NORMAN — The Rev. Marcia Cope Fleischman, Broadway Church, Kansas City, Mo.: Two things were going on behind Benjamin Franklin’s statement about faith and reason. First he was seeing the two human capacities, faith and reason, as mutually exclusive from each other. Second, he was having a reaction to embracing the stage of reasoning, which is to reject the previous stage of understanding, which was faith.
In studying integral Christianity today, we see humanity as having several capacities that do not work exclusively but together: Faith, a spiritual capacity, reasoning, a mental capacity, physical capacity and emotional capacity.
Since Ben Franklin’s time, we have witnessed people achieving several stages of consciousness: his, which became known as the modern stage, then the post-modern stage. Now we are seeing another stage of consciousness arising, the integral stage. This stage will be the one in which faith and reason work in complementary fashion to deepen the human spiritual experience.
Faith in earlier stages has been expressed as assent to doctrines and rules, and as the practice of church ritual treating reasoning as suspect. Reason, applied to faith, takes us deeper into life’s questions and demands more than rules and doctrines. The experience of God, or the Divine, is vital to stand up to the demands of reason, to carry one into a vibrant faith and connection with God.
If Ben were alive today, he would be looking for a faith community that encourages the best reasoning and would train him in the mystical, connecting, experiential aspects of faith in God, just as Jesus practiced them.
Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, senior rabbi at Kehilath Israel Synagogue: In Judaism, there is no contradiction between faith and reason. Every day, we work to understand our texts, other people in our world, and our hearts and souls.
Rabbi Saadia Gaon, the 10th-century Jewish philosopher, explained that if we find a contradiction between faith and reason, then we have made a mistake, and we must re-examine the textual tradition and analyze our reason until they are consistent.
The text is our starting place, but we never neglect our crucial human faculty of moral reasoning.
Rabbi Kook, the first Chief Rabbi of Israel, said it well: “It is forbidden for religious behavior to compromise a personal, natural, moral sensibility. If it does, our fear of heaven is no longer pure. An indication of its purity is that our nature and moral sense becomes more exalted as a consequence of religious inspiration. But if these opposites occur, then the moral character of the individual or group is dismissed by religious observance, and we have certainly been mistaken in our faith.”
Faith is about believing in oneself in the moment one has the most clarity, theologian C.S. Lewis explained. If my alarm clock goes off at 4 a.m. for work, I have faith in myself (not my 4 a.m. sense of reason) that I had good clarity when I set the alarm and should follow that path.
We live in a dark world with occasional lightning bolts that elucidate the world, and we must rely upon those lightning-bolt moments to get us through the darkness. We look to faith and reason to improve our world.
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