Habermas on religion and reason

Here is an interesting NYTimes article on Jurgen Habermas (long a defender of Enlightenment rationality) and his changing views on the role of religion and the possibilities of secular reason.

Author: Kleiner

Associate Vice Provost and Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. I teach across the curriculum, but am most interested in continental philosophy, ancient and medieval philosophy as well as Catholic thought, all of which might be summed up as an interest in the ressourcement tradition (returning in order to make progress). I also enjoy spending time thinking about liberal education and its ends.

3 thoughts on “Habermas on religion and reason”

  1. I lack the language to fully talk on this, but really fascinating.

    “Among the modern societies, only those that are able to introduce into the secular domain the essential contents of their religious traditions which point beyond the merely human realm will also be able to rescue the substance of the human.”

    Only a God will save us. Also much of it including this quote reminded me a bit of Dr. Hemming’s lecture recently that hit me so hard. Can man know itself without properly knowing what is beyond it, seeing the end whole of which it is a fraction? Is it perhaps the failure of the enlightenment and modernity that it focuses so much on its fractal area that it has lost its truth of itself? I’ve been debating with some pro choicers recently on the need for abortion and birth control in light of aids and more recently the woman who tried to send her adopted child back to RUSSIA. Not to go off topic, but their comments were always “better to be dead than unwanted” to which my reply was always that the “wantness” of the child is the problem. The child is a thing to be wanted or not wanted, instead of a person. I argued at that point it doesn’t matter what gizmos or clinics you provide, the source has been disordered and what ever is prevented by those tricks is incidental.
    Sorry for the ramble, so I wonder if Fish and Habermas are saying the same for modernity and secular reason? Is it trying to so hard to preserve its democratic parts that its willing to sacrifice the value of the Man by denying what makes him Man, the transcendant to which he can strive, the whole that makes him complete?

    I guess to try and tie it in with the birth control bit, is it better to simply have the protection when (not if but WHEN) the husband cheats so he doesn’t get infected, or is it better to expect more of him to not do so? Is reason sufficient applied to individuals or must it be given a Father?

    Sorry if this sounds nonsensical, I’m just caught in the flux and didn’t want to forget.


  2. Very interesting. I really enjoyed the article. And I too lack the language to talk on this.

    What I don’t understand is how one can so easily filter out the “essential contents” of religious traditions and apply them to secular societies or an atheist framework. I don’t see how one can have his cake and eat it too in this situation- how atheism and transcendence can be wedded. Not that atheists can’t have transcendent experiences, but atheism isn’t philosophically large enough to contain these experiences.

    It seems to me a bit like Cliffs notes religion. You may be able to fake a conversation about Hamlet having read the Cliffs notes, but of course you will have missed the whole point. The essence of a great work of literature, a great piece of music, or a great spiritual tradition cannot really be separated from its larger context.


  3. It’s basically a matter of cultural inertia. Certainly at each great historic social dislocation there has been confusion and disorientation. The author’s atheist friend who arranged a religious funeral was probably thinking as much about his religious associates and relatives as he was about the appropriateness of the ceremony for himself, and this underscores the point. No cultural juggernaut can be easily diverted, and while citizens remain within it they will always be compelled to accommodate it to an extent, no matter what their personal beliefs. However, paganism did in fact give way to Christianity, and Christianity, will probably give way to something else — perhaps enlightened secularism. The polytheists no doubt could not envision a world bereft of pagan ritual and may have been quite dubious of the efficacy of any Christian substitute. (It’s worth mentioning something everyone here probably already knows — in Roman times Christians were called “atheists.”)

    It’s enough for me to be able to envision a secular world, and yes, I can do it. But perhaps it’s not within the capacity of everyone.


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