Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Reasonable Faith

No one knows everything, but all of us together know what it is necessary to know; faith constitutes a network of reciprocal dependence that at the same time is a network of mutual solidarity, where each one sustains the other and is sustained by him. This fundamental anthropological structure can also be seen in our relationship with God, where it finds its original form and integrating center.

 Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, 102

Reflection – Ratzinger is making a very basic point in this little section, one that is rather obvious once pointed out, but which helps clarify much in the ongoing debates about ‘faith vs. reason’.

Namely, everyone moves in faith. Faith is accepting the truth of something that you have not personally verified, something of which you do not have absolute and perfect knowledge. Faith is accepting the truth of things based on the word of another. Faith, therefore, is built into our most daily human affairs.

The man who claims to live by pure reason is deluding himself. Nobody can possibly navigate the world only accepting the truth of those things he has personally proven. We cannot drive down a road, fly in an airplane, eat in a restaurant, get married… the list goes on and on. All day every day, constantly, we act on things we accept by faith.

Now, none of this proves the existence of God, of course. And Ratzinger is not advancing it as such. What he is doing here is showing how the very structure of human life in the world is precisely ‘faith’ – as he puts it ‘a network of reciprocal dependence… of mutual solidarity… each sustains the other and is sustained by him.’ This is the fundamental anthropological structure of our life together.

The idea of the self-made man, or of the purely reasonable scientist who lives without faith, has little basis in reality. And so, this connects to God (it seems to me) in the following way:

People who are hostile to religious faith often object to it on grounds of human dignity. It is childish, primitive, contrary to a mature and sober human way of life to accept faith in God. We must put away all these childish superstitions and irrational notions and enter the adult world. Ratzinge shows here, then, that ‘faith’ is constitutive of any human life, that it is impossible to live without faith, that nobody is ‘faith-less’, that it is utterly normal to move and act on information that is given to us from another, that everyone does it and we cannot not do it, in fact.

So… while it doesn’t prove the existence of God in any way, shape, or form, this universal phenomenon of faith does show that believing in God’s existence is not an outrage to our mature humanity. Why would we, after accepting freely that we rightly go through our days living by faith in all sorts of people we do not know and believing all sorts of things we haven’t proven, stop short at the notion of God as an outrageous imposition on our reason?

It doesn’t seem reasonable to do that. And (I believe) it’s not reasonable. Atheism itself, atheism qua atheism, may be a rationally attained position. But this New Atheism (TM!) which scorns and scoffs and attacks and sneers at faith—this is not a rational phenomenon. Its roots lie elsewhere than in the reason, an elsewhere that is perhaps best left unexplored at this time.

Religious faith is, if not mandated by reason, perfectly in harmony with reason and with everything we know about how human beings live in the world, always have lived in the world, and always will live in the world.

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