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Thread: Reasonable Faith, Faithful Reasonableness

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    Reasonable Faith, Faithful Reasonableness

    Below is an excerpt from a review, Reasonable Faith, Faithful Reasonableness, of Samuel Gregg's Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization . The sweep of history of ideas is interesting and succinct.

    ...At least since the publication of Edward Gibbon’s influential Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the eighteenth century, the usual account of the history of thought describes the ancient Hebrews as having a mythological view of the world that was hostile to reason. According to Gibbon, this anti-rationality was passed on to Christianity, which enervated the Romans and contributed to their downfall. Gregg argues, by contrast, that the Hebrews were the first people to put forward a rational view of the cosmos. They viewed the world as inherently good and orderly and rejected the prevalent belief that human rulers were gods. Centuries before the vaunted Greek achievements in philosophy, the Hebrews brought about one of the human race’s most important “enlightenments” through their rejection of idolatry and pagan mythology. Accompanying these developments was an emphasis on human freedom and a rejection of the fatalism so common in the pagan world.

    According to Gregg, then, the ancient Greeks were not, as we are so often told in textbooks, the pioneers of Western rationality. Nevertheless, the Greek contributions were considerable. Gregg focuses on the concept of logos in the Socratic and Stoic traditions. The Stoics used the term to describe an animating spirit in all things and the participation of human reason in a divine order. This impersonal concept differs from the Hebrew understanding of a personal God, but it is similar in holding that a rationality is at the source of all things. The Greek and Hebrew traditions influenced one another in Hellenistic Alexandria and other places.

    Christianity fused the two traditions into a unity, according to Gregg. The Gospel of John presents Christ as the divine logos, reason incarnate. The early church affirmed the value of natural reason as a process by which all people are capable of knowing the truth. It also stressed human freedom, the ability to choose the good, to pursue excellence. Gregg argues that these three teachings were an essential part of “the West’s DNA” for more than a millennium. Faith and reason cooperated in the pursuit of capital-T Truth.

    Unfortunately, the world of faith became separated from the world of reason in the modern West. This development was not the inevitable result, as some say, of contradictions between the two made apparent by progress in the natural sciences. Rather, writes Gregg, they stem from Lockean empiricism, the claim that all knowledge ultimately results from reflection on sensory experiences. Gregg discusses two “pathologies of reason” that result from this stance: Prometheanism (we must remake the world in order to remake our sensory experience) and scientism (we must rely exclusively on the scientific method to acquire knowledge).

    These pathologies of reason came to inform various “pathologies of religion” that resulted as many nineteenth-century intellectuals turned away from organized religion but were unable to deny the religious impulse that is part of human nature. Thinkers such as Karl Marx and John Stuart Mill created substitute religions—implicitly in Marx’s case, explicitly in Mill’s—that were intended to be wholly rational replacements for Christianity. Friedrich Nietzsche went further, in effect rejecting reason in favor of embracing what amounted to a religion based on pure will. The pathologies of religion and reason paved the way for more recent threats to the West: an “authoritarian relativism” that insists no one may publicly proclaim the truth of his philosophical or theological positions, a “liberal religion” centered on inward feelings rather than objective truth, and a fideism manifested in some Christian fellowships and most dangerously in jihadist Islam. Surveying all these problems, Gregg writes, “If the West’s unique integration of reason and faith is a defining characteristic of its civilization, we must conclude that this civilization is seriously imperiled”...
    Edmund Burke: "In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!"

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