Is Faith Rational?
Rationalism holds that any sort of spiritual intuitiveness or revealed knowledge, or faith in a divine authority, annihilates reason and renders it absolutely useless. I want to explore a bit about why I believe this to be a false assertion. There exist two orders of knowledge, distinct in their principle and in their object. In their principle, because in one we know by natural reason, and in the other by faith. In their object, because outside of things that natural reason can discover and comprehend, there are mysteries that defy naturalist answers, which are proposed to our belief, and which couldn't be known to us if they were not in some sense spiritually revealed to us in some way. Though faith is above reason because it can attain to knowledge beyond the natural realm, there can never be any real disagreement between faith and reason, as some like to claim, since the same divine Source who revealed the mysteries and communicated faith, has given to the human mind the light of reason, and the Divine cannot contradict Itself, nor can one truth ever deny another truth.
Not only can faith and reason never disagree, but they afford each other a mutual assistance; Right Reason demonstrates the foundations of faith, and enlightened by the light of this faith, develops the knowledge of divine things; faith delivers and guards reason from the error of Naturalism and enriches it with different kinds of knowledge. Thomas Aquinas taught the same, "Reason would not believe, if it did not see that it must believe."
He only repeated what Augustine wrote on the subject in his letter to Consentius:
''The Church exacts faith; and because we have so many reasons to believe, strong and urgent reasons, she requires faith and humble submission to all her divine teachings. Let her not be accused, then, of requiring an absolute, blind, unreasoning faith, or of insisting that those who, in order to believe, have used their reason in the salutary manner we have indicated, may not continue to use their reason to render their faith ever more humble, but also ever more enlightened. God forbid that our submission to all that is of faith, should prevent us from searching and asking the reason of what we believe, since we could not even believe if we were not capable of reasoning!"
Evidently any revelation made by the Divine supposes in humanity the corresponding capacity of knowing. To what power of the mind do we appeal if not to reason? Faith isn't any acquiescence to just believe irrationally; it is a rational assent, otherwise it wouldn't be a virtue. And how can faith be rational, if reason has no part in it?
What are the proofs that will show me the mysteries that have been revealed to humanity in various cultures and various times to be evidently credible? This is the important question we need to grasp and understand; and it is here that I bring my reason into play. Without this strict examination and discussion any faith one might have will be uncertain, wavering, and vague, without principle and without consistency.
It is incontestable, not only that the perennial truths of the world's spiritual traditions accord reason a special object, distinct from that of faith, but that even in the things of faith, reason fills an important and serious role. One part of this role is to establish harmony between the various revealed truths, to show the link which unites them, to prove each one by fitting arguments, and to deduce the consequences which follow from them; in a word, to make these perennial truths a reasonable whole so that they are easily understood.
"Faith is the bird that feels the light when the dawn is still dark."-Rabindranath Tagore
We can establish with certainty the foundations of faith by demonstrating that it is perfectly rational, legitimate, and indispensable to believe these perennial truths. It belongs to reason to give this demonstration, and we can't, under pain of erring against faith, deny it this right and power. It also falls to reason to defend revealed truths against the attacks and doubts of skeptics.
I'm not suggesting that reason directly produces faith. Faith is a "supernatural", metaphysical gift; a virtue by which we firmly believe the truths revealed to us, because they come from the spiritual realm. Now, evidently the natural cannot produce the supernatural; hence reason only prepares the way for faith by examining the motives of belief. Thus, an Atheist or Agnostic who, by examining these motives, is convinced of their soundness, and, consequently, of the necessity of giving his assent to revealed perennial truths, has only a simple intellectual belief; in order for his belief to become a divine faith he requires a supernatural principle, that is, firm conviction of the infallible authority of the Divine Being from whom the perennial truths flow. Faith then is reasonable and a divine gift all at once. As A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami put it, "Faith is unflinching trust in something divine."