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Faith and Reason

Faith and reason are two ways of knowing that have played a central role in the development of civilization. They work best when they mutually challenge one another to look farther, to probe more deeply, in quest of truth.

In his encyclical on Faith and Reason, Pope John Paul II praised the authentic achievements of modern thought, but pointed to a difficult contemporary problem: “reason, rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth, has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost its capacity to lift its gaze to the heights…. has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.”  His lament reflects the condition of all advanced societies: an abundance of wealth and practical means coexists with an extreme poverty of purpose and vision.

In his Farewell Address, George Washington made a similar observation: “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”  For Washington, national morality was also the “spring of popular government.”  American liberty was thus closely allied with faith. Reason and experience affirmed that truth.

The Institute aims at bringing both Faith and Reason to bear on all the issues that confront us.  In recent years, religion has usually been neglected in public discourse.  Though voices have lately protested this neglect, we still need vigorous action at all levels and in every sphere to recover the truth that faith lies at the heart of most people’s aspirations and deserves recognition of its crucial role even in a pluralistic nation like America.

Reason has received greater respect, but it is not clear that in the absence of the challenges and questions religion puts to reason that the healthy power of reason will fully emerge.  For many people, reason today means science or practical decisions.  But we need a renewed reason that will continue along the fruitful paths of science, technology, and economic development, as well as encourage us to examine the heights and depths of human life.

The Faith & Reason Institute is the first Washington think-tank devoted to encouraging both of these essential dimensions of our existence.  We seek to recover the ancient Western understanding of human knowledge and divine revelation as co-ordinate calls upon the human spirit that need to be translated into everyday practice.  Unlike other institutions interested in religion, we address questions of economics, politics, public policy, science, technology, the environment, and public culture, from perspective of both faith and reason.

The Institute conducts a program of research, conferences, seminars, and publishing aimed at introducing better ideas of faith and reason to the culture as a whole.  It also engages various national and international institutions—schools, the press, public policy makers, Congress, the legal community, and others—in order to generate fresh thought and action by bringing together religious and secular experts often isolated from one another.

Faith and reason are the twin strands out of which America, and any good and free social fabric, is woven.  We ignore either one at our peril. As Washington warned: “Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundations of the fabric?”