Tag Archives: Faith and Reason

Walker, “Reason and Religion in Late Seventeenth-Century England”

WalkerThis January, I.B. Tauris will publish Reason and Religion in Late Seventeenth-Century England: The Politics and Theology of Radical Dissent (2013) by historian Christopher J. Walker. The publisher’s description follows.

Reason has always held an uncertain position within Christianity. “I believe because it is absurd’,” wrote Tertullian in the third century as he dismissed rational thought. For Augustine of Hippo, reason had some merit as a route to faith but otherwise was of limited value, since it could undermine a person’s ability to approach God: “the wisdom of the creature,” he opined, “is a kind of twilight.” In seventeenth-century England, reason had come to mean, most usually, a spirit of free enquiry: the exercise of human intelligence upon some form of truth, whether religious or scientific. The notion of revelation, by contrast, indicated the wider accepted divine scheme within which human existence was situated. Christopher J Walker here explores the tensions between the forces of reason and revelation within English religion in the volatile period following the end of the Civil War. Ranging widely across the ideas of The Great Tew Circle, the Cambridge Platonists and dissenters like Paul Best and John Bidle (the “father of English Unitarianism”), the author shows, controversially, that the rational thinking and politics of many of the most supposedly radical figures of the era were not antipathetic to Christian faith but actually integral to it. His book makes an important contribution to the history of both religion and ideas.

Wuthnow, “The God Problem”

A fascinating looking book from the eminent sociologist of religion Robert Wuthnow (Princeton), The God Problem: Expressing Faith and Being Reasonable (University of California Press 2012).  The publisher’s description follows.

The United States is one of the most highly educated societies on earth, and also one of the most religious. In The God Problem, Robert Wuthnow examines how middle class Americans juggle the seemingly paradoxical relationship between faith and reason.

Based on exceptionally rich and candid interviews with approximately two hundred people from various faiths, this book dispels the most common explanations: that Americans are adept at keeping religion and intellect separate, or that they are a nation of “joiners.” Instead, Wuthnow argues, we do this—not by coming up with rational proofs for the existence of God—but by adopting subtle usages of language that keep us from making unreasonable claims about God. In an illuminating narrative that reveals the complex negotiations many undertake in order to be religious in the modern world, Wuthnow probes the ways of talking that occur in prayers, in discussions about God, in views of heaven, in understandings of natural catastrophes and personal tragedies, and in attempts to reconcile faith with science.

Liveblogging Forum 2000: Religion, Ethics, and Law

This morning, I participated in Forum 2000’s second law-and-religion panel, “Religion, Ethics, and Law.” The panel (below) addressed the growing “divorce” between law and moral principles and the influence of secularization on law and ethics. The panel was chaired by Jiří Pehe, Director of NYU-Prague. Tomáš Halík, a sociologist and President of the Czech Christian Academy, opened the panel by discussing the different concepts of law in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. The first two religions, Halík said, are essentially about law, unlike Christianity, which is essentially about faith; the first two emphasize orthopraxy, while Christianity emphasizes orthodoxy. He noted that Western law has been influenced both by Christian roots and by the secularizing effect of the Enlightenment, which was itself “the unwanted child of Christianity.” I followed with a discussion of the distinction between moral and legal advice in American lawyers’ ethics. Over time, I showed, American legal ethics have minimized the lawyer’s role as moral counselor; although 100 years ago a lawyer had a duty to impress upon his client the need for “strict compliance” with “moral law,” nowadays a lawyer’s duty is to provide legal, not moral advice. I argued that the change could be understood, in part, as an effect of secularization. William Cook, Professor of History and Religion at SUNY, discussed Tocqueville’s insights into private associations and their role in promoting democracy.  Günther Virt, Professor of Theology at the University of Vienna, spoke about translating faith commitments into public policy arguments, specifically, his experience working on bioethics committees in the Council of Europe and the European Union. (A great line: the increasing number of ethics committees in the West today is evidence of an ethical crisis). He also discussed human rights; although human rights can be justified intellectually without religion, he argued, religion provides the necessary motivation for honoring human rights in particular circumstances. Vartan Gregorian, President of the Carnegie Corporation, ended the panel with a discussion of the dialectic between faith and reason in all three Abrahamic religions. He argued that the key concept in all these religions is not conflict, but synthesis, between faith and reason. – MLM

*UPDATE: You can now watch the video from the “Religion, Ethics and Law” Panel here. -ARH