Joyously through the woods on
The dance of freedom
We came to a bridge where I
Froze in my tracks
“What? This on the path of the
Dogmatic Creed?” I could not accept
“The path of the Dogmatic Creed
Cannot contain this!”
“No, it cannot be…I became lost
Looking for this very bridge”
The bridge had a sign on the front
“The Bridge of Reason”
On the other side was another sign
But it could only be read from
My new saintly sister and my new
Ran joyously over the thing with no
They were lighter and simpler than
I could not cross like them
For if Reason has a bridge here
On the Dogmatic Creed
It had to be a mighty weak
And shadowy bridge
My saintly new sister beckoned
From the bridge
“You must have Reason to find
Our destination – come!”
She waved me on
“This path,” I stammered “Cannot
Hold true Reason!”
“In the beginning was, well
“I have enjoyed the journey, but I
Am afraid it is a mere dream!”
“Tell? Your reason came from nothing?”
Her eyes widened but danced and smiled
“Then your rational reason is born of
“Rationality swims out of a pool of
Irrationality!” she burst out laughing
“No wonder you were lost,
Dear brother” she gazed
“I must take you to the Logos
Her gaze penetrated my soul
Something that gave me joy
But I had come to fear
I had trouble answering her
“No! True Reason cannot come
From Unreason!” she giggled
She laughed again and waved
“Only Creative Reason can create
Reason – come on!” she was anxious
“We shall meet love, yes”
“But in meeting love we shall also
Meet the Logos! Reason Himself!”
Hesitating no longer
I ran to meet her on the
It was much stronger than I
To my saintly sister’s
I stayed for a while
To soak in the joy of the
View, that of real Reason
From the bridge on the
Of the Dogmatic Creed
The path of the Apostolic
I ran to the other side and
Continued the journey
But wait! I turned to read the
Sign forbidden me before
The sign read:
“In Principio erat Verbum”
“In the beginning was the
Once more my saintly sister
Had brought light and wisdom
To my eyes
In the beginning was Verbum
The Word of Reason
As we danced on from our (or
Should I say my)
My saintly sister yelled back to
“Reason is Love
And Love is the Reason!”
She danced and laughed
Given all that I have told you thus far, you might be asking yourself just how any reasonable person could accept these beliefs? I mean by that to accept them intellectually, rationally, and with reason. I required that Catholicism be intellectually sound. Despite the depth of my conversion experience, I had the classic struggle with Faith and Reason.
That these events were very real and objective, that data was in place. I experienced life-changing events that I could not attribute simply as subjective psychological or emotional changes. Furthermore, I needed to feel that I could be a whole person in this Faith, intellect and all. It always gave me trouble to think that Faith was in one world and Reason in another and that one must choose between the two. I wanted to be a complete person. Could this Catholic Faith do that for me? I loved God, the Holy Mother of God, and my new saintly friends too much at this point to back away. I could not leave the happy troupe of dancers guiding me on the road to freedom. My conversion was an earth-shattering event. Could the Church, having broken me, be up to the task of putting me back together again, intellect and all?
I will tell you here how I perceive that the Holy Mother of God tapped my intellect into place and made me a whole person, intellect and all. What I will not do is to attempt a convincing academic case for Faith and Reason. Erudite books, papers, and articles fill the world arguing for and against a rational belief in God. I can add nothing to that body of work here. I leave that to more able and scholarly minds. However, what I will do here is discuss my personal experience in grappling with the issue. It is very important that I tell you about the experiences that pushed me to think about connecting faith and reason and that eventually pushed aside any notion I had of religious and moral relativism.
The first experience was at a dinner party while I was in graduate school at Yale University. I was familiar with being around sophisticated thinkers there, and one of the truly sophisticated thoughts we expressed that night was that truly sophisticated people, like us, would never sink so intellectually low as to declare a dogmatic religious truth, or to make a crass comment about one religion being right and another wrong. The non-elite classes thought that way, heaven help them. They could not help but think in such simpleton, dogmatic ways. They, and we thought it a pity, did not have the intellect to think at a higher level. Lower classes had undying, dogmatic faith because they were simple minded. However, we, the powerful intellectual elite, were above that kind of peasantry. We were on a higher plane; we were skeptics! We did not use those exact words, but our tone did convey a polite condescension toward the “masses.”
We had our usual riveting conversation that evening, and I remember that we were also being very charmingly progressive and relativistic; that is, we were graciously acknowledging that everyone’s faith and religion were of equal value, that all beliefs were noble, and so on. I will remind you that I was Catholic already and had never had a doubt about the dogmatic truths of Catholicism, nor did I that night. The torrential flow of dogma ran deeply through my veins since the Great Event. That was the problem because I sat around being a gracious, relativistic intellectual myself. I soon came to the realization that what I truly, most truly, did not believe was what we were saying at that dinner party. Of course, I kept saying those graciously relativistic things; I did not wish to be an outcast from the intellectual elite I so admired.
Our Lady put before me one of “those” moments. It buzzes through your thoughts and becomes a real pestilence until you finally deal with it. I sat quietly for a moment, thinking about just one thing, that if Jesus Christ truly died on the cross for the sins of the world and in three days rose from the dead, then that changes the entire world and not just part of it. It effects not only those raised in the traditions of Western civilization, it changes matters for everybody. If that were true, then the most un-reasonable and intellectually silly thing to say is that all beliefs are the same and equally noble. There is no in between here. It suddenly became intellectually unimaginable that I could say that Christianity “works in my life” but that if you have another religion that seems to “work in your life,” then it is equally valid. Intellectual integrity demands that I not yield to that position when faced with the objective reality of the physical death and resurrection of Christ.
How silly to say, I thought at that very moment during the party, that Christ was crucified, died, and was buried, and that on the third day he rose from the dead, but only if that works for you. If for any reason Christ’s death and resurrection offends you, then you should pay no attention to it. You should just pick whatever noble belief system makes you feel good.
We were talking nonsense, we the intellectual elite. Our Lady confirmed one thing in my mind that night. Christianity and religious relativism do not pair up nicely from a rational, intellectual standpoint. If Christ died for one of us, he died for all of us. If you are a Christian, then you know in your heart that all people should be Christians. Later in life, I began to understand how Chesterton could defend the Crusades and how Christendom could rationalize expanding and defending itself by force of arms if necessary. If you are Christian, you believe either that Christianity is for everyone, or I am not sure how you justify what it is you do believe about Christianity.
Our Lady defeated religious relativism in my intellect. It was a “no-brainer,” as the saying goes. This dinner party jolted my brain back to reality and away from the sentimental universal relativism that clouded our secularly formed thinking. If you are a Christian, there is no intellectual debate to how Christianity stands with other religions; Christianity is THE religion and is THE revelation of God. To be a Christian and a religious relativist is a rational contradiction.
Jesus said that he did not come to bring peace but the sword. (Mathew 10:34) I began to see that this sword was, for love’s sake, certainly cutting through this muddled mess. This is why he commissioned the apostles to evangelize the whole world, because it is the Faith for the world! (Matthew 28: 18-20) He did not tell the apostles to go to all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, but only if the people there feel affirmed by it. This intellectual contradiction inherent in the relativism of the modern mind leads many liberal theologians to allegorize Jesus away in the scriptures. You must airbrush away the real Jesus of the resurrection to be delightfully progressive at dinner parties.
Though my mind quickly cleared, I still did not see the larger picture before me. In fact, I did not see it for years. Over time, I gradually perceived a pattern develop, and I could sense that the hand of the Mother of God guided me. In other words, there was a method leading me over the Bridge of Reason on the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed.
Imagine the issue of faith and reason framed as a series of walls in concentric circles. The outside wall represents the question of whether or not God exists. At that wall men of faith are battling today with the hellions of the revolution in the modern world. Now let us suppose that you came to the conclusion that there is a God, and you pass inside to the next layer. Here, another battle rages. This one is between believers. You wonder why they are fighting each other. The religious relativists and Eastern New Agers naively plead here for a universal oneness. They would have all believers put away their weapons. They would stop the battling by preventing anyone from going deeper into this mystery of faith and reason. Their peace would be superficial, perhaps even a ruse to keep others from the deeper truth inside the remaining layers. “Just don’t fight!” they would plead. “The differences between you are meaningless and only man-made, for the Spirit of the Universe loves you all!” However, there are differences. Much more than simpleton, man-made belief systems drive them. These are very real differences that have to do with the whole question of faith and reason. Relativists and New Agers, acting effectively as Universalists, would like to pretend this is not so. Universalists are Universalists because they do not really believe anything. Yet, the battles at this level are very serious and even respectable in their intellectual honesty.
If you are to go more deeply into the issue of faith and reason, to go through to the next wall, you must answer the question posed here. If I am to believe in God, then what religion should I follow, if any? You now fight your way through this wall by choosing a religion, and let us say that you choose Christianity. Not surprisingly, you run into yet another wall and another battle inside this next layer. The battle here is between the Christian denominations. Having now chosen the Christian faith, what Church, if any should I belong? When you crash through that gate, you arrive at the core of the concentric circles, representing the core of your beliefs. Is this not what we all desire? Yet, it took fighting through several walls, sometimes in hand-to-hand combat, to get there.
I did not see for many years how this set of concentric walls worked in my life. The walls were in the same pattern, but Our Lady employed a different method of going through. Her method, using the same imagery of the concentric circles, is interesting because of this; I started on the inside circle. Through my immediate conversion experience on the Feast of St. Thérèse in 1984, Our Lady brought me straight to the center, to the core belief that the fullness of God’s revelation is found in the authoritative teaching of the Catholic Church who holds the treasury of Apostolic Tradition. At that moment, I not only knew that God existed and that Christianity was the religion of God’s full revelation, but I knew further that the Catholic Church was the Church of his full revelation. From that moment forward, I worked on faith and reason from the inside out to ensure that where Our Lady placed me was solid. I was in the center already but needed to make sure that all of those concentric circles made sense in a way that would bridge faith and reason. Our Lady with St Thérèse and St. Joan led me over each wall by the only bridge strong enough to support me. I call it the Bridge of Reason.
Working from the outside walls as many do, the journey to discover the deeper truth of faith and reason seems like an on-going war of terror, with battles between atheists and believers at the first wall, between different groups of believers at the next, and between different denominations of those believing groups even further in. While that direction appears very difficult in overview, the journey from the inside out is a dance. It is the Dance of Reason I joined joyously with my new friends, especially my Holy Mother Mary and my saintly sisters Thérèse, and Joan of Arc. Now in the sunlight and clear air in the castle towers of the City of God, they see what was not observable on earth and ably guide us along the path of faith and reason.
From the inside, your first philosophy is that Jesus Christ is the Word, the Logos, The Reason. In the beginning was the Word, as opposed to nothing, and from that position, you work your way out confirming the intellectual integrity of the Apostolic Faith the Church gave you. From the inside out, you find that those concentric walls interlock nicely and that you can be a complete person in the Catholic faith, intellect and all. Conversely, from the outside in, the argument often starts with the first philosophy that in the beginning was nothing. With that first philosophy, one never truly resolves the issue of faith and reason in an intellectually satisfying manner. From the first philosophy of nothing, it seems difficult to avoid the contradiction that reason comes from irrational nothing, that is, that reason comes from unreason.
Initially, the Bridge of Reason looks very difficult to cross when travelling the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed. Without a paradigm shift in one’s first philosophy from the outside to the inside, it seems that faith is merely wishful thinking with no rational support. It appears that the intellectual world prevents crossing the bridge. However, with trust in the authority of the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed whereby you are led into truth as opposed to defining it yourself, you cross effortlessly. The bridge derives its strength by the truth that “in the beginning was The Word.” The strength of the bridge is the true first philosophy of Christ as the Word through whom all things were made. Conversely, working from the outside circles in, God must prove himself to the skeptic. The skeptic is unmoved because he will not be taught.
To one who believes that in the beginning was The Word, biblical stories represent mysteries of truth. He is willing to be led. He does not assume that his mind is the starting point and ending limit of truth. He seeks the truth through willingness to be led into truth. He starts from the inner circle and dances out through one ring after another. The everlasting curse of the skeptic is his unwillingness to allow God to teach him. He cannot accept as truth that which is beyond his own intellect. That is his prison that keeps him outside looking in. The Trail of the Dogmatic Creed unlocks the doors opening each wall. The Bridge of Reason crosses each with ease. Hamlet, whom G. K. Chesterton sees as “too good a philosopher to be a skeptic” (G. K. Chesterton 2008) sums up the skeptic’s situation:
“Oh day and night, but this is wondrous strange.”
“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Shakespeare 1992)
Expanding my intellectual horizon form the inside out, I moved effortlessly over the bridge, past the battle grounds of denominations, religious groups, and non-believers, as I researched my faith and its history. I was very satisfied that I would be a complete person in this Catholic Church. My religious horizon expanded widely to include my family of friends in the communion of saints.
I no longer sit at dinner parties being delightfully progressive in my thinking or saying absurd things about the equality of all religious beliefs. One simply needs to believe and allow oneself to be led, to stop limiting truth to the boundaries of one’s own intellect. In other words, one must stop being a skeptic. The colors will soon splash onto your canvas.
My saintly friends helped me over the Bridge of Reason. Once over, I was completely comfortable that the Trail of the Dogmatic Creed was God’s revelation of reason as well as faith, a proposition easily verified if one begins in the center of the concentric walls.
However, you will see in the next chapter that this delightful understanding did not prepare me for what came next. Having joyfully studied the history of the Church and the writings of the saints, I ran over the bridge after Thérèse and the troupe of happy dancers leading me to my destiny. I knew that “Reason is Love and Love is the Reason.” I was happy now. Yet, I would need everything I learned by crossing the Bridge of Reason. The smile on my face was about to be wiped away. My newly directed intellectual pride soon would be shattered to tiny pieces at my feet. I would find myself moaning in apparent darkness. There is no other way. From the Bridge of Reason, my saintly friends led me into the Dark Valley. That is what I will relate next.