Why I’m Not Stupid: Faith and Reason

A lovely and devoted reader of the blogge here suggested this topic for our discussion. She probably has been wondering why we haven’t posted in a while and thought this might be a way to light a fire under our pens, as it were…so briefly I must apologize if this post smells of burnt ink. But I was immediately intrigued by the topic and decided, why the heck not?

CNN Belief Blog recently published an article titled “Analytic thinking can decrease religious belief.” The premise of the article is based on a study conducted by researchers from Canada’s University of British Columbia which concluded in the Science journal that “analytical thinking could decrease religious belief.”

On UBC’s website, I found the following summary: “Researchers used problem-solving tasks and subtle experimental priming – including showing participants Rodin’s sculpture The Thinker or asking participants to complete questionnaires in hard-to-read fonts – to successfully produce “analytic” thinking. The researchers, who assessed participants’ belief levels using a variety of self-reported measures, found that religious belief decreased when participants engaged in analytic tasks, compared to participants who engaged in tasks that did not involve analytic thinking.”

The Thinker by Rodin. He’s contemplating cheeseburgers, I bet.

Okay, so, The Thinker by Rodin. Great statue. CNN aptly used as the cover photo for their post. Because I was curious and love to know when famous people are Catholic, a quick Google search verified what I had already assumed – Rodin was Catholic, and actually considered religious life for a while. He entered the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament for two years in Paris, and actually, St. Peter Julian Eymard, founder of the order, recognized Rodin’s talent and urged him to pursue his vocation as a sculptor after observing his work. Pretty cool, I know – but I digress.

The UBC’s conclusion was that subjects were more likely to experience “a decrease in religious belief” after performing analytical tasks. The researchers then concluded that consistent thought about analytical tasks tends to decrease the likelihood of religious belief.

Okay, hold your horses there, CNN. First of all, because this is a blog (I’m assuming) I couldn’t even understand what this study actually did from your article. I had to source the actual journal…also known as journalistic fail. Step up your game – I expect more of you.

Second of all, I felt insulted after reading this article. Maybe I’m just touchy today, but come on –what you’re basically implying by publicizing this research is that “reason” is for smart people and “intuition” is for the less intelligent – oh, and all believers fall under that “intuition” category.

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m not unintelligent. I got a decently high ACT score, I actively receive good grades in my college courses, and I am constantly challenging myself to pursue knowledge in areas outside of myself. I am not someone to jump at certain answers because they are easy – as an English major, the surface answer is never the truest answer. Yet what you’re implying is that because I full and heartily believe in my Catholic faith, I somehow lose belief in it every time I use analytical thinking.

No.

I consistently challenge myself in my faith, as do most Christians (and Catholics) that I know. I do not abandon my very intellectual and determined character every time I encounter religion. It’s not as though I have a switch in my brain I turn on (or off) every time I think about religion or try to understand it. In fact, I make the case for the very opposite.

I find myself the most intellectually challenged when researching and learning about my Catholic faith. Now, this is not to say that secular knowledge is worthless or not challenging. But the Church probes me with intellectual difficulties at every corner. Whether that be in areas I find hard to believe, or theological mysteries that are too deep or philosophical for my untrained mind, I have never regretted researching further into the teachings of the Church to discover what they mean, how I fit in, and why they matter.

Nor do I think that analytical thinking in secularity somehow lessens my belief in Catholic doctrine and teaching or in Jesus. In fact, I would argue the exact opposite. For example, the other day I was watching an episode of Scrubs with my roommate. (I promise this connects, just bear with me.) On it, J.D. was explaining to Turk some disease that was affecting one of his patients. Turk turned to J.D. and said, “The body is crazy, man!” because he was so amazed and surprised at how the body could adapt and react to the situation it was facing. Obviously, I’m not a med student, but the TV writers had dumbed down the explanation enough for me to grasp the basics of the problem at hand – and I completely agreed with Turk. (Maybe that’s because I am Turk…but that’s neither here nor there.) The body IS amazing. Thinking about that case (while, admittedly, on TV) was a secular subject. But learning more about the way the body works made me think about God and his beautiful design for us as humans. To think about a body being programmed to overcome hardships and disease without any direction or prompting? That is amazing, and deepened my faith in God.

Whatever you say, Chocolate Bear!

Not only does the Catholic Church consistently provide me with areas to explore my ignorance, but none of its members shy away from the so-called “hard questions.” In fact, they consistently do the exact opposite. Caitlin’s post has a lot of examples of both Catholic and non-Catholic philosophers, scientists, researchers, and thinkers whose faith did not hinder but helped them go further and further and understand the world in a bit better way. And Ryan’s guest post (a little bit later) explains how he has come to think critically with the basis of philosophy, one of the world’s oldest and most revered sciences.

To be honest, I’m not sure what I’m trying to prove with this post. I know that I think often, and deeply, and that my thinking has often caused me to question my own decision to believe in God – but that further thinking has always led me right back to Him. And I know that CNN offended me somehow by assuming there was no way I can use my analytical thinking in terms of theological issues.

Whatever, take it all as you will! EEEEEAAAAAGGGGLLLLLEEEEEEEEE

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