Monday, 25 February 2013

Utter confusion (cf. profound insight)

Military music

1+1=3 (cf. A. Whitehead and B. Russell, Principia Mathematica).

Two words: Falk lands (cf. Oxford English Dictionary).

The element of surprise (cf. D. Mendeleev, The Dependence between the Properties of the Atomic Weights of the Elements).

If you have read this blog before, you won’t be surprised if I tell you that this post (like two previous ones - here and here) will be about the infamous “Faith and Reason” column in the “Our Faith on Sunday” newsletter that my parish subscribes to. To be more specific, it will be a rant triggered by the abuse of the imperative singular form of the Latin verb conferre - abbreviated as “cf.”.

Last week I was already on the verge of charging at the column’s previous installment, which argued that reason is what is best about being human, but I decided against giving such a blatantly narrow-minded idea air time. When the column continued along the same track today and when it went from just being blinkered to plain ludicrous, my blood-pressure rose, and when its author suggested that their stumbling echoed Benedict XVI’s masterful Regensburg address,1 I snapped!

So, what did the column say today:
  1. That “[a]s a result of the fall man’s reasoning faculty was seriously damaged.”
  2. That “even after baptism his capacity to reason is handicapped by the scars of Original Sin.”
  3. That “[r]ationality is “of the inner nature of God”, and so in assuming a human nature, He especially assumes that human attribute which is most like Himself and which is at the same time most constitutive of human nature.”
  4. That “[r]isen, ascended, and glorified, human Reason now resides in the bosom of the Father.”
  5. “(cf. Benedict XVI’s address at the University of Regensburg, 2006.)”
Instead of expletives, let me try and argue against each of the above points, which to my mind are even more confused that the typical militant atheist jabs at Christianity:
  1. The assertion that “[a]s a result of the fall man’s reasoning faculty was seriously damaged” conjures up images of Adam and Eve discussing the, sadly now elusive, Theory of Everything before the fall. Taking a bite from the fruit of the forbidden tree then turns them into gibbering savages who are barely in a position to count their own fingers. While this sounds like an entertaining sketch, it has nothing to do with Genesis or with its contemporary Catholic exegesis. In the Genesis account of the fall, the immediate consequences are the appearance of shame and knowledge of good and evil and the subsequent burdening with hard work, tensions between man and woman and expulsion from the Garden of Eden, meted out as punishment. At no point is there any mention or indication of an impact on rational faculty. Turning to the Catechism, the discussion of Original Sin (§396-421) there centers on abuse of freedom, and of God’s trust and friendship, with the consequences being loss of holiness and harmony (with God, between man and woman, …) and a distortion of God’s image. The only mention there of anything to do with reason is man’s being “subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death” (i.e., the building blocks of “concupiscence”). As far as ignorance is concerned, I’d be the last person to deny it, but it is hard to attribute it to the fall, since it was Adam and Eve’s pre-fall selves who were tricked by the snake in the Genesis creation myth …
  2. Saying that “even after baptism [the] capacity to reason is handicapped” also sounds bizarre, suggesting that baptism has - albeit limited - reason-enhancing properties! If that were the case, you’d expect for pre- versus post-baptism IQ tests to show statistically significant differences and one would have to think carefully when such a boost of intelligence would be most beneficial in a person’s life. Again, this is not only nonsensical, but also in direct contradiction with the Catechism, where §1264 says that “frailties inherent in life[, such] as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence” remain after baptism.
  3. The assertion that rationality is the human attribute that is most like God is akin to saying that the most important part of the human body is the brain. This too is absurdly reductive and I’d just let St. Paul counter-argue: “If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:17).
  4. Suggesting that Jesus’s resurrection and ascension into heaven result in “human reason” residing in the bosom of the Father also smacks of great confusion. Is there a reason substantially different from God’s (as opposed to differing from it by degree) that before the resurrection was lacking in God and that the resurrection “imported”?
  5. Finally, let me turn to the part of today’s column that pushed me to writing this post: “(cf. Benedict XVI’s address at the University of Regensburg, 2006.)” When I read this I knew there was no way Benedict XVI could have said anything like the above - not even as a joke. Nonetheless, let’s follow up on the "cf." and see what the cited source has to say about original sin, baptism, human reason and the other topics that the column’s unknown author strung together. Interestingly the Regensburg address contains precisely zero mention of baptism or indeed Original Sin (even “sin” only occurs as part of the words “single” and “since,” each used precisely once). What about “human reason”? Surely that phrase does occur in a talk entitled “Faith, Reason and the University. Memories and Reflections.” Here I have to admit that it does … once: “[T]he fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.” Wait, what? “Human reason” is part of faith and “consonant with the nature of faith”? Yet our trusty anonymous illuminator places it outside God, brought within His remit only thanks to the resurrection … At best the reference in today’s “Faith and Reason” column to Benedict XVI’s gem is (as the Marxist2 saying puts it) like military music is to music or military justice is to justice - and that’s being a shade unfair to the military.

1 And I mean his actual talk, to which I will return in a future post, as opposed to the reduction of its misinterpretation as being anti-Muslim that gripped the media at the time.
2 Groucho, not Karl - obviously …