Habermas and Ratzinger

Some time ago, when the Hitchens book had just come out a review of the book review, in complaining about the lack of research into prior conversations on this topic evinced in the book, noted a much better source for the God/not-God debate, namely the book (Atheism and Theism) by Smart and Haldane. A commenter, Carl Olson of The Scoop swooped in and pointed out another excellent book, The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion, (not coincidentally published by his employer) which was the account of a short lecture series by Habermas and Ratzinger in Germany on the same topic. During my plane ride to Huntsville Alabama this morning I read it. It was readable and enjoyable. I recommend it. Below the fold I will give a few excerpts to whet your whistle.

Habermas begins with a concise statment of the question he will attempt (in brief),

Does the free secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whether the democratic constitutional state can renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence, it also expresses the assumption that such a state is dependent on ethical traditions of a local nature.

Included of course, among these traditions is religion.

Both  Habermas and Ratinger note a quote from a scholar (called a “colleague”) from Tehran who noted,

that the comparative study of cultures and religious sociology surely suggested that European secularization was the odd one out among the various developments — and that it ought to be corrected.

And a part of Habermas conclusion is worth quoting in full.

… The understanding of tolerance in pluralistic socieites with a liberal constitution demands that in their dealings with unbelievers and those of different faith, believers should grasp that they must reasonably expect that the dissent they encounter will go on existing, at the same time, however, a liberal political culture expects that unbelievers, too, will grasp the same point in their dealings with believers.

For the citizen who is “unmusical” in religious matters, this entails the demand — which is not in the least trivial — that he identify self-critically the relationship between faith and knowledge, on the basis of what all the world knows. This is because the expectation that there will be continuing disagreement between faith and knowledge deserves to be called “rational” only when secular knowledge, too, grants that religious convictions have an epistemological status that is not purely and simply irrational. And this is why, in the public political arena, naturalistic world views, which owe their genesis to a speculative assimilation and are relevant to the ethical self-understanding of the citizens, do not in the least enjoy a prima facie advantage over competing world views or religious understanding.

Ratzinger has two conclusions to his half of this (very little) book, the second is one the benefits and necessity of multiculturalism but the first:

We ahve seen that there exist pathologies in religion that are extremely dangerous and that make it necesary to see the divine light of reason as a “controlling organ”. Religion must continually allow itself to be purified and structured by reason; and this was the view of the Church Fathers, too. However, we have also seen in the course of our reflections that there are also pathologies of reason, although mankind in general is not as conscious of this fact today. There is a hubris of reason that is no less dangerous. Indeed, bearing in mind its potential effects, it poses an even greater threat — it suffices here to think of the atomic bomb or of man as a “product”. This is why reason, too, must be warned to keep within its proper limits, and it must learn a willingness to listen to the great religious traditions of mankind. If it cuts itself completely adrift and rejects this willingness to learn this relatedness, reason becomes destructive.

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6 comments

  1. only when secular knowledge, too, grants that religious convictions have an epistemological status that is not purely and simply irrational.

    This is the part I have trouble getting my head around. I easily see that reason has its limits and that reason in the absence of empiricism is especially dangerous, but I don’t see how religious convictions bring anything to the conversation that merely arbitrary convictions do not.

    On another note, ideas like this make me shake my head in bewilderment:

    that the comparative study of cultures and religious sociology surely suggested that European secularization was the odd one out among the various developments — and that it ought to be corrected.

    How does one in the 21st century compare Europe to, say, the Middle East or to Africa or to South America and decide that Europe ought to be corrected?

  2. Mark says:

    JA,
    You really do need to get a hold of Smart and Haldane. I think the real lesson in that book (which I confess I have just scratched as yet) is that it teaches the theist the atheist isn’t irrational and wacky and vice versa. Both can be rationally defended from a philosophical perspective. Habermas is a secular philosopher of note as indicated in the wiki link on him above.

    Oh, I’m pretty sure I don’t agree with it, nor I think might either Habermas or Ratzinger. The Iranian is noting that based on a cultural and count of heads Europe is a fringe minority.

    And anyhow, their birthrate demographic is “correcting” it on its own.

  3. You really do need to get a hold of Smart and Haldane.

    Sounds like I do.

  4. […] a recent post, I had quoted Jurgen Habermas, who at the start of an exchange of short lectures given in Germany […]

  5. […] Tribalism is one of those normative presuppositions, or to put it in Habermas words, “it also expresses the assumptions that a state is dependent on ethical traditions of a local nature” … read tribalism or identity. For those interested … this book The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion contains the debate (this is my post long long ago on that). […]

  6. […] Tribalism is one of those normative presuppositions, or to put it in Habermas words, “it also expresses the assumptions that a state is dependent on ethical traditions of a local nature” … read tribalism or identity. For those interested … this book The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion contains the debate (this is my post long long ago on that). […]