Reason, by Ethan Allen

Chapter viii.

Section i. Of the Nature of Faith and Wherein it Consists

Faith in Jesus Christ and in his Gospel throughout the New Testament, is represented to be an essential condition of the eternal salvation of mankind. “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.” Again, “If thou shalt confess the Lord Jesus Christ, and believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou mayst be saved.” And again, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Faith is the last result of the understanding, or the same which we call the conclusion, it is the consequence of a greater or less deduction of reasoning from certain premises previously laid down; it is the same as believing or Judging of any matter of fact, or assenting to or dissenting from the truth of any doctrine, system or position; so that to form a judgment, or to come to a determination in one’s own mind, or to believe, or to have faith, is in reality the same thing, and is synonymously applied both in writing and speaking, for example, “Abraham believed in God.” Again, “for he,” speaking of Abraham, “judged him faithful who had promised,” and again “his faith was counted unto him for righteousness.” It is not only in scripture that we meet with examples of the three words, to wit, belief, judgment, and faith, to stand for the marks of our ideas for the same thing, but also all intelligible writers and speakers apply these phrases synonymously, and it would be good grammar and sense, for us to say that we have faith in a universal providence, or that we judge that there is a universal providence. These three different phrases, in communicating our ideas of providence, do every one of them exhibit the same idea, to all persons of common understanding, who are acquainted with the English language. In fine, every one’s experience may convince them that they cannot assent to, or dissent from the truth of any matter of fact, doctrine or proposition whatever, contrary to their judgment; for the act of the mind in assenting to or dissenting from any position, or in having faith or belief in favor of, or against any doctrine, system, or proposition, could not amount to anything more or less, than the act of the judgment, or last dictate of the understanding, whether the understanding be supposed to be rightly informed or not: so that our faith in all cases is as liable to err, as our reason is to misjudge of the truth; and our minds act faith in disbelieving any doctrine or system of religion to be true, as much as in believing it to be so. From hence it appears, that the mind cannot act faith in opposition to its judgment, but that it is the resolution of the understanding itself committed to memory or writing, and can never be considered distinct from it. And inasmuch as faith necessarily results from reasoning, forcing itself upon our minds by the evidence of truth, or the mistaken apprehension of it, without any act of choice of ours, there cannot be any thing, which pertains to, or partakes of the nature of moral good or evil in it. For us to believe such doctrines, or systems of religion, as appears to be credibly recommended to our reason, can no more partake of the nature of goodness or morality, than our natural eyes may be supposed to partake of it in their perception of colors; for the faith of the mind, and the sight of the eye are both of them necessary consequences, the one results from the reasonings of the mind, and the other from the perception of the eye. To suppose a rational mind without the exercise of faith would be as absurd as to suppose a proper and complete eye without sight, or the perception of the common objects of that sense. The short of the matter is this, that without reason we could not have faith, and without the eye or eyes we could not see, but once admitting that we are rational, faith follows of course, naturally resulting from the dictates of reason.

Section ii. Of the Traditions of Our Forefathers

It may be objected, that the far greater part of mankind believe according to the tradition of their forefathers, without examining into the grounds of it, and that argumentative deductions from the reason and nature of things, have, with the bulk of them, but little or no influence on their faith. Admitting this to have been too much the case, and that many of them have been blameable for the omission of cultivating or improving their reason, and for not forming a better judgment concerning their respective traditions, or a juster and more exalted faith; yet this does not at all invalidate the foregoing arguments respecting the nature of faith: for though it be admitted that most of the human race do not, or will not reason, with any considerable degree of propriety, on the traditions of their forefathers, but receive them implicitly, they nevertheless establish this one proposition in their minds, right or wrong, that their respective traditions are right, for none could believe in them were they possessed of the knowledge that they were wrong. And as we have a natural bias in favor of our progenitors, to whose memory a tribute of regard is justly due, and whose care in handing down from father to son such notions of religion and manners, as they supposed would be for the well being and happiness of their posterity in this and the coming world, naturally endears tradition to us, and prompts us to receive and venerate it. Add to this, that the priests of every denomination are “instant in season and out of season,” in inculcating and instilling the same tenets, which, with the foregoing considerations, induces mankind in general to give at least a tacit consent to their respective traditions, and without a thorough investigation thereof, believe them to be right and very commonly infallible, although their examinations are not attended with argumentative reasonings, from the nature of things; and in the same proportion as they may be supposed to fall short of conclusive arguing on their respective traditions they cannot fail to be deceived in the rationality of their faith.

But after all it may be that some of the human race may have been traditionally or accidentally right, in many or most respects. Admitting it to be so, yet they cannot have any rational enjoyment of it, or understand wherein the truth of the premised right tradition consists, or deduce any more satisfaction from it, than others whose traditions may be supposed to be wrong; for it is the knowledge of the discovery of truth alone, which is gratifying to that mind who contemplates its superlative beauty.

That tradition has had a powerful influence on the human mind is universally admitted, even by those who are governed by it in the articles or discipline of their faith; for though they are blind with respect to their own superstition, yet they can perceive and despise it in others. Protestants very readily discern and expose the weak side of Popery, and Papists are as ready and acute in discovering the errors of heretics. With equal facility do Christians and Mahometans spy out each others inconsistencies and both have an admirable sagacity to descry the superstition of the heathen nations. Nor are the Jews; wholly silent in this matter; “O God the heathen are come into thine inheritance, thy holy temple have they defiled.” What abomination must this have been in the opinion of a nation who had monopolized all religion to themselves! Monstrous vile heathen, that they should presume to approach the sanctum sanctorum! The Christians call the Mahometans by the odious name of infidels, but the Musslemen, in their opinion, cannot call the Christians by a worse name than that which they have given themselves, they therefore call them Christians.

What has been already observed upon tradition, is sufficient to admonish us of its errors and superstitions, and the prejudices to which a bigoted attachment thereto exposes us, which is abundantly sufficient to excite us to a careful examination of our respective traditions, and not to rest satisfied until we have regulated our faith by reason.

Section iii. Our Faith is Governed by Our Reasonings Whether They are Supposed to Be Conclusive or Inconclusive, and Not Merely by Our Own Choice

It is written that “Faith is the gift of God.” Be it so, but is faith any more the gift of God than reflection, memory or reason are his gifts? Was it not for memory, we could not retain in our minds the judgment which we have passed upon things; and was it not for reasoning, in either a regular or irregular manner, or partly both, there could be no such thing as judging or believing; so that God could not bestow the gift of faith separate from the gift of reason, faith being the mere consequence of reasoning, either right or wrong, or in a greater or less degree, as has been previously argued.

Still there is a knotty text of scripture to surmount, viz: “He that believeth shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be damned.” This text is considered as crowding hard upon unbelievers in Christianity; but when it is critically examined, it will be found not to militate at all against them, but is merely a Jesuitical fetch to overawe some and make others wonder. We will premise, that an unbeliever is destitute of faith, which is the cause of his being thus denominated. The Christian believes the gospel to be true and of divine authority, the Deist believes that it is not true and not of divine authority; so that the Christian and Deist are both of them believers, and according to the express words of the text, “shall be saved,” and a Deist may as well retort upon a Christian and call him an infidel, because he differs in faith from him, as a Christian may upon the Deist; for there is the same impropriety in applying the cant of infidelity to either, as both are believers; and it is impossible for us to believe contrary to our judgments or the dictates of understanding, whether it be rightly informed or not. Why then may there not in both denominations be honest men, who are seeking after the truth, and who may have an equal right to expect the favor and salvation of God.

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Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 12:59