Sunday, 19 September 2010

On a more serious note ...

Faith and Reason


I listened, as reasonably as I could, to the Pope’s explanation of why John Henry Newman deserves to be recognised in calendars and diaries, celebrated every year on the twentieth of October, beatified (the last step on his road to becoming a full-blown Catholic Saint). The gist of it (leaving out miracles) seemed to be that Newman (who incidentally reneged at a fairly early age from the Protestant religion of his birth to the Church of Rome, for reasons which the Pope chose not to go into) in some way uniquely encapsulated a kind of conjunction of two seemingly opposite, irreconcilable attitudes, or foundations, from which or on which we can base the way we lead our lives and try to affect the way others do – Faith and Reason.

Reconciliation of Faith and Reason. 

Sorry, Pope, I don’t buy it. You are starting from the wrong place. Without getting either too philosophical or too mystical, here’s a nutshell’s worth. Ready?

O.K. All that we start with, all that we possess from the day we’re born, is the input of our senses; and then, as we grow, our power of reason. Neither of these is infallible, or even reliable. I know that my senses are a blunt instrument, otherwise I’d be able to see the spaces in between electrons; and my logic frequently makes mistakes (if you doubt that, just look inside my fridge).

But that does not justify the introduction of a third element to the mix, this thing called Faith.

Let’s be quite clear: by Faith, we are not talking about the day-to-day power which enables us to fail to notice electron collisions or fridge contents.  On religion’s own terms, we are explicitly talking about belief in God; and by that the Pope explicitly means, again in his own terms, belief in the monotheistic God of the Abrahamic religious systems. But that’s not the end: by virtue of the insistence on that particular belief set, we are also instructed to subscribe, unthinkingly, unreasoningly, to the body of legalistic (at best), perverse (at worst) dogma and practice which has stuck, like congealing effluent, to the pure core of that belief. How precisely does that chain of reason, or leap of faith, lead to the beatification and sanctification of John Henry Newman?

I have, as I said, followed the events of the last four days quite closely, because I do think (believe? am advised by my observation or my logic?) that this stuff’s important. And that worries me.

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