Reason relies on explanation to justify the existence of an object of event, which means, it is an act of proving. Faith itself is the exact contradiction of reason because it is defined as believing in the existence of an object or event without any proof. Testing religious beliefs with logic and evidence without losing faith in these beliefs is similar to looking left and right at the same time; therefore, it is not possible to test religious beliefs with logic and evidence without ceasing to have faith in these beliefs (Helm, 2005, p.10).
Philosophers and many intellectuals have long argued against religion for many reasons. While religion has been a tool to unify the community through strict codes of moral beliefs and conduct, it has also been a tool to deprive people of liberties and agency. In the history of the West, Christianity has long been criticized by various intellectuals for the painful shackles it wraps around humanity. Most of these intellectuals have claimed that they are on the side of reason and science. In contrast, Christianity has most often claimed that it’s on the side of faith. Thus, the battleground between intellectuals and religious believers has been fought along the polarity of reason and faith (Taber & Green Ingersoll, 1897, p.50).
Both religious believers and intellectuals try to bring people to their side through their own means of claiming what is true. Intellectuals arrive at truth to rational thinking and science, using objectivity and scientific method to prove truth. Religious believers, in contrast, arrive at truth to faith at what sacred texts say. For instance, many Christian believers have arrived at their truth through direct consultation of the bible which is deemed as holy. From this perspective, it is clear to see that the two groups have two completely different ways to achieve truth. These two ways, as we shall see, are exclusive, meaning, one cannot take the other road while taking another (Helm, 2005, p.15).
Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, said in effect that Christianity is an intricately meshed narrative. One cannot take something out of it without destroying its entirety. In our opinion, this is mainly due to the fact that Christianity and most other religions in the world depend on pure faith to establish their truths. Biblical text itself employs reason to narrate events where god exists and influences characters, but the Christian religion prohibit people from testing those events to validate their truth. Thus, one of the most famous lessons in the bible is to not question god. Man should not rely on his own knowledge to know what is true.
Trusting god is the only way to live as a true Christian. The bible and other sacred religious texts contain miracles and statements that can be immediately recognized as non-verifiable through scientific means. For instance, how can people know if there is indeed a god that influences events that happen here on Earth? There is no scientific way to test the validity of that statement because science uses exact measurements to know truth. Scientific experiments must be measurable and repeatable by all people. Since the existence of a supernatural being cannot be measured in any way through scientific requirements, science goes against religion. Scientists and people who have imbibed the essence of the discipline cannot sincerely cross over to the side of religion because it would mean disregarding the philosophical foundations of their own discipline. In the same way, true religious believers cannot take the side of science to establish their religious truth because that would mean distrusting the holy truth of religious texts, meaning, losing their faith (Helm, 2005, p.18).
Religion is, of course, very diverse and Christianity itself has many versions. Since there is no way to interpret any kind of text in a single way for all readers, religious believers have debated and conflicted with each other over the true meaning of sacred texts. The result of the differences in their opinions is the various religions of the modern world. Another consequence of this is that not all religious believers would readily admit that reason and faith are two exclusive categories. Indeed, some would insist that it is possible to test religious beliefs with logic and evidence without ceasing to have faith in such beliefs. Many religious intellectuals have also explored ways on how to combine reason and faith or science and religion (Helm, 1999, p.25). While these arguments are fruitful to review, they are not sound because they miss the point of religious belief in the first place.
Science, as an objective unbiased discipline, is prepared to accept truth wherever way it points to. Religious faith cannot accept any truth other than what is written in the sacred text. Employing reason to test religious beliefs is already an act against religion and faith. One can only believe by having faith and this consists in refraining from doing any test at all to seek the truth of sacred text. The act of testing is synonymous to losing one’s faith or one’s believe, which again establishes the exclusiveness of reason and faith’s categories.
Many intellectuals on the side of reason are aware of the exclusiveness of reason and faith’s categories. They are also aware that each category uses their own means of establishing the truth to gain power over people. Religion has sought faith to subject people within its power, making them believe that they cannot question to power of its truth and the only thing left is to obey its sacred laws (Evans, 1998, p.15). Thus, Karl Marx, the German communist philosopher and economist, claims that religion is the opium of the masses. Religion deceives the masses to blind them to the true state of things and the horrible human condition.
According to many intellectuals, religion gets in the way of true freedom. This also means that faith, as a tool of religion, gets in the way of real liberation. As long as people are prepared to accept the truth of events and objects merely through faith in sacred texts, then there is no room for the improvement of lives through freedom. Thinkers like August Comte, Saint Simon, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber point out that society evolves through the use of reason and science in different spheres of life (family, government, business, etc.). Religion is another sphere of life, but as long as it majorly influences other spheres to put power in the hands of certain people or groups (the church, for instance), then humanity is not getting close to any significant advancement.
Friedrich Hegel, another German philosopher, tried to combine reason and religion to arrive at truth. According to him, god is realized in the objective world through people’s practice of reason. While this theory bridges the gap between reason and faith, it also admits that religion needs reason in order to have some validity. Hegel’s employment of reason to prove religious truth is a slap against the face of faith and an underhanded appraisal of science and objectivity. If people are to test Hegel’s theory in the objective world, then they would only be able to test objective events and not metaphysical ones, like miracles (Evans, 1998, p.19).
Indeed, Karl Marx thinks that the future communist society is devoid of religion. Religion traps individuals into their own versions of truth, preventing them from connecting to each other through their own shared humanity. Since people still use faith to believe in their respective religions, they continue to fail to realize their own common humanity. Marx’s approach is rational, not objective. His theory of the evolution of society through class struggle is formed through rational analysis than objective reality. However, his theory still utilizes real, observable social conditions, which makes it testable (Nash, 1994, p. 120). This is in contrast to religious beliefs, which cannot be seen in the real world, as they imply the existence of god.
The problem also has to do with the nature of faith. Faith is an extremely solid belief, a conviction, which is the essence of religion. Depending on the sacred text and the religion that practices it, faith and religion can be one and the same thing or not. In the case of Christianity, some Christians believe that the only way to live a Christian life is to take the bible (god) in its own word and live by its apparent lessons without validating them. Considering to test religious beliefs through rational thinking or any other kind of logic is tantamount to abandoning one’s religion altogether (Nash, 1994, p.124).
Thus, we go back to Friedrich Nietzsche and the interpretation that Christianity is a complex narrative that cannot be taken apart without dismantling its entirety. One cannot choose a single verse in the bible and test it through rational means without affirming your loss of faith in Christianity. The only way to live a religious life is to forget all desire to use reason to arrive at truth. This prompted Nietzsche to declare that there was only one true Christian and he died on the cross. For him, Jesus Christ was the only true Christian because he believed despite all the challenges he confronted. He never lost his faith despite the persecution that he received from society. Nietzsche thus implied that the complex narrative of Christianity had only been completely lived by the only man who never lost his faith, and that man was Jesus Christ.
From this perspective, it is clear to see that faith cannot be tested (and many sacred texts do prohibit followers from testing). It is possible to still believe in a religion while allowing the evaluation of its beliefs, but this will have to consist of discarding faith altogether (Evans, 1998, p.26). Faith, in our opinion, is the strongest kind of belief and requires the abandonment of reason, logic, questions, or tests. Although people can furnish different kinds of religions where rational evaluations are permissible, these religions are not based on faith but on strong beliefs. Allowing reason to penetrate religion is agreeing to its very terms, necessitating the fact that a religious follower is ready to believe otherwise. If a person is ready to believe otherwise, then the whole narrative of religion is destroyed and he ceases to be a believer and reason has already triumphed against faith.
Evans, C.S. (1998). Faith Beyond Reason. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Harris, S. (2005). The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Helm, P. (1999). Faith and Reason. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Helm, P. (1997). Faith and Understanding. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Nash, R.H. (1994). Faith and Reason: Searching for a Rational Faith. Grand Rapids: Zondervan.
Taber, H.M., & Robert G.I. (1897). Faith or Fact. Madison: Peter Eckler.