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On the rational dimension of Christian faith

By George Virsik - posted Friday, 15 November 2019

The faith of a Christian - but this applies more or less to other religions as well - has three dimensions:

Rational - concerning, assumptions about ultimate Reality, to be believed on the basis of scriptural (or historical) narratives and philosophical (metaphysical) considerations; compare with axioms in eg mathematics that are assumed (in order to study their consequences), not proved;

Moral- concerning recommended or prescribed ways to live and act (or not to act, ie prohibitions);


Aesthetic- concerning rituals, liturgical forms, artistic expression or other works of art inspired by faith.

In the first dimension one strives for truth”, in the second for goodness”, in the third for beauty”. (Compare with the Socratic trinity” or Platonic triad”, the true, the good and the beautiful). Personal religious experience (eg in the sense of William James), including mystical, is a state of mind related to all three dimensions but somehow beyond them.

Here I shall be concerned only with the first dimension, ie what - or more precisely HOW - a contemporary educated Christian believes.

The famous Zen saying:

before you study Zen, mountains are mountains and rivers are rivers; while you are studying Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and rivers are no longer rivers; but once you have had enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and rivers again rivers

can be given a Christian meaning as:


before you study philosophy (of science and of religion), the concepts and propositions of your Christian beliefs have absolute validity; while you are studying philosophy (of science and of religion), you become critical about these concepts and propositions, they loose their validity for you; but once you have had enlightenment through philosophy (and Grace, a Christian would add), they regain their validity at a higher, more sophisticated level.

Of course, in this claim the crucial point - one might say the bone of contention - is the meaning of higher, more sophisticated level”. This meaning has a strong subjective factor, depending on the cultural determinants, personal education and philosophical sophistication of the believer (or unbeliever).

Some of these concepts and propositions might survive” only as symbols, metaphors, models etc, of (transcendent) Reality expressed in a form comprehensible (to humans) at times and places when and where they were written (revealed). Others have a significance of their own and are accepted by the philosophically sophisticated believer simply on their face value.

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About the Author

George Virsik is a retired mathematician from Monash University living in Germany since 2000. He can be contacted at

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