Faith, Reason and Politics
Pope Benedict XVI observes that today we exist in a secular state for the first time in history which has excluded religion on the grounds of being mythological and therefore a private and subjective affair. God has now become irrelevant which leaves reason alone to shape public life but it is reason in a more restricted and functional sense. It accepts only that which can be proved or verified by experimentation. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that when reason cuts itself away from God and religion it becomes blind, it recognises no other moral foundations other than its own, which results in a situation where there are no longer any common ‘objective’ criteria for morality. Human beings are no longer seen as a gift of the creator, with an inherent dignity, but are now merely a product of nature. However, as history has shown reason without faith can all too easily open the door to ideologies that are totalitarian in design and ultimately destructive – the dictatorships of Marxism and Nazism.
However, “for believers, the world derives neither from blind chance nor from strict necessity, but from God’s plan.” Christianity itself is a religion of the Logos, (reason) as the prologue to St Johns’ Gospel declares. “The world comes from reason, and this reason is a person, is love – this is what our biblical faith tells us about God.”
It was no accident that Christianity emerged at a time when it dialogued with Greek culture and adopted philosophical categories of thought that were expressed rationally. Christians are called today to refuse to allow reason to be reduced to a functional rationality alone, for the God of reason and love is also the Judge of the world and thus the only real guarantor of true justice. Religion must allow itself to be purified and structured by reason (for faith without reason can lead to superstition or fanaticism); on the other hand, faith heals and purifies reason allowing it to function correctly. Finally, faith and reason must acknowledge their mutual need and work together in the field of politics for the common good, thereby ensuring that society is just and respects the human rights of all.
From His speeches
“The central question at issue, then, is this: where is the ethical foundation for political choices to be found? The Catholic tradition maintains that the objective norms governing right action are accessible to reason, prescinding from the content of revelation. According to this understanding, the role of religion in political debate is……..rather to help purify and shed light upon the application of reason to the discovery of objective moral principles. This ‘corrective’ role of religion vis-à-vis reason is not always welcomed, though, partly because distorted forms of religion, such as sectarianism and fundamentalism, can be seen to create serious social problems themselves. And in their turn, these distortions of religion arise when insufficient attention is given to the purifying and structuring role of reason within religion. (Pope Benedict’s address to Politicians, Diplomats, Academics and Business Leaders Westminster Hall, City of Westminster, Friday, 17 September 2010 7:10 pm)
“This is why I would suggest that the world of reason and the world of faith – the world of secular rationality and the world of religious belief – need one another and should not be afraid to enter into a profound and ongoing dialogue, for the good of our civilization.” (Pope Benedict’s address to Politicians, Diplomats, Academics and Business Leaders Westminster Hall, City of Westminster, Friday, 17 September 2010 7:10 pm)
“Of course, the character of a state visit focuses attention on the converging interests of politics and religion. Politics is essentially designed to ensure justice and with justice, freedom, but justice is a moral value, a religious value, and so faith, the proclamation of the Gospel connects with politics in justice and here common interests are also born.”(Pope Benedict: Interview on the Plane 16th September10:00 am)
And from His other Writings….
“Europe has developed a culture that, in a manner hitherto unknown to mankind, excludes God from public awareness. His existence may be denied altogether or considered uprovable and uncertain, and hence, as something belonging to the sphere of the subjective choices. In either case, God is irrelevant to public life. This purely functional rationality that has shaken the moral consciusness in a way completely unknown to the cultures that existed previously, since it maintains that only that which can be demonstrated experimentally is ‘rational’. Since morality belongs to a different sphere altogether, it disappears as a specific category; but since we do after all need some kind of morality, it has to be discovered anew in some other way.” (Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, P.30-31)
“Augustine’s entire intellectual and spiritual development is also a valid model today in the relationship between faith and reason, a subject not only for believers but for every person who seeks the truth, a central theme for the balance and destiny of all men. These two dimensions, faith and reason, should not be separated or placed in opposition; rather, they must always go hand in hand. As Augustine himself wrote after his conversion, faith and reason are ‘the two forces that lead us to knowledge’. In this regard, through the two rightly famous Augustinian formulas that express this coherent synthesis of faith and reason: crede ut intelligas (‘I believe in order to understand’) – believing paves the way to crossing the threshold of the truth – but also and inseparably, intellige ut credas (‘I understand, the better to believe’), the believer scrutinizes the truth to be able to find God and to believe.” (Church Fathers from Clement of Rome to Augustine, P.180)
“Here politics and faith meet. Faith by its specific nature is an encounter with the living God – an encounter opening up new horizons extending behind the sphere of reason. But it is also a purifying force for reason itself. From God’s standpoint, faith liberates reason from its blind spots and therefore helps it to be ever more fully itself. Faith enables reason to do its work more effectively and to see its proper object more clearly. This is where Catholic social doctrine has its place: it has no intention of giving the Church power over the State. Even less is it an attempt to impose on those who do not share the faith ways of thinking and modes of conduct proper to faith. Its aim is simply to help purify reason and to contribute, here and now to the acknowledgement and attainment of what is just”. (Deus Caritas Est, 28 P.15)
“And so it is plain that Christians today face a great challenge. Their task and ours is to see to it that reason is fully functional, not just in the realm of technology and material progress in the world, but also and especially as a faculty of truth, promoting its capacity to recognize what is good, which is a necessary condition for law and therefore also a prerequisite for peace in the world. Our task as contemporary Christians is to make sure that our idea of God is not excluded from the debate about man…….For logos means a reason that is not simply mathematical but is at the same time the foundation and guarantee of the good. Faith in God as Logos is also faith in the creative power of reason; it is faith in God the Creator, which means believing that man is created in the image of God and that he therefore shares in the inviolable dignity of God himself. Here the idea of human rights has its ultimate foundation, even though it has developed in various ways and has not always been well received over the course of history.” (Europe Today and Tomorrow. Addressing the Fundamental Issues, P.97)
Questions for reflection, discussion and further study:
- Why do faith and reason need each other?
- The Augustinian formula ‘I believe in order to understand,’ suggests that the Christian faith expands our understanding and appreciation of what is real? Does a Christian have a better grasp of reality than others?
- What contribution does faith and reason make to the world of politics and in particular to the pursuit of justice and human rights?
 Ratzinger, 2007 a, 62-63.
 Ratzinger, Joseph, Cardinal, (Pope Benedict XVI) (2007 b), Europe Today and Tomorrow. Addressing the Fundamental Issues, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 94-95.
 Ratzinger, 2004, 26.
 Ratzinger, 2007 b, 94.
 Ibid, 94-95.
 Benedict XVI, of the Supreme Pontiff (2009), Encyclical Letter Caritas in Veritate, The Vatican, Rome, 57, P32.
 Ratzinger, Joseph (Pope Benedict XVI) (2006 a), Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 49.
 “In the beginning was the word (logos) and the word was with God, and the word was God.”(John 1:1).
 Ratzinger, 2004, 26.
 Ibid, 78.
 Ratzinger, 2007 b, 97.
 Habermas Jürgen, Ratzinger, Joseph (Pope Benedict XVI) (2006), The Dialectics of Secularization. On Reason and Secularization, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 77.
 Ratzinger, 2007 b, 93-94.
 Ratzinger, 2004 b, 136.
 Ratzinger, 2007 b, 81.