Friday, September 11, 2015

Fundamentalism and Liberalism (Scripture, Tradition, and Reason, Part II)

The Prologue to the Gospel of John
fr. the Codex Alexandrinus, 5th Century A.D.
We ended the previous post with a discussion of reason as the means of interpreting Scripture.  Given that it is by reason that the human intellect (or "understanding") operates, that is, by our ability to relate truths one to another, the question comes up:  Given that our reason functions to relate truth to truth, what is the relation to the truth found in Scripture to the truth that we know from other sources, and how do we relate these?  Is there a relation, or does religious truth exist in a different, unrelated realm from other kinds of truth?

The Gospel of John begins with the assertion, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word is God." There is a great deal to be said about this, but for our purpose let us look at the contention that the Word, Gr. λόγος, "logos", was God.  The word "logos" means both "word" and also "reason", that is to say, reason as the underlying rationality of all that exists.  This is a "a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason."  The corollary to this is that not to act or speak in accordance with reason, "not to act 'with logos' is contrary to God's nature."*

Since it is the business of reason to relate truth to truth, and since it is in the nature of God to act in the cosmos in accordance with reason, it must then follow that reason as given to us by God can relate that truth found in God's saving revelation to us with other truth that we come to know in the cosmos.  In short, there is not a separate truth found in revelation or discovered by natural science, but rather there is one truth.  This means that if we find a conflict between natural science and revelation the fault must lie in a failure to understand one, the other, or both.

For Christians this means that we cannot interpret Scripture in such a way as to negate what we do in fact know through natural science—nor can we use natural science to negate what we, in fact, know through revelation.  Thus we cannot find a refuge from this dilemma in fundamentalism, which would negate science, nor can we honestly embrace what Newman called religious "liberalism", which denies that we can know or posit anything as objectively knowable from revelation.

This leaves us with two essential tasks. One is to apologize, meaning explain and defend, natural science to our fellow Christians who are fundamentalists.  The other is to apologize for the objectivity of that knowledge which we have from revelation, or what some would term "religious experience."  Given that most of our fellow churchgoers actually do tend to fall into either religious fundamentalism or liberalism these are no easy tasks.

In order to do this, it means for ourselves that we must interpret Scripture rationally, that is rationally harmonizing what we know from revelation with what we know from elsewhere in such way that does violence to none of our knowledge or forms of knowing.  This latter is the work of Christian theology.
To be continued...

*Benedict XVI, Regensburg Address. This address, which seems to have been willfully misinterpreted by many at the time of its delivery, is extremely important for the point that I am making in this post.  An English translation, which I commend for your reading, is found here.

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