To paraphrase a very interesting point recently made by Professor Anderson, Dante believes in absolutes but he doesn’t believe humans can grasp them absolutely. Because of this, reason is not enough. The fact that reason is not enough is very intriguing to me. There are things about God that the human mind cannot understand. This seems fitting because if we could grasp everything perfectly, we would be on the level with God. In the Purgatorio it is quite obvious that reason leads to faith, as Virgil guides Dante through the levels towards Beatrice. Reason can only take Dante so far and because of this, faith must take over in the end. So, does faith lead to reason, or does reason lead to faith? I would argue that because the relationship between the two is cyclical, one always leads to the other, regardless which comes first.
For me, faith came before reason because I grew up in the church. Even as a child, I understood the central message of Christianity and I accepted it. I think that the central message is so basic, that even a child can understand and believe it. Maybe as adults we need to have more childlike faith. That is, believe something before you have every single thing figured out, and allow things to fall into place as your life progresses. On the other hand, it was only a matter of time until I began to face intellectual questions regarding my faith, and I turned to reason to understand what I had always believed.
I have also read stories of nonbelievers who set out to disprove some part of Christianity, and in the end, their research led them to the conclusion that it was the truth. In these instances, it was reason that led to faith. Their studies and logic led them to believe. This final step of faith is crucial.
Regardless of the religious faith or sect, I think both reason and faith are very important because you must understand what you believe and why you think it is the truth, but also cherish the spiritual experience. If someone were to ask you why you believe in the Bible, you cannot say “because I have faith”. Someone cannot relate to some obscure feeling that you have within you. It would be impossible to explain the spiritual experience because it is something not easily put into words. Often, it is the reason side that someone first connects with. People experience God in radically different ways, just as the same song can have a variety of effects on an audience. Faith fills in the gaps of understanding. I don’t know that we can ever be totally sure about anything. So, you must have faith.
There are others who refuse to believe anything until they can understand all the fine details and have an answer to every question. But reason can only lead you so far. As I said before, there are things that we as humans will never fully understand and we must turn to faith to bring us the rest of the way. Faith will lead us again and again to reason and the two will enforce each other as one’s understanding increases. It would be ridiculous to stand in a dark room refusing to turn on the light until you could explain exactly how electricity works. You must believe that flicking the switch will cause the light to turn on, take a step of faith, and then do it.