A Failure of Reason

Aug 5, 2020 by

by Donald Demarco, Crisis Magazine:

Man is a rational animal. The capacity for reason is ingrained in his nature. He cannot be truly himself without living by the light of human reason. Saint Thomas Aquinas understood the social implications of reason and saw it as a means by which all people can communicate with each other on a common basis. Therefore, he believed that reason can unify people. The capacity to reason is a universal possession, whereas race, religion, social status, and place of birth are not. In writing his Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas was confident that he could establish a common ground with the Mohammedans by “recourse to the natural reason, to which all men are forced to give their assent.”

Perhaps we could say that Aquinas was overly confident since it is possible for people to refuse to give their assent to reason. Because we possess something does not mean that we will always use it, even if that possession defines our nature. Nonetheless, if people are honest with themselves, they must give their assent to reason, for they cannot live in any practical sense without the guidance that reason provides.

“Nothing is more important,” Jacques Maritain writes in The Range of Reason, “than the events which occur within that invisible universe which is the mind of man.” By living in accord with reason, man lives in accord with his nature. By rejecting reason, he deviates from his nature and finds himself in a state of profound confusion. The only sensible choice, therefore, is to live by the light of reason.

Human history is replete with examples of influential figures who rejected reason and installed will in its place. Martin Luther’s denunciation of reason is extreme, often stated in language that is unrepeatable. He describes it as the “most atrocious enemy of God.” While we understand that reason is needed to direct us to “eat, drink and clothe ourselves,” on a spiritual level it is “a prostitute, the devil’s appointed harlot . . . and should be trodden under foot and destroyed.” “He who keeps a prostitute,” he wrote, “is closer to God than one who takes a wife.” With regard to Jewish people, he was ruthless: “Burn their Synagogues and schools. Put them on fire, their homes, their payer books and their rabbis”. Peter Wiener has drawn attention to the common anti-Semitism and irrationality between Luther and Hitler in his book Martin Luther, Hitlers Spiritual Ancestor. Hitler’s declaration, “I think with my blood,” is an echo of Luther’s description of reason as “the devil’s harlot.” A certain Bishop Temple has commented, “It is easy to see how Luther prepared the way for Hitler”.

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