Phi Beta Cons

Benedict, Faith, and Reason

The Pope’s address at Regensburg was amazing.  It is reminiscent of the first-rate lectures that we learn were delivered in medieval times by people like Abelard, and that students would come from all over to hear.   The address is in keeping with the theme of the importance of faith and reason in Christianity that was started by John Paul.  Benedict is extending the analysis to say that the Judeo-Christian tradition, one of the building blocks of Europe and the West, is built on the union of faith in a transcendent God–as begun in Judaism and continued in Christianity–with the Greek philosophical idea of a god or creative principle of the universe as reason or “logos.” He suggests that Islam, believing in submission to the will of Allah, even if Allah commands something contrary to himself, such as the worship of idols, is different from the Judeo-Christian idea, with its element of reason by which we expect God to be true to the nature he has revealed to us.    Contrary to the open-ended universalism that we sometimes hear ascribed to our culture today, Benedict is calling the West, and Europe in particular, back to its particular foundations.  He is suggesting that Judeo-Christian European Western civilization has a certain character and not every kind of belief system, taken whole, is going to comport with it. More than that, he is encouraging the re-entry of religious and spiritual matters into intellectual discourse. By divorcing faith from reason, believers have agreed to compartmentalize religious values as purely private and leave them out of intellectual debate.     Benedict has also applied this theme of faith and reason to Darwinian evolution, through the medium of Cardinal Schoenbrun, his close friend. Schoenbrun has challenged Darwinian evolution and questioned all the faithful, believing scientists, Catholics especially, who claim that they can accept Darwinian theory whole and also believe in the Christian God. Some of these scientists have gone so far as to have themselves filmed receiving communion to show their piety. Many others fervently declaim their faith and their ability to believe that God can do anything, that he can even create an intelligible world and an intelligent man through mutations, randomness, chance, survival of the fittest, etc. The genial Schoenbrun, with the genial Benedict behind him, I am sure, declares that he certainly believes these scientists and their fervent affirmations of faith that God in his inscrutable mystery can do anything, but asks if they are employing their reason in so affirming. He is suggesting that the kind of faith they are asserting is more typical of piety than of reasoned belief. Moreover, he notes that once again these scientists are agreeing to keep belief entirely separate from the discourse of scientific inquiry.        This unassuming little pope is really shaking things up, and not just with his red hats and red Prada loafers.  He did quote a harsh statement about Islam, but I think Muslims should be mature enough to hear unpleasant things said about their faith, as Christians have had to hear unpleasant things said about theirs.  Muslims’ resorting to violent protest unfortunately only seems to underscore the offensive statement to which they object.