Thursday, March 3, 2011

Who's Irrational?

It’s hard to imagine a Christian Fundamentalist and an atheist agreeing on much with regard to religion, but here’s one that they have always believed and taught—higher education will cause you to lose your faith.  Throughout much of the last century, education was viewed suspiciously by many people in the pew.  “Simple faith” was saving faith, and nothing good could come of young people going off to the university and learning all these new ideas like evolution and Freud.  As I was finishing college and getting ready to go to seminary I was warned to be careful lest I would lose my faith.   I wasn’t the only seminarian so warned.  Similarly, most atheists seem to believe that religion and faith in God is a bunch of superstition, fairy tales, wish-fulfillment, and other lame attempts to explain the mysteries of the universe.  Once one rationally examines the scientific evidence, belief in God becomes unnecessary—and irrational.  A recent study showed that it just ain’t so.  A survey of about 5,000 post-graduate students showed that 85% believed in God or a higher power, while 82% of all Americans share that belief.  And these “educational elites” are actually more likely to join a church than the typical American, 63% to 54%.  While atheists would tend to call these Fundamentalists “irrational”, it would seem that the fear or hope that education leads to faithlessness is just, well, irrational. 

There's some historical amnesia going on here as well.  The roots of much Enlightenment thought--individualism, rationalism, scholasticism--can be found in Western Christianity.  The Christian church in Europe provided the seedbed for the rational worldview that characterizes the West.  There's a reason that the Enlightenment took hold in places where Christianity flourished and not, for instance, in China or South America.  To link Christianity to religions of superstition is to ignore history and the influence of the church in the West.
Of course, there are some, myself included, who now openly question the rational optimism of the church and the Enlightenment i.e. that we can reason our way to everything, including God.  I think reason has a role, but it also has its limits.  God is Mystery, and we'll never think our way to a complete understanding of who and what he is.  The created can never comprehend the Creator.

But that makes sense, doesn't it?  

It's irrational to place complete faith in rationalism.

Oh, I do love irony.

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