The duty to try

This modest tribute to Lewis and Tolkien adorns a wall in the Eagle and Child, the Oxford pub where they met with friends. December, 2005

This modest tribute to Lewis and Tolkien adorns a wall at the Eagle and Child,
the Oxford pub where they often met with friends. December, 2005

“I suspect that most of the individuals who have religious faith are content with blind faith. They feel no obligation to understand what they believe. They may even wish not to have their beliefs disturbed by thought. But if God in whom they believe created them with intellectual and rational powers, that imposes upon them the duty to try to understand the creed of their religion. Not to do so is to verge on superstition.”
Mortimer J. Adler

Perhaps an intellectual such as Adler was a bit harsh on his fellow believers when he suspected most of them were content with blind faith.  My theory is that most people who could truly be described as having blind faith aren’t aware of that limitation, but perhaps the lack of awareness in itself is indicative of the complacency Adler warns against.

In any case, the enduring popularity of C. S. Lewis and other authors suggests that there are a great many believers who are eager to understand their own faith, as well as faith in general.  Lewis, an erudite atheist who eventually became one of the greatest Christian apologists of all time, could never be said to embrace or advocate blind faith.

In fact, Lewis has probably done more to interest the average person in theology than any number of writings penned by professional theologians.  Though it’s easy to forget it, Lewis was not a theologian; he was a professor of literature at Oxford and Cambridge; a man who deeply understood the power of parable, allegory and metaphor to bring difficult concepts to life, and make them accessible to people of average intelligence.

I agree with Adler that faith carries with it the duty to exercise our rational powers.  Superstition, which rears its head in almost every facet of life in addition to religion, can easily masquerade as mysticism or the much-overused term currently in favor, “spirituality.”  But reason, properly applied and not given weightier authority than is expedient, can help us to tell the difference.

Here’s an interesting question that applies to believers and unbelievers alike: is it possible to have “blind faith” in our own reason, or in our own lack of faith, as well as in faith itself?  In other words, do “religious” and “non-religious” people often fall prey to the same errors in thinking?

One year ago today:

Mind and soul

This post was first published seven years ago today. The original post, comments and photo are linked, along with two other related posts, below. These links to related posts, and their thumbnail photos, do not appear in the blog feed; they are only visible when viewing the individual posts by clicking on each one. I have no idea why, nor do I know how they choose the related posts. That’s just the way WordPress does things.

2 Comments

  1. Good morning, Julia!
    I suppose that’s why they call it “blind”?
    I think my faith is richer and deeper because of the struggling and striving. Stretching myself and … maybe “working out” fits(?) … helps me grow and “strengthens” my faith.
    Of course we are all most dedicated to what or whom we put the most time and effort into.

    • Very true! Or as Saint-Exupéry so aptly said, “it is the time you have spent on your rose that makes it so important.” Or even better, the words of Jesus: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It took many years for me to realize he was talking about all sorts of investment (particularly time and effort), not just money.

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