Pope Benedict in his Regensburg address spoke of the Christian understanding of God as Logos. The Gospel of John calls Jesus the Logos, usually translated as “the Word.” But logos means considerably more. The Greeks used it to mean both the inner logic of the universe (we get our word logic fromlogos) and the human capacity to reason. So John was saying that Jesus is the inner logic of the universe and the source of human reason. He was also saying that God is reasonable, meaning both that he is knowable by reason and that he by his very nature cannot contradict himself. This understanding of God undergirds Western civilization, Benedict pointed out, and if this understanding is lost, Western civilization is lost.
That his concern is valid is more than borne out in the response to his talk—both the murderous Muslim reaction and the vapid media reaction. The irony was perfect, if disturbing: completely irrational responses to a thoughtful lecture on the loss of rationality in Europe. Nor was the lack of reasoned discourse restricted to the talking heads on television. Many “intellectuals” also weighed in with tragicomic obtuseness. The academics who ply their wares on the air at such times always seem to be unmoored from reality, with their big words and bigger ideas. G. K. Chesterton, with his characteristic flair, deflates this kind of pseudo-intellectualism in Mark Shea’s article on page 22.
Sadly, it’s not just the nutty professors on television who need a reality check. The academic community, for the most part, left reality behind a long time ago—quite literally. It does not believe in reality because reality requires that something be either true or false, that it either exist or not exist, that it be either here or there. Many see reality as intolerant, and we all know that there is nothing worse than intolerance—unless it’s the murder of a nun in retaliation for the words of a pope. There was more media outrage at the words than at the murder.
They make strange bedfellows, the radical Muslims and the secular liberals. Fr. James Schall in an interview with Zenit put his finger on what they have in common. Most Muslims see God not as Logos but as “Will.” In their understanding, Logos would put restrictions on God’s power because it requires God not to contradict himself.
Both camps see Logos as a threat to power.
Some Catholic commentators explained away Benedict’s remarks as some kind of blunder by an inexperienced pope. That is far from the case. He is carrying on Pope John Paul II’s defense of reason in Fides et Ratio and Veritatis Splendor. Benedict’s concern over the crisis of truth is perhaps even more urgent. The primary threat to Western civilization is not Islam but its own abandonment of faith and reason. Many of those with an obligation as teachers and thinkers do not seek truth and justice but have pursued power instead.