The Un-Enlightenment hasn’t gone away..

Interesting article by John Waters [Really? – Ed] in today’s Irish Times [subs req]. Although, perhaps not ‘interesting’ in the way he intended. [Ah – Ed] It’s a call to arms, of sorts, to supernaturalists in an apparent attempt to change the tone of the coverage of the news that Pope Benedict XVI has announced that Dublin is to host the 50th Eucharistic Congress in 2012 – coverage which has tended to reference the 1932 Congress that a nascent Republic of Ireland also hosted. I’ll excerpt part of the article but, in reality, it’s mostly what John Waters himself refers to as an “ideological distraction”.

The implication, indeed the express prediction, has been that it will be a more subdued affair and attract the attention of far fewer than the million or so who thronged the Phoenix Park and the streets of Dublin on that occasion. But why should this be? Are we less human than our parents, grandparents or great-grandparents?

The Archbishop of Dublin has wondered aloud how many baptised Irish Catholics any longer understand the meaning of the Eucharist. It is a good question, though not in the sense that we should feel chastened because we do not know our cathechism. It is a good question because it asks us if we have the capacity still to reach behind the veils of prejudice, piety and ideological distraction and tune into the most vital element of our humanity. You do not need to be religious, never mind Christian, to feel the need to connect with what is mysterious, eternal, absolute, infinite, unknowable. You need only to be human and open to the idea that this connection is vital to that condition.

John Waters continues

The Eucharist is, exactly as it was 80 or 800 or 2,000 years ago, and will remain in 80 years’ time, the celebration of the mystery-made-flesh, an event that happened once in history but continues as a presence, moment-to-moment, announcing the hope beyond hope that keeps us alive.

Would it not be interesting if we were to approach this 50th Eucharistic Congress with such a concept in mind? What if, rather than anticipating some peripheral and underwhelming gathering of a declining institution – with which most of us have had a brittle relationship – we were to consider it an opportunity to establish a more fundamental engagement with our own humanity?

We live in a time when, captivated by our own cleverness, or out of a clinging to a reduced concept of reason, or enraged at an institution riddled with human weakness, or filled with desire for a freedom that still eludes us, we have ensured that we can no longer access in mainstream culture the nutrients most essential to our survival.

As a result, our bodies move around with a deceptive nonchalance while our spirits struggle for breath. This is not a victory over the Catholic Church, but over ourselves, over our children and their children, denying us all access to the hope that, ultimately, is the essence of our existence.

If we choose to see the event in four years’ time as the huddling of a dishevelled and dwindling group of partisans engaged in arcane rituals that once engaged our more simple ancestors, we will be turning our cynicism and disillusionment upon ourselves.

There are a couple of quick points to make about the article and the elements of arguments it contains. Mostly that those elements have been fleshed out elsewhere, by others.

I’m not going to dwell on the supernatural belief in the “mystery-made-flesh”. It’s his belief and he’s entitled to it. Whether my absence of belief in that particular supernatural tale makes me “less human” I can’t tell from behind my “veils of prejudice”.

The criticism of “mainstream culture” echoes then-Taoiseach Bertie Ahern’s observation of “a growing hesitation in public debate to refer to religion, the churches, issues of faith and belief” – itself an echo of Tony Blair’s eagerness to “do god” after leaving office.

As I’ve mentioned previously, “Here, of course, politicians are less reticent about such things while in office..

Mr Waters has, of course, criticised the media on religious matters before.

Then there is the “hope beyond hope”..

It should come as no surprise that this was the subject of an encyclical by Pope Benedict XVI – “‘SPE SALVI facti sumus’ – in hope we were saved”

This is what I had to say on that encyclical at the time

Benedict points the finger of blame for, among other things, the French Revolution, Marxism and the Russian Revolution at “the foundations of the modern age” which “appear with particular clarity in the thoughts of Francis Bacon [added link]” – and, in particular, Bacon’s ‘New Instrument for Rational Thinking’ – Novum Organum, published in 1620.

And I pointed to Bacon’s clarity of thought.

But perhaps the criticism of Bacon is also down to some of his other thoughts.. and their clarity.

Idols of the cave have their origin in the individual nature of each man’s mind and body; and also his education, way of life and chance events. This category is varied and complex, and we shall enumerate the cases in which there is the greatest danger and which do most to spoil the calrity of the understanding.

Men fall in love with particular pieces of knowledge and thoughts: either because they believe themselves to be their authors and inventors; or because they have put a great deal of labour into them, and have got very used to them. If such men betake themselves to philosophy and universal speculation, they distort and corrupt them to suit their prior fancies.”

The criticism of Bacon, at least for Benedict, is because he marks the point at which humanity started to embrace the “reduced concept of reason” John Waters complains about.

Benedict’s solution is the same one presented by John Waters – and given Waters’ wordy belated birthday tribute to Emperor Constantine Pope Benedict XVI in the Irish Times, previously noted here, that should be no surprise.

And what I said then still stands, and it’s why John Waters article is an ideological distraction –

He’s right, in a way, that Benedict seeks an “integrated concept of reason” – Benedict has appealed to a “greater form of reason” previously. But, as I’ve pointed out before, the re-equating, or re-entwining, of religion and science that Benedict actually seeks is not an Enlightenment, it’s an Un-Enlightenment. Knowledge is power, indeed.

And the Un-Enlightenment isn’t just being promoted within religion..