Friday, March 9, 2012

Trust (Faith) As An Adjunct to Human Reason

In previous blog entries I’ve discussed the power of human reasoning and the need for humility in the application of that reasoning. In this essay I want to add some comments about the role of trust in human decision making.

In this virulent political season we are in – it seems we are perpetually in a “political season” these days – trust is the lynchpin that holds political parties, campaign organizations, and groups of constituents together. Candidates, who cannot possibly have all the information on every subject they are called upon to discuss lean heavily – and trustfully – on staff members to provide them with that information. When their trust in their staff is betrayed and the statements they make are shown to be false or ill-conceived, the onus falls almost invariably on the candidate. They fail not always because of logical ineptitude but because they put their trust in an unworthy source.

It is no different in all other areas of life. We read frequently of persons, highly competent in some area of endeavor, being duped by a con artist in some other area in which they must operate by faith. But without faith it is, the Bible famously says, “impossible to please God.” We might add that without faith it is impossible to get from the bed to the job and back to the bed again. Trust/faith is almost as essential to our being as the air we breathe.

Christians are characterized by some as naïve because they take much of their belief system “on faith”, relying on the Bible, or ancient Creeds, or present “authorities”. But any perceptive person can easily see that there is no area of life, no academic discipline, no worldview that does not do the same. The “Bible” used by people in these situations may be different, the “authorities” may not wear clerical collars, the “creeds” may be scientific formulations, but at some point the true believer puts his or her trust in something, or some aspect of something, that they have not expeienced, or cannot personally experience or vouch for, and must therefore accept – by faith – that which is beyond their powers of verification.

One of the great affirmations of the Christian faith was spoken nearly 2000 years ago by the apostle Paul. He declare, “I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to preserve that which I have committed to him to the end.” (My loose paraphrase.)  To some that sounds like “blind faith” and therefore nonsense. But a careful look at the statement reveals how much care went into its formulation. It does not declare that Paul knew his faith was true and irrefutable. It mere states that Paul held his faith to be in safe hands – he knew in whose hands he was putting his faith. At another time he said to the church at Corinth, “If the things we believe about Jesus resurrection are not true – if he did not rise from the dead – our faith is worthless, we are still in our sins, and we are more miserable than all other people.” (Again, my paraphrase.) Paul was willing to admit that the possibility existed that he could be wrong, but his faith in the One to whom he had committed his life was so complete that he was willing to live and die for those principles he believed.

What is too often viewed as blind, irrational faith is actually the opposite. A rational person, when he/she comes to the end of his/her understanding, reaches out in faith to the most logically defensible authority, or theory they know. At times there is no such person or idea, in which case a logical person remains agnostic (not knowing; not taking sides). But in most of life we decide, and more often than some are comfortable admitting, that decision is based on logic assisted by trust – faith added to,  and sometimes the basis of, human reasoning.

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