Saturday, 17 November 2012

Understanding Catholics: Part II: Whence Reason?

Here is part two of my rather prolonged reaction to Stacy Transancos' brief yet thought-provoking post Explaining Reason: Atheism or Christianity.

In my previous post, I reacted to the first party of Stacy's post, Can Atheism Explain Reason. I was generally confused about what she meant by Reason and ended up being thoroughly unconvinced that Atheism could do anything more than fail to believe in any kind of god.

Atheism really doesn't have much to say about anything - unless you want to talk about the existence of God.  Christians often don't seem to get that, so I'll repeat it here.

So, I started part one with a great deal of praise for her blog, Accepting Abundance.  This is  partially because it's a great name for a blog.  I mean who wouldn't accept abundance?  But mostly because of her amazing posts on Atheism.  They're often short yet so choc full of provocative goodness that shit disturbers like me just can't get enough of it.  They're like little bite-sized catechismic candies - you know those little candies that explode in your mouth, except these ones burst the blood vessels in my brain.

My advice for non-Catholics is to put on your crash helmets and prepare for some mind-bending theological zingers.  If you're not left confused after this then I can only assume you're either now a Catholic; a Theology Major (I've been informed half of them are Atheists anyway!); or you believe in some other form of mysticism which has immunized you from all forms of confusion and cognitive dissonance (let the crystals resonate the contradictions away).  

Rubric 2: Can Christianity Explain Reason?

The Christian position is not based on “In the beginning was irrationality…” but on the opposite.
Like in the last post, I'd like to comment that the word irrationality suggests a little too much. I suspect some slight of hand.  To me irrationality brings forth images of someone or something to be irrational.

"Hey Rockey, watch me pull a universe of out of this hat! Presto!"
I can only assume irrationality refers to some chaotic undefined state at the beginning of our universe - the Big Bang.  
The Gospel of John says, “In the beginning was the Word: and the Word was with God: and the Word was God.” 
I mean no disrespect with this, but I simply do not understand what this means.  It seems as if God is a Word and they were all that existed at one time.  I suppose it was a magic word.

For me words are descriptions of material things or descriptions of descriptions of material things or descriptions of properties which eventually tie back to material things.  You can keep going back further and further - more and more abstract.  So the idea of a Word just hanging around before anything was created is more than a little silly to me.
God, the Creator who made everything out of nothing, is Reason Itself, and since we are made in the likeness and image of God, our ability to reason came from Reason Itself, revealed to us by Christ, the Word or Logos.
God, otherwise known as the Word is also apparently Reason.  All this was revealed to us somewhere in a book by Christ, who was/is also the Word/Creator/Reason.

God = Word = Creator = Reason = Jesus

So, brain, listen up!  God (definition still pending) is the Word (whatever that is).  The Word and God are the Creator, who also happen to be their own father and son at the same time: namely, Jesus.  All of these guys are actually Reason.

These beings, processes and labels all got together and made everything that wasn't them out of nothing (whatever that is, they apparently had a whole lot of it on hand).

Since I do not think Reason is anything more than a descriptive label for the process of reasoning, the above description is meaningless and confusing.

Incidentally, it must be useful to have Reason synonymous with God.  I can only imagine this has been the case for awhile across history.  If you disbelieve in God then you do not believe in Reason and are irrational.  That must have been a handy little trap.
The ancient Greeks spoke of such rationality. 
Pulp Fiction.
I remember being in love with neoplatonism several years ago, when I was still holding on to my belief in gods.  The name Plotinus with his Nous (νόος) and Enneads would return over and over again - a kind of elaboration of Platonic Idealism.  I keep seeing this over and over again in the arguments of Catholics.
When the Gospel of John names Christ the Logos, λόγος, the Greek word for rationality, for Word, it shows the “blending of biblical faith and Greek rationality upon which historical Christianity is based.”
You know, I like complicated things.  That's why when I went into Classics, I decided to focus on ancient Greek.  The meaning of words across the broad history of this language are very fluid and uncertain.  That's why, for me, the Greek word λόγος has always meant speaking, or a discourse, or any number of things.  So I had to look this up.  Here's the definition for λόγος.  Scroll, wayyyyyyy down to definition ten.

All that to say that it may be a blending of the Greek and Hebrew, but who knows how deep it really goes.  I've always seen it as a kind of retrofitting of certain aspects of Greek thought to buttress a set of superstitious beliefs.  The Greeks were originally anything but receptive to the Christian way of thought.  Read it, it's in the Bible so it must be true.
Faith illuminates reason and gives foundation for it. Faith demands reason, and reason needs faith to guide it.
"All of reality and language is being changed from

under me!"
This is so confusing to me, you have no idea.  Firstly, what is Faith exactly?  Reason is a process.  So unless Faith provides accurate data, then I have no idea how it could be helpful.  Then I have Faith demanding things.  Apparently Faith requires reason and reason requires faith to help it out somehow. Has this helped?  No, I'm confused.

You know, I think I would need to have faith to accept this as being true because whenever I feed it into my brain to be reasoned over it keeps returning a SYNTAX ERROR and demands better inputs.  It really reminds me of when I was still Catholic and the priest told us all that in order to be able to accept and understand the Truth of the Church one needed to have faith.  Even then I thought it was ass-backwards and tried correcting him in front of everyone.  He didn't like that.
As reason searches for truth, faith requires an acknowledgment of where reason came from – God. In turn, we as humans understand this limit and realize that we cannot know everything. Why? That would abolish the very foundation of reason, and make us our own god. 
I'm sorry, does this mean something or is it just supposed to sound good?  Don't get me wrong, it's very poetic and all.  I just am unable to parse it.

The highly vague label reason seems to be searching as if it were alive.  Sorry, is this Reason-God we're talking about, maybe?  It's searching for truth as if that's some concrete thing other than a label.  Then apparently Faith, which is also apparently a real thing which I have no adequate definition for, needs acknowledgement of where reason (the human process?) came from.  Apparently this is God/Reason/Christ/Word/Logos-thing?  

The Roman goddess Libertas
is a Roman personification of
Liberty from around the

first-century CE.
In fact, this reminds be a lot of something I think I ran into when desperately trying to understand Leah Libresco's conversion to Catholicism.
"I believed that the Moral Law wasn’t just a Platonic truth, abstract and distant. It turns out I actually believed it was some kind of Person, as well as Truth. And there was one religion that seemed like the most promising way to reach back to that living Truth."
See?  Not only is Moral Law a Platonic Truth, which probably means it's even more real than mere material things, but it's alive.  It's like some kind of linguistic ghost - a spooky word thing.

The Romans were fond of personifying and even worshipping abstract ideas as gods.  You know, like calling Reason, Moral Law and Logos God. They ate Plato up hook, line and sinker.
In turn, we as humans understand this limit and realize that we cannot know everything.

Apparently humans understand this limit.  I wish I did.  Anyway, I agree we don't know everything.

According to Stacy, we cannot know everything it would abolish the very foundation of reason, and make us our own god.  Okay, I'm still very confused. How exactly does Stacy know this?
Theology, the methodological science of faith, takes up the fundamental question of Greek philosophy, the question about truth and being. Theology is a force for enlightenment, thinking illuminated by the truth beyond it. Theology’s foundation is reason itself.
I hardly know what faith means still.  Then we have the mystical notion of enlightenment, another vague term.  It's meaning is not defined.

In apposition we have thinking illuminated by the truth beyond it, which I can only attribute to Theology.  I'm uncertain whether we're talking about truth or Truth here.

Apparently there is some truth somewhere beyond thinking that is giving it some truthier benefit from without.  I have no idea what that means.  Finally we have the only statement that I think is clear - Theology's foundation is reason (not Reason?) itself.  

Sure, there is some reasoning going on in Theology, I'll grant that.   But I'm altogether unconvinced of the validity of any of the inputs I've read about thus far.  So you can probably guess what I think of Theology's output.

I'm reeling in confusion now.  It's almost as if Theology's goal is actually to play complicated word games with terms that are, in themselves never properly defined and confuse the hell out of people.

In short, her post didn't convince me of anything at all.  It's hard to be swayed by an argument that may as well been written in a dead language from another planet.

If you've made it this far, you're probably not sane.  I hope it wasn't too dry.  I invite you to the next segment, where I'll be reacting to Stacy's comments about Free Thought.  Maybe that will be more interesting?

Part III is available: Understanding Catholics: Part III: Whence Reason?


  1. "Faith" and "Beliefs" are the same. That is, accepting as true something for which there is no supporting evidence and even much evidence against it.

  2. Thanks for the comment, James. I would have to agree. I have a harder time understanding "Faith" and "Belief" as the years since my de-conversion go by.


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