At The Orthosphere, Kristor has posted an interesting reflection on faith: “Faith Is Not Work.” I recommend it along with the comments thread.
I think that Kristor’s account leaves out what my own experience entailed. When I wandered for years in agnosticism, it was not because of willful unbelief. Far from it! Moreover, my exile did not result from a lack of spiritual awareness of God, which I had had for as long as I could remember. Rather, I became fixated on certain problems that I had encountered during my education, which became my focus. In my post “The Faculty of Faith,” I mentioned Strauss’ philosophical-religious dilemma in his “Progress or Return.” Strauss’ impasse along with Nietzsche’s attack on religion and realism captured and held my spiritual focus for many years. During that period, I did not unlearn what I knew. I did not change allegiance. I simply became captivated with particular questions, and I did not attend to other truths of which I was once well aware.
Men are limited, and, as the Jedi say, one’s focus determines his reality. Fellow Cincinnatian Thomas Kuhn argued in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions that the scientific enterprise in the West has not been one of pure progress but rather of shifting paradigms where men seek out answers to different sets of questions. Old lessons are forgotten when they are no longer useful for—or when they complicate—finding solutions to popular problems of the age. As such, natural philosophy is not comprehensive but ever specialized in addressing particular aspects of the world and of our experience of the world. I suspect that individual seekers of truth function in the same way. We set our gaze in a certain direction, and it is difficult or impossible to attend to everything that is not our current object.
I think that this quality of the human mind and of its quest for truth explains the widespread spiritual alientation of modern intellectuals. Their minds have been trained to sniff out mechanistic relations among particular beings in time and space. Entire lifetimes of genius are occupied with what Socrates calls the world of sights and sounds, though made academically respectable with formulae and accurate prediction. The best of our intellectual culture has become thoroughly earthy, and this does not even address the madness of the irrational movements in the humanities.
Kristor does write about the importance of proper intellectual formation and of preparing oneself to understand. I just wish to add that there are traps inherent in “faith seeking understanding” whereby one’s attention could be distracted for a long time in such a way that divine truth becomes inaccessible to the mortal mind.