Archive for Saturday, August 12, 2006

Should faith be based more on emotion or logic?

August 12, 2006


Faith not based on either, necessarily

George Wiley, ordained Episcopal priest and Baker University professor of religion:

Have you been at a Christian wedding and heard Paul's words about love from 1 Corinthians 13? "So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love." Have you noticed that Paul mentions faith as well as love?

He speaks of faith as a spiritual gift. He means that the Holy Spirit bestows faith on believers. When Christians say, "Yes, I believe," or "I trust in God," then God's spirit is implanting faith in their hearts.

If faith is a spiritual gift, then it isn't something a person has to create. It comes from God. Faith isn't based on emotion or logic. It simply is. To me, this situation is freeing. I don't have to worry about how strong my faith is. I can leave that up to God.

If faith is a spiritual gift, it's not based on emotions or logic, but it's related to them. In terms of emotions, God's spirit acting in one's life may produce gratitude or even rapture (think of Bernini's sculpture, "The Ecstasy of St. Teresa").

As for reason (or logic), I believe that it is a gift from God for human beings' benefit. Many Christian denominations affirm the use of reason in the life of faith, though some groups distrust it. When believers ask themselves how to apply beliefs to ethical and political issues, then they are using reason.

What is faith based on? God's action in the life of believers, if we accept Paul's view. Emotions may flow from faith, and logic may help us understand what it implies for our lives, but neither reason nor feelings create faith.

- Send e-mail to George Wiley at

When logic and emotion call, we should listen

Judy Roitman, guiding teacher, Kansas Zen Center, 1423 N.Y.:

The short answer is: no.

I had a friend a long time ago who was convinced that Danny Thomas, Frank Sinatra and the Alpha Centaurians were conspiring to kill him. He was quite logical about this.

As for emotion, how many people have killed in anger? Committed suicide in despair? Failed to see another's pain because their own happiness was too great?

Our ideas and feelings are only our ideas and feelings. There is something more fundamental, and we long to be part of it. We already are part of it, but our ideas and feelings obscure this. So that's a major point of spiritual practice: to connect to things directly, instead of connecting only to our ideas or feelings about things.

There's an important caveat here: We are not being asked to give up our ideas and feelings for someone else's. Don't pick up a gun because someone tells you that God said so. Logic and emotion are good alarm bells, and when they ring we should pay attention.

But they cannot be relied on completely. Without a reality check, logic and emotion tend to feed on themselves. That's how we get holy wars and suicide bombers.

Buddha always told people to believe what he said only if it made sense in their own lives. That's a good role for emotion and logic in our spiritual practice: to tell us when something feels right and makes sense, and to tell us when something is really wrong and we need to get out of there.

But neither emotion nor logic can be a base of our spiritual practice. Instead, faith and spirituality provide a way to get deeper than our thoughts and feelings, to reach the fundamental bedrock that underlies everything.

- Send e-mail to Judy Roitman at


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