Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tradition & Reason

In this book review from the Wall Street Journal, another writer attempts to undercut the legitimacy of the science of sacred doctrine, which St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica notes:

“I answer that, Since this science is partly speculative and partly practical, it transcends all others speculative and practical. Now one speculative science is said to be nobler than another, either by reason of its greater certitude, or by reason of the higher worth of its subject-matter. In both these respects this science surpasses other speculative sciences; in point of greater certitude, because other sciences derive their certitude from the natural light of human reason, which can err; whereas this derives its certitude from the light of divine knowledge, which cannot be misled: in point of the higher worth of its subject-matter because this science treats chiefly of those things which by their sublimity transcend human reason; while other sciences consider only those things which are within reason's grasp. Of the practical sciences, that one is nobler which is ordained to a further purpose, as political science is nobler than military science; for the good of the army is directed to the good of the State. But the purpose of this science, in so far as it is practical, is eternal bliss; to which as to an ultimate end the purposes of every practical science are directed. Hence it is clear that from every standpoint, it is nobler than other sciences.”

An excerpt from the book review.

“It has long been assumed that Western society in the modern age—with the rise of science and the broad intellectual legacy of the Enlightenment—must become increasingly secular. What is modernity if not the movement from the authority of tradition to the authority of reason? In this view, made famous by the German sociologist Max Weber, the "disenchantment" of the world is the price one pays for leaving the charms and consolations of religion behind. The non-believing Weber was himself nostalgic for an age when faith imbued life with meaning and purpose. But he never ceased to identify secular thinking with a decisive advance in human self- understanding.

“In "Holy Ignorance," the French social theorist Olivier Roy sets out to modify this secularization theory and to overturn its triumphalist message. He begins by noting that religion, though still obviously an important part of modern society, has been relegated to the private sphere, becoming mostly an "interior" search for spiritual well-being. In such a world, "faith communities" of every stripe increasingly withdraw from the broader culture, defending their doctrinal purity against the onslaught of coarse secular trends, what Mr. Roy calls "neo-paganism." This withdrawal, though understandable, is a danger in itself. "Faith without culture," Mr. Roy says, "is an expression of fanaticism."

“By fanaticism, Mr. Roy does not mean merely extreme fundamentalist belief. He argues that all faith, in its isolated, separatist form, gives rise to a disdain for "profane culture"—everything that is not derived from religion—and to a preference for "pure religion," a form of religious belief that is unmediated, unstructured and unconnected to the larger society. Pure religion, in Mr. Roy's view, not only tends to fanaticism but lacks any grounding in a common world. Such religion loses touch, he says, with "religious knowledge itself." It fails to acknowledge its dependence on a dynamic cultural tradition. He sees the spread of Pentecostalism, the world's fastest growing religion, as evidence of the rise of "holy ignorance." Its adherents "speak in tongues," in a language that is understood only by those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit.

“Mr. Roy's category of "holy ignorance," though illuminating, can be too broad and indiscriminate. He never explains why one form of holy ignorance, such as Pentecostalism, avoids political extremism while other forms do not: Many adherents of Salafist Islam, for instance, endorse violence in the name of fidelity to the Prophet. Mr. Roy's holy-ignorance category includes even Pope Benedict's call for the enhanced use of Latin in the Catholic liturgy, part of the church's effort to restore a sense of the sacred to the Mass. Yet for Mr. Roy even a partial return to a Latin liturgy is the "use of a new mantra" aimed at "magical" effects; it is, for him, an instrument for isolating religion instead of bringing it into contact with contemporary culture. But surely Latin is not so esoteric that it cannot speak to at least some believers today. And a pope who repeatedly argues for the "acculturation" of faith in the civilization of the West—who argues for joining faith to reason, without which religion becomes mere superstition—makes a poor proponent of holy ignorance.”