Saturday, April 17, 2010

Human Reason Stands in Need of Enlightenment

Here is an excerpt from an outstanding article by a long-time Internet friend of mine, Fr. Andrew Damick. (His blog, Roads from Emmaus, is linked in my sidebar.)

Many times on this blog I have defended human reason from those religious people who would suppress or devalue it. But I have usually failed to point out that it, too, has its limitations. Human reason is God-given and therefore to be treasured by every lover of God, but it certainly is not infallible. Nor can it reach all the way to heaven to find God. Rather, as Fr. Andrew points out, God has come looking for us. Human reason, just like everything else human, needs divine enlightenment to work properly.

Thus, whether speaking of the initial conversion or the ongoing process of growing in holiness, the whole human person must be engaged, but that engagement only works within the context of communion with the Divine. Practically speaking, that means that, even when once inside the Church, we are not called upon to set aside our reason, but rather to be prepared to have it transformed, to realize that we came to the hospital to be healed, not to take up the job of hospital administrator. So there is the need for trust, but it is a trust based in experience, not blind belief.

This discourse probably seems circular, and it is, but then, so is human existence. The point, finally, is that there is nothing wrong with using one’s reason, and even feelings, emotion and intuition, in making decisions, even big spiritual ones. The key element is that there be humility in doing so, because humility is the only way to permit communion of any sort, especially the kind needed for communion with the Divine.

When I was a kid, having been given a solidly Christian identity by my parents, I came to believe that the big divide in the world was between believers and atheists. But there are of course very few actual atheists, and even the big-money ones of our own day are mostly just celebrities who will fade when their time comes. What I have learned, through making many foolish decisions of my own and also through my experiences with others and as a cleric, is that the great divide is really between humility and pride.

Pride insists that there must be some human power or set of powers that can apprehend all things. But this really is not so. We are limited creatures. No matter what self-esteem propaganda may have been tossed at you today on a billboard or on Facebook, you are limited. You cannot grow up to be anything you want. You are not limited only by your imagination. You have real limits that go beyond your will. Acknowledging that, and most especially acknowledging deeply within that you will someday die, will transform your outlook into something else.

Epistemology is quite critical, whether it comes in initial conversion to the community of faith or in the ongoing conversion that is needed to attain to authentic holiness. But let me suggest an epistemology of humility. Even if there is no God, such a posture will at least help you to see the flaws in your own reasoning. But if there is a God, then humility will open you up to divine illumination.

I hope you will click on the link at the top of this post and read the rest of Fr. Andrew's post.


Fr. Andrew said...

Thanks for the plug!