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Monday, April 9, 2007

There is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous

Ratzinger became deeply influenced by the philosophy of personalism, which saw the basis of reality not in bloodless science but in the individual human being and whose adherents would come to include Vaclav Havel and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. He looked, too, to the German philosophers Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger as guides, for their inquiries into “pure being” allowed for a more human understanding of the world than the scientific materialism that was rapidly winning acceptance in Western culture. But all of this was mere supplement to Catholic theology...
Benedict is one of the most intellectual men ever to serve as pope — and surely one of the most intellectual of current world leaders — and he has pinpointed the problem of the age, as well as its solution, at the level of philosophy. His argument, elaborated in the years leading up to his election and continuing through his daily speeches and pronouncements, reduces to something like this: Secularism may be one of the great developments in history, but the secularism that holds sway in much of the West — that is, in Western Europe — is flawed; it has a bug in its programming. The mistaken conviction that reason and faith are two distinct realms has weakened Europe and has brought it to the verge of catastrophic collapse. As he said in a speech in 2004:
“There exist pathologies in religion that are extremely dangerous and that make it necessary to see the divine light of reason as a ‘controlling organ.’ . . . However . . . there are also pathologies of reason . . . there is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous.”
If you seek a way out of the vast post-9/11 quagmire (Baghdad bomb blasts, Iranian nukes, Danish cartoons, ever-more-bizarre airport security measures and the looming mayhem they are meant to stop), and for that matter if you believe in Europe and “the West” (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, a bottle of Chateau Lafite Rothschild, the whole heritage of 2,500 years of history), then now, Benedict in effect argues, the Catholic Church must be heeded. Because its tradition was filtered through the Enlightenment, the thinking goes, the church can provide a bridge between godless rationality and religious fundamentalism. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Russell Shorto, a contributing writer, frequently covers religion for the magazine. His last article was about the battle over contraception.

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