The Far Side of Reason

As someone who has spent a significant amount of time in both a deeply religious and belief based world and one that is verging on what can be called scientism, I have struggled, at times quite deeply, with the seemingly irreconcilable nature of these two modalities of thinking.

Faith and belief, even in the face of my years conducting research and being ingrained in the scientific method is something that has always fascinated me. Beyond that, it has been something that I have always felt just out of my reach, just too far of a leap for me to make. Seeing those who fully believed, who had a deep faith that colored all facets of their lives, made me long for this grounding to live my own life in.

Within this longing, I perhaps saw too great a dichotomy between the world of science and the world of belief – in my particular case, in Catholicism. How could a world that is 4.5 billion years old, in a universe that is almost 14 billion years old, be defined in a book that only addresses 15,000 years at most? While perhaps not articulated at the time, it was this conflict that first brought me out of my belief and into a world that was not even defined by a lack of belief, but by a constant searching.

Throughout the millennia, from Plato to Saint Augustine to Kierkegaard to Nietzsche (and far beyond), there have been thinkers who have been both able and unable to reconcile the world of belief and the world of material knowledge. I am far from unique on this topic – it was my biggest struggle for many years, and still follows me today, and I am grateful for those teachers and thinkers who have come before me and laid the groundwork for my own discovery.

Perhaps the most important lesson that I have come to learn is defined by the saying, which I steal from Bishop Robert Barron, that true faith is found on the far side of reason.

To me, this means that we have a duty to engage in a structured, disciplined and reasonable attempt to understand the world around us. This activity does not require the Bible, the Torah or any other religious text (although many religious beliefs from these texts are present, in an implicit manner, in the reason that we do engage in). It is only after, in good faith, that we have run up against the limits of human reason and understanding that a true, living faith can find its way into our lives.

This is a faith that I find I can comfortably sit within. It is not a faith that I have yet defined with definitions provided by any major religious institution, but it is certainly one that enrichens my life and my understanding of the world around me. This is what faith has done for me – it is not something that I seek in order to abate the terror of death, to justify the primacy of my worldview or even provide me comfort. In many ways, the faith that I have found has made me far more uncomfortable than I was before. No. For me, faith is the ability to see my life in a manner that is more than simply reasonable or logical, something that is based in the material world, something that is defined by no more than the scientific method. Perhaps this is a way for me to cope with the materialistic and painfully capitalistic world that we find ourselves in. Even if this is the case, I believe that it is so much more than that as well – and the reason that I believe that is, well, faith.

A Crisis of Faith on Easter Sunday

For me, faith was something that was taken for granted throughout my childhood. With my mom being a convert and working for the Catholic church, and my dad being a “cradle Catholic” belief in Jesus, the trinity and my salvation through the Church was always something that I didn’t just believe in – it was something that just was.

Many times, in my current stage in life, I find myself wishing that my faith was similar to what it was back then – not even unquestioning, as the idea of questioning such a cornerstone was something that wouldn’t even cross my mind. I often wish that my faith could be something that imbued every facet of my life, elevated my actions and directed my goals.

In reality, my faith is a constant struggle. It is something that gives me fits and starts, certainly not something that makes my daily motions easier. And I am learning to accept that. Learning to integrate that into my understanding of God, of life after death, and of my role in the lives of those around me.

It is struggle that makes man grow stronger, even if all that this man wants is to sink into his couch and enjoy the luxuries and comforts that the modern, secular society can provide. My crises of faith (which are far more often than I would like to admit) are chances for me to grow in understanding of who the God of my understanding is.

In a time where I have lived with people who I love and respect, people who have incredibly different faith systems from my own, I find that I am unable to sit in comfort with the beliefs that I grew up with. While there is the ever present struggle to believe that someone who believes in a different belief system than me will end up in Hell simply because of that difference, there are so many other challenges that I find myself confronting. The beauty that is present in their beliefs, their rituals and practices, and in their books. The kindness in their hearts and the generosity in their actions. The conviction of their beliefs, as well as their solidarity with me in their own crises of faith show me just how fragile my own religion is.

It is here that I find the struggle to be the most prescient. The conflicts that continually arise between my religion and my faith. For better or worse, I find myself to be a man of deep convictions – whether these convictions will change as the wind does is another matter. With this, though, is the convictions that I have in my faith that contradict what is taught in churches, cathedrals and religious communities. Many aspects of my faith are molded and shaped by the teachings of the Catholic church. At the same time, there are aspects that are shaped by Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and others. Just as many Christian denominations teach that the relationship that we have with God is a personal one, I have found that my relationship with faith is in many ways similar to this personal relationship that I am taught to seek with God. All I hope with that is that it does not become so intertwined with myself that I cannot see God through my own ego and pride.

On this Easter Sunday, I continue to ask myself what it is that I hope for. The answer to that is not one that I yet have, and I am quite grateful for that. I find that the questions encourage far more growth and change than the answers ever do. On this Easter Sunday, I am grateful for a God that allows me to stumble through His challenges of faith, so that I may find Him. For when I do ultimately find Him, I fully believe that He will have His arms wide open for me.