Truth, Faith, Facts, and Stuff

Nice discussion on American Catholic about the notion of reason as it applies to truths and knowledge of the Christian faith. I’ve only been called a liar twice, but the commentariat there lately seems to have stepped back from that accusation. Eric Brown’s original post is long, but worth reviewing.

Basically, I take exception to the caricature of theologians. Mr Brown quotes and refers to people I’ve never heard of. My theological education may have started a quarter century ago, but I keep up-to-date on much of my reading. Whether this excommunicated person or that discredited scholar were on the extreme of modern biblical scholarship, I can’t say. They weren’t part of the mainstream of theologians to which I was introduced.

Let me offer as an example, a truth which cannot be verified as historical fact: I love my daughter. I cannot prove it. I can give signs that indicate it. I can sign checks for her expenses. I have an adoption document. But my love for the young miss is not something science and reason can verify.

In about sixty years, perhaps grandma will share the crazy and devoted things great-grandpa did for her. The grandkids will laugh or recoil in horror or nod and smile, and the truth of my relationship with my daughter will live on in a family tradition that, while absolutely True (and hopefully somewhat valuable as a teaching lesson on how to have a good dad/daughter relationship), will not be a fact of history. Not even if this blog’s archive are still floating somewhere in e-space.

My daughter might get the telling of details somewhat wrong. Her grandkids might say that great-grandpa never walked twelve miles in the freezing cold and blowing snow to bring her her senior English paper and her lunch to the high school when the car broke down. We can Google it, they would say, and verify that the distance from home to Ames High School was only 3.95 miles. The importance is not the details of Tall Tales, but in the truth they communicate. Maybe I broke down in Story City and the walk was 12 miles. Maybe it sure felt like twelve miles in a harsh winter. Most likely by the beginning of the 22nd or 23rd century, it will all have been forgotten. But that doesn’t make it any less true or real.

An elderly Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Her age is not a historical fact. But it is a Truth of faith, a testimony to God’s faithfulness to promises in spite of impossible obstacles.

I think we take modern theological scholarship within the bounds in which it is offered. And not beyond. The Modern West wants proof, verification, and reason. Where faith is concerned, we shouldn’t and needn’t slip into the trap of providing it or looking for it. We should accept, however, testimony about faith. We should accept the testimony of the saints, and also of those we know who believe. We might look more to the “why” of their belief and less to the “what.”

For the Christian, I think faith must be grounded on a lot more than what we think we can ferret out of the rationality of the Bible. I also think that modern theological scholarship has little or no meaning in isolation from prayer, spirituality, liturgy, or the lived life of faith. What good does it do, for example, to read Raymond Brown on the infancy narratives, and get either warm fuzzies or upset stomach, without the context of the Advent/Christmas cycle of liturgy, without one’s family and religious traditions, and without the substrate of faith that identifies God has intervened in our lives in unexpected ways with amazing effect?

My advice is to lay off the theologians on this. Build faith from the ground up: liturgy, prayer, personal experience identified in a Biblical context, an active life of charity and justice–all that. Take theology for what it is in the context of people of faith seeking a deeper understanding of a Truth and Reality already recognized. Christ is the cornerstone, not what can be proved or argued well by human reason.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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One Response to Truth, Faith, Facts, and Stuff

  1. I thought I would add my contribution to this discussion on Vox Nova today, based in part, with the work I am presently doing with Buddhist sources (simplifying things greatly as I do).

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