Is religion reasonable? This is the question to be considered at the first Year of Reason event at Saint Martin’s University, next week. I’m on the panel, so ostensibly I have something to say on the matter. As with everything important, perhaps we should begin with an attempt to define the important concepts.

What is reason? I think Paul Tillich’s distinction between technical reason and classical reason is exceedingly important to discuss. Technical reason or “reasoning” is the method of discovering means for some given ends. Classical reason is the “structure of the mind which enables it to grasp and to shape reality” (Systematic Theology Vol. I).

What is religion? A religion is a community of people who recognize the same symbols and myths to express their experience of God. Here “symbols” and “myths” are not derogatory, as we will see.

People engaged in religion are typically in some degree ultimately concerned about something, often God. We call this state of ultimate concern faith. Therefore, faith is not synonymous with “belief,” which is something we can come to via (for instance) scientific or historical inquiry. That is, assuming the object of ultimate concern is in fact the ultimate—is God.

“God” is a symbol. Stories we tell about God are myths—stories that contain symbols. To say that God is a symbol is to deny his existence—and to do otherwise is to fall into idolatry. We cannot speak of God without using the symbol God, and so we must understand that the reality to which the symbol points is infinitely greater than any being could be. But—what am I saying?—when speaking of God, a superlative becomes a diminutive. God does not exist; he is the ground being, the dynamic power of being through which all exists. He is truth-itself, justice-itself, love-itself.

Therefore, when technical reason is used to disprove the existence of “God,” we say amen and amen. For that which is a being cannot be God. Now we have need of a discussion of the meaning of “truth.”

Truth is the “really real” (Tillich) as opposed to the only apparently real. Truth is discovered through some form of verification. Truth and verification are different in different modes of inquiry. Inquiry into theories that describe events that can be repeated and measured is called science. Inquiry into past events and their bearing on humanity is called history. Inquiry into the structure of being is called philosophy. Inquiry into matters of ultimate concern, of the good, of God is called theology. While all forms of inquiry use technical reason, to use technical reason in theology without classical reason is disastrous, for classical reason is what allows a person to access that which experiential verification seeks. Although both can use technical and classical reason, theology qua theology ought have no pronouncements about science (for instance) and science qua science (which uses almost exclusively technical reason) ought have no pronouncements about theology.

Experiencing and acting in the really real of theology is true religious experiencing and acting. A religious symbolism or myth that is not seen as such is false. That is, it is superstition.