Reason--Shrine or Pathway

The false worship of reason.

RAYMOND S. MOORE, Graduate Program Officer for the United States Office of Education

THERE is among us these days, as in the world around us, a stirring of the crowd toward the shrine of reason. And at this shrine many of us worship our own small weary minds. But why not? This is certainly ed­ucation's day and specu­lation's hour. Shouldn't we keep abreast of the times, and be in the forefront of philo­sophical and scientific advance?

Strange questions, strange talk. This is a strange if dynamic day and hour. The sci­entist says, "We will create life." The com­parative religionist intones that God is dead. The sociologist calls for the reeduca­tion of every working adult in our nation within the next decade or so, using auto­mation as his whipping post. And on occa­sion the Seventh-day Adventist, scholar or layman, places his confidence in his senses —seeing, hearing, smelling, touching—ahead of the certainty of his faith in the simple assurances and instructions of the Word of God.

Deliberately or Inadvertently

Either deliberately or inadvertently each of these seeks or permits a revolution cen­tering on humanistic philosophy whether in science, theology, our socio-economic structure, or in the church. Each worships the human mind at the shrine of reason. "The mind must rule," their actions say, so give God the elbow.

At first sight such pilgrimages of the in­tellect to this shrine seem not without their virtues and desirable rewards. For some there is genuine excitement in flights of logic or speculation. After all, they say, God gave us our minds to use. Much of religion, tradition, and some of the most deep-rooted scientific theories have been seeded through these mental adventures. And to be fair, we must say that truth has some­times been harvested. Indeed it is this ten­uous hope that leads many on, although the crop is never sure, and seldom is it reaped without a mingling of deadliest tares.

The path of reason is something else, for the submitted mind is enlightened by God. It is a route we all must eventually walk if we cherish the prospect of eternity. For reason as a path leads to truth. And truth leads only to God. This is why He invited "Come now, and let us reason together." Whenever we forget that "together" we for­get God. Reason becomes a shrine for our own minds. Reason's road is both the most rewarding and precipitous that we can ever climb. Tragedies along this colorful and adventuresome trail occur frequently. But the cause is always the same: the traveler becomes more intent on the attractions of the wayside than on the place where the path leads. Screened with the verdure of sophistication (worldly wisdom) and studded with altars of rationalism (mental excuses for our self-indulgences) these at­tractions beckon an easy self-confidence. The traveler thus ignores the countless sub­tle hazards of the self-trusting mind.

More End Than Means

When our reason is no longer centered in God and His Word and becomes more a shrine than a path, when it becomes re­vered as an end more than respected as a means, we become more agnostic than godly. On this shrine's altar we blandly, unwittingly, offer the most awesome sacri­fice a man can make—we give up access to the mind of the Eternal for the exaltation of our own. And in so doing we place in jeopardy our eternal life. The infinite trag­edy is that we offer our minds to one who set out to kill us and to crucify the only One who could save us.

Dr. Vannevar Bush, honorary chairman of the Massachusetts Institute of Technol­ogy, and dean of America's scientists, is one who has learned something of the limits of the human mind, and of the infinite capac­ity of the Creator's. Scientists, he says, may yet create life. "Some very simple short-chain nucleic acid, synthesized from inert matter and placed in a chemical soup, will suddenly assemble accurate images of it­self and the job will be done." But "it is one thing to supplement muscles and senses. It is a far more profound thing to supplement intellectual power" (Fortune, May, 1965, pp. 118, 119).

Yet many approach reason as an end in itself. When the mind is thus worshiped we will indeed see a certain success. But it will be in proportion to our own selfish minds instead of reflecting an acquaintance with the mind of God.

And so with the Altizers who declare that God is dead. I recently visited with univer­sity officials on the Methodist campus where this Anglican comparative-religion­ist has his base. I soon determined truly that his god probably is dead. For his decla­ration that God is dead simply tells the limit of the god he knows. Reason has be­come his shrine at which he worships his mind.

Shoulder Shruggers

Such mind worship is no respecter of persons. Who has not indulged? Yet if our thinking were exposed, would we be­lieve it? Let us test ourselves remembering that the crucial question is, Does my mind measure with, or against, the mind—the instructions, the record, the law, the char­acter—of God?

The first and perhaps most common pos­ture is simply the shrugging of our shoulders at God and His Word. We may put Him off in such common habits as our eat­ing, giving, association, recreation or the way we honor the Sabbath. We may ra­tionalize (notice that we say "rationalize," not "reason," for reason without God tends to become rationalization) that after all we are not really evil, and that God does have other more serious business. Most of this rationalization may even be subcon­scious. Yet it will nevertheless influence not only our diet, stewardship, association, rec­reation, and Sabbath observance but also every other aspect of our lives, even the way we approach God Himself, as in prayer.

However innocuous these shrugging thoughts may seem, they are immoral, for they are a disregard of God's moral law. His law is the transcript of His character, of God Himself. Thus we disregard God. We make the mistake, in the words of the psalmist (Ps. 50:21) of treating Him as "such an one as thyself." Placing our human minds ahead of His infinite wisdom is hu­manistic, anything but godly. Ignoring God is ignorance indeed.

Double-acting Thoughtlessness

A second posture for the ascendancy of the human mind blames God, questions His motives, or denies His love when clouds appear on our personal horizons. "How could a loving God permit that?" is a common question. We give Him the back of our hands in a strange thoughtlessness that is double-acting, for (1) we are slow to discern that unnecessary injury or death is only in the enemy's hand; and (2) we are even slower to find mercy in the hand of God. We confuse the first, who would hurt to kill, and the second who in love—like the master surgeon—must often hurt to heal. Thus in unnecessary and thoughtless con­fusion and obsession we exalt our own thoughts, worshiping our own selfish minds.

Fixation of Ideas

In a third pose we exalt tradition—whether in ritual, dogma, method, or prin­ciple—without measuring it against the truth. This is the very act we so often criti­cize in other churches or individuals but we do it also, even eagerly. The tradition or fixed idea may be old or new, made by others or by us. It may concern almost any­thing or anyone—our families, or neigh­bors, our cars, our clothes, our church organization or order of service. We may insist on a certain method of conducting Sab­bath school classes or we may exclude the Christian cross from our church buildings. Our ideas become fixed. Then they be­come our standards, our bases for evaluat­ing others and our God.

Thus tradition becomes organized, and sometimes even sanctified, in the minds of men. In our lives we frequently exalt it over truth. This was the way of the Phari­sees. While we know this to be true of other individuals and churches, the sad fact is that we may not seek to find how much re­sides in us personally and denominationally. And so we place an effective block in the pathway of possible revisions or better methods, deeper influences and over-all bet­terment of the church program. Whether it concerns our ethics, politics, or whether or not we kneel in prayer, tradition is an effec­tive translator of personal convenience, ambition, or other rationalization into a substitute for truth.

Speculation's Seductive Power

The fourth characteristic is the princi­pal concern of this article. Increasingly com­mon among those who are university edu­cated is the temptation to reach out in speculation in an attempt to explain yet unrevealed secrets of this world and its universe. We see or hear of phenomena that are not readily explainable to our lim­ited human minds, and which our all-wise Father has apparently not yet chosen to re­veal to us. And before we realize it, we have crowded God and His Word into doubt's corner. Sometimes we have even wedged it behind the seductive personality of tradi­tion.

Whether it concerns Creation Week, the Flood story, or the authenticity of God's Word itself, we do well to remember the inspired caution that the people of God not yield to the evidence of their senses but cling to the Bible, and the Bible only. Otherwise we place ourselves in no stronger position than those who tout spir­itualism, purgatory, infant baptism, or Sun­day sacredness, and in fact we open our­selves to their appeals. If we break with the Scriptures in one thing we are Scripturally defenseless in all things.

When we thus place our limited minds against the unspeakable wisdom of our Cre­ator, we forsake reason as a means, a path­way to truth, and turn it into the specious end of rationalization, a shrine at which we idolatrously worship the creature in­stead of the Creator.

(To be continued)

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RAYMOND S. MOORE, Graduate Program Officer for the United States Office of Education

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