Seeker of Truth

Ruminations of One Suspended between Catholic Christianity and Scientific Utopianism

Location: Washington, United States

Saturday, July 15, 2006

On Rationality and Religion

Mystics and scholastics, that is what I remember learning in high school about the two strands of thought that shaped Christianity in the Middle Ages. It goes back much further, of course, all the way to Plato and Aristotle at least.
Much has been accomplished by the rational approach, such as the establishment and continuity of Western civilization. But there are tremendous pitfalls in logic applied to religion, and we are now reaping the fruits of those. From Occam and Wyclif on, a kind of rationalism began to dominate the culture, that at first seemed relatively benign, even superior to many previous ideas. Yet it was the beginning of the road into reductionism, relativism and the usurpation by science of the position of ‘truth giver’.
I believe that all rational approaches carry this danger, that if taken too literally or even used too exclusively, they will lead to reductionist absurdity. Aquinas, Augustine, none of the greatest scholars of religion can be exempt from that rule. Does it mean we have to abandon reason altogether? I do not think so. However, we have to remain eternally conscious of the fact that our most elaborate systems of thought are mere approximations, even metaphors, that our formulae, our theorems, do not capture truth, not in science, not in philosophy or logic. Aristotle seems quaint when we look at some of his assertions with our scientifically trained hindsight. We may look even quainter to somebody living in A.D. 3000. Or maybe not. Maybe we will be known as the true Dark Ages, where man’s hubris sought to replace God with the democratic/scientific process. Maybe John Lennon, who so famously wrote ‘Imagine there’s no heaven...’ will become a character of fable, as posterchild of a well-intentioned but fatally flawed system of belief that almost brought the world to that brink of destruction from which it had sworn to save it.


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