A Catholic academic attempts to reconcile the concepts of reason and religion.
Nieman, who was for many years the dean of the School of Applied Theology’s graduate program in Berkeley, California, explores the leap of faith from reason to religion in this “brief study of religion and its place in human life.” Reason, he writes, is “a necessary intermediary between faith and truth,” but a belief in God, he says, makes it easier to understand morality. Though he admits that religion, like agnosticism, begins with uncertainty about the existence of God, he dismisses atheism outright as more speculation than belief, as a negative is harder to prove than a positive, according to logic theory. The intuition of God, which he says is evident even in primitive peoples, comes from man’s ability to reason, he argues, and “faith, like Jesus going to his death, and reason, like Socrates calmly drinking the hemlock, agree on life after death.” Though religion can’t be proved by the scientific method, truth isn’t limited to that avenue, he argues, and angels are no more outlandish than the concept of dark matter. While building a case for both reason and religion, he mainly concentrates on Christianity. He notes various positions that Christians have taken over the centuries that conflict with Christianity’s tenets. He notes that many conservative Christians endorse supporting wars, capital punishment, and greed, for example, but he also notes that the Roman Catholic Church has come to reject many of these contradictions. Although he says he wants to “dialogue” with all religions, he still attacks a few, declaring that “the whole religion” of Islam is “suspect.” Christianity, he concludes, is “uniquely compelling.” Indeed, this book might be better titled Christianity and Reason, as Nieman makes a far better case for the reasonableness of Christianity than he does other religions. He offers apt critiques of Christianity’s conflicts and takes an enlightened view of what a truly reasonable Christianity could be. However, his evangelical approach is too biased and limited to provide a comprehensive view. The book contains extensive footnotes and a bibliography, but it could use more citations, as when he describes the history of the Quran; sometimes, he merely cites movies as sources.
Although this book makes a good case for putting more reason in religion, it will fail to convince the skeptical.