Saturday, March 06, 2010

New Book: A Discussion with Habermas on Religion

An Awareness of What is Missing
Faith and Reason in a Post-secular Age

By Jürgen Habermas et. al.

(Polity Press, 2010), 96 pp.


In his recent writings on religion and secularization, Habermas has challenged reason to clarify its relation to religious experience and to engage religions in a constructive dialogue. Given the global challenges facing humanity, nothing is more dangerous than the refusal to communicate that we encounter today in different forms of religious and ideological fundamentalism. Habermas argues that in order to engage in this dialogue, two conditions must be met: religion must accept the authority of secular reason as the fallible results of the sciences and the universalistic egalitarianism in law and morality; and conversely, secular reason must not set itself up as the judge concerning truths of faith. This argument was developed in part as a reaction to the conception of the relation between faith and reason formulated by Pope Benedict XVI in his 2006 Regensburg address.

In 2007 Habermas conducted a debate, under the title ‘An Awareness of What Is Missing', with philosophers from the Jesuit School for Philosophy in Munich. This volume includes Habermas's essay, the contributions of his interlocutors and Habermas's reply to them. It will be indispensable reading for anyone who wishes to understand one of the most urgent and intractable issues of our time.


Michael Reder und Josef Schmidt, S.J. - Habermas and Religion [preview]
Jürgen Habermas - An Awareness of What is Missing
Norbert Brieskorn, S.J. - On the Attempt to Recall a Relationship
Michael Reder - How Far Can Faith and Reason Be Distinguished?
Friedo Ricken, S.J.
- Postmetaphysical Reason and Religion

Josef Schmidt, S.J. - A Dialogue in Which There Can Only Be Winners
Jürgen Habermas - A Reply

The book is a translation of "Ein Bewusstsein von dem, was fehlt" (Suhrkamp Verlag, 2008) edited by Michael Reder & Josef Schmidt.

The two contributions by Habermas are not adding much to what Habermas has published elsewhere, but his essay includes a short critique of Pope Benedict XVI's 2006 Regensburg address.

The most recent essay by Habermas on religion is "What is Meant by a Post-Secular Society?" in his book "Europe. The Faltering Project" (Polity Press, 2009) pp. 59-77. See a version of the essay here:

A “post-secular” society – what does that mean?

(Paper presented by Habermas in Istanbul June 2008).

Excerpts from "An Awareness of What is Missing"

Excerpts from Habermas's essay [pp. 15-23]

In his recent address in Regensburg, Pope Benedict XVI interpreted the old controversy over the Hellenization and de-Hellenization of Christianity in a way which is unexpectedly critical of modernity. In doing so he also answered the question of whether Christian theology must wrestle with the challenges of modern, postmetaphysical reason in the negative. The Pope appeals to the synthesis of Greek metaphysics and biblical faith forged in the tradition extending from Augustine to Thomas, and he implicitly denies that there are good reasons for the polarization between faith and knowledge which became an empirical feature of European modernity. although he criticizes the view that one must "[put] the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and [reject] the insights of the modern age", he resists the power of the arguments which shattered that worldview synthesis.

However, the move from Duns Scotus to nominalism does not merely lead to the Protestant voluntarist deity [Willensgott] but also paves the way for modern natural science. Kant's transcendental turn leads not only to a critique of the proofs of God's existence, but also to the concept of autonomy which first made possible our modern European understanding of law and democracy. Moreover, historicism does not necessarily lead to a relativistic self-denial of reason. As a child of the Enlightenment, it makes us sensitive to cultural differences and prevents us from over-generalizing context-dependent judgements. Fides quaerens intellectum ("faith seeking understanding") - regardless of how welcome the search for the rational core of fath may be, it seems to me that it is not helpful to ignore those three stages in the progress of de-Hellenization which have contributed to the modern self-understanding of secular reason when tracing the genealogy of the "shared reason" of people of faith, unbelievers, and members of different religions. [p. 22f]

[Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg lecture, delivered on September 12, 2006, is available here in an English translation.]

Excerpts from Habermas's reply
[pp. 72-83]:

Violations of universally accepted norms of justice can be more easily established, and denounced with good reasons, than can pathological distortions of forms of life. The moral sensibility to the unjust distribution of life opportunities has by no means diminished in societies of our type. The sensibility to social injustice extends not only to the marginalization of groups, the disenfranchisement of social strata, and the dilapidation of regions within one's own country, but also the more drastic misery on other continents. However, these perceptions and reactions in no way affect the trends towards a breakdown in solidarity in different sectors of society. This increases all the more inexorably the deeper the imperatives of the market, in the guise of cost-benefit analyses or competition to perform, permeate ever more spheres of life and force individuals to adopt an objectivizing standpoint in their dealings with one another. At the level of elementary interactions, a gap seems to be opening up between a prickly moral consciousness and the impotence in the face of the structurally imposed switch to strategic conduct, This makes the withdrawal into the private domain and the repression of awkward cognitive dissonances all the more understandable. [p. 73f]

If we now switch our level of observation and examine, from a philosophical perspective, the resources generated by a cultural modernity which draws on its own sources, we encounter, among other things, the oft-mentioned motivational weaknesses of a rational morality...(....). Rational morality sharpens our faculty of judgment for the violation of individual claims and individual duties and motivates us to act morally with the weak force of good reasons. However, this cognitivism is aimed at the insight of individuals and does not foster any impulse towards solidaity, that is, towards morally guided, collective action. (.....). Secular morality is not inherently embedded in communal practices. Religious consciousness, by contrast, preserves an essential connection to the ongoing practice of life within a community and, in the case of the major world religions, to the observances of united global communities of all of the faithful. The religious consciousness of the individual can derive stronger impulses towards action in solidarity, even from a purely moral point of view, from this universalistic communitatianism. Whether this is still the case today I leave to one side. [p.74f]

The encounter with theology can remind a self-forgetful, secular reason of its distant origins in the revolution in worldviews of the Axial Age. Since the Judeo-Christian and Arabian traditions are no less a part of the inheritance of postmetaphysical thinking than Greek metaphysics, biblical motifs can reminds us, for example, of dimensions of a reasonable personal self-understanding which have been abandoned too hastily. [p.82]

Following Max Weber, though not for sociological reasons, I draw upon the heritage of those "strong" traditions whose origin can be traced back to the Axial Age and which have retained their power to shape civilization, into the very definitional conflicts of a multicultural world society, until the present day. (.....) One the one hand, anyone who is interested in the present constellation of postmetaphysical thinking, religion, and science must examine the genealogy of the peculiar affinity between metaphysics and the coeval East Asian traditions of Hinduism, Confucisnism, and above all, Buddhism. On the other hand, an unexhausted semantic potential, assuming that such exists, can be found only in traditions with, although their mythical kernel was transformed into a thinking of transcendence through the cognitive advance of the Axial Age, nevertheless have not yet completely dissolved in the relentless acceleration of modern conditions of life. The Californian syncretism of pseudoscientific and esoteric doctrines and religious fundamentalism are thoroughly modern phenomena which may even express social pathologies of modernity, but which certainly do not offer any resistance to them (.....) I cannot see what importance religious movements which cut themselves off from the cognitive achievements of modernity could have for the secular self-understanding of modernity. [p. 77f]

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