Blog Template Theology of the Body: The Regensburg Lecture

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Regensburg Lecture

The discussion below has led me to inquire again into the question of individual conscience. Individual conscience is often held up as the sacred cow of Anglicanism, although it has only been in the last century that this could even be said of Anglicanism or of any Anglican. It is, more so, the spirit of the modern age. Along these lines, I have today delved into the Regensbug Lecture of Benedict XVI. Many of you will remember that this is the lecture that gained a great deal of heat from the Muslim world. But, it is a document that is important for a multitude of reasons other than one soundbyte. He states:
...only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity.

A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre-scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

We shall return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: It is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science” and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective.

The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.
In this, I think he is right on target. Whether we speak of the ethics of the citizen or of the churchman, we must be speaking of creating communities of virtue, whether the state or the Church. This cannot be the case without some level of authority to which the individual conscience is submitted. When I drive around town, I don't run red lights. This is not because I deem it appropriate, but because it is the common ethic of driving around town, and I have submitted myself to it. It is farcical to say that the community of drivers wrote the traffic laws, because they most certainly did not. The laws were an extension of the exercise of reason by authorities. If all drivers drove according to their own conscience, formed by only the input which they had received, the consequences would indeed be tragic.

I am indeed limited. I do not have the time nor the will to determine these things on my own, and must be guided, yes even corralled towards right action. The disaster of relativism is that it sets up moral anarchy. But, in the Public Square, it is often forgotten what ought to be meant by conscience. It is assumed that the conscience is individual or that it is free, or that it is unbounded. Even worse, that it is atheistic in a way, freed from natural revelation. Anglicanism, in particular, has forgotten that the conscience has as its duty the approval of good action and the denouncing of evil. The Vatican II document Guadium et Spes puts it this way:
Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment... For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God... His conscience is man's most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths."
The problem we face today is that it is difficult to form the conscience without common assent to virtue or common moral judgment. When this relativism invades the Church, the Church begins to resemble not the crucible which refines the person, but merely a mirror of her environment.