Reason and Religion
When Aristotle defined humans as "rational animals", he must have been thinking more about what we could be rather than what we actually are. In no area of human life is this, I think, more obvious than when it comes to our choice of religion, or perhaps sometimes even more, in our rejection of it.
The reasons for this should be obvious. First of all, in this area, like so many others in life (take, for example, choosing a mate, or joining a political party) we are moved more by our emotions or even "gut feelings" than we are by logic. Maybe it is the way we've been brought up, or the result of our own experiences, good or bad, but anyone can tell you that, when push comes to shove, it is not logical reasoning that generally wins out, but instead, our predilections and intuitions, even our unconscious ones. Or maybe this is because the neo-cortex, that outer layer of the human brain that evolved late in the story of evolution, and which probably accounts for our reasoning ability, is also too often also the last to be employed. Or else, maybe it is simply, as the wise Cardinal Newman once said: "The heart has reasons of its own."
When it comes to religion, however, we seem to experience a triple challenge to rationality. One reason is that faith, as a loving trust in God, so often has to be mediated to us by other persons we can trust. So if their lives don't match their testimony, and they fail to "walk their talk", then quite naturally we are going smell a rat. If all the logic in the world will not persuade us of their trustworthiness -- or in fact seems to argue just the opposite -- then should we be surprised when faith is lost?
Secondly, faith (unlike choosing the color of your car or house, but perhaps much more like getting married) demands
commitment, and with that commitment, a moral decision that can very much cut against the grain. Commitments can't be partial or come by halves. "You cannot love both God and money" Jesus said. In other words, either you end up loving God above all things, or end up making a "god" out of yourself, your career, or your possessions.
Third, and probably the most telling, because the divine object of faith, God, is infinitely transcendent or beyond mere human capacities, human reasoning can serve only as a very limited tool. Logic can only hint at what is so far beyond us, or, at most, point out the flaws in our thinking. This is why attempts to "prove" the existence of God so often are unconvincing, or at best, can only uncover the gaps in the arguments against belief. Ultimately, God can only be "encountered" or experienced in some vague or mysterious fashion --something that goes far beyond the logic of belief or unbelief.
Faced with all these obstacles, what role can we assign to rationality in its relationship to the choice, if any, of a religious faith? I think this role is pretty much limited to making sure that our inclinations or decisions are subjected to rigorous logic, enough to occasionally contradict our feelings and cause us to change our mind. Only when we can do that, can we be fairly sure that we are using our human ability of reasoning, instead of merely rationalizing our feelings or prejudices.
R W Kropf 12/4/03