Rationality and faith often seem to be contending with each other in Paradise Lost. Are there any examples in the text? Which of the two is most likely to prevail?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Paradise Lost, the epic poem doesindicate that rationality and faith do often seem to be contending with each other. Here are some examples;

1. In Book 1, Milton talks of Man’s disobedience and Man’s supposedly rational decision (to Man) to not have faith in God’s word and His instructions for proper living. Mankind – Adam and Eve – make a conscious decision to disobey God and this is a rational decision to them because they ‘rationalize away’ God’s instructions and follow Satan’s dictates. They believed Satan that they would not surely die if they ate the fruit.

2. Milton’s work shows Satan first trying to rationalize to his followers (demons now) that they can in fact reclaim their former abode, Heaven. He tries to convince them that they will not have to endure torment forever because of their rebellious actions against God. The implication here is that, in this sorrowful state, those who followed Satan exhibited a total lack of faith in the Creator God who made them. These spirit beings in fact made a decision, which they thought was rational as well. They made a decision to rebel against God and not have faith in His promises that they would enjoy an eternity of happiness if they continued to believe and obey Him.

3. Satan uses his subtle ways to get Man to rationalize his wrong thoughts and actions. He appeals to Man’s lust for things on the earth and the desire to satisfy his or her needs right away. In general, human beings take the broad road that leads to destruction, instead of having faith in God that He will guide them and preserve them. Satan tempts Eve. She in turn influences her husband’s thoughts and actions. Then, they both rationalize their actions. Adam says the woman gave her the food. She says Satan tricked her. They both are passing the buck, not being responsible for their actions. Trying to rationalize their situation, they show that they exhibited a lack of faith in God and in what he originally taught them when he first placed them in the Garden of Eden.

Faith will prevail in the end. For those who trust in God’s mercy on repentant sinners and who trust the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, this faith will carry them through to eternal life. Faith that Jesus paid for their sins and that He is the way to God and that keeping the commandments of God is the right way will prevail over Man’s vain rationalizations that he or she ultimately knows what is right and truth.