Behind the scenes is the place to look

Some may wonder why I normally don’t write about current events; the goings on in city, state and national politics. It’s not that I’m disinterested but everybody is writing about those topics.

Rather than focus on the drama, I prefer to explore behind the scenes to determine what motivates the actors in light of the author’s intent and purpose.

In our secular society the daily drama of life is exposed and analyzed by the media with little or no regard to its larger metaphysical context or significance. We exist, things happen and life goes on. It’s not useful to explore behind the screen; the backdrop against which we live our lives.

The most fundamental and essential issues that we as human beings confront are at least partially concealed behind that screen. By not trying to penetrate its mysteries are we leading superficial lives?
Does separation of church and state create an obstacle between faith and reason or encourage dialogue? Are both necessary to understand the human condition and the purpose of existence?

Is reason, as some argue, the only reliable process through which we can understand the universe, earth and existence? By such reliance are we making an act of faith? Is belief in reason more or less compelling than faith in God?

Both have failed us. Gigantic errors have been made in the name of reason. The same can be said of belief in God. Religious institutions and their adherents have made grave mistakes and caused great suffering.

Belief can distort reason and vice versa. Those with faith in reason argue that sound reason wisely used is reliable and reveals truth; unfortunately it can be distorted and become destructive when misapplied. Those who believe in God acknowledge that fundamental truths are often ignored, misunderstood and twisted in the pursuit of self interest.

Faith and reason are not in conflict; they are inextricably entwined. They should complement each other. Faith is not irrational and reason is not faithless. Reason requires faith in one’s senses and in the reasoning process itself.

I find it more rational to accept that reason can get us only so far; beyond which we can either fling ourselves into faith’s orbit or conclude that the evolutionary process has and will continue to fill in the blanks and reliance on the human intellect will confirm that belief in God is a primitive misconception.

I have seen enough to be skeptical of mankind’s capacity to reason to ultimate truths. Reason is not always a reliable compass but if one is so inclined it will point toward God. Atheists believe it reveals a less exalted explanation of existence. Reluctant to make a leap of faith, agnostics find it points in both directions.

Agnostics consider belief in God plausible but the evidence ambiguous and are unable to commit. Atheists consider the assumption preposterous. Agnostics are at least being intellectually honest. They consider belief in God and belief in the cosmic accident theory of existence are both preposterous. Believers find the former more compelling and through an act of faith assent to it.

Atheists conclude the very existence of religion demonstrates the failure of the human intellect (reason) to correctly process the evidence. But, history is an account of flawed reasoning by individuals and institutions of all kinds including religions and governments.

So both faith and reason are unreliable and deserving of skepticism. Faith can be irrational as is demonstrated by the jihadists and reason has been used to justify evils such as slavery and torture.
I believe faith is reason’s echo. It is the “ping” at the end of the sonar beam indicating something is there. It is a light into the unknown reflecting upon the unseen. It is the sense you are not alone after everyone has gone.

Reason is the path that leads you to a vast sea. You hear the pounding waves, smell the salt air, feel the wind and sense that something lies beyond. Faith permits you to see a light in the distance that otherwise would remain shrouded in the mist.

You are aware the mysterious beacon is your goal, the destination to which you are drawn; a place of illumination and understanding far beyond human capacity. It is out there and somehow you must find a way to reach it.

Reason is the first leg of that journey. Faith is the next. And the last is love. Line them all up and you’re almost there.

James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law. His e-mail address is