J.R.Donohue/Commentary/Faith Is Not Rational
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Faith Is Not Rational
Letter to Dennis Prager,
conservative talk show host
09/09/00

Mr. Prager,

     The day after it had been revealed that in an internal communication the Catholic Church had declared itself -- and only itself -- to be the road to eternal salvation you aired a segment the focus of which was a request that callers answer the question "Who is more coercive, the Democrats or the Catholic Church?" You were going after the double standard of those criticizing the communication, those who while they objected angrily to the Catholic Church "dictating" that there is only one Truth yet did not object to the Democrats declaring their way (socialism) Correct and placing it into law, enforced with coercive power (the kind that the Church does not have.*)

     Well, I agree with your charge of hypocrisy. As far as it goes.

     As host you pick your own topics, you frame the debate. I suggest that by targeting this aspect of the controversy you're righteous (and right) indignation at the Democrat-tolerators effected a cloaking maneuver upon a much more onerous ramification of the Church's communication, one that implicates yourself.

     Mr. Prager, you do not deserve to be indignant that some stupidly equate the Church's communication with a form of coercive force, nor that these same people make no protest when the Democrats impose their rights-violating doctrines upon the American people. You have aided and abetted the destruction of the tool that humans must employee in rightly identifying and integrating the concepts involved. That tool is rationality; reason as an absolute.

     You stated in the segment in question that you are glad the Church issued its communication as it is at least honest and additionally makes no claim to enforcement. You said you do not agree with its doctrine but believed it a sign of integrity that they are not masking the full implications of their convictions, unlike (paraphrasing) the craven Democrats who shout "freedom" but legislate social fascism. ‘Good for you, Catholics!’ in other words.

     Once extrapolated this amounts to nothing less than: there can be many different creeds, beliefs and religions and as long as the line is held at coercion, no one ought make a fuss at all nor critique their veracity publicly. To each his own. Your truth is yours, mine is mine and as long as we don’t force our beliefs on each other all is perfectly wonderful and one ought support the other simply for believing in something and living by it. At the very least, when pressed, one ought not judge the truth of another's religious beliefs other than to say ‘I don’t agree.’

     As one I am sure would hate to be called a relativist, I fear such a position begs that very question about yourself. You cannot be accused of being shy about denouncing -- even when coercion is not the issue -- ideas and principles you hold to be dangerous to our culture, yet you disdain such criticisms when religion is concerned.

     The position I am challenging is your defense (by non-denunciation) of the idea that it does no harm -- and is in fact supremely beneficial -- for humans to live by faith-based, irrational belief systems. I remind you this is coming from someone who shares you stance on non-coercion in spades, so please understand I do not intend "harm" to mean simply "leads to coercion." Rather I hold, beyond the coercion issue, that statements such as the Church's and indeed the entire belief system embodied in religions per se is dangerous, toxic and if not countered, fatal because it sanctions irrationality.

     I realize that you are religious and therefore your position has its explanations. But there is a penalty: your voice on the radio is one of clear thinking and reasonableness; I salute you for this quality and openly congratulate you on the many unpopular stands you have taken; I find myself rooting for you time after time. The credentials you have earned as a warrior for reason, rights and individualism grants you credibility as a spokesperson for rationality. That is why your continued defense of the irrationality intrinsic to faith-based belief systems is so damaging. You are sanctioning a high contradiction, all the more potent for the strength of its antipodes as championed by your intellect and passion.

     However, live by contradiction, die by contradiction. That is why you ought not cast a stone at the Democrat-loving, Church-communication-objectors.

     It has occurred to me that the root of your position might be the thought that without faith, the supernatural and religion there can be no moral civilization and no personal happiness. It also occurs to me that you simply have such a vivid and emotional religious life in your soul that it blunts the incompatibility of faith and reason. It also occurs to me that you may hold faith and reason to be intellectually reconcilable because you have discovered a kind of Thomist philosopher's stone that turns contradiction into integration.

     But these are only speculation on my part. I do not know you personally nor have privy to your true motivation. Even absent this knowledge, however, my strong objection to your position and the damage I claim it does moves me to ask if you would consider doing an extended show on this issue of reason versus faith. I once heard a small part of one show during the Christmas/Hanukkah season on which you asked atheists to call in and defend their position. I am atheistic and of course would do so, [I can do better than those I heard in that prior show] but only as part and parcel of an opportunity to challenge you to defend yours. Should you ever have such a show again, I would love to have advance knowledge of its airing so I could arrange time to listen and call in early in order to effect this desired exchange.

Yours in reason,

John Donohue
Pasadena, CA

     *It would be remiss of me not to mention that the lack of coercive power in the hands of the Catholic Church is not a result of its deeply held conviction that imposing its world-view by force is wrong, nor is such status maintained by voluntary self-restraint. It is due to the annihilation of theocratic totalitarianism accomplished by the Enlightenment thinkers who forged revolutions both philosophical and political to blow out the thousand-year reign of terror by the Church in Europe. That the Church has not resumed its political position is a testimony that some element of the Enlightenment remains in the West today and that reason, if not firmly ensconced in her seat, has not yet quite been trampled into the mud.

     One ought not make too much of this remainder of reason, however; around the world theocracy is on the march. In Israel, once the only secular state in the region, fundamentalists are gaining control election by election as Israelis gravitate toward those who would make religious law coercively binding. Islam has few elements that recognize a line over which it is wrong to step. In Turkey the secularists are under siege. South Asia, Pakistan/India, Sri Lanka, the list is long of places where the issue is not: how can we form a secular state where religion is protected as a private issue; rather the thinking is: how can we get the secularists out and OUR religion into power in the government.

     And certainly in the US there is clear outrage by millions of Christian fundamentalists that they cannot pray in school, extend the government's reach inside the wombs of women on religious grounds or have God preeminent in civic life. Do they question their belief (as they should) that a woman's body or a school is and ought to be part of government and/or controlled by government? No: instead they swell with anger and outrage that God is not in control of the state. ‘God created the universe, the human race and the United States of America and reigns as the Almighty over all of creation and saved us with the blood of His Son; how dare someone say He must be kept out of schools. Or the legislature! Or the courts!’

     As for the Catholic Church itself, I suggest that they view the roll back of their theocratic power as merely a momentary and calculated retreat, time to gather themselves for the next wave of ascension to rule. To them this minor retreat for a few centuries is nothing; the Church thinks in terms of thousands and thousands of years.






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