Saturday, May 7, 2011

Benedict XVI , the Pathologies of Faith and Reason and Christian Liberal Arts Education

Samuel Gregg is an intelligent and articulate interpreter of Catholic theology, especially moral theology and economics. He has a very good article entitled "Benedict XVI: In No One's Shadow" in the American Spectator.

He discusses Benedict's reform of the banalities of the post-Vatican II liturgy and the fast-improving relations with the Eastern Orthodox Churches before turning to Benedict's analysis of what is wrong with the Western world. He articulates concisely and precisely some ideas I have clumsily tried to express about Benedict's importance as a prophet to late modernity. He writes:

"But above all, Benedict has -- from his pontificate's very beginning -- gone to the heart of the rot within the West, a disease which may be described as pathologies of faith and reason.

In this regard, Benedict's famous 2006 Regensburg address may go down as one of the 21st century's most important speeches, comparable to Alexander Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Harvard Address in terms of its accuracy in identifying some of the West's inner demons.

Most people think about the Regensburg lecture in terms of some Muslims' reaction to Benedict's citation of a 14th century Byzantine emperor. That, however, is to miss Regensburg's essence. It was really about the West.

Christianity, Benedict argued at Regensburg, integrated Biblical faith, Greek philosophy, and Roman law, thereby creating the "foundation of what can rightly be called Europe." This suggests that any weakening of this integration of faith and reason would mean the West would start losing its distinctive identity. In short, a West without a Christianity that integrates faith and reason is no longer the West.

Today, Benedict added, we see what happens when faith and reason are torn asunder. Reason is reduced to scientism and ideologies of progress, thereby rending reasoned discussion of anything beyond the empirical impossible. Faith dissolves into sentimental humanitarianism, an equally inadequate basis for rational reflection. Neither of these emaciated facsimiles of their originals can provide any coherent response to the great questions pondered by every human being: "Who am I?" "Where did I come from?" "Where am I going?"

So what's the way back? To Benedict's mind, it involves affirming that what he recently called creative reason lies at the origin of everything.

As Benedict explained one week before he beatified his predecessor: "We are faced with the ultimate alternative that is at stake in the dispute between faith and unbelief: are irrationality, lack of freedom and pure chance the origin of everything, or are reason, freedom and love at the origin of being? Does the primacy belong to unreason or to reason? This is what everything hinges upon in the final analysis."

Read it all here. I totally agree with Gregg's analysis of the Regensburg Address and I have made the exact same argument about it in a recently published chapter in a book.

I especially like his use of the phrase "integration of faith and reason" to describe the cultural origins of Europe in Greek philosophy, Biblical faith and Roman law. This phrase "the integration of faith and reason" is often used in a banal and empty manner in Christian liberal arts colleges. One can never be quite sure what is meant by it and it can easily degenerate into little more than a marketing slogan. But Benedict gives it some specific form and content.

What if this definition of integrating faith and reason were to be taken seriously in Christian liberal arts education? What if the liberal arts curriculum were to be organized around this motif as the center? What if the goal of a liberal arts curriculum were to become conversant with Greek philosophy, Biblical faith and Roman law and how they shaped Christendom and then how modernity has declined and both philosophy and law decayed because of modernity's rejection of the Biblical basis of the Christian West?

This would make Christian university education decisively different from the secular version on offer in the decadent, late modern universities. It would revolutionize the teaching of literature, the natural sciences, the social sciences and history, as well as philosophy and theology. It would produce citizens of a Christian culture who were equipped to see through the modern pathologies of faith and reason and ready to be real salt and light in a dying culture. Could Evangelicals liberal arts colleges, with an assist from this scholar-pope, dream of being that radical and that counter-cultural? Do we have the faith to follow Christ when all around us God is being dismissed as out-dated and unnecessary? Can we as faculty and our students make a reasoned and articulate case for creative reason (the Logos of John 1) as the origin and meaning of everything?

Well, why not?

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