Killing Reason: The Danger of Thinking in an Age of Thoughtlessness

If you find yourself continuously chewing on systematic theology, reading analytical Bible commentaries, or burying yourself in pre-modern philosophy books, you have probably found out by now that you’re an outlaw. The 21st century evangelical Church can be a dangerous place to use one’s mind, and this becomes abundantly clear when questions like, “Man, why can’t you just let go and let God?” or, “The Gospel is simple, why get all complicated about it?” are asked to those who like to think critically.

If you are a thoughtful Christian, you’re an unpopular Christian. This is the case even at seminaries, where Christian intellectual growth should be cultivated and encouraged. If you do not fly at the altitude a given institution demands you fly, you’re an outcast. If you ask too many questions which may threaten the popular opinion, you’re an outcast. But take heart, there is a place for you in God’s Church; and the Bride, after suffering many years of intellectual sickness, is in need of thinking men.

The Church has killed reason, and below are three proposed ways which attempt to explain––in part––why this has happened:

Way One: The Bible Has Become the Metaphysical and Epistemological Starting Point… Which is Patently Illogical

Of course, I need to give reasons for this reason!

In the eighteenth century, David Hume delivered an explosive punch to the face of the faith community. Skepticism was all the rage and it was popular to doubt that which had previously been assumed. One example of this is most clearly seen the notion of causality. Hume didn’t deny the principle of causality. Rather, he assumed it. What he did doubt was whether or not the causes we tend to attribute to any given effect were truly the causes of those effects. For instance, we rightly believe that rain causes the wetness of grass. Hume’s skepticism would entail we ask ourselves why should we believe it’s the rain making the grass wet and not something else. Perhaps invisible fairies are working to make the grass wet every time it rains and so, every time it rains, we merely assume it’s the rain which wets the grass.

Obviously, this kind of skepticism, which posits a loose relationship between cause and effect militates against a common sense understanding of the world around us. The fruit of Hume’s skepticism influenced another eighteenth century philosopher, Immanuel Kant. Coming out of the Lutheran pietist movement, Kant would make it his goal to “save the phenomena” from the destructive nature of Hume’s skepticism, and vindicate people of faith. Kant was primally concerned with rescuing that which would be lost if we all just stopped at Hume’s skepticism and remained content with it. For Kant, the stakes were high. The very possibility and significance of science, which itself rests on the principle of causality, was being threatened.

Kant responded with his transcendental idealism.

The important thing we need to observe here is that Kant felt the need to respond to Hume, not by way of direct critique, but by way of solving the problem Hume presented. Rather than challenging Hume’s skepticism head on, he instead recognized it as a real threat to science & faith and proceeded on that basis. The Church would follow closely behind. Unfortunately––like Kant––the Church saw Hume’s skepticism as a real danger and so retreated to the confines of their faith and their Bibles. Unable to respond to Hume and Kant’s subsequent transcendental idealism, the Church made the Bible the foundation, not just for faith and life of believers (which is the Confessional view), but for all reality.

They believed the Bible simply because they took it on faith. There were no reasons given since their reasons would only ever be met with skepticism or deism (if there was a God, we wouldn’t be able to know Him). And for a long time, many Christians in Western Europe and America did not feel the need to defend their faith. Ultimately, the fruit of this fideistic mindset would end up presenting itself clearly in the father of theological liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Religion became all about internalized experience rather than a natural theology which could be deduced from nature, or a true Bible that actually meant what it said. The Bible, for Schleiermacher, wasn’t an inspired text since, in his view, there was no way to prove such a thing. The authority of the Bible came into question precisely because Kant, as he responded to Hume, destroyed meaningful metaphysical discourse. Nothing in itself could be known, only our perception of things. But on this ground, how is a realist document (the Bible) to be taken seriously? God can’t be known, for He is in the noumenal (unknowable) realm if He exists at all.

How then can the Bible speak so surely of Him?

Under the weight of Hume and Kant, and in contradistinction to theological liberals like Schleiermacher, the conservative Church began trying to justify their faith with the very objects of their faith (i.e. God and/or Scripture). The theistic proofs were no longer acceptable since to make use of those was to assume the very things Hume pointed out couldn’t be justified (e.g. the necessary relationship between causes and their effects). In light of this devastating blow, the Church found it much easier to believe in the existence of God and in the truth of the Scriptures without any rationale for doing so save a blind faith––which is no rationale at all.

We have confused the discussion concerning what exists with the discussion concerning how we know what exists. This has led to a fatal flaw in our reason. We are no longer able to demonstrate, we may only assume our faith to be true.

Way Two: Rigorous Thought Is Hard

It takes work to think hard about any one particular subject. Working hard does not exactly characterize our current generation and to work hard, especially within the realm of academics, is not a popular practice. Often, seminary classes are structured around recited or commonly agreed upon talking points which the professors and students can be comfortable with. Little effort is put forth in making students uncomfortable for the profit of their intellectual and spiritual growth. Debate is often abhorred and disagreement is better left under the concealment of an artificial “charity.”

Disagreement, after all, is uncomfortable; and studying new (or in much of today’s case, old) things is unnecessary so long as contemporary authors are trusted and write in a way we can easily understand. Efforts to retrieve philosophy and doctrine of ages past are almost non-existent, and the “new” or the “innovative” is much more appreciated in our day and age than the old stuff which the Church has “grown out of.”

Our generation is the best, so we ought to move forward by way of innovation rather than exposition of what has already been laid down. Today, theology “develops” the same way a jet in one of Boeing’s factories may be improved by way of new flight instruments, advanced safety features, and rapid speed. Making new things is much more interesting, and often times easier, than digging the old books out of the storage closet.

The ancients thought about metaphysics while today we want to think mostly about what we know and how we know it. For the ancients, that which was “out there” was much more important than that which was “in them.” The shift from “out there” to “in us” in the eighteenth century has led to experienced-based religion (cf. Schleiermacher) and an overemphasis on epistemological discourse in the fields of Christian philosophy and theology proper (cf. Drs Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, & Greg Bahnsen). In many respects, it’s much easier to consider what’s in ourselves (our knowledge and experience) rather than continue to think about the confusing subject of metaphysics, which deals with mind-independent existence. The stage for anthropocentric Christianity has been set. It has become all about us, perhaps not in an egotistical or selfish sense, but certainly in an emphatic sense.

Moreover, it takes a great deal of time and research to recover what the Church has largely become unfamiliar with following the Enlightenment. Who want’s to read old English or look up confusing Latin terms? We have our own system of thought; our own qualified scholars, and we are much more enlightened than those old theologians who knew nothing but the Textus Receptus; who adopted false, Roman Catholic ideas about the world in which we live.

Way Three: Men Have Become Feminized

As I alluded to above, it’s now uncharitable to disagree.

This sentiment comes from an unbalanced emphasis on femininity, sensitivity, and emotional response to pressing questions or intellectual attack. It’s perhaps this point here which has crippled the contemporary Church more than either of the two prior considerations. All one has to do to shut down (or “win”) a debate nowadays is to police language for “charitability” or to claim they’ve been offended in some way, shape, or form. Perhaps they simply reply with an emotionally charged and baseless accusation. Now, I’m not saying here that we need to be hateful toward our opponents in order to make a point. Such an idea is sinful. I am saying, however, that “niceness” or “charitability” has practically become identified with softness or even spinelessness.

Men have been taught by women to think like women in this respect.

We must interact with one another as we’d interact with a woman. We have to take the gloves off and apply lotion to one another’s faces rather than “destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God (2 Cor. 10:5).” The technical language, the rigorous thought, and the bringing of that thought to bear in debate and disagreeable conversation is avoided rather than encouraged. And why wouldn’t it be avoided? We don’t want our women to fight, and if we don’t want our women to fight, and if we ourselves have been feminized, why should we fight?

Now, at this point, many will head for the door. Some will just close their laptops, others will storm out of the computer room. Some may just “x” out of the tab and go on to a more interesting discussion because this may sound ridiculous. But please, think with me here for a moment. Consider the language of the Reformation and the polemical patterns of the Biblical narrative. We wouldn’t always say Paul’s language was “nice,” or that Jesus was always, should we say, “pleasant.” But this is largely because our views of what niceness is, or our understanding of what’s pleasant or charitable, have been massively skewed by radical femininity seeping in to the Church. We are keenly interested in preserving someone’s feelings rather than getting at the heart of various issues and making rigorous, sometimes uncomfortable, attempts to discern the truth.

Conclusion

Under the pressure of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment philosophy, the Church has confused the conversation of existence with the conversation of human knowing and, in kind, have reduced the Christian religion to a blind faith which argues by the Scriptures for the truth of the Scriptures. In essence, for a long time, the Church has approached the question of “how we know the Word of God is indeed the Word of God,” with the retort, “It says it’s the Word of God, so it must be the Word of God.” This, as discussed above, is dangerous since it gives the whole sphere of intellectual discourse to the secular realm. The Church has defended the faith by assuming the conclusion in its premises. This has crippled the ability for those in the Church to reason both with one another and with unbelievers.

We have become lazy and have given up the greater effort to know the truth of the world around us and the deeper truths of the Scriptures. It’s hard to dig up history and recover what we’ve lost––metaphysics, doctrine of God, philosophy of hermeneutics, etc.––and so we go on innovating, re-inventing the wheel, and struggling with problems which have already been solved by godly men who lived long before us.

Lastly, men have been taught to think like their female companions. Unfortunately, this involves the evasion of disagreement rather than the encouragement of it. It involves escaping debate rather than engaging head on in hopes God will show His people the truth by means of argument. As mentioned earlier, I believe this is one of the most harmful ways in which the Church has killed reason. All one must do to end a discussion is claim offense or police the language, which stifles any productive or meaningful conversation.

These are three of the ways the Church has killed reason. Therefore, these are three things which must change if we are to get our act together.

2 thoughts on “Killing Reason: The Danger of Thinking in an Age of Thoughtlessness

  1. The last reason given here is foolish and insulting to women. Christian women reason, too–often better than Christian men do. Your real third reason is that Post-Modern thinking has characterized rationality as a tool of oppression. Consequently, scientific rigor and mathematics are being attacked as tools to marginalize minorities. Peer-reviewed articles are being written affirming this view. This is a serious and disturbing development. Moreover, the attitude has infected the Church.

    1. >>>The last reason given here is foolish and insulting to women. Christian women reason, too–often better than Christian men do.

      It’s not insulting to women since I’m not making the claim that women can’t or do not reason. You made that assumption. Also, I agree with your second statement, and that’s part of the problem. Christian men should not be worse thinkers than women, since men were made to engage in rational discourse, primarily. It was Adam who named the animals. Not Eve.

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