Monday, September 27, 2010

Is There Really No Place For Reason Informing Faith?

For these two spiritual leaders it's reasonable to have Faith informed by Compassion

I agree with Pope Benedict's insistence that faith has a part to play in secular society, or to put it in his terms, that faith can inform reason.  Where I run into real problems is his selective application of the reverse of this proposition,  that of faith being informed by reason.  In that part of the faith/reason equation, secular humanists, scientists,  and even atheists do have an important part to play. Not all tenants and dogmas of religious systems are reasonable in a secular or scientific sense and some of them cause all kinds of problems for secular states. 

Egypt is currently experiencing this kind of situation over remarks made by Fr. Bishoy of the Egyptian Coptic church.  Fr. Bishoy questioned whether some remarks attributed to the Prophet Mohammad in the Quran, ones pertaining to Christians, were really stated by the Prophet.  He suggested they could be later 'add ins'.  This concept of tinkering with authoritative texts is hardly unheard of in Christian biblical scholarship and Fr. Bishoy may not truly have thought he was stating anything revolutionary.  If so he was mistaken.  The Coptic Church and the secular Egyptian government are now under serious attack by Islamic literalists.

In the West sex, gender, and the family are the big battle grounds between faith systems and secularism.  One of the comments I read in reference to the Bishop Eddie Long mess was written by a Black sociologist who stated that it always amazed him that Black believers could go on and on about adhering to the sexual letter of the law in the bible as it pertained to homosexuals, while overlooking the fact their own oppression from slavery was justified by whites claiming biblical authority for slavery.  There are, he wrote, a great many more verses in the Bible justifying slavery than there is condemning homosexuality.  Given some of the responses he received, for literalists this kind of reasonable question is an attack on the veracity of the Bible prompted by Satan.  They were not amused by his argument and apparently blind to it's reasonableness.

Then there was this from Rowan Williams the Archbishop of Canterbury in an article on gay Anglican bishops:

“There’s no problem about a gay person who’s a bishop. It’s about the fact that there are traditionally, historically, standards that the clergy are expected to observe,” he said.

When asked what was wrong with a gay bishop having a partner, the Archbishop said the scriptural and traditional approach “doesn’t give much ground for being positive about it”.

The scriptural and traditional approach didn't give much ground for being positive about outlawing the slave trade either, but secular England did away with slavery anyway.--- and not with the help of his predecessor of the time, nor the one sitting on the Throne of Peter.

The funny thing is that faith did play a huge part in changing attitudes towards slavery and pushing human rights forward.  It was the inspired faith of believers who heard a message about moving beyond literal interpretations and seeing the over all trend in God's relationship with humanity.  They saw a Jesus who opened up His kingdom to everyone.  They saw a new covenant based on universal and timeless attitudes of love, compassion, humility and inclusion.  They did not see a covenant based on the primacy of right behavior or some form of god approved class distinction which put heterosexual white christian males on the top of God's pyramid.  For these Christians, God didn't have a pyramid of people.  God just had people.  God cared for us all the same.  That's the kind of  faith interacting with reason that has historically propelled secular society forward on a fairer and more inclusive path. 

To get to that universal inclusive understanding one has to give permission for reason to inform their initial faith formation, and that threatens traditional authority.  I suspect that's the problem African Anglican clergy have with the West and Benedict has with secular relativism.  It's really not about homosexuality and relativism, it's about undermining the strength of traditional and exclusively male authority.  For a lot of folks in the West there's nothing unreasonable about expecting change in these authoritarian religious structures. More than that, they see no compelling biblical case for the maintenance of a uni gender authoritarian structure with it's attendant male centered world view. It's neither reasonable nor particularly faith inspiring because it is no longer how the world works. 

If the world and humanity truly are in some measure a reflection of God's image, then it just seems reasonable to think that God doesn't work from a uni gender uni sexual world view.  I think it's also reasonable to wonder why the Catholic teaching authority does insist God desires such a male unisex world (except for the actual sex part).  The further the Church moves from Vatican II the less it seems to want a Faith informed by reason.  I have a hard time believing that is truly about the Will of God. It seems more reasonable to attribute that thinking to the will of the men who benefit from the thinking.


  1. I'm commenting on the photo. How refreshing to see holy men laughing together! This is a sign of holiness the Vatican seems empty of...

  2. In a week or so I'm going to meet with several friends of mine. One is a survivor of the holocaust. Two are theologians or perhaps it would be better to describe them as students of divinity. One has recently returned from work at the Vatican. And the last is a hard-working parish priest.

    It is a very interesting group. Sometimes I wonder why I am among such people unless it is for a more secular Catholic point of view. They've worked all over the world: India, Pakistan, Rwanda, Chile, France, Italy, China, Israel, and the Middle East.

    They regret the Vatican's insistence on the primacy of the Roman Catholic Church because in the world there are thousands of leaders and millions, perhaps billions, of the faithful who lead their lives according to their religious beliefs.

    Faith informs but does not put food on the table the way technology does. The classical age of the Islam (750 to 1258 CE) was one when the Caliphate embraced technology, education, practiced tolerance and respected history even if it was pagan. It flourished during the "Dark Ages" of Europe when the Catholic church was at the height of power and failed to advance civilization. Quite a contrast of Abrahamic religions, isn't it?

    And what do we have today? Everywhere religion seems to embrace the worst of humanity, divisive, defensive and destructive.


  3. I studied many years in Catholic Theology, Catholic Philosophy and ended up a physician and a scientist first in hard research science then in a softer type science that can not depend so mush on proof with numbers but science non the less the believes in the scientific method and begins with the hypothesis and ends with theories defining what we see as truth.

    What I think has happened in "Old Religion" and particularly in its leadership is a lack of faith in the Holy Spirit and His/Her being with us until the end of time. The idea that belief can be based purely in historical fact is ridiculous. History is like news the telling of what happened. I have been to several discussions and was present at many news worthy events. The news reported was almost always different than I or my colleagues remembered what actually occurred. The Bible tales mostly lack true history but they are true as myths that give rise to thought and our societies moral stands. Myths have a different type of truth attached to them than does history. They are wonderful ways that philosophically help us understand meaning in life. Many people especially the clergy are upset when we discuss the Bible as a mythical book. Scientists are also upset when we discuss the mythical Newton's laws. Just as Newton's laws are only true when we live on sphere with gravity, the myths of the Bible are true only when certain conditions are meant. I know its upsetting to many people who wish we lived in a "Black and White" world were truth is pitted against untruth. To those committed to thought, the black and white Orthodox world simply can not be true. Just as Einstein's Theory of Relativity points out a constant. E=MC2, Scientists, Philosophers and good theologians are always faced with relativism. What happens when there is a small change in C.

    The Holy Spirit is with us until the end of time. I was once taught that the Spirit was the feminine manifestation of God. There are some good reasons to see it that way, but for me God is simply genderless. The idea that Jesus was a man and Ordained only men is a no go --- non sequitor for me. So the RCC is simply a misogynistic church in terms of leadership and governance and I understand that women must see the Church differently. SO MUST MEN.

    The Holy Spirit is here to guide the evolution of all knowledge. As the population of the world became so very large, along came the serendipitous finding from a RCC Researcher at Harvard --THE BIRTH CONTROL PILL. She infuses knowledge to us, particularly to those that are looking for more truth all the time. The Problem with the Clergy is that they believe that reasoned knowledge comes from the MEN of history. That is very hard for thinking people to swallow. I think that it is a very serious sin and even an evil when people refuse to consider the evolution of progressive thought certainly inspired by the Spirit.

    The Pope and Bishops with their “creeping” infallibility are only causing themselves to be seen as relatively foolish old men that are refusing to listen to the Spirit as She addressed herself through Vatican II and as she continues to address herself on a daily basis to those who understand that to be human we are finite and any truth we understand will only be relative truth to that of an infinite God. Relativity or relativism are equally important for us all. It seems to me that the ethical problems in this world do not stem so much from the secular world but from the clerical world, since moral thought and rules tend to trail secular ethics by a very large time gap. dennis

  4. Great article. Really, the Catholic church has to drop all of this talk about hell and the devil and these foolish rules. We need to push for women priests, gay marriage, abortion rights, artificial contraception.


  5. "any truth we understand will only be relative truth to that of an infinite God. Relativity or relativism are equally important for us all."

    Great comment all around Dennis, but this observation struck home with me because it's so true.

  6. Nancy thanks for reading. I think we'll be off to a good start if we can push for a truly representational authority structure and a whole lot more transparency, honesty, and compassion.

  7. rdp46:

    That was a stunningly stupendous comment! The best I think you've ever posted! And it is so TRUE!

    It should be a blog of its own. It should be printed and disseminated. I hope it takes on a life of its own!

    Truly, the Holy Spirit has tonight inspired you.

    p2p: Enjoyed yours as well!

    I think we need to leave more room for the Spirit - right here on his blog!

    Kudos to Colleen for being a catalyst for these great comments!

  8. I have been wondering recently about on-line technologies and modern faith. I do believe that it is possible for the Holy Spirit to be present in and through the writers on on-line blogs like this. ones that bring hope and "reason" to discussions of religion and faith.

  9. @My muse and me,

    Marshall McLuhan was a very devout Catholic who pondered the role of the Church in the new age. He's inspired quite a few scholars.

    One of the friends I will meet is a student of Pierre Babin, a French priest, psychoanalyst and scholar who has published 26 books on faith and media. For example: The Gospel in Cyberspace: Nurturing faith in the internet age. (translated by Angela Ann Zukowski.


  10. @rdp46

    I agree with TheraP. You comment could be an article, it is so rich with meaning and beautifully written.


  11. You may be interested in this, Colleen. It is related to science!

    PEW survey on religion. Atheists and Agnostics score higher on 32 questions regarding Christianity. Jews score higher than christians. Mormons too.

    But, to me, the most interesting figure is "hispanic catholics" versus white catholics. The white ones, on average, can answer half the questions correctly. (many do not know the church teaches that the bread and wine become body and blood...) But the hispanic catholics, the ones the Vatican is counting on (!) can, on average only answer 1 out of 3 faith questions correctly!

    Now... it seems to me this is similar to what I see among the Orthodox. As the US church becomes more and more a 'Hispanic Church' you may see it more and more as something like a cultural center, where an ethnic group finds its identity through the church, even though the religion itself is not the unifying factor.

    (My own Orthodox parish is full of intellectuals - from many ethnicities, so we're not typical at all... Many converts. But there are a few from foreign lands, baptized as children, but lacking much grounding in their faith...)

    I honestly think it may be the Catholic intellectuals in this country who are the loudest critics of the church - simply because they know the most! And the "faithful" may be, sadly, ignorant folks who have, at best, a kind of religiosity but neither a firm grounding in theology, nor much an understanding of prayer or liturgy.

    Take a look. It might make an interesting blog. And feel free to make use of any of my ideas here.

    Very sad...

  12. Thank you TheraP, p2p and Colleen for your positive comments. It is interesting I wrote those comments down in about 1/2 hour between seeing patients. I did not see them as anything special only what I thought and believe based on the way I reason. dennis

  13. Quite a fascinating survey and not terribly flattering for Catholicism.

    Personally I think the operative factor in Hispanic Catholicism revolves much more around the sense of family than it does catechesis. This is a different focus from which to organize one's faith belief system and world view. It's much more relational than obedience or knowledge driven.

    Catholic intellectuals are going to have to take a serious look at this world view because it will be the driving force of the future church.

    For instance an emphasis on Faith expressed by and in relationship leads directly to a sexual ethic based in relationship. Given this I wasn't the least bit surprised that the USCCB came down hard on Lawler and Saltzman's book "The Sexual Person".

    Can't be having this relationship idea competing with the letter of the law idea.

    Personally, I'll take a person who gets the importance of relationship any day over one who gets Aquinas.

    In my opinion the Hispanic Church may indeed be leading the way

  14. Hi TheraP,

    what should I tell these ignorant catholics I meet at church every week? How can they become more enlightened and intelligent like the catholics here are? I'm trying to get them to embrace gay marriage, women preists and abortion rights and they just not listening. They tell me to read the cathecism! They just don;t seem to want to think!



  15. Nancy, there's no way you can change people. Let go of that. Leave it to God. Think of the serenity prayer. Focus on what is in your control, not on what isn't.

    But it's up to you....

  16. @Nancy,

    When the pupil is ready the teacher appears.

    In the meantime don't think of those you wish to teach as being ignorant.