Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Before Rerum Novarum, II: Faith v. Reason

CESJ is not Catholic, but we rely heavily on Catholic social teachings, which (as Pius XII emphasized in the opening paragraphs of his 1950 encyclical, Humani Generis) can be discerned by “human reason by its own natural force and light.”

Catholicism is not simply a philosophy, however, but a religion.  Since the social teachings of the Catholic Church are based on the natural law discernible by reason, everyone can (and, in a sense, must) accept them. On the other hand, the purely religious teachings are based on faith, which only those who accept that particular faith are required to believe.

Pius X: The Hammer of Modernism
Unfortunately, because Catholicism is a religion, people tend to accept its social teachings on faith instead of reason — an error Pius X called “fideism” (Pascendi Dominici Gregis, § 7).  This leads to serious conflicts between Catholics and non-Catholics, and even more serious conflicts between Catholics who base their understanding of their Church’s social teachings on faith, and those who base their understanding on reason:

Pius XI: A Completed Doctrine of Social Justice
“[C]ertain doubts have arisen concerning either the correct meaning of some parts of Leo’s Encyclical [Rerum Novarum] or conclusions to be deduced therefrom, which doubts in turn have even among Catholics given rise to controversies that are not always peaceful.” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 40.)

Disagreement and error among men on moral and religious matters have always been a cause of profound sorrow to all good men, but above all to the true and loyal sons of the Church, especially today, when we see the principles of Christian culture being attacked on all sides.” (Humani Generis, § 1.)

Pius XII: Faith and Reason
It is not a question of “Faith versus Reason,” then, but of “Faith and Reason.”  If there is an apparent conflict between what you think your faith is telling you, and what your reason tells you, you can’t just sit back and claim to be a faithful anything if you don’t even try to resolve the conflict.

Worse, you aren’t doing your job as a human being, regardless of your faith (or lack thereof) if you avoid or condemn without debate other people who take a position that seems to contradict your own.  You can’t just sneer that they are heretical, vicious, or stupid without presenting some kind of reason to support your argument, or reject someone else’s.  As Chesterton said,

"The Dumb Ox"
“[T]here are many who do not understand the nature of any sort of argument.  Indeed, I think there are fewer people now alive who understand argument than there were twenty or thirty years ago; . . . [Most men] have not time to argue.  No time, that is, to argue fairly.  There is always time to argue unfairly; not least in a time like ours. . . . [I]t is generally the man who is not ready to argue, who is ready to sneer.  That is why, in recent literature, there has been so little argument and so much sneering.” (G. K. Chesterton, Saint Thomas Aquinas: The “Dumb Ox.”  New York: Image Books, 1956, 125-126.)

It’s the coward’s way out to declare someone else wrong simply because he or she disagrees with you.  Hilaire Belloc called people who reject others’ positions out of hand without debate, argument, or evidence, “stupid skeptics,” whom he contrasted with “intelligent skeptics” who present a reason-based case as to why they think you are wrong.  Chesterton was even more pointed in his criticism of the type of Catholic (and, by extension, anyone else) who declares you wrong on a matter of philosophy or science because you disagree about something that he bases on faith-held principles:

“If there is one phrase that stands before history as typical of Thomas Aquinas, it is that phrase about his own argument: “It is not based on documents of faith, but on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.”  Would that all Orthodox doctors in deliberation were as reasonable as Aquinas in anger!  Would that all Christian apologists would remember that maxim; and write it up in large letters on the wall, before they nail any theses there.  At the top of his fury, Thomas Aquinas understands, what so many defenders of orthodoxy will not understand.  It is no good to tell an atheist that he is an atheist; or to charge a denier of immortality with the infamy of denying it; or to imagine that one can force an opponent to admit he is wrong, by proving that he is wrong on somebody else’s principles, but not on his own.  After the great example of St. Thomas, the principle stands, or ought always to have stood established; that we must either not argue with a man at all, or we must argue on his grounds and not ours.  We may do other things instead of arguing, according to our views of what actions are morally permissible; but if we argue we must argue ‘on the reasons and statements of the philosophers themselves.’” (Ibid., 95-96.)

Guaranteed Fresh "New Things"
Nowhere is the artificial conflict between faith and reason more apparent in our day than in matters relating to private property, that is, the natural absolute right to be an owner, and the necessarily limited exercise of that right.  This was the main issue on which Henry George locked horns with the Catholic Church, and the one that has done the most damage down to the present day.

The fact is that George lost the battle — but has come very close to winning the war.  Many sincere Catholics and people of other faiths take George’s assumptions for granted, most of them without realizing they are doing so.  This, in our opinion, is due in large measure to the faith-based belief that the only way to finance new capital formation is through past savings instead of both past savings and future savings, but that is an issue for another posting.

Tomorrow we will start posting the relevant portions of Archbishop Corrigan’s pastoral letter in which he refuted the position of Henry George on property.


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