The Lens of Critical Thinking: The Revolt against Reason

We often tend to think of our culture, whether popular or intellectual, as being “rationalistic.” The truth of the matter is that our modern culture as a whole is not so much rationalistic as it is “critical” in the way we think. In fact, we might even see our culture in revolt against reason. One of the most fundamental tasks of the18th Century Enlightenment was to narrow the use of reason to the realm of scientific inquiry. In other words, we can make statements that are universally true with our reason only in the scientific and mathematical spheres. We cannot as “moderns” or “post-moderns” say anything is universally true in the realm of theology, or even philosophy for that matter. On the other hand, we have become “critical” of applying our minds to invisible realities or the realm of the supernatural. What I mean by “critical” is to have a knee-jerk reaction to doubt things that cannot be verified by our senses or our own personal experience.

We may think that we are not affected by such an attitude as Christians, but we are. Let us consider some of them. Jesus said that we are to love Him with everything we have, including our minds. Since we view the world through our modern lens, we tend not to apply our minds and reason in our relationship with God. We no longer believe in “doing theology” where we study the great theological minds of past. We simply do not believe they have anything of worth to say to us in our present situation. We no longer study ancient culture, History, or languages to become a student of humanity, and we are no longer rooted in the past. We, along with our culture, have become anti-intellectual with regard to our faith. What has become real to us is our own emotions and subjective experience of God.

This anti-intellectual attitude is so interwoven in our faith that we actually think that we are being spiritual by our critical attitude towards reason and the use of our minds in constructing a world view that truly integrates all facets of our lives, both physical and spiritual, into a meaningful whole. We do not believe this is possible because our culture has told us so. We are part of the revolt against reason that the godless philosophers of the 18th Century Enlightenment started, but we cannot see it because it is through the lens they have manufactured we see the world.

S. Kierkegaard tells us that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but rebellion. He saw that at the heart of the Enlightenment was critical thinking in the way explained above. To doubt in our culture has become equivalent to intellectual honesty. For instance, it is not reasonable that Jesus is God-man incarnate. Any thinking person would doubt such a thing, and no one who is intellectually honest can hold to it. We Christians, of course, embrace this doctrine by faith. However, we do not employ our minds to this mystery and study all the implications of the incarnation for our lives because we doubt that this will do us any good. We have become complicit with the Enlightenment’s rebellion against reason and the intellect, justifying it by our “religion of the heart,” and setting it in contrast to “head knowledge.”

Does any of this make sense?

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