A) Given our assigned readings concerning Wittgenstein’s “views” of philosophy, language and the mind, how would you relate these to Malcolm’s answer to the question he himself poses, viz. “Does Wittgenstein have a religious point of view in his approach to philosophy?
I wish I had known about Wittgenstein’s religious point of view years ago. I probably would have read him much earlier. Before I read any of his books I only knew that he was difficult to read and understand and therefore I avoided him. Now after reading him myself I realize that I was half right; Wittgenstein was difficult but he was also well worth reading, and trying to understand him. Having prattled on for a bit, let me answer the question.
Simply put, Wittgenstein’s view of philosophy is that philosophers in their attempts to understand the meaning of things and relations have gone into a territory that is un-explorable. By this he means that in their misguided attempt to understand why, or for what cause, or what is the essence is of a thing or a relationship, that they take perfectly good language and take it “on holiday”. He argues that if one were to do a “grammatical investigation” of the premises on each side of a philosophical argument, than one would discover that there really is no argument at all. This means that when a philosopher takes an ordinary word and seeks out deep meaning in it and uses that meaning to buttress an “argument”, it really is much to do about nothing. In fact for Wittgenstein the problems that have haunted western philosophy for over two thousands years have been a huge mistake. Using his methodology he believed that one could dismiss the arguments and they would simply “melt” away.
How does this relate to Wittgenstein’s “alleged” religious point of view as explained by Malcolm? Malcolm argues that Wittgenstein’s reduction of philosophy to things which cannot and must be explained is perfectly compatible with Wittgenstein’s religious sensibility. Malcolm uses the story of Job as an illustration of this point. Malcolm argues that God is angry with Job because he asks why he is suffering. Malcolm believes that this illustrates that the concept of God is itself infused with a sense of that there is no need of explanation. To cite as regular religious people do, that something is the “will of God”, is used in regular conversation to indicate that it is beyond explanation, and that in this sense Wittgenstein’s own disdain for explanations in philosophy easily translates into an equal disdain for explanations in religious issues. As we will see later, I disagree rather strongly with this type of religious conviction, but nevertheless I think that Wittgenstein’s philosophy and religious commitment are parallel here.
As to the second point, what is Wittgenstein’s understanding of language? He understands language in a non-essential way. This is to say that words do not have some deep essential meaning inherent to themselves. Rather they have meaning in the way they are used in ordinary language. In this case language can be used in many diverse ways and individual words can be used in different senses and contexts. Language usage gives rise to language “games” and families. By games Wittgenstein meant that one can understand what people mean in a sentence by showing how a word is used in a different context. By families he meant that different contexts use different “families” or groups of words which are related to another by usage in different settings. For example medical contexts use a different vocabulary than is used in military settings. Thus the meanings of words may change depending on when and where and why they are used. This is a rejection of the Augustinian view of language which argues that word are extensively pointed out and used to that end.
How does this relate to Wittgenstein’s religious point of view? As Malcolm points out Wittgenstein believes that philosophy and religion are differing arenas with different languages and “forms of life”.
I see this as similar to what Kant did in the three critiques, separating what can be known in the scientific realm of space and time from what can be believed in the realm of faith. For Wittgenstein, faith is not about doctrines, dogma, and rationality. Like Kierkegaard, it might even be opposed to philosophical presentations. Instead, faith/religion is something that changes ones life. It is something that is expressed in actions, not in doctrines. On a personal level here, I find his point weak but his personal life here is fascinating. The weakness of argument from my perspective is that religious practice is contingent upon religious doctrine. It is possible to be inconsistent, in fact it seems to me that most people are, but logically practice and teachings are inseparable. In the Christian faith, it is as Wittgenstein noted and seemed to live out that it is incumbent upon the rich person to give his fortune to the poor and follow Jesus. Without the teaching given by Jesus at this point, then how would Wittgenstein have known to do this? Without clear teaching and/or argumentation, Wittgenstein conceivably could have stolen from the poor and enriched himself, and this would have had the same religious merit as the other action. In a similar way the teaching of the Buddha concerning non-violence had to be taught prior to their being enacted. Once the teaching leading to action point is established, then the problem comes for people like Wittgenstein to decide why he would take some statements from Jesus as proper to believe and act on (the ethical teachings) and ignore others (statements about his deity, unique revelatory message and so on). But it seems clear to me that his understanding of language does not preclude Wittgenstein from at least taking seriously part of the New Testament account of Jesus. It is a whole other issue as to whether Kant or Hume’s prescriptions against supernatural accounts (which influenced Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein and others) are valid, but that is for another paper.
Did Wittgenstein’s view of the mind influence this argument in any way? This is an interesting question, given that his argument against the traditional way of understanding the inner/outer distinction can be interpreted as an argument against souls or minds. However it is not clear at all that this is the best way to understand Wittgenstein’s point. His point was not to attack a metaphysical belief and language that is common among religious people, but rather to address the way philosophers have used this “distinction” to buttress metaphysical arguments, which Wittgenstein tried to destroy. Malcolm points out though that the mind might also be synonymous for the intellect, which is not what Wittgenstein wanted to express as it relates to religion. Over and over again Malcolm quotes out Wittgenstein’s insistence upon action over intellectual rational discourse. Not that discourse is bad, or out of place, but it does not do what Wittgenstein thinks that religion must do. Like the Apostle James, and even more so, Wittgenstein sees that faith without works is dead. I was impressed by his thought and his actions living out these same thoughts. Not that Wittgenstein discounted all doctrinal issues, as it is clear from Malcolm’s quotes that Wittgenstein believed in the physical resurrection of Jesus, but he certainly comes at his conclusion from a non-dogmatic or theological way.
In summary, does Wittgenstein have a religious point of view concerning his philosophy? My simplistic answer is that he does, that this is successfully shown by the quotes that Malcolm gave. In addition I would argue that similar to Kant, Wittgenstein separates what can be known (science, empirical data) from what can be believed (faith in the cross, resurrection, etc). But perhaps unlike Kant, Wittgenstein believes that a response from faith is not grounded in the non-empirical world, but rather in the real world. This religiously based response is not in contradiction to his philosophy, but drives him to righteous action his entire life. One might also say that his aversion to philosophical argumentation was analogous to his aversion to religious doctrines. He preferred action and service to talk. You might say he was much more “Hebrew” here than “Greek”. It was not his goal to sit around and ponder “deep” ideas, but rather clear them out of the way and instead do what is right.
B) 1) Briefly characterize the disagreement between Malcolm and Winch; 2) With whom do you tend to side? Why?
It seems to me that Winch’s chief complaint about how Malcolm says about Wittgenstein is that Malcolm is much too sure of his thesis. Winch appears to moderate each of Malcolm’s claims and show that it can be interpreted in different ways. The best illustration of this is seen where Winch quotes Malcolm’s four analogies and shows how it can be seen in a different way. Let me illustrate. Winch summarizes his argument against the first analogy by saying:
“As Malcolm brings out, the attitude of acceptance of one’s fate as ‘the will of God’, an attitude which neither pretends to provide any explanation of that fate nor seeks to find one, characteristically goes along with an attitude of gratitude for life. But acceptance of things as they are, and recognition that, beyond a certain point, no explanation can significantly be required as to why they are like that, certainly need not be accompanied by gratitude.”
Winch goes on to quote another passage which he feels is contrary to Malcolm’s point. On the other hand Winch affirms that Malcolm’s first analogy has some redeeming value. He says: “It is entirely possible that a study of Wittgenstein’s treatment of the constant search for explanation that is typical of so much of our lives, his insistence that ’explanations come to an end’, will have a liberating effect on some people and enable them to take certain religious attitudes seriously in a way they would not have been able to before. Of course, that would still be a very long way indeed from acquiring any sort of religious faith, but it could open the way to it.”
This quote strikes me as a bit disingenuous. It did not seem that Malcolm was trying to make Wittgenstein into a Lutheran scholar, but rather as a person who did wrestle with questions about Christianity, and certainly wrestled with ethical concerns arising from the Gospel accounts. His quotes about the relative value of differing religious points of view show merely Wittgenstein’s disdain for doctrinal positioning and his penchant for ethical service as the mark of true religiosity. Now I might argue with Wittgenstein as to the logical consistency of his view and in fact how many religious view, in particular eastern views, lead away from ethical concerns by postulating that the present world is an illusion or Maya. But this in no way proves Winch’s point. It merely means that Wittgenstein was not a theologian, and that Malcolm’s claim is not significantly damaged by the argument by Winch.
In many ways I think that the dispute between the Winch and Malcolm was merely a matter of degree and Winch gives cause for that in his conclusion. More importantly I think that Malcolm’s point about explanations being a major source for disdain for Wittgenstein, which makes it perfectly sensible to see the connection between his disdain in theological as well as philosophical arenas. Although I am extremely uncomfortable in saying that either man is “wrong” is this discussion, give that my knowledge of Wittgenstein’s writings is so slim, the evidence as I see it leans to Malcolm’s understanding of the issue.
Question #1 – The 19th century has been called the “heyday” of liberal Christian theology, particularly as it developed within the German academic tradition. Trace at least three of the major trajectories and themes of liberal theology during this century with focus on Schleirmacher, Ritschl, and Troeltsch. What are the distinguishing marks of liberal theology? How does it differ from the kind of “evangelical” theology launched by Luther in the 16th century? Finally, explain briefly Barth’s basic critique of liberal theology and what was meant by the remark that he “dropped a bomb on the playground of the liberal theologians?”
Liberal German theology is built on the back of the romantic’s reaction to the Enlightenment. One cannot make sense out of it unless one understands the currents that add into the larger stream. To survey these developments, one needs to start with Rene Descartes. Descartes departed from the scholastic tradition within the Roman Catholic Church, (and that of the Reformation as well) by leaving the authority of the Scriptures and the church tradition, and instead insisting that all that we know was through the process of reason and deduction. In leaving the classic understanding preeminent in the Western world for so long, Descartes argued that only through these reasonable process could man know anything. As the founder of the modern rationalist school, Descartes thought that one could not trusts sense perceptions of any kind. A stick might “bend” under the water, showing how easily our sight can be mistaken and so on. This sets the tone for the entire Enlightenment period. Descartes was so confident that he believed through mathematics and reason one could readily prove the existence of God himself. His epistemological base however, “cheated” a bit by bringing in God a-posteriori as the one who could guarantee our thought process. Our “clear and distinct” ideas then provided us with all we needed, and faith, in the sense of how the church had used it, became unnecessary. Earlier Christian thinkers such as Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, Luther and Calvin, had all argued the proper roles between faith and reason, how these applied towards the Scriptures and so on, with different answers for all of them. But this was an internal debate as it were, with all of them relegating reason under the authority of the Scriptures. Descartes had changed this dramatically.
In reaction to Descartes’s rationalism, the Scot David Hume reacts later by arguing just the opposite. No knowledge comes from rational thought, but rather comes through experience of the physical world. Hume said that all we have is sense datum, by which he meant the raw information fed to us by our senses. We then take this sense datum and by force of habit interpret it in certain ways that are “reasonable” to us. Even what most take as common sense, such as cause and effect, was attacked by Hume. We can only report what we perceive, and all connections are suspect and mere contrivances and inferences. Buoyed by a wave of disbelief in the Scriptures by people like Spinoza and other critics, Hume then attacked the supernatural or miraculous stories in the Bible. In his arguments Hume basically defined miracles out of existence. Simply put, it reads like this:
1) Miracles are a violation of natural law.
2) Violations of natural law cannot exist.
QED – Miracles do not exist.
Arguing that he had disproved the Resurrection of the dead, Hume relied on the “fact” that no one had ever seen that and strangely, he said that no one had even claimed that it had happen. (Of course this is exactly the claims of all Christians for over 1700 years at that point, so one might be tempted to wonder how much oxygen the highlander had been getting, but that is for another day)) All of this is necessary background for the real revolutionary challenge given in response to both Descartes and Hume – that of Immanuel Kant.
Describing himself as being “awoken from his dogmatic slumbers” by the onslaught of Hume, Kant set about a course of providing a new and comprehensive epistemic base, which would be a type of synthesis of both rationalism and empiricism. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant established, contra Descartes, that we have knowledge only of phenomena, that which we experience in the sensible world. We are limited by our sense data, and are unable to really ascertain with any certainty, what there might be “behind” the sense data. This then is the noumena, the ding an sich or thing in itself. This cannot be determined by any sense perception at all. Kant then argued, contra Hume, that we can use reason in ways like cause and effect, because our minds are built with certain categories, such as quality, quantity, relation and so on, and it is these categories which “sort” out the sense datum and allow us to make use of cause and effect, which had the net benefit of rescuing science from the ravages of Hume. Kant basically had structured two separate worlds with distinct epistemologies applicable only in their respective arena. In the world of the phenomena, science, measurement, sense datum –all of this was authoritative. In the world of the noumena, one was allowed to believe and have faith, because this was literally the metaphysical playground. As long as one did not violate the law of non-contradiction, one could believe what one chose, and the rules of science or natural law that Hume had proposed, were not in play. In this way Kant had “limited reason, to make room for faith”. Science ruled in its arena and Faith ruled in its. In this way Kant thought that reasonable people (Konigsbergians for example!) could use and apply the strictures of his system and both Enlightenment sensibilities and churchmen would all be happy. This was not to be the case, but that does seem to be what his project entailed. Shortly after Kant all Sheol broke out. The Romantics like Goethe and others, were reacting to the overemphasis on reason that was marking the Enlightenment. Buoyed themselves by “wisdom” from the east in the form of recent German and English translations of the Bhagavad-Gita and others texts, the German Idealists and Romantics forged a different synthesis, one which instead of emphasizing reason or experiences of the phenomenal world, exalted feelings and intuitions, a harmony with nature and the ultimate freedoms possible for humans.
The first real liberal Christian that we will look at here is Friedrich Schleirmacher. Raised in a Christian Reformed minister’s home, Schleirmacher was taught reformed Calvinist theology, but then lived for a period among the Moravian Pietists. The Pietists deeply impressed Schleirmacher with their devotion and fervor, but it was also at this time that he started reading Goethe and the neologians, who were very skeptical of the Bible. This dramatically changed him. As he entered ministry and the academic world, he was bothered by the reality that so many educated people, were abandoning their Christian faith, and the sitz im leben of the day was to despise all things “religious”. Deism, which was a reaction to the Hume understanding, reduced God to a clock maker. Kant had argued that there is a moral compunction in humans, which can only come from God, but had ruled out the possibility of miracles being observed in the physical or phenomenal world. The Bible was then seen as fairy tales for children, hardly worthy of serious respect. Schleirmacher wanted to find a new way of understanding religion, especially Christianity, that would both be attractive to the “cultured despisers” as he called them, as well as keep within the bounds established by Kant. In a merger with Romanticist thought he felt he had found his answer. Disdaining all critics from Orthodox beliefs, (including his own father) Schleirmacher argued that religion is not based on miraculous claims but rather on “das Gefuhl”, the feeling, the intuition of the Infinite. Schleirmacher defined this as a feeling of absolute dependence that is ubiquitous throughout the world. It is this common feeling that proves the existence of God for him. With this radical definition of religion, he set out to redefine the Reformed and Lutheran traditions in their own self-understanding. In this way he sets the tone for the entire German academy. If the “embarrassing” myths and fairy tales, which had been the common faith for so long, do not bind Christianity then one could reconstruct or redefine Christianity in all sorts of ways. For Schleirmacher, he had a new understanding of sin, of God and of man. Similar in many ways to another contemporary that influenced him, G.F. Hegel, Schleirmacher brought God into the immanent physical world. God was not so removed, as the deists had argued; rather God was in full and constant communion with mankind and with nature. The Hegelian dialectic had also brought the WeltGeist or eternal mind/nous into history and nature. Since God was in fact in such close communion, it made no sense at all to speak of the “fall” of man in the classical sense. Man was only fallen in that he did not realize how close his communion with God was. His sin was this refusal to recognize the feeling of dependence upon God, and instead to declare himself “whole” without necessitating a resumption of communion. Who then is Jesus? Here Schleirmacher departs even more radically from his Reformed roots. Jesus was not an ontologically divine being, as the Scriptures and early creeds had declared. Jesus was instead the perfect example of a person who more than anyone else in history was aware of his communion with God. His “divinity” was not because of his essence or being, but rather based on his complete intuitive communion with the God who is within and without the world. His “at –one-ment “ with nature, makes him the savior. Doctrine for Schleirmacher was then but the religious experience of Gefuhl as put in print. The Scriptures were to be seen as the religious community expressing their experiences over time, and this tradition was merely the collection of human experiences, not the inspired words of God as thought by the Reformed tradition.
This project sets the tone for many similar yet differing thinkers. Albrecht Ritschl, himself deeply dependent on Kant’s distinctions, argued that Christianity must be rescued from all its metaphysical moorings. Since one could not observe miracles, than Christianity must not be bound by a pre-modern worldview, which believed in such things. It must be based upon a more secure foundation. For Ritschl this was to be found in the real person of Jesus Christ, not the Christ of the miraculous worldview, which was to Ritschl the accumulated effect of centuries of church traditions and apologetics. This simplified Jesus then was about establishing the Kingdom of God, an ethical outpost in a fallen world. Since Kant had argued that the reality of ethics could only be established by the existence of God, Ritschl argued then that it is this reality, which is the central component of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was not a miracle worker/magician; rather he was the rational ethicist par excellence. The Sermon the Mount was the basis for all activities, and the Great commandments (Love God, and Love your neighbor as yourself) are then the defining marks of real Christianity.
For Ernest Troeltsch, the defining marks of Christianity were found in a history of religions approach. Since all religions had similar miraculous claims, then Christianity had no right to set itself about the rest, which had been done by Schleirmacher, Ritschl and others. Troeltsch set about to free the Jesus of history (real) from the Jesus or Christ of Heil Geshicte (higher history or faithful history) His methods have been deeply influential to this day especially with the Jesus seminar. He had a three-fold approach to the Scriptures and all other ancient literature as well. First there was the idea of critical analysis. By this he meant that one should look skeptically, with the eyes of naturalism, at all ancient texts. While this did not rule out miracles with absolute certainty, it did make it very difficult to imagine. The second part of the approach was even cleaner on this point. – The idea of analogy. By this he meant that if one were to read about an alleged miraculous story in the Bible, and there was no one for one corresponding event in present history, then one should discount the story. The third prong of the approach was that of Correlation. This means that we have a universal experience in history of many layers of cause and effect events, and the freedom of individuals within this maelstrom of experiences. The Bible should be understood within this framework in the sense that there were causes for its writing, but not cause and effect for its miraculous stories. Troeltsch also was deeply influenced by the Romantics and argued for a type of pantheism in nature, not the complete loss of identity as taught by the Brahmans of India. But for some type of divine seed or spark to be seen in all of nature.
Another famous liberal Christian was David Strauss. His prominence was due to his formal disconnection between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith. This “Search for the Historical Jesus”, which in its third or fourth version to this day by different thinkers, established the idea that the Bible was not a historical account that could be verified in any real way, but rather was an historical accumulation of many centuries after the fact. Supported by the Graf/Wellhausen JEDP theory, the Bible was a collection of barnacles that had been edited and redacted, and must be scraped away to find the true, historical “Jesus”.
In a similar way Adolph Harnack, perhaps the most famous of all the liberal Christian theologians, argued that the religion of Jesus and the religion about Jesus, were two separate things. Jesus had merely preached to believe in God and follow the commandments (Harnack is loved by Muslim apologists these days!) and it was the Apostle Paul who had in fact switched the religious influence, making the deity of Jesus and the resurrection the key parts of the story. Harnack felt once stripped away from the Pauline accretions; Jesus was a very inspiring moral figure, but no more than a man.
In his What is Christianity? Harnack supplied us with a basic outline of the distinguishing marks of liberal theology. They include the following:
1) The Fatherhood of God
2) The Brotherhood of Man
3) The eternal value of the Soul
4) The essential communion of God and man, not disturbed by moral failure but by lack of proper God consciousness.
This is radically different than the evangelical theology of Luther in the 16th century. In harmony with the Scriptures, Luther believed that God was transcendent from this world but also immanent but not identified with nature or history. Sin was a radical break by men towards God. Our moral rebellion against God, most easily seen in our human pride, had necessitated out punishment and only the mercy and grace of God, which was seen in the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ as established by the Scriptures, could remove this offense and actual separation. One could simply just deny all the Harnackian points, but that is too simplistic. Luther depended on the Scriptures for all his answers. In Bondage of the Will, he repeatedly attacks Erasmus for ignoring the teaching of the Scriptures and instead depending upon traditions of the church, and even worse for depending on human wisdom. By this Luther criticized Erasmus’s apparent fascination with the classics of ancient Greece and Rome, which the Renaissance had brought back to popularity Erasmus thought, somewhat similar to Aquinas at this point, that the classics served as prolegomena or as a preparation for the Gospel for pagans. Luther would have nothing to do with the “bitch goddess reason”. For Luther God as revealed in the Scriptures, first through the prophets and then ultimately through the person of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the written words of Scripture. For Luther as well as fellow reformer Calvin, the inner working of the Spirit upon man’s heart was an accompanying plank to the Scriptures, but both were not impressed with mere religious intuition and experience. This can most easily be seen in his reaction to the Anabaptist movement, which especially early one was awash with alleged prophetic utterances and “enthusiasm” which was resulting in lawlessness. Luther’s dialectic between the justified man being both sinner and saint in tension, allowed him room for some understanding of mysterium. This can also be seen in his understanding of the Eucharist, where he split with another famous Reformer Zwingli, over what Luther deemed the “real presence” of Christ in the elements. This via media between transubstantiation of the Roman Catholic Church and the memorial view of the Reformed traditions, was seen by Luther to be an additional truth of the inner witness of the Spirit, but always guided by God’s written word.
To try and explain “briefly” what Barth brought to the table might require an actual miracle in this room right now! What is called the “bomb on the playground of the liberal theologians” was the publishing of Barth’s commentary on Romans in 1918. Barth had been trained and impressed by liberal theology and took all its earlier presuppositions seriously, but with the advent of World War 1 he was troubled by the acquiescence of his German professors, his heroes as it were, to the war drums of Kaiser Wilhelm. Barth started to see that the identification by Hegel and so many other 19th century thinkers, of the world with God and the church, had created a situation where the church was unable to criticize the world. The church had been co-opted by the world and God as well was identified with whatever happened. Barth’s “bomb” was his central theme in his commentary – that of God as “wholly other”. Unlike classic liberalism, which placed God in ultimate immanency and communion with man and the world, Barth argued that God to be God must be completely transcendent. By this he meant qualitatively not merely location. God is “anderes”. He is holy, not mundane. Barth saw this as a necessary corrective in the Hegelian tendency towards versions of pantheism. God as other could speak to the church and to the world about Sin!!! This was another part of the bomb – Barth had read Romans and in some ways similar to Luther had discovered his total sinfulness, which had separated him from God. Sin was not, contra Schleirmacher, mere lack of God consciousness, but following Kierkegaard here, sin was his pride, his certainty in the Hegelian sense, his identification without repentance and faith, as being in relation with (or possibly even in the blasphemy of identifying oneself ontologically as divine) God. For more on this subject we will move on to the second question.
Question #2 – What is meant by “neo-orthodoxy? What, if anything is “orthodox” about it? Discuss systematically the thought of Barth as the founder of neo-orthodoxy. (As if his commentary on Romans is systematic!!!) To what degree does Bonhoeffer carry through with the program of neo-orthodoxy and how, if any, does he diverge?
Perhaps the simplest way of defining “neo-orthodoxy” is to see it in at least two different modes. First in some critical manners – it is a corrective upon the liberal Christian thought of the 19th century as described in detail above. In this vein it is returning to “orthodoxy” in many important details. God is seen as separate from his creation, transcendent, not part and parcel of the world. Man is infinitely other than God, a creature of the created world, with no goodness in him. A sinner bound by his overwhelming pride to rebel and mar the creation of a holy and other God. God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness were very much in line with Reformed thinkers like Luther and Calvin. Another return to orthodoxy could be seen in the re-emphasis on Jesus Christ, who in liberal theologies had become an example, a shower –of-the-way, but not the way. Neo-orthodoxy, especially Barth, Brunner, and Bonhoeffer, emphasized Christology as the major field of theology. This too was a refreshing return to orthodox thought. Liberal thought about Jesus had called him God, but had also called all men God. Jesus was not really even necessary to the process of God consciousness, but just the best example of it. The crucifixion and resurrection were redefined as mundane events, clouded by editors and churchmen, and again not ultimately essential to the story. But in the neo-orthodox camp, the crucifixion was absolutely critical, because of the sinful condition of mankind and the qualitatively difference of God. These are just some of the returns to orthodoxy that marked the neo-orthodox camp.
However this is called “neo”-orthodox for a reason. In many ways painful to this orthodox reader, the great thinkers in this tradition would accept many of the liberal presuppositions that had marked the 19th century. This second mode accepted much of what had been argued by Schleirmacher, Strauss and others. This is especially seen when it comes to the understanding of the Bible. To the liberals, the Bible was merely a collection of myths and fairy tales, redacted by latecomers at worst, or at best the community of believers religious experiences which had been recorded, complete with false world views, historical and scientific errors and so on. In many ways the neo-orthodox camp accepted these ideas uncritically. They did part company in an important way in seeing that yes even though the Bible was full of these stories and myths – it still in some way contained the word of God. Similar to Troeltsch in some ways, one could encounter the Divine through the instrument of the Bible. God could inspire one in a divine I-thou type encounter through the reading of the scripture or the practice of the liturgy. God could meet you in awe-inspiring ways through the accounts of the stories. In this vein then, the fallen ness of the Scriptures merely reflected the fallen ness of man in general. Both could be uplifted by grace through faith, and in some ways the very humanity contained in the scriptures served as witness to the otherness of God as well.
Karl Barth shows the influence of many of the liberal thinkers in his work, but is set apart from them by his reading of Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard had written much in response to the pomposity of Hegel. Hegel’s dialectic had smoothly worked its way through his philosophy and theology with the net effect that one had all the answers in both field right at Hegel’s doorstep. Hegel was then a new type of rationalist. One did not need to wonder and have faith in God; one could merely trace the working of history to see the presence of God/WeltGeist. If one wanted to perceive the divine, then look at history. The Romantics had pulled God into nature as well. God becomes the evolutionary process. For Schleirmacher this was the real miracle – the working of natural processes. But Kierkegaard sees the problems here. One could see the death of millions in Hegel as the outworking of the Spirit of God, which has a way of minimizing the individual. My death matters to ME thought Kierkegaard. Soren is also reacting to the neatness of the Kantian moral framework, with its duties and obligations all worked out. Ritschl best exemplified this project among the liberals. All ethical concerns in the Kingdom of God can be contained in a grocery list as it were – no faith required here. But for the Dane this was pointless and depressing. Was Christianity merely a formal shell, with grocery lists of doctrines and ethical choices, or was it something that grabbed ones heart and soul and filled it with passion for God, and for life? Did not Hegel lose the otherness of God by this new rationalism? What kind of God is so mundane that one could always see his hand in history? Doesn’t one just wash out the word “God” in this sense with the word “history? How could one have faith, which pleases God, when all knowledge about God is certain and mundane? Kierkegaard argued that “truth is subjectivity”, in that what is true is what moves me to faith and passion and commitment. The “facts” of the Bible were not sufficient to ground faith, rather they serve as the antithesis of faith. This understanding heavily influences Barth. For him, faith in God cannot be minimized by returning to Protestant or Roman Catholic Orthodoxy, in which he believed faith has been relegated to a secondary status by scholars and theologians. Faith in God is faith because one cannot experience God in the phenomenal world. Following Kant’s distinctive here; Barth refuses to see God routinely acting in the world of nature or in the Scriptures. God is hidden, dues abscondum. To see God routinely in nature as Schleirmacher and the Romantics did was to wash out faith. I don’t need faith, I just need eyes.
Kierkegaard had argued that it is the existenz or existence of man that is what is critical, not some formal essence. Before man is anything else, he exists. He is thus “free” to be shaped. What is required is the means to shape him and for SK this is faith, which is a subjective leap across a ditch, against the facts, against the totalizing systems, especially that of Hegel. Barth argues this but has his own version of dialectic – the Yes and No of God. Once can see this best in his understanding of the No to Christ, as seen in the refusal to remove the “Cup” from him, being a Yes to the Church, in that salvation is now offered to all. Barth would talk this way throughout his theology. The dialectic of this world with the wholly other God is also an important one for Barth. Man is free but not really free. He is marked by sin and pride and only God’s justification can truly free him.
Barth argues the way he does because he saw, as mentioned earlier, that the worldliness of the church in Germany, had allowed his teachers to cozy up to the Kaiser and then most distressingly – to Hitler. Shortly after Hitler’s election to office the state church endorsed Hitler and his theology. The church now endorsed the theology of Blood and Land. Seen by both Barth and Bonhoeffer as a twisted take on Luther’s dialectic of man as sinner and saint, Barth helps to establish a “Free” church which could remain outside of the culture and give room for the God who is wholly other, to judge culture. This distance was impossible in the liberal understanding. God as completely transcendent (not as watchmaker – but as holy) was needed to challenge the sins of the German corporate church. The Fatherland or Reich was not a holy one, which especially can be seen in the writings and life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer – more on him later.
Barth saw the scriptures again as a record of fallen man, with all that means, and so did not take the miracle accounts that are scattered through the scriptures as critical to the faith. This was not the case when it came to the Incarnation and crucifixion, and arguably the resurrection as well (Barthian scholars seem quite confused on this one!) For Barth the centrality of the faith was found in the Incarnation and. Religion in all its forms was man reaching out to God, but the gap was too deep. God is too other. But Christianity was for Barth the only solution to this difference – God had come in Jesus Christ to man. Contrary to liberal thinkers, Barth held both the humanity of Christ along with the deity of Christ. This dialectical tension was always paradoxical. With Kierkegaard, Barth saw this paradox as necessary to faith. To theologize it was to lose the paradox and therefore minimize the need for faith. But like SK – what could be more paradoxical than the infinite (the Yes for God) becoming finite (the No for God)? So then even though many of the “minor” miracles, which had offended modern man had been believed by the orthodox and rejected by the liberals, Barth saw them as unnecessary to the larger project of God – justifying the sinner and later the world. If they were true history, then God would have always been active in the world and this would minimize faith. In this he is similar to Troeltsch. God’s only revelation is to be found not in a written word, nor in an alleged miracle, but rather in the person of Jesus Christ – paradoxically God and Man in tension. This is why Barth would respond so strongly, especially initially, to the natural theology proposed by Emil Brunner, fellow neo-orthodox compatriot. To see God’s hand in nature was to “find” God. God to be other must be hidden. Later Barth would soften his position somewhat.
To Barth, revelation was revealed only when God spoke to me. This encounter was between persons (important to Ritschl and Bonhoeffer and Bultmann – meaningless to Tillich) and was occasioned in the Scriptures that one has the stage set for the encounter between God and man. The actual accounts themselves are merely an “echo” of the encounters. Since revelation was limited to the Incarnation, the encounter between God and sinful man was an existential one. This subjective meeting inspired passion and commitment as man rejoiced in his justification by God’s grace alone. Here Barth reflects Luther – the qualitative distinction between God and man can only be bridged by the Cross, and sinful man can repent and be justified. Barth saw this as a healthy corrective to the rather lame view of sin as portrayed in the liberals. How could the liberal view, with its eyes to ever progressing optimism, deal in reality with Hitler?
In all of this Bonhoeffer is co-simpatico. Much like Barth, he had been trained in liberal schools, most notably by Harnack himself, whom he greatly admired. But Bonhoeffer agreed with Barth, that the identification of the church with the world and therefore with the state, had lost the church’s and God’s voice. Bonhoeffer would like Barth make Christology the central discussion of theology, but he also wanted the eschatological to be important as well. Bonhoeffer actually went much further with his Christology, making what he saw as an important distinction. Christ it to be pro me – that is that the crucifixion and love of God is always to be in the sense of for the church and for the individual. Later Bonhoeffer would say that this is also Christ for others, especially in the secular unbelieving world. This would lead him to his idea of “religionless Christianity” by which he meant (and this is very sketchy since his project was cut short) that the secular world had lost its need for “religion” in the traditional sense, and that Christ had been relegated to the sidelines or a type of God of the Gaps theory by the culture. But for Bonhoeffer Christ was the center of the world and since the church was the Body of Christ, then the church needed to be in the center of world, redeeming it and seeing others as Christ had. This idea of his is very problematic in some way but very much tied in with his idea of discipleship and of ethics. For Bonhoeffer, the Nazis had co-opted Luther’s dialectic and reduced it to “cheap grace”, a grace which not only justifies the sinner, it justifies sin as well. So he could say that all of Germany was “Christian” but nobody follows Jesus. In some important ways this echoes some of Nietzsche’s comments as well. While Barth critiqued from afar in Switzerland, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany under death threats and participated both in an underground seminary, and in the resistance against Hitler. To be a disciple of Christ, since Christ is pro me and therefore pro others as well, meant if nothing else, that the Jews had to be rescued. Bonhoeffer was caught smuggling Jews to freedom outside of the state. This to him was the true meaning of loving your neighbor. While Barth’s ethical concerns always seemed to depend on the dialectic, which sometimes could seem like an equivocation, Bonhoeffer’s own ethics, mirroring Kierkegaard in opposing Kant, took on a sense of freedom and faith. Each individual is a sinner in a fallen world, and each circumstance is unique, therefore no absolutized grocery list is sufficient to be Christ in the world. Bonhoeffer noted that Christ’s attack on the Pharisees exemplified this point. The Pharisee was a man consumed by his consciousness about good and evil, while Christ by contrast was consumed by the need of the Other. The Pharisee would let some starve or be sick because the Law seemed to require this. Christ would violate the law (or at least the Pharisee’s understanding of it!) in order to serve the one in need. No timidity or equivocating for Bonhoeffer. The Church is required to be Christ, to be his Body, to be pro me for all others. One could not hide behind church membership, baptism, or anything else, because grace demanded obedience. This requires the individual believer to abandon his self-consciousness and be Other – orientated alone. I think this is what was most distinctive about Bonhoeffer and Barth, in that Christology was a platform for action for Bonhoeffer, in ways much more dramatic than his Swedish mentor.
Some questions within the framework of German Idealism;
Or how I learned to quit worrying and love global warming!
It almost goes without saying that Immanuel Kant is considered one of the great thinkers of Western Culture. His primary works, the three Critiques, have engendered thousands of volumes of books and papers and baffled graduate students for over two centuries. He certainly has a place in the role of great philosophers of all time. Having said all that, it seems that some of his thoughts, while brilliant in their time and context, are problematic and have caused some thinkers to go in directions which, perhaps upon reflection, have not been profitable. This paper is not a critique of the Critiques per se, but rather a reflection on certain ideas. The legal doctrine of the “fruit of the poison tree” is an analogy, which is appropriate here. If the original arrest was flawed, then all of the information gathered after the arrest is therefore “tainted” and illegitimate. By this analogy, if one of Kant’s points were wrong, then this would lead to equally wrong inferences from that original proposition. Case in point here. Kant famously says that he has limited the role of reason to make room for faith. By this he is referring to the argument from the Critique of Pure Reason. In this critique Kant tries to argue that we can only have knowledge of thing or events within time and space. We can think of things which are not within time space, and it may even be reasonable to do so Kant argues, but nether the less we can only know what we have experience within the time/space framework.
The genesis of this argument was the enlightenment’s twin towers of opposition, Rene Descartes and David Hume. Descartes, considered by many to be the father of rationalism, (dogmatists by Kant’s time) had developed a theory of thinking that in essence argued that all knowledge is gained through rational discursive thought. Descartes even went as far as to argue that one could, properly guided by reason, reason through to the existence of God himself. There was no end to the ability of human thought and unaided reason to settle all questions of nature, physics, morality and metaphysics. Physical sensation and experience were viewed as inadequate guides, subject to distortion and trickery. The illusion of a stick “bending” under water was illustrative of how Descartes thought our sensory perceptions to be inadequate grounds for knowledge. By complete contrast, David Hume is considered by many to be the founder of strict empiricism (called skeptics by Kant’s time). All knowledge is gained by sensory perception and experience. Even the laws of mathematics and laws of logic are things that are discovered apostiori. Mere rational discourse, not grounded by prior experience, gave ground to “specious” discussions like the ontological argument, postulating the existence of something, God, not experienced in space and time. For Hume this is clear in his famous argument on miracles, in which he argues in a simple way that miracles are by definition violations of the empirical laws of “nature” and that since violations of the laws of nature are by definition impossible, then miracles are impossible. Even while realizing that this is a cheap rendition of the argument, I want to say that Hume violates his own principles in deducing it, but this is not the focus of this paper. Therefore for Hume, metaphysics in general are wrong-minded at best and irrational at the worst.
I realize that I have just grossly glossed over two hundred years, but in a simplistic way this is the scenario that is set for Kant. Kant reacts in several important ways to the competing views. For the purposes of this paper I want to focus back to the thoughts from the Critique of Pure Reason. Here Kant argues that while the categories of the mind enable to think of many things in many distinct ways, we can only have knowledge of what we experience in space and time. Now in this way you can see that he has both Descartes and Hume in mind. His nod to Descartes is that our mind works in several ways, in that it is designed with “categories”, which enables us to interpret raw empirical data. This for Kant answers the Humean denial of cause and effect. But in a nod to Hume, Kant limits knowledge to that which happens in space and time. In other words metaphysics can be talked about but not known. So he has “limited” reason to save room for faith. Thus the great philosophical juxtaposition between faith and reason, historically seen as allies, are now set against each other as potential enemies.
Why does this matter? It strikes me that one of the clearest drives within German Idealism is to try and explain the nature/consciousness relationship. Whether one thinks of this or of the one/many problem, they are both part of the same question. We will discuss this more later but it is also clear that within the limitations of Kantian epistemology, the answers got more and more mystical. Think of the main limitations that Kant has imposed. All knowledge is limited to space and time experience. The first thing to say here, as in essence Schelling does later, is that it is self-referentially incoherent. We don’t have physical experiences of concepts like “knowledge”. As Schelling points out, one must posit idealism to explain idealism and also to explain the physical universe. Mere matter or mere nature does not give rise to experiences such as “conceptness” or “theoryness”. One must bring the categories in, for Kant, and the mind uses them to explain the raw data of nature. But this is as deep as Kant goes. The Critique famously tries to refute the Aristotelian/Thomistic account of cosmology, by denying the link between the cause and effect we see in nature, (what we can have knowledge of) and the link to the Prime mover or God (which we can only think of but not have knowledge of). The problem then arises of; just what causes the mind? Where do the categories come from? This problem haunts the rest of German Idealism. Is the mind somehow generated by nature, which then reflects its own way back to nature as Schelling argued? Or is the mind reflecting on itself causing the distinction as Fichte asserts? Or is the whole thing sui generis? All of these accounts have problems but I see them as arising out of Kant’s problematic restrictions.
Not only is the limitation on knowledge problematic in this way, it also gives way too much ground to Hume in another way. As the positivists later found out, the verification principle could be hoisted on its own petard. So also for Hume’s earlier version. If knowledge is limited to what I experience, than I cannot know anything beyond my own meager framework. Everything beyond that becomes hearsay. Now Hume gave ground on that point apparently, but within a few pages he contradicts himself by discounting the accreditation of witnesses that he himself set up, on the basis of his incredulity of the very nature of the reported act. More than that, the attack on metaphysics by Hume, primarily on Christianity, is not voided by Hume’s restrictions or Kant’s “rescuing”. The Christian claim is not purely metaphysical but in fact insists that the critical events of the faith did in fact occur within the space/time universe. So the attempt by Kant to rescue the faith was not really necessary. It is also quite clear by even a short reading of the Philosophy of Religion literature, that the cosmological, teleological and even the ontological arguments are not buried but quite actively used by scholars. So Hume’s attack on cause and effect has not been overwhelmingly convincing nor in the long run was Kant’s limitations on knowledge. One might also argue that the limitations on knowledge don’t necessarily leave room for faith only, but also for nonsense. Kant’s only restrictions on what one can think is that the law of non-contradiction applies. This being true, then the thesis that an omniscient, omnipotent being created the universe including nature and consciousness, is on an equal footing with the P.E.T. hypothesis. The Pink Elephant Theory, which postulates that pink elephants that currently are hiding on the dark side of the moon, actually created the universe. The theory is not contradictory, but seems unlikely to have much staying power.
The main reason that I have argued for these minor points is that it strikes me that the limitations given by Kant may be seen as counter-intuitive to our normal experience of the universe. If everything that we observe is evidencing cause and effect, it seems more than probable that the great process of the universe, the super effect, must have a sufficient cause itself. Without going into the argument in this paper, the common sense notion of the ancients seems to be enduring. Perhaps if Kant had taken Hume to task in a stronger way, this potential mistake might have been avoided. Hume’s flawed epistemology seemed very powerful at the time, much like the initial effect of the Vienna Circle in the 1930’s. But upon further reflection one notices that more problems arise than are answered by these theories. Can one have a sensory experience of the verificational principle? Does one observe “laws of nature” or merely generalities? Once limited in this fashion, justice, love, history, scientific regularities and so many other things fall out. But for Hume, if that is the price tag of nailing cosmology and metaphysics, then so be it. Kant should have recognized the arrogance of both Hume and Descartes. By limiting knowledge, each in their own way, they present stunted theories which driven to their logical conclusions have failed to prove even their main concerns. Kant does a magnificent job in attempting to synthesize the two, but I think his nod to Hume creates the box that German Idealism is now forced to deal with.
After Kant’s monumental effort, the German Idealists are forced to head in a particular direction. Knowledge is limited to one arena, and yet Kant had not addressed the important question that the Idealists were looking for; how does consciousness and nature arise, interact and eventually harmonize? Fichte’s Subjective Idealism took Kant’s noumenal self and made into an “absolute ego” which is responsible for positing both the structure of the world experience and the data contained within the experience. Each individual is then a part of the larger world since we all participate in the absolute ego. This also included the notion that the primary function of the absolute ego was constructing or idealizing the world. The claim is protected from being perceived as arbitrary by the argument that the world is subject to certain “laws” and therefore not dependent on any one subjective point of view. There is a great convergence of views here with the Hindu scholar Ramanuja, who posited that all the world is Brahman or the divine consciousness or force, and that each part appears separate from each other but in fact are all in part of the same whole. This “truth” is discoverable through mystical meditative experiences or through drug experiences, but is unknowable through reason. Fichte, like Ramanuja, is operating from a framework that is safe from Humean concerns that of factual data and sensory experiences, but is thinkable because it is non-contradictory. It also is shielded from addressing the concern of just where did this absolute ego come from and how does it create? If the absolute ego is identified as “God” in the orthodox Christian sense, then it departs from the orthodox understanding by arguing a form of pantheism, since each part is part of the whole and all share the same nature as the absolute ego. If Fichte argues that the absolute ego is more similar to an eastern conception of the divine such as postulated by Ramanuja, then the problem shifts in a different way. If the question is the issue of separation, then how and why did this happen? Was this merely Lila, the dance, or Maya, the illusion? If the absolute ego created out of itself, then the problem shifts once again. Why would the absolute ego do such a thing? Traditionally eastern religions posit a notion of soul development through reincarnation to answer these types of questions. I have not read enough of Fichte to know if he has an equivalent idea in mind here, but any way you read this it seems that because Kant has posited a closed universe for knowledge, then in some way the question of origins becomes problematic. Not wishing to violate this drives Fichte to seek the answer within the universe itself.
This leads to a brief discussion of sui generis. How is it possible that the effect is also the cause of itself? The ancient formula of “ex nihil – nihil” fit is at least implicitly denied here. But how is this to be seen? It seems very reasonable and rational to understand that in order for an effect to be its own cause it would have had to exist prior to its own existence, in other words this is impossible, or the words cause and effect have no relationship at all. Pick any object O1 created at time T1. For O1 to be its own cause it would have had to exist prior to O1. This defies reason. One could respond that this conception of the absolute is self-existent and not self-created. But that seems to come back to the orthodox notion of God and loses the drive of the oneness of all things if the traditional idea is posited. If nature and we are all part of the absolute ego, then if the absolute ego is self-existent then so are we. In the same way, if the absolute ego is self-created then we are all self-created. But this clearly is an empirical fiction. We have absolutely no experience of any self-created things in the world. So this view becomes problematic on its face.
Schelling comes at the problem in a way that is different but still shares some of the same problems. His Objective Idealism criticized the simplicity of Fichte’s reductionistic views of mind-dependent nature. He argues that the Absolute itself can be seen as having two poles, that of Spirit or human consciousness and Nature. These two poles are in relation with each other and this can be summed up in his famous dictum that nature is “visible Spirit” and Spirit is “invisible nature”. The two poles share different relations that are similar to each other’s. The twin relations “complement” each other. This is finally climaxed in the artist who shows the final complementary roles of Nature and Spirit in the projection of Spirit into the material world of nature. As one writer puts it “extending to absolute consciousness the view that in consciousness subject and object are identical. The sum total of existence then becomes the Absolute as perceived by itself. Naturally, all distinctions and qualities, which are created by a finite relational consciousness, disappear in a self-contemplation of the Absolute by itself, and existence becomes neutral”. (Article on German Idealism in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy – www.utm.edu/research/iep/g/germidea.htm. Fichte muddied some of Kant’s distinctions, and Schelling washes them away all together. The individual consciousness is now seen as problematic and one must have what Schelling called an “intellectual intuition” to see the Absolute and the relationship of Spirit and Nature.
Upon receiving the intuition then the individual sees the oneness of all things and the harmony of nature is idealized and within potential reach physically as well. Much like Fichte’s similarity to an eastern philosopher Ramanuja, Schelling’s view is also similar to an eastern philosopher – Shankara. Shankara posits Brahman or the divine as the ultimate reality of the universe. Brahman is without attributes and “behind” or “underneath” the perceived reality of the university. This perception is flawed because the individual mind is trapped in Maya – the illusion. Through meditation one overcomes Maya and is enlightened as to the true nature of reality. For Shankara, there is perceived reality, the illusion, and true reality, Brahman. The similarities between the positions are quite interesting. Considering that eastern languages and thought have become an interest for Schopenhauer, Schlegel and others and it is not easy to see the interesting connections between eastern and western philosophers.
This view, given early in Schelling’s career, might be seen as indicative of his slide into mysticism later in life. It also explains the move by Schiller, Goethe and others into full- blown pantheism and the Romantics fascination with eastern religion. But I do think that there are some things here that make sense. I agree with Schelling’s note that Newton’s “dead inert matter” is a problematic notion and that at this point something, perhaps Idealism or perhaps something else must be included. But because of the Kantian limitations on knowledge the answers have to come from within the box. Schelling is only operating within the limitations that he inherits. In order to make the connection work between human consciousness and nature he needs something bigger than both, that both could participate in. But there is nothing allowed from outside the box, which is made up of nothing but spirit and nature. So one seems to be stuck with forcing a notion of what “is “being created or organized by what “is”. The Absolute can then be delineated as the god “is”. The god “is” is somehow postulated as the creator and divider of itself. The god “is” then contains the solution for the problem it apparently created. Somehow none of this seems to compute. Perhaps if the German Idealists had been content to think of their systems or fragments as mere thoughts, as opposed to seeking out knowledge, then this apparent quandary might have been avoided. But their goal was knowledge, if not complete then at least as complete as one human could have.
All of this is preparatory for the problem of application. The clue for this perspective was the connection in class of later German Idealism with the perennial philosophy as instantiated by Aldous Huxley and perhaps Ken Wilbur. While trying to be fair to this philosophy would take several books at least, there are some common threads that are foundational. The best description starts with the idea of monistic pantheism. Monistic pantheism means that all is one and all is God. This oneness is usually expressed as an essential oneness. That means that there literally is no distinction between perceived objects in the world. Perception within the illusion of Maya is the byproduct of unenlightened mind. Ramanuja’s version tended to soften the hard blow of Maya by saying that there was some reality in what we perceive but that is purely a temporary reality, which ultimately blends in to Brahman. Pantheism means that all is God. For Shankara, Maya hides the reality of a seamless cloak of Brahman consciousness. For Ramanuja, Maya hides the reality by cloaking Brahman within each bit of the perceived universe. Western views of this idea include Gnostic models that argue that the perceived objects are but material “prisons” trapping the “eons” which have emanated out from the divine source. Some other western models talk about the “interconnectedness” of all of nature but don’t really explain how this works. Nor do they explain how all this originated. Wilbur and Jean Houston probably give the most sophisticated versions available today.
The book that most of the Romantics and innumerable followers of the Perennial Philosophy loved the most is the Bhagavad-Gita. Written approximately a few hundred years before Christ, the Gita is part of the Upanishads, the most esoteric of all the Hindu scriptures or Vedas. There are two central stories in the Gita, the Ramayana and the one pertinent to our report here, Arjuna’s Dilemma. Arjuna’s dilemma is set when a ksaytriya warrior named Arjuna is about to face a major battle. As a warrior caste, it is his karmic duty to kill people and break things. But when his own forces are on the field facing another army and he surveys the opposing army, he sees a disturbing thing. Among his opponents are some of his friends, some of his family members and worst of all, his own guru or spiritual master. So he is stuck with the apparent moral dilemma of fulfilling his karmic duty and this might cause the death of people he cares about. What to do now? In the midst of the situation the god Krishna appears to him and offers to solve his apparent problem. Krishna offers him three possible solutions. One of his possible solutions is that Arjuna could refuse to fight, be branded as a coward, a traitor to his caste and possible suffer in his next incarnation. Not an attractive offer. Another one of the options is that he follows Krishna, forswear his caste and serve Krishna’s idol all his life. Then he would never have to think or be troubled by moral dilemmas again. The other option that is most germane here is Krishna’s teaching that Arjuna should slay, and do so happily! Krishna informs him that his problem is that he sees his friends and family as real and that because of this illusion he thinks that they will actually die. The true reality is that they are each and all Brahman. And Brahman never dies. Therefore they do not die. “So slay with great fervor oh warrior!” So Maya then is a prime key to understanding the heart of Advaita Vedanta or various other Hindu variations. If one takes Krishna seriously here, then not only is killing ok, but so is murder, rape, lying, theft and everything else. The mistake according to the Gita is thinking that these things are real. Once one rises above in enlightenment, then one realizes just what this all is, a dance, a dream, and not something that one should worry about.
There is much more that could be said about these foundations for the Perennial philosophy, but let us now take a look at how this as been applied and what this means for environmental concerns. Historically many analysts of eastern culture have described the overall culture in many as apathetic. I realize that this too is a gross overgeneralization but it does in fact reflect the stated teachings of many eastern religions. In Theravada Buddhism for example, one is told to avoid doing anything, whether good or evil, positive or negative. All action or karma brings about consequences, which will have to be repaid by another life within samsara, the wheel of birth, death and rebirth. In many of the Hindu sects, it is seen as the greatest spiritual action to go into the forest and literally stop talking, doing, eating, drinking. In the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha, this can be seen as another potential illustration of the point. Noble truth #1 is that all that there is in the world is suffering. Whatever one enjoys is merely a temporary façade; in the end it will revert to suffering. Noble truth #2 is the cause of suffering. Care, concern, attachment and any other relevant synonym one chooses to use all fit the bill here. Our attachment to the things and people of this world bring about our suffering. Noble truth #3 tells us the cure for this problem. Cease caring, become detached or any way you want to say this it is all the same. If caring is the cause then cessation of caring is the cure. Noble truth #4 then explains through the eight-fold path the mindset one needs to successfully end attachment. Thus care for the environment, also part of the illusion, will continue to trap one in the illusion. A brief summary of the eastern religious point of view tends to convince one that environmental concerns are not part of the package. Since the whole world is an illusion, it tends to minimize any concern for that illusion. Even if one takes Ramanuja’s softening of Maya, ultimately nature and consciousness are still part of the illusion and environmental concerns become actually harmful to ones attempt to get off the wheel.
Another approach to this problem is that of James Lovelock and Lynn Margolis, who have given us the Gaia hypotheses. This idea, promoted by perhaps two of the best-known environmentalists in the world, argues that nature is itself alive and conscious and is capable of self-regulation. In agreement with Schelling, they would argue that there is élan, or vitale, or consciousness, or Spirit or whatever one calls it within each part of nature itself. Human consciousness is only one part of the larger whole of that framework. Lovelock then takes the controversial step of arguing that there is no need to truly be concerned about the environment since it or the God “is” or the Absolute is more than capable of resolving the problem within itself. This of course has the net effect of undermining environmentalist projects, thereby not enduring himself to the community, which once lionized him. But there is a certain consistency within his idea. If nature and human consciousness are in themselves part of a larger whole, which is called the Absolute or God or whatever, then perhaps environmental concerns are in fact part of some karmic plan, or perhaps part of the dance of Maya. If it is not capable of resolving these problems, then perhaps all talk of divinity need to be dropped, at least in the normative sense.
The Ganges river in India might serve here as a living illustration of the problematic connection of German Idealism with the Perennial philosophy. The Ganges, considered to be the holiest of all rivers in the world, is also one of the most polluted rivers in the world. Perennial philosophers from all over the world come to the Ganges to bath in its sacred waters, amidst the human waste, corpses, industrial pollution and so on. While Indians who are influenced by western thought realize that there is a major problem, many Hindu’s turn a blind eye to the issue because Brahman encompasses all polarities and dualities and all that is perceived in the world, including a major environmental problem, is seen as a non-issue. Now I know that there are environmentalists who are trying to work with the problem of the Ganges and other problems but I would argue that they are doing it despite eastern thought, not because of it.
The point here is to show that monistic pantheism has a track record of undermining real environmental concerns. By definition concern for the world either is problematic for the reason of involving oneself in more karmic attachments or because it is seen as merely an illusion. In either case it ought to be a concern for German Idealism to be aligned in some way with eastern thought. Now it is possible for people within the eastern traditions, such as the Dalai Lama, to be concerned for the environment, but again it could be argued that the Lama’s concern are in spite of the Buddha’s teachings, and not inspired by them.
Kant’s epistemological knot forced the later German Idealists into a path that in many ways undermines a real philosophy of nature that would actually give a foundation for environmental concerns. By the time of Hegel the noose had been tightened and nature had been subsumed into the culture which itself is part of the Weltgeist, or World Spirit. Again the God “is” or the absolute is reduced to whatever is perceived or intuited. What if Kant had not bowed to Hume so strongly? What if he instead had allowed knowledge to be available from other sources? What if there was in fact revelation or answers from outside the “box”? While agreeing with Schelling that one must explain the lower from the viewpoint of the higher, German Idealism seems to have limited the viewpoints of the higher to those possible within the box itself. There are at least potential explanations of the problem of the one and the many, or the problem of the connection between human consciousness and nature, that could come from outside the box. Perhaps one of those explanations could do the serious work of grounding real environmental concerns in a very real world.
Some questions within the framework of German Idealism;
Or how I learned to quit worrying and love global warming!
German Idealism and the philosophy of nature.
Dr. Jere Surber
A THEORY ON THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
SCIENCE, RELIGION AND THEOLOGY
This paper will outline how I see the relationship between Theology, Religion and Science. As I see the problem in the many views that we have looked as primarily an epistemological one, I will start there and then proceed to define science. Then I will give an explanation for why science and Christianity “appear” to be at war and briefly describe how this historically developed. I will then respond to Griffith’s critiques of the Intelligent Design/Supernaturalism point of view as exemplified by Alvin Plantinga and Phillip Johnson. Finally I will sketch out a framework for a harmonious relationship between science and the Christian faith.
It is important to note at the start of this paper that one critical factor in how I see this issue, is related to my contention that the “war” between science and Christianity is in some ways a media creation and in other ways the byproduct of certain philosophical currents which have given rise to the present situation. This needs to be unpacked a bit. Notice that I am not saying that there is an actual break between science and Christianity. Indeed as Whitehead said, Christianity is at least partially responsible for the rise of “modern” science. Many others, including non-Christians like Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer and Carl Sagan, have affirmed this. And since Whitehead and others acknowledge that the overwhelming point of view of scientists prior to Darwin was orthodox Christianity, then it is obvious that it is possible to assert that Christianity and science were and can be complimentary as opposed to conflicting.
Another distinction I am making is that it strikes me that the way this entire discussion is framed in the western academic world is that it is not “faith” that is at war with science but rather orthodox Christianity. The discussion is not about Buddhism, or Hinduism (and certainly these religious perspectives, apologists notwithstanding, are problematic for science, given the acceptance of the idea of Maya or the illusory nature of the universe by many prominent eastern religions), or ever other western religions such as Islam or Judaism, but seems to be rather strictly orientated towards orthodox or conservative Christianity. There are of course benign reasons for this, such as the mere preponderance of Christianity in the western world. In other words we wrestle with the issue as western people because it is our own issue. But some other reasons may not be quite as benign. It is clear from the statements of atheistic philosophers and theorists that it is important that Christianity be seen as the enemy of science. This will be explained later on in the paper. It is also interesting to note that all of the perspectives we looked at in class did little more than give a hand-wave at the orthodox perspective, as if to say that it’s dismissal was a foregone conclusion- “now where do we go from here?”
My primary argument at this point is that the larger issue involved in this discussion is an epistemological one. Because if the point of the study is to show how science and religion can have a harmonious relationship, then the question of what kinds of warrant and justification either side of the discussion has for their own respective positions is critical. I will try and show this in two ways. First to establish what it is that counts for knowledge, and then apply that insight to the areas of science and religion and or Christianity.
Knowledge or justified true belief is based on what is called foundationalism by many philosophers. This simply means that there are certain basic building blocks that give support to what we normally call knowledge. (1) For example, when I perceive visually a tree outside my screen door at this moment, I believe that I am justified in saying that there is a tree there. If I go into the next room and think about what I saw, then I have a distinct memory of the visual event of the tree. In this way both visual perception and memory serve as foundational blocks towards knowledge. There are other basic building blocks as well, such as other sensory perceptions, the laws of logic (identity, non-contradiction, excluded middle), and so on.
Some critiques of foundationalism have centered on the complaints that simple coherence is equally justified in claims for knowledge in that if there many cohering planks, like on a raft, and they go work together in such a way that they all agree, then that is as justifiable as foundationalism. It is also possible for one’s sensory perceptions or memory or rational argument may in fact turn out to be wrong or spurious and therefore the position is flawed. I would respond that what is called fallibalistic foundationalism or soft foundationalism is able to allow for misperceptions to be corrected by more correct information that corresponds to reality. Also mere coherence is not a sufficient basis for knowledge, as it is more than possible to have a very elaborate lie, which while all the parts of the lie may cohere with each other; it is still the case that it is a lie and therefore does not correspond to reality. For example Louie may claim that he was playing cards with several hundred of his friends at the same time the police say he murdered someone. All of his friends may give stories, which cohere with each other. But the police counter with video-cam evidence, footprints, fingerprints on the murder weapon, etc. Mere coherence in this case should not be substituted for evidence. Incoherence can be a defeater of a proposition or knowledge claim but mere coherence while logically necessary, by itself proves nothing.
The notion of correspondence is also critical here, especially when we later relate these points to the question of science and religion. By correspondence we mean something as simple as this, if I claim that I am writing on my computer at this moment, then it means that it is the case that I am actually doing that very thing. So a proposition is true if and only if the truth-value of the proposition corresponds to reality. (2) The very notion of truth itself is then defined as correspondence. Again it is possible that I could receive more data later on which might in fact undermine my current position, but it would again have to verified in the same way and so on. I could receive testimony, which can be falsified or verified as to the veracity of events. Other ways of giving justification would allow for aesthetics and for history and other categories as well.
Now how does this apply to the areas of science and religion? In the case of science it is almost axiomatic. Working science is based on sensory perception and rational argumentation. Mere coherence, as in the example of “cold nuclear fission”, cannot be substituted for correspondence to reality. Objects or processes must be perceived in some way or fashion to qualify as scientific knowledge. Normally for something to be considered a scientific “fact”, it must be observable and repeatable. There are things which science deals with that are singularities such as the Big Bang, initial formulation of enzymes, etc. Normally, both of these knowledge conditions are consistent with the basic premises of foundationalism. None of this seems to be very controversial, excepting the possibility of “postmodern science” as identified by McFague. (3)
The more contentious arena is the application of foundationalism to the religious arena. On Bultmann’s account, he appears to endorse foundationalism as it is buried within logical positivism. It is on this philosophical basis that he rejects supernaturalism and insists on an existential reading of the Christian faith in order to harmonize faith and science. Some strict empiricists like to read “foundationalism” and somehow see Hume’s empiricism and logical positivism as all synonymous ideas. As mentioned in my earlier paper, logical positivism is self-referentially incoherent, but this does not mean that rejecting LP is the same as rejecting empirical data. On the contrary fallibalistic foundationalism affirms all empirical data. What I am rejecting is the limitation of knowledge that LP entailed, that only what is physically verified counts for knowledge. It is possible to have knowledge of things that cannot be physically verified, for example in the cases of inductive, deductive and abductive arguments or aesthetic sensations etc. This involves some complicated arguments that cannot be drawn out here, but generally the limitations that LP involves have been rejected by most analytic philosophers, but sadly not by scientists. The question now arises, was Bultmann correct in assuming that science precluded supernaturalism?
My response is that he was incorrect in this matter. One could argue that the strict dualism presented by Bultmann, with existential faith in one category and scientific truth in another, is itself inconsistent in that it requires empiricism with regards to the scientific category but denies the need for empirical verification at all in regards to the religious category. Herein lies the problem. Religion or faith, or Christianity, now appears to have a separate and even privileged status of knowledge. Everything that counts for knowledge in ones life has to correspond to reality in some way, but religion, prima facie, now does not. At least that is what the situation seems to be. I want to argue here that even given Hume’s parameters, Christianity still can assert supernaturalism. Put briefly Hume’s arguments against miracles hinges on two controversial claims. The first is that no interruption of natural law has been observed and the second is that even with evidence postulated contravening the first claim, as in people who claim to have seen someone rise from the dead, the sheer “nature” of the claim overrides the potential evidential claim. He has other arguments as well but these two seem to me to be the most troubling. The first claim is problematic in that Hume commits the fallacy of begging the question. He is merely gainsaying the claims of people who are saying that they physically observed the very thing Hume is denying in principal. On even closer examination it seems troubling that Hume, whose epistemological position was based on experience or sense perception, could then out of hand deny the sense perception of other human beings. This inconsistency sets up the second problem. In the face of the claims that people have in fact observed supernatural events, then Hume makes an extremely non-empirical move, in denying in principle the mere possibility. This is something that empiricism qua empiricism claims cannot be done.
In reaction to Hume, Kant “rescued” faith from science and reason. He separated them into two distinct categories and never the twain shall meet. I am convinced that this philosophical move gave us the very contemporary discussion we are having in our class. Kant’s limiting of reason to make room for faith seems to have instilled hostility between the two. Both can now make truth claims that are totally contradictory towards each other, and ultimately both often seem to be talking past each other. But I think that Kant gave way too much ground over to Hume’s epistemological argument. Even saying that though, it seems like regular empiricism, which contrary to Hume does not rule out in principal the “miraculous”, can allow ground for the supernaturalist world-view. For example, we cannot determine the historical claim that Julius Caesar lived on scientific grounds, if we mean that the event must be observable and repeatable. By the very nature of what history is, single events cannot be repeatable. However they are observable and therefore can be validated within a foundationalist perspective. Now although the meaning of history is often quite subjective, generally single events are view-independent. By illustration Caesar’s existence is not predicated upon some a-priori commitment to some position. Positivists, Republicans, Buddhists and truck drivers or anyone else can assert the factuality of the claim based upon the evidence available. With some notable exceptions most historical events have verification possible because of empirical evidence of some sort – testimonies, engravings, photographs, etc. I do not see why religious claims should not be put through the same stringent requirements as all other knowledge claims. The Hadith claims that Muhammad rose to the moon and slice it with his scimitar. Did the Red sea part at Moses’ command? Did Jesus rise from the dead? All controversial knowledge claims to be sure, but mere controversy or blind acceptance by the faithful should not require that special privilege be given to a whole category of claims.
At this point my strategy should be clear. The claims of Christianity are in fact not merely metaphysical, but instead are based at least in part on real historical events. Since it was the claim of the early Apostles that they had in fact seen and talked with and ate with the risen Christ, then these knowledge claims should be treated as all other claims. Either there is sufficient evidence to warrant the claim or there is not. The presence of faith should not be a shield for false claims. Since historic orthodox Christianity was based on historical claims, subject to verification or falsification, then their epistemic merit stands on the exact same basis as those of modern science. The Apostle Paul argues in First Corinthians 15:12-17 that the resurrection of Jesus is critical to the Christian faith. Either it happened or it didn’t. There is no claim of privilege claimed or demanded. This resolves the philosophic issue between the two positions of science and faith/religion/Christianity. In science and religion all knowledge claims are then open to verification and they all stand or fall on that basis.
Is this the case with the other claimants that we have examined in class? It strikes me that all of them at least in part demand a surrender of one side or the other, and it is usually the faith or religious side that must yield the ground. As we saw earlier, Bultmann does this in a matter of fact way. No one can take supernatural claims seriously who uses a transistor radio. His argument is that the scientific worldview precludes the miraculous worldview of supernaturalism. But does the presence of technology preclude miracles? In what way? Not only is this position philosophically flawed but also upon empirical grounds alone it is easily disproven. In fact perhaps hundreds of millions of people do that very thing. Or at least with a CD player instead of a transistor radio! Are they all just inconsistent or perhaps instead they don’t see the contradiction that Bultmann does? In fact on merely pragmatic grounds it is hard to argue that people of faith whether Christian or most other religious groups are somehow alienated from science. I believe, on the basis of evidence, that the supernatural world-view is correct. As I believe this, I am writing on a P3 personal computer, answering the phone and watching the hated Red Sox beat my beloved Yankees! Bultmann’s contention seems rather arrogant at this point. Nor is this merely a contemporary reaction, it was also true in Bultmann’s day. Some of the earliest proponents of the relatively new invention of radio, which Bultmann was able to witness from afar, were in fact preachers. Whether Catholics like Bishop Sheen or fundamentalists like Charles Fuller, Christians were not opposed to technology, which is certainly the most important proof of the scientific endeavor. So how does this idea that Christianity is opposed to science become so popular, the Amish aside, in light of what is so empirically obvious?
A problematic area with the epistemology of Peter Berger, which I will elaborate more on later on, is the issue of methodological atheism. His argument, mirrored by many others and assumed as gospel in science classes throughout the country, is that if one wants to do science, then one must assume an atheistic stance, not allowing for divine interaction in the world, or else it is not “science”. Since this is clearly an a-historical point of view, given what we have already mentioned before, then perhaps there is a logical issue at hand. But no logical contradiction entails from the belief that God can work in the world, as positivists claim. In fact in reading about this question for several years now and even from an interesting discussion with “Bergy” in our own class, the only response I have heard on this is that “it wouldn’t be science” if one did not start with this methodology. I know of no other explanation than a-priori commitments as to why this should be seen as true, philosophically or methodologically. So for Berger to argue that all religion is merely a construct, and that his “science” requires him to argue that way, must be seen as the byproduct of a flawed epistemology. Even on the grounds as given by methodological atheism, a sociologist is supposed to study a society, and that society might in fact includes claims by some of its members as to some sort of religious phenomenon in the past or even presently. It is hard to see how a sociologist could logically exclude these claims and make the incredibly broad statement that all religions are constructs, and therefore have the epistemic value of a fairy tale. Does that methodology exclude historical experiences of a society as well? Like Bultmann, Berger’s epistemology, even granting his openness towards transcendence hinted at in other books, separates science and Christianity in such a way to privilege one over the other.
I think that Sally McFague’s epistemology is a fascinating study in itself. I had not even heard of the phrase “postmodern science” until I read her book. I think the reason for that is postmodernists in general (which is problematic to say as well!) have been highly critical of the scientific endeavor. Especially the hubris of scientists who as the penultimate “modernists” claim to have possible access to all knowledge. Postmodernism usually attacks all claims that even come close to claiming “certainty”. This has created a rather radical subjectivity in terms of knowledge. This is my mind is antithetic to science. Cold fusion cannot be scientific and true for some and false for others. The scientific method of verification must be applied to all claims. But most postmodernists reject this claim, seeing it as the very essence of modernity’s hubris. This is seen from within this camp as “epistemic humility”. Interestingly enough one of the common earmarks of this view of “epistemic humility” that I keep running into seems to be the much stronger claim that not only do we not have any certain knowledge, we are certain of it! And we are certain you don’t either!
McFague’s view is very sympathetic to the qualified non-dualism of Hindu scholar Ramanuja (c. 1017-1137) who argued quite forcefully for seeing the universe and creation as the body of God. I think most orthodox Christians would see her position as too close to paganism, which is not to argue that the position is wrong at this point, but it is to say that it is not been a Christian option and historically has been actively opposed by the Church. If as she argues that God “is in the young woman killed in the accident and in the baby with birth defects” then the logical entailment of her position is that God is also “in” Stalin and Dahmer and so on. The Bhagavad-Gita could not have said it any better. Also, since her argument is that her position is merely one perspective in a larger quilt, then she seems to be arguing the position is not necessarily available to epistemic critique. She claims that she is not putting forth “truth” but rather a story with a dominant metaphor. But this is an epistemological claim in itself. Throughout her book she assumes the truth of science but insists that the scientific naturalists accept “God”. However, if one grant as she does that there can be no supernatural, then why would a scientist see any reason to “let God in”? Once you have separate grids for understanding the two categories of faith and science you have special privilege somewhere. Also, as we discussed in class, it is very difficult for her to make an ethical case for environmental protection, when one starts with a postmodern view. It is hard to argue from the perspective of epistemic humility that one must do x or y to save the earth. If one is a perspectivalist about knowledge, that prior commitment logically undermines activism, for the earth or any other cause. People are wonderfully inconsistent on this point but a serious theology and/or philosophy should not contain obviously contradictory planks. But this is exactly what she does in several places in her book. (4)
I think there are epistemological problems from within the view of Whitehead and Griffith as well. If science is based on what is observable and repeatable, it is therefore a physical activity, it seems that it is a leap of faith to argue for things like “prehensions” given that we have no evidence for such things except for their place in certain arguments. Whitehead could be right about the prehensions but it is contrary to scientific perception and therefore no more harmonious with science than any other faith claim. The strength of Whitehead’s claim is that his view is very parallel with the scientific worldview. But his epistemological stand gives privilege to science and Christian faith must be dramatically altered to fit the new paradigm. However, if it cannot be shown to have some correspondence with reality in some way, then like Bultmann, Whitehead’s rules for science differ from his rules for religion. As I argued earlier, this type of philosophical dualism places some knowledge claims apart from others with differing standards and verificational qualities. Much like Platonic “forms”, merely arguing for their logical necessity from within one’s position does not protect them from their lack of correspondence to anything actually existing in the universe. A Whiteheadian response at this point might be that this view actually helps because it fits in so well with quantum mechanics, but I would argue that there are many orthodox Christians who are physicists (for example Hugh Ross, The Creator and The Cosmos, 2nd Ed. Navpress. Colorado Springs, CO 1995) who see quantum mechanics as perfectly acceptable within a supernaturalist perspective so Whitehead can make no ground here.
As mentioned briefly before, I would argue that the misperception of the war between Christianity and science is in some ways a media creation. One good illustration of this is the movie “Inherit the Wind”. Based on the news reports of the Scopes trial in 1925 as shaped by Baltimore Sun writer H.L. Mencken, the movie clearly caricatures the Christian perspective and by the end of the movie, any “reasonable” person would, as a matter of course, understand that to be a thinking person one must embrace evolution and discount the Bible. That is certainly how my friends and I reacted to the movie when it was shown in my high school. As a non-Christian, I was amazed how anyone could be so stupid as to deny the truth of evolution and believe in something as ridiculous as “miracles” or a book about them or a “God” that couldn’t be seen. As the Scopes trial is constantly referred to in the larger discussion of why Christianity is anti-intellectual and anti-scientific, then perhaps it can be seen as to why on a popular level people think that Christianity is in principle opposed to science. While this is a patently shallow way to think, it is a popular one. In the same way, I found out literally decades after I had initially studied about Isaac Newton, that he had in fact written much more about theology than he had about physics. The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards, considered by many to be one of the great minds in American history, wrote numerous papers on Newtonian science and other scientific subjects. But you would never know this from reading history books in public school today. Conspiracy theories aside, one might at least question the possibility that cultural understandings has been sculpted in certain ways. (5) Mencken’s anti-Semitism only became known years after his death. Is it not a possibility in this post-modern world to think that perhaps it is possible that his views might not have colored his work? At least it is possible and might give a clue as to why Mencken would write such a biased report about the actual trial.
Regardless of these fun speculations one clear thing to come out in the past twenty years is that the once imposing theory of evolution is showing some huge cracks in its edifice. As Griffith reports in his book, Michael Denton’s Evolution: A Theory in Crisis was the first major admission from within the evolutionary camp itself, that all was not well. The war between Dawkins, representing orthodox Darwinian gradualism and Gould and Eldridge representing punctuated equilibriumianism, has become really interesting from the perspective of an outsider like myself. The net effect of both Dawkins and Gould yelling at each other that the other has no evidence for their point of view is such that another committed evolutionist like Francis Crick, admits that both are right in that respect and turns to pan-spermia for answers to the dilemma. I agree with Crick’s assertions about Dawkins and Gould but I don’t think aliens or space spores do anything to solve the problem, they merely push it back one step. Whichever way you want to look at it, it is at least problematic to assert that evolution is a proven theory or fact. It is not repeatable nor is it observable. As Phillip Johnson has repeatedly documented in his books, taking a contrary position to one or another of the major Darwinian views can cost one their career and reputation. (6) But if as Johnson suggests and I have argued earlier, this is really a philosophical debate and not an evidentiary question, then it becomes much clearer as to why good people from all sides can look at the exact same evidence and come away with markedly different conclusions.
I now want to look at Griffith’s particular arguments against the supernaturalist view as given in chapter three of Religion and Scientific Naturalism: Overcoming the Conflicts. The heart of Griffith’s critique is what he calls “the equation of theistic realism with supernatural interruptionism.” He argues that Johnson and Plantinga’s strong view of divine interruption is problematic in that it 1) is not a model which will likely offer a harmonious reunion between science and religion; 2) it does not “reconcile theism with evolution”; 3) it interrupts the mode and tempo of creation and finally 4) the theodicy problem. His argument asserts that these problems make his “naturalistic theism” view much more attractive as an option which will bring about the desired reconciliation. Let me respond to each of these critiques.
First, the fact that the Supernaturalism claim will not be well received within the scientific community does not argue one way or the other for its truth-value. Either the view is true or false based on the merits of the arguments and evidence alone. If there is no evidence and the claim is still taught or in the other case where there is evidence for a claim and yet it is not accepted, then other explanations like philosophical commitments and prejudice seem to be in the mix. There are many historical examples of scientists being slow to accept the new (or old!) ideas. As Kuhn points out paradigm shifts take time. If you were to look for serious books and articles on intelligent design twenty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a handful. But there are numerous published articles, books, study groups and scientists with serious credentials who are either on the ID bandwagon or heading that way. Whether it again becomes a dominant mindset is yet to be see, but even if it does, that does not prove that the view is true or not. Only evidence and sound argumentation do that work.
Secondly, I am somewhat surprised that given that Griffith is well read on the tumult going on within the evolutionary camp itself that a critique of supernaturalism would be made on this particular point. Why would one want to reconcile theism with a scientific theory that is so problematic from within its own writings? If the evidence is so overwhelming, as many claim, then why are the preeminent representatives of Darwinian thought so deeply at odds with each other? The usual response is that “everyone” agrees on the facts of evolution, it is merely dickering over the how. If this is the case then as mentioned in class, the “evolution of the gaps” theory is protected from its own internal contradictions. If this discussion were going on a hundred years ago, would it be an appropriate critique to say that because theism is not reconciled with ether theories that it is disqualified in the arena of ideas? Perhaps one might say that it is evolutionists who need to worry about not being reconciled with Supernaturalism.
Third, the argument concerning the time and mode of the development of the universe and the planet. This one seems to be speculation based on estimates. Without going into a very long and protracted argument about the dating methods, suffice it to say that there are several illustrations of these estimates being shown to be patently wrong. For example the case brought out a few years ago when a particular star was dated and the date was actually older than the current estimate of the universe itself! (http://www.astro.ucla.edu/~wright/cosmology_faq.html#age – this article claims that the discrepancy is now cleared up, but I think my claim is the softer one of problematic dating methods is still operative here) (7) All extended discussions of dating techniques include the fact that all the current methods involve certain assumptions about uniformity over time. It is very problematic to argue from estimates to hard facts. As an aside here, several times in the writings of the class and within the class itself it was brought up that supernaturalists believe that the earth is six thousands years old. Without taking any more cheap shots than necessary at Bishop Usher, I have spoken in churches all over the country and at numerous colleges and universities and I can’t remember even meeting someone who takes that idea seriously. I know that there are, but it is a straw man to argue that serious scientific discussion within the Christian community is beholden to Usher’s dates. The discussion of whether there are more problems for creation ex nihilo or billions of years of development is quite a raging discussion in some philosophical circles and there is no time for that here, but it is not easily shown that Griffith’s point here has any merit.
The fourth argument is an interesting one to be put into this discussion. As Griffith admits it is not a normal part of this discussion, but since he brought it up as one of his critiques, then I will try and respond to it as well. Simply put, one can make a strong case that the theodicy question can only be put forth consistently from within the Supernaturalist/Christian framework and can only be answered, however problematically, from within the same. The eastern world-view in almost all it variations denies the real existence of good and evil. It is intrinsic to the enlightenment message as given by numerous Gurus and philosophers that good and evil are part of the illusory nature of the universe (Maya) and once a person realizes this, they are enlightened and recognize the relativity of this world’s morality and nature and so on. So it is hard to see how this view can even ask the question in a real way. On the other end of the spectrum, a naturalist world-view has a hard time putting forth the question in light of their philosophical assumptions. Given naturalism’s leveling of ethical concerns and methodology, as seen in very problematic schemes like emotivist ethics or G.E. Moore’s ethical non-natural indefinable qualitative things, etc, one could say that since there is almost no consensus on meta-ethical issues (especially in western philosophy since Nietzsche) then the question of God being blamed for allowing “evil” seems especially problematic. (8)
Historically Orthodox Christianity has dealt with this problem in numerous ways. Perhaps the most popular is some version of the free will defense. (9) That is that God allowed human agents to be truly free agents in that they can truly make moral choices and included in this great gift from God is the fact that these really are choices and therefore include the real option to choose to do evil. Now this is an extremely short version of a very important argument, but that is all we have room for here. Perhaps more importantly though is how Griffith thinks that process thought does not also have to deal with the problem. If process theology differs with orthodoxy in relation to one of the two planks (1. God is all loving, therefore He would help, and 2. God is all-powerful, therefore He would help.) of the argument as given, then it is hard to imagine why this view of God would be persuasive. If God were not all loving, then why would anyone want anything to do with such a God? If God is not all-powerful then we now are faced with a God who cares but can’t do much to help us. This neo-deistic view might keep the word “God” in our lexicon, but seemingly only with a sympathetic role. As I argued in my earlier paper, if God truly is in the Whiteheadian moments, holding the universe together, and if God truly is not synonymous with nature as Griffith claims God is not, then it seems the question is even more problematic in this scenario than in orthodoxy. If panentheism is indeed true then God is in everyone and everything, then why does this extremely immanent view not have some sense that God can control behavior? Seems like a free will defense would need to be available here as well. In either case the process view of Griffith has no edge on orthodoxy on the basis of a critique from the theodicy question.
Let me know briefly tie some of these thoughts together and outline a harmonious relationship between science and Christianity.
A rigorous objective science needs observability and repeatability. This eliminates many spurious claims to knowledge, but is open to new discoveries and paradigms. It also needs defeasibility, in that a theory ought to recognize the possibility of overthrow if new evidence becomes available which leads in a contrary direction.
Regular empiricism, as I am using the terms, is differentiated from Positivism in that it recognizes that empiricism is fine as far as it goes but aesthetics, justice, love, history and many other valuable things are not always observed with the five senses. Therefore additional criteria are necessary to judge things beyond the empirical scope, but we must not abandon the empirical.
The Christian faith, built upon the empirical observations of the people of God in both Testaments, is a truth claim that can be verified at least in part, even under the original Humean constraints. Shortly put, many people were willing to die for what they would have been in position to know better – that is the physical resurrection of Jesus. It is conceivable that I am being fooled and might give my life for the “lie” of Christianity, but it is inconceivable that the Apostles would die for something they knew to be a lie. I cannot even think of an analogy that makes sense out of that. None of the usual human motives are present here either. There is no trace of greed, sex, power, fame or insanity, which are the usual reasons why people lie. It has been argued by many who are far more qualified than I, that something had to happen historically to explain the existence and meteoric rise of the early Christian church, in the face of tremendous persecution. (10) It can also be argued that both believers and unbelievers observed the resurrected Jesus. Believers like Mary and Martha, and skeptics (at the time) like Thomas and Saul. Even if one responds by claiming that Thomas and Saul are really believers or at least pre-disposed to believe, than there is still the claim of hundreds of people, many of whom were willing to die for the claim, that they observed the physically resurrected Jesus. To discount their testimony would be analogous to a defense attorney telling the prosecutor, “other than your five hundred witnesses against my client what evidence do you have?” Now other evidence might be needed but the type of knowledge claim cannot be discounted a-priori (Hume) merely because of its “nature”.
If one applies consistently the same criteria for historical verification towards Jesus as one does towards Julius Caesar, than the case for Christianity is an empirically based claim and as such cannot be perceived as opposed to science.
The historical claims of the Christian church contain no logical contradictions or fallacies. By this I mean that although it is not a common event to have people raised from the dead, hence the natural “law”, there is nothing contradictory, as in the case of a square circle or the like.
If as in premise one, science is based on observability, then it must allow for observations, however inconsistent with previous observations, to be added to the mix regardless of their controversial nature. This does not commit one to believe all claims of observed events, but it does not commit one to some claims over others on the basis of philosophical pre-commitments. Scientific, historic, religious and all other claims are then put through the same grid. Are they internally consistent? (Do they have any internal contradictions?) Are they externally consistent with reality? (Do they correspond to what is observed?) One could even add aesthetical and existential questions to ask of the claim, but these would be secondary to the primary questions.
If there is something good to be learned from postmodernism, it is a healthy reminder that politics and philosophy do “infest” the world, that is the claim that all people are subject to bias, prejudice and hubris. This speaks well to both science and Christianity. However, the fact that we do not have all knowledge does not mean that we have no knowledge. So this should not preclude us from seeking and finding truth wherever it may be found. And we should not be precluded from calling it truth, even in the pluralistic morass that we live in now.
Christianity and even other religious views should be very wary of marrying the current science. How many times does the church have to be a widow before it will learn?
Methodological atheism is not required historically in the field of science and is not a logical necessity either. If in fact an intelligent designer who is outside of the universe in some important sense, is the best explanation for some phenomenon then so be it.
A strong point of the Supernaturalist view is that there is now room for purpose and order in the universe. One of the results of methodological and philosophical atheism is that determinism and eventually chaos theory become live options. No purpose is needed in a meaningless universe. But if the universe is not a closed one then purpose and meaning and order are brought back in. I think the fact that the universe is an ordered one (the dominant view of scientists up until the 20th century) gives security and certainty to science, in that pure arbitrary chance does not upset the “laws” of science.
Aldous Huxley confesses that the evidence may not be the critical issue. He states “For myself, as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation. The liberation we desired was simultaneously liberation from a certain political and economic system and liberation from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom…” (11) In light of this it is likely that the quest for universal harmony between science and faith or Christianity will not be solved in this life in such a way that all will fall into step. Too many competing worldviews and ulterior motives may color the way we look at things and given that, it seems like the quest for a harmonious relationship between science and religion will be a difficult one at best. But it is one of the most important questions and well worth the effort to continue to search out for the best explanation of all the evidence.
1) For a great primer on epistemological questions, I recommend Robert Audi’s Belief, Justification and Knowledge. Wadsworth Publishing Co. Belmont, CA 1988.
For a good discussion on the question of correspondence, I highly recommend Doug Groothuis’s recent book Truth Decay. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL 2000
Good critiques of postmodernism include not only the above-mentioned Truth Decay, but also The Gagging of God, D.A. Carson. Zondervan Press, Grand Rapids, MI 1996
My best illustration of this is found on page 78 in The Body of God, where she states “While the attempt to see continuity between the Christian story of redemption and the cosmic story of the evolution of the universe is one that all Christians must support”… Hard to get a “must” out of just a “perspective”.
This is a theme that is often preached on but perhaps a book like The Long War against God, Henry Morris. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, MI. 1988. is a good example. Even a Jewish critic like Michael Medved often comments about the anti-Christian bias often displayed in the schools and in the media.
Of Phillip Johnson’s many books on the subject in general, the pertinent ones here are Reason in the Balance and Objections Sustained. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL 1995 and 1998 respectively.
One of the classics in the field is Meditations at 10,000 Feet: A Scientist in the Mountains, by James Trefil. (Senberne Press. New York, NY 1986) He freely admits that all the major dating methods include estimates and assumptions about uniformity. Normally we like to call that “theory” and not fact, but I guess I am not a scientist.
For a good read on this subject, I suggest chapter four, “God and the meaning of life” by J.P Moreland in his book Scaling the Secular City. Baker Book House. Grand Rapids, MI1987 and Ethics – Approaching Moral Decisions. Arthur F. Holmes. Intervarsity Press. Downers Grove, IL 1984
A very balanced presentation of the argument is presented in The Problem of Evil. Edited by Marilyn M. Adams and Robert M. Adams. Oxford University Press. Walton St. Oxford, England. 1900.
One of the classis apologetic works discussing this theme is The Testimony of the Twelve, by Harvard law professor Simon Greenleaf. The Harvard School of law is named after him. He started his investigation of the subject as an atheist and converted during his research. Some other works, which document the rise of the Christian church during this time, include A History of Christianity Vol. I Beginnings to 1500. K.S. Latourette. HarperCollins San Francisco, CA. 1953 and Evidence for Faith. J. Warwick Montgomery. Probe Books, Dallas, TX 1991. As to the very controversial question as to whether the Gospel accounts themselves are trustworthy, I suggest A Ready Defense. Josh McDowell. Here’s Life Publishers. San Bernardino, CA 1990.
Aldous Huxley. Ends and Means. Chatto & Windus. London, England. 1946
Berger, Peter L. The Sacred Canopy. Anchor Books, New York, NY. 1967
Bultmann, Rudolf. New Testament & Mythology. Fortress Press, Philadelphia, PA 1984
Griffin, David R. Religion and Scientific Naturalism. Suny, New York, NY. 2000
McFague, Sallie. The Body of God. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, MN. 1993
Whitehead, Alfred. N. Science and the Modern World. The Free Press, New York, NY. 1925
Revenge of the “Enlightened”:
The Exclusive Nature of Religious Pluralism
by Bill Honsberger
Few things are more volatile than religious issues. There is hardly anything that can inflame people more than the types of questions and answers that surround discussions of faith and ultimate concern. In light of this fact many people in academia and in the religious world have turned to Religious Pluralism as a reasoned and measured response to the problem of conflicting truth claims. Religious Pluralism has many forms and this paper will take a cursory look at several and then survey the viewpoints of John Hick, Joseph Campbell and Huston Smith. The paper will explain and define Religious Pluralism and give the motivations of those involved. The paper will then show the inconsistent and hypocritical tenets and practices of Religious Pluralism proponents, with Christianity as the one “safe” prejudice. The conclusion will then respond in an indirect way to the arguments of Religious Pluralism, and present an argument for the real value of studying religious issues.
“Why are hard-working prosperous religious people – so often intolerant, narrow-minded and boring?” Ashleigh Brilliant – Pot Shots Cartoon 1999.
There are few more divisive issues in the world than the competing truth -claims of religions. Devoted people in different religions may participate in conflict, both verbal and physical. Or at least that is a popular notion that intrigues the academic study of religions and many within the Western world. We are told “at this point in history, developing an attitude at least of tolerance, if not of genuine pluralism, is no longer a luxury for an intellectual and spiritual elite”. (1)
Gordon Kaufman of Harvard University sees this within Christian theologians: “Instead of continuing the traditional attempts to make definitive normative claims about ‘Christian truth’ or ‘the Christian revelation’ many may not see the plurality among religious traditions… of profound human meaning and importance; what seems required now, therefore, rather than polemical pronouncements, is careful and appreciative study, together with an attitude of openness to what can be learned from this great diversity…” (2)
One must be open. An “openness” towards divergent points of view is the only way to protect the “other”, the obscured viewpoint of oppressed peoples, whether women or people of color or of minority religions. According to Peter Harrison of Bond University “the discourse of religious pluralism in the 20th century is a legacy of the 19th century creation and discovery of religion within a context of colonialism and imperialism”. (3)
In this political sense then, pluralism has become a necessity driven by western imperialism and religious imperialism personified by Christian missionary efforts most notable in the 19th century. For others like John Hick, Religious pluralism is driven by “our modern awareness of religious plurality and conceptual relativity”. (4)
You might get the sense from him that the mere plurality of religions present in our increasingly smaller world demands a new solution for the west, in particular, Christianity. Conceptual relativity shows up in many frameworks, but the essence of this comment is that a new humility is present in academia, and that certainty of knowledge is an anachronism of the hubris of the Western traditions, in particular the enlightenment and triumphant Christianity. We cannot now claim to know anything in its real self, only our perception of the thing perceived. Lay people chime in as well. In a recent letter to the editor of the Los Angeles Times, Edward Tabash states:
“It was refreshing to see your article on the religious relativism of Abdul Kareem Surash in which this Iranian theologian is quoted as saying that all religious tolerance and pluralism is needed in Iran. In the United States, people like Pat Robertson, Pat Buchanan, and Jerry Falwell need to comprehend that they do not possess a monopoly in understanding God’s will. Additionally, of course, it would be a great day for the world if the Pope would also adopt Surash’s admonition to abandon religious absolutism.” (5)
Many people see Religious Pluralism as a philosophical and theological system arising from the dramatically shifting reality of religious, ethnic, immigrant plurality in the formerly Judeo-Christian west. Harvard scholar of Religion and director of the Pluralism Project, Diane Eck points this out in verifiable ways. She notes that:
“In May of 1990 in a suburb of Boston not far from the starting point of the Boston marathon, the Hindu community of New England dedicated a temple to the goddess Lakshmi, pouring the consecrated waters of the Ganges over the temple towers, along with the waters of the Colorado, the Mississippi and the Ohio rivers. In April of 1993 in Sharon, the Islamic community of New England broke ground for a major new Islamic center to provide an anchor for the nearly 20 mosques in the Islamic Council of New England. These events are increasingly typical of the religious life of New England. Indeed, the religious landscape of much of America is changing – slowly, but in dramatic ways that test the pluralist foundations of American public life. (6)
She also cites statistics, which show that Los Angeles now is home to more types of Buddhists than anywhere else in the world. There are more Muslims than Methodists in England. In the light of all this plurality, and perhaps more importantly in light of the potential and historically based problems that religion have when in relation with each other, (“Fault lines” as described by Samuel P. Huntington) (7) a peaceful and open view of religious pluralism is necessary.
Harold Netland points out that “Canon Max Warren said prophetically in 1958 that as serious as the impact of agnostic science was on theology, it would turn out to appear as mere child’s play when compared to the challenge that other religions would eventually make on Christian theology.” (8)
And I would add not only on Christian theology but also perhaps on the Western world at large. “My son, always respect and honor the other fellow’s point of view. Unless it’s different from yours, of course”. Hagar comic strip. 1999
What exactly is Religious Pluralism? For Huston Smith it is a poetic image. “What a strange fellowship this is, the God-seekers in every land, lifting their voices in the most disparated ways imaginable to the God of all life. How does it sound from above? Like bedlam, or do the strains blend in strange, ethereal harmony? Does one faith carry the lead, or do the parts share in counterpoint and antiphony where not in full-throated chorus”. (9)
For some it is tolerance among competitors. For example Ted Turner states there “was one God and multiple ways he manifests himself and that it makes little difference which one is right’. (10)
Others realized that something much more profound is necessary. Audrey Thompson of the University of Utah, quoting Ann Diller, states, “In ‘Pluralisms for Education,’ Ann Diller argues that neither a laissez-faire nor a cooperative conception of pluralism is adequate to ‘the relational tasks of human communities.’ Models of pluralism, if they are to lend themselves to the building of communities, must ask more of us than simply getting along with one another. Pluralism has to plan actively attending to others, appreciating their distinctive perspectives, not just letting them be different”. (11)
Thompson goes on to argue that pluralism is by definition non- coercive. But she wants more than a simple acceptance of the status quo by all possible groups. She wants a “radical” pluralism which “which valorizes difference, plays with difference and acknowledges diverse groups…”(12)
Under the heading of “Education as Transformation” Victor Kazanjian argues that “both scholarship and spirituality are essential to fostering global learning communities and responsible global citizens who can address the challenges of a diverse world.” (13)
In the same website, Diane Eck defines pluralism as “an encounter of all our differences. It is a reconstruction and renegotiation of our common life in light of that encounter. Pluralism requires something of us…” (14)
Even stronger is the statement of Susan Laemmie, Rabbi and Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California. She emotes “We need a change whereby our colleges and universities become at one and the same time, through our cooperative vision, first welcoming of spiritual perspectives, second – supportive of particular religious expressions and third – exemplary of the way in which all spiritual paths are finally leading to the same sacred ground”. (15)
At the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, Illinois 1993, the challenge was for all religions to accept the truth of the “perennial philosophy…(which) calls for experiencing religion at the essential level”. Rita Gross concurs:
“This genuine and very real pluralism of religious worldviews and value systems does not cause psychological stress or distress. Rather, there is deep and thoroughgoing appreciation of the different systems; their infinite variety becomes a source of fascination and enrichment rather than a problem. Finally without trying to create a single religious system out of the plurality of world religions, it becomes possible to be inspired by other religions, to the point that one welcomes and fosters mutual transformation, taking on aspects of other religions that are lacking or weak in one’s own”. (17)
Now from these myriad expressions of Religious pluralism, as well as from dozens of other similar statements that I collected, you can see several commonalities. Religious Pluralism supposedly promotes tolerance, which at one point could have been described by noting that two people actually disagree and that they would do so in a respectful manner. In actuality, the Religious Pluralists whom we encountered dramatically quashed that point of view.
Most felt that toleration has working model of the world and as such was proven a failure. Another constant was the idea that tolerance was a mere starting point leading to full acceptance and as Gross says, a type of syncretism which benefits each religion equally. In this “tossed salad” every religion/world view would be a distinct element, but part of a larger whole. Notice that at this level of definition, it is stated early and often that each religion is to be accepted, praised, and valued. This sets the state for some comments I will make later on.
Three noteworthy thinkers have proffered their own views of what Religious Pluralism is and ought to be. Philosopher John Hick, Arch-mythologist Joseph Campbell and Religious scholar Huston Smith are all well respected in their fields and their books headline the field of Religious Pluralism. I will expound the views of all three and briefly evaluate them..
Philosopher John Hick states his view “perhaps the fact of religious diversity should not be seen as a challenge to the rationality of forming religious beliefs on the basis of religious experience, but to the assumption that all authentic religious experience must be the same kind and produce the same sets of beliefs.” (18) This quote gives the Hickian perspective in a nutshell. As a self-described orthodox conservative Christian, Hick encountered good, decent, “saints” within other religions, Hick believed that he was forced to rethink his own religious paradigm to envision a belief system that could and would incorporate the religious experiences of non-Christians into a salvific experience. He comments:
“it is rational to base our beliefs upon our experience, including religious experience, which leads inevitably to the problems of religious pluralism; and that there are resources within the major world traditions themselves that can, when supported by important philosophical distinctions, point to a resolution of these problems.” (19)
Using a Kantian distinction between phenomena (the things as perceived in the physical world by humans) and noumena (the actual thing in itself, unknown as to its true essence), Hick argues that at the center of all the axial religions (Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Buddhism) is the “Real”, the ultimate essence, the God, the creator, the source of all life or of enlightenment. Since the Real is not in the phenomenological world, then no religion can claim certain knowledge of who or what the Real is. Each religion is bound by cultural forms and structures and therefore the Real must be experienced within each of the different religions. This experience is not just any alleged experience, but rather an experience which produces certain types of behavior.
These behaviors can be instantiated in people’s lives who become more loving, humble, patient, etc. If the net result of the experience produces this type of “soul”, Hick argues that these kinds of experience cut through the cultural structures to reveal the essence of all faiths. Thus Hick argues that his view is not Exclusivistic for religion, nor is it syncrestic in that no religions mixes with any other in the phenomenological world. Seeing himself in the same vein as Mircea Eliade and Wilfred Cantwell Smith, Hick is driven by the justice of his cause. He argues that “In so far as such a resolution proves acceptable within the different traditions, it provides a basis for the mutual respect that is necessary for fruitful inter-faith dialogue and for practical collaboration in face of the common threats – of nuclear destruction, of North-South and East-West confrontations, of irreparable damage to the environment – that face the human family on this small and fragile planet.” (20)
Now while this paper is not a direct attack on the substance of differing Religious Pluralism arguments, I do want to give a few passing comments. Critics point out some major problems with Hick’s thesis. All of the axial religions truly believe that their view is right and true and not merely a cultural phenomenon.
Also many note that Hick’s position in some obvious way presumes some arguments that very much fit the Advaita Vedanta school of Hindu thought. This explains perhaps why Hick’s view is popular among scholars and lay people who are already involved with eastern/New age thought. I have met no orthodox Muslims or orthodox Jews or orthodox Christians who will accept his paradigm.
One last brief critique that I would add is that if Hick’s use of Kantian epistemology is accurate in describing the proper relation between the Real and the world’s religions, then many serious problems arise. If the Real has not communicated to us and we are incapable of seeing the Real in itself, then how do we know that we should live the life of saints? How do we know that any of our experiences are anything but individual experiences which might be explained in various ways without positing the unverifiable existence of an alleged real? In fact if the Real is in the noumenal realm and beyond our ken, then maybe we should kill our neighbor in an Islamic Jihad instead of loving our neighbor. Who is to say? Jeff Dahmer or Mother Theresa – eat the neighbor or love the neighbor – both have the same epistemic grounding assuming Hick’s epistemology. This however must be dealt with responsibly in a different project.
Joseph Campbell is best known for two of his books; The Power of Myth and The Hero of a Thousand Faces,. He has been a major influence on George Lucas and other new age luminaries. Describing Campbell’s view, Bill Moyers notes that:
“He found in the literature of faith those principles common to the human spirit. But they had to be liberated from tribal lien, or the religions of the world would remain – as in the Middle East and Northern Ireland today — the source of disdain and aggression. The images of God are many, he said, calling them ‘the masks of eternity’ that both cover and reveal ‘the Face of Glory’, He wanted to know what it means that God assumes such different masks in different cultures, yet how it is that comparable stories can be found in these divergent traditions…He liked the insight of the Hindu scripture: ‘Truth is one; the sages call it by many names.’ All our names and images for God are masks, he said, signifying the ultimate reality that by definition transcends language and art…(21)
In this statement we see his method of Religious Pluralism, that is, he looks behind the cultural mask to see the “ultimate reality”. We also see his motive in that faith must be liberated from “tribal lien” or customs and dogma, which he sees as the source of wars. I think another story about Campbell that Moyers tells is also interesting. “In Japan for an international conference on religion, Campbell overheard another American delegate, a social philosopher from New York, say to a Shinto Priest, ‘We’ve been now to a good many ceremonies and have seen quite a few of your shrines. But I don’t get your ideology. I don’t get your theology.’ The Japanese paused as though in deep thought and then slowly shook his head. ‘I think we don’t have ideology,’ he said. ‘We don’t have theology. We dance.’ And so did Joseph Campbell – to the music of the spheres.” (22)
In relating his theory about religion, Campbell argues that myths are energies in conflict with each other. Each culture has a mythic Christ or Messiah who is here to teach the perennial philosophy to each culture at different times.
This perennial philosophy can be summed up as the divine in all things, persons and places. The distinction here between Hick and Campbell is pronounced. While Hick’s borrowing of Advaita Vedantic principles is under the surface as it were, Campbell openly praises the eastern, mystical, and Native American religions and others which embrace the perennial philosophy in some way or fashion. Campbell also makes another move which is similar in some ways and distinct in others from Hick. He argues that God can’t be known in a cognitive sense. “I mean that whatever is ultimate is beyond the categories of being and nonbeing. Is it or is it not? As the Buddha is reported to have said: ‘it both is and is not; neither is, nor is not.’ God as the ultimate mystery of being is beyond thinking.” (23). So in this sense both views become immune from intellectual critique, as they are posited in a “safe” place. Much like Vedantic scholar Sankara, once cognition is abandoned mystical experience must be exalted as a new way of “knowing”, meditation instead of “mentation”. Why the mystical leap? In the earlier quote Campbell stated that groups which cling to their own particular myth, instead of “seeing” past the myth to the perennial philosophy, are the cause of war, etc, etc. Our failure to get along is our lack of enlightenment as to the true nature of things. While appears quite often in New Age literature, it is found in Vedic or Sanskrit literature dating back thousands of years. Hence the name “perennial philosophy”. Campbell believed that if the groups would only see the oneness of all things and the divinity of all things, then the world would be “saved”. Campbell describes this monistic pantheism in this way :
“We spoke of the metaphysical experience in which you realize that you and the other are one. Ethics is a way of teaching you how to live as though you were one with the other. You don’t have to have the experience because the doctrine of the religion gives you molds of actions that imply a compassionate relationship with the other. It offers an incentive for doing this by teaching you that simply acting in your own self-interest is sin. That is identification with your body.
(Moyers) Love thy neighbor as thyself because the neighbor is thyself.
(Campbell) That is what you have learned when you have done so.” (24)
This solipsism of the other into the self is distinct from Hick in that Campbell is describing a practical and ethical pluralism based on an ontological reality. The Religious Pluralism principle is then an ethical and practical way of working out the true nature of the universe.
A few passing comments are in order here. Like Hick, Campbell posits a religious experience which is by definition unverifiable and is often ineffable. How does one unverifiable experience have any more weight than another? One person says she “saw” the divine and “knew” that she was to love everyone and another person “saw” the divine and “knew” that he should kill all “bad” women! If experience and autonomy are the only standards, then how can Campbell say that war is wrong, or any other alleged evil in the world? Time honored proponents of the “perennial philosophy” such as Sankara knew that the only way to posit a non- dualistic reality is to claim that this world and all its experiences are Maya – the dream, the illusion. Krishna clearly teaches this in the Gita. Good and evil, war and peace, and all other experiences are nothing but an illusion and do not incite to remedy them, but rather to learn their true nature and ignore them. (25) The third prominent writer is Huston Smith, considered by many the pre-eminent comparative scholar on world religions. Smith is an interesting study in himself as he practices many rituals and practices from numerous world religions. In one sense one can say that he literally practices what he preaches. He states that:
“When, then, a lone spirit of success in breaking through to major conquests here, it becomes more than a king or queen. It becomes a world redeemer. Its impact stretches for millennia, blessing the tangled course of history for centuries. ‘Who are…the greatest benefactors of the living generation of mankind?’ Toynbee asked. ‘I should say: ‘Confucius and Laotze, the Buddha, the Prophets of Israel and Judah, Zoraster, Jesus, Mohammed and Socrates’” (26)
Smith is passionately motivated to see this viewpoint enacted. He preaches, “But if we take those religions seriously, we need not fail miserably. And to take them seriously we need do only two things. First, we need to see their adherents as men and women who faced problems much like our own. And second, we must rid our minds of all preconceptions that could dull our sensitivity or alertness to fresh insights.
If we lay aside our preconceptions about these religions, seeing each as forged by people who were struggling to see something that would give help and meaning to their lives; and if we then try without prejudice to see ourselves what they saw – if we do these things, the veil that separates us from them can turn to gauze.” (27) He goes go to argue that science has armed the human race, and that the “flames of fear, suspicion, and prejudice” are a threat to our very existence. His is a cry for a common humanity, not based on a singular reality, qua Campbell, but rather on a common necessity. The world is a dangerous place and only love can fix it. Jesus told us the Golden Rule and so did the Buddha. Therefore we must echo their statements so that the world will survive. Smith takes a very pragmatic view on the world religions. Rituals and rites then are the particular language of a given culture and therefore by definition are culturally bound. The loving view is to see the common teaching of all the great religious teachers, and strive for that commonality.
While I find Smith’s passion impressive and understand the motivation, there again are several problems which can only be mentioned here. The most basic problem is that only by omission can Smith try and make a case that the religions share these wonderful common themes. The opposite case is much easier to make. For example, Islam believes that Hinduism (and Christianity for that matter) systematically commits the greatest blasphemy possible -shirk—the ascribing of divinity to any created thing. Idol worship by definition is an affront to Allah and must be eradicated. Hinduism, and this is in danger of being a gross simplification, believes that bhakti, or devotion to the god/goddess through dedication to the representative idol, is the greatest marga or path that one can take. Here are two of the world’s greatest religions historically and numerically and yet they agree on virtually nothing. And historically they have fought for over a thousand years. To steal a quip, if only these Hindus and Muslims would act like proper Christians! But that is the point – they are what they are. And Smith admits early in his work that he deliberately avoids all the things in the different world religions that he knows are provocative and destructive. Is this really a fair way to treat any world religion, by creating a sanitized version and then pronouncing it homogenous and good. More on this will be raised later.
In all three views some common themes are persistent; the world is in trouble and so we must postulate a common religion/ethic/practice in order to save it. At the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, Robert Muller, former asst. secretary General of the United Nations and self-described Ambassador for World Peace, addressed the opening gathering with three general themes. The first is that we are all one. The second is that we are all God. And the third is that we have to do something about those “fundamentalists”. (28) Each pointed theme was given a thunderous ovation. The interesting observation is that even the definition of toleration has changed and this comes out as well. The old fashioned notion of tolerance was some version of acknowledgement that we have different points of view, but that we can deal respectfully with each other. The new version is that we must go beyond that mere ‘tolerance” to something much better – true Religious Pluralism. The twist is more than semantics. It involves a mindset that, like Muller above, is actually the birth of a new exclusivism and therein lies the motivation for this project. The great irony is that it is often the loudest, most vociferous voices crying for pluralism, that are the most strident in their language toward anyone, especially Christians, that would disagree with them.
Several illustrations will point this out. In an article entitled “Religious Diversity: Some implications for monotheism” the Buddhist and Feminist author Rita Gross, argues that “Claims for a unique and universal truth, frequent among monotheists, can become quite specific and overwhelmingly exclusive, excluding everyone even slightly different from ‘us’ from felicity and long-term well-being. Such religious ethnocentrism truly parallels racial, ethnic, class, and gender chauvinisms and is, unfortunately, frequently combined with them by those who dislike diversity.” (29) The basic theme of her argument is that since monotheistic claims tend to be exclusive, then by definition monotheists are ethnocentric and chauvinistic.
On a website entitled Religioustolerance.org, they talk about freedom of religion for all believers, provided they stay within “reasonable limits”. In their summation on this site they spell this out. Number one on the list is that “criticism of religious beliefs is not acceptable”. Does this mean that evangelism is not allowed in any direction because by definition involves sharing contrary ideas? To state that the world is round is by definition an affront to those who believe it is flat. In the Global Ethic document, written by Catholic theologian Hans Kung and presented to the Parliament of World Religions, Kung makes the following statement; “Of course, religions are credible only when they eliminate those conflicts which spring from the religions themselves, dismantling mutual arrogance, mistrust, prejudice, and even hostile images, and thus demonstrate respect for the traditions, holy places, feasts, and rituals of people who behave differently.” (30) Ted Turner, owner of CNN, recently spoke before the United Nations and shared his “conversion” story from Christianity to a more “open” view. He said it was the exclusive claim of Christianity that chased him out. He goes on to argue that all ways to God are legitimate and it doesn’t matter which one you take. But this is the same man who said a few years ago that Christianity was a religion for “losers”.
In a message last year from a local Methodist pastor, he praised the openness of the liberal church, the tolerance that he thought should be the earmark of “real” Christianity. But in describing the evangelical that he was arguing with, the language is stunning. His foil was “narrow”, “infantile”, “immature”, “deluded”, “unimaginative”, “pabulum”, “judgmental”, “self-righteous bigots”, “backward”, “mean-spirited”, “hands covered with blood”, “repressive”, and all in five pages! (31) I know I could “feel the love” and his acceptance. This is seemingly the only safe prejudice left. Orthodox Christianity, “fundamentalism”, or the “religious right” apparently is the only path that does not make it to the crest of the hill. The Christian faith is the only spoke on the wheel that does not make it to the hub. It is the only part of the elephant which in fact is not a part of the elephant. In numerous articles and letters that I have, Christians are hateful, fascists, Nazis, responsible for burning of black churches, responsible for O.J. Simpson’s murder of his wife, the Holocaust and as best I can tell the Alamo, the sinking of the Titanic, and fall of the Roman Empire!. The interesting thing is that these accusations are hurled by those who proclaim themselves tolerant, open-minded, and Religious Pluralists!
A website run by the Interfaith Alliance, describes itself as a “non-partisan, faith-based organization with supporters from over 50 faith traditions, including Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and Jews. We are dedicated to promoting the positive role of religion as a healing and constructive force in politics and in public life…The Interfaith Alliance organizes people of faith to promote shared religious values: compassion, civility, and mutual respect for diversity and human dignity.” (32) In the same page the Alliance states that they “challenge those who manipulate religion and promote an extreme political agenda based on a false gospel…” (33) The Religious right has a whole page, with highlighted sections for Religious Political Extremists, including the Christian Coalition, the Eagle Forum, Focus on the Family, and all of the rest of the usual suspects. The Alliance intones that “Any movement that seeks ’one true faith’ as a national panacea to the complex problems facing society undermines the integrity of our democracy and threatens principles inherent to the strength of our nation…”(34) The irony of the page is stunning.
Another example of the same mind set can be found on the page from a group called The Blue Mountain Working Group. Their message entitled “A Call to Defend Democracy and Pluralism” has entire paragraphs with lists of synonyms, none too kind, of the religious right. They summarize them by calling the religious right the “anti-democratic right”. We are told that the religious right are “troubled” by critical thinking, cultural diversity and dissent.. They are moralistic, self-righteous and sanctimonious. They demagogue and demonize. They are fascists and racists. In one rather poignant paragraph they state: “We share a sense of urgency. Time is of the essence. We must stop the hard right anti-democratic backlash movement before it inflicts more damage on our society. In defending democracy and pluralism we must refrain from using the same polarizing techniques of scapegoating, demonization, and demagoguery that have been so successful for the anti-democratic right.” (35) The hypocrisy is evident even in the same paragraph, let alone the rest of the article. There is much more but the inconsistency is dramatic. Everyone is accepted and welcomed as allies, except for those on the other side of the political and religious fence.
One Canadian Bishop righteously intones that the Christian church must change its tune. “The problem with exclusivism is that it presents us with a god from whom we need to be delivered, rather than the living God who is the hope of the world,” writes Ingham. “The exclusivist god is narrow, rigid and blind…Such a god is not worthy of honor, glory, worship or praise.” (36)
I could repeat examples ad infinitum, but I think the point is clear. Pluralists seem to have this nasty tendency to attack exclusivism, in particular orthodox Christians. Exclusivists by definition see themselves as being involved in the true religion or faith. Other religions then, again by definition are seen as false. To the proponents of Religious Pluralism this is anathema. This presents the Religious Pluralist with a logical dilemma. The Pluralist asserts that all religions are “right” in some sense. The exclusivist, be they Muslim, Christian, Theraveda Buddhist or any other group, asserts that their group alone is right. The Pluralist must then deny the religious claim of a particular group in order to maintain their pluralism. So they in affect must deny their basic premise to assert their basic premise!
Two personal examples will show the point. In attempting to evangelize people in the New Age, I have been screamed at, cussed at, spit at, had spells cast at me, etc. all by the most tolerant, open-minded people in the world. Just ask them. In the quest for tolerance I have been asked not to ask questions, not to attend meetings and been followed by a security guard at a Psychic Fair. Signs were put up anticipating my involvement in these types of events, threatening to throw anyone out who tried to “proselytize”. So much for open-mindedness. Another time I was on a radio interview discussing Wicca, the religion of witchcraft. After talking about Wicca and what I believe are its serious problems, a witch called the show and proceeded to attack the host and myself for being narrow minded, bigoted, intolerant, mean spirited, and so on and so on. The host of the show tried to calm the caller down and said, “Let me get this straight. You believe that all religions are right, that each person can choose to believe whatever they want and that no one has the right to criticize anyone else’s beliefs” He was ecstatic. “Yes that is exactly what I believe”. The host went on. “O.K. I believe that Jesus Christ is the only way to salvation and that all other religions are the work of the Devil and will lead people to hell. Am I wrong?” There was silence for a moment, in which you could almost imagine the caller biting his tongue not to respond in the affirmative. “You’re arrogant!” he yelled. “That is not what I asked you. Am I wrong? The caller hung up. The only way he could respond in the manner he truly believed would force him to contradict his pluralistic platitudes that he has used as an hammer to beat the mean, nasty exclusivists with.
There is no logical response to the problem. To assert pluralism about religion requires one to totalize all other exclusive positions. At least the exclusivists are honest about it, well most of them. The Pluralists want to have it both ways. Exclusivism is wrong but all exclusive religions are still “right”? You can see why Hick and Campbell and Smith have to turn to a non-cognitive mystical approach to make sense of their systems. But in all these cases the cure is worse than the disease and in fact in some ways does the same kind of arrogant posturing of which the open exclusivists are accused. To resort to non-cognition undermines even the passionate, cognitive argument for pluralism. To posit Maya, as the screen for the true underlying reality, has the net effect of denying ethics en toto, historically and theoretically. To point everyone to an alleged “Real” which does not communicate with creation and even if the Real did, then one can only assume the Real is schizophrenic at best, seems to be no help in any way.
The Reverend Bear intones, “Let us all give praise, for ours is the one true faith:”. A rabbit parishioner responds, “Pardon me, but the very essence of faith is a belief in the existence of something that can’t be proven. So, naturally everyone believes their faith is the ‘right’ one…this means all faiths equally valid, giving no one the right to claim any religious superiority…so let’s just practice our faith in the time honored tradition of religious tolerance.” Reverend Bear ponders the response and then eats the rabbit. In mid chew he spouts “thay – urp – hawayooya!!” Non-Sequitar cartoon. 1998
What then is a possible solution? One of the biggest consequences of Religious Pluralism’s nasty habit of denuding religious beliefs that do not fit within their neat tidy Procrustean bed of liberal democracy, is that the particular religion in itself ceases to exist. It becomes a shadow created for a different agenda by those not participating in the religion. By contrast it seems that the really important questions raised by religions world wide, are the normative claims of truth and the metaphysical claims of reality, and the ethics that are derived from them. Did Mohammed really rise from Jerusalem to slice the Moon with his scimitar? Did the Buddha really encounter an evil demon who attempted to stop Gautama in his quest for enlightenment? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? These are examples of the normative approach to the study of world religions. The fact that there are contrasting claims are part of what makes the study of religion so critically important. The mere fact that there are many potential answers to the question “2 + 2 =? , does not logically follow to the conclusion that all answers must be right!
The metaphysical claims of life after death, the existence of a personal creator versus an impersonal force, meaning in life, etc, are also critical. What if one of the exclusivist claims is correct? What if Heaven or Hell does depend on choices made in this life? Pascal wrestled with this question and deemed it “The question people must wrestle with.” Whether one agrees with Pascal or not, isn’t the question worthy of serious discussion and thought? Pluralism denies the need for even a cursory look, other than to condescend to observe the exclusivist in their native mean spirited state.
The ethical claims also are more than critical. As mentioned before, the price tag of Maya is ethical suicide. That all three of the best-known proponents of Religious Pluralism must posit Maya in some sense in order to make their theory
work and since it is motivated as a result of ethical dilemmas, it commits intellectual suicide. Many university professors can tell stories of students who are so thoroughly relativistic and pluralistic in all areas, that they feel that criticizing Hitler and the Nazi’s is worse than the actual Holocaust itself! The only “sin” in a pluralist ethic is intolerance. Tolerance is not the cure, but the acceptance and affirmation of all beliefs, no matter how repulsive or immoral by formerly universal standards, and so must be “decreed” into existence.
It is also interesting to note that the birthplace of Western Religious Pluralism is Liberal Christianity or its synonyms. There is a doctrinal issue at stake here. As William Lane Craig points out “Universalism is thus the raison d’etre for the response of openness to religious diversity thought to be required by post-modernist thinkers. Total openness and religious relativism spring from an abhorrence of Christian particularism.” (37) This Exclusivistic claim is the most hated one in the literature. I rarely read about Islam’s exclusivity or Theraveda Buddhism’s despisal of Mahayana Buddhism, or even the recent dispute among Tibetan Buddhists denouncing other types of Tibetan Buddhist. This ought to cause one to ponder as to why this is. And as Winfred Corduan points out, once you remove the truth claims there is really no reason for dialogue. So the one absolutely sure object of knowledge is that there is no truth. That thought forces one to deny the laws of logic and to deny reality.
The real interesting questions of religion are ones of passion precisely because they do incite such passions. For all the intellectual joys of a chess match, a soccer game in Europe is much more interesting if for no other reason that it inspires millions of people to act passionately! Surely that kind of passion is worth discussion. None give their lives as martyrs over the preference of Grey Poupon or Mayonnaise. It is precisely the questions that religions raise, and competing truth claims among those religions, that makes the study of religion one of the most important areas of study historically. It is the paradox of the modern academic arena that while universities increasingly have to hire security guards for events, require pledges from students not to cheat, and threaten faculty members to keep them from sexual contact with students, that the study of religion, with all its potential bounty, is given short shrift.
1) Rita M. Gross, “Religious Diversity: Some Implications for Monotheism.” Http://www.crosscurrents.org/gross. Html.
2) Gordon D. Kaufman, “Evidentialism: A Theologians Response,” Faith and Philosophy 6 (1989): 40. My thanks to William Lane Craig for this citation in her article “Politically Incorrect Salvation,” Leadership University.
3) Peter Harrison, Radio National Encounter with Florence Spurling. “Religious Pluralism”, 06-06-99. Http://www.abc.net.au/rn/relig/enc/stories/s28504.html
4) John Hick, An Interpretation of Religion. Yale University Press. New Haven and London.1989. P. 9. For a defense of Hick against some of his critics see Sumner B. Twiss, “The Philosophy of Religious Pluralism: A Critical Appraisal of Hick and His Critics.” The Journal of Religion, Oct 1990. 70: 533-568.
5) Gregory Koukl, “Religious Pluralism”, Stand to Reason Commentary. Http://str.org/free/commentaries/apologetics/comparisons/replural.html.
6) Diane L. Eck. “Challenge of Pluralism”, Nieman Reports “God in the Newsroom” Issue, Vol.XLVII. No. 2, Summer 1993. Http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~pluralsm/html/aricle-cop.html.
7) Samuel P. Huntington. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Touchstone Books. New York, NY 1996.
8) Harold A. Netland. Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth. Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1991. As reviewed by Roger S. Greenway in Trinity Journal Book Reviews P.226.
9) Huston Smith. The World’s Religions. HarperSanFrancisco. San Francisco, CA 1991. P.2
10) Austin Ruse. “Turner attacks Christianity at U.N. ‘Peace Summit’. August 30. 2000 Http://www.newsmax.com/aricles/?a 00/8/29/192330.
11) Audrey Thompson. “Radicalizing Pluralism”. Philosophy of Education. 1992 Http://www.ed.uiuc.edu/eps/pes-yearbook/92_docs/thompson.html.
12) Ibid – Thompson.
13) Victor H. Kazanjian Jr. ed. “Education as Transformation: Religious Pluralism, Spirituality, and a New Vision for Higher Education in America. Religious Life October 25,2000. Http://www.wellesley.edu/rellife/transformation/resource1.html.
14) Diane Eck. “From Religious Diversity to Religious Pluralism.” Education as Transformation. Religious Life. Http://www.wellesley.edu/rellife/transformation/gathering/8.html.
15) Susan Laemmie. “From Religious Diversity to Religious Pluralism”. Education as Transformation. Religious Life. Http://www.wellesley.edu/rellife/transformation/resource1.html.
16) William Metzger. “Toward a New Spiritual World Order?” The Quest. Winter 1993
17) Ibid – Gross
18) John Hick. “Religious Pluralism and the Rationality of Religious Belief”. Faith and Philosophy 10(2): 247. April 1993. My thanks to Carl Severance for this reference.
19) Ibid – Hick. An Interpretation of Religion. P.xv
20) Ibid – Hick. P. xv
21) Joseph Campbell. The Power of Myth. Doubleday. New York, NY P.xvii
22) Ibid – Campbell. P.xix
23) Ibid – Campbell. P. 62
24) Ibid –Campbell P. 225
25) For an elaborate discussion of this point, see the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Commentary by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Los Angeles, CA. 1994 Especially Arjuna’s dilemma in Chapter 2.
26) Ibid – Smith. P.9
27) Ibid – Smith P. 11
28) Based on meeting I attended at the Parliament.
29) Ibid – Gross
30) Hans Kung. “A Global Ethic”. Handout – 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions. Chicago, IL
31) Message given by Rev. Charles Schuster. October 1999
32) The Interfaith Alliance Website. Http://www.interfaithalliance.org/aboutus/aboutus.html.
33) Ibid – Interfaith Alliance
34) Ibid – Interfaith Alliance
35) The Blue Mountain Working Group. “A Call to Defend Democracy and Pluralism.” November 1994. Http://www.nwcitizen.com/publicgood/reports/bluemtn.html.
36) Terry Mattingly. “Can today’s church veto the Saints?” Washington Bureau. Scripps Howard News Service. October 8,1998.
37) Ibid – William Lane Craig
Religious Epistemology and the Kantian Revolution
This paper will survey the beliefs of several theologians from within the Christian tradition, with a view towards their outlook on religious epistemology. The paper will take special note on how the Kantian revolution, sparked by the views of David Hume, caused a definitive switch in theological understanding between the pre and post-Kantian thinkers.
The question of theological epistemology seems to me to be the central issue of doing a theological system. All other questions seem derivative from the different bases which theologians’ uses to ground their theological systems. Epistemology in general is the framework from which we discuss how one knows what one claims to know. Historically, things like experience, rationality, memory, perception and other “tools” have been used as a foundation or basis for knowledge. In recent times however, the question of knowledge and foundations have fallen out of favor among postmodern thinkers. The question of religious epistemology in particular seems to even more troubling. Do we know what we know because of religious authorities, scriptural texts, direct experiences, perception and the rest, or do we have special categories like “faith” which is not-grounded by any normal epistemic means? Is theology merely constructed as a human enterprise or should our theologies be driven by human knowledge gains in the sciences and humanities? Does the question of particularly Christian religious epistemology make this even more difficult to solve? Can just any theology be tagged “Christian” regardless of its assumptions and conclusions?
This paper will survey these types of questions as they have been answered by numerous theologians from the past and present. The grand divide of the theological traditions seem to be driven by the philosophical tsunami caused by two giants in philosophy, David Hume and Immanuel Kant. Their contributions to the epistemological debate at large set in motion drastic and seemingly lasting changes in theological development. The paper will show how this happened and give a brief response to the Kantian epistemological move as it has presented itself in theological arenas.
The first theologian to be surveyed is Augustine, Bishop of Hippo (352-430 A.D.) Augustine’s conversion story is perhaps one of the more famous stories of the ancient world and he wrote volumes on theology and doctrine. In his famous debate with the British monk Pelagius, Augustine sets out in “On Nature and Grace” his views on the subject of Christian perfection, focusing on the questions of free will, grace and the role of works in salvation. There are several interesting things to note about the debate between the two. Both of them considered themselves to be well within the Catholic tradition. Neither had any interest in being seen as schismatic. Both men, even though deeply opposed to each other in the issues that the paper focused on, both saw their teachings on the subject from within the Scriptural and traditional understanding by earlier church fathers on the subject. It is noted in the introduction that Pelagius even quotes an earlier work by Augustine that seemed to be in Pelagius’ favor! This is all characteristic of their approaches to religious epistemology. For Augustine the word of God was central to the question of how one does theology. The word of God was accompanied by what is usually called the Apostolic tradition. This was seen as the teachings of the Apostles as handed down from one generation of disciples to another. The question of whether the Apostolic tradition was on an equal par with the Scripture is a fun one for another paper on another day. But both Pelagius and Augustine quote numerous church fathers to support their positions in the discussion. For example, Augustine notes that Pelagius quotes the Bishop of Rome Xystus as saying “God has allowed men the freedom of their will, so that by living in purity and without sin they may become like unto God.” (Halton 1992, 82) Augustine later argues that this quote “were really the words of Sextus the philosopher, not of Xystus the Christian” (Halton 1992,82) The truth of that claim has been debated back and forth and while it is interesting to note its place in the debate, more germane to this paper is the fact that Augustine was attacking Pelagius on the basis that non-Christian philosophers were not part of the discussion. They had no authority to speak on the issue.
Augustine quotes the scriptures numerous times in the discussion. One can count over a hundred references to the scriptures in “On Nature and Grace”. In his conclusion of this discussion Augustine gives some references to his attitude towards the scripture. In 69.83 he says “Thus it is said, ‘and his commandments are not heavy’, so that whoever should consider that the inspired (emphasis added) statement that they ‘are not heavy’ could only mean that there is a disposition of heart…” It is clear that Augustine’s argument depends on his understanding that the scriptures are inspired, as taught by the Apostle Paul and referenced in other places in Augustine’s writings. Right after that quote he states “Concerning what is said to Israel in Deuteronomy, if we interpret it with piety, with veneration, and in a spiritual sense, this text has the same meaning.” One can argue over his allegorical reading of Deuteronomy, but it is clear that it has authority for him.
Augustine also faults Pelagius for his misinterpretations of the scripture. He comments in 19.21 that “how Pelagius tries to present human nature as if it were entirely without fault and how, against the clearest of evidence of God’s scriptures, he prefers that ‘wisdom of speech’…”. It is obvious that Augustine holds that scripture is an arbiter of the discussion. Augustine’s attitude toward the miraculous also comes up in this debate, although it is not the central focus of the discussion. In 26.29 he says “But God himself, when, through the ‘one mediator of God and men, the man Christ Jesus,’ he spiritually heals a sick person or raises a dead one, that is, justifies the ungodly.” While it is clear that it is not the focus of what he is saying, it is also clear that he uses one and arguably two examples of supernatural events, a resurrection and (more problematically) a healing to buttress his argument from analogy. He refers to the physical existence of Adam and Eve in 37.44, and their children in 38.45. He refers to God creating man in 43.50. And of course in his numerous other works he cites many miracles from the scriptures.
One can also point the limited role of reason for Augustine. His famous credo “I believe that I might understand” is illustrated in the volume under discussion. For example, in 58.68 he says “Consequently, if we think rightly, we ought to be grateful…” He earlier refers repeatedly to the necessity of being led by the Spirit. Are these contradictory notions for Augustine? It seems that his understanding of the two was that the Spirit, speaking through the scriptures, adjusted, corrected and admonished the reason of a person, requiring the person to adjust her thinking to be in line with what God had revealed in the scriptures, and what had been “faithfully” repeated by the Fathers in good standing. He reprimands Pelagius for “thinking outside the scriptural box” as it were.
In summary on Augustine, for him scriptural authority in connection with the faithful statements (deemed faithful for their adherence to scriptures – but again that is a discussion for another day!) of the earlier disciples, set the limits of his understanding of Christian religious epistemology. He does not refer to mystical experiences, non-Christian philosophers or to the impossibility of miracles and or supernatural events as part of his argumentation.
The next thinker we turn to is Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274 A.D.) One of the more prolific writers and thinkers in history, Aquinas “the dumb ox” is still studied seriously in secular and Christian contexts all over the world. In Book One of his Summa Contra Gentiles, he notes that the goal of philosophy (indistinguishable in many ways from theology in his day) should be:
“So it is that, according to His own statement, divine Wisdom testifies that He has assumed flesh and come into the world in order to make the truth known:
‘For this was I born, and for this I came into the world, that I should give testimony to the truth.’ (John 18:37). The Philosopher himself establishes that first philosophy is the science of truth, not of any truth, but of that truth which is the origin of all truth, namely, which belongs to the first principle whereby all things are”. (Aquinas 1975, 60)
For Aquinas then even his philosophical statement about truth contains his view of the supernatural or miraculous – “divine Wisdom assumed flesh”. He also states that:
“There is a two fold mode of truth in what we profess about God. Some truths about God exceed all the ability of the human reason. Such is the truth that God is triune. But there are some truths which the natural reason also is able to reach. Such are that God exists, that He is one, and the like. In fact, such truths about God have been proved demonstratively by the philosophers, guided by the light of the natural reason.” (Aquinas 1975, 61)
Much more so than Augustine, Aquinas elevates the role of reason as a potential source of basic knowledge, often called general revelation. In assimilating Aristotle, Aquinas added a whole new potential area for mining “truth”. For him, the truths that could be ascertained by reason provided, much like for Clement and Origin in an earlier age, a way for Gentiles to be “prepared” for the Gospel. Earlier Catholic theologians had postulated that Greek philosophy had served the same role for Gentiles that the Old Testament had for Jews. Aristotle had provided the basis for what Aquinas would call the “five ways”, or proofs for the existence of God. Aquinas sees this as an example of what the Apostle Paul was referring to in Romans 1:20 where he says “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes. His eternal power and divine nature have been clear seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.”
This expansion of the role of reason for Aquinas was never however to be seen in competition with the place of scripture and church tradition. It is an additional light and can give knowledge of some things, but never replaces scripture. Scripture for Aquinas serves a role “beyond” reason. Reason accordingly can only take a person to a certain point, but beyond this point scripture must take over. He states that:
“For these ‘secrets of divine Wisdom’ (Job 11:6) the divine Wisdom itself, which knows all things to the full, has deigned to reveal to men. It reveals its own presence, as well as the truth of its teaching and inspiration, by fitting arguments; and in order to confirm those truths that exceed natural knowledge”. (Aquinas 1975, 66)
Truths from scripture are then of a higher order than truths known through reason. Like Augustine, Aquinas uses argumentation from the scriptures to make his points. The role of reason is used by Aquinas both in ordinary argumentation and in preparation for reception of the Gospel.
Aquinas’ attitude towards the miraculous is also clear. On page 72 of the Summa, he affirms the raising of the dead, miraculous healings, supernatural gifts of knowledge, and acknowledges that the books of the ancient prophets and newer prophets are held in “veneration”. As with Augustine, Aquinas saw no contradiction at all between the supernatural and the power of human reason. He did elevate reason above the role given to it by Augustine, but in both cases faith in what the scriptures revealed was given the ultimate role. Neither man argued from mystical experiences nor did they appeal to mere sensory data. But both believed the scriptural accounts as given and that these accounts were neither fairy tales nor parables in general, but rather actual accounts of what occurred in the real world of space and time.
The next thinker we will look at is Martin Luther (1483-1546). Considered by most as the initiator of the reformation, Luther changed the western world by his opposition of papal authority and teachings. In his Bondage of the Will, he debates the Catholic humanist scholar Erasmus over the issue of free will and predestination. Much like Augustine and Pelagius, Luther and Erasmus’s discussion over free will in set in terms of what the scriptures, the church Fathers, and human reason as guided by the scriptures, actually teaches. Where Luther and Erasmus part company, is the use of reason as guided by human thinking alone. By this I mean in contrast with the attitude of Aquinas, who as we saw before thought that reason could bring pagans along the right path, but not the whole way. Erasmus was very much in line with Aquinas on this point. He had studied the classics and thought that there was much to offer there. By extreme contrast, Luther saw unaided reason as a “whore”. In the same vein as Tertullian, (What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?) Luther lashed out at Erasmus and argued that only the scriptures can teach the church properly. He states:
“My doctrines are fortified with mighty Scripture proofs; now, if there is anyone who has not drunk so deep of them and is not so firmly attached to them as to be impervious to the trivial, nonsensical arguments which Erasmus puts up, …no reply from me can put him right…To those who have drunk in the Spirits’ teaching in my books, we have given enough…But it is not surprising if those who read without the Spirit are tossed hither and thither, as a reed is tossed by every wind that blows.” (Luther 1957, 63)
Luther is driven by the authority of the Sacred Scriptures. Contrary to both of our earlier thinkers, Luther does not uphold church tradition in the same authoritative manner. He does however quote many of the fathers, especially Augustine, to prove his arguments. But his constant theme is “What do the scriptures say?”
Luther faults Erasmus several times for his willingness to go to sceptics for “evidence”. For example he says “There you said that you would take up the Sceptics’ position if the inviolable authority of Holy Scripture and the Church’s decisions permitted you to do so, so little do you like assertions”. (Luther 1957, 66) Luther responds to this kind of argument and to the argument given by Augustine and Aquinas when he says:
“Is it not enough to have submitted your judgment to Scripture? Do you submit to the Church as well? – why, what can the Church settle that Scripture did not settle first?…What is this new-fangled religion of yours, this novel sort of humility, that by your own example, you would take from us power to judge men’s decisions and make us defer uncritically to human authority? Where does God’s written Word tell us to do that?” (Luther 1957, 69)
In this statement you see the heart of the Protestant Reformation’s idea of Sola Scriptura – only the scriptures are authoritative, standing over both human reason and church authority. This statement also shows his attitude towards Catholic mysticism, even though he was quite taken with some of it, in particular Eckhart. But whatever mysticism claimed to show, it was not to be seen in any way as authoritative as the Holy Scriptures revealed by God. In Bondage of the Will, Luther cites literally hundreds of scriptures to back up his view on the predestination/free will argument. Over and over again he challenges Erasmus to submit his view to the Scriptures and therefore change his position. Luther believes the Scriptures are truer then anything we might think or believe. He states “The Holy Spirit is no Sceptic, and the things He has written in our hearts are not doubts or opinions but assertions – surer and more certain than sense and life”. (Luther 1957, 70)
Another central point for Luther is this discussion is the centrality of the role of Jesus Christ. Luther repeatedly notes how Erasmus’ discussions of God’s love and mercy have no mention of the role of Christ. Even a Jew or a Gentile could write that says Luther. This is critical because like Aquinas here, whatever it is that man could know, they could not know of Jesus through reason, but only through the revealed word of God concerning him.
Luther’s attitude towards the Scriptural accounts is marked throughout this work and his many others. While he “reasons” and “adduces” his way through the Scriptures, he clearly believes that the accounts recorded in the Scriptures are true accounts, reported by eye witnesses and faithfully written down under inspiration by the Holy Spirit. His invite to Erasmus is to put aside human unaided reason and do the same.
What is important in the work of Augustine, Aquinas and Luther is to see their commonality and their differences. The distinctions between their positions are all “in-house debates” as it were, discussions between the proper role of faith and reason, the limits of reason, the proper role of church authority and so on. The issue that does not come up is doubting the Scriptures themselves. For all three Scripture is given the highest role in all their theologies, and none questioned the authority nor the veracity of the records. We could multiply numerous other Christian theologians of the first 1700 years of the church and find the same attitude. In many cases even the heretics tried to argue from the scriptural accounts, showing even more that the miraculous worldview of the Bible was not seen as contradictory to reason or to experience. They did not argue for the resurrection, rather they argued from the resurrection. That one could call oneself a Christian and deny the miracles recorded in the Bible was simply unthinkable. Those who did were deemed non Christians. The foils of Augustine and Luther, Pelagius and Erasmus, were not attacked because of their denial of scriptural authority, rather it was their poor understanding of what the scriptures said that caused the discussions in view here. Christian theology, properly understood, was theology based on the Scriptural accounts, which were in line with reason and experience. These historical events dictated their theology. These events were recorded by eyewitnesses and protected by the Holy Spirit. But all Gehenna breaks out in the Enlightenment and Christian theology is about to undergo wrenching changes.
While there is much to say about what happens in the Enlightenment, sufficient for this paper is a brief introduction and then focusing on Hume and Kant. Early in the enlightenment period thinkers like Descartes are moving away from Papal authority, and Scriptural authority as well. For them human reason is a sufficient and trustworthy guide to knowledge. Descartes’ view on epistemology was that empirical facts of any kind are not trustworthy. Our senses are too easily fooled. A stick “appears” to bend under water or when shaken. Therefore we are to trust reason. In what many philosophers note as the “Cartesian circle” Descartes promotes reason as the only sure way to know anything, and then later sneaks God in to protect and insure that our reason will not be hindered by demons and the like. In reaction to Descartes and Aquinas as well, the Scotsman David Hume responds. Hume (1711 – 1776) in his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding sets out the empiricist response. Hume states that “the most lively thought is still inferior to the dullest sensation” (Hume 1988, 20). He argues that ideas only, and he means only, arise from previously experienced sensations of one sort or another. In direct contradiction to Descartes he states that:
“But though our thought seems to possess this unbounded liberty, we shall find, upon a nearer examination, that it is really confined within very narrow limits, and that all this creative power of the minds amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the sense and experience”. (Hume 1988, 21)
In this argument Hume believed that he had completely undermined not only rationalism per se, but also the grand arguments for God which had preoccupied the scholastic thinkers such as Aquinas, Anselm and others. One could not go beyond sense perception and call it knowledge. If all knowledge is based solely on sense experience and not on rational paradigms, then all talk of God is also problematic. He states “The idea of God, as meaning an infinitely intelligent, wise, and good Being, arises from reflecting on the operations of our own mind, and augmenting, without limit, those qualities of goodness and wisdom”. (Hume 1988, 22) He challenges those who dispute with him to provide evidence for God which is not based on human sources, by this meaning the airy castles built in the scholastic times. Not only had he nailed theology and rationalism, but as a side effect he undermines science as well. Without a proper understanding of causality which counts as knowledge, science is left in the same lurch as theology, building sand castles based on mere augmentation and inference and having no substance. For him speaking of cause and effect goes beyond the evidence we have at hand.
Waking from his “dogmatic slumber” by the challenge laid out by Hume, Immanuel Kant takes on the challenge to save knowledge and science from the skepticism so powerfully demonstrated by Hume. Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason agrees with Hume on the need for empirical demonstration in order for knowledge to be certain. He establishes two “arenas” as it were. The first is that of time and space (the real world) which consists of phenomenon, none of which can be known in themselves, but still can be measured. This arena is where knowledge is possible. The second arena is that of belief/faith. We can believe all sorts of things, as long as they are non-contradictory, but we cannot claim these things as knowledge. Kant argued that the human mind sees causal connections in the world because the mind has built in categories, which by nature divide and connect all perceived data. In this way Kant has “limited reason to make room for faith”. Hume’s critique on religion therefore does not obtain, because religion is not a matter of evidence or rational thinking, but rather it is a matter of faith, safe and secure from such trifling issues as reasons, evidence and so on. Kant had also rescued science by the use of the categories, which explain the connections that are so crucial to science. Another byproduct of Kant’s thought was his distinction between the phenomenon, which can be measured and “known”, and the noumena or thing-in-itself. Kant was sure that our minds controlled our perceptions via the categories, and so all our perceptual data was really distinguished by our minds. We can’t really know the thing as it really is. We can only know what our perceptions, shaped by the categories, tell us. In this way Kant established a precedent that one could separate what one thinks about God, from the reality of who or what God really is. This becomes a crucial point for thinkers like John Hick and Gordon Kaufman and others much later on. As we will see later on, I think that the Kantian “revolution” is very problematic in some key ways.
What is the net result of all this philosophical movement? I would argue that not only was the philosophical world dramatically changed but the theological world in many ways was devastated. For the Christian theologian, the world had been wiped clean and one had to find an entirely new way of doing ones craft. Shortly after Kant, two prominent thinkers showed what directions the effects were going to go. Friedrich Schliermacher reduced the faith to “a feeling of dependence”. Soren Kierkegaard talked about faith as the antithesis to reason or knowledge. Truth was subjective and faith had no connection to history. Already the schism was obvious. Whereas for people like Augustine, Aquinas and Luther, the question on faith and reason was which one was primary and which was secondary. After Hume/Kant, faith and reason are divorced and it is an ugly one at that. This has a dramatic effect on the other thinkers that we will look at. Without fail each one has to reconstitute Christianity in an entirely new way from its historical antecedents. Let us look at how each does that.
Rudolph Bultmann (1894-1976) takes the Kantian perspective that knowledge about the world is dependent upon what can be observed, that is through the scientific method. Much of his writing is at the same time as the Vienna Circle, the heart of Logical Positivism. He says this quite forcefully:
“We cannot use electric lights and radios and, in the event of illness, avail ourselves of modern medical and clinical means and at the same time believe in the spirit and wonder world of the New Testament. And if we suppose that we can do that ourselves, we must be clear that we can represent this as the attitude of Christian faith only by making the Christian proclamation unintelligible and impossible for our contemporaries”. (Bultmann 1984, 4)
Bultmann calls his project “demythologizing”, by which he meant that one needs to separate the “real” message of Christianity from the mythological world. He notes that “That is ‘mythological’ which cannot have happened, because it: (cannot be established in accordance with the general rules of science (Miracles are impossible)…” (Bultmann 1984, 125) His epistemology is based on his commitment to naturalism and existentialism. Science presents the world as it can be measured, and as it can be used. Here he is clearly dependent on Kant’s dual world scenario. The ancient mythological world is a pre-scientific world that no modern person could accept. The new hermeneutical approach releases the relevant and timeless message.
For Bultmann, like Kierkegaard and Barth, the events or facts of history are not part of the significance of the life of faith. History is then relative. This frees the message from the accidents of history and liberates the faith to its rightful place – that of being about the central problem of man’s existence. The issue is not about what happened in a mystical past, but rather how the event of existential faith shatters the brokenness of a person’s heart. The person is freed from their fallenness (in the Heideggerian sense) and from their self-suffiency which leads to pride. This for Bultmann is the existential encounter between God and a person. It is completely separated from the world of science. For him science has destroyed the mythological world. Grace from God comes and rescues the person from the world which he cannot control. This encounter brings about a radically new self understanding. The change is internal and world shattering. The Christian faith has no connection to the supernatural or mythological world. He notes that “Certainly, faith in its relation to its object is not provable. But as Herrmann already taught us, the fact that faith cannot be proved is precisely its strength.” (Bultmann 1984, 114) Here Kierkegaard’s influence is so clear. He had argued shortly after Kant, that faith could not be based on any historical event and Bultmann echoes that. So faith is free from the fetters of historical events or proof of any kind. This encounter is completely private between God and the person.
The next thinker we will look at is H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962). Niebuhr was also a neo-Kantian and this shows up prominently in his work. He pointed to two types of history, internal and external. God is separate from history and can only be known through revelation. But this revelation comes in history to a community. This is germane only to that community and is not necessarily applicable to other communities. But the fact that it is in history does not mean it is supernatural. Internal history related to Jesus is a decision to make him the Christ and Lord. Like Bultmann, this is entirely unrelated to actual events in history. He notes that:
“There is no continuous movement from an objective inquiry into the life of Jesus to a knowledge of him as the Christ who is our Lord. Only a decision of the self, a leap of faith, a metanoia or revolution of the mind can lead from observation to participation and from observed to lived history”. (Niebuhr 1941, 83)
In this passage Niebuhr makes the same leap from the non-miraculous actual state of the world into the world of faith, where the history is our history, shared by members of our community. Like Kierkegaard, Niebuhr values the personal aspect of internal history, because it gives value to lives. It makes subjects and selves out of objects and bodies. It is lived history instead of observed history. External history is cold, lifeless, and mechanical. It does not change the person. It does not provide stories that give value and memories that can shape a community. This emphasis on community distinguishes him from Bultmann’s stress on the individual. He argued that this internal historical leap must have an outward action that accompanies. In this he matches the existential leap with a commitment to his own version of the social gospel.
In both Bultmann and Niebuhr, one sees that their epistemological position is radically different from our earlier thinkers. Both are moved by their understanding of modern science to abandon any sense that the Scriptures contain actual accounts of miracles. In their case, this leads them to an subjectivist position where history and verifiable facts are in irrelevant to the “real” issue of Christianity; faith in the encounter between God and man. This enables them to “rescue” the Christian faith from its embarrassing past, and respond to the “cultural despisers” of their day; much like Schliermacher and Kierkegaard did in theirs. This also enables them to keep science and faith in conversation, with science ruling in its Kantian shaped sphere and faith ruling in its.
In some ways our next thinkers take the subjective leap for religious knowledge and understanding to a whole new level. Paul Tillich (1886-1965) based his theology on his own somewhat unique reading of Kant and in addition a heavy dose of Heidegger. Like Bultmann and Niebuhr, Tillich starts with the presupposition that the modern scientific world has reduced the supernatural world view to ashes and therefore Christianity has to be understood in an entirely new way. But science alone does not offer the right answers. Science/humanism, supernaturalism and all dualistic schemas all do not offer the right answers for him. For Tillich the question of what God is a preeminent one. This must be understood as “moving” between two opposite poles, that of eternal truth and our own temporal situation. He believed that the literal fundamentalist reading of scripture lead nowhere. He goes so far as to say that fundamentalism can be construed as “demonic”. He says:
“Fundamentalism fails to make contact with the present situation, not because it speaks from beyond every situation, but because it speaks from a situation of the past. It elevates something finite and transitory to infinite and eternal validity. In this respect fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents, and it makes them fanatical because they are forced to suppress elements of truth of which they are dimly aware”. (Tillich 1951, 3)
Tillich establishes what he calls the “method of correlation”. The correlation is between God and humans, in that God speak to the human situation according to whatever the questions are that have arisen from that situation. Revelation is not about the particular symbol but rather how God gives eternal answers which are beyond all symbolism. God then is the “ground of all being” in general and the “ground of my being” in particular. From Heidegger, Tillich gained the idea of God as Being, which is about all that is. The individual being or self is separate from the world and therefore is left to figure out its way in the world. Reason ultimately is inadequate to discover truths of the eternal because it is finite. When one is conflicted in that reason cannot adequately grasp the eternal, one must go beyond it Revelation. Reason does play a role within revelation and allows one to systematically explain; in as far as it can be explained. This leads one to a mystical experience with the infinite, which is unbounded, and ineffable to a certain degree. The mystical moment brings a sense of unity with God. Thus Jesus becomes a picture of this unity as a symbol because Jesus was united and chose to resist the temptation to seek out his own interests.
Jesus for Tillich is the ultimate symbol of the absolute Being or God, which is related in different Kantian categories such as causality, time and space. Potentiality and essences is Being-Itself. This ultimate expression of Kant’s episteme is found in the mysterium. This “mystical a-priori” is overlaid with the symbolic Christian message. God cannot be known and must only be experienced in mystical experience. Like Bultmann, Tillich sees the existential state of humans as the key issue. Taking the concept of “fallenness” or thrownness from Heidegger, Tillich postulates the idea of “tension” between fallen being/self and ultimate Being/God.
The next thinker is Ian Barbour. A contemporary theologian, Barbour tries to stake out the different positions that describe the relation between science and religion. He describes himself as a process thinker who accepts the theology of Nature position. By this he means that he takes seriously religious tradition, which includes religious experience and revelation as seen in history. But several traditional doctrines must be changed to be in accordance with the modern view of science, in particular quantum theory. An example of his methodology can be seen when he says
“Our understanding of the general characteristics of nature will affect our models of God’s relation to nature. Nature is today understood to be a dynamic evolutionary process with a long history of emergent novelty, characterized throughout by chance and law. The natural order is ecological, interdependent, and multileveled…” (Barbour, 1997, 100)
He describes his attitude towards science (the natural world) as that of a “critical realist”. This distinguishes him from the classic realist and the instrumentalist positions. Here he aligns himself with Nils Bohr and stresses with Heisenberg the relationship between the observed and observer. This makes the world uncertain and indeterminate.
Barbour rejects the classical Christian view, which he calls the “monarchial” model. He argues that several problems, such as human freedom, theodicy, patriarchy, religious intolerance, evolution and law and chance in nature, are the reasons for his rejection. In his book Religion and Science he makes these assertions with very little argument nor does he offer potential answers to the complaints from within the classical view. He offers instead the process view and gives a few arguments for it. What is revealed in his argument is that His epistemology assumes that modern science, as exemplified in evolutionary thought and quantum thought, has presented the theologian with a dilemma. Much like the rest of our post-Kantian theologians he rejects supernaturalism as seen as the pre-modern, pre-scientific view, and now must recast Christianity in a new way. His version of process thought sees God as omnipresent and omniscient but these terms are defined differently than in the classical view. God is present and affected in history. This static view of God then is not at war with science because God is present in the creativity shown by human beings. God is the very supplier of originality. The epistemology that he depends upon is that of scientific naturalism. His theology is constructed in such a way as to keep science and religion in constant harmony.
In a similar way, but with a few changes, comes our last theologian Gordon Kaufman. Agreeing with the rest of the post-Kantians that the supernatural world view is kaput, Kaufman argues that we must construct a theology and that its primary utility is that of pragmatics – how should we then live as opposed to what do we know. Unlike Barbour though, Kaufman has no use for experiences as knowledge, nor does he like Tillich’s correlation method. After disparaging Christianity as the mother of all the ills and evil of the planet, Kaufman curiously leaps to the conclusion that the Christian symbolism is still the best possible model. But this must be interpreted in a “radically inclusive” way, because of the pluralism of the modern situation. This model reflects his pragmatism and his neo-Kantian presuppositions. He argues that
“The history of modern theology has been the story of repeated defeats in this unceasing struggle with secular orientations and knowledges. As this embarrassing history has unfolded, it has become increasingly clear that theological assertions and claims can no longer be given the privileged position they once had. They must be – and in fact are – reviewed and reformulated constantly like all other claims to knowledge; and the criteria for this critical and constructive theological work – as with all other human cognitive activity – are rooted in nothing other that our human powers to reflect, to reason and to judge.” (Kaufman 1993, 22)
Having said this he argues that to state that ones constructed system can be idolatrous in that we assert them to be true. Theology can be justified as a central project in that our constantly evolving constructions give better and better utilities about life – we must be inclusive, pluralistic, kind to the 3rd world, the environment, and women and so on. In this sense Kaufman is the logical extension of where so many theologians have been heading since Kant. If religion is “safe” within the confines of the realm of which we can believe but have no knowledge about, then he is consistent in arguing that all religions are purely human reflection. God is the ultimate mystery. All claims to knowledge are idolatrous and we need to constantly reconstruct our theologies to better fit the modern condition. To talk of experience, or biblical supernaturalism or correlations is to argue for some kind of privilege accessible only to the believer, and Kaufman is trying to avoid this.
Let me draw some conclusions from this survey. One can clearly see the impact that the Hume/Kant revolution had on religious epistemology. For the great majority of church history, as reflected in Augustine, Aquinas, and Luther, the supernatural worldview was quite acceptable and very much in accord with reason. They viewed the Scriptures as authoritative, and wrestled with side issues of whether patristic or papal decrees were on the same level with the scriptures. They wrestled with the proper placing of faith and reason, but never saw them as enemies. They all believed that the scriptures were eyewitness accounts of real events, not mystical deliriums. In other words there was no separation of the spheres of knowledge and belief. Religious belief was not some privileged category, where anything, no matter how non-sensical or contradictory, could believed in “faith”. It was based on the same type of foundations that other knowledge claims were based on. Jesus healing the paralytic was believed on the same basis that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. The scriptures were very clear to distinguish eyewitness events and testimony from myths and fairy tales. The events usually happened in front of believers and non-believers alike. The “science” of the day was sometimes challenged (e.g. Paul in Athens on the descent of the human race!). The veracity of their truth claims was further buttressed by the eyewitness’s willingness to die for what they said they saw. Many people die for causes of all shapes and sizes – but who has or would ever die for a known lie? Who would die for something they “made up around the campfire one night”? Not very likely.
The revolution inspired by Hume and Kant has radically altered this picture for so many. Notice that whatever way around the problem they found, all the post-Kantian thinkers we looked at started with the same basic epistemological presuppositions;
Modern science has disproved the Biblical worldview (three tiered, full of fairies and demons, anti-scientific, etc) This critique is simple a “given” (Bultmann 1984, 10-12)
All claims to knowledge in the Christian religion must be in accordance with the modern understanding of science – whatever that may be.
Religious epistemology can be founded on foundations that have nothing to do with ordinary knowledge claims. In this sense they are separated (in the Kantian sense) and have a unique starting point which depends on the theological constructor.
The Christian symbolism is still useful when reinterpreted to fit modern sensibilities.
Many of our writers used pejorative terms such as “fundamentalist”, “idolatrous” or
even “demonic” to describe those who held onto the classical Christian view. The common stereotype is that of H.L Mencken’s reporting of the Scopes Trial William – Jennings Bryant as the well meaning but clueless, anti-intellectual buffoon (always good to have our stereotypes done for us by such “nice” people like Nazi – sympathizer Mencken). Why science couldn’t even happen without the modern naturalistic worldview! A biology professor at University of Colorado at Boulder made the statement that no biologist could possibly believe in God since Darwin. I asked him what he thought of Pasteur as a biologist and he chose not to reply.
This would all be acceptable in some sense if in fact Hume and Kant had really won the day, but is that really the case? Let us briefly revisit Hume. Hume’s’ epistemology is allegedly based on experience. Some sensual experience is necessary for any rational construction even to begin. Fine, lets start there. Did Hume have a sensual experience of the knowledge claim that he made? None is reported. Much like his descendents the Logical Positivists could not uphold the Verificational Principle, which was not valid by its own precepts (the principle that all knowledge be verified by the senses could not itself be verified by the senses!) But lets ignore the self-referential incoherence for the sake of the discussion for just a moment here. Suppose we grant his claim – that all knowledge is based on experience. Now we revisit his famous argument on miracles. First he claims that no human had claimed to have seen someone raised from the dead. Isn’t this exactly the claim that Christianity had made and that Hume is arguing against? But let us put this aside as well. He argues for him to believe that someone had witnessed a miracle, they would have to be the type of witnesses who were beyond reproach, good repute, not given to sensationalism and so on. After giving an impressive list of necessary credentials, Hume then gives an account of some people who fit his criteria to the nth degree. Does he follow his own criterion? No he denies the claim and it is worth noting how he does that. He says:
“Where shall we find such a number of circumstances, agreeing to the corroboration of one fact? And what have we to oppose to such a cloud of witnesses, but the absolute impossibility or miraculous nature of the evens, which they relate? And this surely, in the eyes of all reasonable people, will alone be regarded as a sufficient refutation”. (Hume 1988, 113-114)
Well, who wants to be unreasonable? While there is so much more to Hume’s argument than we can go into here, at the end he appeals to the very “miraculous” nature of the claim and then appeals to “reasonable” people. This reveals his own claims to be nothing but prejudice based on an a-priori commitment to naturalism, something not allowed nor accounted for by his own epistemological approach. Where does any of that come from? Is it based on observations or sensual experiences? Again, not are reported, nor can one find such a-priori commitments from observing nature and the world today. In nature and history there are many singularities (events which cannot be repeated – the splitting of a particular atom, the Miracle Mets, etc) and since this is the case than regularity of the “laws” (an inappropriate word for Hume to use – given his predisposition against the transcendent lawgiver) is nothing but particular regularity, at a given time observed by a given individual. At best he should have modified his claim to say that, as far as he and all his acquaintances had ever observed, no one has risen from the dead, but he had no epistemic grounds to make the far reaching claim that he did make.
Given this, it is problematic in my view that Kant so distinctly separated the realm of what can be known from the realm of what can be believed. It was not necessary and it had the distinct effect of giving religions a privileged status – for better and worse. For better – reason had not been limited to make room for faith. But as our current religious scene shows this perhaps has not been for the better (As Chesterton quipped, once man abandons God – they will believe in anything), and the spiritual marketplace is bizarre beyond comprehension. Rocket ships behind comets, space channellers and on and on. Kant’s perceived limitation did not stop Hume’s ideological descendents from taking Hume to his logical extension and the Positivists ruled the roost for about twenty years in the philosophical community. Strangely, very few philosophers claim to be positivists today, but I think many scientists do or at least act like they do. For worse – faith and reason are now separate and antagonistic.
This has affected all of our thinkers that we looked at. All their theologies start with the abandonment of the historic Christian faith, and then find their own way out of the perceived problem. This is why I went into some detail as to the conclusions of each of the theologians. They had to be “creative” considering their starting epistemic positions. But does that mean that whatever is created is Christian? Suppose we claimed to be “Wellingtonites”. We believe that the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon in the famous battle at Waterloo. But with the passage of time we decide that the battle never happened and it really didn’t matter whether or not Wellington or Napoleon even lived. In what sense could we be called “Wellingtonites” and have it mean anything? If one denies what Jesus did and what the Apostles and other contemporaries claim that he did, why hang on to the name Christian? In Kaufman this is most obvious. Nietzsche and Feuerbach are refreshingly consistent compared with Kaufman. As seen by many in and out of class, once removed from any actual historicity, Christianity is purely symbolic. And as symbolism changes over time, it cannot be shocking when many who start with the same epistemology, start to change the metaphors (Ruether, Re-imaging conference, etc). While I do think that there is an important existential element within Christianity, Bultmann, Niebuhr and Tillich cannot reduce Christianity to the existential encounter. If one can have no knowledge of the content of an event, how can one have an encounter that is somehow based on a non-event? While I agree with all of them that science is important, I do not think historic Christianity is at odds with real science. Since I do not agree with Kant’s strictures, I don’t privilege Christianity’s truth claims from any other truth claims. Either they have epistemic grounding or they don’t. If they don’t – then throw them out. If they do – then everything changes.
Another issue is that if one must change one’s theology to be in line with science, then what “science” must we be in accord with? All of our writers believed in the Darwinian framework, but this has become increasingly problematic. Classic Darwinian gradualists like Dawkins exchange verbal rocks with the neo-Darwinian punctuated equilibriums like Eldridge and both sides claim the other side has no evidence to prove their claim. There are numerous claims as to what quantum theory is, and no consensus among the theoreticians. In both of these examples, cited by many of our theologians, it is very problematic that one should constrain ones theology to a position that may well be overthrown within our lifetimes.
In conclusion I would argue that epistemic standards should be applied equally to all knowledge claims – religious or otherwise. This consistency rules out the need to apply Kantian limitations, and leaves knowledge claims for religion in the same place as all the rest. Even scientific claims have had to struggle to be accepted, and religious claims should not be privileged in any way, and if they are based on facts, demonstrable in the same way as any other claims, then they too can struggle for general acceptance. I would argue that this is the case with the Christian knowledge claim and its acceptance by hundreds of millions just might indicate that the claims of the post-Kantian thinkers might not have the force that many think it does.
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(a) Explain and discuss in what ways Kant’s ethical theory represented a dramatic departure from traditional philosophical thought about ethics? In particular, how did Kant come to reject any form of “consequentialism” (including “happiness” as an end) in ethics and what did he offer in its place? (b) Explain and discuss what you take to be the general lines of Nietzsche’s response to Kant’s reorientation of ethical theory.
The understanding of ethics had taken many diverse paths prior to Kant. Outside of different variations of “divine command” theorists like Augustine and other Christian writers, individuals like Aristotle had dominated the field. In Aristotle’s understanding of ethics, the theory of virtue is explored and he comes up with many arguments which we will later see Kant react to. For Aristotle, as seen in the Nichomachean Ethics, virtue in essence is known by watching what a virtuous person does. In his mind, virtues are first taught in early age at home or at school. These virtues are learned by rote and discipline, and only later in life are they intellectually thought through. In the adult process of ruminating over ethical virtues, Aristotle does not offer a distinct methodology for making ethical decisions. A formula or methodology would be too limiting for the virtuous person, although I think he does offer some sense of a formula which we will look at later. Necessary to this process for Aristotle is the owning or having of various comforts and wealth, which he saw the lack of as somehow limiting the virtuous life. Virtue is that which actions can be measured by the virtuous person. Some virtues are intellectual and some are moral. Being rational is a type of intellectual virtue. The intellectually virtuous person can reason through a moral decision and operate with both the inherent goodness of an activity, (as seen by the other virtuous people!) and see the consequences of an act, which results in happiness for the individual. Aristotle does not have a list of all the possibly virtuous or non-virtuous acts. This would take too long and could never possibly ascribe or proscribe all potential actions in the world. The virtuous person however will look to the mean of an activity, between the two extremes of excess and want. Much like a plumber sizes up the gap between two pipe openings, the virtuous person watches for the extreme in her options and carefully judges between them, arriving at a safe ground up which to operate. To eat too little food is a different kind of the same mistake as eating too much food. (Goldilocks as Virtue theorist!) For Aristotle then, Virtue is found to be the highest good, over all others. To properly qualify for that role, it has to be the object for which all lesser goods are heading for. Happiness, inherently seen as normal and acceptable by Aristotle for human beings, cannot be the highest good, because it is subservient to other goods, namely thoughtful contemplation. Much like his mentor Plato, Aristotle saw the philosopher’s life as the happiest leading to the most virtuous of all possible lives. In this sense, he saw thoughtful contemplation to be a divine life. The god/gods spent their time in this activity, and therefore the highest good for human beings is being in imitation of the divine.
In some ways Aristotle’s virtues seem problematic. He doesn’t really give you a reason for the skeptical outsider to consider the virtues, in particular that the ancient Greeks valued, and come to think that they are the correct ones. In this sense they seem very arbitrary. Some activities are just “deemed” virtuous and others non-, but this is up to the virtuous person. In this little vicious circle, virtue is approved by the practitioners thereof, but no outside or transcendent element can confer approval upon them. However, there are some things which Aristotle knows to be wrong, such as adultery, murder, etc, but his arguments for this are rather weak. Either the name itself tells you that it is wrong, which is simply incredulous or he otherwise argues that it is bad for the fabric of society to do these activities.
Other versions of ethics have emphasized or overemphasized the role of consequences of choices. Much like the later Utilitarians’ or pragmatists, people like Hume had argued that ethical choices are arbitrarily deemed good or bad solely dependent on their impact on a given individual or society, depending on the philosopher. A consequence which enhances an individual’s happiness or pleasure is therefore approved, likewise with a culture. Any disputes between an individuals particular desire for a particular happiness and the larger societies desires, are to be worked out by the king or legislator, etc. The only principle involved here would be that of extending maximal happiness to more people.
Kant responds to both of these types of ethical thought with a broad renunciation of both perspectives. While ethical principles cannot be known in the same sense of scientific certainty that perhaps Aristotle nee Socrates was searching for, they could be intuited by a distinct formulation. Unlike Aristotle, Kant devises a very precise methodology for making ethical distinctions. Known as the Categorical Imperative, Kant states that you should only act if you can will that your maxim can be universally instantiated. Presented in at least four different ways, Kant reasons that morals, such as the virtue theory presented by Aristotle, lacks any sense or foundation to give you an “ought” from the “is”. Only rationality can produce necessity, and therefore Kant’s process can provide the necessity missing in other theories. This rationality produced in the CI provides for a universal moral theory, again something missing for the most part in Aristotle’s thought. One very important way of seeing this work out is how Kant relates to people. One version of the CI says that you must always see people as an end and never as a means to any particular end. Someone like Hume would argue that all we have is “is”, and since that is all we have, there is no way to ascertain what is right or wrong in any empirical fashion. All we have therefore is the sense datum. Kant argues (perhaps a foreshadowing of Levinas here???) that we can arrive at the CI in its various forms through an intuitive synthetic a-priori method. Our moral sensibilities, coming from God (at least as seen through the Konigsbergian prism) come to us and we know that we should treat people as ends in themselves and not as means. This is then justified or given rational support by using the CI as a buttress. If I can use you as a means to my happiness, and this to the denigration of the other individual, then I cannot universalize this maxim, because someone else could deem me as the means to their happiness, which may then lead to my denigration. Ethical theories which only look at consequences are by definition blind and/or open to all means by which one can attain the desired consequences. In effect the CI demands that an individual act upon the ultimate maxim of duty. You must act in certain ways. (Alles in ordnung hier Ja?)
There are many responses to Kant’s theory here available, but Nietzsche’s is most interesting of all. Kant’s methodology of knowledge had safely separated reason from faith, “protecting” faith from the ravages of the mad Scotsman. But in so doing he had separated also the metaphysical grounding for his ethics that he so desired. We can’t “know” anything about God in the same way that we know things about the world, because God is not in the phenomenal world but rather in the noumenal. However somehow we can know how God would have us live, and that with rational and necessary unction! Upon this weakness Nietzsche pounces. In the Gay Science and Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche formulates this basic response to western Christianity in general and I think Kant in specific.
God is dead.
We (European Christians) have killed him.
There is no good and evil.
Just as Kant had seen the weakness in Aristotle’s virtue theory and all versions of consequentialism, in that they had no transcendental foundation, so Nietzsche notes that without the transcendental foundation supplied by traditional views of God’s existence and demands, etc, that Kant is waving his hands vigorously, but has no metaphysical foundation for his own system. If there is no transcendental element to morality, and more importantly for Nietzsche, if all we see is all there is, then old fashioned Konigsbergian virtues, which are ultimately based upon Judeo-Christian values or “slave” morality, are banished from the world of knowledge or what be rationally measured and certain as well. In the moral arena, God is out of a job. Kant had relegated him, “wiped clean the sky” as Nietzsche puts it, to moral janitor of the universe, but Nietzsche pulls the mop and broom away and consistently applies Kant to Kant’s own epistemology and metaphysic. There can be no ought – only a will to power (to be discussed later in this exam) The morality of the slaves (Jews) is exactly what you would expect slaves to say, “Be nice to us and to each other”. The morality of Kant is exactly what you would expect a proper Konigsbergian to say “Obey the rules for the good of the community and the individual” You can’t have it both ways for Nietzsche, if there is no god or transcendent action which can be known in the Kantian sense, then you can have no absolute ethical commands from on high either. A further dig comes when Nietzsche points out that if Kant is to be consistent within his own epistemological framework, that all we know is the phenomena and that we cannot know the noumena, then moral certainty (as well as other certainties in philosophical playgrounds) are mere perspectives or representations in Schopenhauer’s system. Since morality is not inherent within the realm of what can be known, but only our interpretation of morality, then all attempts at transcendental moralities based upon things like synthetic a-priori statements are more hand wavings.
(a) Drawing upon some of the more important and/or representative thinkers preceding Nietzsche, explain and discuss the emergence of the concept of “will” in modern philosophy. (b) Explain and discuss in what ways Nietzsche’s idea of “the will to power” represents an outcome or culmination of this line of reflection. Indicate what novel elements Nietzsche adds to the reflections about the will that precede his own.
“Life finds a way” Dr. Malcolm – Jurassic Park
In most ancient and medieval philosophers, the concept of the will was that it was subservient to the reasoning faculties of the human being. With both Plato and Aristotle, the will was sometimes seen as the animalistic urging in human beings, which must be mastered upon reflection and the rational moral person was one who placed reason above the will. After Kant, the will comes to a different understanding. For someone like Fichte, the will is sometimes used as a synonym for the Absolute Self in its desiring to create, but for him the will is subservient to the ultimate matching of the monistic reality with the Ethical identity, resulting in Freedom. For Hegel, the will is something that the Weltgeist uses to further its reasoning action throughout the world. In this sense all of these thinkers have a more traditional understanding of the will as simple volition, although sometimes they clouded the issue in the way they talked about it, especially the German Idealists. But with Arthur Schopenhauer, there is a tremendous restructuring of the understanding of the role of the will. For him, the will is over reason, in that reason is only one instantiation of the universal will. Schopenhauer believes that he has correctly identified the unknown “thing in itself” which Kant says we cannot know. Not that he knows it in it’s entirely but Schopenhauer identifies the thing in itself as the will. There are only two things out there, one is the will and the other is the representations of the will as seen in the phenomena of the world. Each little bit of the space/time universe is itself an instantiation of the primordial, unthinking, uncaring will. The phenomena itself has higher and lower categories or “ideas” which are more or less complex varieties of the will in action. More than that, this will is a specific will, in that it is a will to life. This will to life can be seen in every possible observance of the phenomena. Again for Schopenhauer, this does not mean that the phenomena exhaust the reality of the will, it merely represents a variety of the will to life, and so this is only a modification of Kant as opposed to a denial. This will to life as observed in the phenomena is in constant process, in a “feeding upon itself” type of frenzy. Each form of life from higher to lower attempts to survive and therefore must feed off other forms of itself in order to do so. Sadly for Schopenhauer though, the will to live is frustrated by the fact that all the varieties, all instantiations of the will to live, are feeding upon each other and death, not life, is the ultimate end for all the varieties. Rather than seeing an increase or progress in the process, Schopenhauer only sees a desolate repeating cycle of the will to live in its constant frustration of its primal desire. This leads to utter pessimism and despair. Gaining an understanding of the will then does not uplift one, as commonly thought by many philosophers that a “true” understanding of the way things really are would, rather it depresses one to see the utter meaningless of this existence with all its brutality and suffering. Because the will to live is an unthinking, uncaring state of being, it makes no judgments or preferences about which actions are right, or have meaning. One can only have a sense of wonder at the different varieties as they strive to exist, to live, only to fail over and over again. Whether Schopenhauer was depressed by this theory or the fact that he was already a depressed individual before he formulated his line of reasoning here is an interesting question. But it is clearly prima facie one of the more depressing systems of thought ever written. Schopenhauer despised Hegel (I guess we do have some common ground here after all! J )because he saw in Hegel, and also in Schelling and Fichte and others an attempt to smuggle the divine into being, into the thing in itself, and that all the talk of the “Absolute” or the “Weltgeist” was attempts to smuggle the noumena back into the phenomena. For him Arthur saw the will not as individual wills to life, but literally the thing in itself was one will to life and revealed or represented in many diverse ways. (In the next question I will bring in the issue of how important eastern religions were to Schopenhauer).
Nietzsche is going to borrow some of Schopenhauer’s’ thought process here but radically depart from it in his famous formulation of the will to power. As seen before Nietzsche had no use for a noumenal thing in itself, which was unknown and unknowable. Much like Aristotle rejected Plato’s world of Ideals/Forms and instead stuck with the world as we perceive it, Nietzsche rejects the formal Kantian structure and argues that all we can know is what we perceive, but unlike Kant, we can’t really even know it in that it is all perception or representation. There is no thing it itself, and we have is our perceptions of this world. This is not necessarily to deny the world, but he does argue that we can’t talk about knowledge in even scientific arenas, so Kant’s system breaks down here for him. Since then we do know have a universal being or thing in itself permeating the world in the Schopenhauer Ian sense, all that we really have is our perceptions of the will as it appears to us in brute form – the will to power. Believing that “superstitious” Schopenhauer was trying to hide from the real response necessary to the brutal facts as is the world in our perceptions, Nietzsche sees that all our motivations, choices, interests, actions, etc, etc are instantiations of our own will to power, This means that we as little bits of the universe, whether atoms or human beings are driven inexorably towards the desire to master all that we perceive and encounter. There is an active question as to whether one should read Nietzsche ontologically at this point. At some points he refers to all this as merely a theory, another interpretation in the big soup of other interpretations. But at other points he waxes quite essentially or ontologically. It is quite unclear what the preferred reading is. Either way, the philosopher’s desire for knowledge it naught but the desire to “conquer” some understanding and harness it for our use. For him, the will to live only expresses part of the picture seen in the phenomena. The real reason for the conflicts that so depressed Schopenhauer, was that the will of each piece of the picture was to subdue all that it encountered in such a way as to consume and own it. Even pain and pleasure as the Utilitarian schools expressed it, were mere temporary way stations on the way to the will to power. In the will to power and ones response to it, there is another major difference between the two men, and obviously all the previous understandings of the will as well. For Nietzsche, the will to power was something that was to be joyously embraced, not despised. Silly Schopenhauer could never see his way past his own weakness and depression, but the better response to the phenomena of the universal struggle was not to despair, but to embrace what we are and what we do and seek to do it better. To be stronger, one must accept and even revel in the constant occurrence of suffering and conquest. To embrace the world as is, is the key to life. This desire to dominate, to conquest, as seen in the admired Bonaparte, is not a terrible thing, but rather the will to power in one of its more powerful and expressive instantiations. The will to power then, is all there is, and the strong man embraces it, revels or dances with the knowledge. In this conception the overman or ubermensch is the one who rightly sees the will to power in all its forms, transvalues all other values and imposes its own will to power upon the rest. This superman then is a goal for all varieties of the will to power. This cross between Caesar and Christ, will take what is evil and make it good, because both good and evil are mere perceptions of the will to power instantiated in certain ways. Because there is hope in this sense of Tran valuation of values, Nietzsche is optimistic about the heroic struggle seen in the will to power as instantiated in the world. Where Schopenhauer emphasized the Greek tragedies that pointed to the utter despair and hopelessness in this life, Nietzsche saw in both the Greek tragedies and the comedies a more complete and therefore honest way of seeing the will to power. Both the Dionysian and Apollonarian impulses are present and must be celebrated. Both creative and destructive aspects are just individual wills’ to power and must be affirmed. The strong man, in the face of all this apparent suffering, does not cheat and run to God (at least in the Christian sense) and in this Nietzsche is in agreement with Schopenhauer. But neither does he despair, but he takes up the challenge as is, “girds up his loins” as it were, and affirms all that he sees and perceives, the will to power in all its glory and despair.
Explain and discuss as specifically as possible what conception(s) of non-European (or more specifically, Asian) thought emerged in the course of the 19th century. Indicate to what degree and in what respects you regard Nietzsche as being influenced by or appropriating these views. (If you want, feel free, as well, to suggest what limitation the views prevailing at the time of Nietzsche may have imposed upon his understanding of Asian thought- as opposed, for instance, to what is available to us today.)
“Judaism and Christianity brought nothing to us and much poorer in its understanding, then what the whole of India had already given to the world.” Arthur Schopenhauer. (possible slight misquote here but the sentiment is correctly given!)
It is quite arguable as to which culture was conquered by the British Colonial occupation of India in the mid 1700’s. In a day when allegedly Christian England has less than 2% of its population going to any kind of church, and when there are innumerable temples and gurus calling England and much of Europe “home”, then it is clear that the influence of the occupation went at least both ways. By the late 1700s many Hindu and Buddhist documents had made their way into Europe and been translated in English, French and German. When one reads the Romantics and their American counterparts the Transcendentalists, and then compares their writings to the Bhagavad-Gita for example, one is struck by the parallel themes. It is not surprising to know then that Goethe and Emerson and others in fact were reading the Gita, and were inspired by it. Many scholars in Germany were finding new avenues in research in the opening field and were off to study Sanskrit and Pali, in order to read the new documents in their original forms. Schopenhauer was first introduced to eastern philosophy through Professor Maier (sp?) who gave him a German translation of a Persian copy of the Puranas. Schopenhauer was transfixed by what he had read, and saw many parallels to his own understanding of philosophy, especially in the Idealist tradition from Plato to Kant. Schopenhauer talked about the veil of Maya (the dream or illusion) that the eastern thinkers referred to, as that which kept the thing in itself, the ultimate being or noumena, from being known. The monism of Fichte possibly reflects some of the eastern influence as well. Although Spinoza most likely built off what he saw in the Kabbalah tradition of Judaism (Kabbalah also perhaps being influenced by eastern thought), it is likely that many of the German Idealists were influenced by the new stream of material being introduced into the University setting. To read some portions of Schiller is to read the Gita; not that he plagiarized but rather said what the Gurus had said many years before, but now with a German accent! Nietzsche’s own introduction to eastern thought came while he was still in high school in Pforte, and in his German class at the university he read both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Schopenhauer read from the Gita every night and sings the praise of it and the rest of the Upanishads in numerous passages in his writings. He sees the world-denying aspects of much of eastern thought as a valid response to the suffering and despair that the observance of the will to life was giving him. Maya or the dream allowed him to see the will to life as masking the actual primordial being (Brahman for the Hindu philosopher) and causing us to not see the actual thing, only its mirroring or representation.
Nietzsche will both embrace and reject what he finds coming from his own studies in oriental thought. He has several common areas which in their own way show interaction, both positive and negative with eastern philosophers. For example Nietzsche saw in Buddhism a form of nihilism. There are two types of Nihilism for him. First is the recognition that what we thought gave meaning in fact offers us none. This is passive Buddhism. The second is to destroy that we formerly thought we got meaning form. This is active Buddhism. The first is a necessary step towards the second, which for him was critical in overcoming. In this sense Nietzsche saw pre-Buddha India in the same decadent stage as his own western Europe. Both were rejecting the traditional god/gods and morays and were in danger of nihilism. The Buddha altered the course of thought and proceeded on a path which gave a different meaning to the life situation. But there was no Buddha present in 19th century Europe and therefore Nietzsche longed for one who could play that role. Nihilism in that sense was a purely negative sense, and Nietzsche now fears that European Nihilism will set in such a way as to lend itself to apathy and world denying, a point which he drastically wanted to avoid. Although sympathetic to these certain aspects of Buddhism as he saw it, one needed to go beyond passive to active nihilism to create the strong man, and he worried that Buddhism could not offer that, at least in the Theravada school known in Europe at the time. Theravada or “Way of the Elders” by its adherents (and the pejorative “lesser vehicle” by its opponents!) emphasized a rejection of the world for Nirvana, which is a state of non-suffering. Its teachings stressed a constant mental rejection of what is perceived, as non-real or void, as masked by Maya. One never has a “true” picture of “reality” for reality is itself part of this illusion. Our perceptions then are seen as a dream perhaps, or Lila the dance (especially for Schopenhauer!) Since the world of phenomena is not real in the ordinary sense of understanding that word, then one must perceive the true emptiness or void ness of the phenomena. For Nietzsche, this loss of meaning in the world was parallel to his own thought, but he arrived there from a different stream of thought. The lack of meaning for him was caused by the death of God, or the absolute, or the transcendent, both in Philosophy and in Religion, in particular Judeo-Christianity. Without any transcendent factor, there is only perception, and these perceptions have no reality in themselves.
Another way that the parallel comes is that of the Ubermensch or Superman, as compared to the Bodhisattva of Mahayana Buddhism. It is not quite clear if Nietzsche had access to Mahayana texts, as he doesn’t explicitly quote them as he does often the Theravada ones, but many Mahayanists see the parallel quite clearly. Both the Bodhisattva and the Ubermensch rise above the herd of human ignorance, and yet both do not abandon the herd but rather try and teach the herd the correct understanding of reality. For Nietzsche this can be seen in the madman of Thus Spake Zarathustra, who comes down from the mountain into the valley to teach that God is dead. The Bodhisattva uses skillful means (upaya) to teach the unenlightened the proper dharma or truth. So both of these notions include the possibility of progression, something not seen in Schopenhauer’s version.
Another point of contact is the similarity between Nietzsche’s conception of good and evil with that of ancient Daoism. The Dao or way, as seen in the Yin/Yang illustration, shows that our perceptions of dualities are temporary and therefore wrong. The black fish becomes the white fish and vice versa. Good becomes evil and evil becomes good, and any attempt to fix them down, to take becoming and make it being, or to tame Dionysius, was mistaken. Nietzsche often speaks of the need to take our “evil” and pronounce it good. All moralities are without foundation for they all lack any transcendental support and therefore the Overman creates his own values for himself, as an instantiation of will to power, which is all he really is.
Perhaps the most important parallel is what Nietzsche calls the “eternal recurrence”. By this he means that in order to conserve energy, the universe is engaged in a repeating process. Each little bit of the universe, each action, each instantiation of the will to power is in repetitive mode. The strong man must will it to be so. He must be like a child, in that he offers a “Yes” saying to what he perceives now and the eternal recurrence and ones acceptance of the possibility, is the strongest affirmation of what is now. To want everything repeated is to affirm all that actually is, and this of course for him makes one stronger. The “plant” man will grow stronger in the acceptance and joyous affirmation of all that one perceives. This reminds one of the commands of Krishna in the Bhagavad-Gita when Krishna tells Arjuna to “slay with glee” (Whistle while you work/slaughter!!!) knowing that you don’t actually kill because all perception is Maya, and the true reality (the thing behind the mask) is actually Brahman (god) and Brahman is neither slayer nor slain. The eternal recurrence is called Samsara by the eastern philosopher. The wheel of birth, death, and rebirth. One major distinction between the two streams here is that the eastern view usually sees the world or perception as a prison of suffering and therefore the goal is to get off the wheel, to escape the world of becoming and suffering. This fits well with Schopenhauer’s thought, but Nietzsche will tolerate no abandonment of the world or denial of the will to power in all its variations. The meaning of the eternal recurrence for Nietzsche was the need to affirm all of the phenomena, and there is transcendental good or duty from which to judge. All again is perception. Again with Schopenhauer, many of the Vedas teach that ones placement in the next recurrence or turn of the wheel is dependent upon ones karma or action. Immature understandings of karma give themselves over to words like good and evil or positive and negative karma. Therefore for many, Samsara is a very precise form of justice, with each instantiation of Brahman receiving exactly what they had given in a previous turn. So Schopenhauer might be chided here for his negative description of the phenomenal world, with all this talk of “suffering” and “despair”. But by contrast the mature individual understands that what we perceive has no transcendent or ultimate value or reality, and is merely illus ional. Thus for him, good and evil are children’s word, used in our infancy but outgrown in the light of greater understanding. Nietzsche sees himself in this place. Rather than affirm the weakness of either world denying system (in this case Christianity and Buddhism) Nietzsche wants to affirm all that he sees, so that his progression is not dependent on just pure understanding, but affirmation of that understanding. There is no meaning, so I will create my own meaning. There are no values, so I will create my own values. The creative process then is a construction within the will to power of the individual variation of it, conquering both what he/she now perceives, and all repetitions of it in the future. The “yes” saying is eternal for him. He will never deny whatever he perceives.
There are some current eastern thinkers who are arguing that Nietzsche’s understanding (and for that matter much of European thought in the 19th century) was very limited. This is possible and in some cases clear, but I think overall that the parallels they made were quite coherent. Nietzsche argued that it made sense that his own version of perception, recurrence, nihilism, moral relativity and so on was parallel to what one saw in India, because of the parallel development of thought and especially language. What many talk about today as “Indo-Aryan” or “Indo-Greek” , Nietzsche referred to as Indo-German-Greek. The parallel was to him quite natural given the development over time, and dealing with the rude interruption of Hebrew thought into the western mix.
WHY NOT BURN WITCHES?
The reality of the resurgence of witchcraft in modern times so often ridiculed and dismissed as sheer fantasy, can no longer be ignored. It has become the pagan expression of choice to many; the darling of the feminist, the haven for the rebel, and most troubling, the object of fascination among many teenagers. There are many forms of this type of belief. Called Wicca, neo-paganism, goddess worship, or simply the craft, it may be practiced openly or held in secret. Centered on the divine nature of all things, this movement is coming out of the “broom closet”, and it is quite vocal as to who is to blame for its problems and for those of the world.
Two years ago, the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago brought together a collection of religious leaders and laypeople from all around the world. One of the most popular groups at the Parliament was the Wiccans. Phyllis Curolt, head of one group called “the Covenant of the Goddess”, talked about the rapid growth of their organization, (from 20,000 in 1986 to 350,000 in 1993!) and about how witches and pagans of all sorts have been the victims of Christian prejudice and violence for generations.
She branded Christianity as immoral, based on two charges which have been echoed by many Wiccans that I have spoken with. Her first charge is that Christianity is immoral because of its claim to be the only truth, the only way to know God. She did not attempt to establish the truth or falsity of Christianity’s truth claims. Rather, she was insulted at what she considered the arrogance and prejudice of making such a claim. Secondly, she charges that Christians killed nine million witches during the medieval ages. Her conclusion was that Wicca was a far better option because it is loving and benign, while Christianity, of course, is cruel and bloodthirsty.
What are we to make of these claims? Let’s consider charge #1 first. Is Christianity immoral because it claims to be exclusive? In our pluralistic culture, “intolerance”, newly defined as rejecting that all ideas are equally valid or true, is the only real sin. If intolerance, as defined this way, is immoral, certainly Christianity must plead “guilty”, since from its inception it has made unabashed declarations of the exclusive nature of “the way to God” and of truth itself.
But is exclusivity immoral? If you think about it, our lives are full of exclusive claims. We do not consider such claims to be immoral, merely true or false. For example, (1) “Wheaton, Illinois is the capitol of the United States.” Or, (2) “I am writing this article on an IBM clone computer.” Or, (3) “My eyes are only brown.” Now all of these are exclusive claims. It is Wheaton, and not some other town, IBM rather than any other type of computer, or brown and no other color, which I single out for my purposes. The really relevant question is whether or not these claims are true. It is quite clear that none of them are immoral merely on the face of them. Can the exclusive claim as it relates to the color of my eyes be perceived as immoral? Is it somehow unfair to blue eyes or green eyes, that my eyes are brown? This seems like a silly argument no matter which way you look at it. It is truth itself which is exclusive. The claim about Wheaton is clearly false, but there is an exclusive truth regarding the capitol, one that rules out or excludes Wheaton! But let us suppose for a moment that exclusive claims are in fact immoral, as Wiccans and other relativists claim. When a person says “I am a Witch”, isn’t he or she excluding Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Jews, etc. from the category, thus making an exclusive claim of his or her own? So if exclusivity is immoral, one can only conclude that Witches are immoral as well. Of course, we as Christians don’t want to confuse categories. We would prefer to simply question whether a given claim is true or false.
It should also be remembered that it is not the Christian who makes the exclusivity claim for his belief. It is Jesus Himself who makes the claim in John 14:6 that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and no man comes to the Father but by me.” Christians are merely piggy-backing onto the claims of Jesus Christ. If He is wrong then we are wrong. But if He is right, then the claim is not prejudicial or immoral, but is true.
The second charge is that Christians are immoral because they have killed 9 million witches since the medieval ages. I want to respond to this in two ways, first historically and then logically. Historically, it must be noted that the 9 million number comes from outer space. There is absolutely no evidence or scholarship to support any such claim. But the lack of evidence does not seem to bother the Wiccans. Gerald Gardner, a leading proponent of witchcraft, notes that witches are inventing their own history but believes that this is fine. “Victim hood” is the ticket to sympathy and then acceptance in our society, and larger numbers would produce the greatest amount of sympathy.
But there are even larger historical problems with this claim. The two events used to bolster this claim are the Inquisition in Europe, and the Salem Witch trials in New England. Let us take a closer look at these incidents and see if they actually have merit.
Let me say very clearly at the outset that if even one witch was killed by a Christian, then that was one too many. Murder is wrong. Whoever took part in the murder of witches, or people accused of being witches, whether representing a church or involved in a mob action, disobeyed a direct command of the Lord that Christians are not to kill their enemies, but rather to love them. Having said that, what about the large numbers of victims claimed? The medieval inquisitors generally kept records so that they would receive credit for their “work”. In this sense, it was in their interest to inflate the number of people who had been put to the question, so as to please the Roman Catholic hierarchy. Even with that, most historians place the total number of people killed during the inquisition somewhere between 30,000 and 300,000, which includes all sorts of people. Even using the higher number, it is an incredible leap to argue that 9 million witches were killed. But there is more.
It is important to understand the primary purpose and targets of the Inquisition, so that one can see through this argument. The primary target of the inquisition for most of its 600 year history was pre-reformation Protestants! Followers of Wycliffe and Huss, Waldensees, Albigensians, and so on. The secondary target of the inquisition was the Jews. It was only in the late 15th century, after the publication of a book by some monks condemning witchcraft, that witches become a target. The most serious example of this is the death of 5,000 witches in one French community. If true, this would be a most heinous and terrible wrong, though far from the enormity that would be required to reach a total of 9,000,000 killed. But I think it can be shown that even these types of accounts are questionable at best. The issue is; were these people really witches or was there something else going on? Let us proceed to the Salem trials in 1692 to exemplify this problem.
The trials in 1692 are considered by Wiccans to be a prime example of how Christians have historically treated witches. The public image of the trial is that these cruel, coldhearted Puritan ministers gleefully dragged these benign, earth loving proto-hippies to unjust trials and to the grave. This of course shows how evil the Puritans were and therefore can be seen as a grand indictment of all Christians. Nothing could be more non-historical than this perspective. While there were a few Puritan ministers involved with the trials, the majority of the Puritan ministers were extremely opposed to the proceedings and berated the magistrates for allowing them to continue. Most of the ministers had been educated at places like Oxford, Cambridge, and Harvard, and they thought that the trials were wrong. They especially believed that the type of evidence used was seriously flawed. This evidence was known as “spectral” evidence. What this meant was that the accuser claimed that they saw spirits and demons surrounding the accused. The fact that these specters were not visible to anyone else in the courtroom apparently did not bother the magistrates. The ministers, however, believed the introduction of this type of evidence to be against the Law of Moses, and against the laws of the land. Sadly, for twenty people, the minister’s rebuke and magistrate’s cessation of the trials came too late. But again a knowledge of history is important, because these twenty people were almost assuredly not witches! In a Monty-Pythonish sort of fashion, those accused of witchcraft would have been merely punished and released if they confessed to the crime of witchcraft. But if someone pled innocent to the charge and was subsequently convicted, the penalty was death. For many people, the course to take seemed obvious; give the court the confession it wanted and save your life. But for twenty that would not do. They would not confess to the charge and were killed for it. Many of those executed prayed for their accusers before their executions, that God would forgive them, much as Jesus had prayed prior to his execution. The picture of these proceedings that the Wiccans present has little to do with historical reality.
The conclusion that one can responsibly draw from the Inquisition and the Witch trials in Salem, is that Christians have indeed been immoral and bloodthirsty, but that has very little to do with witchcraft. Historically, it is true that some in the name of Christ have been prolific in murdering other Christians. It is also true that some witches, or those accused of practicing witchcraft, were indeed murdered, although the number do not add up to anywhere near the nine million claimed. So if witches want to attack the sins of the Church, please let me help. Our “dirty laundry” is out there for everyone to see, and I think it is incumbent upon Christians to admit the sins and foibles of our past and our present. This is not to the detriment of the Christian position. Rather, it an admission of what both the Bible and our empirical senses tell us, that we still struggle with sinful inclinations.
Let me suggest another way to respond to this murder charge. Let us suppose for the sake of argument that it is a true claim that Christians killed nine million witches during the medieval ages. Well, my question is, why not burn witches? What could be wrong with burning, hanging, stabbing, shooting or spitting on whomever we may please? This needs to be explained. It is one of the central tenets of all the different versions of witchcraft and paganism that I have come across, that there is no absolute standard of right and wrong. People have the right to decide for themselves what is right and no one else can judge them. At the Parliament, I attended a meeting of witches who illustrated my point in this way. They went around the room taking turns explaining what it is that they believed. Each person in turn stated, almost as if it were rehearsed, “Well, I cannot speak for anyone else, but for me witchcraft means this … [fill in the blank] and then the next person would make a similar disclaimer all around the circle. Phyllis Curolt used the example of the Christian’s sexual monogamy to prove that Christianity was too stifling. Each person, she claims, has the right to sleep with whomever they chose, and no one has the right to judge anyone else’s choices. Since all are divine, then each “god” can make his or her own decisions concerning morality. This belief is not incidental to Wicca; it is primary. Almost every time I have ever talked to pagan/witches, and have asked what it is they believe, the relativity of ethics is one of the first things mentioned. Why is this important? Let me return to my question: Why not burn witches? If what witches say about morality is true, then why would it be wrong for me and a few of my Baptist friends to go up to Boulder some Friday night and kill a few witches for fun? After all, if we think it is ok, no one would have the right to judge us, would they? And by this same reasoning, aren’t all the medieval inquisitors also justified, since they were merely doing what they thought was right and no one has the right to judge them or legislate their values? If there are no absolute standards in ethics, that would validate witch hunts, wouldn’t it? But of course no witch wants that to be the case. They believe and argue that the killing of the witches was morally wrong and that Christians are therefore culpable for these heinous acts. But how can this be so if each person decides what is right. Burn the witch – drown the witch – take the witch out for lunch, are all equally moral actions, depending upon the person making the choice.
So I repeat the question; Why not burn witches? From the Christian perspective there is an answer. It is wrong to burn witches because God has said so. It is wrong today; it will be wrong tomorrow. It is wrong here and it is wrong in France and in New Guinea and everywhere else. In order to say this we must have a transcendent ethic, which is not the cumulative collection of individual opinions, but rather a standard by which all opinions must be judged. The god of nature cannot qualify. Let me illustrate.
I talked to a Theraveda Buddhist at the Parliament. I asked him how he knew that mankind should practice non-violence, since he was an atheist. He responded that “Nature teaches us non-violence.” I replied, “That is an interesting idea, but all one has to do is watch a David Attenborough video for about five minutes before figuring out that the sum total of nature is animals eating other animals and making little animals which will eat other animals and so on”. I went on to say, “Nature has a lot of beautiful things in it, but the one thing one cannot say is that nature teaches us non-violence.” He responded by yelling at me, “You just think we need a personal God or something to tell us what is right and wrong?” I said, “Yes, that is exactly what we need”. You see, he did not want non-violence to be an option for some and not for others. He wanted it to be a binding absolute that all would honor. But in rejecting God, he had left himself with no way to justify a claim that would bind all of us.
The witches have the same problem. Phyllis Curolt is right about the immorality of those who killed witches, whether one or nine million. But she is wrong about the relativity of ethics. If she is right about ethics, then her claim is blown apart, and by her own standards she might be accused of judging others, which of course is not supposed to be done. If she is right about the immorality of murder, then her whole belief system built upon this foundation of relativism collapses into incoherent nonsense. In a way, you could say that her attack upon the church is really an argument for Christianity, an appeal for justice based upon Christian moral standards. The only way her claim can be justified is if she is wrong and Christians are right. Why not burn witches? Because there is a God who has the right to set standards, and He has said it is wrong.
For Further Reading:
Davidson, J.W.and Lytle, M.H. After the Fact – The Art of Historical Detection. Alfred A. Knopf Inc. New York, N.Y. 1982
Boyer, Paul and Nissenbaum, Stephen. Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft.
Cambridge, MA 1974
Witchcraft at Salem Village. Belmont, CA 1972
Latourette, Kenneth S. A History of Christianity – Beginnings to 1500. Harper and Row, NewYork, N.Y. 1975
Bill Honsberger is a missionary with Haven Ministries and resides in Aurora, CO., with his wife Terri and their eight children.