Saturday, June 22, 2013

The Healing of Reason and Religion

We have seen that there are pathologies in religion that are extremely dangerous and that make it necessary to see the divine light of reason as a ‘controlling organ.’ Religion must continually allow itself to be purified and structured by reason; and this was the view of the Church Fathers too.

However we have also seen in the course of our reflections that there are also pathologies of reason, although mankind in general is not as conscious of this fact today. There is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous. Indeed, bearing in mind its potential effects, it poses an even greater threat—it suffices here to think of the atomic bomb or of man as a ‘product.’
This is why reason, too, must be warned to keep within its proper limits, and it must learn a willingness to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind. If it cuts itself adrift and rejects this willingness to learn, this relatedness, reason becomes destructive.

Kurt Hübner has recently formulated a similar demand. He writes that such a thesis does not entail a “return to faith”; rather, it means that “we free ourselves from the blindness typical of our age, that is, the idea that faith has nothing more to say to contemporary man because it contradicts his humanistic idea of reason, Enlightenment, and freedom.”

Accordingly, I would speak of a necessary relatedness between reason and faith and between reason and religion, which are called to purify and help one another. They need each other, and they must acknowledge this mutual need.

Joseph Ratzinger, “That Which Holds the World Together: The Pre-political Moral Foundations of a Free State,” in The Dialectics of Secularism: On Reason and Religion, 77-78

Reflection – I am excerpting little bits and pieces of this masterful essay, with great difficulty. The whole thing is so brilliant, so penetrating, and hangs together with such virtuosity that these little accessible bits hardly do justice to Ratzinger’s argument. I suggest that if you have serious questions about the role of religion in society and the proper ordering of faith and reason, and cannot or don’t want to devote a life’s study to the matter, this slender little book (under 100 pages) is one of your best bets.

What is excerpted here is essentially his conclusion, although he goes on to stress that this dialogue of religion in reason is not merely a dialogue of Christianity and European secularism, but must ‘go global’ and engage the rest of the world if it is to be fruitful.

Earlier in the essay Ratzinger pointed out that the experience of Europe and North America of secularism is really a local historical oddity, widely variant to, say, the experience of India, Africa, the Middle East, Latin America. It would be narrow and provincial and frankly racist for us to assume that all the white people in the world have this right while all the brown and black people are languishing in ignorance and obscurantist superstition. This is especially true in light of the fact that (ahem) all the white people in the world are busily aborting and contracepting themselves out of existence. The future belongs to those who show up—it may well prove to be the case that the secularist model of society will vanish within a century simply because those holding to this model are not reproducing.

Anyhow. Off I go on my usual tangent (sorry about that!). Faith and reason, tradition and technology, science and religion—the inter-relation of these must be worked out better than we are now doing. A narrow vision of science and ‘progress’ which refuses to listen to the voices of humanity, the traditional wisdom and insight that is carried in the great religious traditions of our species, is doomed to failure, to the destruction of humanity entirely. Meanwhile a religion that retreats from reason and science for fear of losing its own certainty and confidence is on a path to morbidity, the most serious effect of which is a descent into violence and coercion.

I know of no one who has done more to try to shift this encounter to a more fruitful and positive approach that Joseph Ratzinger. His writings, which are clear, concise, simple, merit reading no matter what one’s own beliefs or lack of beliefs are. I will leave it at that, and move on to something else tomorrow. Talk to you then.

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