. When you can’t verbalize the reasons for your decision, generating reasons can derail the decision-making process. Sometimes, you have to have faith in a snap judgment, even if you can’t articulate reasons for the judgment.

Sarah, in reply:

I love this, and I love that we agree on this. When I read Brittany’s contribution, I mostly thought, “Yeah, what she said.”

Over the years, I have come to appreciate how faith is a gift for some people, but I think it’s been best described as a muscle. We all have it, whether we admit it or not, but we don’t all use it.

Faith is NOT just blind acceptance, though it is often used in a way that’s synonymous with just that. We can look to Thomas Aquinas for an explanation. He said that both faith and reason come from God. Therefore, they cannot be at odds.

One of the reasons I became Catholic is because it was the first time in my life that I was met with answers more than just, “You have to have faith.” In Catholicism, there is no dilemma between thinking and believing. They go together, and it makes sense that they go together.

One is not better than the other, though we live in a world that seems to bow to reason above all else (or at least when it suits, because some things are not reasonable). There is something almost refreshing in a level of faith that accepts, without needing to defend or explain.

I think faith gets a bad rap a lot of the time. The idea that reason is better is a fallacy. That said, reason used rightly won’t lead you away from faith, but rather to it.

Pope Francis recently wrote that faith is a light. And I’d love to go on and on and on with that, but it will turn into a Catholic rabbit trail. 🙂

You can see all the posts in the An Atheist and a Catholic series here.