D. C. Schindler on how faith detached from reason guarantees relativism
“Descartes famously sought to prove the existence of God through the strict application of logic in order to provide a foundation for the objectivity of the world, the reality of things beyond the phantasms of the imagination. There are many fundamental criticisms to make regarding the Cartesian project: it turns God into an instrument serving a philosophical purpose, or indeed primarily psychological purpose of providing certainty; it operates with a radically impoverished sense of reason, which is defined in strict opposition to faith; and it takes for granted a radicalized subjectivity, an isolated consciousness set off from the physical things of the world, as the problematic starting point, which inevitably sets the terms for the resolution. In another context, we could show that these problems are all related. But, here, I want instead to highlight something positive in Descartes’s reflections, namely, the insight that the objectivity of the world stands or falls with the objectivity of God. The claim I want to make, here, is not exactly Descartes’s — namely, that we have to prove the existence of God first in order to be able to affirm the existence of the world— but rather a somewhat more modest contrapositive of his claim: if we deny the possibility of a rational proof for the existence of God, or that reason has any business occupying itself with such things, or that God would represent a truth demanding the consideration of reason — in other words, if we insist that the God-question is exclusively a matter of private, personal faith, which does not concern anyone else but me — then we undermine the objective reality of things in general. The world gets emptied of its ontological density at a single stroke, even if the outward shell remains intact for centuries thereafter.
“Nietzsche famously observed that the death of God — the disappearance of God’s significance — is a ‘tremendous event’ that ‘has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time.’ It may be that only the appearance of a broad moral controversy brings to light what had in fact been true already for generations: all of a sudden, we come to realize that we do not in fact believe that there is such a thing as ‘nature,’ that the physical world, paradigmatically the human body, is meaningful in itself, that truth and goodness and beauty have objective weight. Charles Péguy defined the spirit of modernity as not believing what one believes (‘ne pas croire ce qui l’on croit’); perhaps postmodernity arrives when we finally see through this falsehood and shed the pretense. In any event, I wish to suggest that at the root of the subjectivism and relativism that we regularly encounter in contemporary culture lies the conviction that faith in God is ultimately a personal, private affair alone, a matter sealed off from the realm of truth. If the Creator of the world is not in some basic sense an other, to which I must conform, any real otherness that the world may have grows thin, and fails to put up any ontological resistance to human projects — at the moment of crisis, initially, but eventually in any moment of need, however trivial.”
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On our most current issue, Volume 131 of the Journal, we featured an interview with historian, Peter Harrison, on his book The Territories of Science and Religion. If you would like to read an excellent summary of Harrison's book, or if you need a little more incentive to listen to the interview, we encourage you to read Peter Leithart's review of Harrison's book "Not Religion v. Science," published on October 6, 2016 on the First Things website.
Lesslie Newbigin on not knowing everything
“There is indeed a proper place for agnosticism in the Christian life. There is a true sense in which we are — with others — seekers after the truth. The apophatic tradition in theology has always insisted on the fact that no human image or concept can grasp the full reality of God. Christians are — or should be — learners to the end of their days. But it is equally important to insist that this learning is, like all genuine learning, an exercise which is guided and disciplined by a tradition — the tradition which stems from God’s decisive acts in Jesus Christ. No learning takes place except within a tradition whose authority is accepted as guidance for exploration. No seeking can be called serious which is without any clue. Wandering about in a twilight where all cats are grey is not seeking truth. When Christians affirm, as they do, that Jesus is the way, the true and living way by whom we come to the Father (John 16:4), they are not claiming to know everything. They are claiming to be on the way, and inviting others to join them as they press forward toward the fulness of the truth, toward the day when we shall know as we have been known.”
— from Lesslie Newbigin, The Gospel in a Pluralist Society and the Common Good (Eerdmans, 1989)
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Peter Leithart on the relationship between ecclesial unity and religious liberty
Why should the call for ecclesial unity demand just as much, if not more, of our efforts and attention than current battles over religious liberty? How could getting Catholics, Presbyterians, and Lutherans together to worship and discuss their similarities (not just their differences) be equally pressing and even more significant than fighting for the rights of Christian lawyers, Christian business owners, and Christian professors? Pastor-theologian, Peter Leithart, argues in his recent blog post entitled “Referees, Players, and Religious Liberty,” that the disunity among Protestants and between Protestants and Catholics enables our current social pathologies just as much as [Christian] religious liberties become threatened by them.
How can this be? Taking his cue from an essay written by philosopher D.C. Schindler entitled “Liberalism, Religious Freedom, and the Common Good: The Totalitarian Logic of Self-Limitation,” Leithart notes that current infringements upon religious liberty are mere (albeit painful) symptoms of a much more pernicious assumption embedded within the liberal order itself: that while claiming to be a neutral adjudicator, liberalism covertly reserves the right to draw boundaries around that about which it claims to have no competency, namely, religion.
“As a result,” concludes Leithart, “the liberal state institutionalizes and establishes its own theology,” which is to say that religion is irrelevant to the common good. When the common good can only be discussed in terms defined by the secular realm, the traditional understanding of the Church as a “catholic, universal community, an alternative public” is severely marginalized in favor of voluntary churches viewed as one communal option among many.
Given that Schindler’s article was published in an edition of Communio dedicated to the Second Vatican Council’s declaration on religious freedom (Dignitatis Humanae), it isn't surprising that Leithart’s comments echo those of David L. Schindler’s and Nicholas J. Healy’s on the same topic, recently issued on Volume 131 of the MARS HILL AUDIO Journal. Like Schindler and Healy, Leithart puts forward the unavoidable fact that “liberalism has an anthropology and we can ask a simple question: Is this a Christian anthropology?” If the answer is no, some effort to challenge those anthropological assumptions must take priority.
Josef Pieper on why philosophy needs theology
“[T]he philosopher who also has faith — who regards the world as a creation which issued from the divine Logos and which, although it is fundamentally luminous, lucid, clear and bright, at the same time reflects a design which by its very nature is inaccessible to human understanding — only a philosopher like this is in a position to divine how the knowability of the world and its incomprehensibility (both of which attributes are more or less demonstrable by empirical methods) could derive from the same root. This insight, which is clearly philosophical in nature in that it derives from the encounter with empirical reality, can nevertheless be imparted only to a person who is prepared to learn from theology something which he could never come to know on his own. Of course, the greatest enrichment which the philosopher can derive from the collaboration with theology lies in the fact that it can prevent him from falling prey to those dangers inherent in philosophy itself, the chief among which is the natural desire to create a clear, transparent and unified image of the world. For example, the idea of the Incarnation of God, in which the ultimate work of the creation was linked with the origin of that creation to form a circle, might appeal to a ‘Gnostic’ philosopher who saw in it the unlocked-for confirmation of a world view based on a single all-embracing principle. But the facts that, within the framework, mankind hated and killed the God-made-man ‘without a cause’ (Jn 15:25) and that yet the same death effected the salvation of man, who had committed the murder: these theological truths explode any tidy formula which anyone might conceive about the world. . . . Thus the person who engages in the philosophical act appears to derive a certain handicap from his collaboration with theology, but simultaneously he derives an enrichment which can be summed up in the term: higher truth. For the essential thing in philosophy is neither the avoidance of knotty problems nor the bewitchment of the intellect with plausible or conclusive proofs. Instead the essential thing is that not one single element of reality be suppressed or concealed — not one element of that unfathomable reality the vision of which is synonymous with the concept of ‘truth.’”
— from Josef Pieper, “The Possible Future of Philosophy,” in Josef Pieper: An Anthology (Ignatius Press, 1981)
(Click here to read another excerpt from this anthology, in which Pieper discusses how the refusal to regognize the spiritual center of human existence leads to a “roaming restlessness of the spirit”)
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