Religious Epistemology and the Kantian Revolution

Bill Honsberger

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.

Reference List

Aquinas, Thomas. 1975. Summa Contra Gentiles. Notre Dame, London. University of Notre Dame Press.

Barbour, Ian G. 1997. Religion and Science. San Francisco, CA. Harper

Collins Publishing.

Bultmann, Rudolf. 1984. New Testament & Mythology and other Basic

Writings. Philadelphia, PA. Fortress Press

Halton, Thomas P. ed. 1992. The Fathers of the Church; Saint Augustine Four

Anti-Pelagian Writings: On Nature and Grace. Washington, D.C. The Catholic

University of America Press.

Hume, David. 1988. An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding. Buffalo,

N.Y. Prometheus Books.

Kaufman, Gordon D. 1993. In Face of Mystery – A Constructive Theology.

Cambridge, MA. Harvard University Press.

Luther, Martin. 1957. The Bondage of the Will. Grand Rapids, MI. Fleming

H. Revell.

Niebuhr, H. Richard. 1941. The Meaning of Revelation. New York, N.Y.

Collier Books.

Tillich, Paul. 1951. Systematic Theology Vol. 1. Chicago, IL. The University of

Chicago Press.

Bill Honsberger

Philosophy Comprehensive

(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.


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.


Bill Honsberger


1) What does Nietzsche actually mean by the phrase “God is dead”? Explain in relationship to such notions as “overman”, “eternal recurrence”, “will to power”, “nihilism”, and the “moral view of the world”. Quote extensively with proper citations to back up your argument.

The phrase “God is dead” has several possible meanings. Given the protection that Nietzsche gave his ideas through his style of writing (aphorisms, parables, etc) and given his penchant for irony, one can hardly say with certainty just what he meant but instead propose several options. One popular postmodern option as argued in class is that Nietzsche was arguing that western Christianity and western philosophy had become in turn “idolaters”. By reducing God to logical syllogisms and to simple moralistic tomes, God had become tame, limited and hardly worth noticing. By the writing of theology, God had become a pile of words, and this reduction had “killed” God. Nietzsche it is argued here is primarily blaming Kant for this extreme reduction whereby “God” has become good for nothing except a justification for morality. To the extent that Nietzsche is in fact making these complaints than I can agree with much of it. However I don’t believe that language, written or spoken, is the enemy and would argue that it is what is said about God that is a potential reduction. For example if I say that “God is all powerful and all knowing”, then the statement about God is not a limiting one and should be indicted under Nietzschean standards. It is too much of a straw man to think that Nietzsche was indicting the mere presence of text as if people were worshipping the text as opposed to the real God.

This brings another possibility as to what he meant by “God is dead”. God is dead; we (European Christians) have killed him. There is no good and evil. The argument is simple and profound. By the late 19th century, German philosophers and theologians had for the most part abandoned orthodox Christianity in favor of an enlightenment sort of view. The God of the Bible, who created and ruled the world, who engaged in the world through miraculous acts, was “fine” for uneducated fishers and farmers, but we “modern” people who know about science and logic cannot accept such an account. Following the lead of Hume and then Kant, the miraculous or supernatural world view which had dominated the continent for thousands of years was gone. Kant in moderating Hume a bit, did leave open the possibility of belief being rational, but faith was reserved for another category, that of the possible not of the space time world in which we live. After “destroying” the traditional rationalistic arguments for God, Kant proffered a moral argument for God. God must exist to ground universal morality. By the early 19th century, Kierkegaard and Schliermacher have taken up the point. Faith is irrational or emotive. A sense of “dependence” is all that is left of the once powerful God who moved heaven and earth. Hegel then reduced God to what ever has been done in the world. The Weltgeist is history, and that of the world. This immanence did not judge the world, but is the world and justified all the “progress”. Marx and Darwin come along as atheists and simple apply the logical conclusion to what the “Christians” in Germany had already done. Marx substituted the “state” for God in Hegel, and Darwin substituted natural selection for the formerly powerful creator. Towards the end of the 19th century then, Nietzsche surveys and honestly points out the obvious. “God” is dead. He has no role; he has no job. “Christians” don’t believe in the supernatural, they believe in science. Christians and Jews don’t need God to explain the universe, and as the social Darwinians are pointing out at the time of Nietzsche, they don’t need God to supply a basis for morality either. The “we” is I think German Christianity, which leads the way for the rest of Europe in Nietzsche’s understanding of things. God was not killed by strangers, but rather by those who claimed they “believed”. Of course this belief was qualified to the point of extinction. We will believe in God, if and only if (how do you like that for analytic talk?) he remains incidental to real life, or perhaps if he will be the base for our morality, but nothing else. This impotent God was killed easily enough, Nietzsche might think. And to Nietzsche, Kant did not understand just how fully he had undermined God. A God who has nothing to do with the space/time world has nothing to do with the morality in that world either.

Did Nietzsche kill God? No – all the real work was done by the “believers” in God. Nietzsche is profoundly religious – for an atheist. As Heller said about him (The Importance of Nietzsche p11.) “He is, by the very texture of his soul and mind, one of the most radically religious natures that the nineteenth century brought forth.” In Thus Spoke Zarathustra on page 185 the pope calls Zarathustra (Nietzsche’s alter ego) “the most pious of those who do not believe”. Although he certainly despised Christianity, Nietzsche was very open to many aspects of eastern religion, in particular Buddhism. Some of this can be seen in some of his more popular themes. Take for example the idea of der Ubermensch or overman. Some connect this to the Buddhist concept of the Bodhisattva or enlightened one who having reached enlightenment returns to the masses to help them out of their dilemma. In Nietzsche’s case the overman was the one who rejected or transvalued all values and established his own values. In TSZ page 228, Nietzsche says of the overman that he “must be a creator in good and evil, verily, he must first be an annihilator and break values. Thus the highest evil belongs to the highest goodness.” In Beyond Good and Evil page 68, Nietzsche says of the overman that he must have “opened his eyes to the opposite ideal! The ideal of the most high-spirited, alive, and world affirming human being who has not only come to terms and learned to get along with whatever was and is, but who wants to have what was and is repeated into all eternity”. This shows part of the relationship between the overman and that of the eternal recurrence. The overman starts by throwing away all the conventions of slave morality, with its Judaic/Christian overlays, and transcends and creates his own morality. This transvalued morality is not a morality of what is right and wrong or mere preference for one code over another, but rather an acceptance of whatever is! This “is” is whatever life has to offer and no less. This world-valuing of Nietzsche demands that it must go on. The acceptance of whatever is must go. It must be accepted and desired by the overman. If the overman is seen as a verb (interesting idea but perhaps trans-nietzschean!) then each individual must also value life, with all that it means and desire for it to happen over and over.

This eternal recurrence is also similar to the idea of samsara in Buddhism. In discussing the theme he notes that “let us think this thought in its most terrible form: existence as it is, without meaning or aim, yet occurring inevitable without any finale of nothingness; the eternal recurrence. This is the most extreme form of nihilism; the nothing (the meaningless) eternally! The European form of Buddhism: the energy of knowledge and strength compels this belief.” (The Will to Power. P 35-36) Although both in the case of the Bodhisattva and Overman, and the case of Samsara and eternal recurrence, there are distinctions as well as the commonalities already mentioned, I am not saying there is a one for one correspondence between the ideas, but rather there is a major influence in Nietzsche’s writing. As these relate to the notion of the death of God, it is interesting to note that the oldest version of Buddhism is the Theravada version, which is atheistic. So perhaps for Nietzsche the death of the biblical God is not the final religious statement but rather creates room for the ascendancy in European thought for a new religious point of view. The strength for Nietzsche might be found in another commonality between Buddhism and Nietzsche’s thought – that of the “disruption” of the moral view of the world. In classical eastern thought of almost all varieties, morality in all its forms are part of Maya, the illusion. They have no intrinsic reality or veracity and therefore no need for a god or gods to ground them. This is especially the case in versions of advaita Vedanta. Nietzsche state his affinity for this in this manner “The Buddhist religion is the expression of a fine evening, a perfect sweetness and mildness – it is gratitude towards all that lies behind…emancipation even for good and evil appears to be the essence of the Buddhist ideal.” (TWTP. P.597) Similarly, Nietzsche states in (BGE p. 44-45) that “We believe that morality in the traditional sense, the morality of intentions, was a prejudice precipitate and perhaps provisional something on the order of astrology and alchemy, but in any case, something that must be overcome.” In the same book he argues later that there are no moral phenomena at all, only a moral interpretation of phenomena.

In this sense you can see part of his attack on Kant. There is no moral “thing in itself”. There is only a phenomenon. And this phenomenon is interpreted in different ways. Therefore there is no essential or universal morality. It then is not an abandonment of morality, for the overman chooses his own morality and affirms himself and life. It is the destruction of any notion of universal morality, which interferes with the Overman’s creator abilities. This is one of the reasons why Nietzsche “dances” with the announcement of the death of God. Without the one great light to dim all others, the “lesser” lights can now shine forth and blaze for themselves. Thus the will to power is born. God the one formerly dominant power is dead. This opens up the door for all others to become overman and thus show forth their own power. For Nietzsche this is again is worthy of a dance. How can one ever have power is there is always a power beyond our touch? But with the death of God, all power is now available. Since for Nietzsche all statements and affirmations are in fact willing to power, now they all have meaning and in this sense nihilism can be held off. This nihilism was the result of “decadence” and decadence was the result of both Christianity and other forms of morality, in particular philosophy. Bernd Magnus notes that “Christianity is the fruit of resentment. As a product of weakness it represents the decline of life, decadence, degeneracy, in contrast to the exuberant ascent of life which seeks expression in master morality. And so it follows for Nietzsche that Christianity, like platonic philosophy, severs body and soul, that it deprecates the human body, impulse, instinct, beauty, passion, the intellect.” (Reading Nietzsche. P. 166) In the Will to Power, Nietzsche argues that morality was seen as the “antidote” against both practical and theoretical nihilism. Morality gave purpose to God. Nihilism was perceived by western tradition as the great threat, always waiting at the door for an opportunity. With morality came purpose, design and other “Christian/western” values. Nihilism can be ignored because there was a cause to the universe, a design to the universe and therefore a purpose and meaning for the inhabitants thereof.

But what to do if all that is lost? What happens if God is dead? Nihilism rushes in to fill the vacuum. All that was settled is unsettled and all the foundations of the earth are off course. Nietzsche celebrates and is also repulsed by this event. He rejoices at the opportunity to affirm what is, to affirm and desire the eternal recurrence of what is, but he frets about the transition period that is coming. This “unsettling” of the entire western tradition is cataclysmic. As Zarathustra notes, how can anyone not notice or how can they not have heard that GOD IS DEAD? Do they not realize what this means? Do they not realize that life will never be the same? As Nietzsche points his finger at German Christianity and accuses it of killing God, he notes with irony that the emperor (the edifices of western churchianity) has no clothes. He will be the child who notes what should be obvious to all. God is dead. There is no good and evil. There is no meaning. There only is. Here I agree with Nietzsche.

This is why I think he is the most consistent atheist I have ever read. If one accepts his analysis then one is driven ruthlessly by the force of his argument. In my term paper I will argue that this is why one must reject his perspectival epistemology, but more on that in that work. If Darwin, and Marx, and the German philosophers are right, that there is no need for a God, because we have taken or explained away all the divine roles, than all there is, is “is”. The jungle as a literal reality and metaphor for life applies here. If no God, and therefore no transcendent or universal morality, then the jungle is what we came from and what must be. There is no slave ambushing the master in the jungle. The strong survive. The strong transvalue all other concerns except their own will to power, their own will to survive. They do not bemoan the plight of the weak – they eat the weak. They do not bemoan their status and attempt to handicap the reality of how they exist – they celebrate and act out of their own strength. This is why Nietzsche loved the old gods of Greece and powerful individuals like Napoleon. The old Greek gods were like human beings on steroids, constantly striving for supremacy. In the same vein, Napoleon overcame his “limitations” and strove for and achieved power. In that way he shows what is possible for any person. One wonders if the slightness of Napoleon’s stature was seen by the similarly small Nietzsche as a point worth celebrating in itself. The will to power being larger than the physical being itself. The will to power bursting beyond its limitations to affirm and expand its own power. I will leave this to the psycho-analytic folks to play with.

What is important here is that for him the higher call was found in “he who affirms all that is questionable and terrible in existence, he is Dionysian.” (TWTP. P. 49) One could not affirm all that is in the world if some things are divided into good and evil categories. This brings us to the ultimate Nietzschean conclusion, the passive nihilism which sees the purposelessness of existence and emptiness of values. The overcomer or Ubermensch then practices the active version of nihilism and tries to destroy the thing which it no longer believes. In this sense Nietzsche is both types of nihilist. He notes that western culture is attempting to talk of meaning, and value and morality, but that it no longer upholds that which gave all those things to it, namely the Christian God. As this God has been removed by those say they believe, Nietzsche then practices in his works the art of active nihilism and encourages others to do the same. Kill that which you no longer believe. Tear down what you do not believe in. You could argue that he is attacking the hypocrisy of what he sees in this culture. In this way he is the most “honest” of all his contemporary theologian, he despises their hypocrisy. And he is a theologian. He writes about God more than most who claim to be Christian. In this way he is also a philosopher. He thinks and thinks again about what his world has to offer and thus seeks wisdom where he can. He affirms the earth and all that is in it. But in another way he despises the earth of people while at the same time affirming nature. Perhaps he should be more consistent. How it is one might ask of him did the weak overthrow the strong? Are the strong really the strong? Why? If they really were strong, then the weak could not have done such a thing. Perhaps God is not dead after all…

Letter to a Buddhist

Hi Werner. Interesting thread for sure. Your discussion early on was quite well done, in reference to the problem of evil and all. I think it is the most interesting question of all me. One point I would add, as I have done in class to answer William Rowe and other atheists on this point, is that any discussion of child molestation murder (human acts under the free will category) and “acts of nature” like little Bambi’s dying in a forest fire, both require some measurement to be called “evil” Atheists have no standard other than nature itself or pure emotive or emotional reaction. Therefore for these acts to be truly “evil”, would require some transcendental component, which is denied by the atheists in their first line of argument. Anyways that is a fun one, but you are doing well there.

As far as your discussion with the Vajrayanist or Tibetan Buddhist, So much to say and so little time. There were several areas of controversy brought up and I will touch on a few. Just for the sake of clarification Zen is a different branch of Mahayana Buddhism, which even though there are perhaps thousands of individuated groups, all differ from the Theravada in that they deny the primitive Buddhist teachings (as seen by the Theravada) and believe that there are further revelations or “turns of the wheel” being revealed all the time, especially the Tibetans. Also in reference to all the similarities in quotes between “Buddha” and Jesus. The hard fact is that there are no extant copies of ANYTHING that the Buddha supposedly wrote that are earlier than roughly 1st century a.d. Most of the Mahayana documents and virtually all of the Tibetan revelations come hundreds of years after that. You see the same phenomena within Hindu texts as they take a direct turn after the first century a.d… Now whether there is a direct cause for this (Christian missionaries perhaps?) is an area for further study someday, and perhaps one I will get to play with. But for now, any relation to what was supposedly said by the Buddha was written down a minimum of 400 – 500 years after the fact, and again most of it even further removed than that. So that comparison/contrast is misguided at best. Even if you grant the basic Pali canon as true Buddhist comments, the points of discontinuity between the message of the Buddha and that of Jesus are not apples/oranges but rather apples/Volkswagens. There is virtually no comparison at all in their central thoughts. For example:

1) Buddha denied that there was anything existent eternally (the soul or jiva or atman – something that immediately separated him from the Hinduism that he was initially part of. Jesus, consistent with the Jewish tradition, taught that there is an immortal soul that lives past this physical life.

2) Buddha taught reincarnation as the result of karmic activity. Karma or action is not to be seen as “good” or “bad” in the way most Americans loosely use it, but rather is simply means action. Whatever is done, is karma. Judgment of this is part of the illusory nature of reality. The Hindus call this Maya – something affirmed by the Buddha many times. So to say that one can “balance” ones “bad” actions with “good” actions, as again routinely stated by new agey types in America, is to miss the Buddha’s real point, that all that we affirm as good and bad are merely illusory – the real or upper level understanding, as hinted at by your friend, is that we are all supposedly connected and all our distinctions are merely unenlightened encumbrances on our way to Nirvana. So real consistent Buddhist and Vedantist also on this point, point to the lack of any activity as the best course of all. By contrast to all this, Jesus clearly taught that the moral code was inviolate, that there really is good and evil and that to engage in evil activities is to invite the judgment of a holy God.

3) Buddha allegedly did not worry about the existence of a God such as seen in Christianity, but he clearly denies what was commonly believed in his day, the existence of an immortal consciousness or force – Brahman, often personalized in Hindu literature. But if you read virtually any Buddhist literature, especially Tibetan stuff, the stories virtually are filled with deities, sub-deities, gods, goddess, Bodhisattvas (usually described with what we would normally call divine attributes) and so on. In point of fact there are literally millions of these characters present in Buddhist literature. Only the Theravada, usually, are atheistic by definition, but that is not who you are dealing with. By contrast, Jesus affirmed that there is one God, the creator (something incomprehensible with the Buddhist systems) of all, who is holy and not to be identified with the created order in any essential way.

4) You rightly point out that the Buddhist teachings on enlightenment is a self-regulated path, but within the myriad of Buddhists groups there are just as numerous paths. Zen requires (generally) monastic discipline to do it “right”, but some Pure Land Buddhist believe you can just recite a name “Amidha” even only once and get a major lift up on the enlightenment path. Theravada pushes monastic discipline as well, but most Mahayanists expand this for lay people, another major distinction between the two paths. Tibetan paths usually require rejection of the world as it is, in favor of the essential monistic view already discussed above – we are all interconnected and one. There are many demons and gods who either help or hinder one on the vajrayana path, but the types of meditation often debated and used, are pretty much so completely antithetical to Christian thought in any possible way. The Tibetan Buddha’s have debated which version of this is better for enlightenment, but both require at least an incredible fixation on sex. The Tantric scripture start within Hinduism but were incorporated into Buddhism, and expanded in the Tibetan view. Two choices here – one as a male has sex with a woman to stimulate ones rejection of the world ethical codes, or one visualizes the copulative act in ones mind. In both cases men and woman are depersonalized and seen as principles. But in some of the literature you even get more power if one involves children in the process. Very sick stuff indeed. There is a lot more to this, but as you have already seen there is no possible comparison to Jesus’ thought on salvation. The very concept of Heaven and Enlightenment are radically distinct as well.

5) No way around this for your friend, but virtually all of the earliest Buddhist literature was filled with degrading statements about women. My Buddhism professor, herself a practicing Buddhist, had a hard time spinning for rich preppy liberal arts students at Denver University. The Buddha taught that woman need to incarnate as a man first so that they would not be hindered in the path. The Buddha encouraged literally thousands of men to leave their wives and family, (as he had done himself!) and the woman would often pursue him and beg him to be allowed into the Sangha (community of Buddhists followers) The Buddha said that if he allowed women to be enlightened, it would set the Dharma back 1,000 years! Oh well. He finally relented and establish female monasteries as well, but they were (and this is the case in the rare ones extant today!) but they were clearly at the low end of the food chain. It is scandalous how the rules established by the Buddha often starved the female monasteries literally out of existence. By contrast Jesus lifted up the women he dealt with, often scandalizing his public audience by his willingness to deal lovingly even with “fallen” women. Later Buddhist writings are more sympathetic to women, but suffer from the problem of being “discovered” (or as I would argue – invented) literally thousands of years after the Buddha died. As evil as many men have acted towards women in so called Christian cultures, would anyone seriously argue that women are treated better in Buddhist cultures? This brings up another serious point for your friend to think about…

6) The question now turns to what the “fruit” of Buddhism is. Now one can always point out the evils of Christianity. Its long list of institutionalized sins are inscribed in history forever. But any crusader, who killed a Muslim, or “Witch” or Jew or usually fellow Christian, was directly disobeying what Jesus said we are to do. You can blame us, but you cannot blame Jesus. But let us compare what goes on right now in Buddhist culture. Because of the Buddhist teachings on karma, reincarnation and Maya, a Thailand Buddhist father can justify taking his eight year old daughter and selling her to a whorehouse in Bangkok. After all, one should not fight against ones karma, perhaps she was a father who did this in a previous existence and this is merely the balancing of her karma. Or since the world is really just an illusion and the true reality is the interconnectedness of all life, then what we perceive is merely that, perception and has no real value in the “real” world. There is no real distinction between the farmer, the daughter, the pimp, and the pedophile, are all the same and ultimately all share the same existence both now and in the future – the vow of the Bodhisattva traditions is that all of life will achieve nirvana before they can. So ultimately all of our choices, good, evil or indifferent, are all the same, washed one in the monistic wash of interconnectedness. By contrast, Jesus affirms not only our distinctiveness, but our choices as well. The very notions of Heaven and Hell are significant because our moral choices are real ones, with real consequences. Christianity in one sense affirms the very real complaints against the institutionalized church. Because there is evil in this world and every person, Christian or not, is a sinner. This fact of evidence buttresses the need for the Cross. Only the Christian teaching of universal sin in the created world can make sense out of the very things that people complain about in reference to Christianity. In other words, the complainants against the Church have to borrow the Christian understanding of the world to criticize us. The Buddhist affirms the essential goodness of human beings, even while supposedly affirming neutrality on the point, by affirming our ability to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps as it were, and achieve our own enlightenment. But even after his enlightenment, the Buddha never returned to care of his wife and child, because his attachment to them was part of the PROBLEM! This example, often supported by another story of the Buddha’s preexistence where he actually gives his wife and kids who strangers who demand them, if why literally thousands of Hindu “householders” (men who were responsible to take care of their wives and children) deserted their families to join the monastery! No follower of the Buddha was allowed to work, so they (in many cases to this very day) have to beg for their food in neighboring villages. This is the “grace” of Buddhism. I as a monk allow you to give me food, thus giving you a ticket to heaven or another rung up the ladder of enlightenment. Sounds like our televangelists doesn’t it? So sad…

The supposedly enlightened Lama is on the record for numerous comments he has made attacking other versions of Tibetan Buddhism (there are four different major schools in Tibet), as well as critiquing other religions as well. None of this is seen much in the western press, as that might show a side of the Lama that people might not like in our enlightened pluralistic age where exclusivist is only supposedly seen in “bad” religions like orthodox Christianity. Oh well…

Just a few thoughts here. Let me know what you think and how else I can be of help.

God bless,

Bill Honsberger

Haven Ministry


—– Original Message —–

From: Werner Peters

Sent: Monday, August 05, 2002 10:26 AM

To: William Honsberger

Subject: RE: Buddhist conversation

He hasn’t told me yet which branch of Buddhist he is. He gave me this huge post making claims of similarity between Buddha and Christ. I have already pointed out contradictions in his logic, but logic doesn’t seem to count. And I am not sure where to go from there.

If you have the time, click on;f=23;t=000011;p=3

Or go to

Click on bulletin boards

Choose Religion and Politics

Then choose the forum How do you determine what truth is?

You have to register and give yourself a nickname before you can contribute, but anyone can read the thread.


—–Original Message—–
From: William Honsberger [
Sent: August 5, 2002 11:29 AM
Subject: Buddhist conversation

Hi Werner. My name is Bill Honsberger and I am a missionary who often talks to Buddhists. I also teach world religions and so am fairly conversant with most types of Buddhism. What kind of Buddhist are you talking to and where are they from?

God bless,



America is a pagan country. According to the National Association of Evangelicals, America has the fourth largest pagan population in the world, and we are second only to Brazil in the number of missionaries that we receive from other parts of the world.(1) Obviously, other Christians see us differently than we see ourselves. Why this is and how this happened is not the focus of this article, but is addressed in others in this journal. My focus is on what we can do about it.

The Psychic Friends hotline brought in over $100 million dollars last year, as one of many different psychic avenues. Wiccan groups like Covenant of the Goddess, have grown over 500% in the past ten years.(2) Movies are teaching young people about the circle of life- the world view of reincarnation, the relativising of morality, and the new gospel of “Tolerance” has become bedrock for a new generation. A collective yawn goes out across the country when it is revealed the First Lady, Hillary Clinton, someone who professes to be a Christian, spends time talking to the dead with New Age authority Jean Houston. We are a pagan culture. While this may be distressing for many American Christians, the fact is that it is the normative experience for Christians to be a hated minority among a larger pagan culture. America has been the exception for Christian history, not the rule. And since it is not a new phenomena it is possible for us to look into our own history and see if there may be examples of how the Christian Church has operated successfully among the pagans.

God has been in the business of reaching out to pagans for a long time. Whether you call them pagans, or New Agers or witches, or idolaters or whatever else, there is nothing new about calling them into the family of God. In the Old Testament you see the examples of Ruth, Rahab, and others. In the New Testament you see Cornelius, Dionysius of Athens, and virtually all of the church at Rome, Corinth, Ephesus and so on. In all of these cases, God reached out and brought to himself those who had been hard core enemies of the true faith. Just as this was uncomfortable for many in the believing community in both eras, the love of God was and is able to gather in those who oppose him. One could easily see the same reaction happening in the contemporary church. Most Christians want nothing to do with those who are Buddhist, Wiccan, Psychics and so on, because of fear or disgust and maybe other motivations. Another group of Christians seems to want to say that there is no need to witness to other religions because each group “comes to God in their own way.”(3) But we must be committed to the biblical certainty that Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one comes to the Father but by him (John 14:6). (4) If we believe that God loves pagans as much as he loves us, and this is certainly what God says (John 3:16-17) then we must take the great commission imperative seriously and commit ourselves to reaching out to those who oppose the Lord.

I might say here that there has been a concerted effort within the Christian community to reach out to pagans, and that it has been a failure, although this is not recognized by the participants yet. The belief seems to be, that if we build impressive buildings, and offer up quality entertainment, that the pagans will be attracted to the Gospel. In this new notion, the pastor serves as CEO, whose major focus must be on building the customer base of the corporation (church). The pastor must also be the community therapist, whose role is to gauge and assuage the “felt needs” of those within the consumer base, and do all he can to meet those needs. While this mega-church notion is possible and has had the observable success of building some very impressive campuses in select locations, it is very hard to argue that this has had any effect on the larger pagan culture at all.(5) In fact, it seems very evident that one might make the case that since the advent of the mega-church mentality, that the culture has become overwhelmingly pagan. While I am not saying that there is a one-to-one correspondence between the two, I think I can say that if this is the best we have, then the Church is in trouble.

I am not a pragmatist, but even if I were, I might have cause to ponder whether the methodology of the mega-church is working. One might glance over to the former heart of “Christendom,” Europe, and see if the mega-church mentality will work. One might tour the impressive cathedrals, the beautiful works of art, and imposing repositories of billions of dollars of collective Christian history, and wonder why it is that they in effect are now wonderful tombs, fine museums, and are scarcely attended by less then 2% of the local population. If impressive buildings, or “Christian Malls over America,” and quality artistic endeavors are the key to reaching pagan America, then why is it not working in Europe? Even since the fall of the Berlin wall, when the initial outpouring into the churches seemed to be such a hopeful sign of great things for the church, the report is now that these churches are now basically empty too. Not to say that the Europeans are less “spiritual,” because cults, psychics, vampires and all sorts of wickedness are on the move, marching through the towns. England now has several Hindu temples, and the soon to be head of the Anglican Church, Prince Charles has his own personal Guru.(6) There are more Muslims in England than Methodists. In less than a hundred years, the English church, once the sending source of more missionaries than any other country, has less than two percent of its own population in attendance. Do we not see ourselves in this same light? I could go on but I would rather emphasize what we can do that is not only right by principal, but also by precedent can be shown to work.

We find ourselves looking more like the church of the first century than we could have ever imagined. We now have a personal understanding of what Paul must have felt when he entered Athens, with a god on every corner, and spare gods just to cover all the bases. As Chuck Colson noted a few years ago, we no longer live in Jerusalem, where everybody knew who God is, even those who did not believe. We now live in Athens, where you might get a hundred different answers to the question “Who is God?” How did the early church react? How did they effectively minister to their pagan world? And how can we do the same?

Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 66-67) has a series of charts showing the spread of Christian Churches for the first three centuries. From the beginning of the church until the end of the third century, the spread of the Christian church is impressive. The church has spread across the north of Africa, up through Europe to Gaul and England and east through Asia minor. What is most interesting about this is that this was accomplished without the help of any of the things we modern Christians think most essential for reaching out to pagans. This was done without church buildings, because the first known church building is not seen until 250 A.D. This was also done without trying to compete with the pagan world for entertainment. No one could compete with the pagans for impressive buildings and entertainment. The ancient wonders of the world were religion in stone, all meant to convey the grandeur of the gods they represented. One could not help but be astonished when you came upon the Colossus of Rhodes, or the Temple of Artemis in Corinth. These buildings would be incredible in our day, let alone theirs. As for entertainment, the pagans threw the best parties. The Coliseum and the Hippodrome were open daily, and the mystery religion of the Elesuians, for one example, threw drunken orgies that lasted for weeks.(7) It is essential that we understand that the early church could not compete at this level. They did not have the funds, the freedom and most importantly, the inclination. Knowing this, how then did they spread so quickly without reaching out to meet the “felt needs” of those early pagans? Let us examine what they did and why it worked.

I would like to use Ephesians 4:15 where Paul says we are to “speak the truth in love one to another.” The early church spoke the truth and they did it in love. Lets look at both aspects. There are numerous recorded accounts of early church leaders and apologists, writing letters to the Emperor, the local governors and other officials. There are also a few recorded incidents where the pagan leaders were confronted in person.(8) What was this about? The most despised thing by the early church was the games in the Coliseum. These were criticized for the slaughter of thousands of people and animals. The early church spoke out against slavery, abortion, the mistreatment of the poor. They also spoke out against paganism in its religious elements; mystery religions, Gnostic groups, the emperor cult and so on. The church did not worry about what was “politically incorrect,” and it often cost them a very high price. But fear of offense, which seems to paralyze so many modern Christians, did not appear to be a problem for the early church.

Another fear of contemporary Christians, is antagonizing non-Christians by saying that there is only one way to heaven. Pluralism seems so polite, so pleasant, so tolerant, and so many in the Church advocate the inclusion of all faiths under one umbrella. But the early Church suffered under no such delusions. They spoke out against pagan beliefs of all sorts. The Apostles spoke often against false prophets and teachers, (I John, Jude, 2 Peter, Colossians, Galatians) and the first generations followed their example. Ireneus, in his Against Heresies, addressed many of the pagan beliefs that we still deal with today, such as reincarnation, Gnostic denigration of the material world and so on.

Others such as Tertullian and Justin Martyr spoke out against paganism in all its forms. Pagans, such as the young Augustine, were often struck by the dramatic difference between biblical faith and the pagan pantheons. We must be as clear today. The gospel of pluralism, is no real gospel. It may make one better dinner company, but it will not save anyone. By contrast, the early church was often willing to die for the exclusivistic claim of Jesus as Lord, not Caesar, nor anyone else. Another thing to consider when addressing speaking the truth to pagans, is the use of reason in apologetics/evangelism. One favorite technique with the scriptures is that of the reductio ad absurdum (reduce to the absurd). This means that you assume your opponents position and see where it leads. You can see this for example, being evidenced in the mockery of Isaiah, when he writes concerning the pagan, who, having cut down a tree, takes “half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, ‘Save me, you are my god'” (Isaiah 44:16-17). Isaiah notes and mocks the obvious; no “god” that I create, can save me! You also see this when Ezekial meets with the pagans at Mt. Carmel. In I Kings 18:21 ff., Elijah mocks the prophets of Baal, the penultimate nature religion of the day. After noting that all their pleas and bloodletting has not brought forth Baal to challenge the prophet of the true God, Elijah shouts out, “Shout louder…surely he is a god. Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” The point is clear: If Baal was really God, then none of the theatrics or obscene rituals was necessary.

You can also see this type of argumentation being used in the New Testament. When Jesus discussed the resurrection with the Sadducees, who denied it, he points out that the Sadducees themselves pray to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Since this is so, their own words belie their position. God is not the God of the dead, but rather the God of the living (Mark 12:18-27)! Jesus does a similar thing in the same chapter of Mark, when he points out that the rabbis were teaching that the Messiah is the son of David, and yet David himself says that the Messiah is his Lord. The rabbi’s position is undermined by contrary evidence, from within the rabbi’s own scriptures.

In much the same way, we can use this type of argumentation in talking to pagans. For example, one can take the common belief of “Maya”-the notion that all of reality is but a illusion of the mind, and that even the mind itself is an illusion. The “true” reality, is that all exists is the same exact thing, and that it is God. This is the heart of monistic pantheism; all is one and all is god. Many pagans in America are in what I call a “Christian hangover.” That is, they were raised within some form of Christian church and have left it for various reasons and are now pagans. They were Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and now are Buddhists, Hindus and Wiccans. And yet many of them have brought with them various Christians notions, such as caring for the poor, and the environment, etc. For example Marianne Williamson, author of Return to Love and many other books, is a proponent and teacher of a (spirit) “channeled” book called A Course in Miracles. She claims that this book was written by Jesus, who has come back to the world through this book, “to undue the damage done to the world for the last two thousand years.” What is this damage? The damage is that the church has taught that people are separated from God because of their sin. The message of this new “Jesus” is that there is no such thing as sin, and that we cannot be separated from God because we are God!

Why does this not seem to be obvious, and why does our perceptions seemed to be marked by so much apparent evil? Well, Williamson says we are living in a hallucination (her description of Maya!) and that all we see is merely the creation of our minds, which are really God’s mind. In the meeting where I heard Williamson explain all this, she spoke for close to two hours about how all that exists is an illusion, and that freedom and enlightenment come, when one discovers this. At the end of the meeting she took up a collection for AIDS patients!

The irony is delicious; if I am an illusion, and the AIDS patients are an illusion and the disease is an illusion and money is an illusion, then the illusory collection is undermined.

Richard Gere does the same thing as a supporter of the Dalai Lama and of Tibetan nationalism. In an article a few years ago, Gere notes that all of reality is merely a function of the mind. This belief was taught him by the Tibetans. But at the end of the article he chastises the Chinese government for brutally murdering and destroying the Tibetan people. (10) But one might ask, “Mr. Gere, if it is true that reality is merely a function of the mind, as taught to you by the Tibetan Buddhists, then why don’t the Tibetans merely change their minds! Poof! No more Chinese.” But this doesn’t seem to have worked. Perhaps one could take the belief of reincarnation and see if that helps. The Tibetans believe in reincarnation and therefore should appreciate the conclusions that come from its teachings. If Gere were to take the fatalistic eastern view of reincarnation, that of the Tibetans themselves, then he knows that all actions or karma, are merely the byproduct of past actions. That is, the explanation for the hardship of the Tibetans today can only be explained by understanding that the Tibetans must have invaded Beijing in an earlier life. Of course this won’t justify Gere’s complaint either, so perhaps we can look at the western spin on reincarnation. Most western views still emphasize that what people experience is the direct consequence of karma, but we experience this now for our personal growth, and by our personal choice: Reincarnation with a happy face:). But if this is the case, then once again we must ask if perhaps the Tibetans shouldn’t just grin and bear it, as their slaughter by the Chinese is something they chose for themselves and something which will help them “grow.” Whichever way he goes, Gere’s complaint against the Chinese is undermined by his own beliefs.

Now the best part of all this is now to come. This is a wonderful opportunity to witness to pagans, because they and we are created in the image of God. That is at least to say that they have moral notions and that this experience is a universal one. So we can find common ground with people of pagan persuasion in the moral arena. However since most if not all pagan groups deny the existence of absolute ethics, especially those of the Lord, then ethics must be purely relative, perhaps just emotions blurted out, or ethics become the playground where the self is King, and can play by whatever rules it likes. None of this however, gives one reason to help AIDS patients or try to help the Tibetans. The grief that Williamson and Gere share, are proof that their own beliefs cannot work.

The traditional response of eastern religions is some sort of two-tiered notions of reality. The upper level is true reality, where monistic pantheism is true.(11) This is the “true” or higher level of consciousness. The lower level, where we all live in this world, is ultimately a false reality, but for some reason we must play by its rules. This sets up the believer as a moment by moment hypocrite, for living in a false reality and acting like its real, while all the time believing that the world they live in is not real. Yet as one has stated, even Hindus look both way before they cross the street! This just shows the hypocrisy deeply imbedded within the religious consciousness of the pagan believer.

Another example of this futility can be shown through a conversation I had with a Theraveda Buddhist. As a Buddhist of this type, Sukkacitto is deeply committed to atheism and non-violence. Behind all of reality is not God, but rather nothingness, Sunyata, the void. After reading his literature, I told him that I appreciated his stance of non-violence towards living things. But I wondered, as an atheist, how could he know that non-violence was right? Who says so? His answer was that nature teaches us the law of non-violence. I told him that was an interesting idea, but all one had to do was watch a David Attenborough video for five minutes, before you figured out that all nature is animals killing each other and making more little animals who kill each other. You can learn a lot from the created world, but you cannot learn non-violence! At that point Sukkacitto yelled at me, “Bill, you just think you need a personal God to teach you right from wrong!” “Exactly,” I responded. You see, unlike most relativists, Sukkacitto did not want non-violence to be merely an option alongside of violence. He knows that in order to raise non-violence above the relativistic swamp, that there must be something bigger than all our opinions to justify it. But being an atheist, he had discarded the possibility that God can ground all our moral certainties or uncertainties. Then he had turned to nature, which is by definition bigger than all of us, but has the slight drawback of being completely unable to teach, what he claimed it did.

Yet Williamson, Gere and Sukkacitto all share the same basic desire, that of seeing the consequences of sin dealt with. They had experienced disease, war, violence and had been struck by the destructive power of sin unchecked. All desired that things could be better, that the situations might be made right. But all of these emotions are a direct denial of the belief systems that all three hold. If everything is Maya, or merely a byproduct of your mind, or just the void, then there are no moral rights and wrongs, no evils to be rectified, no clue as to what direction one goes to fix the situations. How can one shape an illusion? What direction can one go, and know that this is the right direction, if there is no “right?” Yet they all seem to instinctively know that wrong is being committed and want things to change. This again points back to the image of God, which as C.S. Lewis argues, is universal in its scope. This fundamental feeling, is easy to deny in print, as many New Age leaders do,(12) but much harder to ignore in real life. This gives the Christian a perfect opportunity to present the true creator of this very real world, introduce what He thinks of sin and evil, and take the New Ager to the real solution for the problem of evil in this life, Jesus the Messiah.

Secondly, the early church acted within the context of love. The early church was criticized by the pagans as a “slave religion,” because so many slaves were becoming Christians. The church cared for the poor in ways that no edifice of stone could. They would help bury the dead of pagans; they would buy the freedom of pagan slaves; they would feed the pagans.(13) This was something people understood. What they could not understand was why the Christians would do this. It made no sense to the pagan mind to take care of others who were not your own immediate family. When Jesus gave the new commandment in John 13, he noted that all people would know who his disciples were by “their love for one another.” By telling us to love our neighbor in Luke 10, in the Good Samaritan story, he pointed out that our neighbor is anyone we find in need. Together these two concepts provided an unbeatable combination.

Now, normally I am very reluctant to say that we can learn something from the pagans, but listen to what one famous pagan, Julian the Apostate, says about us. Julian was the last pagan emperor of Rome, from 360-361 A.D. Wanting to rebuild the grandeur of Rome, but unable to revitalize the pagan religions in the old fashioned way so many of his predecessors had (by slaughtering the Christians!), he funded pagan temples, education, and clergy. In a letter to his high priest in Galatia, he tells Arcasuis something about our own predecessors that we might need to remember. He states: “Why do we not notice that it is their kindness to strangers, their care for the graves of the dead, and the pretended holiness of their lives that have done most to increase atheism [i.e., Christianity]? I believe that we ought really and truly to practice every one of these virtues. And it is not enough for you alone to practice them, but so must all the priests in Galatia, without exception…In the second place admonish them that no priest may enter a theatre or trade that is base and not respectable…in every city establish hostels in order that strangers may profit by our generosity; I do not mean for our own people only, but for others also who are in need of money…for it is disgraceful that, when no Jew ever has to beg and the impious Galileans [Christians] support both their own poor and ours as well, all men see that our people lack aid from us.”(14)

Isn’t it fascinating that he has to order Arcasius to build hostels for travelers in need, and then has to emphasize that he wants them open for people other than their own? It seems so clear that the “secret” of the early church, was to simply do what Jesus told us to do; love each other, and even love our enemies. Why did this work and how can it apply to today?

I think perhaps the clearest explanation is also the simplest; the reason this kind of love worked, it that it spoke to the real need of people. As Dr. Gordon Lewis stresses elsewhere in this journal, apologetics and evangelism must seek for “common ground” with those involved with paganism. The most common ground of all for human beings is our common alienation from God and from each other. When the early church loved people in the simple, yet profound way that they did, they “spoke” a language that the pagans had no counterpoint for. The essence of New Age paganism is narcissic, in all its forms. The self is ultimate and autonomous, with all else being part of Maya-the illusion. This focus on self and self only, under the guise of “spiritual development,” by definition excludes the care for others, and undermines the ultimate idealism often parroted by contemporary leaders within New Age ranks. Why care for the environment is the world is an illusion? Why love your neighbor if all is an illusion? New Age author Joseph Campbell, in the PBS series entitled “The Power of Myth,” explains his version of the commandment to love your neighbor, not as a command to think of others, as seen by Christ’s disciples throughout church history. Rather, he says that the command to love others as yourself is based upon the notion that to love others as yourself is to know that when you do so, you are really loving yourself. Why? Because you are your neighbor. This is the logical extension of monistic pantheism. If all is one and all is God, then all distinctions break down into “Maya.” In response, one could note that for paganism, loving a rock in the same way as one ought to reach out to help the poor, is also the same thing. Rocks and poor people are both part of the illusion, so they are the same.

Within this foundation is the heart of the complaint made by Julian. We must imitate the Christians caring for others. But historically this didn’t work, and this is because the pagan beliefs systematically undermine the concern for the other. By contrast, Christians are commanded to think of serving other people, as a way of serving Jesus. The “benchmark” for the success of the Church in following Jesus, is not our buildings, but rather our reaching out to the very people he reached out to, the poor, the sick, the weak, the orphans, the widows, and so on.

While nothing I have said here is original, it is intended as slap in the face to the Church in America today. I meet too many people who formerly sat in Christian churches of one sort or another, who are now thoroughly pagan. I also meet too many Christians in churches, who know nothing of their own faith, and yet seem fascinated by Wicca, channeling (communication with supernatural entities), and other varieties of paganism. We must speak the truth in love within our own ranks, and also to the larger community of people involved with the “new” religious movements. The good news is, that we do not have to reinvent the wheel, or seek out the latest thing from some marketer, but instead can remember God’s word to our predecessors in the faith, and remember how well God’s methods work when applied.

Bill Honsberger graduated from Denver Seminar in 1981 with a masters of arts degree in systematic theology, and in 1990 was appointed as a missionary to New Age and New Spiritualities Evangelism by Mission to the America’s.

(1) The source for this material is a booklet entitled, America-The New Mission Field, published by the National Association of Evangelicals. Edited by James D. Leggett, January 1996.

(2) The direct statement of this is from Phyllis Curolt, then leader of the Covenant of The Goddess, given in her talk at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago, 1993. The rest of these types of statements are culled from Newsweek, New Age Journal, and numerous other sources.

(3) The best example of this is found in John Hick’s An Interpretation of Religion (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1989). The issue is also discussed in More than One Way edited by Dennis Okholm and Timothy Phillips (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing Co., 1995).

(4) All biblical quotations are taken from the New International Version of the Holy Bible (Nashville, TN: Broadman and Holman, 1978).

(5) This analysis is deeply dependent on the writings (whether they like it or not!) of David Wells in his two books, No Place for Truth, and God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1993 and 1994 respectively). Also gleaned from George Barna’s What Americans Believe (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1991), Os Guinness’s No God but God and numerous other books, articles and conversations.

(6) Taken from article in USA Today, July 12, 1991 and other sources.

(7) Much of this is taken from The Golden Bough, by James Frazer (Avenel, NJ: Random House Company, 1993 edition).

(8) For information concerning the early church fathers, see Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1977), Christianity through the Centuries by Earle Cairns (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), and Church History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1982).

(9) Return to Love by Marianne Williamson (New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishing Co., 1992 and A Course in Miracles edited by Ken Wapnick (published by the Foundation for Inner Peace and Penguin Books, New York, NY, 1975).

(10) Taken from an article entitled “Gere Says Reality is Function of Mind,” Associated Press, date unknown.

(11) The most well known Hindu Philosopher who argued this way was Shankara (circa 820 A.D.) Quoted in Commentary on Brhad-aranyaka Upanishad, IV, 4, 6 quoted in Elliot Deutsch Advaita Vedanta: A Philosophical Reconstruction (Honolulu, HI: The University Press of Hawaii, 1969). (Thanks to Dr. Doug Groothuis for this reference.)

(12) For example see The Fireside Treasury of Light edited by Mary Olsen
Kelly (New York, NY: Simon and Schuster, 1990). For the Love of God
edited by Benjamin Shield and Richard Carlson (San Rafael, CA: New World
Library, 1990). The Coming of the Cosmic Christ by Matthew Fox (San
Francisco, CA: Harper/Collins Publishers, 1988). Science of Being and
Art of Living by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (New York, NY: Signet Books, 1968
and too many others to list here.

(13) See the same historical references listed in (8).

(14) See Eerdmans Handbook to the History of Christianity, 137-138 .


How Fallabalistic Foundationalism and Theophanics saved the world (With apologies to the Irish)

Bill Honsberger

Updated 7/24/2016

This paper will initially attempt to cut short the incredible width and breadth of the project of going “Beyond Postmodernism”, and will give a modest proposal as to how one can have knowledge that is justified and a philosophy which has a proper balance of metaphysics and ethics, which themselves are justified in a warranted manner. I will attempt to show that Christian theology, reconstituted as “theophanics” and fallabalistic/modest foundationalism, in combination give a comprehensive approach to the question of resolving the postmodern dilemma.

In the 1980’s movie “War Games”, the story revolves around a boy who hacks his way into the defense network of the United States to play what he believes are computer games. Unknowingly, he sets into motion the defense network, where the “supercomputer” perceives the commands as an actual attack by the Soviet Union. As the story reaches its climax, the computer’s designer and the boy attempt to short-circuit the system before it launches a response to the Soviet “attack”. They do this by playing Tic-Tack-To with the computer and the computer responds by “learning” the futility of playing Tic-Tack-To. The computer then starts running all of its war game scenarios and then the moral of the story is made clear – the only way to win, is not to play.

In much the same way that Levinas did this, I want to argue that the best way out of the Post modern swamp, is never to swim in it. This does not mean that one does not engage postmodernism and its issues, but I hope to show in this paper that one can engage the concerns without buying the postmodern farm.

One of the fun and interesting things about a project like this is that the ground rules we establish by definition limit and shape the scope of the intended or desired results. The title of the class “Beyond Postmodernism” sets up a framework that can be summarized in the following way. Post modernity has ravaged the philosophical and general academic world. It has deconstructed all of the “giants” that had dominated the intellectual and aesthetic world, and having done that, it sits at the top of the academic hill, daring anyone to knock it off its perch. As we listened to several attempts to find our way out of the dilemma, I was struck by the enormity of both what we were saying and what it would take to actually pull this off. The enormity of the task is daunting indeed. The problem as discussed needs to be trimmed down. In actuality, Postmodernism has not and most likely will not rule the world in general or the academic world in particular. If one takes the APA as an illustration, most estimates lie in the range of 70-80% of the professional philosophers are not in fact postmodern by disposition. It would probably be similar in British universities. In as much as postmodernism is usually seen as hostile to religion/theology, it is quite clear that the majority of the worlds population takes seriously their religions, with all their accompanying meta-narratives and meta-ethical systems, which would militate against the influence of postmodernism. This is not to say that it has not had an impact, but rather to limit its framework to a much more modest influence. Outside of continental philosophical and humanities bastions, such as many French, German and United States universities, and of course the entire audience of MTV, postmodernism has had a limited reach. This does not diminish its effects on those who have received it with open arms, but it does simplify our class goal.

As the class sat judging each attempt to get out of the swamp, it was clear that there was a of criteria for what would constitute a valid move out. The people in the class who are sympathetic to postmodernism don’t seem to have any desire to move along, and the opponents don’t have a set criterion either. One could say that the class fits the Pomo paradigm, in that each tribal representative in the class is or would be resistant to any of the other paradigms achieving Meta status. If one thinks that meta-narratives are inherently evil or problematic, then it is unclear how one could convince them otherwise, especially since certain pomo themes seem to be “given” instead of argued. Colonialism is evil, tolerance is demanded and all must be included. But this is all problematic within the Pomo framework, as these claims have the status of meta-ethical claims, but not the religious or philosophic narratives to support them. These claims then have an emotional appeal to them, but it seems that they are merely operating on borrowed capital and should not have some epistemic privilege as one tries to determine a way out of Postmodernism.

Certain things are needed for a holistic approach to the issue. This does not mean that everyone will be happy with the criterion as established, but a potential meta-narrative must at least have some basic properties. First the potential candidate must have a basis in reality. It must “touch the ground” as it were. Most people, with the exception of a few particular strands of philosophies, think that they have knowledge from their perceptions and other basic “tools”, such as memory, rationality, and so on. Any candidate for Meta status which denies what seems so self-evidently true is never going to be taken seriously. If one were to claim that my computer is actually a pink cow, which only appears to the unenlightened eye as a computer, then most people will not take the candidate as a real option. More detail on this later. As unpopular among Pomo thinkers as it is, most people operate out of a correspondence view of truth. The cat is on the rug if and only if the cat is on the rug. Generally, people don’t seem to see the “wisdom” and “deeper nuances” of the attack on propositional truths, especially when the attacks seem to be given propositionally! A Madonna video several years ago illustrates the confusion here. With the screen full of dervishes whirling around, Madonna intones softly the words “words have no meanings – especially sentences”. One does not need years of training to see the problem here.

A second criterion is that of non-contradiction or internal coherence. Any candidate that is inconsistent in major ways within its own structure is going to be problematic for anyone to take seriously. If ones religion says to love the neighbor and eat the neighbor at the same time and with the same respect, then the candidate seems to be a non-starter. Unfortunately for many within the multicultural world the notion of cognitive dissonance is not seen as problematic anymore. For some thinkers, the holding of mutually exclusive thoughts is worn as a badge of honor, as an example of a “higher” or “deeper” truth. Others say that they are tired of the same old “western” logic of either/or and prefer the wisdom of the alleged “eastern” logic of both/and. But as one former Hindu writer puts it “even Hindus (speaking of Advaitists who deny the reality of the perceived world) look both ways before they cross the street! As much as people try to deny the rules of logic, they are bound by them. To deny the law of contradiction is just to illustrate it. The laws of logic do seem to be part of the “furniture” of the mind, in a Kantian sort of way.

A third criterion will be that of existential viability. By this I mean that a candidate must be livable and livable in such a way that gives value to the world and to its inhabitants. This can be quite controversial depending on how it is framed, but it seems evident that most people desire a framework, be it philosophical, political, religious or whatever, that values them and values the “creation”. One can always find counter-factuals on these claims, but it still seems to be self-evidently true. One of the observable strengths of the old meta-narratives was their ability to give, within the framework of the believers therein, a comprehensive meaning and value to life. Starting then from that point, it seems logical to point out that this is something that is deeply desired by people, hence the numerical “success” of the larger religions of the world, etc. One who argues that value in life can come through torturing others or beating the poor then become problematic. This can also extend to environmental concerns. Despoiling the earth, even on the anthropomorphic view, is problematic as it is a threat to the well-being of all. Another point within this criterion would be that of consistency or “rubber meets the roadness”. Too many points of view ask a person to sacrifice what they know to be true or false about this world, in favor of a “higher” or “more ultimate” level of reality, where the rules of this world don’t apply, rationally, physically and morally. Some narrative contenders ask their followers to act like this world is true, but deny that it is by insisting that this world is an illusion, dream, etc. The true world is “non-dual”, but of course we live in this dualistic one and for some reason not clear to the unenlightened majority of its inhabitants, the dualistic worlds rules must be followed, even though it is the unreal world. This type of narrative forces one into immediate cognitive dissonance to the point of intellectual hypocrisy with each breath.

There may be other valid criterion from which one could make a well-reasoned judgment as to which narrative should be considered worthy of being a meta-narrative. For the purposes of this paper, the criterion will be limited for the sake of expediency.

Does fallabalistic or modest foundationalism meets the first criteria? While foundationalism takes many lumps, deserved or not, from postmodern circles, its simple tenets are the basis that most people use and have found useful. Philosopher Robert Audi describes how knowledge is grounded in the following way:

“Each kind of belief is grounded in the source from which it arises. Our examples illustrate at least three important kinds of grounding. Consider my belief that there is a blue spruce before me. It is causally grounded in my experience of seeing the spruce because that experience produces the belief. It is justificationally grounded in that experience because the experience, or at least some element in the experience, justifies my holding the belief. And it is epistemically grounded in the experience because in virtue of that experience my belief constitutes knowledge that there is a blue spruce before me.” (Audi, Robert. 1988. Belief, Justification and Knowledge. Wadsworth Publishing Co. Belmont, WA p.5)

Notice that his definition includes seeing, experiences and knowledge, all woven in between and through and around each other. This is just a complicated way of saying what most people ordinary understand truth to be. If one sees a tree in front of then, then they are justified in saying and thinking that they have knowledge that there is a tree in front of them. This doesn’t seem controversial to most people, but as Wittgenstein points out repeatedly, nothing is so simple that some philosopher can’t muck it up. Now the point that many Pomo critics have made against the correspondence view is that this knowledge that was just exemplified has been described as “certain”. This certainty is seen as problematic in that it ruled out possibilities. Perhaps the tree is an illusion or hallucination. Perhaps it is only a dream. Perhaps it is merely a power grab by imperialistic left brained patriarchal Neanderthals who seek to colonize the world of peace loving plant life. Whatever possibility one chooses here, the Pomo critics insist that this certainty is rife with problems and therefore it is sheer hubris to claim to have certain knowledge about the tree. Perhaps some versions of foundationalism have suffered from that very hubris. This is the reason my view is called modest foundationalism. What I mean by this is that one can have knowledge in the way described above, but this knowledge is open to defeasibility. This means that if other facts can undermine the knowledge of the tree, then one must adjust their view accordingly. They might find out later that the tree was in fact a façade and thus their view of what they saw must be reconsidered. But it would take more facts – observations, reasoned arguments, etc, not less, to cause an adjustment of what can consider warranted true belief.

This argument is important because even though the Pomo critics want to deny certainty, as illustrated earlier, they seem to act as if they have if all the time. Most Pomos use science as if it was based on real knowledge. They don’t react with surprise if their car starts in the morning. But knowledge must be grounded on something, whether observation or analytic reasoning or something else which is itself grounded in experience or rational assessment. Mere intuition or kindly feelings do not ground anything. Mystical experiences are beyond validation through regular channels and are very problematic as a basis for knowledge. All knowledge claims must be verifiable in some way in order to be considered as justified. There are many possible ways to justify a knowledge claim and each way has differing criterion. Under normal conditions, scientific claims for knowledge must be repeatable and observable. Even in science however there are “singularities”, such as the birth of stars, etc, which are not observed or repeated but are considered true events because of inference to the best possible explanation or some argument like that. This knowledge may again be undermined, but it will take better evidence and or better arguments to do this. Other types of knowledge claims have different criterion. For example, historical claims must be observed or deduced from data, by someone somewhere, but usually are not repeatable. The very nature of history itself precludes repeatability. Does this somehow undermine historical claims as knowledge? I think that there is very little doubt as to the historicity of Abraham Lincoln, (although as the crop of holocaust revisionists might make one pause). The reasons that people give for believing that Lincoln lived are because of eyewitness accounts, photographs, and personal effects that are ascribed to him by witnesses. Now it is possible that all of this was fraudulently packaged to make one think that Lincoln lived, but there would have to be evidence to make this kind of case. This distinguishes historical facts from scientific facts, but most people seem to consider both types of knowledge claims as worthy of the title “knowledge”.

It must be clear that in both the cases of science and history, that later facts have come out which have upended the previous knowledge claims. In these cases it was not mystical intuition or feelings, drug binges or visitors from the Pleiades which caused the majority of people to see the new knowledge claims as true as opposed to the previous claims. Science rejected the notion of a universe full of “ether” but this was the result of additional observational information, not a chakra reading at the psychic fair. Critics of the Bible had to revise at least part of their charges when evidence was found for the Assyrian empire, something which had been previously denied. So in this sense all claims for knowledge are defeasible, in that later evidence can overthrow the claim with a superior one.

This view of modest foundationalism also has the benefit of dealing with one of the Pomos serious complaints; that of arrogance derived from certainty. We can still claim certainty for the knowledge we have, but there is always the possibility that it can be undermined. We also base this knowledge on real experience and real rationality, thereby eliminating all dubious claims. On a side note, while the Pomo is correct in critiquing the arrogant modern who claims to have all knowledge, or most knowledge with the rest on the way (the confident naturalist line), it is just as arrogant to claim that you have no “truth” and no one else does either (the Caputo line). Isn’t that just another all-encompassing knowledge claim? How can one possible argue that they know that no one has certain knowledge? They must appeal to sense perception or to an a-priori commitment and neither one justifies this statement.

So we are left with experience and rationality as sources for truth, and without getting into tremendous detail over Kant’s analysis of these points, I would argue that Kant went too far to make room for Hume’s tirade against miracles. Hume contradicts his own potential allowances for evidence that he would consider as applicable for miracles. After giving his own criterion for what kind of evidence for miracles, Hume then denies the whole possibility of miracles based on “the very nature of the thing”, in other words, an a-priori commitment to naturalism. Hume’s argument sets the stage for the extreme version of empiricism which culminates in logical positivism two centuries later, which many Pomos and non – Pomos alike find so disagreeable and contradictory. Because of Kant’s overreaction to the supposed force of Hume’s argument, faith and evidence and/or faith and reason have become enemies in so many circles. Since I am rejecting Hume’s argument and Kant’s overreaction, I am positing that there is in fact a rational and empirical basis to the Christian faith. This is part of what I want to explore in the next section.

I want to focus the theology section on the area of incarnational theology which I will call theophanics. A theophany is an appearance of God in the world in different ways. The burning bush speaking to Moses in one example of this phenomenon. By focusing on theophanics I hope to clear away the problems that arise within the loss of the signifier/signified connection so central to the Pomo complaint. When Christians say that God has appeared in the world, we generally mean that he has spoken to the world. In this way you can argue that appearance by God equals spoken by God. The arche theme of the Hebrew Bible is that God has spoken to people from the very beginning. God “walked” in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God “spoke” from heaven to Noah. God “spoke” to Moses through the bush, and spoke to Pharaoh through Moses and the miracles. God appeared and spoke to the Patriarchs and through and to the Prophets He spoke to Israel as a nation. To the three in the fiery furnace, God appeared as a man with them. To the wandering Hebrews, God appeared as the Shekinah cloud. There are many more illustrations but it is clear that the writers of the Hebrew Bible believed that God was in constant communication/appearances with His people. These are generally not reported as mystically private events, and were witnessed in some cases by thousands of people. When God spoke/appeared to the people, He was not lost in some theological maze of abstract metaphysics; rather He was fully present, in the phenomenon and in the speech. He was not removed from the signified, because the signifier was fully present in the signified. There was not a one to two step removed road map to the eternal reality, but rather the creator of the eternal reality was fully present in the present reality. The respect the Hebrews showed for their scriptures made this very clear. God himself was somehow present in these words. Not ontologically in some pantheistic sense, but somehow very present at all times. This is where Derrida and the other Pomo writers have been correct about onto-theological theology. The full presence of God has not been present in writings that seem so detached from the awe and power of the omnipresent creator. But the Hebrew poets and prophets spoke of God as if He was in their face, literally at times, and as someone you could have a relationship with, not as some ultra-transcendent clock-winder. The transcendent unknowable God was Aristotle’s “Prime Mover”, so removed from us that it did not even realize the world had been created. This “god” was so surrounded by its own cloud of thoughts, that the idea of relationship and communion with people was not even possible. But the God of the Hebrew Bible was alive, and active and present in the world, thought separate ontologically from the world. He was involved with creatures that were created for the very purpose of relationship with God.

The New Testament has this same picture, but it is now even more intense. The writer to the Hebrews says that God, who had formerly spoken to his people through the law and prophets, had now been fully revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. God had “tabernacled” with us. Emmanuel – God with us. Jesus says to his disciples that when they had seen him, they had seen the Father. When asked if he would desert Jesus, Peter responds “where would we go, you have the words of life”. Paul describes the scriptures as inspired or “God-breathed”. In other words they are out of and full of the very presence of God himself. God is present in “the very act of signification” itself. In this sense theophanics is not completely separated from faith and works but neither is it tied to either directly. The reality of the incarnation was the ultimate expression of God’s desire to be in relationship with his creations. No distant sliding signifier here. No absence without a trace here. Rather again the full presence was imminent in the person of Jesus. God had condescended to look like us, to speak like us, to hurt like us. He shared our pains and sufferings and was fully present in each possible way. Yet he was also different. He did not fail like we do, did not strike out like we do, and so his ethical presence was also fully present in his person. In the incarnation we see lived what Levinas meant by a first philosophy of ethics. Jesus spent more time talking on how people should treat each other than on any other singular subject. And this ethic was not part of some dream world or illusory experience, but rather the same ethics that applied in the eternal reality, are to be applied in the present reality. No cognitive dissonance required to live as God would have you live.

Just as importantly, these ethical commitments are based on freedom and real choices. By this I mean that unlike many candidates for Meta status, Christian ethics are based on the very nature of God himself. They are not arbitrary for God nor are they above God, but rather “flow” from who He is. Part of this is shown in that God made us in his image and that image has a moral essence. This moral essence (conscience) obliges us to care for the other. Here we see to what Levinas is referring. But what Levinas does not talk about (at least in his philosophical writings that we have read) is why it is that we find it so easy not to care for the other, and that it seems to be the exception to the rule that we do. Levinas missed out on an important part – what happens when we fail to treat others as we know we are ethically bound to? The New Testament picture of the atonement of Jesus for our failures/sins is a key addition here.

It is crucial to note that for both the ancient Hebrews and for the New Testament Hebrews, that the presence of the Lord was manifested publicly and privately. Their argument was not some esoteric, ineffable, Gnostic mystical experience available only to the enlightened, but rather was public, made available to believer and non-believer alike. Here even if I grant Hume’s argument as given, I would say that the Christian faith stands up to his standards as given, and does so in the same way that any other historical claim can stand up to further scrutiny. Contra Hume – people do make the claim that people have risen from the dead (the Christian churches main claim is that Jesus did rise from the dead and that this report comes from eyewitness accounts from believers and non believers) and contra Kierkegaard – you can base your faith on a historical event and none of the events in the Bible involve contradictions (such as God becoming man, etc). God being both a (God) and non-a (non God) at the same time and with the same respect, would be a contradiction, but this is not the Christian story at all.

As said earlier in this paper, the best way to deal with the Pomo issue is not to have gone that route in the first place. But this does not mean I am not interested in dealing with the important issues that postmodernism has raised. One issue already covered is the hubris connected with “certainty”. As argued earlier, it strikes me that it is just as arrogant to claim that no one has knowledge or capital T truth, as it is to claim that one has all knowledge and that with certainty. The modest fallabalistic position sits in between the two extremes. It offers that there is truth which can be discovered and known, and that some knowledge can be had with certainty. It does not suffer from the arrogance of the extreme Pomo claim or the positivist one. The Christian faith does include the possibility of defeasibility as well. The apostle Paul says that if Jesus has not risen from the dead, then we (Christians) are fools and liars as well. So if someone can give credible evidence for the non-resurrection of Jesus, such as his bones, etc, then Christianity would crumple around it. More could be said on this but that is for another paper.

Another complaint made by postmodernism is that of the exclusion of the other. As typically framed, this usually means that people of color, woman and third world people have been excluded from the table of opportunity, respect and honor. They have not been included in the intellectual mix at the university level either. Derrida uses the margins around the text to illustrate that which is not said, which is left out, and uses that to show how the marginalized of society have also been left “unsaid”. As we showed earlier, Pomo somehow counts certain ethical concerns as givens and privileged. The idea that all points of view should be tolerated and included comes out of certain philosophical and or theological camps and therefore cannot be considered as a given without argument. If there are no Meta narratives then there are accordingly no Meta ethics. If one starts with the lack of absolutes, then it is impossible to see how concern for “others” should be privileged over abuse for “others”. All one can really say is that our tribe or community thinks we should be inclusive, but since our view is only one of many, then we have no right to assume that others must take that point of view. In fact we should honor that community’s right to abuse “others” as an equally valid point of view in our relativistic tribal world.

Now I see ethical concerns as a real issue, and the Pomo view undermines its own valid concerns. The only way to make the issue of “others” a serious issue is to make a Meta-ethic which is sufficiently grounded and therefore justified and one which holds each community/tribe and each individual responsible for the care for the “other”. I offer the Christian faith as an example of how this can be done. The ethic is grounded in the very nature of God himself. It is the very nature of God to be loving, and the Bible asserts that each person is themselves created in the very image of God. God holds each person responsible for how they treat others. In the Hebrew Bible there is special attention paid to the care for the “stranger in their midst”, for the widows and orphans. This theme is repeated numerous times in the New Testament as well. As each person is made in the image of God, then each person is worthy of respect and concern from all others.

In conclusion, this appeal to Christianity is open to many questions, rebuttals and these are all fun arguments for further papers and discussion, which I invite. We have tried to limit the scope of the problem, set criterion for what would qualify as a way out, and argued that the Christian faith meets that criterion. I have tried to take the Pomo concerns seriously, and hopefully have offered some sense of dealing with those issues in a fair way. Obviously many people will view Christianity as hopelessly pre-modern or worse yet, modern, and yet many others might and have seen this as a very viable option.



Bill Honsberger

Nietzsche and Heidegger shared an epistemological position. This position, subjectivity, was critical to the development of their belief systems. This paper will examine their arguments for subjectivity and then point out several problems with this position, problems I believe both understood. I will show how these problems drove them into their own “leap of faith” in order make sense of their position.

It is sometimes thought that while small people can frustrate someone for a short time, truly great people can frustrate people for generations. A backhanded compliment is perhaps the best way that I can offer respect to people whose position I rarely understand and almost never agree with, but I am intrigued by their ability to shape the world. Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger were in my mind twin souls, influenced by the western philosophical tradition and perhaps a bit of the eastern tradition as well and Heidegger was certainly moved greatly by Nietzsche. While they shared many affinities, I want to focus on the theme of subjectivity shared by both men. This subjectivity built on the earlier thought of Kierkegaard and a few others, and in reaction to Descartes, truly blossoms with Nietzsche and explodes with the work of Heidegger. Nietzsche is the grandfather of Postmodernism, Heidegger is the father, and Derrida and the rest are standing on the shoulders of these two giants. Having said that, this paper will examine the argument for subjectivity and point out several problems from within their positions, which I believe they both understood, and show how this drives them into their own “leap” of faith to make sense of their position.

Nietzsche’s epistemic position is generally called perspectivalism. Armed with his famous saying that “there is no truth – only interpretations”, he argued that contrary to the “sacred” tradition of western thought there is no “truth” out there, that all our notions of the same are merely power plays and that no one’s perspective is any closer to some supposed “objective” truth than any other. Heidegger quotes Nietzsche favorably when he says that “Therefore, what is necessary is that something must be held to be true – not that something is true.” (1) Sounding similar to Voltaire’s axiom about the existence of God, Nietzsche makes a hard distinction between the functionality of truth and the reality. Following Kant, the distinction between what is perceived and what something really is in itself is a hard distinction. All we really have is our own perceptions. Instead of objective reality, all we really have is an “army of metaphors”. Nietzsche then argues that since there is no real objective truth, all claims to the same are attempts to gain power over others. Language then becomes a weapon, used artfully by the church in particular to subjugate the “plant” man. All the values of western Christianity are making mice out of men, and for Nietzsche this “slave morality” demeans human beings and must be recognized and tossed aside. Heidegger argues that for Nietzsche truth was an estimation of value, and thus could and must be revalued, with the strong man transcending all such perspectival values. Heidegger notes that

“The representation of something as in being in the sense of the constant and the stable is a valuation. To elevate what is true of the “world” to something permanent, eternal, and immutable in itself means at the same time to transpose truth to life itself as a necessary condition of life. Yet if the world were constantly changing and perishing, if it had its essence in the most perishable of what perishes and is inconstant, truth in the sense of what is constant and stable would be a mere fixation…Truth is an illusion.” (2)

Here it is clear that Heidegger and Nietzsche are both relying on Heraclites and that the notion of fixed objective standards is rejected by both. For Heidegger in particular on this point, the world is Being and non-Being. Being in the world is always Being towards death or non-Being. There is always change for Being. Yet Nietzsche is arguing in a sense that this fiction of truth is a helpful one, at least in a limited sense. It is something that humans use in a pragmatic way to get what they want. Heidegger might add here that this is a fiction created by the One/the They, and is part of inauthentic Dasein. For him this inauthentic need for fixed permanent markers is part of the fallenness of Dasein. It is something that must be overthrown by ones resoluteness to not seek false security in so called absolutes.

Heidegger says in one of his important essays that “truth is here driven back to the subjectivity of the human subject. Even if an objectivity is also accessible to this subject, such objectivity along with subjectivity, still remains something human and at mans disposal.” (3) I am glad that he appeared to make a small concession here to objectivity but as we shall see later, he has to redefine objectivity to make it a type or subset of subjectivity. Subjectivity with attitude! He goes on in the essay to argue for a radically new understanding of the word truth. For him it means disclosedness, or Being being uncovered. It is a relation in Being, and for Being and by Being. In all of this what he is trying to say is that truth is Freedom! He notes that

“Freedom, understood as letting beings be, is the fulfillment and consummation of the essence of truth in the sense of the disclosure of beings. “Truth” is not a feature of correct propositions that are asserted of an “object” by a human “subject” and then are “valid” somewhere, in what sphere we know not; rather, truth is disclosure of beings through which an openness essentially unfolds.” (4)

This statement reflects his dissatisfaction with the western tradition, especially medieval, on the dependence on propositional statements as evidencing truth. Whether in philosophy or theology, both traditions had historically emphasized logical correctness as proofed in propositional statements. Assertions to statements that reflected reality were valued while obviously the converse was disdained. But Heidegger wants none of that. For him truth and untruth are both disclosed within Dasein. They do not exist in a vacuum, but rather in the world as the byproduct of Dasein and therefore they reflect all of Dasein’s own strengths and weaknesses. Therefore he thinks, perhaps following the German Idealist school here, that the heart of truth is Freedom, and by that he means that the world of Being creates a “space”, a location, where individual Dasein can create and become authentic. What is unfolding here? For Heidegger it is the existence of Dasein itself. There is no essential self as posited by most western philosophers, but rather Being’s own existence is its essence. He relates this to truth by saying that the essence of truth is the truth of essence. His explanation of this thought is that rather than finding truth in something outside of ourselves, we instead should search for the “real” truth which is that Being is the priority here, and correctness only exists within the space created by Being. This connection is not accidental for him. In Being and Time he emotes

“There is truth only in so far as Dasein is and so long as Dasein is. Entities are uncovered only when Dasein is; and only as long as Dasein is are they disclosed. Newton’s laws, the principle of contradiction, any truth whatever – these are true only as long as Dasein is. Before there was any Dasein there was no truth; nor will there be any after Dasein is no more. “(5)

Heidegger thinks that mystery pervades the Being of Being. It pervasive strains keep us in wonder at awe at the world and at the existence of the world. To attempt to make a stand here, or on this, is mistaken. All of this is changing and locks Dasein into the classic mistake of focusing on a tree and missing the forest. The essence of man then is only his fleeting and transient existence.

So for Nietzsche and Heidegger both, they are at war with the tradition of western philosophy and western Christianity, which both saw as intimately and horrifically entwined. Transvaluation for Nietzsche or Authentic life for Heidegger are both available when one departs western Christianity in particular. Perhaps it is the western traditions emphasis on the Bible as God’s very word, and the long, (and in the scholastic period – painful) development of rationalistic theology. Both were raised in Christian homes but both radically depart the faith of their families. Nietzsche’s famous dictum of the death of God finds somewhat a sympathetic reading from Heidegger’s own desire to find an authentic life that is pointedly having no reference to the Christian God. It is the point of a different paper to argue that their interest in eastern religious motifs was also influential here, but I think that it is germane. Both men share a common affiliation for a radical subjectivity and this epistemological position begs for critique.

Kierkegaard’s focus in the Fragments is the simple statement “Truth is Subjectivity”. Nietzsche picks up the theme with his perspectivalism, and certainly applying the concept in a more forceful way that I imagine the Dane would have ever imagined. Heidegger, like he seems to do with all previous notions, recasts the argument as another way of describing the existence as essence of Being. For both the latter men, propositional truth and correspondence theory are the enemy. The enemy is recognized by its ruthless quest for non-contradiction and internal coherence. Arguments which depend on a precise and rigorous usage of terms and standard definitions are anathema. The rallying cry by contrast is the strength of the strong man transvaluing all values and/or the resolute character of Dasein creating space and freedom. What is one to make of this?

From the perspective of one who is trained in the very tradition despised by both Nietzsche and Heidegger, both philosophically and theologically, I see many problems. The first seems the most obvious and yet is not considered problematic by people from within the perspectivalist traditions. Once one says something like “Truth is Subjectivity” or that truth is perspectival or that it is about disclosedness of existence than it seems that one has immediately and fatally contradicted oneself. If the statement is false, then no one needs to pay attention, but if the statement “Truth is Subjectivity” is true, then no one needs to pay attention in this case either. Subjectivity by definition is relative to the individual. It cannot be corrected by another. So if Kierkegaard is correct here, and then all he really saying is that opinion belong to a subject. And since he himself is a subject, then at the end of the day all he is doing is emoting his opinion, which has no intellectual hold over anyone else. The same is also true with Nietzsche’s perspectivalism. As soon as he says “Truth is perspectival” he traps himself. Even if true all he really is doing is sharing his opinion, which has no more weight than any other opinion. And with no justification available outside of the individual to ground the opinion, all opinions have the same value. This is perhaps seen in a most ludicrous statement by an intellectual disciple of the subjectivist tradition, John Caputo, when he states that “the truth is – that there is no truth”. (6) Far be it from me to deny that there is much in knowledge which is in fact perspectival, but the denial of anything more than perspective forces the position into the rather problematic dogma of declaring that all truth is what they say it is, that it is just opinion, and that of course their opinion is to be valued as true!

All of my critique here depends on the very tools that are attacked by this same tradition. The possible response here is that I am assuming the very notions that I am attempting to defend. A certain circularity then arises. How can one defend the truth of the law of non-contradiction without using it? The answer is of course that you cannot. The problem for the subjectivist is that one cannot deny the truth of it without using it as well. It is not uncommon to hear post-modernist say something like “well I prefer to use both/and thinking instead of either/or thinking”. This is often seen as being the epitome of open-mindedness and tolerance, as opposed to the dogmatism of the absolutist traditions. But in speaking the statement one is employing the very concepts that the speaker is decrying. I admit the circularity is a sticky problem, but I think that it is resolvable with much less damage than the subjectivist position alleges.

A second problem for the subjectivist position is the very ability of a Nietzsche or Heidegger to see the problem that both claim to see, given their presuppositions. Let us assume that Nietzsche’s perspectivalism is true. If all we have is opinion then how is Nietzsche’s position protected from his own analysis and believed to be in fact a “correct” view of the world? Imagine a river which has many large rocks along its bed. Human beings are on the rocks and as they look around they perceive that all of them are surrounded by water. Even though they are on rocks none are able to reach the surface to get a clearer picture of their predicament. The very claim of the subjectivist position is here described. No ones rock is any bigger than any other person’s rock. If this description is correct then how is Nietzsche able to claim that even though everyone else is under the water, he somehow has transcended the river and is able to see that all are under the river. Given his starting presuppositions he cannot say this. All he really can say is that according to his view, all are under the water, but he has no way of saying anything more.

Heidegger seems to dodge the problem in certain ways. His notion of disclosedness of Being is all fine and well, but it seems that the notion that both truth and falsehood are both part of Dasein is problematic. To even make that statement involves some sense of normative judgment. This entails some standard outside of oneself (dare I say, objective?) in order even to make the distinction. Heidegger could reply that the individual Dasein can make that judgment without anything outside of themselves, but if truth and falsehood are both disclosed in and by Being than how can one distinguish between the two? This type of argument seems to be problematic for the whole Heideggarian position. For Nietzsche the question of language is the Alice in Wonderland question – Who is to be master? For Heidegger language is the house in which Dasein exists. But for language to be meaningful it must have some referent. It also by definition must include the notion of non-contradiction, excluded middle and so on. Even German! Of course, Heidegger does a marvelous job of taking historic and normative terms and redefining them in such a way as to fit his philosophy. He certainly exercises freedom when it comes to his use of language. But that is not really the point here. Heidegger uses argumentation and non-contradiction in his arguments against foundationalism. So he uses key parts of foundationalism to attack the same.

Without exploring the point in depth, one could also point out the real possibility of ethical nihilism being very problematic. If there are no objective realities to discover, and no essential self which can be developed morally or otherwise, it seems Heidegger is left with morality as merely one of the byproducts of the world, which is differentiated into multiple realities and culture. Each culture is busy shaping the individual Dasein’s within its circle. And like Nietzsche’s perspectivalism, with no ones view being any more correct than any other, each culture is then correct no matter what. The issue of Heidegger’s involvement and ugly postwar silence with the Nazi party here seems to illustrate the point. As Eric Lemay points out “If humans are Dasein, meaning they have no common essence, then there is no reason to expect that a particular group of Dasein will respect the rights of another. The only sense of security a Dasein has comes from their given society…” (7) This theme is taken up by E. Hirsch, Richard Wolin and others. The nihilistic ethical mindset of so many of Heidegger’s intellectual children seems to illustrate this all too well. The irony is that the contemporary post moderns build so much of their case on care for the “other”. But subjectivism undermines real ethical concern for the other.

It removes any transcendent ethic which might ground ethical judgment that applies to all cultures at once. Hence our culture might decry the Nazi’s treatment of Jews, but that is just us expressing our opinion. It has no more weight than that, and it certainly does not justify intervention of any sort. This perhaps fueled the Levinasian reaction currently underway.

The last question I want to briefly address is the one I started with – the question of the faith of Heidegger and Nietzsche in their own respective versions of subjectivity. Considering that the pro-forma objection normally is so devastating, and given that it has had almost no effect, then one must seek out the basis of such a contradictory position. In his article entitled “Heidegger Deconstructed”, author Peter Leithart quotes a pastor who attended a Nazi summer camp in 1933. The pastor states that Heidegger argued that one must abandon the second article of the Nicene Creed when he says

”One must start by rejecting the first article, that the world was created and sustained by a God, that what exists is merely an artifact, something that has been made by a divine craftsman. This was the origin of that false devaluation of the world that contempt for the world and denial of the world – and the source of that false feeling of comfort and security, founded on subjective ideas about the world that are untrue compared with the great noble awareness of the insecurity of existence.” (8)

Heidegger argued that there is a “great noble awareness of the insecurity of existence”. To me this is a newer version of Kierkegaard’s leap of faith over the ditch. My understanding and scope of knowledge of Heidegger’s thinking is minimal at best. But there really isn’t an argument against God here, rather a mystification of nature and a seemingly irrational leap. As I mentioned before I admire both of these men in their ability to dramatically shape the culture, and I believe that they were both brilliant intellectual minds, and I know that they were quite conscious of the very contradictions that I briefly elicited earlier. In light of that, an existential leap of faith makes sense. But this is not the Kierkegaardian leap toward faith in God, rather it is a leap of faith in the Ubermensch for Nietzsche and the authentic resolute towards death Dasein for Heidegger. It seems like I have brought up too many issues to adequately discuss in such a short paper and there is just one more. Why is the thrown, fallen, errant inauthentic Dasein worthy of such trust? How did these conditions obtain? Where did Being come from? Why is that more attractive and worthy of trust that the Christian God? All of these questions seem worthy of attention and probably have been talked about in numerous books and articles that are beyond my current range of knowledge. It seems to me that a fallibalistic foundationalist position, one that is open to a degree of subjective knowledge, could grant some of Nietzsche and Heidegger’s concerns without taking the pendulum quite so far. And while I take faith seriously, it does not necessarily follow that faith must be irrational, even though that is Kierkegaard’s and so much of modern culture’s bent.


1) Nietzsche. Heidegger, Martin. Harper/Collins. San Francisco, CA. 1961. P.56.

2) Ibid. P.58.

3) Basic Writings. Heidegger, Martin. Ed. By David F. Krell. On the Essence of Truth. Harper/Collins. San Francisco, CA 1993. P. 124.

4) Ibid. P. 128.

5) Being and Time. Heidegger, Martin. Harper/Collins. San Francisco, CA.1927. P. 227/269.

6) Heidegger for Beginners. Lemay, Eric. And Pitts, Jennifer. Writers and Readers Publishing, Inc. New York, NY. 1994. P. 102.

7) Heidegger Deconstructed. Leithart, Peter. Http:// P. 2.

Zen Buddhism – History and Development

Monks sit in perfect silence. Each one deep in meditation on the void/sunyata, or emptiness of all things. Another monk silently walks around the others, peering, and then pausing before one, he gently taps his shoulder with a huge club and suddenly slams it on the back of the docile monk! Why was this done? The offending monkʼs breathing was incorrect, or perhaps his back posture was off a little. Welcome to the world of Zen.

Like other versions of Buddhism, the roots of Zen are a bit murky. Buddhism spreads from India in the 6th century b.c. to China (Chan), Thailand, Cambodia and so on and eventually to Japan. One popular legend has Bohdidharma (Around the 5th century a.d.) coming out of Persia to India. He learned Mahayana Buddhism and then preceded to China, where he introduced the martial arts techniques to the moribund monks. In the 12th century a.d. Myoan Eisai (1141-1215) is said to have started the Zen movement in Japan and was the founder of the Rinzai School. Dogen founded another Zen school, the Soto, around 1225 a.d. Later other Chinese Chan masters came to Japan to further the development of the Zen teachings. Though many Japanese teachers made the reverse claim – that it was Japanese master who went to China to properly teach Zen. This is all irrelevant because the traditional teaching of Zen, negates the existence of the Chinese, the Japanese and even the Buddha himself.

The primary source of Zen in the western world was D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966) who promoted the teachings of the Rinzai School. He would be a huge influence on

former Christians like Anglican minister Alan Watts and Roman Catholic Monk Thomas Merton.

The Zen understanding of enlightenment or satori, does not come through knowledge or understanding but rather only through direct experience of oneness and emptiness through meditation. Thus the role of scriptures is minimized in Zen circles. The teacher has the experience, which is passed through to the student, without any dependence upon rational understanding or creeds or scriptures. The famous Zen quote “I owe everything to my teacher for he has taught me nothing!” reflects the ideals of Zen followers. However Zen is but one part of the Mahayana school, so some of those writings are still influential. Over the differing periods Zen teachers were writing and using different sutras (scriptures) such as the Lankavatara sutras, the Diamond Sutras, the Lotus sutras and others. Collections of different koans (ko-an) also became critical. Koans are riddles or questions without answer, which are designed to show the inadequacy of the mind or rationality to achieve enlightenment.

Like virtually all other Asian schools of thought, Jesus is a non-existent category, but since the introduction of Asian religions into the western world, most have subsequently included Jesus in their tradition in various ways. The Mahayana school already had in place the concept of a Bodhisattva, an enlightened master who out of great compassion, chose not to go on to nirvana but stay in the world to teach. Modern Zen teachers like Thich Nhat Hanh have developed this connection in books like Living

Buddha, Living Christ and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers. Selling to an audience that knows very little about Jesus and virtually nothing about the Buddha, Hanhʼs books have helped promote the pluralistic notion of different spiritual masters, from different cultures and times, who in reality are teaching the very same thing.
Hanh reduces Jesus to a Buddhist arahant or master, who taught mindfulness (sati) like the Buddha himself. Much like Deepak Chopra who had hinduized Jesus in his book Jesus: A Story of Enlightenment, Hanh takes familiar parables and sayings and the story of Jesus, and removes them from their Jewish context and redacts them through Buddhist eyes. For example in Going Home – Hanh states:

“There was a person who was born nearly two thousand years ago. He was aware that suffering was going on and in his society, and he did not hide himself from that suffering. Instead, he came out to investigate deeply the nature of suffering, the causes of suffering. Because he had the courage to speak out, he became the teacher of many generations. The best way to celebrate Christmas may be to practice mindful walking, mindful sitting, and looking deeply into things…”

Christmas is transformed into a life just like the one at a Zen retreat center or monastery. So there is no formal view of Jesus in Zen, but there are attempts to write him into Zen categories by modern propagandists.
Supreme Being/God

Historic Buddhism in all its forms is unclear on whether or not there is a god or gods. In his rejection of much of his Hindu roots, the Buddha in one context ignored the question of the gods. Hinduism has both polytheism (330 million plus gods) and monotheism (typically among Hindu scholars the one god is Brahman – who is without any attributes or nirguna). So one might read Buddhist texts or speak to monks who are formal atheists, such as Theravada Buddhists. But in another context, the Buddha

spoke of evil spirits in his Great Renunciation account, so Buddhists arenʼt really atheists as seen in the western context of materialists or naturalists. Buddhist stories and legends are replete with numerous divine beings being in attendance when the Buddha would teach. Another concept that makes his teaching clear in one way is that when a Hindu would come to moksha or liberation through the Jnana or knowledge path – it was usually understood as the liberated one coming to understand that all the atmans or individual things perceived in the illusory universe, were really only one thing – Brahman. So the drop was part of the ocean.

The Buddha departed dramatically from Hinduism is in his doctrine of anatta – a complete denial of an individual self or essence. There is no drop, and if there is no drop, then there is no ocean. For many Buddhists, especially the Theravada, Buddhism is atheistic. By the first century A.D. the Mahayana or Greater Vehicle Buddhists had come to the forefront of the Buddhist movement. This “second turn of the wheel” rejected much of the Theravada teachings and insisted that there was an essence in all things that could be called the “Buddha self or Buddha consciousness”. This essence sounded very similar to the classic Advaita Vedanta version of Hinduism espoused by people like Shankara and even more so by Ramanuja. The Bodhisattvasʼ become divine beings much like the Buddha himself who is often now seen as a divine being, especially by lay people.

In the particular case of Zen – teachers like Suzuki and others seem to want to have it both ways. In his interaction with alleged theists like Thomas Merton, Zen coheres with theism, while in other contexts he will pronounce the lack of a god. This is

confusing to the western mind, because it expresses a direct contradiction, which is exactly Suzukiʼs goal – ʻThere is a god and there is no godʼ is an antinomy held comfortably by the Zennist. How could this be? Because Zen might be the most strident attack on rationality that the world has ever seen. The purpose of Zazen (sitting meditation) and the koans – is to show the impossibility of achieving enlightenment by using the active, rational mind. Rationality is a product of the illusion of maya – which is the world. The mind becomes a ʻmaya machineʼ creating the illusory world at all times. Thus the very things which people are striving for, which causes suffering according to the Buddhaʼs four noble truths, are literally nothing or sunyata. There is no mind – there is a mind. The Zennist revels in the contradictions. The question of a god is open or not open. Depends upon the teacher and the moment.

There is more here to think about as well. Suzuki like other Zen writers often describes his primary thoughts being “not-two”. This of course leads commentators to say that Zen is monistic. But Suzuki rejects the label and insists that not two does not mean one. This is all because we all have a “dualistically-trained mind”. So our problem is the way our mind sorts things out. Obviously rejecting Kantian types of categories, Suzuki emphatically denies the role of any “parts” in understanding the One. From the outsider perspective, the One seems very similar to Brahman – Nirguna, but without the name.
So there is a supreme being and there isnʼt a supreme being. Welcome to Zen.

Human Predicament

Like all other versions of Buddhism the human problem is ignorance. We live in maya – the dream or illusion. We are suffering because of our desires or thirst for things and stability. Because of annicca (the doctrine that everything is changing) those things we desire can never satisfy because they do not remain the thing that we initially wanted. The first two of the Four Noble Truths express these ideas and then explain that the only solution to the problem, which is found in Noble Truth #3, is to cease all thirst and desire. This even includes the thirst or desire to cease all thirst and desire! The Hinduʼs agrees with all this but the Buddha thought that the Hinduʼs had a fatal flaw in their thinking. The Hindu notion of the permanent self or atman, which reincarnates over and over again millions and millions of times, is seen as the reason why Buddhism is a better vehicle for moksha or liberation. According to the Buddha the greatest cause of desire and thus suffering is not the outside world, but rather the persistent notion of “I” or self. Statements such as “I am going to the store” or “I am hungry” both show that the root cause of all our desires is the notion that I exist. Therefore the best liberation will be the one that gets to the heart of the problem most effectively. The doctrine of anatta or no atman and no self then is an improvement over the Hindu path.

The concept of salvation as seen through Western religious eyes is historically absent in all forms of Buddhism including Zen. To the ancient Hindu, moksha or liberation from the wheel of birth, death and rebirth (Samsara) meant the drop realizes its true self, drops all notions and actions of separateness and “rejoins” with the ocean.

The Hindu belief that atman equals Brahman (Tat Tvam Asi- that art thou) doesnʼt really hold to a sense of rejoining but the metaphor is seen as helpful, because there never was any real separation in the first place. The drop was always the ocean and the ocean is all there actually is, so no motion is even possible. As seen in the above section however, the Buddha rejected the permanent self or atman and maybe Brahman as well.

So what does moksha mean to Zen Buddhism? Moksha to the Buddhist originally meant nirvana – which means the snuffing out of a candle flame. In other words liberation was found in the extinction of the self. Without any self – there would be no desire and no suffering that comes from desire. In the Holy Teaching of Virmilkirti the Buddha taught that a good Bodhisattva does not give a hungry person food, as that only helps feed the illusion quite literally. This is called the “sympathetic compassion” which the Bodhisattva is enjoined to abstain from. Instead the enlightened Bodhisattva should teach the hungry person that they are non-existent, which alleviates the “real” problem, not the temporary problem of hunger that stems from incorrect thinking in the illusory world. This is called the “great compassion”.

In more modern times, especially as Buddhism moved into the western world, the complete extinction of the self as the understanding of Nirvana has morphed into a much more user – friendly idea. Now Nirvana is a place, of sorts. Filled with blessing, and peace and joy, of sorts. Nirvana is beyond description or even words (ineffable). It defies all description because all forms of duality are part of maya and words are inadequate to explain. Buddhists are reluctant to go beyond vague language, as

someone might confuse Nirvana with a Jewish or Christian idea. But this is problematic, as it seems clear that Buddhism accommodated itself to preexisting beliefs in the western world. Many serious thinkers such as Ken Wilbur (A Brief History of Everything) talk about eventual morphing of all things into the One. In many ways this lines up perfectly with the Advaita Vedanta school of Hinduism and brings up even more confusion

Last Things

Buddhists have a variety of beliefs concerning the end of the world. Like their Hindu forerunners some Buddhists emphasize the end of a cyclical age or aeon. Each cycleʼs end corresponds with another ageʼs birth. Others believe that a messianic type of individual, Lord Maitreya, is waiting to descend to the earth and bring about a renewal of the dharma, meditation and Buddha consciousness. Concerning Heaven and Hell, many Buddhists believe that there are multiple layers of heavens and hells that the individual must go through because of their karma from past lives. Tibetan Buddhists believe that the Buddha lived for a million years. Other Buddhists teach that all human beings used to live for 80,000 years but due to decadence and wrong (unskillful) behavior the life spans and physical prowess continually was diminished. Someday as the dharma is ascendant again life spans will expand to 80,000 years again. Summary of Beliefs

Zen Buddhists are one of the Mahayana sects. Although their roots are murky, they are clearly distinct in Japan by the 12th century a.d. Their two main techniques are sitting meditation (zazen) and koans. The koans are used to show the inadequacy of

the mind in achieving enlightenment or Satori. Once the mind is abandoned through the koan, and then zazen and other forms of meditation are used to experience the emptiness and or the Buddha nature or consciousness. Zen Buddhists also affirm t karma (action) and reincarnation, although since there is no personal self (anatta) then their view of reincarnation differs significantly from Hindus and other groups. Buddhists also believe in dependent origination, which means that nothing exists independently and permanently. All things exist because of other things. All things cause and in turn are caused by other things. In other words this is cause and effect or karma in action.

Zen Buddhists are at best ambivalent about the existence of God, and have no official opinion on Jesus and other Christian beliefs. Zen accepts the belief in Maya, the illusory status of all we perceive and especially the most serious illusion of them all – the illusion of the permanent self or atman. The Four Noble truths are the core teaching of the Buddha:

  1. 1)  All of life is suffering. Because of annicca (the transitory nature of maya) each

    person grasps onto what cannot bring liberation.

  2. 2)  The cause of suffering is desire or thirst. This means that because we are attached

    to the things of this illusory world, we cannot be liberated and we suffer because the

    things we are attached to are constantly changing.

  3. 3)  The solution to the problem is the cessation of attachment or thirst or desire.

    Liberation can be achieved through a complete detachment to all things in the world and ultimately through detachment to your own existence.

4) The mean by which one becomes detached is through the Eight Fold Noble Path. This series of 8 “rights”, such as right thinking, right actions, right consciousness and so on are part of the meditative process by which one can detach from the illusory existence and achieve nirvana.

Nirvana has come to mean a place of bliss and peace as Buddhism has reached into the western world and cultural milieu.
Witnessing Tips

In the Bible we are commanded to Love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. This verse as well as many others enjoins the believer to use our mind that God gave us and to use it well. By contrast the Zen practitioner has been told that his mind is the enemy and only its ultimate destruction will bring about a release from the world of suffering. Since it seems so important to the evil one in his deceptions that people do not think – it strikes me as important that we bring people to think through what they have been told. Two Biblical examples seem pertinent here. In the many conversations we see between Jesus and his opponents, one consistent strategy seems to come up over and over. Virtually every time someone would ask Jesus a question – he would ask him or her a question back. This tells us that at least part of what Jesus is doing is getting his questioner to think through the heart of the issue, as opposed to the often-poor question that was asked. For example in Luke 18:18 a ruler asked Jesus this “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? And Jesus said to him, ʻWhy do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.ʼ” Jesus goes on to give him an answer but it is clear he wanted to get at a larger issue that the one the

ruler had brought up. Another biblical example is Paulʼs interaction with the philosophers on Marʼs Hill in Athens in Acts 17. In this example while Paul does grant some obvious points such as “I see that you are very religious” (which in Athens was the equivalent of arriving at the airport in Las Vegas and observing that people in Las Vegas like to gamble!), for the rest of his discussion he goes on to contradict virtually everything that the Athenians held dear. Reminiscent of Isaiahʼs interaction with pagans in chapters 42-48 – Paul notes the obvious – since God is the creator of the universe – he does not dwell in houses nor does he need to be fed or bathed! Both of which are activities you can see in pagan temples all over the world to this day. In plain language, the creator does not need the creations help.

And this is exactly where our discussion with the Zennist must start. Romans 1 says that when people turn away from the creator, they turn to worshipping idols and immoral activities. But important to that degradation is what it says in Romans 1:18 where Paul points out that the pagan “suppresses (or makes void) truth in unrighteousness.” This active tense verb “suppresses” is something I have seen over and over again in dealing with Buddhists and many others. Whether it is through mindless zazen or through drugs, the mind is the problem and it must be averted if not outright destroyed. The only way one can make sense of the extremely contradictory notions of Zen teachers is that the mind that God gave the Zennist – is ignored or destroyed. The eight fold path will say something like “right thought”, but when one sees how this is understood in the Buddhist world it is not an injunction to think better, but to try and avoid thinking all together. For example I might be upset at evil in the

world or in my family or something like that. Thinking of these things brings me suffering. The solution is not to do something in the world to change the evil to good or to do away with the evil entirely. The solution is to realize (right thoughts) that the evil and the evildoer are non-existent and therefore there is nothing to be upset about. The softer American friendly version of Thich Nhat Hanh makes the statement that the evildoer is also really nothing but the “One” and therefore one can have compassion for the evildoer. But this softer version does not make sense even within Buddhism itself. Even wonderful concepts like compassion are really nothing – the earlier Buddhists tried to live this out more consistently. In this sense when I talk to American Buddhists I try to make them better Buddhists by pointing to the early Buddhist writings and stories to show how the Buddha taught against compassion in the Christian sense. In this way we must properly allow the Buddhist teaching about something like compassion – as mentioned earlier in the discussion about the Holy Teaching of Virmilkirti – and what Jesus would say about compassion.

This was wonderfully illustrated by Ravi Zacharias in his book “The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus talks with the Buddha” where Jesus and Buddha are juxtaposed in a conversation with a dying prostitute. According to classic Buddhist sources, the Buddhaʼs response would not to be sympathetic to her condition of dying slowly and painfully from Aids, but rather that she should recognize the illusory nature of the disease which stems from a false idea that she exists in the first place. By contrast Jesus speaks of real love and mercy for one who is in such a horrible state. If she were hungry, Buddha would teach her that her stomach’s growling is merely part of the real

problem in that she thinks she exists and this is why the symptom of hunger persists. Jesus would feed her. Jesus would give her shelter, or water, or medicine or whatever she needed. The Buddha ridiculed this notion and enjoined the Bodhisattva to take the “greater path” of teaching non-existence.

This more authentic Buddhism doesnʼt sell well to a western audience, so it is imperative that we help people see the real difference between Jesus and the Buddha and not the deliberately muddled version of someone like Hanh. Even in a post Christian culture like ours people still believe that one should help others in need and Buddhism becomes an untenable position in light of that. Even pagans still have the conscience that God gave them concerning others (as Paul mentions in Romans 2) and so Buddhists suppress their real teachings to win over a new audience. They are very successful at it so far. There is thousands of Buddhist centers and organizations operating in the western world today. This is a good example of what the Buddhists call “upaya” or skillful means. Upaya is the practice of lying well, not in the usual clumsy political manner, but with such skill that the one who has been lied to is not even aware of it. Like many other false religions, Buddhists use an ends justify the means type of argument to rationalize their dishonesty.

Another good witnessing tip is to see whether Buddhism successfully deals with the problem of suffering as it claims to, or perhaps it makes the problem worse. Many years ago I was on a television show entitled “Americaʼs Most Wanted”. I was interviewed because of my knowledge about a certain cult leader who had left the country. The showʼs executive producer was a long time correspondent who had spent

many years living in Thailand while reporting on the Vietnam War in the late 60s and 70s. While the cameras were being set up he looked at me and said, “I just hate when you Christians think Jesus is any better than the Buddha or Krishna or Lao Tzu or anyone else!” Then he smiled and said, “I bet we are going to have an argument arenʼt we?” (I have had some version of that statement thrown at me literally hundreds of times-it does really help one as a witness to know about the other beliefs and religions in the world!). I said to him that since he had live in Thailand for many years, which is a predominantly Buddhist culture, how come it was alright for a Thai farmer to take his eight year old daughter and sell her to a whorehouse in Bangkok, knowing what was going to happen to her?” His response was chilling. “But Bill you donʼt know how good that is for the local economy” (Word for word quote!) I looked rather disgusted at him and he immediately backed off – “well maybe its not the best thing…” But his knee jerk response is rather telling. He knew what is wrong and what is right, but his first response was to attempt to defend one of the great evils in the history of this world.

If I were a Buddhist I can defend that practice all day long. For example, since karma is merely a version of what goes around comes around – then perhaps the girl was a male rapist in a previous life. Or since the world is an illusion (maya) then there is no little girl being raped and no rapist. Or perhaps in the Americanized version of Buddhism then one could say that she chose to be repeatedly raped, drugged and destined to die of Aids or something, for her personal “growth”. Buddhism thus requires one to look past the obvious (the evil of destroying little girls) and see the “real” problem

– which is of course that the little girls are persisting in the most noxious notion – that they actually exist.

If one does not believe in the reality of good and evil – then the notion of sin is a lost cause. It is imperative for our Buddhists friend and others to understand that evil and suffering are not illusory, but rather the results of peopleʼs individual choices. In one sense the Buddhist notion of karma already affirms this, but then the truth is suppressed by the “higher” understanding of maya. This is where I see the suppression mentioned in Romans 1 is clearly in play. The Buddhist knows it is wrong to rape and kill a young girl, because they have the same conscience God gave everyone. But their teachings force them to suppress that knowledge and somehow end up rationalizing great evil. How could Buddhism be seen as an answer to the problem of suffering?
And it seems quite obvious that the centers of the Buddhist world donʼt exactly remind one of Shangri La – the mythical Buddhist paradise. In this same vein Zen was very much a part of the Bushido or warrior tradition within Japanese culture. It was a critical part of the militaristic culture that led to wars with Korea, Russia and eventually World War 2. So the notion of the peaceful benign Buddhist monk (who by contrast was probably trained in some form of martial arts!) is a nice western myth concocted through skillful means. One Buddhist tract I have enjoins its followers to try to do no evil deeds and no good deeds, since both are karma and will prevent one from achieving moksha. But even there is still a hint that the Buddhist still knows the difference between good and evil.

Much like the false hope of booze and drugs in my youth, the things that I was trying to run from, were always still there when I came down from that “high”. My best solutions were no solution at all – they only masked for a very brief time the real problems I was dealing with. The real problem that was causing me suffering, the abusive drunken home that I grew up in, was only made worse by my best attempts at resolving the unlivable problem. Buddhism does not advocate drugs (although this certainly never stopped modern Buddhists like Jack Kerouac or Michael Foucault) but in the same way meditation only truly hides the real problems in this world. Becoming detached from this world does nothing to actually solve suffering, as much as it might provide the meditating individual a temporary dodge from its reality. Teaching others to do the same thing only worsens the problem. Let me give a type of analogy. The giant trash dump in Manila is called “Smoky Mountain”. This hellhole is home to approximately 200,000 people. As a shame based culture, many Filipinos have resorted to pretending that it doesnʼt exist. A wall was once built so that a rich neighborhood would not have to see the reality of the horror story in the next barrio. Many Filipinos here in the states have been told that the problem has been solved. This “I donʼt see it so it canʼt be real” mentality has persisted for who knows how long and through many modern administrations. My own Filipino son who was raised in a different poor part of the Philippines went to Smoky Mountain a few years ago and came back crying and mad. “Why doesnʼt the government do something about this?” I had to explain his own culture to him. One group of people at Precious Jewels Ministries does not choose to look the other way and pretend. They have been serving the people

affected with Aids for over 25 years now. They provide hospitals, hospice and an orphanage for the survivors of the afflicted. They have brought tremendous help to so many there, but the government has fought them for many years. To have people helping in Smoky Mountain means there must be a need for help there, and this cannot be so – since there really is no problem. (Sarcasm alert!)

It was not Buddhist detachment, which brought PJM to Smoky Mountain. It was the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which moved those ladies who have reached out to the poorest of the poor. It is this same Gospel that tells us that there really is an answer to the sin and suffering problem. It is this same Gospel that informs us that Godʼs love is so great – that Jesus came to die for us when we were at our worst behavior. In the same way Christian hospitals, orphanages and schools have been established virtually all over the known world for two thousand years now. Buddhism has been around for 2500 years now and historically there were no hospital, orphanages or schools. Modern Buddhists, like their Advaita cousins, have learned to mimic Christian charity in order to gain an audience in the western world. But in both cases their own foundational thinking undermines such things, which is why history paints such a different picture than the modern sales-pitch. If the world is maya – why build an orphanage? There are no orphans, there is no problem.

But if the world is real, then you have real problems that demand real solutions. I had one Buddhist tell me once that when you are detached then you are better able to help with whatever problem. Americanized Buddhism at its finest! I went on to explain what the Buddha had actually said about both detachment and helping. I also pointed

out the logical contradiction of being detached and then still caring. This didnʼt move him. I pointed out the contradiction of the Koans being used to show the inadequacy of the mind, when ironically each of the koans are constructed using rationality, so that they are without answer. Imagine one coming up with the koan – “What is the sound of two hands clapping?” Oops. Back to the drawing board for that one.

Following Christ does not mean suffering goes away. It might in fact bring more suffering as one might be called to endure much suffering as a witness to a fallen world. But believing in Jesus does give a context for suffering that makes sense and enjoins the believer to use their God given gift of a mind to think creatively of how to help those who are suffering. Ultimately the point of the Cross of Jesus Christ was to deal with the suffering and evil that we as human beings have caused and are still causing. Buddhism claims to have the deeper answer to the problem, but that answer leads to the denial of any actual problem at all. Telling a rape victim that there was no rape or rapist so she needs to get her mind right (Southern for “Right Thought”) can hardly be seen as a virtuous or helpful position. By contrast telling her that this evil act was an affront to a Holy God, who will bring about justice in this life or the next, is a comforting thought. Telling her that we are all one and that she needs to have compassion for her rapist as he is part of her (Hanh) is hardly helpful or even desirable. By contrast Christians can tell her that there is real good and evil and that even though we suffer in this fallen world now – because of what Jesus did on the Cross-for her, she can find comfort in this world and the next.

Zen Buddhist Bibliography

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David-Neel, Alexandra. Buddhism – Its Doctrines and Methods – The Classic Explanation of Buddhist Tradition To The Western Mind. The Hearst Co. New York, NY 1977
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Gaskell, G. A. Dictionary Of Scripture And Myth. Dorset Press. New York, NY 1988
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Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ. Riverhead Books. New York, NY 1997
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Mather, George A., Nichols, Larry A. Dictionary Of Cults, Sects, Religions And The Occult. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, MI 1993 Merton, Thomas. Zen and the Birds of Appetite. New Directions Book. New York, NY 1968

Novak, Philip. The Worldʼs Wisdom – Sacred Texts of the Worldʼs Religions. Harper/SanFrancisco. New York, NY 1994
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Pelikan, Jaroslav. ED. The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought.

Little, Brown and Company. Boston, MA 1990
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Strong, John S. The Experience of Buddhism – Sources and Interpretations. Wadsworth Publishing Company. Belmont, CA 2002
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Watts, Alan. The Way of Zen. Vintage Books. New York, NY 1957 Wilbur, Ken. A Brief History of Everything. Shambala Publishing. Boston, MA 2001
Zacharias, Ravi. The Lotus and the Cross: Jesus Talks With Buddha. Multnomah Books. Colorado Springs, CO 2001