Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Rational God?

(Image from Ignatius Press)

Some of what I've recently been dancing around concerns the relation between faith and reason.

This issue gets oblique attention in several posts, e.g., "Koons on 'logical dilemma' vs. 'paradox' (re: grace or works)" "A Gnostic Detour," "Gearing up for Koons...", and perhaps other posts.

I thus grew very interested when I happened across a response to Pope Benedict's Regensburg Address of September 12, 2006 by the German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, expressed in an article, "Ein Bewusstsein von dem, was fehlt: Über Glauben und Wissen und den Defaitismus der modernen Vernunft," a Teutonic mouthful of a title to a piece published on February 10, 2007 in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

For those without German language skills but interested in knowing anyway, the German title of Habermas's article translates as "A Consciousness of What is Missing: On Faith and Knowledge and the Defeatism of Modern Reason," and "Neue Zürcher Zeitung" means "New Zurich Newspaper."

In this article, Habermas suggests a rapprochment between secular and religious reason, whereby each takes the other seriously -- though Habermas gives precedence to secular reason because it is available to all, whereas religious reason has an opaque core, a critique of religious reasoning that one might expect from one who has emphasized the openness of interpersonal secular reasoning in his philosophy of communicative action.

The Catholic Cardinal Camillo Ruini has replied to Habermas in a March 2, 2007 address with the provocative title "Reason, science, and the future of civilization" -- which seems also to have served as the theme of a recent Italian Episcopal Conference (CEI), a Catholic conference of Italian bishops to which various Catholic intellectuals and scientists were invited.

The highlights of Ruini's address have been translated by Sandro Magister into English for an article in the Espresso's Chiesa, "Habermas Writes to Ratzinger, and Ruini Responds. Allies against the 'Defeatism' of Modern Reason."

For that general theme, the defeatism of modern reason, one can go directly to Magister's translation of Ruini, but I'd like to focus upon a specific point broached by Ruini because it had been on my mind even before my encounter with his discussion. Concerning the concept of the rational God emphasized by Pope Benedict in Regensburg, Ruini states:
Here I am prompted to clarify a question, advanced above all in Catholic circles, on how to reconcile the assertion according to which the phrase "In the beginning was the lógos" is "the definitive word on the Biblical concept of God" with another, used as the title for the encyclical by Benedict XVI "Deus Caritas Est," that God is agápe (1 John 4, 8:16) and that in concrete terms "Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (Deus Caritas Est, 1).

Of course, one can and must first of all specify that in God, lógos and agápe, reason/word and love are one and the same, but Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI does not limit himself to this.

For him, the intrinsic link between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry is only half of the issue: the other half is constituted by the radical novelty and the profound difference of biblical revelation with respect to Greek rationality, above all concerning the central theme of religion, which is God.

The God of the Bible, in fact, radically exceeds what the philosophers had thought about Him, not only because He, as the supremely free Creator, is distinct from nature in a much more decisive way than could be conceived by Greek philosophy, but above all because this God is not a reality inaccessible to us, which we cannot encounter and to which it would be useless to turn in prayer, as the philosophers maintained.

On the contrary, the biblical God loves man, and for this reason enters into our history, gives life to an authentic love story with Israel, his people, and then, in Jesus Christ, not only extends this story of love and salvation to all of humanity, but carries it to the extreme, to the point of "turning against himself" in the cross of his own Son, in order to raise man up again and save him, and even to call him to an intimate union of love with Him.

This is the sense in which the biblical God is agápe, a love that gives itself gratuitously, and is also eros, a love that wants to unite man intimately to itself (cf. Deus Caritas Est, 9-15).

Thus biblical faith reconciles these two dimensions of religion that before were separate from each other; that is, the eternal God of whom the philosophers spoke and the need for salvation that man carries within himself and which the pagan religions tried in some way to satisfy.

The God of the Christian faith is, therefore, the God of metaphysics, but is also, at the same time, the God of history, the God who enters into history and into the most intimate relationship with us.

This, according to Joseph Ratzinger, is the only adequate reply to the question of the God of faith and the God of the philosophers.
Ruini's point is that God is a 'person' in whom reason and love are combined in a radically intimate manner, i.e., God is a rational being who loves.

This gets at a point that I've recently been reflecting upon. The evangelical tradition emphasizes a "personal relationship with God," and I've noticed that many of those evangelicals who stress this point seem to understand "personal" as "emotional," and emotional in a very individualistic sense, an intimate friendship that one has in an intensely subjective, private way. Yet, I'm not sure that this view is actually grounded in scripture, regardless of the evangelical emphasis upon basing all beliefs directly on the Bible. My impression, from an admittedly cursory reading on these points, is that the New Testament passages about a relationship with God through Christ are not intensely subjective but are mediated through the Church.

I suspect that evangelicals have slipped in their thinking from affirming that Christians have a relationship with a personal God to believing that Christians have a personal relationship with God. And they misunderstand this as meaning that one has primarily an emotional relationship with God.

Such an emphasis upon emotions downplays God's nature as a rational being.

Otherwise put, evangelicals tend to overemphasize God as agápe (in a very subjective, emotional sense of love) and radically underemphasize God as lógos (which, in any case, they understand more as word than as reason).

Such an 'evangelical' God can often appear rather irrational.

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At 7:24 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

God is only irrational to those outside evangelical or apostolic Christianity. What can not be explained is not for us to know and you're told that its God's plan. Things happen for a reason. EEEEEEEECH Only yesterday was I told that.
I liked to think I have free will, growing up Presbyterian was really hard to comprehend predestination. I often wished I could have found the emotional or personal link to God. (Every time I hear Dr. Rice speak, I think of those dry sermons.) I never have and the intellectual is not satisfying, I am beginning to think that you are born to have faith or not. I think it is easier to find a theology that works for you, than to find faith.
I hope I haven't got too off topic.

At 7:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, ask that person if God's omnipotence means that God can act do the logically impossible, e.g., such as making 2 + 2 = 4 and also = 5.

If the answer is "Yes," then their theistic conception is of an irrational God, one who can contradict Himself.

God as pure willfulness is a enormously problematic being. Evangelicals and some other Protestants veer in this direction but probably stop short because they hold that God is good and will not contradict His own nature.

But their emphasis upon God's omnipotence often brings them to intellectual problems because they don't understand that being unable to do the logically impossible is no weakness.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In my own thinking the last 5+ years, I've slowly been wandering away from ideas of the rational and logical and more toward a "faith" and a spirituality that has an element of faith in it, a key element, that moves beyond the rational - at least as far as mankind will ever be able to understand it --- perhaps touching on some comment I made here not too long ago about how science and philosophy both break down reality to build up systems to understand it, but never can make the system work for the whole that is nonetheless real.

For example, I don't really believe 2 + 2 exist outside of a man-based system....

What got me started more toward the spiritual and non-rational and faith is the idea that ---- for God to be just - and God is just - every individual must be given a chance at salvation - and the only way my human head can get wrapped around that is through exploration of the activity of the Spirit.

This will likely be a recurrent theme at my blog since I have been mulling it over (not too successfully) off and on these last years....

At 10:39 AM, Blogger Daniel said...

Interesting stuff. If God is rational, he's definately got some explaining to do, in my opinion.
For some reason I didn't get an email informing me that you'd left a reply on my blog a few weeks ago. Anyway, I'm working on a new blog. The darkness became a bit much after a while. I'll let you know when it's ready; I imported the posts from Bucephalus' Burrow onto it, and am parsing through them and rendering them presentable for their new environment..
I might get around to finishing the bike story too, whose plot has yet again been pushed along by another deus ex machina email. Actually, I hadn't even gotten to the first email, had I? Well, I ramble.
How's the job at the new university? Everything groovy over in Korea?

At 4:18 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

USinK, the danger of an irrational God, one who is limited only by his whims, is that he cannot be trusted. God as purely divine will, which describes the Nominalist God (and, it seems, the Muslim Allah), could make an entirely evil world without violating his essential character because he has no essential character.

That was Pope Benedict's critique -- and what got him into hot water.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:20 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Daniel, I've been having problems with my site meter, too. Some comments aren't being reported to my email address.

Anway, I look forward to your new blog and the denoument to your bicycle story.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:55 PM, Blogger Iosue Andreas Sartorius said...

A great post. I never had such an emotional experience and could never boast of a "personal relational with Jesus" as much as I tried. Once, among Pentecostals, I even doubted whether I was a Christian. How wrong I was.

Many have read their way into the Catholc Faith. John Henry Newman was said to have written his way into the Catholic Faith with _An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine_. There have been those who've blogged themselves into the Catholic Faith.

For me, it was a question of authority. I came from a Lutheran background, from whom I learned of the Liturgy. I then spent a lot of time among Anglicans, from whom I learned of the Apostolic Succesion.

I am reading your recent posts with interest and prayers.


At 3:40 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks, Iosue Andreas, for your comments. I had thought that you might find these posts interesting.

There are a lot of issues, of course, but from having grown up in a low-church tradition, I've come to recognize firsthand its problems (such as the tendency to equate spirituality with emotionalism) and, conversely, to respect secondhand the value of high-church traditions.

My having become something of a Medievalist probably has an influence as well. I like the literature and the art of that era, and it's undeniably all Catholic.

You noted:

"There have been those who've blogged themselves into the Catholic Faith."

Well, there's always that danger, I suppose. I'll try to be careful...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was thinking more of the rational vs irrational or non-rational faith of the individuals and people.

Working on Job recently, I read someone's commentary about the end of the text and understanding how God could have been "right" to allow all that to happen to Job and how God to answer Job as to why.

The answer would not please the rational man. God said he was God and asked our standing to critique what he does.

I'd have to go back and read Job again, because I wasn't recalling much of it when reading this piece on the internet, but it did make me think about the whole thing...If you believe in a 1 all powerful all knowing God who created everything....he surely created evil and pain and the bad as well as the does that stand in relation to at least what we would consider rational today?...

At 6:22 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

USinK, I'd have to re-read Job, but my impression was that it doesn't entirely satisfy.

Merely asking "Where were you when I created..." doesn't answer our questions, though it does remind us of our limits.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 4:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

he surely created evil and pain and the bad as well as the good

Did He? Or is evil the absence of Love, pain the absence of Health, bad the absence of Good? etc. That is, did He create those or did we through disobedience leave the Love, Good, Health?

(I read something like this recently, comparing these things to cold not existing except at a name for the absence of heat and dark the name for absence of light.)


At 8:47 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

There happen to be a couple of verses in the Old Testament wherein God states "I create evil," but that's the older translation of the Hebrew "ra," which can be more broadly understood to include things under which we 'suffer' but which contribute to our spiritual growth (and even in English, the term "evil" once had a broader range of meanings).

Jeffery Hodges

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