Friday, July 23, 2010

Faith and Fact – Like Oil and Water

From the Biblical Archaeology Review:

“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” This famous line from Pascal’s Pensées draws a wise distinction between religious faith and intellectual inquiry. The two have different motivations and pertain to different domains of experience. They are like oil and water, things that do not mix and should not be confused. Pascal was a brilliant mathematician, and he did not allow his Catholic beliefs to interfere with his scholarly investigations. He regarded the authority of the church to be meaningless in such matters. He argued that “all the powers in the world can by their authority no more persuade people of a point of fact than they can change it.” That is to say, facts are facts, and faith has no business dealing in the world of facts. Faith resides in the heart and in one’s way of living in the world.

Kent comments:

The above is the opening of an article by Ronald S. Hendel about the Society of Biblical Literature.  It is a perfect example of twenty-first century western assumptions about the nature of faith and the connection of faith to reality.

Notice some key points made by the author:

1.  There is a “wise distinction between religious faith and intellectual inquiry.”  These two have different motivations and deal with distinct “domains of experience.”

2.  Because of point #1, faith and intellectual inquiry “do not mix” and “should not be confused.”

3.  There is a “world of facts” which is off-limits to, and has no connection to, faith.

4.  Faith’s domain is “in the heart” and consists of “one’s way of living in the world.”

Several things are worth notice here.  First, the faith/facts dichotomy is simply assumed.  No arguments are presented for it.  This is a fairly significant point, and much of the rest of what the author says in the rest of the article depends upon it.  This is just the sort of point that calls for some kind of justification, but none is offered, or even intimated.  Presumably, no one will question it.

Also, notice how this separation of faith and facts is presented as a kind of moral imperative.  Faith, the author says, has “no business” interloping in the world of facts.  It is not just that faith cannot handle facts, it should not even try.

While there is a sense in which faith “resides in the heart” we are justified in asking why anyone should think that it is only “in the heart” – or exactly what that even means.

Faith is connected to “one’s way of living in the world” but why should anyone think that it is only about this?  For that matter, since the way we live in the world is intimately connected to the facts of the world, this kind of separation seems to border on nonsense.

What is hidden in all these assumptions is this:  since truth (an accurate description of reality) is unavoidably connected to facts, and since faith is presumed to be disconnected from facts, we are driven by this reasoning to the conclusion that faith has no connection to truth.

This is the late twentieth and early twenty-first century prejudice in a nutshell:  faith has no connection to truth.  It can be about anything else you wish (emotions, social conventions, cultural habits, psychological devices, etc.) but it cannot be about truth.

Is it true that faith has no connection to facts or truth?  The historic Christian faith claimed to be inextricably connected to many matters-of-fact.  The most important of these is the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.  This has made a redefinition of Christianity an important modern project.

The project has been in many ways very successful.  So much so that many now no longer understand Christianity or faith.  That is part of the reason why it is usually just assumed, without reason or argument as in the article above, that faith has no connection to fact.

No comments: