There are two wonderful posts about faith this week on Fr. Stephen Freeman’s ever edifying Glory to God for All Things site. The first, “Know God or No God,” concerns the Orthodox understanding of faith, while the second explores my favorite modern Orthodox theologian’s treatment of the subject, “Vladimir Lossky on Faith.” I highly recommend reading these short entries; they offer a condensed Orthodox Christian response to the obvious question, “Why believe something for which you have no evidence?” Why should one believe in the Gospel if such belief entails simply blind acceptance? Why not just as well put your trust in the great Flying Spaghetti Monster, as the blasphemous pop cultural phenom mocks?
Leo Strauss discusses this problem in his address to the B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundation, “Progress or Return.” Contra Thomas and the Christian philosophical tradition, Strauss the rabbinical Jew / philosophical agnostic argues that one cannot resolve the conflict between Athens and Jerusalem. The religious man accepts the truth of a revelatory tradition, the claims of which are not verifiable by natural reason, but the philosophical man cannot affirm what reason cannot know. There is no way past this problem for Strauss.
The scholastic answer ameliorates the tension but does not resolve it. For Thomas, there is no contradiction between faith and reason. Both come from God. Of things known by faith—that is, through revelation—some things can be known through natural reason and some cannot be so known. Thus, one can test a revelatory tradition by examining its teachings in light of natural reason. If its doctrines contradict reason, then one should reject it. Such a method disproves demonstrably false revelatory traditions, but it still cannot affirm the truth of revelation that concerns matters beyond natural reason.
The other possibility is that we have a faculty that indicates the truth of God. Is this what faith is? Rather than a blind, ignorant affirmation of propositions, is faith the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen? Is modern fideism the sad result of reducing one faculty’s power to the mode of another—the spiritual equivalent to a question about the senses, “What do your eyes smell?”