Reasoning into faith


Paul Griffin revisits the question of whether it is possible to reason ourselves into belief in God, and highlights the ongoing importance of reason with regard to issues such as gender and mission

There is a limit to the time one spends on theological abstractions, but I was driven back to them when I heard a man say, Tm as God made me.' He was a man unlikely to darken a church pew, except in a tourist group, one of the many who say they are agnostics. What he said was absolutely true, but why from him, of all people? Lazy thought or speech, perhaps. But what if he meant it? What if England, while not a Christian country, is it at least a theist country?

If many profess theism, they have presumably thought themselves into it. When they say that God made them, they may envisage a special act, like Professor s Hoyles 'continuous creation; but more likely they refer to currently accepted theories. I mean the Big Bang, worlds rocketing around, cooling, and acquiring Primeval Slime, out of which comes Life: an impressive and undeniably odd way of producing Bill Snooks in the twenty-first century.

So I asked myself the old question: how far can we reason ourselves into Christ? - to which the traditional answer, if I remember rightly, is: only with the help of grace and the human will. Not, to the multitude, a very helpful answer.

Only one solution?

I suspect most reasoning theists have used what is called the 'argument from design. If you consider your local High Street on a summer day, and take a sort of Attenborough-like look at every detail of the scene, from the last petal on the last flower in the florists to the last gasp of exhaust gas from the passing motorcycle, you will generally end up believing in a Designer. The odd thing is that, by reason, you have achieved a solution that baffles reason.

So far so good; but between this position and Christianity lie fences over which the majority of the population do not manage to jump. If we need more reason to hoist us over these fences, what should it address?

Anyone who looks at the evidence may see the proposition that God came to earth in the person of his Son, was born of a pure virgin, and so on; he sees the material fact of the gospels. The task of reason is to examine and accept or reject these accounts. Reject the gospels, and that is that: the fence looks insurmountable. Before deciding, it is important to realize that already one has used logic to prove a miracle. Can it not be that just as one looked at the High Street, and came to the conclusion that the apparently impossible solution was the only possible one, so if one takes the gospels in sufficient detail and follows their statements far enough, another apparently incredible conclusion becomes the only possible one?

That, I suppose, is the best way to face the fence: to assume you have leapt it, at which it will become clear that there is no other course but really to leap it. Here the word faith comes into mind, as well as will and grace.

Further hurdles

There are difficulties. One inevitably asks why God revealed himself in our patch of time. How will things be in a million years? Or will there not be another million years, but the long-awaited Second Coming? There indeed would be a New Direction! But we have first to concern ourselves with the old direction, in and after the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius; because once over the fence, we still need the blessed gift of reason.

For example, we meet the difficulty of the Scandal of Particularity: that God came as a man, with brown, grey, blue, or green eyes and blond, brown, or black hair. Somehow one imagines it would be brown eyes and dark brown hair, but who knows? The fact that God used particular features while representing a general humanity leads some to say that his male-ness also was just the result of the toss of a coin, or, in modern terms, the shuffle of genes. Others believe that there is a great difference between details like hair and eyes and orientations like sexuality, and that God, not being one for tossing coins, meant to signify a truth in his earthly maleness.

In this way the manhood of Jesus, and the womanhood of his Blessed Mother give us examples of life on earth to follow, while in his godhead he is the Great Exemplar of that other life, where gender is not an issue. That way, there is an acknowledgement of the special gifts of each sex in this life, one which, partly because of injustices in the past, our society is busy trying to hide or ignore. This is a reminder that even on our side of the fence we have to keep our reason bright and shiny, and never cease to deal with further problems.

Missionary challenge

These current problems are concerned largely with gender. Male and female he created us, with glorious and complementary gifts, but not entirely interchangeable. Many of us cannot feel he is happy at the fashion of placing militarily recruited ladies in the firing line of battle, though we maybe glad that more opportunities of other sorts are available for the mothers of our children. We are also asking ourselves how God views exceptions like those who possess the physique of one sex and the psyche of another. At a guess, could it be that he regards such as uniquely gifted creatures, with much to offer us all, under certain conditions? What those conditions are is the problem we face, for which we continue desperately to need reason; but, thank God, we are over the main fences and arguing as friends.

Preachers in their pulpits on a Sunday morning know that they have to persuade the doubtful over the fence of faith. Most of the doubtful are not there. How to present a process of reasoning to the theistic multitude who are elsewhere is the enormous missionary problem. Even if we occasionally find an audience of theists, we still have to show them that reason can lead them towards something else scientifically inconceivable.
Perhaps above all, we must stress that when we speak of miracles, we are only extending our restricted human power into the divine Reason, the immortal Word. In fact, that there are not two Reasons, but one. |jyp|