Sunday, October 25, 2009

A Comment on "The Criterion"

There are perspectives which fail to convince us not because they aren't reasonable, but because they are almost too reasonable, and whatever we think, out instinct is that the world just isn't THAT reasonable. Theology has a few. The ontological argument, for instance: that than which nothing greater can be imagined is not that than which nothing greater can be imagined unless it exists, and that than which nothing greater can be imagined must be called God. You won't find a flaw with that reasoning, but you will find yourself doubting whether reality is quite so reasonable (which is the essence of Kant's claim against the argument, that existence is not a predicate).

Another for instance: St. Thomas' view that God's creation consists of giving being to creation, whereas evil is a privation of being. Hence, God should not be faulted for the evil found in creation. The neat categories obviously make the logic work, but it comes off as almost slick, and no one can be faulted for objecting to a slick response to a complaint as ultimately serious as the reality of evil in the world.

I note these examples, since my explication of "the criterion" in the last post can be faulted for possessing the same slick framework: God's eternal (or infinite, or holy) reality cannot be expressed in time (of finitude or unholiness), therefore the subtraction stories told about faith in the secular world cannot have force, and a right thinking Christian would never have taken historically mediated understandings of the world as binding for an understanding of God or revelation.

But just because such slick reasonings are not sophisticated enough to make us feel that they do or even can mediate reality to us does not mean that they are without value. Mortimer Adler, for instance, in How To Think About God, demonstrates how the ontological argument can be used as a premise in a convincing argument (it ultimately convinced him, at least). And anyone who has read Gilson or Maritain, for instance will no longer think that the use of Thomistic categories condemns a person to a simplistic intellectual framework.

In that vein, I am arguing--using Augustine and Tillich as models and sources--with the goal in mind of setting up a starting point that will be helpful for framing further thinking. In fact, as I hope was made clear, I am arguing for a point of view that insists on a continual--I put the word in capitals, if you recall, in the last post--reshaping of our thoughts to make them adequate to the Christian commitment to love of God and neighbor.

With that in mind, it is a virtue, not a fault, to have a framework that is "slick." The whole point is to facilitate thinking within a framework that is conducive to thinking as a Christian without falling into a static, and SIMPLISTIC, "worldview" trap. To be fascile in pursuit of that goal, I think, is good, because the goal is to fascilitate further thought.

Let me apply this to the--not directly stated--situation that motivates these thoughts, generally. I am trying to come up with a way to communicate a compelling Christian framework to young people that does not fall into the trap of, basically, saying "Think like this." Whether conservative or liberal, Thomistic or Reformed, etc., I want to say, "That static approach is too lazy for love!"

I've met with a couple terrific young youth pastors in my community recently. Both minister at conservative churches. Both to one degree or another feel a tension between the desire to teach their young people to think as Christians and the need to conform their teaching to traditions that are static on one way or another. The old wineskins just aren't holding, and they know it and the kids--most of them anyway--either know it or suspect it, and their churches are is denial.

I can't solve the church politics for them, and I am deeply troubled by the fact that association with me may even further their distress. But the least that I can do is provide them, and to the extent I can a few people in churches beyond my personal sphere of influence, with a way to fascilitate rethinking how to think as Christians.

Let's be frank. Conservative Christianity today is largely a reaction to the fact that liberal Christianity has fallen victim to the subtraction story. Secularists see in this a progressive sickness unto death of God. Can anyone blame a conservative--who experiences through her faith a sense of salvation that scholars do not account for--if she dismisses such "progress?" (To push back the other way, it is a scandal of attempts to understand faith scientifically and philosophically, that such experiences are not given more serious attention. In fact, if I have anything to say, it is--I believe--precisely because academia has failed in this respect...)

The Church needs a way of framing its understanding that insists that--and here's my "bumper sticker"--stale ideas: too lazy for love. Fascile? I hope so!

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