When Reason Lags Behind

Poetic reflections on faith and reason

“The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of.”


In his Pensées, Blaise Pascal contemplates a question that for centuries has perplexed both philosophers and theologians alike: the role and power of reason in divine contemplation. Though Pascal—as evident from the quote above—believed that faith lay far outside the mind’s inherent faculties, other philosophers—such as Descartes—have attempted to argue the contrary. God’s existence, says Descartes, is of two principles (the other being the existence of the self) that are clear, distinct, and indubitable within the human mind. With a viewpoint on reason much more confident than that of Pascal, Descartes goes so far as to “prove” God’s existence through reason alone. Although the sufficiency of his demonstration is a topic to be debated elsewhere, what was shocking to me was not certain belief in God—but his faith in the human mind. Throughout this semester, I have had the opportunity to read and contemplate sections of both philosophers’ works (Pascal’s Pensées and Descartes’ Meditations) and such works have prompted my own consideration of this perplexing topic. Considering the role, or lack thereof, of reason in both faith and divine contemplation, I find myself leaning towards the side of Pascal. Though deeply captivated, intrigued, and simply impressed by Descartes’s proof of God, I often find that faith must transcend reason when one chooses to believe—to “take the leap” as some say. With such thoughts in mind, I composed two sonnets on the topic, which can be read below.

As conveyed within my poems, I believe that, in matters of faith, reason can only take us so far, and it is this that makes faith such a daunting, challenging, and personal journey. While a logical demonstration such as Descartes’ may make one feel more at ease in regards to questions of belief, they in no way can spark the genuine trust required in religious matters. No logic can spark the heart’s desire for a relationship with God, for no relationship is formed upon the foundation of pure reason; rather, they require a certain sentiment—an authentic emotional attachment so to speak. Thus, while I believe a rational and genuine reflection on religious texts and teachings is vital for establishing an educated and well-developed faith life, faith is a journey that requires much more than the consent of the mind: while the path is laid by the mind, the journey is taken by the heart.

An Instant Apprehension

An instant apprehension takes my soul,

down roads along whose path I lack control.

It spirals to the forefront of my mind,

where use of reason often lags behind.

No words can yet express this thought—this truth,

no explanation there with which to soothe.

an agitated mind in sudden view—

ideas always felt but never knew.

Transcendent thoughts above the realm of time,

a plunge into the midst of the sublime.

Where judgment yields to feeling—an emotion,

whose understanding calls for true devotion—

To ideas sparked—a flash of the divine,

when faith pervades the darkness of the mind.

The Impenetrable Darkness

The impenetrable darkness sheds a light,

in silence, serves as guide of human life.

It overwhelms the senses—causing us,

to contemplate the faculties we trust.

Pervading into minds, it dims the light—

of reason, which before we used for sight,

to glimpse the inner workings of the soul,

the illusion of a power not controlled—

by us. We stumble through the dark—

we lose our way, in ignorance embark,

on journeys to the principles of all,

in pride we leap for truth, and yet, we fall.

Instead of leap, put foolish hopes aside,

have trust in faith—let darkness serve as guide.

Ed Kuhns is a junior in the Program of Liberal Studies and living in Dillon Hall. He walks around the lakes at night reciting poetry to himself. To discuss this with him, contact him at Edward.W.Kuhns.6@nd.edu.

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