I met a talking snake

Talking_Snake_I met a talking snake as I trekked the Bukit Timah Hill.

With shaking head and cold eyes, the snake hissed:  Aren’t you surprised?

No, why should I be? I am a pastor and the Bible has stories of a talking snake and a talking donkey.  It has a rod that turned into a snake, and a virgin that gave birth to a child. Why would I be surprised?

Snake:  But a talking snake is totally contrary to normal human experience. It is just totally unscientific and irrational. Doesn’t that bother you?

Pastor: Frankly it does unsettle me at times that there is a talking snake in the Bible. I mean, I’ve seen snakes in Penang, and in the Singapore zoo, and on TV but never a talking snake. However, this dissonance has never derailed my faith in Christ.

Snake: You should explore that dissonance and it should cause you to weigh the facts and throw the Bible with all its superstitions, scientific inaccuracies, and myths out of your life. Snakes don’t talk and trees don’t impart knowledge.

Pastor: Animals have been shown to be able to communicate among themselves. Some humans demonstrate an uncanny ability to communicate with animals, albeit at an elemental level.  Why then can’t you conceive that in a pre-Fall world, there could have been an amazing harmony and an incredibly higher level of communications among God’s creatures than is seen now. Though inconceivable now because of the Fall, couldn’t it have been different then?

Snake: Ridiculous! Utter nonsense. Sheer speculation.

Pastor: Well, it’s just a thought.  Perhaps you should be more open to seemingly impossible possibilities. After all, creation keeps us on tiptoe with strange and magical surprises in nature and in the invisible realm. That snake probably never talked again after tempting Eve. I have seen cases of evil spirits temporarily talking through its victims in a different voice and personality. You must be mocking me now!

Snake: Are you one of those Pentecostal snake-handlers or tongue-speaking charismatics who believe in all things supernatural?

Pastor: No I am not. However, I am a Pentecostal with a deep respect for snakes ….. and snake-handlers, and I do speak in tongues, certainly more than you. Yes the world of the supernatural and spiritual phenomena does not scare me. I view all these things that I do not fully understand with my finite mind, with a sense of hush and awe (and some wariness), as Moses did with the burning bush and Joseph with his dreams of angels.

Snake: You believe in all the miracles of the Bible.

Pastor: Of course, I do. Not just because I am a Pentecostal and brought up as one soaked in a tradition of belief in the supernatural gifts and in miracles, but also because the Bible speaks of these miracles and angels in a matter of fact way.  Call me naive if you will but I have heard so many modern day miracle stories myself and despite my natural tendency to doubt, I have become a believer.

Snake: Have you considered that the whole story of Adam and Eve, the talking snake and the tree that delivers knowledge is all a myth meant to teach religious truths about God? It’s just a literary device to teach readers that God is the creator, and he made humans to be like him and to be the top of the chain, and something wrong happened to cause the world to be as messed us as it is today.

Pastor: Well do you believe in the truths that the literary device seek to proclaim? Do you believe in God’s goodness and affirm that creation was good but evil came into the world and messed it all up? Do you believe that Jesus came to die and rise again to clear up the mess? If you do, you are closer to heaven than you may dare to think!  Have you heard of the 4 spiritual laws?

Snake: Don’t patronize me with your fixed formula of converting me. It won’t work. You should take a closer look at your faith – it has no substance, no factual base, insufficient evidence.

Pastor: Pardon me.  I don’t mean to be patronizing. My faith is based on the person of Jesus Christ. He lived in the Roman-occupied first century Israel. He was a carpenter-construction worker and a man whose birth, life, ministry was marked by the amazing, truth, miracles, love and remarkable perfection. He died and rose again from the dead and ascended to heaven. All these things were seen and witnessed by men close to him. My faith is based on the testimony of these witnesses. In addition, I have experienced his forgiveness and peace myself. I have a wonderful inner assurance that all this is real and true and somehow all the scientific and rational dissonance that bothers and troubles many others does not affect me at all. It just does not ruffle my faith at all. By the way, have you heard of Jesus?

The snake, weary from trying to convince me of the unreliability of the Bible, slithered away, hissing in frustration at this poor blinded Pentecostal pastor. The talking snake had to admit though, that it envied the fact that I seemed so persuaded and assured in my faith, and looked so happy for one so steeped in irrational beliefs and superstition.

The talking snake was almost persuaded to be a Christian.

Faith and reason: what is the relationship?

Recent posts have given rise to polemics from people of different persuasions. Sometimes the comments became personal and sometimes they were patronizing. The debate should get a decent airing. Faith and reason has been a battleground for centuries. It has manifested itself again in the comments on recent posts. There have been many attempts to resolve the tension between faith and reason. Different positions have been taken. The Reformers have theirs and so have the Roman Catholics. The discussion of this issue draws from theology and philosophy for insights and perspectives. Further readings in this issue may spur more discussion and enlighten readers about this issue. Wikipedia has a simplified introduction to the kind of possible positions at hand and has this to say:

Beliefs held “by faith” may be seen existing in a number of relationships to rationality:

Faith as underlying rationality: In this view, all human knowledge and reason is seen as dependent on faith: faith in our senses, faith in our reason, faith in our memories, and faith in the accounts of events we receive from others. Accordingly, faith is seen as essential to and inseparable from rationality. According to Rene Descartes, rationality is built first upon the realization of the absolute truth “I think therefore I am”, which requires no faith. All other rationalizations are built outward from this realization, and are subject to falsification at any time with the arrival of new evidence.
Faith as addressing issues beyond the scope of rationality: In this view, faith is seen as covering issues that science and rationality are inherently incapable of addressing, but that are nevertheless entirely real. Accordingly, faith is seen as complementing rationality, by providing answers to questions that would otherwise be unanswerable.
Faith as contradicting rationality: In this view, faith is seen as those views that one holds despite evidence and reason to the contrary. Accordingly, faith is seen as pernicious with respect to rationality, as it interferes with our ability to think, and inversely rationality is seen as the enemy of faith by interfering with our beliefs.
Faith and reason as essential together: This is the papal view that faith without reason leads to superstition, while reason without faith leads to nihilism and relativism.

Do read the full article on Faith and Rationality in Wikipedia. For something meatier and more philosophical go read this article from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy titled:  Faith and Reason.

What do you think is the relationship between faith and reason?