Grandeur of Reason



The Grandeur of Reason:
Religion, Tradition and Universalism

While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. . . . Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. . . . A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.
—Pope Benedict XVI, Regensburg, September 2006

At the dawn of the twenty-first century humanity faces grave incertitude—accelerated technological advances pose new and disconcerting questions in the moral sphere (bioethics); the ever present threat of a clash of cultures between Islam and the West (terrorism and pre-emptive warfare); a political sphere in the West that is increasingly ruled by an intolerant secularism grounded in a radical commitment to relativism.

It is in this context that Pope Benedict, in his Regensburg address, called for the intellectual “courage to engage the whole breadth of reason”. The Pope’s injunction is for a new relationship to reason—reason in its “grandeur”. This alone, the Holy Father argues, can facilitate the genuine dialogue of cultures and communication between peoples that is so desperately needed.

The Pope’s call for a new reasonable communication is nothing less than a call to rethink the nature of reason itself. The first step is to acknowledge the fact that our contemporary notions of reason (whether conditioned by the Enlightenment or postmodernism) have failed to produce that communication and dialogue between divergent interests that can lead to harmonious co-existence and understanding among peoples. Indeed it may be that it is precisely our contemporary conception of reason itself, which is largely responsible for the dialogical breakdown that underpins the hostile fissures that now threaten us (whether between religion and the secular sphere in the West, or between the West and Islam in the global arena). According to the Pope this situation has been facilitated by the hegemony of unmediated conceptions of “truth”: (i) voluntaristic conceptions of God that have cordoned “reason” from religious “truth”; and (ii) the reduction of reason to the “empirically falsifiable” sphere of meaning, supposedly replete and thus without need of recourse to any “faith”. These unmediated notions of “truth” have foreclosed dialogical communication, and given way simultaneously to the agnostic relativism of the purely “secular” sphere on the one hand, and the fundamentalisms of extremist religion in the “sacred” sphere on the other.

The Pope’s argument for an enlarged sense of reason is an argument for a re-hellenization of reason. In this context the universalism of Christianity has a concrete role to play as that particular cultural exemplar of the symphonic synthesis of the spirit of rational human inquiry with faith in divine revelation. Therein Christianity’s universalism is a universalism grounded in a cultural tradition that cherishes at once the “grandeur” of human reason and the personal revelation of the One God.

Taking up the injunction of Regensburg, this conference will seek to begin thinking through the re-hellenization of Christian faith. In this way the conference will focus on the importance of Christian “truth” and the tradition of how faith and reason are bound together in the universal claim of the Gospel. From this standpoint we hope to begin thinking through an authentic understanding of tolerance and ecumenism. Our task is thus to establish a path of honest intercultural communication in pursuit of universal truth, guided by the “grandeur” of reason, and unashamedly grounded in the cultural and historical tradition of Christianity.

Reason and faith must come together in a new way.

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