Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Building a Culture of Life - Part 6

6. Faith and Reason.

I have this vision in my head that Catholics are actually in a position to be the bridge builders between various political extremes. I think it's partly about that faith-and-reason thing that we believe needs to be kept in balance. It seems to me that at this point in time one side tends to be off-balance in a reason-without-faith direction while the other side is inclined to embrace faith without reason.

So what does this Faith-and-Reason balance entail, anyway?
Man can touch the eternal only in sensible realities, but the things of this world are also intrinsically designed to mediate contact with God. (Cardinal Ratzinger, Gospel, Catechesis, Catechism)
A lot of people misunderstand this concept of Faith and Reason and assume that the "reason" part has something to do with an in-depth intellectual background.


Intellectual studies are a good thing and have always been valued by the Church, but are not absolutely required for what we're talking about here. It's much more about using the gifts God has given us - including our reason and our common sense (I'm also thinking of the two-boats-and-a-helicopter joke here) - to make the best decisions we can. It's certainly about prudence, too.

It may be helpful to keep in mind that as much as it is a scandal for Christians to be confronted with those who believe God should be driven out from public view, it is *also* a scandal to those with secular-leanings to be told that they have to throw out even good science and common sense in order to embrace Christianity. (I think it's similar to the conflict between St. Peter and St. Paul in the early Church. St. Peter was tempted to side with those who argued that Gentiles, in order to become Christians, needed to embrace all the tenets of the Jewish faith. I think it's fairly easy to see now both why that would be a tempting position and why that was so controversial!) The truth is that neither view is complete or accurate. God is reasonable, He created our world and we can actually learn about God through science and reason.
Though faith is above reason, there can never be any real discrepancy between faith and reason. Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth. Consequently, methodical research in all branches of knowledge, provided it is carried out in a truly scientific manner and does not override moral laws, can never conflict with the faith, because the things of the world and the things of faith derive from the same God. The humble and persevering investigator of the secrets of nature is being led, as it were, by the hand of God in spite of himself, for it is God, the conserver of all things, who made then what they are. (The Catechism of the Catholic Church #198)

and also...

In studying nature we have not to inquire how God the Creator may, as He freely wills, use His creatures to work miracles and thereby show forth His power: we have rather to inquire what Nature with its immanent causes can naturally bring to pass. (St. Albert the Great, circa 1200 AD)
This brings me to a corollary to this part of our discussion.

Study Church Teaching.

What the Catholic Church has to say about our social obligations and how societies should function is truly beautiful and sensible. It has great possibilities for bridging that gap between Faith and Reason that our society constantly struggles with. If only people would familiarize themselves with these principles!

First of all, Pope Leo XIII's encyclical Rerum Novarum should be required reading for every Catholic high school student and every serious Catholic armchair politician. Also required reading should be Pope Benedict XVI's important encyclical Deus Caritas Est, which has very helpful things to say about social justice and works of charity. I've heard that the Holy Father has an encyclical on social justice in the works as well.

Here's a small sampling:
Christian charitable activity must be independent of parties and ideologies. It is not a means of changing the world ideologically, and it is not at the service of worldly stratagems, but it is a way of making present here and now the love which man always needs. The modern age, particularly from the nineteenth century on, has been dominated by various versions of a philosophy of progress whose most radical form is Marxism. Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo. What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future - a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful. One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programs. (Pope Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est)
At the very least, understanding these principles should help keep us from getting overly wrapped up in party politics. Catholics by their nature should be independent anyway, weighing each candidate as best they can with a clear understanding of the various issues at stake. There certainly isn't a major political party out there that entirely represents our beliefs. I've always liked this quote from Archbishop Fulton Sheen.
True followers of Christ were meant to be at odds with the world: The pure of heart will be laughed at by the Freudians; the meek will be scorned by the Marxists; the humble will be walked on by the go-getters; the liberal Sadducees will call them reactionaries; the reactionary Pharisees will call them liberals.