In what sense is reason an aspect of faith? Is not faith that which those lacking reason resort to? Such questions betray a superficial understanding of the nature of faith. Fully understood, faith is conformity to truth, whereas rational thought is but an imperfect means of apprehending truth. Conforming to truth involves apprehending or understanding it theoretically, but theoretically understanding truth does not necessarily require conforming to it.
As Karen Armstrong points out in The Betrayal of Tradition, the Latin word credo derives from cordare: to give one’s heart, to commit oneself. Such commitment fosters understanding of truth that intellectual fence-sitting cannot. With a similar understanding of faith (sraddha), prominent 19th century Vaishnava scholar Thakura Bhaktivinoda equates it with surrender (saranagati), as does Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, when, having awakened Arjuna’s faith in bhakti’s efficacy, he tells him that the practical application of his faith is surrender.
The world above and within, which includes within its circle the world below and without, represents itself before us symbolically. Its symbols, its myths are no more facts that one must blindly believe than they are tales that must be empirically proved before one embraces them. Mythos is not logos, but neither is it irrational to embrace the mythic and symbolic in the pursuit of knowing that which logos can never reveal. Rather, it is illogical to dispense with mythos altogether in the name of logos.
The fact that faith, in its embrace of the symbolic, is transrational—that it involves experience beyond that which is possible through rational thought alone—does not imply that it itself is irrational. Faith arises out of the mystery that underlies the very structure and nature of reality, a mystery that will never be entirely demystified despite what those who place reason on their altar might like us to believe. The unknowable aspect of experience that gives rise to faith as a supra-rational means of unlocking life’s mystery—one to which reason does not hold the key—suggests that faith is fundamentally rational: it is a logical response to mystery. When faced with the great unknown, we must find reason to trust.
But, are we sure that reason does not have the potential to demystify life? And if it does, what will be the result? If faith has an influence in our lives, should we not be able to measure it? But, can we even measure a simple line in any more than a pragmatic, working sense, which has value only in terms of accomplishing a task? Can we measure what a line is?
Timothy Scott argues that if we try to understand a line as the sum of its points, we must start at one of its point and begin our measurement from there. From the starting point of our measurement, a second point is considered in relation to the first point. However, as soon as the measurer moves to the second point on the line, the relationship between the original point and the second point changes because the original point now lacks the element of measurer’s direct experience of it. The two points can be understood in relation to one another, but their relationship differs when observed from either point. Further, as Meister Eckhart points out, a point does not have the quality of magnitude and thus does not lengthen the line which is composed of points. Thus, by mathematical measurement we can only arrive at a subjective approximation of the nature of a line; we cannot measure it. No wonder, then, the Sanskrit word “maya,” often translated as “illusion,” also means “to measure.”
Need we measure faith in order to believe in its revelatory potential? Better to question our faith in reasoning and empiricism in terms of their capacity to help us arrive at comprehensive knowing. Furthermore reason and empiricism unto themselves seek to take the mystery out of life and dumb it down. Faith, on the other hand, affirms life’s mysterious nature. And if faith is the giving of one’s heart, it has to do with love, in the absence of which reason alone does not qualify as a substitute.