13 October 2009

Vain reasoning, Darkened minds

28th Week OT (T): Readings
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
La Chiesa dei Santi Domenico e Sisto, Roma

We can blame Immanuel Kant. To save religious faith from the irreverent and potentially devastating demands of reason, Kant proposed that we remove faith from the preview of logic and science and seat it on a throne too high for the grubby instruments of empirical probing to reach. From this lofty perch, religious faith could rule the private world of each but never speak publicly to all. Kant gave us a way to be both rational in the modern sense and faithful in the traditional sense, both secular and religious without contradiction. Or so it seemed. Out of Kant's attempt to save faith from reason was born the human vanity of reasoning without God.* What happens to the human mind when we exchange “the glory of the immortal God for the likeness of an image of mortal man”? What happens to our reason when we turn our minds from God?

Writing to the Romans, Paul notes that there are those who “suppress the truth by their wickedness.” These are women and men who know the truth as it has been revealed to them yet “for although they knew God they did not accord him glory as God or give him thanks. Instead, they became vain in their reasoning, and their senseless minds were darkened.” It is one thing to be ignorant—simply not-knowing; it is an entirely different sort of thing to know the truth and reject it. These darkened minds “exchange the truth of God for a lie and revere and worship the creature rather than the creator.” For this sin, Paul writes, God “hands them over to impurity. . .” Nothing pure may be drawn from impurity; nothing whole and healthy can be found in brokenness and disease. When we remove the glory of God from the center of our lives—from our thinking, our feeling, our acting—and begin to think and feel and act apart from the truth that we know to be revealed in Christ Jesus, we begin a short journey to idolatry and the impurity of heart and mind that awaits those who know God and yet refuse to “accord him glory as God or give him thanks.”

One way to refuse to give God thanks is to pretend that His glory stops shining in our minds once we are in the public square. Kant gave modern man a way to be an “inside believer” and an “outside thinker,” that is, he imagined himself to be providing us with a way to be faithful without becoming irrational, a way of being rational without losing faith. What we have ended up with in Europe, Canada, and the U.S. is a social world divided between the Private Inside (where faith may rule) and the Public Outside (where reason without God is the only rule). Sadly, Catholics in these countries have, by and large, adopted this social logic and live by it without much complaint. It is certainly the easiest path for the spiritually lethargic. It is the path most likely to win its followers praise from their social “Betters.” And it is the path that will be most quickly lead to material advancement in a culture that prizes compromise over principle. But is this the way of Christ? Is the darkening of our reason at the altar of secular supremacy inevitable?

What does Christ say to the Pharisee who accuses him of uncleanliness? “Oh you Pharisees! Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil. You fools! Did not the maker of the outside also make the inside?” For the one who has seen the truth revealed in Christ Jesus, there is no inside/outside; there is no secular/sacred; there is no public/private. There is the mind of Christ—the mind taken on at baptism and fed with the logic of the Word and the food of the Eucharist. There is the Body of Christ, the Church—the Church, our mother and teacher; one body, one faith, one reason. And there is the glory of God—the One Who cleaned the inside and the outside and made us worthy of His rescue. You know the Truth. Speak his Name. Inside and out: speak his Name.

*Yes, yes, yes. . . I know.  I am oversimplifying this BIG Time.  I know.  I also know that blaming Kant for western secularization is controversial.  But remember:  this is a homily. . .not a conference paper. 


  1. ummm so we are what we eat? (not joking) inside and out....

    thought provoking.

  2. lois in Indy1:49 PM

    Thanks, Father. I got this one and did not get lost. lois