Friday, May 13, 2016

(Un)Sound Bites

I would leave theology to the seminaries (especially since "theology" is a specifically Christian concept arising from the Greek roots of the early church).  And this way you don't have to take religion out of theology.

I would prefer, instead, a broader appreciation of philosophy of religion.  Mostly because most people who think they understand philosophy and religion, understand neither (the link being just the latest case in point).

But also because it's a better way to teach Christianity without proselytizing, and the understanding of Christianity is fundamental to understand Western culture (just as understanding Hinduism is central to Indian culture, or Buddhism to Asian cultures).


  1. It’s not a matter of certainty, ever. I would make the argument that if there were a supernatural element that played a role in our everyday life in some noticeable way, it’s very, very likely we would have noticed it.

    At least, Moskowitz admits there is no certainty. Other scientists go further. Some of us have noticed, but I suppose we mistake our wishful fantasies for reality.

  2. Precisely what I mean about studying philosophy of religion, if not wisdom literature outright. That argument is not the devastating one he imagines it to be. It's really more" Been there, done that."

  3. There was a recent New York Times article complaining that "philosophy" in universities is by and large Western philosophy and that honesty compels changing department names sto omething like "European philosophy" or "White Philosophy."

    I don't doubt that that's basically correct (though most philosophy departments offer courses in Chinese or Indian Philosophy), but it's still the case that philosophy, whether Western, Chinese, or Indian, is a matter of a great, centuries-long conversation that becomes incoherent when detached from the culture that the conversation is taking place in.

    Seems like something of the same think can be said of theology. Of course it can be understood as a particular thread of a particular conversation coming out of a particular religious tradition of family of religious traditions. That fact doesn't mean it's not suitable for university study. I would expect Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and Calvin and Schleiermacher and Kierkegaard and Barth and Rahner to be more interesting to Christians than non-Christians, but sometimes people like to study the exotic. Some students will consider the study of theology inherently absurd; but many would make the same judgment on philosophy.

    This is not to disparage or put down philosophy of religion or comparative religion. I've had classes in both, but there is an important difference between understanding from the outside and understanding from the inside (or as if one were inside). And I don't think that that "from the inside" perspective necessarily implies an evangelical or apologetic intent sub silentio, though obviously some degree of sympathy would be expected. If even that sympathy would too much tax our vaunted secularity we have perhaps sacrificed too much to it.

  4. I've become a bit protective of Christianity, because I see so many distortions of it by so many Christians.

    So if I would preserve the "sanctity" of theology, it is only to preserve it was talking about God, and not reduce it to "talking about religion." Much as I don't like to quote Scripture in any discussion; it sponsors proof-texting, and it does great violence to what scripture is actually meant to be. Scripture is not a handbook on how to live "right," and it isn't a sword and shield against apostasy, heresy, or atheism. (No, I didn't say you want to use it that way). But it gets used as that when pulled from the context of the believing community. I'd rather leave it out of the conversation than treat it like that.

    On the other hand, I have no problem studying the Bible as literature, precisely because it is so important to Western culture. How to explain references to the Prodigal Son or the Flood if you don't know the stories, at least? Studying scripture could reduce the Bible merely to stories (as so many "Bibles for Children" ultimately tried to do). Approaching the Bible as literature can obviate that problem.

    So if you approach theologians as philosophers, perhaps you take too much away from them. But if you approach them as theologians, you expect too much from modern culture. A compromise is needed.

  5. Proof-texting to prove I'm right, is not my thing, but the older I get, the simpler my faith seems to become. A few passages in the bible are life-giving for me and are words to live by. The Two Great Commandments, the Golden Rule, Micah 6:8:"What does the Lord ask of you..." and the concept that God is love, which is mentioned many times are among the few. I find that those few cover a lot of ground and serve as guidance in an endless number of situations.

    My background in philosophy is helpful in working out just what I do believe, which has changed a great deal over the years, but what I believe now seems much less important than how I live.

    I am eternally grateful for the courses in logic, and it's maddening to see so little evidence of logical reasoning today. Gobsmacking, actually, and I expect I'll never get used to it.

  6. I agree. Critical thought is a vanishing thing, apparently. And while I have no problem with relying on scripture myself, in public discussions I find it too often misused and abused. I don't object to it being a comfort (the 23rd Psalm at a funeral, for example), but I do object to it being used as a club, or a platform for judgment.

    But I'll get into that in a post that's coming out later....