All great civilizations marry reason and faith, for the simple reason that human flourishing requires both these things. No civilization that ignored one of the two could survive. So it’s incorrect, in my view, to assert that we in the West have a monopoly on this sort of thing. But civilizations do combine reason and faith differently, which explains why we have not one, world civilization, but many. Western civilization, in particular, has been shaped by a fusion of speculative reason, which we inherit from the Greeks, and Biblical revelation, which we inherit from Christianity and, before that, from Judaism. This synthesis marks American civilization in particular, which combines Enlightenment rationalism and Evangelical piety in a unique way.
The Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg has written a new book on the Western synthesis, Reason, Faith, and the Struggle for Western Civilization. I can’t say I agree with all the book argues, at least if the description below is any guide. But it looks very interesting. The publisher is Gateway Editions. Here’s the description from the Amazon website:
The genius of Western civilization is its unique synthesis of reason and faith. But today that synthesis is under attack—from the East by radical Islam (faith without reason) and from within the West itself by aggressive secularism (reason without faith). The stakes are incalculably high.
The naïve and increasingly common assumption that reason and faith are incompatible is simply at odds with the facts of history. The revelation in the Hebrew Scriptures of a reasonable Creator imbued Judaism and Christianity with a conviction that the world is intelligible, leading to the flowering of reason and the invention of science in the West. It was no accident that the Enlightenment took place in the culture formed by the Jewish and Christian faiths.
We can all see that faith without reason is benighted at best, fanatical and violent at worst. But too many forget that reason, stripped of faith, is subject to its own pathologies. A supposedly autonomous reason easily sinks into fanaticism, stifling dissent as bigoted and irrational and devouring the humane civilization fostered by the integration of reason and faith. The blood-soaked history of the twentieth century attests to the totalitarian forces unleashed by corrupted reason.
But Samuel Gregg does more than lament the intellectual and spiritual ruin caused by the divorce of reason and faith. He shows that each of these foundational principles corrects the other’s excesses and enhances our comprehension of the truth in a continuous renewal of civilization. By recovering this balance, we can avoid a suicidal winner-take-all conflict between reason and faith and a future that will respect neither.