Is “Rational Faith” a Contradiction of Terms?
Animals: Tradition - Philosophy - Religion Article from


Stephen Kaufman, M.D., Christian Vegetarian Association (CVA)

Is “Rational Faith” a Contradiction of Terms? 

Many people think faith and rationality represent two different paths towards truth. Both have their limitations, however. Faith can readily mislead, particularly since it is appears to be heavily influenced by factors about which the believer is often unaware, include cultural influences, early childhood experiences, and unconscious fears and hopes. I doubt it is a coincidence that most people adopt the faith of their parents and those who don’t usually adopt another dominant faith system of their community. Similarly, most belief systems provide psychological comfort to believers when it comes to questions of whether they are living righteously or whether they will enjoy everlasting life.
Rationality also has its limits. Neither scientific investigation nor deductive or inductive logic tell us what we are supposed to do with our lives or what our ultimate destiny will be. However, rationality has the distinct advantage over uncritical faith in being less likely to lead to serious error. While science and rational inquiry are not immune to bias, outsiders can evaluate and critique the various forms of rational inquiry.
I think a faith that is open to critical analysis is psychologically healthy for the faith-holder and desirable for the larger community. Such a faith includes the ability to pass reality tests. If scientific evidence contradicts a faith position, then those who hold that faith position should be willing to reconsider their beliefs. This suggests that people should be willing to change or even abandon their faith if it proves untenable. We might be willing to defend what we believe to the point of death, but we should be ready to change our position if it no longer seems reasonable.
The problem is that people tend to be most dogmatic about those points of faith for which there is the least empirical evidence, such as the nature of the afterlife. I strongly suspect that this rigidity reflect the fear that beliefs we hold dear might not stand up to scrutiny. An illustration of why such scrutiny is crucial is that the uncritical belief that humans have the right to treat animals as humans see fit is a dubious belief at best, and it certainly leads to great tragedy for countless nonhuman beings.
I like how one theologian once said that she has a “51%-49% faith.” She acknowledged her lack of certainty about core faith statements, but she said that we have no choice but to decide what we believe and act accordingly. To choose to not take a position is to take a position – which usually amounts to the default position of the culture. In the case of animals, it usually translates into accepting animal abuse as acceptable. The 51%-49% faith is open to adjustments as needed, but it should not translate into a lack of conviction or a reluctance to act on behalf of truth as the believer sees it.
Next essay, I will reflect on what a distinctly Christian faith might look like. 

Go on to: What Might a Distinctly Christian Faith Look Like? part 1
Return to: Reflection on the Lectionary, Table of Contents 

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