Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Lost in the Noise

The recent furore over the Pope's speech in the Muslim world has caused many (if not most) to lose sight of what he was really trying to say. As is typically the case, the noise often drowns out the real message. In essence, what the pope was trying to tell his audience, who were mainly a group of secular university elite, was that if there was going to be a "genuine dialogue of cultures and religions," the relationship between reason and faith had to be re-examined. He concluded his address by saying:
In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.

You can find a pdf of the pope's full speech on the BBC website here)
Ironically, his very call for dialogue brought the heart of the problem he was trying to address to the fore. The Western media guided by their positivistic reason demonstrated its problems by the way they reported the speech. They lifted a quote from the address that was sure to generate maximum conflict, regardless of the fact that it was used totally out of context and totally contrary to the gist of what Pope Benedict was trying to say. Conversely, the response from the Muslim world similarly showed once again how faith divorced from reason can lead to unruly behaviours.

One of my professors, the Revd Dr. Leander Harding, has written a brilliant analysis of the Pope's address. He compares what the pope said with Michael Polyani's concept of "moral inversion" and points out that reason without faith or faith without reason both lead to perversions of morality. And when carried to its logical (or illogical) extreme, results in violence.
If we read Polanyi and the Pope together we can see that the apocalyptic violence of the totalitarian movements of the secular West in the 20th century and the violence of Islamic Jihadism have a strong family resemblance. The both reject in the name of utopian visions the concept of universal moral principles to which as St. Thomas says, “even the Jew and Muslim must agree.” Both European totalitarianism and Jihadism reject any reasoned critique of their utopian project. Both Polanyi and the Pope argue that there is no way out of this impasse without a rehabilitation of the role of reason and a redefinition of the relationship between faith and reason. If the choice is between an unreasoning faith and an unreasonably skeptical secular reason which brings in its train nihilism, the world is presented with a choice between moral despair and utopian fanaticism in both secular and religious forms, with no possibility of a mediating dialogue. This is not the way forward for reason or faith or the human race.

(Click here to read the rest of his blog...)

1 comment:

Jon W said...

Jeff Israely, in a recent issue of Time Magazine apparently agrees with this view. Check out his op-ed piece here...