Friday, May 20, 2005

The new Star Wars and the postmodern crack-up

It is sometimes unconscious asides that tell us everything about what needs correction in modern culture.

In the recent round-up of Star Wars reviews Instapundit writes

UPDATE: I like this from Chris Suellentrop:


What's great about Star Wars—and one of the reasons I think it has greater appeal—is its acknowledgement, even celebration, of the irrational, the mystical, the religious. More than one friend of mine—OK, me and one friend of mine—sat in our separate backyards as children trying to move rocks with our minds. Star Wars isn't political, but liberals are now trying to adopt it as their own, by claiming that Revenge of the Sith is an allegory for the Bush administration. Um, does that mean that Osama Bin Laden is a Jedi?


The whole thing is amusing.


The boldface on the irrational is mine--and it summarizes in a nutshell exactly what is wrong with postmodern thinking. For Aristotle, belief in God is fundamentally about rationality not irrationality.

For rationality is fundamentally about the quest for causes. It is precisely the quest for causes that is the essence of what rational creatures do. Hume may have raised doubts about causality, but in the real world, if a living creature can't identify causes, it ends up as lunch for something higher up in the food chain.

For Aristotle, the network of causes that we see in the universe is not self-explanatory; it is precisely a critical analysis of causality itself that requires us to posit an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, a God to explain the order of the universe.

Hence it is precisely human rationality that places us in contact with the divine.

More: it is in exercising our rational faculties that we are most divine, that we come closest to the rational God who rules the universe; in learning to think, we become like the gods.

This is not to exclude the mystical--but mysticism is arational and super-rational; it is not irrational, and it is not contrary to reason. One of the strengths of Star Wars as a myth is that it does not accept a dichotomy between reason and the divine: the Jedi work simultaneously in a high-tech universe AND link themselves mystically with the divine. These two aspects of their lives are NOT in an Aristotelian perspective contradictory, but precisely two halves of one whole.

I stress this point because it highlights why the current generation does not understand the Declaration of Independence: the God whom the founding fathers declared to be the source of human rights is not the result of "irrational faith". He is rather the God accessible to human reason itself, whose existence is or should be "self-evident" to every thinking human, and who needs to be acknowledged in the public square as the source of human liberty because without him the survival of liberty cannot be secure.

Hence the recent debate over the "conservatism of faith" versus the "conservatism of doubt" is a false dichotomy based on the postmodern assumption that belief in God is fundamentally irrational. For Aristotle, what is needed in the public square is more confidence in reason, not less; and with that confidence in reason comes confidence in reason's roots in the God who rules a reasoned and ordered universe. That is the philosophical basis for the American Republic, and it is by reaffirmation of that basis that we restore reason to the center of public discourse.

3 Comments:

At Saturday, 21 May, 2005, Anonymous Michael said...

Great post. I liked the conclusion:

"...what is needed in the public square is more confidence in reason, not less; and with that confidence in reason comes confidence in reason's roots in the God who rules a reasoned and ordered universe. That is the philosophical basis for the American Republic, and it is by reaffirmation of that basis that we restore reason to the center of public discourse."

To be honest, this is one of my great hopes for Benedict XVI's papacy. He seems uniquely qualified to address post-modernity, especially in Europe but also in America, on the issues of rationality and religion. JPII began this in Fides, but something tells me Benedict might take things a step further. I hope anyway.

Maybe addressing post-modernity is not quite what I hope for. More like directly challenging post-modernity to explain itself. If he can do that, post-modernity has to re-engage with reason itself. If that engagement is started, once it is started, Benedict and the Church/Tradition he represents might have a thing or two to say.

Of course, I also read somewhere he's more Augustinian (therefore Platonic?) than Thomistic. So I'm not really sure. Just hoping.

The "America" thing got me a little worried. I generally like "America" and the Jesuits, but one of my gripes with it was that it was not intellectually engaging enough. I don't mean intellectual in the sense of "over people's heads", one room in the Ivory Tower talking to another. But giving voice to the broad intellect in the people of God and the world we live in - that intellectus that is already there.

 
At Saturday, 21 May, 2005, Blogger GrenfellHunt said...

Dear Michael:

I couldn't agree more. I'm hopeful too that Benedict XVI will contribute to this. Certainly one couldn't ask for a more formidable mind in the papacy. I wish he were a Thomist--but I side with some of my Dominican friends who think that St Thomas himself thought of himself as an Augustinian. Given Benedict's Augustinian sympathies, there's plenty of material for a comprehensive critique of postmodern culture.

 
At Monday, 23 May, 2005, Anonymous Jeffrey said...

I am sorry for the late date commenting, but reading your wonderful post just happened to coincide with a passage I have just read, in a book that I am enjoying.

The Beginning of Wisdom Reading Genesis by Dr. Leon R. Kass. In short it is a philosophical reading of Genesis. I believe he has done very well thus far.

The passage in mind is as follows. "In short, the first story [first creation story] challenges the dignity of the natural objects of thought and the ground of natural reverence; the second story [Garden of Eden] challenges the human inclination to try to guide human life solely by our own free will and our own human reason, exercised on the natural objects of thought. Ordinary human intelligence, eventually culminating in philosophy, seeks wisdom regarding how to live-that is , knowledge of good and bad-through contemplation of the nature of things (that is, for short, of heaven). The Bible opposes, from its beginning, this intention and this possibility, first in chapter 1, by denying the dignity of the primary object of philosophy, the natural things, and second, in chapter 2, by rebutting the primary intention of philosophy, guidance for life found by reason and rooted in nature. God, not nature, is divine; obedience to God, not the independent and rational pursuit of wisdom, is the true and righteous human way."

This to me exemplifies the decisions which I have had to make concerning my religiosity. Obedience vs free will and reason. Raised Catholic and then going to college which emphasized the doctrine of doubt about religion, forced the idea that surely reason must prevail for it is the utmost of pure thought and faith will falter for it is unknowing and unprovable.

Now with renewed furvor for knowlege, ten years post school, ideas that I am reinvestigating, some new altogether (not the best Catholic education system at my old church) give me such hope and inspiration. I am far more positive and I dare say intelligent compared with my, um "religion is ridiculous, and you know it causes all wars" friends. I am still seeking answers, as for they the conclusion is drawn. Your posts help immensely.

"For Aristotle, the network of causes that we see in the universe is not self-explanatory; it is precisely a critical analysis of causality itself that requires us to posit an uncaused cause, an unmoved mover, a God to explain the order of the universe.
Hence it is precisely human rationality that places us in contact with the divine.
More: it is in exercising our rational faculties that we are most divine, that we come closest to the rational God who rules the universe; in learning to think, we become like the gods."

Priceless

It is truly the wisest that can accept the wisdom of others, and I think the truly pure of heart that can also accect the gift God has given us; free will. A will to act rationaly think rationaly, and to ask rational questions about God. Thinking about God after all can lead to true beauty. To reason God is true wisdom.

 

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