Credo ut intelligam: an approach to modernism

Credo ut intelligam is Latin for “I believe so that I may understand,” St. Anselm’s famous quote, who also used the phrase fides quaerens intellectum, or “faith seeking understanding.”  The full quote is actually, “Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this, too, I believe, that, unless I first believe, I shall not understand.”

Anselm, like Augustine, believed that faith and belief preceded understanding, not exactly a respected position among modernists.  Ironically, an analysis of modernism would reveal that they, too, depend upon the credo ut intelligam formula.  For example, look at Hector Avalos, a good example of Romans 1:22.

Avalos is a professor of Religious Studies at the University of Iowa, and author of a number of books, including The End of Biblical Studies. He is also a former Pentecostal child evangelist (meaning he was an evangelist as a child, not that he necessarily evangelized children).  He appears to have quite a large chip on his shoulder when it comes to Christianity.  In a current post at Debunking Christianity, he  restates his belief that “the field of biblical studies is still permeated by religionist biases.”  Yes, that’s a Romans 1:22 moment if ever I’ve heard one.

Now, I don’t think that anyone would disagree that the study of the Bible is permeated – even dominated – by “religionist” biases.  Avalos, however, seems to believe that it shouldn’t be.  He states:

I want to end THE WAY the Bible is studied. In fact, I provide three scenarios on that page:

1) Eliminate biblical studies completely from the modern world.

2) Retain biblical studies as is, but admit that it is a religionist enterprise.

3) Retain biblical studies, but redefine its purpose so that it is tasked with eliminating completely the influence of the Bible in the modern world.

Of these 3 options, he prefers the third.  One of his goals, as a professor of religion, is to eliminate the influence of the Bible in the modern world, so “there should be no function or value left to the Bible anymore than there is to Homer’s Iliad in modern society.”

Back to Epistemology

Here, I think, is a modernist example of Anselm’s maxim.  Avalos has chosen to believe – I would say ‘to have faith in’ – modernism, meaning a naturalist, materialist, rationalist worldview (there are other views of modernism, but his is prevalent within the scholastic community).  As I’ve argued elsewhere, atheism, scientism, materialism, etc. have to be taken on faith; at some point a Kierkegaardian leap made from whatever set of data he relied on, to a conclusion that modernism with all of it’s baggage is truth, as far as it can be known.  Epistemologically, this position cannot be proven; rationalism, science and the rest require belief in order to go anywhere.

Avalos cannot use the tools of modernism to show that modernism is superior to any other worldview; it is inconsistent even from within modernism.  He must start with a choice to believe; once he believes in modernism, in logic, in reason, then he can begin to understand. It does not – it cannot – work the other way.

Credo ut intelligam.  Understanding can indeed assist belief; but, in the beginning, we must believe.