Tricks of the Trade – 5

There are two tricks of the trade that counter each other. Rationalism and fideism. The first exalts human reason over faith and the second exalts faith over human reason. Both are heresies because a heresy is not the teaching of falsehood, but the emphasis of a truth to the exclusion of other truths.

The rationalist is in the same crazy bin as the follower of scientism. Scientism teaches that there is no other knowledge than that which can be discovered by the scientific method. This is an extension of empiricism which teaches that only that which can be experienced by the physical senses is reliable and sure knowledge. Rationalism is the big sister of these other two. Rationalism teaches that human reason is the sole source of knowledge. If it is unreasonable to the human mind, then it cannot be true. Only that knowledge which can be reached by logical reasoning or intuitive reasoning which is consistently logical is to be allowed.

The popular and debased version of rationalism is the view that something is only true or valid if I can understand it, and the even more debased version is that something is only true or valid if I like it. While there are few people who are pure rationalists, there are huge multitudes who follow the debased and popular versions. These people are the natural cynics, pessimists and deriders. They are the ‘Man from Missouri’ who says, ‘Show Me.’ They are the ones who won’t be fooled by nobody no way nohow. They are C.S.Lewis’ dwarves who won’t be taken in by anyone, and because they will not be taken in they must remain out in the cold.

The fideist, on the other hand, is the apparently religious person who distrusts human reason and opts for faith alone. They see human reason and human learning as inherently untrustworthy enterprises and put their stock completely in miracles, signs and wonders, or in an anti-rationalistic creed (like hyper Calvinism) which they hold to despite all contradictions of common sense, human compassion or human reasoning. When it is pointed out that their position is silly they become self righteous and quote verses about ‘the foolishness of God being wiser than the wisdom of men.’

The fideist distrusts human reason to the extent that he becomes a religious fool, and usually a self righteous and sanctimonious religious fool. A good example of the fidesit is the ‘faith alone’ Protestant, who exalts personal faith over church teachings and the divine institution of the church. Much of Protestantism is inherently fideist. The sola Scriptura (Bible alone) Protestant fundamentalist is also often fideist–holding to patently ridiculous literal understandings of the Scripture which go against all common sense, human reason and even straightforward readings of the Scriptures themselves. Should the Protestant fundamentalist have the ludicrousness of his views pointed out he will retreat to a ‘faith knows better than reason’ position.
While it is easy to blame Protestants for fideism, we have to admit that there are plenty of Catholics who also fall for the fideism heresy. Those Catholics who fall into superstitious practices which go against human reason, those Catholics who hold to extreme traditionalist views and practices that go against common sense, those Catholics who are obsessed with miracles, prophecies from Fatima and such like may fall into fideism…putting more stock in ‘faith experiences’ than human reason.

The fideist is not only found within Christianity. The popular and widespread versions of fideism are superstition, New Age beliefs, self help dogmas and the teachings of self hypnosis gurus and the list goes on…There are all sorts and ways to fall into fideism as well as all sorts and ways of falling into rationalism. Any religious belief or practice which is obviously stupid, irrational or contradictory to human reason tends to fideism.

The Catholic Church teaches that Faith and Reason are beautiful sisters. Nothing in the faith goes against human reason although much in the faith challenges human reason to be expanded and opened up into new perspectives and fresh understandings. The relationship between faith and reason are mutually corrective, mutually challenging, mutually balanced and mutually at the service of each other. Faith encourages and expands reason by insisting that there is ‘more in heaven and earth…than your philosophy has dreamt of’ while Reason balances and corrects superstition, fanaticism, insanity and the sometimes chaotic and bizarre in the practice of faith.

To follow rationalism without faith is to take an easy and lazy option, and to fall into fideism without reason is to do the same. Catholics are called to live by faith, not by sight and this means that we constantly. ‘Believe that we may understand.”

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  • Irenaeus of New York

    Beautiful post. The pope has talked about this balance many times. If only Islam would value such a balance in their faith, we might have much more harmony in the world.

  • shadowlands

    I got collared by a hyper Calvinist Minister today,street preaching.Their belief system doesn't seem to allow for free will.Mind you,he did say I would make a great Calvinist!!! I guess I'm more rational than I give myself credit for? If I have to be categorised,I prefer the other word though,fideism.It sounds more Catholic,and I am a sucker for miracles and 'scare the hell outya' sermons.What is the fourth secret of Fatima for goodness sakes???(joke,well partial joke).I suppose we are all a mixture, depending on how we were initially instructed in our faith.It's a great balancing act,I try to live out in this dimly lit world,seeking the illuminated Catholic minds wherever I am able.Wouldn't it be great if God the Father turned out to not be scary on Judgment day? That's my underlying,returning fear,I guess that stops me being perfected in love.To have seen Jesus,is to have seen the Father.Do I believe that? Sorry,I'm wandering off topic again.Hey,Father,got your book today,on arriving back from my holiday.Thank you,it looks beautiful.

  • Mary333

    I have heard of rationalism, but not fideism. I had to google it and find out a little more about this. I was surprised to find so much. Well, I am not going to lie to a priest…I lean this way. Like shadowlands, I too believe in miracles and such. Yes…Fatima too. The Lord knows exactly what I'm thinking, so there is no use pretending otherwise. To be honest, I think my life is a miracle of grace upon grace. Having said that, I also think that much can be learned through human reason, that's what we have brains for.

  • Subvet

    Wonderful post Father. If I understand it correctly, we're to balance our reasoning against our faith. When done properly they'll leave us equidistant between both. If this is erroneous please correct me. Thanks.

  • Remy Rosenhoover


  • JD Curtis

    Great post Father D. Other apologists mention the idea of secular humanists making an idol out of reason and leave it at that. Thank you for your inclusion of fideism and I will explore the idea further.God bless.

  • Jenifer

    The Lord knows exactly what I'm thinking, so there is no use pretending otherwise.–JeniferYou cannot go wrong on the best security systems

  • Éstiel

    I guess fideism and rationalism both are products of extreme deductive reasoning, wherein the validity of any conclusion is verified by its relation to an a priori premise accepted as immutable. Both are actually the same intellectual process.Faith, credence, belief involves more than the intellect, however.I once heard a homily from a priest about believing in God; his conclusion was that "You will believe in God if you want to bad enough." I think that's true. As those who've inhabited foxholes know, the intellect has very little to do with it. And those who've experienced any serious self-questioning with an adherence to truth as an absolute (as opposed to those in foxhole-terror) also know: There is God because I want there to be God. If there is no God, I want not to live. I desire Your being more than I desire my own. If You were not, and I remained, my remaining would have no desirability. Of all the things or persons to whom I could say "I love you," I know that love to be limited, no matter how deep or how intense it may be–even when I love to the point of self-sacrifice, I know it is limited. Only when I say, "I love You," do I know that love to be without limit, distinct from all other objects of love, past, present, or future, and greater than I, the lover. Even though it seems less intense, less omnipresent in my life. Perhaps it rarely even comes to consciousness, seldom seen or recognized. But when it is, we know it as cognition itself, not as recognition.We have no choice (to believe or not to believe) outside our will, only within it. And ultimately, belief is an act of the will.Both faith and reason are only the supports of belief; neither is the source of it.