Philosopher vs. Priest: God As Shepherd

Today I’m happy to introduce a new weekly feature for the blog: Philosopher vs. Priest. This is an idea that Fr. Jimmy and I have worked on in the past, but we’ve brought it back in a new form here for Philosophy Matters. Each week, I will present Jimmy questions about the readings for that Sunday’s mass, and he will respond to them. There are a few reasons that we settled on such a model:

  • Fr. Jimmy gets a chance to see questions that someone without a strong Catholic background might have about each week’s readings, and this could also possibly help him in preparing his homily for that week.
  • It helps me expand my knowledge and understanding of religion through an open dialogue of question and answer.
  • It gives our readers a safe an unbiased place to take part in religious discussion and hopefully come to a better understanding themselves.

God as Shepherd. Image from http://www.flickr.com/photos/donjohnson395/

Weekly Reading for July 22nd. 

JJ:

There is a lot of emphasis on this idea of people flocking “like sheep without a shepherd.” One of the difficulties I have is that the Lord of the Bible seems personal and involved in the world, but I don’t see that in today’s world. Is it harder to find that shepherd today with the same certainty as it was in the past?

Jimmy: 

It may be harder today to know God as shepherd today, but I don’t think it was easy in the past either. From what we know through sacred scripture even when Jesus walked the earth there were some who recognized him and most did not. Speaking from a perspective of faith, if one is ever going to recognize God’s shepherding love it would seem that it would be most easily recognized during the time in which God become man and walked the face of the earth. Yet, during the time of Jesus walking the face of the earth there were many who failed to recognize him as the true shepherd.

Additionally, the movement of God revealed in the past through the prophets is typically one of a God who moves in cycles. When Israel becomes too dependent upon themselves and forget God, they typically are confronted with a calamity which leads them to turn back to God. When they turn back to God, He, being the good shepherd, typically does not reject them because they once rejected Him but rather he lifts them up. Religious sisters, brothers, and priests pray the words of Mary every evening as they say, “He has lifted the lowly and scattered the proud. The rich he has sent away empty while the hungry he has filled with good things.” In part I think God much still operates this way today. There are many people who find themselves in a dark and lowly place and they finally reach out to God and are shepherded by him.

JJ:

For someone not necessarily within any particular religious tradition, this seems even more difficult to me. There are many religions that offer possibly competing answers. To paraphrase the Christian existentialist philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, all religions seem equally absurd to an outsider. How does one choose or decide where to take that blind leap of faith? Kierkegaard chose Christianity, but why that instead of say, Pastafarianism?

Jimmy:

There are many stances one can take when it comes to the relationship between faith and reason. Ultimately, I think faith moves beyond reason but is never unreasonable. I believe God to be the author of all truth; consequently, reason and revelation can never be contradictory. There are elements of truth found in many religions and how one chooses which religious system to believe is complex. Ultimately though in answer to your question about our responsibility as individuals and how we should choose which religious system to adopt, I think our responsibility is to explore and to seek out truth exploring the roads of belief which seem most likely to lead us to ultimate truth.

Additionally, faith is not something that one can come to purely through the use of reason as one might solve a math problem. Rather it is more along the lines of a relationship and how one might come to love someone. There are elements of reason and the choice to love someone should be reasonable yet the choice to love a particular person is not a purely rational computation. Similarly, the choice of a religion or a faith should be founded upon reason but involves many more nuances.

As a technical point of clarification, faith is a highly theological term which means something much more than belief. I think popular usage tends to equate the two terms but there is a distinction. Ultimately, faith is a gift which one receives and something one cannot come to simply through work while reason can open oneself up to the gift of faith.

JJ:

The distinction between faith and reason, and faith being, at least to some degree, beyond reason, definitely makes sense to me. There are many parallels in philosophic understanding, some of which L and I were just discussing Friday.

I think the comparison to falling in love with someone is intriguing. I know that if someone asked me, “How do I choose with whom to fall in love?” the question would sound, at best, strange, and at worst nonsensical. I wonder if my question about how to choose a religion sounds equally as weird to you.

On a more personal explanation of where I’m at regarding this issue, I have used reason to study a wide number of religions. I have tried to take a blind leap into a couple of them. As of yet, nothing has truly resonated, or maybe to put it another way, has felt like a path to the truth for me.

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