Faith and Reason
If there is no resurrection of the dead, then neither has Christ been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then empty (too) is our preaching; empty, too, your faith. Then we are also false witnesses to God, because we testified against God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, neither has Christ been raised, and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins. Then those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are the most pitiable people of all. (1 Cor 15:14-19)
These are the words of St Paul to the Corinthians (emphasis mine). Here we catch a glimpse of the wonderful Catholic Tradition of Reason. St Paul makes it very clear – if what we teach and what we preach isn’t actually true – then we should be pitied! Such a proclamation might be offensive to modern, relativistic sensibilities, but its reason is sound. The consequences of what you believe are the impetus behind how you act, and how you act then defines your personhood. And if you’re not basing your belief on fact, on truth, then why bother? Especially when it comes to living the Gospel – a Faith that calls one to radical discipleship, to a death to ones self. If these things aren’t true, then we should be pitied. Look at how many religious live in monastic communities, giving up all of their lives, making vows of poverty and forsaking a family. Look at how many lay faithful make radical sacrifices to help the greater good – to minister, to evangelize and forsake all worldliness for the sake of Christ. If what we believe is not true, then yes indeed we should be pitied!
St. Paul was of course responding to a controversy of his time regarding the teaching of the resurrection and how some in Corinth were preaching contrary to the faith in the resurrection in Christ and the resurrection of those who fall asleep in Christ. It is the work of the apostles then and now to meet modern controversy straight-on and to help guide the faithful. Perhaps one of the greatest controversies that has caused great scandal in the last 2 centuries has been that of a proper understanding of Creation in light of the theory of evolution.
Many biblical literalists proclaim a literal reading of the Genesis account and call their followers to abandon what modern science has taught us about how the Human Project has come to be. In the book “In the Beginning .. A Catholic Underanding of the Story of Creation and the Fall” Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) lays out a well reasoned defense of how Catholics should interpret the findings of science in our time and a proper understanding of the Creation account. His conclusion is simple: that these two things needn’t be mutually exclusive but rather are very complimentary to one another. What I love about how he arrives to this conclusion is how he harkens the same spirit of St. Paul – a spirit that affirms human reason, thinking, and knowledge as given by God and therefore should not need to be contradicted nor completely ignored in order to understand our world and how God interacts with it. In discussing the Genesis creation account Ratzinger boldly states:
“Yet these words [the Genesis account] give rise to a certain conflict. They are beautiful and familiar, but are they also true? Everything seems to speak against it. …. Do these words then count for anything? … Or have they perhaps, along with the entire Word of God and the whole biblical tradition, come out of the reveries of the infant age of human history, for which we occasionally experience homesickness but to which we can nevertheless not return, inasmuch as we cannot live on nostalgia? “
What boldness is proclaimed by the Holy Father in speaking like this. It shows that the Catholic Faith is not afraid of asking the tough questions – even though today they are portrayed as a stodgy boys club who cling to traditions and medieval thought in a world that is eclipsing them. Yet this is simply not the case. The Catholic tradition has long since respected human reason, and sees it as one of the most precious gifts from God, and therefore is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to religious belief. Because, if one is truly discerning and one truly uses the power of reason then they know that if what we believe isn’t true, well then we truly are the most pitiable people of all.