.- Pope Benedict XVI has been reflecting upon the relationship of faith and reason and warning about the dangers that come with the loss of a reasonable faith for decades, long before the now-famous Regensburg lecture, said Papal scholar and author George Weigel at a conference held at the United Nations yesterday.
The conference, titled “Relativism and the Crisis of Cultures in the Writings of his Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,” was sponsored by Archbishop Celestino Migliore, Permanent Observer of the Holy See to the UN. Weigel was joined by Italian Senator and scholar Marcello Pera, who co-authored a book with the Pontiff when he was Cardinal Joseph Ratziner. It was held in the UN’s Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium.
Weigel, a Catholic author and senior fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., told those gathered that the Pontiff is challenging the entire world to consider the cultural consequences of a collapse of both faith and reason. Though the Pope’s comments on Islam were given the lion’s share of attention, Weigel said, a large portion of Benedict’s Regensburg talk focused another “real and present danger” - the loss of faith in reason in the West.
Weigel reflected on the thought of the Holy Father and his own close reading of Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures,” which warns that Western society is in danger, in large part, “because it will be unable to give an account of its political commitments and their moral foundations.” Weigel also outlined four of the book’s key propositions.
He said the book’s first proposition is that people “live in a moment of dangerous imbalance in the relationship between the West’s technological capabilities and the West’s moral understanding.” In the Pope’s words, “moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science.”
The second proposition is that “the moral and political lethargy … in much of Europe today is one by-product of Europe’s disdain for the Christian roots of its unique civilization … which has contributed in various ways to the decline of what was once the center of world culture and world-historical initiative.
The third proposition is that Europe’s abandonment of its Christian roots “implies the abandonment of the idea of ‘Europe’ as a civilizational enterprise constructed from the fruitful interaction of Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome.”
“This infidelity to the past has led, in turn, to a truncated idea of reason, and of the human capacity to know, however imperfectly, the truth of things, including the moral truth of things. There is a positivism shaping (and misshaping) much of Western thought today – a positivism that excludes all transcendent moral reference points from public life,” Weigel said.
The fourth proposition is that “the recovery of reason in the West would be facilitated by a reflection on the fact that the Christian concept of God as Logos helped shape the distinct civilization of the West as a synthesis of Athens, Jerusalem, and Rome.”
“Pope Benedict … has for some time now been trying to give the world a precious gift: a vocabulary through which a serious, global discussion of both the crisis of technological civilization in the West and the crisis posed by jihadist ideology and its lethal expressions around the world can be engaged by believers and nonbelievers alike – the vocabulary of ‘rationality and ‘irrationality’,” Weigel said.
“If Europe begins to recover its faith in reason, then at least some in Europe may, in time, rediscover the reasonableness of faith; and in any event, a renewed faith in reason would provide an antidote to the spiritual boredom from which Europe is dying – and thus open the prospect of a new birth of freedom in Europe, and throughout the West,” said Weigel.
“Benedict XVI has been trying to remind the world that societies and cultures are only as great as their spiritual aspirations,” Weigel said.