Friday, October 10, 2008

Faithful Intellectualism

Last week, Bill Maher’s Religulous hit limited release to 502 theaters in Los Angeles and New York. The Canadian Press said the movie "delivers a laugh-out loud attack on the most sacred of cows.” As I was driving home from work the other evening, I listened for a little while to Bill Maher as he spoke with Allen Combs about this movie. The common thread of their discussion was that people of faith were unenlightened, non-critical thinkers who were unable to reason with reality. Specific attacks on religion were distilled down to a focus on certain beliefs people hold that may or may not be true. Bill Maher was able to work into a the conversation the LDS belief in “protective underwear”.

I do not desire to indict the movie. I consider free speech to be sacred. This movie is full of Bill Maher’s opinion and he is free to express it. There are certainly many who align with the stance to which Mr. Maher holds. I do not begrudge them their beliefs or lack thereof.

I’ve to ask one thing. Is it possible to espouse certain religious beliefs while also holding to the tenets of real critical thinking? Does reason completely eliminate faith? Does intellectualism depose adherence to a confidence or reliance on deity?

Intellectualism at its strictest is a doctrine of the possibility of deriving knowledge from reason alone. It can stand for a general approach that emphasizes the importance of learning and logical thinking. Intellectualism emphasizes or places significant faith in the mind rather than the subjective experience, religious faith, emotion, and instinct.

Does this place faith at odds with intellectualism? Can one come to know or understand the truthfulness of the gospel through reason?
“And for this cause, that men might be made partakers of the glories which were to be revealed, the Lord sent forth the fullness of his gospel, his everlasting covenant, reasoning in plainness and simplicity” (Doctrine and Covenants 133:57)
It seems there is room for reason given that our Savior has expressed that we should “[reason] in plainness and simplicity.” Can your experience and faith benefit mine? To a point, I think it can but only in a limited sense. Reasoning with things spiritual must be addressed individually not as a group. My findings aren’t going to provide another critically thinking individual much basis on which he will grow. Since such growth requires faith and not necessarily reason.

Reasoning in faith. Alma suggested an experiment that suggests reason or a scientific path to understanding the spirituality. Deriving personal knowledge from reason based on work, study and speculation – critical thinking – can be attained in the realm of spirituality but it is very personal in nature and cannot be the foundation of another’s studies.

Alma counseled, “But behold, if ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words. Now, we will compare the word unto a seed. Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief, that ye will resist the Spirit of the Lord, behold, it will begin to swell within your breasts; and when you feel these swelling motions, ye will begin to say within yourselves—It must needs be that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul; yea, it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.” (Alma 32:27-28)


Personal experiences, work, study and speculation are the basis for the intellectual to find the truth. Once the intellectual has grasped the truth further speculation can be founded on that truth. In the world of the spiritual, that speculation is called faith. No intellectual can suppose his faith is transferable. Indeed, faith is not transferable even among those who are more willing to accept such.

So, I ask again: Does reason decry faith?
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