By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
To Reason Why: From Religion to Philosophy and Beyond
By John Burnheim (Darlington Press, $25.00, softcover, pages)
Describing himself as a “secular humanist”, this is the autobiography of a man who looked on the positive side of life and unobtrusively rationalised his way out of the church.
He preferred not to opt for a negative description of himself as an ‘atheist’.
To Reason Why explains the arguments and aspirations that guided a professional thinker’s choices on the key issues that have affected both theory and practice for believers and unbelievers of many persuasions from the turmoil of World War II to the present.
John Burnheim reacted against the conventional ethos of pre-war Australia, looking for a more objective basis for his religion. After ordination as a Catholic priest he undertook postgraduate studies in philosophy in Ireland and Belgium, concentrating on theories of meaning and truth.
He was Rector of Saint John’s College in the University of Sydney. In 1974, he was appointed head of the radical general philosophy department, attempting to administer the new venture as a participatory democracy and encouraging an opening towards Continental philosophy and feminist thinking which was to prove very influential in expanding the intellectual horizons of Australian philosophy.
Reflecting on the failure of unstructured participatory democracy, he arrived at radically new political philosophy, based on the principle of entrusting decisions about specific public goods to bodies that are representative of those most directly affected by their decisions.
After 20 years in the priesthood, he left the church seeking to articulate a secular humanism.
The descriptions he gives of his Catholic upbringing, time in the seminary and life’s values are worthy of note.
As we refine, enrich and appreciate the full meaning of relationships and activities, “what matters is not what we are made of, but what we can make of what we are made of. Grasping that point is the fundamental challenge of our age”.
Edition 308, 10 April 2012
To find out more about Rama Gaind click here.