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Pope-Benedict-XVI

There’s been a lot of comment here about anti-intellectualism and modernism. It seems to me profoundly anti-intellectual to think it is even possible to reject wholesale the predominant mode of thought in our Western Society. I should think the notion that it is possible to reconstruct one’s mindset to align it with that of someone in a pre-modern era itself a construct made possible by modern thinking. I have a friend who did convert to Eastern Orthodoxy because, after reading all he could on it and following internet discussion boards he decided it was the closest to the authentic voice of the Christian Church founded by Christ. He had to be rebaptised, since his new Church did not recognise his Catholic baptism. He struggled with the ethnic aspects, and when he said, on one of those internet boards that he did not think it possible to unthink his Western intellectual heritage, he found himself rebuked by several men who said they had done just that. Examining the exchange, it seems to me like a rush to see who could close his mind the most. It struck me as a bit of shame that group did not follow its own logic and give up the Internet, which was surely the product of the Enlightenment thinking they were rejecting; they could all have retired to the cave of Adullam together and followed the shadows on the wall. They would, not doubt, have been the purest remnant possible.

It found myself, as I do here, wondering at what point Christianity so lost its self-confidence that it found it necessary to reject several hundred years of thinking and opt for some ‘Golden Age’ view of itself? In its journey through the ages, Christianity has shown itself remarkably adept at finding in the thinking of all ages what is of God, and adapting it to God’s purposes. This business of insisting on not heeding voices of reform and of standing on the past is particularly relevant as we mark the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his theses to the door of the Cathedral (which of course he never actually did). If you look at what he was condemning, much of it most of us, would condemn. If Christians were, as seems to have been the case, being told they could buy time off purgatory by buying indulgences, then I expect our Catholic friends here would say that they were not being told what their Church truly taught; yet that was what they were being told. I mention that not to get into a discussion on it, but to show that reform is a constant necessity in any organisation led by fallen humans.

Do I reject ‘nationalism’, no, I don’t, because I reject the notion that it is inevitably association with atheist thought and anti-clerical; it was in nineteenth century Europe, and it was in reaction to that Pope Pius condemned it. Neither do I reject ‘liberalism’ – and I doubt anyone does. It gives us freedom of speech and freedom of thought, and if any Church finds these things a threat, it needs to ask itself what Truth has to fear from either of these things? In our time the real danger to the Faith comes from those who believe in neither and wish the enthrone a narrow, secularist, anti-religious viewpoint as the norm.

The Enlightenment took many forms, not one, and it may be that some of the things to which it gave birth severely frightened religious establishments then, and now. To think we can stop the process of change or turn back the clock is wishful thinking; what we could, if we engaged, do, is Christianise that process – as we have in the past and will do so again. For those who wonder how this might be done, I highly recommend reading the encounter between Jurgen Habermas and Benedict XVI – a summary of which can be found here. It may, of course, be significant that that discussion was not being carried on the Anglosphere with its unfortunate tradition of entrenched opposition between reason and faith, and that the atheist view was being taken up by a genuine intellectual as opposed to Richard Dawkins.

Modern and modernist ideas are part of the air we breathe, and to think we can unthink ideas is the sort of conservatism which gets conservatism a bad name. By all mean defend the last ditch – but there is a reason it smells – it is full of dead matter. We fight the good fight in faith, confident that if Truth is with us, it will prevail. If we don’t believe that, perhaps we should find a cave on Athos and wait for the end – and leave the struggle to those who don’t think that all valuable contributions to human thought stopped at some point in the nineteenth century?

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