|Monday, January 6, 2009
Religion and the Making of the Modern Mind
On Sunday I began leading a study of When Faith Meets Reason at The Community Christian Church in Springfield, Missouri (Executive Conference Center, 910 West Battlefield). From 9:15 to 10:15 each Sunday morning we will discuss the personal religious faith of each of the contributors—i.e., how they each have gone about making religious sense for themselves at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The study is free and open to the pubic. What follows here is a brief excerpt adapted from my comments on the introduction to the book made on January 4.
The general definition of faith is: “a belief that is not based on proof.” A general definition of reason is “the mental powers concerned with forming conclusions, judgments, or inferences.” Or “the power of comprehending, inferring, or thinking in an orderly way.” As a side issue, the definition of superstition is “any blindly accepted belief or notion.” In short, by this definition little separates faith from superstition. One person’s faith is another person’s superstition. Reason, on the other hand, describes a process of critical evaluation demanding proof—and its critical sifting. Reason is very different from faith and superstition.
In truth, there never has been one “right” way of thinking about God or one way of being a religious human being that excludes all others. And there never has been one way of answering the question “what does God expect of human beings?” The answers to these questions have been manifold—and virtually everyone considers their religion the right way. Well of course that’s true! Who would affirm a wrong religion or serve the wrong God? At the beginning of the Christian period some self appointed zealots tried to limit the responses to these questions (the right way to view the divine and the right way of being religious). In the fourth and fifth centuries they developed a collection of literature, a canon of sacred scripture (i.e., a rule or guide for faith and practice), and exclaimed: this is the very Word of God. And they also approved a creed, which constituted, for them, the right belief for Christians. Their synthesis (canon and creed) adopted near the end of the Roman Empire has endured to the beginning of the twenty-first century as the proper place to begin answering these two questions (What is the nature of the divine and how do I serve God?).
What has brought about such a state of affairs in the twenty-first century that young men and women raised in Christian homes nourished in the faith of the saints, brought up on the Bible and the creeds, and then set apart for “Christian service” have departed so drastically from “the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)? My answer is this: it is due to the making of the modern mind! Ancient human beings—those that wrote the Bible—perceived their reality much differently from modern human beings who have paid attention to the past twenty-one centuries and the changes in human thinking about the world.
Scholars have “named” some of those historical twists shaping our modern world.
The developments in these periods are difficult to master as a unit (they, after all, cover five hundred years) but a reader can get a handle on the character of each period by reading through a collection of essays from each period (see the bibliography at the end of my introduction). But, in general and broadly put, thinking in these periods produced the following results:
The personal confessions of the contributors to the book When Faith Meets Reason are not driven by an evangelical purpose. They are not trying to convince the reader of anything, but only describing their own spiritual journeys that began in the bosom of “mother church,” and wound through the “ivy covered halls of academia,” to face the liberal critical thinking of the modern world. They offer their experiences as examples of what happens when faith meets reason. Each essay has value as an example of a conclusions reached by someone who has given due consideration to the problems and possibilities of being a religious human being in the modern world. Their personal solutions are not traditionally “Christian,” and yet each contributor maintains a personal connection with traditional Christianity in some form.
Charles W. Hedrick
Posted by Charles Hedrick at 10:37am
Dear Dr. Hedrick,