The Religious Sense

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Chapter 14: Reason's Energy Seeks to Penetrate the Unknown

"Reason's highest achievement is the intuition that an explanation exists exceeding the measure of reason itself" (132). This explanation is defined as mystery, an Other which is infinitely greater than I. Even though I can realize this, I still am driven to satisfy my thirst for God, the 'unknowable.' Without this drive, all of life is boredom and meaninglessness.

This paradox, that man is compelled to search for what cannot be known, creates a very precarious situation. On the one hand, if he ignores the questions of destiny that spring out of his heart he will never be satisfied. He would be living a life of quiet desperation, where he shuts out reality and creates a fantasy world of preconception. On the other hand, if he claims to know the mystery, to understand what it is, then he gives in to his impatience and corrupts the religious sense. The infinite knowledge of God, mystery, is exchanged for something fake, an idol. This is idolatry, when man says "This is what history's destiny is..." "The meaning of the world is..." he "inevitably goes on to define what this is: it is the blood of the Aryan race, the struggle of the proletariat, the competition for economic supremacy, etc" (135).

We want quick solutions and easy answers. It is dizzying to keep ourselves suspended at each moment, living in a tension, being pulled in different directions, exhausted and impatient. It would be so easy to latch onto something and substitute the comprehensible (the idol) for the incomprehensible (God). This is why idol worship is vehemently condemned in the Bible, because it is easy for the human being to make himself "the measure of everything, or in other words, it means to claim to be God" (137). Idols, whether they be false gods, pleasurable things, or people, will never satisfy reason's quest for the fullness of truth.

Ideologies that are built upon the idol become all-encompassing. Otherwise, they would not be convincing; ideology is by definition the distortion of one aspect of experience into the totality of experience. When two ideologies come in contact they "cannot avoid generating total conflict. This explains why, for the Bible, the idol is the origin of violence" (138).

To recap:

Man, from time immemorial, as he matures in history, tends to identify god, that is the meaning of the world, based on a particular aspect of his own self. (139)

Reality is a sign of a greater reality. Though unseen, reason can intuit that it exists. Man's intuition is flawed because of a condition that makes his reason impatient and restless, "Our relationship with mystery becomes degraded into presumption" (140).

How can we know the truth? How can we prevent ourselves from falling into the slavery of idols?

St. Thomas Aquinas writes in the beginning of the Summa Theologiae:

The truth concerning God that reason is able to attain is accomplished only by a very few, and this only after much time and not without the inclusion of error. On the other hand, the entire of the human being depends upon the knowledge of this truth, since this salvation is in God. In order to render this salvation more universal and more certain, it would have thus been necessary to teach men this divine truth with a divine revelation.

"The human religious genius has cried out, in so many ways, to be liberated from this inextricable captivity of impotence and error" (140).


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