Sunday, July 22, 2007

Faith: It's not just a private matter

In the blogosphere, I often come across the opinion that faith should be a private matter and should have no bearing on the public sphere.

These comments are usually made by people who have no faith.

Since they have no faith, and often treat faith like a consumer item-- a service or an idea you consume and dispose of at will, it's understandable that they do not understand its true nature.

A faith is not some fashionable trend that you wear or cover up as the circumstance dictates.

Faith is a world-view and a way of life. You simply cannot be a person of true faith by living one's faith only in private, and then living like a secular person in public.

Doing that would constitute a lack of integrity.

I believe in the Catholic Faith. Would I be a person of integrity if I believe in Jesus in private, but act like he is irrelevant when I go out in public? If it's true for me in private, then obviously, it should be true for me in public.

A person of faith will allow his religious worldview to influence his actions in public.

Now some may object that such a person would seek to impose his faith.

That is not necessarily true, at least as far as a Catholic is concerned.

In the Catholic worldview, truths can be categorized in many ways, but for the purposes of this blogpost, the separation we need to examine is between natural and supernatural truths.

Natural truths concern those beliefs that can be demonstrated by reason alone. Every moral principle can be demonstrated by reason alone. Other natural truths include the existence of God, cause and effect, the universality of morality, etc etc etc. You often many religions hold natural truths in common, regardless of scriptural content.

Supernatural truths concern those beliefs that can only be known through revelation. They usually make up the imagery and the specific content of a religion. All religions condemn adultery on some level-- that's a natural truth-- but not all religions believe that Jesus is Lord, that Abraham was a prophet or that bathing in the river Ganges will wash away your sins. Those are things religious can know through some form of divine manifestation.

Catholics do not expect non-Catholics to accept supernatural truths. They do not feel obligated to impose supernatural truths on the population.

However, all Catholics will act on natural truths, and according to the circumstances, make a case for natural those beliefs. Since natural truths are accessible to anyone because they can be demonstrated by reason-- it's not imposing one's faith. Just as secularists can make a case for their beliefs, Catholics (and other religious people) should be to do so as well.

However, I sense that many people do not like that definition of faith. They do not like what religious people are advancing, and so as a knee-jerk reaction, they accuse religious people of imposing their faith, notwithstanding attempts are discussions based on reason. Implicitly, our secularized society's reaction to this accusation is to not have the debate. After all, if it's from the realm of religion, it can't be "proven" to be true or false, therefore, there's no point in having that debate. That pre-empts the discussion and serves the purposes of the secularized left.

Another problem is that our society is so philosophically relativistic that a debate based on reason doesn't make sense. Think about it. The secularized person believes in "thinking for himself". Fair enough. But he also believes that reason can't attain to the truth with certitude. So why argue based on reason? Why even try? Logic doesn't lead one anywhere. It only leads to more assumptions, more dogmas, more mistakes and more conflict, and that's what we want to get away from. So in order to avoid creating conflicts where someone is going to be wrong anyway, there is an avoidance of reasoning. A person who thinks that way is resistant to the idea that some ideas that religions accept can be based on reason. Because asserting the value of logic and reasoning is in itself a form of dogma that counters the prevailing relativism. It would also force them to examine their own ideas. Since they do not believe in the power of reasoning,and they don't have any philosophical standards or worldview, it's hard for them to evaluate, prove or disrove any beliefs, whether theirs or someone else's. They're dependent on the social zeitgeist and their personal experience to know what to think. They just know that you're not supposed to impose beliefs, especially religion, because it's based on myth. Since they have a hard time with the notion of critical thinking, they have no basis to examine the natural truths of religion in the first place.

Notwithstanding this misunderstanding, a Catholic's duty is still to go forth in the world and behave in a Catholic fashion at all times, informed by Catholic truths, regardless of the world's ability to understand. I really sense, though, that this lack of understanding is a convenient way to exclude Catholics from the world. If they had to understand, most people would.

Perhaps more Catholics should make a point of showing that what they believe is compatible with reason.

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