The archbishop of Canterbury has (not for the first time) joined hands with people like Madeleine Bunting by telling the world how despicable reason is.
We understand ‘reason’ as a way of arguing and testing propositions – usually so as to become better at manipulating the world round us. Because religious faith is not a matter of argument in this way, it is then easy to conclude that faith and reason are enemies, or at least operating in different territory.
See that? The way he casually informs us that reason is usually understood as a way ‘to become better at manipulating the world’? It looks as if he’s been studying his feminist epistemology – science and reason are just about raping nature tra la la.
Bernard himself held to an older and richer understanding of reason as the way in which we shared in God’s vision of an ordered and connected world. You could not say that God was rational because he was good at arguing and came to well-supported conclusions: when theologians said that God was rational, they meant that he was consistent with himself and that out of his own understanding of the richness of his being he created a world of astonishing and beautiful diversity which still had a deep consistency about it.
That sounds pretty, as one would expect from an archbishop, but it doesn’t mean anything unless you already think there is someone called ‘God’ who fits that lavish description, and why would you think that?
The traditional Christian account of ‘rationality’ was bound up with becoming properly attuned to the patterns and rhythms of reality, as I put it a moment ago. And for St Bernard and the tradition he represents, the ultimate test of being reasonable was whether you understood what your place was in the universe. A reasonable person would grasp how humanity stood between the angel and the animal, how humanity was called to a very specific way of exercising the mind in relation to the will of God.
So in other words a reasonable person would be thoroughly confused by belief in all kinds of non-existent entities and meaningless concepts and arbitrary rules. So that’s why ‘the traditional Christian account of “rationality'” is such crap and why reasonable people prefer a better one.