Sunday, September 14, 2014

Islam, Christianity and Reason

Thoughtful authors have reflected on Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Address as prophetic in warning about Islamic violence. And the deep reason behind that prophecy is the absence of faith in Islam. Not that Muslims do not believe in God. They do, but not in the God of Jesus Christ. The God of Jesus Christ is the Person of His Father. And He can be accessed only by passing through the Son. Christ testified, “I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10, 30) and “no one comes to the Father but through me” (Jn. 14, 6). This means that there must be a relation to the Son such that one must get out of oneself. And this involves a struggle, an anthropology of self-transcendence and of lowering self. What’s more, it involves a death event such that we understand the sacrament of Baptism as a triple drowning with the emergence of a new self: “I live; no, not I. Christ lives in me” (Gal.2, 20). Somehow in Christian faith one must go through a conversion of not trusting in oneself and making a radical leap of acceptance. The self is left behind and Another fills the void.

                There is need here for a boost from phenomenology so as to be able to differentiate that there is a way of knowing that is consciousness that accompanies the moral experience of the self going out of self. It is other and complementary to the formation of concepts and ideas that are taken by way of abstraction from sensible experience. So, there are two levels of experience: that of the self in the moral act, and that of sensible things that we abstract from and form concepts (ideas). Consciousness is the way of knowing that has been confused with the self, itself. From Descartes on, the self has been identified with consciousness, and therefore, what philosophers have called idealism and relativism. This is a most logical error since consciousness accompanies the self in its experience of itself as agent. But it can be seen through as David Walsh puts it: “To know appearance as appearance is already to go beyond mere appearance; it is already to know the thing-in-itself.”[1]

                Ratzinger gives the prototypical example in the formulation of the act of faith in Jesus Christ. Luke recounts Simon entering into the prayer of Christ to the Father (Lk. 9, 18), and in so doing experiencing in himself what it is to act as Christ acts (Lk. 9, 18), and therefore become another Christ. The result was Christ asking him, “who do men say that I am…?” and “who do you say that I am? And the response comes from (then) Simon’s interior experience of himself having undergone the conversion (we understand to be faith) of having become another Christ. The proof is Christ changing his name from Simon to Peter (“rock”) as Christ’s true messianic name is “cornerstone.” Stone is known by stone, since knowing emerges from such an ontological identity. The pre-Christian mind of Simon becomes the Christian mind of Peter. That is, there is an ontological change in Simon such that by going out himself as prayer to the Father, he becomes another Christ, and experiences that change to have taken place in himself. Hence, when Christ asks him “Who do you say that I am?” Simon-now-become-Christ answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt. 16, 16) because he has become consciousness of the ontological change that had occurred in him. Christ now changes his name from Simon to Peter (rock) as Christ is “cornerstone.”[2]

                Consciousness, which is reason, has expanded under the experience of self-transcendence by being exposed to the ontological reality of being “another Christ.” As being of the self changes and expands, reason broadens from mere abstractive conceptualization to consciousness. This is the profound reason in Benedict’s theological epistemology that reason cannot function truly as reason[3] without the self-transcendence and conversion of self to Christ, and this because Christ is the meaning of person, and person is the meaning of being[4].  And this across the boards beyond Christianity and any and all religion ideologically. The deep reason is that Christian faith is not reducible to concepts and ideology because it is an anthropology of self-giving and self-transcendence (guided conceptually by Scripture and Magisterium), and, in truth, one cannot give the self totally to death without Christ as Receptor. The normal denouement of Christian faith is martyrdom (see Veritatis Splendor #89).  Hence, Christian faith is critical for reason to function because it is the being of the believer that reason experiences and becomes conscious of. It is this consciousness of the ontologically real self in which all subsequent “knowing” of things is embedded and to which it gives meaning.

This consciousness – which is the life of reason – is unavailable for Islam as religion. For them, God is totally transcendent to man and cannot be accessed in any experiential way. However, it could be made available  if there were an immanent cooperative work in which both sides enjoyed a common experience, and therefore a common consciousness and which, when reflected upon, could produce a common conceptualization and vocabulary such that there could be dialogue. At that point, violence begins to vanish.

                And let me quickly add that we are not working with a full deck of cards either. Reason in the Christian West has withered and been dumbed down by the self-imposed limitation of positivism, and become nihilistic.[5]  It is an empirical totalitarianism. We are permitted to accept only objectified data reduced to empirical sensation and abstracted to facticity.  Reason groans in the absence of Being and this thin gruel. The criterion is subjective certainty, as if certainty for us was a guarantee of realism. Insofar as we are not working with reason in full contact with the real which involves the metaphysical  self, we need to go through serious examination and conversion.[6] In the meantime, it is clear that force must be used in the Middle East to defend persons against ISIS since they are literally out of control and violent. But the long range is not force or control but common activities that pull each side out of self and to regain and broaden reason.

[1] David Walsh, “The Modern Philosophical Revolution – The Luminosity of Existence,” Cambridge, (2008) 30. This is the deep reason Walsh holds that Kant is the first to expose the existential epistemology of so called German “Idealism” from Kant to Heidegger.
[2] Cf. Ratzinger’s “Behold the Pierced One,” Ignatius (1986) 25-27.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “A Christian Orientation in a Pluralistic Democracy?” in Church, Ecumenism and Politics Crossroad (1988) 218.  “What is essential is that reason shut in on itself does not remain reasonable or rational, just as the state that aims tat being perfect becomes tyrannical. Reason needs revelation in order to be able to be effective as reason. The connection between the state and its Christian foundations is imperative precisely if it is to remain the state and be pluralist.”
[4] “In special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry… We face a great challenge at the end of this millennium to move from phenomenon to foundation, a step as necessary as it is urgent We cannot stop short at experience [both sensible and moral] alone; even if experience does reveal the human being’s interiority and spirituality, speculative thinking must penetrate to the spiritual core and the ground from which it rises. Therefore, a philosophy which shuns metaphysics would be radically unsuited to the task of mediation in the understanding of revelation;” John Paul II,  Fides et Ratio #83.
[5] “Reason, rather than voicing the human orientation toward truth, has wilted unter the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights, not daring to rise to the truth of being;” John Paul II, Fides et Ratio #5.
[6] Consider Benedict XVI’s four major talks on broadening reason to the university La Sapienza, the Sixth European Symposium of University Professors, "A New Humanism for Europe. The Role of the Universities" and Regensburg.

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