Reasoned and Reasonable Faith

“The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy 34)

In the effort to end the slave trade in Great Britain, William Wilberforce and his allies “looked to the heavens” for help because in the late 1700s and early 1800s, “science was not as advanced as it is today.” That’s what I read in a student paper once.

This student saw faith in God as outdated. He resided within the realm of reason and excluded the possibility of a non-material world having found faith in the “heavens” unreasonable.

What he missed was how Wilberforce, outside the context of his Christian faith, could have come up with the idea that slavery and many other ills of his time were evil. 

The notion that slavery, or any other social woe, could end through a secular perspective is a much more unreasonable idea than searching the “heavens” for moral leading. The theme of faith as unreasoned is not new, but it is now a dominant voice instead of being a secondary one as it was years ago.

In 1962, William E. Barrett published The Lilies of the Field, a novella about Homer Smith, a nomad Baptist handyman who builds a chapel for a group of Catholic Eastern European nuns in the barrenness of the southwestern U.S. after World War II.
The chapel becomes Homer Smith’s life dream, what he believes will be his legacy. But the task seems so big. The needs loom so large.

The book captivated my adolescent mind. At the time, most Americans overwhelmingly found Christianity a perfectly reasonable place to put their faith. Yet faithless reason had gained a foothold.

Barrett included a character who, aligning himself with the modern student/author would say, “Faith. It is a word for what is unreasonable. If a man believes in an unreasonable thing, that is faith” (96).

This man, so sure of himself, is a foil to Homer who has his doubts. At one point, Homer leaves the nuns and the community, some who also doubt the church building can become reality.

But once Homer has left his dream, the dream does not leave Homer. The vision of the nuns and the unfinished chapel calls him back.

When he returns, the community surprises him with donations of bricks, the literal building blocks of his dream. Everyone in the community contributes, that is, except, at first, the “reasonable” man without faith. Clinging to faithless reason, that man arrives one day to see Homer’s project.

Homer’s reaction: “This man probably did not believe in bricks. It was not reasonable that all of these bricks were here, so they were not” (99).

Faith is a step beyond reason. The Church is real. Over the centuries, God has built His Church. But God does not build with bricks man has made. He builds with stones He has formed.

“You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (I Peter: 2:5).

What then should we make of our understanding of science? Let’s begin with the scientific method.

Franciscan monk developed it. Our modern concept of seeking to understand the world came from people who were seeking to better understand the works of the Creator God.

According to Pew, today scientists are less likely to believe in God than the rest of society. Given the pervasive teaching that science trumps faith, that is no surprise.

Even so, more than half of all scientists do believe in God or at least some higher power. That more than half believe there is more to the universe than what we can see is surprising.

Those scientists realize that faith is not devoid of reason. Reason without faith makes man a god, an idea that has led us to genocide and licentiousness.

Yet, the question of faith cannot be one of numbers. It is not more reasonable to have faith because many others don’t believe. A majority is capable of being misled.

C.S. Lewis understood that there was no war between faith and reason. “The battle is between faith and reason on one side and emotion and imagination on the other” (139).

Wilberforce and those standing with him in faith knew it too. It was their faith and their reason, their looking to the heavens, that so changed the world.

This year I watched as Barrett’s book captivated a group of seventh and eighth-graders. I plan to introduce the book soon to another group of students.

The light of reasoned faith still finds hearts and minds to illuminate–young hearts and minds whose faith is working through reason.

We are living in days of darkness and division. But there is light in childlike faith.

Photo Credit: Unsplash

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

America Is Split Today

Published in Mustard Seed Sentinal on August 24, 2019

America is split today—nearly rivaling the separation of our Civil War. In fact, famous journalist Carl Bernstein describes the American state of discord as a “cold civil war.” Figurative battle lines are drawn. America’s conversation with herself has become a shouting match—much like a nasty divorce. Two ideologies vie for hearts and minds. We seem to be a far cry from the days of our founding. But those days were marked with shouting too.

Developing a Constitution unlike anything the world had ever seen before involved shouting, a lot of shouting. It was a battle that Eric Metaxas calls “vicious”. But ultimately, the Constitution came to be because the founders shared the common ground of “faith, virtue, and liberty.”

Before the Constitution, settlers arrived on these shores looking for the liberty to practice faith and virtue. America was where exiles came to escape persecution for rejecting established doctrines. Yet the country was a picture of separation.

Pennsylvania’s founder was a Quaker. Maryland’s congregations were Catholic. Georgia hosted Brethren communities. This nation was founded upon religious freedom, but that meant freedom in specific places for specific denominations. It was freedom for some but not for all.

The first Christian Orthodox convert in Colonial America was Philip Ludwell III, a grandson of the first governor of the Carolinas and a cousin to Martha Washington. Ludwell received permission from the Holy Synod in Russia to worship with Anglicans in Virginia since there was no Orthodox priest on the continent and because at the time “apart from the Province of Pennsylvania, all religions but Protestantism [were] banned.”Christians of various traditions came, seeking refuge, opportunity, and freedom. Some, especially Catholics, found yet more persecution.

Even so, the large continent favored diverse belief within Christendom. And as Benjamin Franklin is reported to have said, “We must hang together; else we shall most assuredly hang separately.” A clear understanding of a greater enemy—the tyranny of Great Britain—unified these men.

Arguments rage on today as to who of the founders were truly Christians and to what degree they affirmed their faith, but, they “were nearly unanimous concerning biblical morality.” Almost all were self-described Christians.

Most were Protestant; Charles Carroll, delegate from Maryland, was the only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence.

The signers pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor. And signing the document proved very costly for most of them. Carroll, the richest of the signers, had much material wealth to lose, but in a different sense, he had more to gain.

Originally founded as a Catholic refuge, Maryland’s population eventually became predominantly Protestant, and the Protestant majority disenfranchised Maryland Catholics. In an independent and more religiously tolerant America, Maryland Catholics would enjoy equal standing as citizens and be free from a state established Protestant church.

The mix of men who fashioned the moral foundation for the most exceptional nation in history ensured true freedom of religion. Foundational to the city on a hill America would become—the haven that still draws the “huddled masses, yearning to be free”—the Great Awakening produced a flood of social movements such as William Wilberforce’s anti-slavery efforts in England and later endeavors in America.

In the late 1700s, Wilberforce was a young, ambitious member of the British Parliament when he committed his life to Christ. Because of him, “Even though slavery continues to exist here and there, the idea that it is good is dead” (Metaxas, Amazing Grace). We cannot adequately appreciate how much the anti-slavery effort in England altered the mindset of the world.

In Amazing Grace, his biography of Wilberforce, Metaxas reminds us not to romanticize the past and view slavery in that time as some sort of aberration—that the times were “particularly brutal, decadent, violent, and vulgar. Slavery was the worst of a host of societal evils that included epidemic alcoholism, child prostitution, [and] child labor,” among others.

It sounds a bit like our world today.

In Wilberforce’s time, slavery provided jobs and income to port cities. Much of the British economy relied on the trade. Uprooting this ingrained evil would be arduous and take years.

Just as the First Great Awakening produced an America ripe to be free from British control, the second one produced an America where ownership of human beings was no longer the law of the land. But the change the Second Great Awakening produced did not end with the issue of slavery.

Other reforms from that period produced in both England and America included many causes that Wilberforce and his contemporaries in Great Britain and America championed: child labor laws, workplace protections for employees, prison reform, and laws to prohibit abortion.

It was the Second Great Awakening that prompted America to outlaw abortion in the first place.

Efforts to end slavery in England and America were interdenominational. These social revolutions weren’t the result of savvy political strategy. They came from the living Christian faith of these awakened people.

Their love for their neighbors spawned the laws they produced. The laws reflected their culture.

Two hundred and forty years ago, a Congress of men assembled, yelled at each other, and crafted a Constitution unimaginable through history.

America is divided today, but in a different way from the way we were divided when we began.

Our law reflects our culture too. In some places, like Alabama, legislators and governors pull out all stops to protect the unborn. In other states like New York, the unborn (and sometimes the already born) are inconveniences to be disregarded and discarded.

Supreme Court decisions like Roe v. Wade (and Doe v. Bolton, Roe’s companion case) did not take into account any regional disagreements over the sanctity of unborn life. Just as Obergefell v. Hodges disregarded the views of those who hold that marriage by definition must involve one man and one woman.

Western Civilization has rounded the bend toward decline before. Awakening came and the people returned to God. Reprieves come. But faithlessness returns. And we have no guarantees that reprieve will come again. How to pray?

That people would return to God.

That our faithfulness would manifest itself in love for each other, love for our enemies, and love for our perceived enemies–those who disagree with us, those who are different from us. That we would reject presumption, assumption, and pride.

That we would embrace gratitude and reject entitlement.

That believers would dismiss our petty differences and come together in accord and love for Christ, His Church, and those in need.

That we would be people of integrity, seeking peace, justice, and freedom for all.

That we would deserve leaders with integrity who pursue peace, justice, and freedom for all.

That we would seek God and find our purpose in serving Him. That we would reject pleasure for pleasure’s sake. And seek the kind of happiness that comes from showing kindness and generosity.

That family members would each seek good for the other and not just themselves. And that through seeking good for others, they might find a truer good themselves. A better good.

That neighbors would love neighbors. Overlook faults. Meet needs. Encourage each other.

Rejoice with those who rejoice. And mourn with those who mourn.

That communities would remember history. That they would mourn the bad and celebrate the good. Yet remember it all. For in forgetting, the bad comes once again.

And that nations would honor God. That they would care for their weakest members and call the strong to duty and responsibility.

Let’s pray that we shine light. That we honor God in all our dealings. That we do what he asked.

Love Him, love our neighbors, and make disciples.

Photo Credit: Samuel Branch

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. Restoring the Shattered is published through Morgan James Publishing with whom I do share a material connection. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Martyrdom Today: Genocide

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that transfigures you and me:
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
While God is marching on.
Julia Ward Howe, “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

It’s officially genocide now. What ISIS is doing to Christians in the Middle East is, according to the US Congress and the Obama Administration, genocide.
“One element of genocide is the intent to destroy an ethnic or religious group in whole or in part,” [Secretary of State John] Kerry said. “Its entire world view is based on eliminating those who do not subscribe to its perverse ideology.”
That philosophy puts Christians in the crossfire. Murder, slavery, rape. They sound like vestiges of marginally civilized peoples of the past. But they are the reality of today for our brothers and sisters across the Middle East. Continue reading “Martyrdom Today: Genocide”