top of page

Reason, Religion, and Pope Benedict

David Cowles

Feb 2, 2023

“World War I, Stalinism, Fascism, the Holocaust, World War II, Hiroshima, the Cold War, Vietnam, and now the new ‘30-Plus Years War’ in the Middle East… Rational Empiricism has compiled quite a resume!”

Once upon a time, we were all religious. No matter our faith or our denomination, we accepted ‘dogma’ that seemed on the surface, at least, to contradict the evidence of our senses and even to clash with reason itself. We consoled ourselves with a simple, “It’s a mystery!”

That might have worked in the Middle Ages or the 1950s, but come on, we’re living in the Age of Science now. Mystery is no longer a comforting friend but the mortal enemy. Mystery is part of Joyce’s nightmare from which we are trying to awake.

So, then there came a time when none of us was religious. Every morning, instead of reciting the Shema, we would light two candles, one at the shrine of all things Empirical, the other at the shrine of all things Rational. We’d gone Greek!

We became Show Me people, even if we didn’t live in Missouri. We had a new dogma now: “Nothing is meaningful unless it can be verified empirically via scientific method.” Like Jesus before us and the Rabbis before Jesus, we skillfully managed to conflate two doctrines (Empiricism and Rationalism) into a single Great Commandment

Then we discovered that that didn’t work either. Next, a flurry of ‘60s liberal theologians tried to convince us that reason and religion could co-exist – not buying it! Or that, like wave-particle duality, religion and reason dealt with different aspects of a single set of phenomena - that’s just about as satisfying as saying that quantum mechanics and relativity apply ‘on different scales’ or that 22 of 26 dimensions in our universe are rolled up into infinitesimal, plank-sized spitballs. And they thought the Incarnation was a stretch! I mean, just how much "crazy" can one person tolerate?  

So, now what? Back to the ‘mystery cults’ of Ancient Greece…or on to ‘nihilism’ a la Nietzsche? Enter Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, once the scourge of Liberation theologians, later Pope Benedict XVI. Benedict argued that reason and religion are not just compatible but symbiotic: there is no valid religion without reason and there is no valid reasoning without religion. A big leap!

There is scriptural support for this outrageous idea. In the Old Testament, Wisdom (Sophia) was God’s first ‘creation’; she was (literally) his playmate, at least before Adam. This tradition is honored today in Kabbala, where Wisdom is the first Sefirot emanating out of Keter (Crown, Godhead). 

In the New Testament, Wisdom has largely folded into the concepts of Logos (Christ) and Pneuma (Spirit), but it survives in places like the O Antiphons sung during the Season of Advent. “O Wisdom” is the first antiphon, leading ultimately to the more familiar climax, “O Come O come Emmanuel”. 

But back to Benedict. Check out his May 1996 address to Latin American bishops entitled, Relativism

“…(Karl) Barth was wrong when…he proposed the faith as a pure paradox that can only exist against reason and totally independent from it… It (faith) does not do violence to it; it is not external to it; rather, it makes it (reason) come to itself.”

“Faith (without reason) is destined to atrophy, it simply lacks air to breathe… Faith can again liberate reason… (but) faith without reason will not be human.”

Who’da-thunk-it? An alliance of Pure Faith and Pure Reason (apologies to Kant) – an alliance against the new ‘axis powers’ of Positivism, Materialism, Paganism, Nihilism. Benedict was right to be concerned…and right to look for allies in the battle ahead. 

Is this the coming of the Anti-Christ, the beginning of Armageddon, as described by John of Patmos in Revelation? Only time will tell, but in any event, who would deny that global civilization is in crisis?  

The cult of Rational Empiricism (above) first took root in the 17th century, but it only fully blossomed in the 20th. “By their fruits you shall know them!” Ok, how about this for a tasty harvest: World War I, Stalinism, Fascism, the Holocaust, World War II, Hiroshima, the Cold War, Vietnam, and now the new ‘30-Plus Years War’ in the Middle East. 

Rational Empiricism has compiled quite a resume! Apparently, it’s a big hit on LinkedIn, but would you hire this applicant? I’ll pass! I’ll stick with Benedict, thank you.

Do you like what you just read and want to read more Thoughts? Subscribe today for free!

- the official blog of Aletheia Today Magazine. 

Have a thought to share about today's 'Thought'.png
bottom of page