Anti-philosophical faith vs. diabolical philosophy

Do you choose intelligence or stupidity? Reason or faith? This is the way one of the most fundamental questions in life is presented nowadays. Faith and reason do not–cannot–ever mix, they are like oil and water. The polarization between these choices seems to be such an universal modern assumption that it is hardly questioned, or noticed, at all.

homer simpson

Here are a couple examples to demonstrate what we now assume to be self-evident. One of the most popular, and most interesting, recent treatises on philosophy, despite its brilliance and nuances, assumes wholesale the myth of reasonable reason and fool faith. In A Brief History of Thought, Luc Ferry presents faith as “anti-philosofical” and philosophy as “diabolical” to Christianity. To choose philosophy is to “decidedly choose lucidity against comfort, freedom against faith” but the believer “renounces the use of reason to give complete trust to the word of Jesus and give space to faith…” If the absolute distinction was not yet clear, Ferry adds an exclamation point:

There is nothing more illuminating to understand what philosophy is than to contrast it to what it is not and to whom it is radically opposed … that is, religion![1]

Such language insinuates that the intrinsic opposition of faith and reason is one of the most obvious and undeniable truths of modern man. Max Weber takes the same stance, talking of Opfer des Intellekts, sacrifice of the intellect. He doesn’t add a triumphant exclamation point but adopts an equally offensive contrived sense of pity.

To the person who cannot bear the fate of the times like a man, one must way: may he rather return silently, … The arms of the Churches are open widely and compassionately for him.”[2]

But we may still ask: is that really the case? I mean, we are allowed to question this dogma, aren’t we? Or does philosophy–built on the questioning of every assumption–prohibit us from questioning it?

That is one of the questions that emerge in Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age, a massive, tiny-print, 874 pages-long history of Western thought. Taylor’s argument is complex and nuanced, but his conclusion is that no, reason and faith are not intrinsically opposed to each other. That is just a story we have been told so often that it now feels universally true. Actually, Taylor uses the more sharp-tongued word “spin.”

So the story of the rise of modern social spaces doesn’t need to be given an anti-religious spin. But there are motivations to go this way; and like any spin, we can easily see how the wide acceptance of one such, and the relegation of religion which this involves, could harden into a ‘picture’, which appears obvious and unchallengeable…. once a secularist spin has been taken, this anti-religious story has all the force and moral power which attach to the inauguration of these spaces of citizen sociability. [3]

Of course faith can be reasonable (or foolish too). What distinguishes reasonable faith from credulity remains the theme of another post. A protest against such myth is enough for today. I’ll even add an exclamation point, just for courtesy’s sake: !

René Breuel

[1] Luc Ferry, Vivere con Filosofia [A Brief History of Thought] (Milano: Garzanti, 2010), 18, 20, 58, 59, 68.

[2] Max Weber, quoted in Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2007), 550.

[3] Ibid., 579.


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