Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Habermas to the Rescue?

In an age of aggressive secularism, the Church -- mirabile dictu -- calls upon Juergen Habermas. I haven't studied Habermas with any intensity since 1973. Perhaps I need to take another look. There follows an excerpt (with emphases added by your humble correspondent) from an article recommended by Jeff Hodges:

Habermas says he is "enchanted by the seriousness and consistency" of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the opposite of the feeble thinking that pervades current theology:

"Thomas represents a spiritual figure who was able to prove his authenticity with his own resources. That contemporary religious leadership lacks an equally solid terrain seems to me an incontrovertible truth. In the general leveling of society by the media everything seems to lose seriousness, even institutionalized Christianity. But theology would lose its identity if it sought to uncouple itself from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the religious language in which the community's practices of prayer, confession, and faith are made concrete."

On relations with other civilizations, Habermas maintains that "recognizing our Judaeo-Christian roots more clearly not only does not impair intercultural understanding, it is what makes it possible." He contests modern "unbridled subjectivity," which is destined to "clash against what is really absolute; that is, against the unconditional right of every creature to be respected in its bodiliness and recognized in its otherness, as 'an image of God'."

In commenting on "You shall have no gods but me," he writes: "From a philosophical point of view, the first commandment expresses that 'leap forward' on the cognitive level which granted man freedom of reflection, the strength to detach himself from vacillating immediacy, to emancipate himself from his generational shackles and the whims of mythical powers." On the relationship between theology and philosophy, he observes: "I don't resent it at all when I am accused of having inherited theological concepts. I am convinced that religious discourse contains within itself potentialities that have not yet been sufficiently explored by philosophy, insofar as they have not yet been translated into the language of public reason, which is presumed to be able to persuade anyone. Naturally, I am not talking about the neopagan project of those who want to 'build upon mythology.' Today, in the field of anti-rational postmodern criticism, these neopagan conceptual figures are back in fashion: a broad anti-Platonism carelessly spread by fashions inspired by late Heidegger and late Wittgenstein, in the sense of a definitive repudiation of the universalism that characterizes the premises of unconditional truth. I rebel against this regressive tendency of post-metaphysical thought."

BV: Ich auch, Juergen.

He cautions against the anti-human consequences of a relativism without theology: "The problem of how to bring salvation to those who suffer unjustly is perhaps the most important factor keeping discussion about God alive. If all the paradigms of seeing the world were equal, if the indifference so perversely widespread today took from the yes/no response of each individual's decision the seriousness that is proper to every claim of universal validity, then there must necessarily be the disappearance of the normative dimension that serves to identify the traits, seen as privations, of an unfortunate, deformed life unworthy of man."

And on the contribution of philosophy to the meeting between the Church and other religions, he says: "In the dialogical dispute among competing religious visions there is a need for that 'culture of recognition' which draws its principles from the secularized world of the universalism of reason and law. In this matter, it is thus the philosophical spirit which provides the concepts instrumental in the political clarification of theology. But the political philosophy capable of making this contribution bears the stamp of the idea of the Covenant no less than that of the Polis. Therefore this philosophy also hearkens back to a biblical heritage."

BV: The vitality of the West has been, and will continue to be, built upon the fruitful tension between Athens and Jerusalem, and the inanition of the Islamic world on the lack of any comparable tension.