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Bridging Reason and Religion

October 21, 2012

Being born of a father who is a philosopher and a mother who is a Lutheran, I was bound to become the sort of Christian who constantly questions her faith in the search for truth. This being the case, I was intrigued to read the following excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI’s The Nature and Mission of Theology: Essays to Orient Theology in Today’s Debates:

…faith needs philosophy because it needs man who questions and seeks. It is not questioning, in fact, which places obstacles to faith but that closure which no longer wants to question and holds truth to be unreachable or not worth striving for. Faith does not destroy philosophy, it champions it. Only when it takes up the cause of philosophy does it remain true to itself.”

Many questions abound in my mind about my faith. A question that came into recent focus for me was, Is it really excusable to kill another person or to launch a war in self defense (or to launch an atomic bomb to end a war waged in self defense) if one of the ten commandments is thou shalt not kill? Is not the lesser of two evils still evil? This question arose upon reading The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan, which was written by a history scholar who is also a member of the Catholic clergy.

Another question with which I grapple is, If the two most important Christian duties are to love thy God with all thy heart and to love thy neighbor as thyself, as Matthew asserts, why does the Catholic Church consider it so incredibly wrong for homosexuals to marry and raise children in loving homes? And another: If it is indeed easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven, will any of us who are part of the American middle class—representing the wealthiest 5% of humanity—be admitted? Or will Warren Buffet and Bill Gates be the only ones barred at the gates?

Christianity is fascinating to me because it simultaneously gives rise to such intriguing, meaningful questions and provides a foundation upon which to begin building universal truths. Although the questions posited above may never be resolved, Christianity, with its focus on living a Christ-like life, presents a model for human life that is hard to dispute. Even the most hard-core, agnostic philosopher would find it difficult to argue that if all people were to forsake personal possession and to truly love their neighbors as they love themselves, therein we would find the solution to all of the world’s social and political ills. How could we go wrong if everyone were caring for everyone else?

I remember presenting Jesus’ Golden Rule as a solution to the problem of income inequality being discussed by fellow classmates in my American Political Philosophy class in college. Numerous solutions had been proffered such as taxing the wealthy, fostering philanthropy, and the like—but all had flaws such as tax loopholes and millionaires who simply don’t want to donate. So I asserted that the only true solution to the problem of income inequality would be for everyone to follow Jesus’ command to love they neighbors as thyselves, for then everyone would gladly share their wealth. If everyone were looking out for everyone else’s wellbeing instead of their own, no one would want for lack of basic necessities. It is indeed the perfect solution.

Yet it is “unrealistic” (this was the response my classmates gave me after an initial stunned silence). It is certainly not forthcoming as a solution to global problems but that doesn’t mean it isn’t something we should strive for. Aren’t we all taught to strive for perfection in our personal and professional lives? We are told it’s okay if we don’t achieve it, but it’s not okay not to try. This is a universal message in sports, in schools, in workplaces—so why not strive for perfection as a society? We may never achieve it, but the closer we come to it the closer we come to healing the wounds of the world’s hungry, abused, and neglected, and the closer we come to experiencing heaven on earth.

Despite the countless questions that the Christian faith engenders in my mind, I am convinced of the need to love our neighbors as ourselves. It makes sense in both worlds–the rational and the religious–and unites the two together in a harmony that makes me certain that if no other absolute truths exist, this one does.

  1. Dear Cori,you make 2 precepts which are broad brush efforts to set the stage and I conclude are problematic and endemic. 1. To love our neighbor as ourselves, requires that we love ourselves. This plague of man-kind is that we don’t love ourselves. In fact, we deny our true beings and live lies. There are a few who have learned how to love himself/herself. A majority of the planet is fixated on using others, manipulating others to make themselves o.k. A majority of the world denies weakness, need, vulnerability in short, the essence of how we are made. In order to love our neighbor, we must first love self; thus, a vast majority of humans don’t know love, are unable to receive it and can’t give it to self, God or others. We hide in self pity, hurting/wounding others, apathy, rage, toxic shame, pride, control, isolation, depression, excitement, sensuality, and perfectionism. We deny surrendering to our hearts and we miss why we were made, who we are and how to love. We make objects out of others and in doing so, make objects of ourselves. We are unable to see the beautiful mess we are and acknowledge and really embrace that we are big deals to God. When we accept how we were made, we understand that the responsibility of our heart is to ask and seek help. We need each other. Not as a welfare state where all my needs are met by others, but rather, all my needs are met because I love myself well enough to ask for my needs to be met. I acknowledge my inherent worth – completely worthy, and I operate out of this basis. I don’t step in to meet your needs until you ask for those needs to be met. It is in this honesty and authenticity that we live as humans in the image and likeness we were made. We were made for relationship. It is in relationships we are wounded and hurt and in relationships that we are healed. Thus, we show up in relationships, aware of where we are at (what needs we have) and we join in relationship with ourself, God and others. We commune to have our needs met, climbing from the valleys to the mountaintops. Its in our imperfection that God is manifest perfect. Its in our weakness, He is strong. I eluded to the 2nd problematic precept or ideal, that is, striving for perfectionism. Its actually part of our sin nature to strive for perfectionism. We should ourselves into better behavior, into better decisions, into better ideals and actions. In striving for perfectionism, we illuminate the nature of our being, weak, vulnerable and needy. Being perfect, we have no need of God or others. We can get there on our own. The Tower of Babel is a great example of humans striving for perfection, the perfect bridge or path to God by mankind. In fact, hidden in the lie is that in perfection, we will be God or Gods. Its core is idolatry. Its montra can be examined in the statement, “to forgive self”. This statement of perfection explicitly implies the achievement of Godhood, because we can do what we aren’t created to do, elevate self from need, weakness and vulnerability. We become what we set out to be, God. We can forgive others, when warranted and we an seek forgiveness from others, and remain human, because the very need we expose in humility and healthy shame, acknowledges our limits and need for others. Instead, we need a planet full of humans that can feel their feelings, tell the truth of their hearts (feelings: the language of the heart) and trust the Process (that God and others can and will meet our needs if they are sought). Once we identify where we are and ultimately who we are, we can begin to live in the what we are about. We can begin to learn how to love out of gratitude because our needs are being met. This love of self, God and others grows and moves us to leading others. God Blessvan

  2. Dear Van,While I agree with your comment that we cannot love one another until we first understand how to truly love ourselves, the aim of my posting was not to give a full description of how to love and be loved–rather it was an exploration of my beliefs. One of my firmest beliefs is that we ought to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. I do believe that as Christians we are to strive for perfection–to be as close to the perfect image of God as possible. While striving for perfection in sports or academics may distract us from the Christian life, striving for perfection in our love for ourselves and for God is not, in my reading of the Bible, a sin. I alluded to the pursuit of perfection in other aspects of life to make a point: we regularly push each other towards perfection in other arenas, so why not in the one arena that could truly make a change in the world?~Cori

  3. The concept of the “Golden Rule” was around and part of many religions long before Jesus. As long as you, and others claim “that the only true solution to the problem of income inequality would be for everyone to follow Jesus’ command to love they neighbors as thyselves, for then everyone would gladly share their wealth. If everyone were looking out for everyone else’s wellbeing instead of their own, no one would want for lack of basic necessities. It is indeed the perfect solution.” it will never be the answer. It’s offensive to those who do not believe that Jesus is God. OR to an agnostic who may be philanthropic with no need to attribute the generosity to a religion or God inspired. People do not have to follow Jesus to be good and far too many who claim to be “good Christians” baffle me since their actions are far from “good” if they are berating others. To advocate following the Golden Rule is one thing, but you do it no justice to expect everyone to follow Jesus.

  4. I agree that people do not have to follow Jesus to follow the Golden Rule, and they do not need to be Christians. The point of my posting was not to insist that everyone follow Jesus but to make a connection between my faith and rational thought. As you stated, people can be honorable and generous without being Christian. When I made my argument to my political philosophy class, I did not invoke Jesus or the Bible at all–I simply argued that the perfect solution to many global problems is for everyone to love their neighbors as they love themselves. This can be a motivating call for Christians and non-Christians alike. For me, the Golden Rule happens to be grounded in both my faith and my rationalism–for others it may be grounded in entirely different reasoning.

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