Faith, Reason and Academia

from the article Catholic Scholars, Secular Schools by Robert Louis Wilken in First Things

In his 2006 lecture at Regensburg, Benedict XVI argued that reason cannot be shackled by the constraints placed on it in the modern university. That was one of the deepest points he made in the lecture, but it was ignored by most commentators. In our time, the pope said, people assume that reason has to do only with what can be established on empirical or mathematical grounds. Other forms of thinking are considered a matter of feeling or sentiment or faith. �In the Western world,� he said, �it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid.� As a consequence, the scope of reason is severely reduced. But the ancient Greeks, the first teachers in our civilization, understood that one could reason about the soul, about metaphysics, about cosmology, about transcendent things and the divine�that is, about what could not be seen or touched.

If reasoning about the soul and God, and hence about what it means to be human, is excluded from the university, the intellectual enterprise makes itself a captive of the present, welcoming the past only on present terms. The dialogues of Plato will be read as works of literature, not of philosophy, and the grand tradition of Christian thought will be viewed as a tribal subculture, historically instructive but without any cognitive claim on those who study it. In that atmosphere, which is the air university faculty breathe today, there can be no genuine dialogue or intellectual exchange across cultures or religions. The best one can muster is: �How �interesting!�

The pope reminded his academic audience of the wisdom of Socrates� words in Plato�s Phaedo: �It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions [bandied about in the dialogue] that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being�but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss.� To which Benedict added: �The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur�this is the program with which a theology grounded in biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.�

In childhood, Catholics come to know the Church as a community of faith and worship and service. Those who go on to college and aspire to be educated Catholics must discover that Catholicism is also a community of learning with a long history of thinking about the great questions of life. Inquiry and questioning, criticism and correction, debate and disagreement�all the work of reason�are as much part of Catholicism as the Mass, the papacy, and monastic life.

Read the whole article here

6 Responses to Faith, Reason and Academia

  1. GB May 28, 2008 at 8:55 am #

    Guess who really gets punished when a woman has an abortion…
    Actually, Mother Teresa’s words quoted in the article are so powerful because they remind us of how deep and devastating the consequences of an abortion are (versus the liberal view that it’s just normal business between a woman and her doctor, just another “procedure”, no morality involved)

  2. Leticia Velasquez May 28, 2008 at 8:10 am #

    “Even when your existence requires another’s sacrifice”.
    Melanie,  a very salient point, and well written.
    I have just attended a Bioethics Conference at the UN where I was told that my 6 year old with Down syndrome has a horrible life which isn’t worth living, yet if a ‘gay gene’ is found, those babies shouldn’t be aborted because society makes gays unhappy. . .
    I reminded the speaker that people with HIS attitude are causing 90% of all children with Down syndrome to be aborted, that his attitude is the problem; my daughter is perfectly happy with her life.
    The extra effort required to raise Christina has made my entire family more loving, patient and generous. We just love special needs children, and thank God for all children.

  3. Literacy-chic May 29, 2008 at 12:36 pm #

    Even seeing the baby as “the natural result of a bad decision to engage in sex” is reductive, of course.  Because the miracle and wonder of that new life has real life-changing potential, if we allow God to work that way in our lives.  I can attest to that!!  My son wasn’t exactly born under ideal circumstances—I was unmarried and pregnant (though in a loving relationship—now marriage of 11 years!) at 19 years old.  But I didn’t see my pregnancy as a “punishment” by any means!  No, we were not smart, but what a gift to have for our indiscretion!!  There is also (in my life) the possibility that the marriage would never have come about (because of my own emotional barriers) if not for the pregnancy.  And we might have made even worse choices—like living together.  So who knows *what* God has in mind with any given pregnancy!!  And I didn’t even have the faith to see it that way back then.  I am DEEPLY troubled by Obama’s rhetoric and the wider mindset it represents.

  4. Melanie Bettinelli May 29, 2008 at 1:31 am #

    You know I try to stay away from politics on this blog. But do sometimes write about pro-life issues and as a mother and especially a Catholic mother, Obama’s rhetoric sens chills up my spine. I sometimes get depressed thinking about where the world is heading and what things might be like when Isabella is an adult. if Obama (and those like him) has his way, I think it’s going to be a scary place.

    I liked this: “what a gift to have for our indiscretion!!” What a gift indeed. You are definitely blessed by your son and your husband. God is such a loving father, he gives us exactly what we need, even if it’s not what we want.

  5. GB May 30, 2008 at 10:18 am #

    Last year, at a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, Obama said the first thing he’d do, if elected President, would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. And of course, he “respects” the decision by the California Supreme Court about same-sex “marriage” (I looooove that “respects”! Strange how he doesn’t seem to have the same respect for how Californians actually voted) I am at a loss when I see Catholics support him… Did you see this piece by Archbishop Chaput about the group “Roman Catholics for Obama 08”? http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=1073
    Have you ever had the chance to read this blog? http://mirrorofjustice.blogs.com/mirrorofjustice/ – a group of Catholic law professors comment on politics and current legal issues. It’s very interesting.
    As far as worrying about where we’re headed, we (meaning my husband and I) do it all the time too, but I think it helps to put things in perspective and realize that history shows how the world has always been a scary place – but God is still here among us, loving us, guiding us, dying for us every single day. Last Sunday our pastor said (I can’t remember if he was quoting somebody else): The world is ruined by the impatience of men, and the world is redeemed by the patience of God. What we can do is be steady in our Faith and teach our children accordingly. And put our worries in the hands of God.

  6. Literacy-chic May 30, 2008 at 12:22 pm #

    Yeah, that’s how I cope, too—by considering historical perspective.  I must say that searching for hope & meaning in dark times was one of my reasons for finally converting.  The emphasis on God as the reason for our hope meant so much to me!  It is hard for me to remember that at times, but discussions like this really help! smile

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