Reason Anew

He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’
–Luke 10:27

What does it mean to love God with all our mind? In some ways, loving God with all our mind may seem like a contradiction. In many ways, God is the category representing that which we do not know while our minds accounts for those things that we know. This creates an interesting dilemma. Are not discussions of God and the use of our minds mutually exclusive operations? Do not conversations about faith in God and about intellectual reason belong on two polar extremes of a logical continuum, suggesting that the more you have of one the less, conversely, you must have of the other?

At least, in our modern presentation of the two categories such a duality seems only “natural.” Yet, before the advent of our current thought constructs, such polarity did not exist. With the rise of modernity and the Enlightenment, God and the mind were placed in competing corners, representing eternal pugilists battling against each other for our ultimate allegiances, possession of the truth, and a final, uncompromised, singular rule.

Such a dualistic framing of the world always seemed a little too extreme to me. Do not get me wrong, much has and is done in the name of religion that justifies our intellectual suspicion, if not outright rejection. Faith needed to be reined in and subjected to the intellectual scrutiny the rest of our lives require. However, this scrutiny can go too far. Sometimes the extreme reliance upon reason to provide truth results in a diminished appreciation for the persisting presence and necessity of mystery and faith, not to mention the upsurge of a dangerous overconfidence in our intellectual calculations.

Moreover, such a construction leaves our intellects devoid of the skills necessary to embrace and account for mystery that every rational discovery seems to uncover and encourage. From as diverse groups as mathematicians to physicians to physicists, the presence and necessity of accounting and accommodating for mystery is returning to scientific deductions. For instance, while I attended Duke, studies at the School of Medicine were producing results requiring some sort of scientific accounting for faith. In response, the Divinity School and the School of Medicine created a joint program for the study of faith, medicine, and their inevitable and mutually beneficial intersection.

In a similar vein, John Polkinghorne—famed professor of physics at Cambridge University—credits his study of physics in bolstering his own faith and eventual ordination as priest in the Church of England. As a result, he found himself in the unique position of holding chairs in both physics and theology at the storied institution.
Contrary to his own initial assumptions and to those of his fellow colleagues, his study of physics drove him towards faith rather than from it.

To account for this seemingly unintelligible outcome, Polkinghorne favors the concept known as perspectivalism, a kind of critical realism. Perspectivalism is a way to account for varying perspectives on reality that on one level seem to be contradictory while on another level are simultaneously and equally true. In illustrating this point, Polkinghorne tells the story of a pot of tea boiling on his kitchen stove. When answering the question “What is going on?,” one part of him describes the scene as the transition of liquid water molecules into vapor water molecules through the introduction of heat. Another part of him answers the same question by saying, “I am making tea.” While the answers are radically different, both are entirely accurate in their account. In this way, Polkinghorne labors to demonstrate how we might arrive at seemingly divergent answers while affirming both answers’ simultaneous validity.

While still a noticeably dualistic accounting for existence, perspectivalism is one way to help resolve the tension between faith and reason, suggesting the potentially intrinsic value for both. One shortcoming of perspectivalism is that it does not allow our divergent accounts to have much, if any, mutuality. It seems that for our lives to be whole and robust descriptions of our existence as fully heart, mind, and body, then we must embrace greater account for the mutually influential possibilities of faith speaking with reason. Perspectivalism puts us on the right trajectory.

The apostle Paul drew a similar conclusion. In his letters, Paul reminds his readers that central to Christ’s gospel is the transformation of our minds (μετάνοια) and the renewal of our body (σαρχ), as the incarnate body of Christ. In addition, central to that body’s mission is a ministry of reconciliation. That reconciliation takes many forms: God and humanity; humanity and itself; humanity and the rest of creation; Jew and Greek; slave and free; male and female; and (important to us) faith and reason. It seems that a proper reading of Paul assumes no dualisms. Our minds and our bodies, our mental and our material existence are discrete but singular. Our faith and our reason are not mutually exclusive concepts but potentially complimentary and mutually informative.

As a college of the church and a liberal arts college, such complimentarity must be second nature. Who we are as people requires that our spiritual, intellectual, and physical self be assumed, appreciated, engaged, and challenged throughout the educational process. Such integration is our mission: “Young Harris College educates, inspires, and empowers students through a comprehensive liberal arts experience that integrates mind, body, and spirit.” And, such integration is our appropriate vocation as a liberal arts college of the church.

This week, as part of our chapel service, we honor one portion of this connection by honoring through a worship service those whose academic achievements afford them entry into Phi Theta Kappa. Please join us for this service, a service that seeks to advance the value of an intellectual faith and a faithful intellect.

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