North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

Simple is as simple does

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Simply a terrific essay here by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. on the subject of complexity and faith:

Catholicism cannot be and does not announce itself to be a religion that seeks simplicity and easy intelligibility at any cost. To be overly simple is to be neglectful of the distinctions that are actually used by the mind to understand things, in the fullness of what they are and mean. Nonetheless, Catholicism does not disdain simplicity. The famous Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds are designed to state the essence of what is held in the most spare and succinct ways. Yet, every word of this creedal simplicity was hammered out in controversy and contains within itself a whole historical and intellectual reflection that is not to be forgotten or ignored.

Many theories of religion would maintain that no religion has an intelligible basis, that none manifest a coherent whole. Religion is therefore a series of “myths” or “ideologies” that explain things according to the believer’s wishes. What is true is what we will to be true. But such “faiths” do not claim to have any basis in “fact.” They are articulations of what is beyond reason in the sense that they are not open to any rational reflection or analysis at all. This view is often called fideism or faith-alone-religion.

Likewise, there is the contrary view that science is the only religion there is. It acknowledges no place for revelation even being considered. Sometimes this position goes under the name of “rationalism.” Here, rationalism does not mean reason open to reality whatever it is, but reason deliberately closed in on itself so that it will not admit, even for consideration, any information from outside itself. Rationalism thus is willing to close itself off from claims of intelligence that are found in revelation in order, like fideism, not to have to deal with any problems outside of its definition of itself.

We must therefore be careful when we want religion to be “simple.” We do not want religion to be either simple or complex. We want it to be true. If to be true, it must enter into complicated issues and explain them with greater or lesser degrees of subtlety, so be it.


Written by Curt

August 2, 2005 at 2:46 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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