Saint Paul wrote, “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man I put away childish things.” This suggests that adulthood involves giving up childish thinking. In contemporary terms he seems to be telling us that there is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. Children create a wonderful world of magical creatures. I would hope that as adults we could retain a small modicum of that world. However, adult life probably works best if we operate in the world of logic and reason.
The words of the apostle bring us back to the old schism between faith and logic. One theory about human thinking postulates that the brain uses two systems to process information. One system relies on mental shortcuts to quickly arrive at a conclusion. It determines truth by what the emotions tell one to be true. These conclusions are often based upon non-sensory and non-rational factors that often defy logic. Using ones feelings to determine what is true seems to be a universal phenomenon. Many pre-literate people base their reality and behavior upon what feels to be right to them. The strong propensity of humans to be religious reflects our basic nature to follow our gut feelings in supernatural matters. In a broader sense, allegoric and poetic reality fall within this realm and may enrich our lives. Yet, many times our emotions lead to beliefs that are totally impervious to logic. We especially see this tenacity in the realms of religion and politics. Apparently the emotional certainty provided by a strong faith and by strong belief systems is too comforting to easily surrender.
A second system involves the use of logic and deliberate analysis to arrive at a conclusion. It depends upon information verified through empirical measurements and information provided by the six senses. This system can run parallel with the faith based ways of thinking. Recent studies by the social psychologist Will Gervais at the University of British Columbia suggest that less religious people tend to think more analytically. Through a series of cleverly designed experiments he showed that having his subjects engage in analytical problems or thinking resulted in decreasing their scores on belief scales. This does not mean that faith can be undermined by a little mental effort. It does seem to demonstrate that religious beliefs are not set in stone but through the intellectual process can be malleable. We all have heard the expression, “cafeteria Catholics” applied to people who pick and choose which of their church’s doctrines they will follow. The almost universality of American Catholic women using birth control might be an example of practicality and logic triumphing over belief.
Perhaps these comments might alarm people of faith. They need not. The Biblical myths, legends and allegories are a part of our culture and can enrich us as the poetry of our lives. I believe they lose their power if interpreted in a concrete manner as do so many religious fundamentalists. I believe the words of Saint Paul that as adults we should think as adults. Scientific and logical thinking have brought great progress to mankind. Doctrines based upon religious or political beliefs too often have been abusive to those who refuse to accept the premises of orthodoxy. Yet, both the analytical and the intuitive processes have their place of importance. If you have further interest in this topic I plan to express some additional thoughts in my next communication.