By Reason Alone: Assembling the Great Puzzle
by Jacek Bacz
Justin Press, 2010
At the start of this rewarding book Jacek Bacz states that it is “the kind of book I wish I had read at age 25.” Born into the Catholic Faith in his native Poland, he lost his faith due to the materialist/sceptical influence of a scientific education. (Moving to Canada, he became a research engineer and consultant in electronics and software design.) Eventually he regained his belief in the One True Faith. Though he doesn’t say what event or events actually triggered this reversion, he demonstrates in his book why the Catholic belief in God is eminently reasonable and, conversely, why materialism is profoundly unreasonable (and other forms of spiritual belief, while sometimes admirable in part, are at bottom less than reasonable).
At the same time he recognizes a paradox: though this is the kind of book he needed to read as a young man, he wouldn’t have read it because of the materialist mindset he had adopted. Which leads to the question he honestly addresses: what audience is he realistically aiming at? One answer is, reverts (like himself) or converts (like this reviewer) who seek a clearer understanding of the faith which is the centre of their lives. To help us in this quest he has adopted a very apt metaphor as his informing principle. Including the Preface, References, and Suggested Reading, there are 31 brief chapters, each of which can be seen as a piece in a puzzle. The “Great Puzzle” is of course the Mystery of Life or Creation, and the 31 chapters, taken together, help us to see and understand the Truth Incarnate in the Risen Christ.
A sampling of the chapter titles suggests the range and diversity in this book: “The Descent from the Tree,” “Democratism,” “The Power of Testimony,” “Quarreling with God,” “Cousins in Faith,” “The Ghost of Galileo,” “The Agnostic at the Pearly Gates,” and so on. Issues he deals with include the historical accuracy of the New Testament, the role of the Church in propagating and preserving the Faith, the human obstacles to belief (paramount among these is Pride, the belief in merely human self-sufficiency and the refusal to subscribe to an absolute moral code limiting a hedonistic “freedom”), the arrogance and narrowness of atheistical scientists, the dangers of dabbling in the occult, etc.
In Suggested Reading Bacz acknowledges C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton as his two most important influences in the field of Christian apologetics. He describes “the former as a master of logical exposition, the latter of intuitive insight and paradox.” Along this spectrum, By Reason Alone is probably more Chestertonian. Each chapter is rewarding in the insights it offers to the questing reader who is willing, if need be, to lay aside his “deeply cherished preconceived notions.” The book, as a whole, is a welcome tonic, an antidote to the misunderstandings, willful distortions, and outright lies leveled at the Church by her enemies, and a corrective to the specious and all too easy spiritualism of the New Agers and Cafeteria Christians everywhere. As a bracing affirmation of the traditional Faith so brilliantly defended by Blessed John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, By Reason Alone is highly recommended.
Lars Troide is a retired Professor of English at McGill University whose conversion story is included in Canadian Converts (Justin Press, 2009). He lives with his wife on a lake near Alexandria, Ontario.