Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Epistemology and Faith

Epistemology fascinates and frustrates me. How can I say that I know about knowing when I must know before I can make that claim about knowing? Today in Christian Ethics we discussed how we know God.

Augustine believes that humans are primarily loving beings. He says that we can never be certain that we know God intellectually, rather we know God in our hearts. At first I heard this and I was immediately skeptical. Heart? Feelings? Emotions? How fickle. How can that be the basis for knowing God?

I have always thought that knowing God is a combination of heart and intellect. Someone who only knows God intellectually doesn't actually know God. There has to be both emotions and rational involved in loving. But which is primary, heart or head? The two are distinct but not divided.

I know God, and love him, even though not everything about him makes sense to me intellectually. Augustine says that if we think that we can comprehend God, then we have the wrong God. We can never be certain about everything, but we still know God and we know that we know God. It's in our gut.

Augustine does not mean that we are not thinking beings, or that intellectual knowing of God is not important, rather means that we are first loving beings. We know things with our hearts before our minds. For example, in a romantic relationship two people love and know each other even though they cannot explain or understand everything about the person they love and know. That heart knowing gives them a connection that is deeper than just knowing facts about that person. The knowing is more like a gut knowing. (I think Augustine would hardly separate loving from knowing.) There are many similarities between loving/knowing a significant other and loving/knowing God.

I have doubts about God and about the Bible and reality, but I still have faith. I can't articulate what faith is because it's not entirely a feeling. It is something deeper than a feeling, because it trumps my feelings of doubts. Sometimes I don't have faith but I do. I don't believe in God but I do. It seems like Christianity is more gut. Knowing is a gut sort of thing. It's not just all intellectual because a lot of things about reality don't make sense to me, but I still know it. Prof Bennett said, "If Christianity is all about thinking, then why aren't the Pharisees the best Christians?"

I can't define what heart knowledge means though. Do I need to define it? I know is that it can't be just a feeling. Is it partially experiential?

My experience with faith and doubts seems to defend Augustine's point of view. I have doubts and I have faith, but the faith goes beyond my doubts. Faith and knowing are totally connected. (Can they even be separated?) Knowing seems more existential. Can we know even when we don't know if we know? Can we know even when we have doubts? Maybe this is what it means that knowing is a heart thing first, before it is intellectual.

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