Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rational Thinking v. Rationalism, Yet Again

Sunday before last (to show how long since I've posted here!) our Gospel lesson was about the boy with the demon, whose father cried out, "Lord, I believe; help Thou my unbelief!"

And a couple of weeks ago, I listened to a heterodox sermon on this same passage, wherein the minister asked, "What does this MEAN?" What could it possibly mean, to believe and not believe at the same time?

Our priest, by contrast, asked, "Who among us does not know what this means?" and everybody nodded. Sure, we all, including that minister's congregation, all know what that means. How do we know it? By having prayed the same prayer ourselves, over and over again. We may not know how to put its meaning in clear words, but we all know what that meaning is.

Demetrios says he can even put it into words. He points out that it is precisely the cogito that doubts. The rationalistic tendency in us says to us, "But we've never heard of anybody who could actually do this. How reasonable is it to suppose Jesus can?"

St. Peter had the same experience when he walked on the water. His cognitive thinking kicked in and said, "But this can't be, me, walking on water!" and he began to sink.

The truth, though, is that St. Peter was being more truly rational before that thought occurred to him. It is not irrational to acknowledge what you see, what you experience. That's simply going by the evidence before you. If you really are walking on water, what's irrational is to deny it! Similarly, it is not against reason to suppose Jesus can cast out a demon, not if you personally know Jesus. If you know Him adequately, you know He can.

In the very same way, it is not in the least irrational to say Jesus arose from the dead. At least not if you have met Him, alive and glorious, after He had died.

I know numerous people to whom Jesus has appeared. Before I became Orthodox, most of those people were Jews, interestingly enough. They mostly became "Messianic Jews" afterward.

(But as Met Kallistos has pointed out, one need not be able to point to any particular incident to be able to say, with confidence, "Yes, I know God.")


123 said...

So, you are talking about a difference between the heart or nous and the intellect? The father believed in his heart or nous, but wavered in his intellect?

This reminds me of the gnomic will vs. the natural will that St. Maximus talks about. Naturally, our will is a faculty of our one, common human nature. The Fall introduced in us a personal will and made the natural will and its tendencies and desires opaque to us forcing us to deliberate over what is right and wrong. I wonder if the Fathers make similar comment regarding our faculty for faith.