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Why do we act and speak as if faith is the same as empirical knowing?


Question & Answer

Q: By Ron

If our knowledge of God can only be accessed through faith, and if the divinity of Jesus can only be affirmed through faith, why do we act and speak as if faith is the same as empirical knowing?

Wouldn’t we be further ahead in our spiritual journey and in our interaction with the world if we would present ourselves honestly by saying something like ‘I don’t ‘know’ God exists or that Jesus was divine in a greater sense than any of us? But I choose to live my life as if those things are true. That, to me, is faith and authenticity. It also protects me from the hubris of thinking that my tribe has the truth over all other truth claims. I’m interested in your perspective on this issue of faith vs knowledge.


A: By Rev. Matthew Syrdal

Dear Ron,

I appreciate your question and observation, especially your ‘choice to live your life as if…’ which seems to be a wonderfully clear and authentic articulation of faith to me. Perhaps faith truly is less a question to be answered, and more a mystery to be lived. Unfortunately, part of the confusion you point out stems from the fact that the modern-scientific age of empiricism has co-opted the word ‘knowledge’, and our understanding of what ‘knowledge’ actually is. Knowledge in the ‘objective’ sense is very important for scientific measurement and forming the mathematical hypotheses that have brought miraculous advances across a diversity of fields in our age of globalizing and quantum technologies. The question is at what cost? Perhaps the cost of these advances has been the loss of the ‘deep subjective’ which is both experiential knowledge (gnosis in the Greek), and relational knowledge (intimate, as the Hebrew word yada insinuates; see Gen 3). The deep subjective is that ‘I-Thou’ relationship spoken of by Martin Buber, not to mention indigenous animistic peoples, religious mystics, and even many deep ecologists.

According to folks like Carl Jung and Stephen Galegos and others, there are four functions, or ‘windows’ by which we can know the world. Only one of those windows is the privileged thinking function. The others are sensing, feeling, and intuition, or imagination. Each ‘window’ let’s part of the light into the house, so to speak, but not all of it. They are designed to work together. It could be argued that Albert Einstein, for example, had a more powerful imagination perhaps than even his capacity for critical thinking. My opinion, partially drawn from the study of indigenous peoples, the ancient prophets, mystics and shamans of various cultures, is that real faith goes far beyond ‘thinking’ — the subject-object dualism of the strategic mind must be in a sense overcome for advances in faith and consciousness. To be whole we must incorporate all four ‘windows’ in the fullness of our capacities (I-the Self) in relationship to the dynamic world, other, God (Thou). It makes me think of the way jazz musicians improvise together when they make music in such a deeply intuitive way that they enter a flow state. They might even say that the music is playing them. In this way, it is the deep subjective, not critical thinking, that is the primary referent of faith.

~ Rev. Matthew Syrdal

This Q&A was originally published on Progressing Spirit – As a member of this online community, you’ll receive insightful weekly essays, access to all of the essay archives (including all of Bishop John Shelby Spong), and answers to your questions in our free weekly Q&A. Click here to see free sample essays.

About the Author
Reverend Matthew Syrdal M.Div., lives in the front range of Colorado with his beautiful family. Matt is an ordained pastor in the Presbyterian church (USA), founder and lead guide of WilderSoul and Church of Lost Walls and co-founder of Seminary of the Wild. Matt speaks at conferences and guides immersive nature-based experiences around the country. In his years of studying ancient Christian Rites of Initiation, world religions, anthropology, rites-of-passage and eco- psychology Matt seeks to re-wild what it means to be human. His work weaves in myth and ceremony in nature as a way for people to enter into conversation with the storied world in which they are a part. Matt’s passion is guiding others in the discovery of “treasure hidden in the field” of their deepest lives cultivating deep wholeness and re-enchantment of the natural world to apprentice fully and dangerously to the kingdom of god. Matt has been coaching, and guiding since becoming a certified Wild Mind nature-based human development guide through the Animas Valley Institute and is currently training to become a soul initiation guide through the SAIP program.

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