When I see Mike Huckabee speak about his faith, something doesn’t quite sit right. Something feels a little off, and it makes me more than a little uncomfortable. This has nothing to do with him being a Republican or his policy positions; I’m talking simply about how he talks about his faith. And it is not specific to Huckabee either, as I feel the same qualms when I hear any American public figure (of any party, but nearly always Protestant) talk about their faith in public. My problem is this: for them, faith is detached from reason. It is inherently subjective and individualistic, ultimately based on emotion– faith as a “warm fuzzy feeling”, something that makes them feel good about themselves.
That is not what faith is. For a start (and this point is lost on most Protestants), “faith”, in St. Paul’s usage, is shorthand for the “obedience of faith”. And there is nothing subjective or emotional about that. As the conciliar document Dei Verbum puts it, “The obedience of faithis to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals, and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him.” There is nothing wishy-washy, emotional, or cloying about that definition!
Ironically, it is actually even clearer in the infamous Anti-Modernist oath (prescribed in the motu proprio, Sacrorum Antistitum by St. Pope Pius X in 1910):
“I maintain in all certainty and sincerely profess that faith is not a blind feeling or religion welling up from the recesses of the subconscious, by the pressure of the heart and of the inclination of the morally educated will, but a real assent of the intellect to the truth received from outside through the ear, whereby we believe that the things said, testified, and revealed by the personal God, or creator and lord, are true, on account of the authority of God, who is supremely truthful.”
I know we post-conciliar types are supposed to hold items like the Anti-Modernist Oath as relics of a calcified past. And to be sure, the reforms of Vatican II were urgently needed. Still, sometimes the scholastic style and bluntness of writing in those days is a breath of fresh air to our ears, accustomed as they are to all kinds of relativism and postmodernism. For this is the most direct criticism of the American evangelical approach to faith I have seen. And, for obvious reasons, it is extremely pertinent on our day. FOr it can be dangerous.If faith is divorced from reason, then God too can be disconnected from reason. This can lead to voluntarism, whereby God is be conceived as pure will, not pure reason and intellect. As Pope Benedict pointed out last year, the notion that God is not subject to reason “might … lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.” This becomes a license to ignore the laws of science and nature, and– even worse– to support a politics based on power and the “will” of God.
And then there is the oldest heresy of all, Gnosticism. If faith is detached from reason, then it comes from within, as believers draw the object of faith from themselves, no longer aligning themselves with the broader community and with historically revealed truth. Why this approach to faith appeals to Protestants is patently obvious. But the snare of Gnocticism comes through the ego, and individualism can morph quickly into narcissism. Salvation comes from within, and is only available to a select few. This can easily lead to the breakdown in community, the primacy of the individual, the repudiation of the notion of society ordered to the common good, and instill a “them versus us” attitude. Sound familiar?
I’m not saying that people like Huckabee are guilty of these errors. What I am saying is that their form of emotional theology opens the door to such problems.