Thursday, May 3, 2012

Higher Ed and Faith Crises

This is a follow-up to a brief post I gave on the SCCB blog.

I just want to offer a few reflections since I am certainly an 'insider' on the whole university and faith situation, if anyone is.

What is the relationship between faith and university education? Why does one seem to work against the other? What does the doctrine of our Faith say about this? What has been my experience?

1. Everyone's faith should mature as they do. If their understanding and thinking of the Faith does not advance in proportion to their mental development, this is a problem. Their faith can then be described as immature. Education seems to work against the faith because what often happens is that one's knowledge-base grows disproportionately to their understanding of the Faith. (I have used the word 'understanding' rather than 'knowledge' here, take note - one can know the catechism and yet not understand it.) A Catholic education would seek to address this common imbalance. In other words, what I am saying is that knowledge does not lead to one's inevitable realization that the Catholic Faith is wrong. I would say quite the opposite: good education leads to its increasing probability in the mind of the student.

2. What does the Faith say about the conflict between university education and adhesion to the Faith? Our Faith has always taught the essential complementarity of faith and reason. I consider this best articulated in Bl. J P II's Encyclical, Fides et Ratio. The essential Catholic position can be summarized in the words of Ambrosiaster: whatever its source, truth is of the Holy Spirit. Fides et Ratio quotes this, and St. Thomas states it too. The late pope referred to faith and reason as "two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth." This is not an understanding that sees the two as antagonistic. Therefore, the problem does not lie with in education, but education as it is currently generally experienced.

3. My experience has been extremely rewarding. I do not have what I would call an exemplary faith, but I would call it a dear, precious prize, hard fought-for and a decisive life-saving grace from God. With my family, the most precious gift I have ever received.

I have four university degrees. One of those was in philosophy which I earned in a decidedly atheistic environment - the Philosophy Department of Dalhousie University. Nothing was ever handed to me effortlessly. I had no great mentor in the Faith. I was God-taught only. He preserved me through these troubled waters. He allowed me to face squarely on problems with the Faith and always seemed to carry me on to the path of truth. He had no intention of shielding me from difficulties, because He loves me. Because He loves me and has a plan for me. He ran me through a real engagement with all the problems of believing, I believe, in order to be a guide to others.

A few things can can act as guide post for this journey would include:

1) It is not more logical to believe there is no God than to believe there is one. Things cannot come from nowhere. No one has ever proved that God does not exist; this is impossible because it is false.

2) Education is cheap when it excludes theology and ethics, that is, reduces itself to that narrow strip of learning that is called the empirical (positivism).

3) Most of the greatest genius in human history have believed in God.

4) It is okay to doubt; it is okay to think through things. Nobody's journey is the same as anybody else's.

5) Faith does not exclude reason. It encourages it.

6) The physical sciences, psychology, sociology, history, these things are methodologically atheistic, that they are does not prove that God does not exist. Not operating from the assumption that God exists can yield truth, not all truth, but truth, not a complete picture of the universe, but truth.

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