Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Faith and Reason

It had been awhile since I read Pope John Paul II's encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio (1998).  Praying my way through it again, I came across a series of passages sprinkled with pithy observations that I wanted to share.

While discussing each man's journey in search of the truth, the Pope writes that "all human beings desire to know, and truth is the proper object of this desire."  (FR, 25)  We reject falsity to the extent that we identify it, and feel rewarded when we discover truth.

"It is this that St. Augustine teaches when he writes: 'I have met many who want to deceive, but none who wanted to be deceived'." (FR, 25) Isn't that the truth?

Moreover, people seek a truth that is universal--true for all people and at all times--an absolute--something ultimate, which might serve as grounding to give meaning, an answer, to their search.  Every person anchors his existence in a truth recognized as final.

About the object of man's search he says "hypotheses may fascinate, but they do not satisfy." (FR, 27).  Consequently, he believes it "unthinkable that a search so deeply rooted in human nature would be completely vain and useless." (FR, 29)

Many people would dismiss that view, or at least profess to.  Some would even scoff at it.

One such daredevil was Aldous Huxley, who in referring to his generation of the 1920's and 30's wrote:
For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation.  The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality.  We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom; we objected to the political and economic system because it was unjust.  The supporters of these systems claimed that in some way they embodied the meaning (a Christian meaning, they insisted) of the world.  There was an admirably simple method of confuting these people and at the same time justifying ourselves in our political and erotic revolt: we could deny that the world had any meaning whatsoever.  Similar tactics had been adopted during the eighteenth century and for the same reasons." Ends and Means (London: 1951), 273.
That passage and what follows in Huxley's text is an astonishing admission for its candor.  Then, as now, as always, the blithe assertion that there is no meaning--and, by implication, no truth--is rooted in libidinous libertinism, and rebellion.

As Lucifer might have said: "It would be meaningless to serve."

Despite my deep appreciation for "Brave New World," the reason that I've come around to John Paul II's way of seeing things, and rejected Huxley's, is that there is no sense to his position.  Like all Lefties, he undercuts the very ground he stands on.

If everything is meaningless, if there is no truthful meaning to things, what can he possibly mean by objecting to a political and economic system because it is "unjust."  What could a word like that mean without reference to a fixed truth about men and their relations?  Shouldn't he rather have said that it didn't suit his preferences, or that he personally found it distasteful.

Presumably, the plight of a starving urchin should lay no more claim on a person's morals  than his stomach can bear.  Huxley would even be left without a response--an intellectually grounded response--should one relish in such a spectacle.

Several things freed my mind from Leftist doggerel, including disillusionment with its intellectual dishonesty.  Any means to the end of upsetting the received order could be, and was, justified.

Deconstruction is a nihilist's apologetics.  Once he has leveled opposing beliefs by sophistical refutation, there is none matching his passion (nor anyone equally lacking in integrity) to submit his beliefs to his methods.

It takes courage to profess absolute truth in this intellectual milieu, and John Paul II had plenty of that.  Conversely, any coward can proclaim that "there is no truth," when he really means "except my truth, which you'll never get to question."

Alan Bloom called the condition of these cheerful prophets of meaninglessness "nihilism without the abyss."  Personally, I find their hypothesis fascinating, but disingenuous, and ultimately unsatisfying.


  1. It takes courage to profess absolute truth in this intellectual milieu, and John Paul II had plenty of that. Conversely, any coward can proclaim that "there is no truth," when he really means "except my truth, which you'll never get to question."
    --great line, Noman!

  2. (That was me--it wouldn't let me comment as MB without a URL, though it did once before.)