On Tuesday, 29 January 2008 the Alexander Hamilton Institute hosted the inaugural meeting of the Christopher Dawson Society for the Study of Faith and Reason. A group of 15 students, faculty, and community members gathered to discuss two classic texts: C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man and John Courtney Murray’s “Is It Basket Weaving: The Question of Christianity and Human Values,” from his book, We Hold These Truths: Catholic Reflections on the American Proposition. A lively discussion, guided by AHI Fellow Sheila O’Connor-Ambrose and AHI Charter Fellow Douglas Ambrose, explored Murray’s understandingof the differences between “eschatological humanism” and “incarnational humanism,” and Lewis’s thoughts about the relation between certain tendencies within modern education and the notion “of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” Participants pondered whether Murray’s idea of “eschatological humanism,” in which the “only task that . . . matter[s]” is “the contemplation of heavenly things,” provides the Christian with a better approach to the world than does “incarnational humanism,” which “implies the value and the providential character of human cultural effort.” They also examined Lewis’s contention that those who “stand outside all judgments of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse,” thereby making human beings “mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must . . . have no motive but their own ‘natural’ impulses.” During the discussion students spoke, often movingly, about particular problems faced on the secular college campus, both inside and outside the classroom, by undergraduates of faith.
The stimulating discussion, facilitated by food and refreshments, provided an auspicious beginning to the Dawson Society’s efforts to demonstrate that religious faith and the intellectual life are not only compatible, but that each enriches and extends the other. The CDS will meet again within a month to discuss a new topic and new readings. Stay tuned.