sábado, 18 de junio de 2016

Benjamin Franklin was blind to the possibility that religion could be reasonable

Blind Benjamin Franklin

by Dwight Longenecker

Apart from his rejection of wigs and the incident with the kite, the key and the lightning bolt, I’m afraid I have never been impressed or attracted to Benjamin Franklin. There was too much of the old-world rationalist and deist in the new-world inventor and sage. Despite his accomplishments, there was something as dull about the man as his po-faced portrait staring from the hundred-dollar bill. Franklin was utilitarian and unitarian, practical and puritanical, materialistic, mechanical, efficient, economical, sensible, and sincere… and dull.

Like most Freemasons, Franklin had a spiritual blind spot. There was nothing wild and mystical in his life. Passion and romance in religion were alien to him. His creed was one of common sense, mild-mannered good works and human virtue. As such it was not only blind. It was bland.

I came across a quotation of his the other day which sums it up. He wrote, “The way to see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.” It is the sort of sophomoric bromide one expects from rationalist, and it doesn’t stand up to even the mildest of objections.

It is understandable, however. Ever since the nominalists suggested that material things had no connection with the unseen world and were no more than what you call them, a divide had been growing between the physical and the metaphysical realms. The Protestant Revolution confirmed the break, and the Enlightenment hammered it home with the French and American Revolutions.

If there was a divide between the spiritual and the physical realm, then preachers could have nothing to say about science, and scientists had no concern with religion. Science and reason dealt with this world and religion with the world to come, and that was that.

Consequently, the Protestant religion became either an abstract debate about theology or a subjective, emotional experience. In other words, you could be a bookish Bible nerd or a hellfire, “come to Jesus!” weepin’-and-wailin’ preacher. Neither had much to do with the material realm, and neither had much use for science and reason. Thus Benjamin Franklin’s conclusion that to “see by faith is to shut the eye of reason.”

Fideists and fundamentalists distrust the man of reason as much as he distrusts the man of religion. Therefore, even today many Protestants take an intentionally anti-intellectual stance, agreeing with the rationalists that faith and reason are incompatible. Blind Benjamin Franklin is father to them all.

Standing in contrast to this impasse is the Catholic religion which has always contended that faith is reasonable and reason requires faith, or as Pope St. John Paul II put it, “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.”

The fact of the matter is that true religious enquiry is actually very similar to rational, scientific enquiry. The method of scientific enquiry involves more than simply conducting experiments. Making scientific discoveries involves a process which involves not only proof gathered from experimentation, but also a reliance on data that is only probable, an acceptance of tradition mixed with informed theorizing, creative guesswork and sparks of enlightened intuition.

True religious discovery relies on a similar process. In both science and religion the first step is to observe the real world and draw conclusions from one’s observations in order to construct a meaningful analysis of reality.

This process is assisted in the individual enquirer (be he scientific or religious) by what might be called “tradition.” In other words, we use the observations and conclusions of those who have lived before us to inform our analysis and to enable us to build up a credible and cohesive analysis of the world we observe. Neither the religious or the scientific explorer starts from scratch. Others have been here before us. They have drawn maps, published memoirs, left records and given instructions for the journey.

Scientists do their work on the basis of an ever growing body of scientific knowledge which they take as proven–even if much of that “scientific knowledge” has only been established through theorizing, intuition, guesswork and probabilities. So it is with the religious enquirer. He relies on the findings and experiences of those who have explored the realm of religion for thousands of years in many different cultures and human experiences. Just as scientists specialize in many different disciplines, so the phenomenon of religion has been explored not just by monks and nuns, but by psychologists, sociologists, theologians, anthropologists, artists, poets, mystics, madmen and children.


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