A Determined Course
The ideas that one holds regarding faith and reason will determine one’s outlook about yesterday, today and tomorrow. They determine what one holds to be true about the present condition of the world and whether the future holds destruction or deliverance. The superficial reality is that reason tends to be irreligious and faith tends to lack evidence and facts. Some might contend that a pragmatic approach to theology denigrates the value and necessity of faith, but true ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify; false ideas are those which we cannot. That is not to say that the superficial reality is the best reality that is available, however, it is the one most often seen. There is no gap between faith and reason when properly understood, but the superficial reality is that the gap is substantial and will not be bridged easily. Following the assumption of a gap, it is the gulf that is fixed between what one feels to be true and what is actually true. It may be that the pragmatic method is the most sensible and expeditious way to bridge the gap or settle the dispute between faith and reason so that both can be harnessed to work together as a powerful tandem. The pragmatic method is one that follows a proposition’s espousals to their practical consequences. For someone to suggest that having faith in God is not explainable in a practical way is to be uncertain by the outcomes of following God’s direction or worse, suggests that God is impractical. Faith without tangible, observable consequences is impractical because it does not serve to convince, concretize or convert anyone to a position that is closer to the truth. Unless faith results in the practical the truth cannot fully be known.
All realities influence our practice. This means that if the reality of faith that we hold to be true is based on unproven assumptions, unrivaled platitudes and unparalleled assertions, practice will be, for the most part, unrealized. That faith is misunderstood by many of those that claim it in some regard, is a reality that hinders the proper application of reason due to a lack of pragmatic consequences that could bridge the gap between the two theological or philosophical arenas. Advocates of faith and reason must ask themselves what would change if their assertions were brought to their pragmatic consequences. If nothing would change then that which is advocated is senseless. What would change if reason was not truly mentally persuasive about what it held to be true? What would be the consequences if faith did not advocate something that was practical and useful? The answer to both questions is nothing, meaning that both propositions would therefore be senseless. If the consequence of the concrete were applied to both faith and reason, bridging the perceived gap between the two might become less traumatic and far more feasible.
Those that have a faith that is not pragmatic do not have faith in anything beyond their idea of faith. They are operating under the assumption, and perhaps even the hope, that having faith in faith will be enough to secure a present and future that warrants anticipation. At best, such an assumption must go unproven and at worst discredits not only those that hold such faith, but also that that is the object of such a faith. As Professor John Caird (1820-1898) of the University of Glasgow asserts, “It is by the content or intelligent basis of a religion, and not by feeling, that its character and worth are to be determined.” Though it may be a comparison that has limited value toward resolution, it would appear that reason is closer to bridging the gap toward faith, than is faith toward reason. Rather than bridging the gap, pragmatic consequences may be the best method of demonstrating that no gap has ever existed. It would be ridiculous to build a bridge between two positions, when none is necessary. Following through to their practical consequences, if they are fully considered and followed, would improve the vision of both faith and reason.
Dr. M. Hildon Guy is President of the University of Christian Studies and Seminary in Eagle River, Alaska. He has doctorates in Biblical Studies, Education, Counseling and Apologetics. (www.universityofcss.org)