In Reason and Belief, Blanshard surveys the relationship between faith and reason in the Roman Catholic and Protestant traditions. After his broad discussion of such a relationship which includes attention to the thought of Luther, Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Barth, he turns to ethics and belief and finally to religion and rationalism. In the end, then, he argues that the sentiment of rationality, though fallible, is man’s best guide to navigating between reason and belief and has been active in the evolution of religion.
In Part I of this volume in his series on reason in the theory of knowledge in ethics and theology, the author examines reason and faith in the Catholic view. For Catholics, reason holds a high place, but Blanshard argues that its authority is limited by revelation, which is received through Scripture, tradition, and Papal pronouncement. The author also posits that problems result from the Catholic teaching that holds Scripture to be inerrant, because, in actuality, Scripture contains many inconsistencies which are not adequately dealt with, and, in turn, reflect doubt on church authority. Moreover, Blanshard believes that despite official claims, revelation and natural knowledge within the Catholic tradition conflict in astronomy (Galileo), in biology (evolution), and in psychology (demonology). Overall, Blanshard holds that Catholicism has been sustained by a) human need and b) congeniality of the intellectual climate. The climate of the modern world, however, is uncongenial, and the author insists that dogma must be judged by its coherence and systemized experience, for miracles suit ill a world of law and a two world theory with the integrity of thought. In the end, then, Blanshard asserts that we may legitimately ask of religion consistency with science and, even more, coherence with experience as a whole
Having delineated the relationship between faith and reason within Catholicism, Blanshard turns to examine reason and faith within the Lutheran succession of Protestantism. At the outset of such discussion, the author states that Modern Protestantism stems from Luther who accepted more from Catholicism than he rejected. Luther regarded reason as an enemy of faith, because he understood that faith was a belief exercised by ‘the heart’. According to Blanshard, Luther confused such emotive exercise with cognitive certainty and assumed that feeling can know and that satisfactoriness to desire is evidence of truth. In the end, then, while in many ways Luther was a powerful impetus for reform, Blanshard thought that his reason too generally echoed his passions.
In addition to finding fault with Luther’s emotive faith exercise, the author argues that Kierkegaard, Brunner, and Barth are at fault as well. More specifically, Blanshard terms Kierkegaard’s anti-rationalist strategy that recognizes three ‘states on life’s way’—the aesthetic, the ethical, and the religious—twisted by mismanaged romance because it denies the validity of man’s clearest insights and exalts him to sainthood for no apparent reason. As for Brunner theory, which held a) that faith, a supernatural gift, is a person’s only means of escape from the corruption of the fall and despair, and b) that revealed and natural knowledge are different in kind, Blanshard finds grave dangers in practice. He argues that sincere minds may be mistaken in their ‘intuitions’ which make sharp separation of the two realms impracticable as the does the resemblance of faith to certain moral experiences. Barth, for Blanshard, marks the culmination of the Lutheran line of thought. He regards the incarnation as the central fact of history, holding that revelation is not through nature or speculation nor through conscience, nor through the Bible as rationally interpreted, nor through immediate experience, but directly connected to a divinely conditioned faith. By positing such, Barth turned the tables on rationalism with an ‘adroit strategy’ holding not merely that understanding is limited but that natural knowledge is overridden by revelation. Blanshard concludes, however, that to accept Barth’s theory is disastrous to reason and entails metaphysical irrationalism.
Next, in part Part III: Ethics and Belief, Blanshard argues that Christian morality may be examined independently of dogma through the ethics of Jesus. According to the author, Jesus rejected the ethics of mechanical conformity and made certain inward attitudes all important which were detailed in the Beatitudes. In the end, the gospel of love has been taken as an ultimate ethic, and the principle of benevolence is indeed rationally founded. Nevertheless, Blanshard notes that in the Christian ethics of Jesus some great goods were ignored such as the pursuit of knowledge and the goods of natural humankind. Moreover, its opposition to wealth was scarcely rational, nor did it care much for aesthetic goods. As for justice, in the ethics of Jesus, it is a secondary virtue, to which the Deity himself appears not to conform. Overall, then, Blanshard argues via the life and ethics of Jesus that Christianity was deficient in its respect for reason, since it tied its ethics to a mythical cosmology and thereby distorted human motives, it adopted a mistaken ethics of belief, and misconceived the place of reason in morality.
Having shown that Catholic and Protestant views on the morality of belief are lacking and confused, Blanshard turns to theories of myth and their historical development from animism to dogmatic Christianity. Such theories, the author argues, have been weakened by rational inquiry, and, in turn, skepticism, and he means in Part IV to propose a ‘Rationalist Alternative’. At the outset of his ‘Rationalist Alternative’, Blanshard notes, as alluded to throughout, that Supernaturalist belief is waning, and religious interest is shifting to the moral life. In the development of morality thought has played the central role, adding to its new dimensions of length, breadth and coherence. While a merely rational ethics has been held as debasing to the spiritual life and deprives faith of its primacy, the author argues that the sentiment of rationality, though fallible, is a person’s best guide, and has been the active principle in the evolution of religion, because reason is itself revelation. Moreover Blanshard claims that reason would leave ample occasion for reverence as well as for humility which has sometimes sacrificed truth, because true humility is required by the rational mind. In the end, the author concludes that religion in this sense will endure.