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Opinion | Wednesday, 26 May 2010 Issue. 165

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Faith and religion

The Archbishop’s clear message that couples which co-habit cannot receive Holy Communion – and on the other hand, the clear declaration by one of our priests that each person is free to do what his conscience tells him because according to him “we are Christians first, and then Catholics” – has obviously left the Catholic crowd very perplexed and divided.
Perplexed, because we cannot understand how the same Church can have more than one view on the matter; and divided, because now we have the ‘pro-Curia group’ against the ‘pro-priest group’, in that the Curia is telling us that Holy Communion is not allowed, and the priest is telling us that this is a personal matter between God and the individual. Obviously the persons who are cohabiting would look for the school of thought proclaimed by the priest, and all his colleagues who come from the same school.
This is not a happy situation at all and it brings me to the subject of today’s opinion of faith and reason which are both sources of authority upon which beliefs can rest. Reason generally is understood as the principles of methodological inquiry, whether intellectual, moral, aesthetic or religious; faith on the other hand, involves a stance toward qwhat some claim that is not, at least presently, demonstrable by reason. The debate that has been sparked by the media guru is precisely whether we can hold a religious belief simply on the basis of either faith alone or of reason alone; and whether we can even lack faith in the practice of religion but still find solace in our faith in God or in His existence.
It is true that faith is a personal thing, but religion is not. The Catholic religion has its own rules and those of us who are not happy, or who do not feel comfortable with these rules, are free to leave. It is a mistake for us to continue to believe that the Catholic Church has to adapt itself to the modern exigencies. It is also a mistake to continue to believe that if we do not form part of the Catholic Church, we are going to hell. People are free to join other churches and choose the church that is the closest to their conscience. If they feel that they still can receive Holy Communion (something which they have a right to do), they are free to join another Church and this will not mean that God loves them less.
The interplay between reason and faith is an important topic in the philosophy of religion. It is closely related to, but distinct from, several other issues in the philosophy of religion: namely, the existence of God, divine attributes, the problem of evil, divine action in the world, religion and ethics, religious experience and religious language, and the problem of religious pluralism. Moreover, an analysis of the interplay between faith and reason also provides resources for philosophical arguments in other areas such as metaphysics, ontology, and epistemology.
Roman Catholics have traditionally claimed that the task of reason was to make faith intelligible. In the later part of the nineteenth century, Cardinal John Newman worked to defend the power of reason against those intellectuals of his day who challenged its efficacy in matters of faith. Though maintaining the importance of reason in matters of faith, he reduces its ability to arrive at absolute certainties.
In his Grammar of Assent, Newman argued that one assents to God on the basis of one’s experience and principles. And one can do this by means of a kind of rational demonstration. And yet this demonstration is not actually reproducible by others; each of us has a unique domain of experience and expertise. Some are just given the capacity and opportunities to make this assent to what is demonstrated others are not. Drawing from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, Newman argues that “a special preparation of mind is required for each separate department of inquiry and discussion.” He stressed the continuity between religious belief and other kinds of belief that involve complex sets of phenomena.
Inspired by Greek humanism, Erasmus placed a strong emphasis on the autonomy of human reason and the importance of moral precepts. As a Christian, he distinguished among three forms of law: laws of nature, thoroughly engraved in the minds of all men as St Paul had argued, laws of works, and laws of faith. He was convinced that philosophers, who study laws of nature, could also produce moral precepts akin to those in Christianity.
This is not an exercise or a lecture in faith but rather a message that in life we cannot have our cake and eat it. Everybody is free to live his own religion but not everybody is free to impose on the Catholic Church including the Catholic priests who shy away from the teachings of the Church for fear of losing the flock.
It is on the other hand also a big mistake to hammer in the minds of the people who are cohabiting the belief that it is only the Catholic faith that matters, and all other denominations are a ticket to hell. If they join other churches which approve the administration of Holy Communion to cohabiting partners and to divorced persons, it does not mean that they are going to hell. It is in this way that the relationship between God and the individual takes place.
And let us face it: these cohabiting partners are going through hell, and are getting all the more confused in Malta and the government has a very strong finger in the pie. To make matters worse, we are not allowing them to divorce and now with the white paper in the offing, we are giving them rights if they co-habit. It is useless for Fr Peter to preach that the white paper is intended for Platonic relationships because reality is not Platonic at all.
We must understand that if we want to persist in not introducing divorce, we cannot attempt to introduce it for the second time ‘through the window’. The first time was when we allowed the Maltese to register their divorce if they get it from abroad, and now the White Paper is giving them rights if they co-habit. We must be very careful not to re-invent the wheel and if we want to give them rights we must change the foundations of marriage – that of fidelity.
Because the legal situation at present is that a separation does not give you a ticket to have other relationships and it still binds you with fidelity. By giving rights to people who cohabit, you are licensing men and women to have more than one man and one woman in their life, to maintain more than one woman and one man and to dismantle the whole concept of marriage.
So why go through this acrobatic mental exercise to re-invent the term co-habitation when the best thing to do is to give the rights to married couples to divorce, give the rights to gay couples by introducing civil partnerships and the rights of co-habitation will be restricted to those who do not belong to either of these two groups? I have no doubt that the legislation will be hodge-podge, and the Government will do a better job if it forgets this legislation altogether.
If we believe in marriage, we cannot enact legislation which undermines marriage and the White Paper on Cohabitation will do just that. In the meantime the Catholic Church needs a lot of prayers and must work harder because when reason prevails over faith, and not faith over reason than there is a problem indeed!


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