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Faith & Reason: Introduction

Does the pope watch The X-Files? Do the creators of The X-Files read papal encyclicals? Some of us who are fans of both—both the pontiff and the series, that is—are hoping that the answer to both questions is yes, and that the final season of the show, starting in the fall, will include, say, a papal audience for Scully and Mulder or, better yet, a confrontation between John Paul II and the Cigarette-Smoking Man, with an epilogue in Mulder's office in which Scully and the Holy Father debate the relationship between faith and reason. As they talk, the camera slowly closes in on the poster on the wall, the poster that says "I Want to Believe."

Well, maybe it won't happen, but in this issue we offer the next best thing: three first-rate philosophers responding to Pope John Paul's encyclical letter Fides et Ratio. (The encyclical, issued in October 1998, is available from the United States Catholic Conference; to order, call 800-235-8722.)

Like at least a few readers of B&C, I grew up in churches in which reason (usually referred to as man's reason, in the same tone one might use for filthy lucre) was invariably cast in opposition to faith. Reason was the chief device of the puffed-up, sinful men who rejected revelation. Growing up, I never—as in never—heard a sermon in which reason was baptized. (At home, I'm thankful to say, it was a different story.)

But other B&C readers will have had a different experience, an upbringing in which they were encouraged to take a much too rosy view of reason, as if reason could operate uncorrupted by sin. Many Catholics, we Baptists were told, fell into this category; "liberals," too, though in a different way, not so much overestimating the role of reason as embracing a bland, mushy understanding of the human person. (Sin? Better speak of alienation.) So it is indeed refreshing to have the pope's reflections on the complementary relationship between faith and reason. I hope that his encyclical will be read by many ...

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