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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 20, No. 10. July 19, 1957

The Retreat from Reason

page 5

The Retreat from Reason

Last year there was an article in 'The War Cry' by a Victoria student. It was an excellent comment on the position of the Christian in the university written with honesty and perception. It stated quite clearly something which has been increasingly evident ever since the war, the Christian in the university longer sees rational discussion or argument as having any place in his religion. The truths of Christianity must be accepted as certain by each individual, there is no other basis for belief. Argument with a non-believer is bound to be a failure because he will demand reasons which you are not able to give and an answer that belief must come first will only raise a smile.

This retreat from reason has grown in this century. Science and philosophy have produced new objective ideas which allow a fresh and fruitful view of the world and encourage us to make a detached criticism of human actions of a kind which until recently was only common in the pure sciences. The movement toward 'subjectivism' in philosophy has simply been a recognition of the status of subjective judgment and encouraged attempts to find new standards of criticism. The variety of ideologies current in the world and their consequences in recent time has also encouraged an attitude of caution toward unrational belief.

In the face of these developments Christianity and most other religions have undergone changes as they have altered in response to other challenges in their histories. But there is no longer any attempt to embrace the new ideas nor to defend against the new criticism. The old Christian belief that knowledge in itself is pood is being rapidly forgotten. The results of rational enquiry have cut religion off from the intellect and Christianity has become the faith of those who demand an emotional anchor rather than a philosophy to guide their actions. The adventurous are the ones who are able to stand uncertainty and today the discoverers are not Christians. There are of course some who are able to keep their religion quite apart from the rest of their lives.

The recent developments in religion are deeply disturbing to anyone who believes that the ability to think carefully and advance his ideas by discussion are man's greatest strength. The rules of the churches who were once intellectual lenders in their countries now often only offer the simple faith; if we rest in the love of God everything will be ail right. If you can see no basis for this faith but the pious hopes of a man like yourself the fact that he is still regarded as a profound thinker is rather frightening.

As I understand them normal Christian theologies do not attack reason or the discoveries of science but every intelligent Chritian one talks to in the university speaks as though his belief can have no concern with reasoned argument or the discoveries of science. Belief is enough for them. Christians appear to be a group comforted by their own certainty which they will preserve through anything. When reason was on their side they acclaimed it, now it appears to be against them they ignore it. Emotional attacks on science and philosophy by poets who offer as an alternative their intuition of the will of God are popular today in the religious groups. Yet it is increasingly hard for an able scientist to be a Christian because there is no one to show him how our knowledge of the world can be made compatible with belief.

Sometimes it is said that the fact that God may never be mentioned in any science is of little significance. This is profoundly untrue, today it is a matter of the very greatest significance. We are watching the passing of rational religious thought.—Thomas.