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The Role of Philosophy in the New Evangelization by Brian Jones.

I recently had a brief conversation with a former colleague of mine who is Catholic, and who wanted to inquire about certain aspects of the faith that she was struggling with. She mentioned to me that, while she goes to Mass on Sundays and “has faith,” she nevertheless expressed a desire that there was more “proof,” or evidence for the truths of the faith. This question regarding the “evidence” of faith is at the heart of Catholicism, where the great synthesis between reason and revelation is fully and fruitfully discovered. Even though my former colleague does not have a particular fondness for philosophy, she is a philosopher nonetheless because, in fact, she does have a philosophy, whether it is implicit or explicit. Pope John Paul II taught that every person is a philosopher, for everyone seeks to know the ultimate meaning of life, and ponders why there is a world or a human nature that is just “there” without our creating it, or being involved in its manifestation.

Religious talks are often disconcerting, due to the fact that religion is frequently understood to be “private, nonrational, and unverifiable,” whereas science is public, rational, and verifiable. The truths of religion are based on the supposition that they do not have any connection with objective reality. This idea unfortunately leads to an intellectual dualism, as well as a philosophical and moral perspective which can not intelligently and reasonably show that we are all apart of the same world, the same reality. Our tendency in these matters is to perceive of science and religion as two separate categories of human experience and cognition. This reductionistic conception of the relationship between science and religion sees science as the study of the empirical constitution of the universe, while religion is the search for ethical value and spiritual meaning.

Catholicism, unlike other religions (excluding Judaism) and certain philosophic traditions, proposes something quite different. The ultimate questions such as Who am I? Where am I going? Does God exist? Why is there evil? presuppose definitive answers. Aristotle remarks in the beginning of the Metaphysics that all humans desire to know, and what we desire to know is what it means to be fully human. If these questions didn’t have answers that we could know, then we would not ask them. If life had no definitive, intelligible purpose, then it would be completely absurd to seek an answer or meaning to it. The Austrian psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl, would always begin his therapy sessions with the same question that prompted Jean Paul Sartre’s philosophical inquiry: “what is preventing you from killing yourself?” A disturbing starting point, but it is only when we admit that there is a meaning and order to existence that we will come to know it, and hopefully, delight in it.

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