tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI on Faith and Reason

One of the really good things to come out of the demands by radical Islamists that Pope Benedict XVI apologize for his September 12 speech at Regensburg, Germany is that the ensuing media brouhaha might actually incite some people to dig up the speech and read it. That’s exactly what I did and I hope you will too. Find the full text at

Benedict delivered an absolutely brilliant speech about the inseparability of faith and reason. The great divide among God-fearing people in our world today is between those who believe God’s actions are completely random and indiscriminate, and those who believe God’s actions are in harmony with reason. Some people say God can do anything He wants, even evil. This doesn’t make any sense to me. We Catholics believe God cannot contradict Himself. God is pure love and evil does not come out of true love. Reason would require this consistency.

I am very grateful for the integration of faith and reason. If God’s actions correspond with reason, then I have some hope of knowing God and of understanding His ways. But if His ways are entirely separate from reason, then I have no way of discerning the meaning of God’s actions. I would have no way of knowing whether a particular action is godly or otherwise.

Benedict notes the Greek translation for “word” in the first verses of John’s Gospel. The Greek word is “logos,” which means both “reason” and “word.” Benedict said: “John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God…”

Although faith and reason are necessarily integrated, Benedict notes three distinct efforts in Western culture to separate them over the last 500 years. He notes, first, the Reformation of the 16th century which reduced faith to one component of an over arching philosophical system, unduly influenced by the philosopher Immanuel Kant who stated that “he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith.” The principle of sola scripture, a pillar of the Reformation, dramatically reduced the grandeur of God and His revelation to mankind.

The second effort to bifurcate faith and reason came out of liberal Christian thought developed in the 19th and 20th centuries which focused on the humanity of Jesus. The idea, Benedict said, “was to bring Christianity back into harmony with ‘modern’ reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God.”

The third effort, which is currently underway in some theological circles, discounts the significance of Greek culture in the presentation of the scriptures. It dismisses the word “logos” and its significance as merely a cultural phenomenon that should not have meaning in a world-wide application of scripture and theology.

Benedict states that faith without reason prevents religion from creating community because faith ends up being entirely personal. On the other hand, reason without faith offers a very narrow view of science which reduces mankind to something much smaller than God intended. The fullness of God's creation can only be understood in a context that honors the inseparability of faith and reason.

God-fearing people should be willing to have the discussion that Pope Benedict initiates with his speech at Regensburg. The radicals who threatened the Pope with death and burned his image in effigy clearly don’t want to have that discussion. Their reaction to the speech validates the importance of Benedict’s message.

While the opportunity for dialogue with Muslims may be minimal now, my hope is the opportunity is far greater with non-Catholic Christian denominations. What is the role of reason in a “scripture alone” theology? Was Kant right? Do we really need to turn off our brains before considering our faith? Pope Benedict in his speech affirmed that the Catholic Church says no.

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