Irenic Thoughts

Irenic. The word means peaceful. This web log (or blog) exists to create an ongoing, and hopefully peaceful, series of comments on the life of King of Peace Episcopal Church. This is not a closed community. You are highly encouraged to comment on any post or to send your own posts.


Within Reason

In the quote below, "Modern" does not mean "contemporary" but 17th-19th century Enlightenment thinking. Or as Wikipedia has it "a trend of thought which affirms the power of human beings to make, improve and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge, technology and practical experimentation."
The way the modern mentality continues to affect theology is splendidly captured in an allegory presented by Basil Mitchell in the 1986 Nathaniel Taylor Lectures at Yale University. Mitchell pictures traditional Christian theology as a barge going down a river. Immanuel KantOne one side of the river are shoals, which represent the works of David Hume and Immanuel Kant which enshrine some of the most serious intellectual barriers to Christian belief in modern times. To avoid these shoals, theologians have either jettisoned some of their cargo (Christian claims) to lighten the barge and sail safely over them, or they have swung sharply to the other bank to remain premodern. That is, they have either become modern by getting rid of lots of traditional Christian claims, sometimes even claims that God is Creator and Redeemer in Christ, or they retain the language of traditional Christianity but at the price of repudiating in various degrees the need to take into account knowledge from any other domain.

For those who remained premodern, Christian doctrines can be affirmed and discussed as if Hume's and Kant's objections simply do not exist. The primary directions of Christian theology have been either to accept the principles and outlook of the modern world and to minimize the distinctive content and basis of Christian doctrines, or to retain Christian doctrines verbally while isolating them from the present day and in effect remaining premodern....

The way forward is forward. The principles of the modern mentality enshrined in Hume and Kant do not form an impassible barrier which we must either accept or avoid. The actual situation is that the barrier they and others formed has collapsed.
Diogenes Allen (1932- )
Homer's Ulysses passes by ScyllaAllen's description sounds like Christianity considers itself between a rock and a hard place. Or as in Homer's Odyssey—between Scylla and Charybdis—two monsters that live on either side of a narrow strait of water. The two monsters were so close to one another that any ship attempting to avoid Scylla would be swallowed by Charybdis. As Wikipedia defines it, "The phrase between Scylla and Charybdis has come to mean being in a state where one is between two dangers and moving away from one will cause you to be in danger from the other."

In these postmodern times, do we have to either:
  1. Jettison Christian teaching or
  2. Act like the enlightenment didn't happen?
Isn't there a way to be both aware of the challenges posed by the Enlightenment emphasis on reason and the scientific method without capitulating to the 18th century ideal of religion within the limits of reason alone? Anything metaphysical (beyond the physical) would seem to be, by definition, beyond the ability to test by scientific method. But does that make it untrue?

For example, while I do believe that the Christian faith is reasonable, I don't think a full account of it can be given within the limits of reason alone.

What do you think?

The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor + King of Peace Episcopal Church


  • At 10/26/2006 11:48 AM, Anonymous Debbie said…

    I don't believe that there is way to reason yourself to God. (Ok, maybe for Aquinas there was, but...)

    Once we begin to limit God to scientific reasoning, we place Him within a framework that limits our possible view of Him. We can only see or miss the bits of His nature that prove or disprove our pet hypotheses of the moment. Our God, however, transcends our imaginations and limitations of our best minds. My God is bigger than reason alone.

  • At 10/26/2006 8:26 PM, Blogger Robin D. said…

    God has told us what and where he is. He is living. He is the Perfect Father. He is the creator. He "IS". We "ARE" because he "IS".

    I really don't think our brains are too small to comprehend Him. I think maybe our minds are too narrow to comprehend Him.

    If God is living and we accept that the definiton of being alive includes reproduction, then are we truly God's offspring?

    If he is the Perfect Father then why wouldn't he want us to realize our potential.

    If he is the Creator then did he just start Creation then back off? Isn't he still in Creation?

    I think God created us to be his children. I think he wants us to learn and increase in wisdom. I think he continues to create. I think reason is a gift of God. Reason helps us to identify truth. When we take the blinders off and look at creation, we can see the touch of God in everything.


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