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Document Details :
Title: De droom van Descartes & het visioen van Pascal
Subtitle: Twee wegen van geloof in een agnostische cultuur
Author(s): HOUTEPEN, Anton
Journal: Tijdschrift voor Theologie
Volume: 50 Issue: 2 Date: 2010
In this article, Houtepen lists three factors that he believes are responsible for the growth of agnosticism in the West. They are the competition between faith and science, religions’ internal disunity and persistent expressions of religious violence. Houtepen is convinced that a contemporary revision and justification of belief in God is needed to overcome the aforesaid perplexities. He sought guidance from R. Descartes and B. Pascal, two learned believers whose work lay at the origin of the Modern Age. Building on Descartes’ own interpretation of three of his dreams, Houtepen posits that Abrahamic monotheism’s notion of God forbids us to interpret natural forces or historical events as immediate interventions of God. One can never invoke God in cases of compulsion, deceit or violence, because there is no violence in God and God does not compete with human freedom. Like J.-L. Marion, Houtepen rejects Maritain’s condemnation of Descartes, as if Descartes’ dreams and his ideal picture of science — cynically labelled by Maritain as the ‘Pentecost of Reason’ — marked the start of atheism and agnosticism in Western culture. Descartes understands reason as multilingual, consistent with Dilthey’s and Horkheimers’ later distinction between instrumental and hermeneutic reason. Hermeneutic reason interprets faith in God as foundation for basic human trust and for our passion towards the highest possible good; it in no way contradicts instrumental reason. Pascal’s vision, designated the ‘Pentecost of Grace’, witnesses to reality’s equally multilingual nature. Unlike Descartes, Pascal did not seek epistemological certainty. He argued for faithful surrender to God’s trustworthy covenant, even in the deepest suffering. This kind of faith in God finds fault with every type of human triumphalism and with deistic philosophers’ understanding of God. Houtepen believes that Descartes’ idea of reason’s Pentecost and Pascal’s of grace’s Pentecost show us that images of power, will and strength are unsuitable for explaining God. However, Descartes and Pascal also remain caught in the paradigm of causality. Houtepen wants to express the connection between God and humanity in relational terms that also understand human emotions — love, trust, desire, protest against injustice and forgiveness — as analogies of God’s gracious covenant with us. This revised relationship between God and humanity sends us back to Scripture, whence we are driven by Word and Spirit to do the good. Houtepen thus argues for a comprehensive reflection on and sensitisation to the gratuity of life received from the living God.