of trains and accidental fideism


A few years ago, my professor and good philosophical friend were breakfasting together, sharing musings on faith and reason. He, a skeptic, and me, the theist, were discussing our frustrations with each of the camps, particularly me, who was very frustrated with my relationship with my respective denomination and the general lack of reason in and amongst the believing set.

It was then that he and I began to draw up the basic skeleton of a shared book effort, a work tentatively titled Hey, this train has no conductor!: a dialogue on faith and reason. Admittedly, it would have been a fun book to work on, and the opportunity to work along side (and to an extent, contra) my friend and academic mentor would have been extremely gratifying on a personal and academic level.

This whole idea came back to me while I was working on one of my assignments for this recently-ended quarter of school. In reflecting on the project, as well as on my experiences here as I turn toward the final leg of my MA, I cracked a smile and then slightly shuddered. Not because I found my previous line of thinking necessarily wrong, but that in indulging that project at that time, I would have placed myself in an indefensible position: if I were to take the side of faith in that kind of dialogue–as cordial as it may have been–I would have placed myself in the position of the fideist strawman.

If the fight is between faith and reason, the natural suggestion is that there is no place for reason in faith and vice versa. And even if the conversation would have unfolded in a way that would qualify the discussion, there is still an inescapable sense of an irrational epistemic commitment to a fideist worldview. Of course such Manichean distinctions are a fiction, but who in the real world really thinks about that? We think the opposite of love is hate, the Manicheans and the Platonists thought matter was corrupted whilst the forms and ideas holy, Democrats and Republicans are diametrically opposed to one another and we think by default that faith and reason are necessarily mutually exclusive.

In truth, the opposite of love or hate is ambivalence, the existentialists carved up the duality of existence while the materialists, naturalists and positivists have a fideism of their own, and faith and reason are far more intertwined than most will, begrudgingly or otherwise, give credit. The only instant where a dualism truly seems to exist is in oil and water, and that resulted in the movable type (setting off the domino rally toward the Reformation and the modern age) and the lava lamp (setting off wild fireworks for decades of stoners.) And let’s face it, the difference between D and R these days really isn’t much of one at all.

On top of all of that, my experiences in grad school have been such that I have hope that Christian faith can be restored from this wayward, fundamentalist tack. The real distinction, particularly in my sphere of charismatic faith, that is causing our faith real problems is the schism between the church and the academy. In this respect, the body of Christ, in rejecting the academy has decapitated itself. And yes, I fully understand the scriptural implications of such a statement. Everyone theologizes whether they know it or not, and as such, the impetus ought not be on getting the fuzzies or seeking the fire, but making sure that our reason is properly influencing the way believers conduct themselves, both in the colony of faith and in the world (for, again, there ought to be no distinction. To borrow from some communist musicians, there ain’t no shelter here, the front line is everywhere.)

All that to say that the train does, indeed, have a conductor. Many of them, in fact. It just so happens that the people who are running the train are the people who should be riding coach, while the would-be conductors are stuck in the baggage car, and are under the threat of being thrown off the train, stowaways on their own transport. It is high time that the people who know what they’re doing take the lead.

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