North Western Winds

Contemplating it all from the great Pacific Northwest

I think, therefore God is

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First Things‘ blog, On the Square, has had a number of interesting posts of late. I’m suggesting giving the blog a look-see and maybe adding it to your rotation. This one by Edward T. Oakes was of particular interest to me. In reviewing a book titled Philosophy and Theology, he brings up a subject I’m interested in, namely the opening created by post modernism’s criticism of Enlightenment ideas of rationality.

A choice snippet:

The challenge thrown down to theology by reason’s Machtübernahme could not be more profound. Either theology tries to dismiss philosophy, that overbearing shrew or uppity chambermaid, from the palace (thereby reducing seminary training, in Caputo’s words, to “Bible-thumping and choir practice”); or theology gamely admits Enlightened reason into her proceedings, only to see herself usurped from her throne, transformed into something alien to her subject matter:

[When] God … comes under the principles of reason, which are the jurisdiction of philosophy, rather than reason coming under God, the subject matter of theology, God has to stand in line like everyone else; what’s fair is fair. … [But] to say that God “obeys” these principles is to put it all perversely, wrong-headedly, even impiously, like saying that a father resembles his son instead of the other way around. … As St. Augustine said, when we human beings think something true, that is in our own imperfect way to think something about God, who is truth. God is not “true” but Truth.

Caputo is no professional Enlightenment-basher, despite his sympathy for theology’s plight as described above. For him, the Enlightenment’s great boon is that it has forced Christians to recognize that their arguments must have, at least partially, a publicly accessible logic based on natural law and the deliverances of reason. But the story doesn’t end there; for not long after Hegel, “the wheels came off the Enlightenment.” In a judgment that would shock the positivists and naturalists of the nineteenth century, Caputo claims that by Nietzsche’s time, “the Enlightenment had done all the good it was going to do.”

In the twentieth century, the postmodern turn became inevitable, once the sights of continental philosophers were focused on the exorbitant claims of a now-desiccated Enlightened reason. In Being and Time, Heidegger demonstrated, through powerful phenomenological analyses, that the Cartesian ego could not bear the foundational weight Descartes claimed for it; for when we come to be (sein), we find that we are already there (dasein). In other words, we can never get behind ourselves to see ourselves coming into being, nor can we jump out of our skins to see ourselves from above: we are, in Heidegger’s useful term, thrown into existence (no one chooses to be born, still less does anyone choose his or her sex, nationality, parents, race, mother tongue, and so forth). This “thrownness” means that we emerge into history with a pre-given perspective, an “angle” on the world, one that distorts, to be sure, but one that is also our only access to reality.


Written by Curt

August 30, 2006 at 8:35 pm

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