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Q: How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

A: Only one, but the light bulb has to WANT to change.

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We cannot deny that believing and knowing are different things, and that in matters of great importance, pertaining to divinity, we must first believe before we seek to know.

— St. Augustine


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JONAL ENTRY 1209 | DECEMBER 15 2011

Many thanks to Marion Butz for joining the discussion, with this email response to the previous installment of this series:

Jon,

All that is very interesting and made me reflect on a number of words I had not heard ever or not for a long time. My belief in God is faith and that satisfies me. I don't think faith needs logic. I am a very logical person in my daily life and always look for logical solutions to everyday problems. My spiritual life is based on faith. I feel God expects us to live this way and if our faith is as strong as it should be we are able to make the right choices without looking for proof. Works for me.

Merry Christmas, Jon,
Marion Butz

Initially, Marion's emphasis on faith being all she needs led me to reflect on comments my Edwardsian friend recently made on fideism. Fidei (pronounced fee-day) is the Latin for faith, and my friend characterized fideism as "faith in faith," implying that that is tantamount to putting one's faith not in God but in one's own belief or belief system. But a quick scan of the Wikipedia page on fideism quickly exposes this as an oversimplification. More generally, fideism is seen as believing that faith transcends reason, and that reason can also be an idol, a prideful reliance on one's own intelligence and the rational use of other resources.

In some of his writings, the Wikipedia page reports, Martin Luther (1483-1546) could be seen as a fideist, as he wrote in one place that reason is the main enemy of Christian faith and is famous for the formula sola fide, Latin for "by faith alone." But in other places Luther is much like I described Jonathan Edwards last time, saying also that reason—while not sufficient in itself—is an essential building block of faith. Roman Catholic teaching comes down on the side of using rational arguments for God and faith, and is critical of fideism, based on the rational theology of Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and, before him, Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). But before either of them, Augustine (354-430 A.D.), the most influential Catholic theologian before Aquinas, sounds like a fideist in the quotation in today's "Thought" in the column at right. And to close the circle, Luther was educated by Augustinian theologians.

This change in the current of the discussion fits in well with the topic I intended to move on to this time, the great middle ground between faith grounded in logical proofs for God and disbelief grounded in believing that the cosmos is irrational, or in Darwinism as a philosophy of life, or in chaos theory. I wanted to go in that direction because most people seem to occupy middle ground. Though I agree with Socrates (469 - 399 B.C.) that "the unexamined life is not worth living," it seems that many—possibly most—people seem to fear that they might be able to examine their lives or what they claim to value most in life too carefully, perhaps fearing that thinking too much can lead to mental breakdown. Maybe they've been influenced by Mark Twain's rejoinder to Socrates: "The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the life too closely examined may not be lived at all." A fear of "over examining" probably accounts for the overuse of the mass media as a distraction that blocks out thought or meditation.

But though it seems to me reasonable to conclude that anyone who hasn't thought through the implications of the existence of God has chosen to side with the devil, Gallup polls provide little support to that hypothesis in their surveys of the stated convictions out there. These range from a considerable amount of reliance and trust in their Creator and Savior to doubt that anything has any meaning. But most claim to be at least on a talking (praying) acquaintance with God, and only He can sort out those He actually knows from those who are kidding themselves and trying to kid Him.

It always strikes me as odd at this time of year that people who don't believe in the incarnation of the Creator of the Universe as a historical fact still, by the hundreds of millions, want to celebrate the birth of Jesus as one of the year's most anticipated and celebrated days each December. Motivations for such behavior must range from thinking that even if they aren't down with the Creator being born as a man, they still like Christianity for lesser reasons, like thinking a season for getting (and/or giving) great gifts is a nifty idea.

So what do you think? Is faith alone enough? Faith in what? Is faith blind or is it rational or something else? How do you know you have faith as opposed to possibly just "whistling in the dark" to get you through the night? Who is God? How do you know? Do you feel a responsibility to share your deepest convictions on these questions?

— Webmaster Jon Kennedy