This commentary is from Duane E. Sherwood, a retired nurse and former technical writer who lives in Winooski. He earned a bachelor’s degree in linguistics from Binghamton University and an associate’s degree in nursing from the University of Alaska.
Although I am skeptical, I confess that faith is a beautiful thing. For me, it starts in the heart with feelings too delicate to be called emotions.
For example, if something good happens, I want to give thanks. If I have problems, there is an impulse to ask for help. These impulses emerge in the form of prayer.
Intellectually, I don’t know where the prayers go. My mind cannot wrap around any concept of God. Nevertheless, I believe that the Creator hears all prayers. I recognize that this belief is a preference, a choice that I find comforting.
This is where my journey of faith begins – being still enough to listen to the heart. For me, these sweet feelings are like the needle of a compass. My Native American friends talk about the Great Mystery. The compass of the heart seems to point in this direction.
But not all feelings are small. There may be moments of overwhelming inspiration: goosebumps, tears of joy, the inability to speak. A powerful, felt truth settles in the body, and the mind is compelled to directly grasp an enlightened understanding.
Such moments are often a turning point in the journey of faith. The mind and the heart seem to be imprinted on the source of inspiration. A single moment of inspiration can motivate someone to become a devout follower of a particular religion or teacher.
While faith is beautiful, reason is magnificent. How bold and presumptuous it must have been for the ancient Greek philosophers to assume that the reasoning mind could grasp the true nature of things, and that the world worked according to principles, and not according to the whim of the gods. They were right.
Science is the product of the reasoning mind. It focuses on what is measurable and verifiable – in other words, matters outside the core. In its centuries-old efforts, science has answered many questions. With each answer, other questions arise. With each advance, the horizon of knowledge events recedes. Curiosity drives us to uncover the mysteries that lurk beyond the edge of the horizon. I maintain that, in its quest, the spirit also seeks the Great Mystery.
So if the mind and the heart are both good and necessary resources for discerning truth, why do faith and reason often lead to irreconcilable differences?
In my view, heart and mind are aspects of consciousness, while faith and reason are belief processes. These four things are subject to human error: ego tricks like self-justification, attachments to desired outcomes, faulty assumptions, and deceptions of self or others. We can easily be misled and not know it.
I’m sure the experience of inspiration is similar from person to person, regardless of religious affiliation. Inspiration leads to devotion, and devotion leads to trust. If you believe a religion to be divinely inspired (as your heart may have been), then the teachings of that religion must be accepted as true while conflicting beliefs are considered false. This is the logic of devotion for all religions.
But there is a catch: when you turn to the teachings without a doubt, you may stop noticing what your heart is saying. It is faith made blind. It’s a chink in the armor where, for example, flawed humans can exploit your trust to convince you that stoning sinners is what God wants. Rooted in compassion, my heart says no, the stoning of sinners is not of God: it is heinous, not inspiring. There must be a misunderstanding.
Reason also has its weaknesses. Cold logic can reason down to an excess of self-interest where greed is a virtue and strike first is imperative. Again, my heart says no. If my heart has the ability to inspire, so does yours. This suggests that we are spiritual parents. Working cooperatively for mutual benefit makes more sense than endless competition and conflict.
Can the logic of the mind be counterbalanced by the non-verbal and subtle reasonings of the heart? If the mind and the heart both seek truth, then faith and reason can work better as a complementary pair. By working together and keeping each other balanced, each can help the other avoid the excesses of cold logic and blind faith.
A balance between faith and reason applies directly to the Supreme Court. The framers of the Constitution were men of various faiths who were well educated in law, logic and debate. They founded the Constitution on the following noble and sometimes competing principles: individual rights and freedoms, respect for the will of the people, universal justice, promotion of collective well-being, sharing of power, separation of church and state. , etc.
These principles are the inspirations of freedom, the very heart of the Constitution. The authors designed a government where these principles could always find balanced, appropriate, and evolving expression in law.
In all its decisions, the court must never lose sight of these fundamental principles. Roe v. Wade was accepted as law supported by a majority. By overturning it, the court ignored both the will of the people and the collective well-being. Instead, he issued a narrow and controversial ruling upholding what amounts to religious dogma and a partisan talking point.
Reason demands a better balance.
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