Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Going to the Dark Side

The mutilation of reason means that we cannot consider it to be rational at all. Hence, it is incomplete and can recover its health only through reestablishing contact with its roots. A tree without roots dries up…

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 43

Reflection – This passage goes down a path often traveled on this blog. Still, I suppose it bears repeating; Ratzinger certainly thinks so, as he has often returned to it in his writings. The reclamation of reason and its ordered relationship to faith has been a major theme of his, from his Introduction to Christianity in the 1960s to the Regensburg Address just a few years ago.

The mutilation of reason he speaks of here is that wrought by logical positivism, which limits reason solely and exclusively to the scientifically verifiable. If a statement cannot be proven in a laboratory or expressed in a mathematical formula, it is irrational, meaningless.

As I pointed out just a few days ago, of course this means that positivism itself is irrational and meaningless, as its own truth claims cannot be so tested out. Put that way, logical positivism is shown to be a fairly silly theory, self-refuting in its first principles.

And yet positivism stubbornly remains with us, and seems persuasive to many. The New Atheism (Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, etc.) is founded on it. And this is points to a darker reality, I’m afraid.

Now when I begin to go down this road of exploring this darker reality, I need to say that little of this happens on the level of conscious choice and deliberate decision. There are secret chambers and depths in all our hearts where all sorts of less than creditable impulses and drives reside. We don’t always know why we think and act as we do, and I do definitely mean we here.

Why is positivism, that ridiculous theory, so persuasive to so many? I think there is a desire not to think too hard or much at all about the deep questions of life. Thinking might lead to insight; insight might lead to understanding; understanding might lead to conviction; conviction might require… repentance.

And I do think this is at least part of the picture. We want to do what we want to do. Don’t we? Nobody likes to repent, likes to change. I know I don’t. Change is hard. And if we think too hard about what we’re doing and what it all means and whether or not there’s a God in heaven who might have an Opinion or two on the subject, then we might conclude that we have to change.

So there is positive value for us in positivism. That voice that comes in right away in the reasoning process and says, “Oh well, nobody can know anything about these things anyhow! Hey, there’s a really cool book by Richard Dawkins! Read that instead! Positivism rocks! Now go back to your x-rated websites…”

Like I say, I don’t think this is exactly a conscious thought process for most people. Just a curious reluctance to do any serious thinking about life’s deeper questions, a resistance to beginning a process that might force us to change our behaviors, and a spurious clever-sounding theory that gives us intellectual cover to justify that lack of thought.

But as Ratzinger says, a tree without roots dries up. Reason unfounded in rationality dies. As I have often said here, the Christian version of reality gives a cogent coherent account for human reason and its probative force. Atheist materialism does not. And without some rational account for reason’s existence and validity, thought becomes pointless and impossible. And I think this is what we are seeing more and more in our culture: an incapacity to think, and an unwillingness to think. So… something to think about, eh?

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