Saturday, November 3, 2012

RealClearReligion - Idolatry of the Enlightenment

RealClearReligion - Idolatry of the Enlightenment:

Jurgen Habermas, one of the leading philosophers in the world, advocates (admittedly at a higher level of sophistication) the position staked out by Steinberg. He argues, accordingly, that the only people who should be allowed around the table of political discussion in contemporary societies are those who accept the presumptions of the Enlightenment. Thus religious people, representing some of the most ancient intellectual traditions in the West and relying on the work of such geniuses as St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, John Henry Newman, John Wesley, and G.K. Chesterton, would not be allowed Habermas's table. Nor for that matter would William Lloyd Garrison, Martin Luther King, Desmond Tutu, or Mohandas Gandhi. One wonders how neither Habermas nor Steinberg can see that the Enlightenment view, though obviously valuable, is hardly identical to Reason tout court. 
Utterly congruent with this idolatry of the Enlightenment is Steinberg's sneering relegation of religion to the arena of hobbies and harmless avocations: "Life is a long time and you have to fill it somehow, and adhering to the various tenets of Lutheranism or Baptism or Seventh Day Adventism is not inherently a worse use of your time than, oh, knitting colorful afghans or playing John Madden Football or anything else." Though the Christian tradition essentially created the culture of the West, though it invented the university system, and though it gave rise to Dante's Divine Comedy, Aquinas's Summa Theologiae, Chartres Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, Bach's cantatas, and the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins and T.S. Eliot, it is, according to Mr. Steinberg, the intellectual equivalent of knitting an afghan! Trust me when I tell you that whatever matrix of thought produced that conclusion ain't identical to "sweet reason." It is in fact something peculiar and sectarian indeed. 
The relegation of religion to the private realm is, of course, an aggressive move, for it is designed to exclude religious people from the political and cultural conversation. Basically, Habermas and Steinberg and their fellows are saying to religious believers, "While you play at your little hobbies, we rationalists will take care of serious matters." In the face of this act of violence, believers should engage in non-violent resistance, entering the public arena with the language of the Bible and the great tradition on their lips, as did our forebears Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. Pace the secular ideologues, it is altogether possible for religious people -- especially those who believe in the divine Logos -- to have a logical conversation.

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