A few weeks ago I read, “Go Set a Watchman,” by Harper Lee for my book group. While much ink has been spilled in debating how it compares with, “To Kill a Mocking Bird,” clearly that is not my area of expertize, so I will not venture into that discussion. I did enjoy the book, and it was a source of a good discussion for my book group. Very specifically, though, I was particularly struck by one sentence near the end of the book. Jean Louise was involved in a long conversation with her uncle Jack around the issues of race and prejudice. At one point her uncle, Jack, said to Jean Louise: “Prejudice a dirty word, and faith a clean one, have one thing in common: they both begin where reason ends.”
When I read these words I was struck by their simplicity, but also their truth. Both prejudice and faith are not grounded in reason or logic. They are an act of the will that has no logical explanation. Now, I suspect some people would argue that with both prejudice and faith there is some rational explanation for them, or that they have their roots in experience and/or knowledge. I believe, though, that when push comes to shove, the proof for this position is elusive and vague.
In speaking of faith, the author of the letter to the Hebrews wrote: “Faith is confidence reassurance concerning what we hope for, and conviction about things we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). Notice that there is no reference to reason or logic, no attempt to explain faith or give a rational explanation for it. Faith is not a “provable” proposition; it simply is. I think something similar is true in regard to prejudice.
While there are times when I wish there would be some “proof” for my faith, I have come to believe that if this were to occur, I would be very disappointed. Because faith has to do with things beyond our human awareness and comprehension, by its very nature it can’t be proven or gotten to by reason or logic. Faith like prejudice begins where reason ends.
On one level it does bother me a little that faith and reason have in common the fact that they begin where reason ends. On a deeper level, though, I am grateful that faith is not an easy or provable proposition. I want and need something to believe in that is greater than myself and beyond my comprehension. Additionally, though, I am also embarrassed that at times prejudice has crept into my life disguised as insight or knowledge. With both faith and prejudice, the challenge is not to try to use reason as their basis, but to remember that they both begin where reason ends.