An honest person does not delude himself about anything; he frankly faces difficulties and is ready to give due credit to the defender of different viewpoints. He is also ready to change his view when he finds his position to be wrong. When we speak of a person who is undecided, it simply means refusing to face the issues of life consciously. In short, intellectual honesty demands the courage to make a spiritual decision, even if that decision is fraught with all the uncertainty, enigma and hazard that mark freedom itself and that are inseparable from the spiritual decisions of finite man.
For a man to believe and yet remain intellectually honest, must he have scientifically thought out every conceivable implication of faith, every implication of belief in God and belief in Christ, of redemptive history and of the Church in its every aspect? Were this really the case, then, intellectual honesty and faith would, in effect, be locked in hopeless conflict. Intellectual honesty doesn’t mean that every thought must be scientifically proved, i.e., that every implication of belief in God and belief in Christ should be proved.
A believer is well aware of the reverence he must show toward the mystery of God in human beings. No one can judge how far another human may have gone along his road. There are some religions that discourage reason completely, whereas the Catholic doctrine demands the necessary intellectual elements as it involves historical realities. The demands of intellectual honesty can be fully satisfied when one’s faith doesn’t clash with one’s rational knowledge.
The intellectual element in faith is not to understand the whole of existence, as it will reduce the religion to idolatry because God always remains as an unutterable mystery. Christianity’s understanding of mystery is this: the mystery of our existence embraces us, and we call this mystery God. God doesn’t remain on a merely remote horizon and guide us; rather, He gives Himself to us in self-communion so that we can partake in His divine life.
Is Faith Possible in Today’s World?
If we look at the past, we see that it was easy for people to believe in God because God’s dominion and the dominion of nature were experienced as very much the same thing. God spoke in nature; His favor and His wrath made themselves felt along with nature and through it. But today, what we learn from nature is a completely different lesson. In earlier times, people attributed storms, pestilence, thunderbolts, a new spring bursting forth, earthquakes and all the natural happenings to God as God’s interventions in their lives, but today’s world, dominated by scientific discoveries, refuses to look at the natural happenings as the work of God. In short, to modern humans, nature is no longer the high viceroy of God, set beyond his control, but the material he needs to experience himself in his own free creativity, to build his own world for himself in accordance with his own law.
Christianity for the first time made human beings what they are supposed to be. They are made free subjects. Christianity has liberated humans from the world of magic religions and bondage to nature. Now, the present human being is no more at the mercy of the nature. He has learned to master nature. In this way, if we look at human beings, we realize that God’s plan of creation has come true, that God wanted human beings to be masters over all other created beings, that human beings are created in the image of God and that they should be free persons who should worship and bow their heads only to God and to none of the other created objects or creatures.
Is Faith an Ideology?
The objections put forward against Christian faith, founded on faith in God, ultimately spring from a skeptical or relativist outlook. A skeptic limits the scope of reality to what natural science and technology can prove. Karl Rahner eliminates the other aspects of reality, which cannot be proved by science, as the outcome of imagination. Therefore, he sees Christianity or any other religion as a utopian idealization of human life.
The peculiarity of Christianity is its ability to transform itself in various cultures and situations. It adjusted itself to particular economic and political interests, and because of this it is regarded as an ideology. A still graver danger of misunderstanding arises from the necessity of communicating the real content of Christianity, the mystery of God and His redemption, through historical symbols and ecclesiastical arrangements as it is very easy to make mistakes in communicating invisible realities into visible and spiritual realities.
Another reason why people tend to look on Christianity as an ideology is the existence of so many religions in the form of faith or of philosophy. When people look at these religions critically they judge them as simple ideologies, and they consider Christianity, too, as one of these religions and consider it equally worthless.
Now, when we take this problem of considering Christianity as an ideology, we need to distinguish belief in God — especially the Christian belief in God — from ideology. Faith in God is not an ideology because faith is concerned with an affirmation about invisible mystery. This affirmation can be called metaphysical to the extent that, though absolutely true, it does not rest upon empirical, scientific proofs. So, we cannot deny everything that transcends senses and pure reason as dream or ideology. What matters in faith is that man at the core of his being shall be open to the other world, to the proffered direct contact with God, beyond all natural experience.
At the same time, Christianity is a history. Christianity’s belief in God is rooted in the saving deeds and interventions of God into the history of humanity. So, history is very much part of Christianity. In this history we come across a series of God’s interventions in the life of human beings, especially through the person of Jesus Christ.
Can We Still Believe In God?
The faith we are talking about is faith in the real sense of the word, faith that is rooted in personal decision and concerned about our existence. Certainly there are many difficulties and many sources of bitterness in our minds and in our lives. And yet it is plain that any difficulty that we entertain as a serious objection to our faith must correspond to the dignity and depth of what it would attack and alter.
It is true that intellectual difficulties in the field of science abound; there can be difficulties arising from the history of religions, from biblical criticism, from the history of the early Church — difficulties to which we have no direct answer. But, compared with the gravity of existence, these difficulties are too flimsy for us to let them decide ultimate issues and shape our whole life in its unutterable depths.
Christianity, though, formulates dogmas. It says that mystery always remains a mystery, but that this mystery, which, for Christianity, is God, wills to disclose itself as the infinite, the incomprehensible, the unutterable being.
This Mystery that Is Love
This mystery gives itself in an absolute self-communication in the midst of the experience of human emptiness. This intimacy has not only occurred in what we call grace; it has also become historically tangible in Him whom we call the God-man.
Man, who is finite, always finds it difficult to believe that this mystery is close to him and not remote, and that it is love. Though the mystery is a light, it may seem darker to us than our own darkness. Man is a spirit inwardly alight with love by God’s grace, and if he really and totally accepts himself as he is, he will certainly accept himself in this light. That, then, is faith. Christianity essentially affirms an utter trust in this mystery.
Because faith is a voluntary thing, no argument will convince people to believe in Jesus of Nazareth as God’s absolute presence. Human history, of course, still stands, as it has ever stood, in the sign of conflict between humans and the mystery of God. But, in spite of all the horrible things that have happened and are still to happen, it may now be interpreted as the history of God’s revealed love. The goal of human history is the intimacy with God with all who are called and saved.
Now the very community of believers — the Church — can become a big hindrance to faith. If one scans history with an unprejudiced eye, no doubt she is holy Church, the sign raised among the nations, for as the fruitful Mother of saints she bears witness that God is at work in her. But she is also the Church of sinners, and to that extent a sinful Church, because we the members of the Church are sinners. We are all baptized into the death of the Lord and receive his body; we who want to be included in the community of saints must be ready to bear the burden of the Church, which is also our own burden. We should also cultivate a sense of fraternal solidarity with non-Christians. They are not free either to do whatever they choose; they must make an effort to live according to their conscience.
Faith in the Present Day
Today, faith is certainly a painful task for any believer. In a religious context it is becoming obligatory and mechanical in its practice. We all rush to God in times of crisis with hope to be relieved. Before we solve our crisis in faith, we need to accept that we have crisis in our faith; only this can be the beginning of our cure. The present day inventions in the field of science and technology pose a great threat to our faith. We witness the wickedness that is prevalent everywhere and see truth being mercilessly massacred. In these situations, our faith really stands in jeopardy.
Bur here we can derive an important point: the world is not God, and God is not the world, and this world is not a peaceful place to enjoy. In this way we learn that God is God, and He is incomprehensible mystery, something which we cannot grasp, so we need to surrender ourselves totally. We need the religious hope which helps us to seek fulfillment and to reach evolution. In this grace, the believer experiences God’s forgiving, self-communicating intimacy. All this is possible when we approach God in simple faith and confidence. It’s all again a personal task of each person in life. For Jesus Christ lives the fellowship of God and man in matchless perfection and, therefore, He is called “the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2). TP
Father Singarayar, S.V.D., a member of the Society of the Divine Word, is an associate pastor at Sacred Heart Church in Mumbai, India.