Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
October 2, 2006
Faith and reason must unite in harmony
Despite all the hyperbole about Pope Benedict's talk in Regensburg, the issue has been largely avoided. We have heard the condescending comments about how the pope does not know much about Islam and that he doesn't have good advisors.
But . . . is it true that reason and faith are two separate compartments, the one objective, the other, sadly, subjective? Is it true that the Western world has reached the height of civilization now that it has jettisoned the pious superstitions of faith? Is it true that multiculturalism can only flourish once we get beyond the blinkered view of a faith-based culture?
Benedict's answer to all those questions is no.
The stance of "reason alone," which has for so long looked down its nose at Christianity, finds, when it turns to other cultures, outlooks which are alarmingly similar to Christian faith. The intellectual peasants on the other side of the world, it seems, have also been blinded by the myth of the transcendent which slows the inevitable march of science, technology and modern advertising.
But at least those peasants can be tolerated, their customs studied as quaint vestiges of a dying age. Christianity, ever resilient, must however be crushed.
Of course, this patronizing view of other cultures is no basis for a dialogue of cultures. "Western reason" may converse with other societies, but only to catalogue their eccentricities before they too disappear under the wheels of progress.
But for Benedict, for the Catholic, reason and faith need each other. God himself is logos, reason, the Word. Reason without faith has no feet on which to stand. It assumes an ordered universe but rules out questions as to the origin of such order as nonsensical.
The agnostic has no answer when asked what, or who, is the human person. Our origin and destiny lie outside scientific investigation.
And so, uprooted from truth, Western society wanders. Ethics and religion cannot create a community because they are purely subjective. With no religion, no clear ethics, no community, is it any wonder that young men begin shooting into crowds?
The irony in this, the pope explains, is that the chasm between faith and reason began with efforts to create a pure Christianity free from philosophy - to have faith without reason. This blind leap of faith leads "to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God's transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God."
But faith is eminently reasonable. It is reasonable because God himself is reason.
One question Benedict tries to force Western culture to face - and from which it always runs - is how can it have a dialogue with other cultures, cultures that have a strong sense of the transcendent, if it dismisses the basis of those cultures as childish and subjective.
The answer is that there is no basis for dialogue unless the transcendent is taken not just as someone's personal opinion but as the awesome ground of all being.
Secular agnosticism is a dead end. It will not lead to world peace, but to conflict with those who believe God is beyond all understanding. Those who have faith, but no trust in reason, turn easily to fundamentalism . . . and to violence. This is, of course, one of the points the pope was making in his controversial speech.
Benedict is not trying to roll back the clock to pre-modern times. He asks us to embrace the positive aspects of the modern world. He says Western culture will recover its élan "only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically verifiable and if we once more disclose its vast horizons."
This is a vast challenge for Western culture, one that it will not embrace easily. But it is not too much to say that the future of humanity hangs on how it responds.
- Glen Argan
Letter to the Editor - 10/30/06
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