The following is an extract from an extract. Mercator Net carried a chapter from a book by a Jewish scholar: Exiting a Dead End Road: a GPS for Christians in Public Discourse, by Joseph Weiler. I want to pick out what he calls ‘three dimensions to the internal walls built by the communities of Christian faith in Europe’ because they address issues we’ve discussed before – but do read the whole chapter:
The first concerns the (false) reason-faith dichotomy – the notion that religion and faith stand apart from the universe and vocabulary of reason and rationality.
That the ‘I believe’ and the life of faith, the aspiration for imitatio dei that follows from it, take the believer outside the epistemic community of scientific knowledge and the vocabulary of reason, or at a minimum, take the believer’s world of faith outside that vocabulary. This view of religion has been normalized.
Consider the very first two paragraphs of the Preamble to the original Constitution proposed by the European Convention – a capacious document reflecting a common and ubiquitous self-understanding:
Conscious that Europe is a continent that has brought forth civilization; that its inhabitants, arriving in successive waves from earliest times, have gradually developed the values underlying humanism: equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason, Drawing inspiration from the cultural, religious and humanist inheritance of Europe, the values of which, still present in its heritage, have embedded within the life of society the central role of the human person and his or her inviolable and inalienable rights, and respect for law.
Read carefully: The values of humanism are: Equality of persons, freedom, respect for reason. This humanist tradition is then contrasted with the religious inheritance. It is a common place. It is certainly how many in the secular world, innocently or otherwise, see religion and religious faith – as spiritual, as “faith”, as inspiring or laughable but in any event as outside the realm which has respect for reason. The response of homo religiosus is internalization and compartmentalization.
Many a religious person themselves have come to understand their religious universe exclusively within the vocabulary of faith. Since ‘mystery’ is inherent to that universe, does reason not dictate that it, mystery, is by definition, outside the discipline of reason – so they reason (as if mystery is not present and inherent even in a perfectly materialist view of the world).
So entrenched has this view become that many have lost the ability to explain their faith using reason. To the enquiring questions of their children – the only response is an anemic ‘That is what we believe.’ Of course, if the same child were to tell his parents ‘4 + 4 = 9 this is what I believe,’ they would explain to him or her that belief is not epistemically acceptable in this case.
Is religion purely a private affair?
The second dimension of the internal walls follows from the first, is the obverse side of the same coin: Religion is a private affair, outside the public square, a matter for individual conscience. It follows from the first, because there is, indeed, a strong case that the public square should be a place where people interact with the discipline of reason – a notion running from Rawls to Habermas. So, homo religiosus dutifully arranges his life accordingly: Sunday is for faith, the remaining week for science. The world of work, of public encounter, of affairs of State is the world of reason. In private, with the family, we can garden, collect stamps, be fond of fairies (or vampire) stories and, if we wish, be religious too.
The consequences in public discourse are equally clear. If a feminist organization were to protest that, say, the new government did not have enough female ministers, that would be normale amministrazione. If the Greens were to complain that there are not sufficient ecologists among the new governments ministers that too would be regular politics. If the Church were to complain that there not enough Christians, that would be gross interference, the illegitimate encroachment of the private into the public, of the world of faith and unreason in the world of rational discourse and reason.
Decline of religion
The third and most insidious wall is constructed when these views affect the world of faith itself. When faith, such as Christianity is stripped from its ritual artifact, from its awe in the presence of the ineffable, where ecclesiology is considered outside peel, and the kernel is reduced to ethics with no more. Where the content of one’s religious life is no more than (the hugely important) commitment to an ethical life. Since I cannot explain, and hence justify anything beyond ethics, since natural law is just that, natural, and hence not dependent on religious faith, my community of faith becomes indistinguishable from an ethical community. It is not ethics which distinguishes the believer from the nonbeliever.
Ethics is a universal idiom and it is the height of arrogance for the person of faith to claim any monopoly in this respect. The category which is uniquely religious, that has no equivalent, indeed is incomprehensible in a secular world, is holiness. Ethics may be a necessary condition in the vocabulary of holiness but certainly not sufficient. A Christian is always indispensably part of an ethical community, but that surely does not exhaust the ontology of and experience of Christianity?