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The Price of Abandoning Reason | Dr. Jose Yulo | September 25, 2006

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"Therefore (it) is all continuous; for what-is is in contact with what-is. Moreover, changeless in the limits of great chains (it) is un-beginning and unceasing, since coming-to-be and perishing have been driven far off, and true trust has thrust them out. Remaining the same and in the same, (it) lies by itself and remains thus firmly in place; for strong necessity holds (it) fast in the chains of a limit, which fences it about." -- Parmenides

It is not surprising that Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture should have attracted the attention that it has. Strictly as a lecture it speaks copiously, yet with undeniable clarity, of the polar extremes reached when man attempts for whatever inclination to divorce faith and reason from each other. Roughly, the first part of the Pope's delivery touched on the confused (and then detrimental) ramifications of carving reason from faith, as seen in the now infamous citation from the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus. The latter section delved into modernity's desire to jettison faith from reason, as the former was seen as unnecessary and archaic, as witnessed by a three-stage process of de-Hellenization.

There is much to be said of the rich irony in the controversy the lecture aroused throughout the Islamic world. If Benedict XVI did indeed to make manifest the dichotomy between the two approaches mentioned above, and of Christianity's alternative to both, it appears strange that Islam and the modern West should come together and converge symbiotically on this issue. The Western media was quick to wonder what damage comments cited from a fifteenth-century source could and would do to already strained Christian-Muslim relations. Islamists on the other hand seemed all to prepared to escalate such misreporting to levels of violence, which rather than providing a refutation of supposed arguments, all but confirmed them.

Many clear voices have by now commented and clarified on the slipshod nature of how a quotation, opportunistically used, evoked virulently riotous behavior. It is worthy of note, however, to discuss the argument surrounding the controversy. The Pope, in relating how Manuel expressed concern to his Persian acquaintance over the un-reason of conversions by the sword, brought up an intriguing viewpoint this time cited from the French Islamist R. Arnaldez. Arnaldez in this instance spoke of how Ibn Hazn professed of Allah's greatness specifically because the deity was so transcendant, he was unbound even by his own word.

This of course fit into the first papal description of reason being extracted from faith. There is great potential for worry with this paradigm of unreasoned faith. In truth, unreasoned faith on the part of the worshipper pales in dread over the possibility of a deity completely autonomous of a governing consistency. With a view to these, it is useful to see with a Hellenized lens what is lost with the abandonment of reason.

In Plato's The Republic,Socrates advises his young conversants of what led to the achievement of justice within an individual soul. Owing that each soul had three parts or levels, care was needed with each as to attain this lofty virtue.

At the bottom of the soul reside appetites, great in number and voracious in hunger. These correspond to many visceral urges demanding certain quotas of regular and preferably instant satisfaction. Above appetites are drives, tendencies neither ephemeral, nor altogether tangible. Drives raise humanity to heights over mere beasts, though not yet of sufficient elevation to perceive the overall good of one's whole. Lastly, there rests at the soul's apex its intellectual faculty. Though the smallest body within this entity, it is meant to rule over the other two for the best possible order within an individual.

Left untouched, justice would still not visit this soul. Reason, a seemingly divinely spawned gift, needs to be applied to these facets of the soul. When directed to the appetites, temperance arises. This newfound state enabled the particularly Greek penchant for self-moderation, which it follows, is itself almost impossible without reason. Having this most volatile element dealt with, the drives are next to be transformed by this moderating force.

Courage is the product of this union, it being the ability to discern what and what not ought rightly to be feared. Implicit in this is the ensuing capacity to stand up to and potentially vanquish such trepidations. Finally, with reason affecting the soul's intellectual facet, coveted wisdom is attained. This, the gift of knowing how to rightly use one's knowledge, serves as a most able steward of both temperance and courage. These three new virtues then allow for the arrival of a fourth, justice, the proper ordering of one's soul.

It is with heavy regret and sobriety that a view aimed at the senseless animosity inspired by the aforementioned convergence of Islamists and Western media is taken. Here, the disastrous cost of an un-reasoned faith can be fully weighed.

Interestingly, the reactions to the Regensburg lecture mirror what occurs when Plato's model is not reached. If, as implied by Ibn Hazn, reason would limit the transcendence of Allah, and thus may be considered not preferable by the deity, does this hold true as well for its followers? Are Islamists served well by the renunciation of reason?

First, one can only safely assume that the malicious torching of churches in the West Bank perpetrated by those offended by the Pope's speech is done out of a reactive feeling of one's own self being attacked. Those who would set aflame Christian churches not even directly tied to the Vatican must, as such limping logic goes, be grievously hurt to a point perhaps reaching physical affliction. Therefore, setting the church doors aflame is merely an act of self-defense. It would be intriguing, though not surprising as to the results, to poll Western media members to ascertain exactly what percentage of them share or sympathize with such views. The ramifications of this argument are stunning. If these are acts of self-defense, they are in the very least grotesquely disproportionate. Moreover, they betray an inability to restrain visceral urges and impulses of brutal retaliation, one of the hallmarks of ungoverned appetites.

Second, the base, malicious gunning down of an Italian nun in Somalia is said to be a result of Islamic animus to any and all symbols of Christian, and perhaps Western, representation. Osama Bin Laden himself, though constantly marginalized by all too willing equivocation as speaking for only a minority of Islamists, made it clear very early that there was to be no differentiation between military and civilian targets in the West. Hence, there are the sorely obvious examples of suicide plotters and bombers who see toddlers and the elderly as deserving perverted wrath. In the case of the Sister Leonella, much of whose sixty years had been spent aiding society's most marginalized, four shots in the back were examples of human drives bereft of reason. As stated earlier, courage results from the union of moderating drives. Thus, in place of bravery leading one to such an assault, what instead betrays a wayward soul is cowardice.

Third, the reactions from leaders in Muslim communities from Somalia to the West Bank have centered on the Pope's quoting of Manuel II Paleologus' concern toward how Islam made use of force in conversions. One could take two tracts in opposition to this issue. One, to claim it false. A sura in the Koran has been often cited to show that "There is no compulsion to religion." However, in light of even the recent abduction and forced conversion of two Fox News journalists, this belief appears not to be among the faith's most cardinal.

Two, to respond with ad hominem attacks and intimidation. This is perhaps the more expedient approach. Yet there is harrowing inconsistency in claiming not to be ogres, while at the same time eschewing informed dialogue for demands and calls for physical punishment. To attain wisdom, one must first possess the requisite knowledge to be moderated by reason in the intellectual part of the soul. Ad hominem attacks, slanders, and threats reveal that even this bedrock of basic information is lacking to its users. Sadly, wisdom is made ultimately more elusive.

It was no surprise how the polar positions Benedict XVI took issue with in his speech converged to ignite the conflagration following the Regensburg lecture. What should be surprising to many in the West are the depths descended to when reason, the rightful inheritance of all civilized peoples, is abandoned.

Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles:

Benedict Takes the Next Step with Islam | Mark Brumley
Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The Regensburg Lecture: Thinking Rightly About God and Man | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
The (False) Tale of Two Popes | Carl E. Olson
The Usual Suspects, The Usual Suspect Stuff | Carl E. Olson
Are Truth, Faith, and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
First Musings on Benedict XVI's First Encyclical | Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J.
The Encyclical: God's Eros Is Agape | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
On Reading the Pope | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
9/11 Revisited | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Molochs of Modernity | Dr. Jose Yulo
Spartans, Traitors, and Terrorists | Dr. Jose Yulo
Plato's Ring in the Sudan: How Freedom Begets Isolation of the Soul | Dr. Jose Yulo
The Echo of Melos: How Ancient Honor Unmasks Islamic Terror | Dr. Jose Yulo
Martyrs and Suicide Bombers | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The One War, The Real War | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Wars Without Violence? | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

Jose Yulo, Ed.D. teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization, United States history, and public speaking at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of J. R. R. Tolkien.

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