Faith And Reason


Theo Hobson reads Alister McGrath's new book:

It seems to me that Christianity is not like a second science, a conceptual system that can explain huge aspects of reality to us. It is more like a myth that can (and to my mind should) find cultural expression. And advocates of this myth (this true myth as I see it) should be honest: in certain respects it comes into sharp, shocking conflict with reason. In some ways the atheist and agnostic do hold the rational high-ground, which won't greatly surprise them to hear. For the believer is bound to make statements that offend the normal rules of reasonable discourse. For example, the Christian's assertion that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is clearly less reasonable than the agnostic's doubt on the matter. McGrath's approach seeks to obscure this – but that means trying to distract attention from what faith is really like. Apologetics ought to be honest about the reason-offending dimension of faith. Otherwise it has a brittle, defensive feel; it seems more concerned with making believers feel secure than with expounding the complicated reality of faith.

As I argue in my recent book, Faith, the counter-rationality of faith corresponds to the absoluteness of its idealism. Faith rejects reasonability in the sense of sober realism, the common-sense view.

Geras is puzzled:

If I were a person of faith, I'd be worried by this kind of thing: defences of faith that basically give up on its central core, as not being rationally defensible; and by implication the open welcome - as in Hobson's choice (!) above - given to the pleasures of abandoning all reason.

I think the real question on, say, the resurrection is: what does it actually mean? The imperfect scriptural accounts are full of contradictions. Jesus is both clearly bodily resurrected when Thomas places his hand in his open wound. Yet on the road to Emmaeus, Jesus is somehow incarnated in a different body and the recognition comes only at the breaking of bread. Elsewhere, Jesus appears as some kind of ghost, at others like flesh and blood person. And what of the Transfiguration? Are these metaphorical stories? Are they literally true and yet contradictory?

What Pascal called the "usage et soumission de la raison" is the best approach. But, yes, in the end, faith is a spiritual gift, not a logical conclusion.