Philosophically Yours

An interesting article on faith and reason in a Discover Magazine blog.  

Kudos to the author for attempting and mostly succeeding in an even-handed tone of respectfulness (unlike the comments section below – yow).  For those who do not subscribe to a religion, the concept of faith is baffling.  Frankly, for many of the faithful the idea is baffling and regularly described on a spectrum that is, to say the least, ginormous.  
Sean Carroll’s question is an important one to ask, however.  If faith is a divinely implanted sense in an individual, how can (or even should this) be distinguished from any other type of random thought that might pop into someone’s head, whether well-intentioned or beyond batty?  
Many Christians are at a loss for how to answer this.  For those raised apart from the authority of the Bible, for those that have abandoned the idea that the Bible could be the inspired Word of God, there is nothing upon which to hang their hat on this question.  Outside of tradition or comfort or social conventions or even scientific reason, they have no way of distinguishing why one person’s Word from the Lord is commendable and another is to be rejected.
The answer to Carroll’s question for Christians ought to be the Bible.  This is the rule and norm by which faith and the life of faith is lived.  If we are uncertain as to what the proper behavior or response is in a given situation, we should refer to Scripture (and ideally, be familiar enough with Scripture to not have to spend an afternoon searching randomly for an answer).  Does Scripture have something to say about the issue at hand?  Are you correctly understanding what Scripture has to say?  Then you have your answer.  
Mind you, this can be more complicated than it sounds.  Historic Christianity has insisted that Scripture interprets Scripture, which means you shouldn’t just hunt for a verse that matches what you want to do and use that as your proof.  There are a great many things that Scripture doesn’t speak directly on but does speak on in a round-about sort of way.  
But once you’ve determined Scripture has something to say on an issue, you have to do your best to ensure you understand what it’s saying.  Are you perhaps taking something out of context?  Are you isolating a passage that says one thing, when you know full well there are other passages that should force you to a more nuanced interpretation of the passage?  
All to say you need community in this endeavor.  The Word of the Lord that you have received may be all well and good and wonderful – the Holy Spirit is free to do whatever He wants, however He likes.  But understanding that Word and seeking to apply it properly is not an individual effort – it is a communal one.  Failure to recognize this is not just problematic, it is dangerous.  
But there is an answer to Mr. Carroll’s question.  For the faithful Christian, a Word received by faith must be matched against the Word of God as revealed in Scripture.  We must always bear in mind Paul’s strong words in Galatians 1:8 (“But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.”).
I doubt Mr. Carroll will find this answer very helpful, as it leads us off onto the issue of Scriptural authority.  But Christians should remember what our guide is to be, to the best of our collective ability.

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