Last June I had the privilege of attending a national conference on Faith and the Media in Ottawa. The conference brought together people of many churches and faiths along with some of Canada's leading mainstream journalists.
Two of the speakers, quite independently of each other, made a distinction which rankled the people of faith. The former dean of one of the country's leading journalism schools went on at some length about a distinction between rationalism and fundamentalism and how there could be no middle ground bridging the chasm between them. Later, the editor of one of Canada's most prestigious newspapers spoke of the great divide between logic and faith.
If people of faith want to know why they feel neglected and misunderstood by Canada's media leaders, they might do well to ponder the implications of this distinction. If you have religious faith, you are, by definition, illogical and an adherent of beliefs made hopelessly pass‚ by modern science. A reasonable, informed person would not waste his or her time on such hocus-pocus.
Now it is true that as Catholics we believe many things to be true on the authority of God and his Son as mediated by the holy Catholic Church. However, the belief in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, is an eminently reasonable one. And it is not totally unreasonable to believe such a God is a God of love who would choose to communicate with humanity and enable us to live life to the full.
Further, it need not be too fevered an imagination which believes that God became human, tried to teach us a few things, saved us from sin and death, and then left us with an institution which would be the embodiment of his will and presence.
Without that story -- or without a story something like it -- humanity is in quite a pickle. The cosmos comes from nowhere and has no purpose. People are born, live and die for no reason. And once they are dead, that's the end of it.
That story does not strike me as plausible or reasonable. But if you believe it, you are likely to act in a much different way than if you believed the first story. In the first story, every human life is filled with purpose and meaning; in the second story, the only reasonable course of action is to do what you can to increase your own pleasure.
Faith is not only an act of the intellect, it is also a virtue, a theological virtue. Faith is given to us by God and it enables us to relate to God. It has decisive implications for how we act. Faith is not the most important of the theological virtues -- love is. But faith is the most fundamental. It is the basis for hope and love and those three theological virtues can animate the exercise of the human virtues.
St. Paul tells us how people act if they don't have faith. "They become futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools. . . . God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves. . . .
"Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless" (Romans 1:21-31).
This bleak picture is just a logical description of what society will be like if people do not believe in God. A society without faith will fall into moral ruin.
Conversely, if people do have faith, they will seek God's will and try to do it. They will see holiness in the most ordinary things and occurrences. Because they know the Creator, they will see the creatures as shot through with his glory and deserving of great respect.
Faith will give rise to cheerfulness. People of faith will know that God works with them and that any trials and tribulations can be born cheerfully in the knowledge that they not only are temporary, but even contribute to the building up of eternal happiness.
I felt sad at that conference when I heard those two eminent men draw such a sharp line between faith and reason. Faith is reasonable. It is the lack of faith which is also the lack of reason. When someone cuts himself off from faith, he is the one who suffers the most. And when a whole society turns its back on God, we are all in a lot of trouble. We need to work that much harder to restore religious faith -- the foundation of all moral virtue.
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