Cal Poly Pomona Catholic Newman Club

"You just have to believe..."

By Father John Bullock
July 5th, 2007

At a gathering of volunteers from several parishes I had the opportunity to talk to a young woman, around 17 years old, who was teaching the faith to other young adults entering the Catholic Church. I asked her what question was the most difficult to her. She replied, "Is it true (all of it)? How could they know?" Her answer, "You just have to believe."

Several authors such as Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion), Sam Harris (Letter to a Christian Nation) and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great)1 as well as contributors to our very own Poly Post2 see such a statement as an abdication of reason.

Why should we "just believe?" That is a fair question. Does blind faith, seemingly indicated by the "just believe" statement, sin against reason? Equally, does serious questioning sin against faith?

Before continuing a reflection on whether it is logical to believe or not, we must define what we mean when we say, "to believe," or "to have faith." The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines faith as a, "firm belief in something for which there is no proof," and belief as a, "conviction of the truth of some statement or the reality of some being."3

Therefore to have faith or to believe is to say something is true. Faith isn't an opinion, "I'd prefer there to be a God," but a statement, "There is a God." Granted, a statement of faith may be incorrect, but it is affirming a reality and not simply expressing a viewpoint or externalizing one's feelings.

Yet how can we hold something as true if we don't have any proof? Isn't that illogical? Should we "just believe?"

Everyone, including Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens, makes countless acts of faith every day. When you get on an airplane, do you know it's capable of flying safely? Did you test the hydraulics, electrical system, etc.? When you took medicine, did you chemically examine the contents to make sure it wasn't toxic? When you drove over a bridge, did you check the structure to make sure it would stand? Of course you didn't. It's practically impossible. Even the airplane mechanics, pharmacists and civil engineers won't test everything in their respective field that they use when off duty. You believe that the plane, medicine and bridge will work because you trust those responsible for making them work. That is acting on faith.

You might reply that a practical faith in the dependability of other people is one thing and that a faith in God is another. I would agree. Whereas with material realities, you could empirically prove them true, without faith, you cannot know too much about God.4

Then, do you have to have "blind faith" to believe in God, that is, shut off your reason and "just believe?"

What does the pope say? You might be surprised. "Deprived of reason, faith has stressed feeling and experience, and so run the risk of no longer being a universal proposition. It is an illusion to think that faith, tied to weak reasoning, might be more penetrating; on the contrary, faith then runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition."5

The pope is obviously not arguing against faith, but a faith divorced from reason. While it's true that faith goes beyond mere human reasoning, it is also true that reason is an essential part of faith.

Reason poses the fundamental questions which faith ultimately answers: why are we here and what must we do? If there were no hunger, food would be meaningless. If there were no search for meaning and truth, revelation would be an answer without a question. Yet we do search, frantically at times. That search has to do with the heart, but also with the mind.

Reason also is capable of grasping truths which prepare us to make an act of faith, which isn't totally blind. Some of these truths include our recognition of: an ordered world, the principle of cause and effect, man's spiritual reality and his capacity to recognize truth. They all point to something beyond our material reality. Reflecting logically on these truths prepare the way for a faith, which incorporates reason rather than violate it.

Finally the act of faith is "a personal adherence of the whole man to God who reveals himself. It involves an assent of the intellect and will to the self-revelation God has made through his deeds and words."6 Hence the very act of faith requires reason, not precludes it.

Therefore, while it is true that faith goes beyond our mere reasoning, we should also think a great deal about our faith. That seems reasonable.

[1] "Fundamentalist Atheists" by Christopher Orlet, on American Spectator Online, 4/26/2007 12:07:57 AM.

[2] "Brother, Have You Been Saved?" The Poly Post, October 4, 2005, Commentary, by James Moles, Staff Writer.

[3] These are abbreviated versions of the definitions given.

[4] The Catholic Church holds that we can know of the existence of God without faith. Proof of God's existence will be dealt with in the next article.

[5] Faith and Reason, n. 48

[6] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n 176.