TEXAS FAITH 64: The Intellect and Religious Faith

Dallas Morning News,

Dallas Morning News,

Each week we will post a question to a panel of about two dozen clergy, laity and theologians, all of whom are based in Texas or are from Texas. They will chime in with their responses to the question of the week. And you, readers, will be able to respond to their answers through the comment box.

What is the role of the intellect in discovering and maintaining a religious faith?

That is the question for this week, and it is spurred on in part from two thoughtful columns drawing attention to a lessening of an intellectual emphasis in two major wings of American Christianity: liberal Protestantism and evangelical Protestantism.

The first column is a Wall Street Journal review of author Marilynne Robinson’s new book When I was a Child I Read Books . In it, the review says, Robinson argues that mainline Protestantism got sidelined "by retreating from the cultivation and celebration of learning and of beauty…as if people were less than God made them and in need of nothing so much as of condescension. "

The second column is by the Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne, Jr. He chides (gently) Christians in general and evangelicals in particular for diminishing the role of the mind in exploring faith. Writes Dionne:

"Popular Christianity often seems to denigrate rather than celebrate intellectual life and critical inquiry. This not only ignores Christian giants of philosophy and science but also plays into some of the very worst stereotypes inflicted upon religious believers."

Later on, he says:

"Some Christians encourage a view of their faith as profoundly anti-intellectual. Faith is seen as more about experience than reason, more about loyalty than dialogue. The desire to assert The Truth takes priority over exploring productively and honestly what the truth might be."

At the end, after quoting with admiration evangelical scholar Mark Noll, Dionne concludes:

" If Easter is about liberation, this liberation must include intellectual freedom."

Perhaps you agree with these assessments, or perhaps you don’t. Either way I would like to hear your thoughts about the role the mind plays in opening one up to a religious faith and then sustaining it over time.

NITYANANDA CHANDRA DAS, minister of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), Dallas 

Krishna Consciousness is a science, and intelligence is one of the tools of the experimental lab work. But because intelligence is material it cannot create spiritual information, it can only be employed in examining it.

For example I am sitting here in East Dallas and if I want valid information on Japan, the information has to come from Japan. If the agency of information (TV, web, university), had no known connection to some type of study or visit to Japan, then I would doubt its veracity. So similarly information about spiritual subjects must come from a non-material source.

In the beginning intelligence may be able to realize some basic spiritual truths without assistance of an outside informant. But in the higher levels of spiritual learning, intelligence is the examiner rather than the discoverer.

For example, the intelligence can discover or realize that the soul, the self, is different from the body. But what exactly is soul’s nature is or what is its eternal form or position must be understood by a source that is not of this world.

Aroha-pantha, the inductive process of receiving information will not yield information that is otherworldly, rather it only takes place through avaroha-pantha, or the deductive process. Meaning basically that knowledge of God must come from God down to us rather than our senses and tools stretching up to God.

This body is compared to a chariot. Our senses are the horses, guiding and attracting us and thus moving us. The mind is the reins that control the senses, saying, "I like this, I don’t like this,"

However the mind, the reins, are ultimately controlled by a superior, the intelligence which acts as a driver. Just as the senses may be attracted to a cigarette, the mind as well, but the intelligence can intervene and dictate that it is not good for us. But the driver of this chariot works under the desires of the passenger, the soul. So the soul may choose to go towards God, and employ his driver, the intelligence to the task at hand or the soul may choose simply to serve the senses and mind and wander about in a chariot with a weak or ill intended driver.

To see all responses of the TEXAS Faith panel click here.

I also added in the comment section.

Nityananda Chandra Das

I also wanted to add that if God is the most intelligent being, He should then have the most intelligent philosophy. That is primarily how one can initially see God, is to see the intelligence of His philosophy. For example when I first began to read, and also to this day, books such as the Bhagavad Gita As It Is I remain continually amazed at its intelligence