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宗教信仰研究 – D. F. Swaab
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This is your brain on religion: Uncovering the science of belief   

 

From Pope Francis to Phil Robertson: Why are some people of faith generous -- while others are nuts?

 

Excerpted from "We Are Our Brains."

 

As far as I’m concerned, the most interesting question about religion isn’t whether God exists but why so many people are religious. There are around 10,000 different religions, each of which is convinced that there’s only one Truth and that they alone possess it. Hating people with a different faith seems to be part of belief. Around the year 1500, the church reformer Martin Luther described Jews as a “brood of vipers.” Over the centuries the Christian hatred of the Jews led to pogroms and ultimately made the Holocaust possible. In 1947, over a million people were slaughtered when British India was partitioned into India for the Hindus and Pakistan for the Muslims. Nor has interfaith hatred diminished since then. Since the year 2000, 43 percent of civil wars have been of a religious nature.

 

Almost 64 percent of the world’s population is Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, or Hindu. And faith is extremely tenacious. For many years, Communism was the only permitted belief in China and religion was banned, being regarded, in the tradition of Karl Marx, as the opium of the masses. But in 2007, one-third of Chinese people over the age of 16 said that they were religious. Since that figure comes from a state-controlled newspaper, the China Daily, the true number of believers is likely at least that high. Around 95 percent of Americans say that they believe in God, 90 percent pray, 82 percent believe that God can perform miracles, and over 70 percent believe in life after death. It’s striking that only 50 percent believe in hell, which shows a certain lack of consistency. In the Netherlands, a much more secular country, the percentages are lower. A study carried out in April 2007 showed that in the space of 40 years, secularization had increased from 33 to 61 percent. Over half of the Dutch people doubt the existence of a higher power and are either agnostic or believe in an unspecified “something.” Only 14 percent are atheists, the same percentage as Protestants. There are slightly more Catholics (16 percent).

 

In 2006, during a symposium in Istanbul, Herman van Praag, a professor of biological psychiatry, taking his lead from the 95 percent of believers in the United States, tried to convince me that atheism was an “anomaly.” “That depends on who you compare yourself to,” I replied. In 1996 a poll of American scientists revealed that only 39 percent were believers, a much smaller percentage than the national average. Only 7 percent of the country’s top scientists (defined for this poll as the members of the National Academy of Sciences) professed a belief in God, while almost no Nobel laureates are religious. A mere 3 percent of the eminent scientists who are members of Britain’s Royal Society are religious. Moreover, meta-analysis has shown a correlation among atheism, education, and IQ. So there are striking differences within populations, and it’s clear that degree of atheism is linked to intelligence, education, academic achievement, and a positive interest in natural science. Scientists also differ per discipline: Biologists are less prone to believe in God and the hereafter than physicists. So it isn’t surprising that the vast majority (78 percent) of eminent evolutionary biologists polled called themselves materialists (meaning that they believe physical matter to be the only reality). Almost three quarters (72 percent) of them regarded religion as a social phenomenon that had evolved along with Homo sapiens. They saw it as part of evolution, rather than conflicting with it.

 

It does indeed seem that religion must have afforded an evolutionary advantage. Receptiveness to religion is determined by spirituality, which is 50 percent genetically determined, as twin studies have shown. Spirituality is a characteristic that everyone has to a degree, even if they don’t belong to a church. Religion is the local shape given to our spiritual feelings. The decision to be religious or not certainly isn’t “free.” The surroundings in which we grow up cause the parental religion to be imprinted in our brain circuitries during early development, in a similar way to our native language. Chemical messengers like serotonin affect the extent to which we are spiritual: The number of serotonin receptors in the brain corresponds to scores for spirituality. And substances that affect serotonin, like LSD, mescaline (from the peyote cactus), and psilocybin (from magic mushrooms) can generate mystical and spiritual experiences. Spiritual experiences can also be induced with substances that affect the brain’s opiate system.

 

Dean Hamer believes that he has identified the gene that predisposes our level of spirituality, as he describes in “The God Gene” (2004). But since it will probably prove to be simply one of the many genes involved, he’d have done better to call his book “A God Gene.” The gene in question codes for VMAT2 (vesicular monoamine transporter 2), a protein that wraps chemical messengers (monoamines) in vesicles for transport through the nerve fibers and is crucial to many brain functions.

 

The religious programming of a child’s brain starts after birth. The British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins is rightly incensed when reference is made to “Christian, Muslim, or Jewish children,” because young children don’t have any kind of faith of their own; faith is imprinted in them at a very impressionable stage by their Christian, Muslim, or Jewish parents. Dawkins rightly points out that society wouldn’t tolerate the notion of atheist, humanist, or agnostic four-year-olds and that you shouldn’t teach children what to think but how to think. Dawkins sees programmed belief as a byproduct of evolution. Children accept warnings and instructions issued by their parents and other authorities instantly and without argument, which protects them from danger. As a result, young children are credulous and therefore easy to indoctrinate. This might explain the universal tendency to retain the parental faith. Copying, the foundation of social learning, is an extremely efficient mechanism. We even have a separate system of mirror neurons for it. In this way, religious ideas like the belief that there’s life after death, that if you die as a martyr you go to paradise and are given 72 virgins as a reward, that unbelievers should be persecuted, and that nothing is more important than belief in God are also passed on from generation to generation and imprinted in our brain circuitry. We all know from those around us how hard it is to shed ideas that have been instilled in early development.

 

The Evolutionary Advantage of Religion

 

Religion is excellent stuff for keeping common people quiet.” -- Napoleon Bonaparte

 

The evolution of modern man has given rise to five behavioral characteristics common to all cultures:

 

language, toolmaking, music, art, and religion.

 

Precursors of all these characteristics, with the exception of religion, can be found in the animal kingdom. However, the evolutionary advantage of religion to humankind is clear.

 

(1)  First, religion binds groups. Jews have been kept together as a group by their faith, in spite of the Diaspora, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust. For leaders, belief is an excellent instrument. As Seneca said,

 

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful.”

 

Religions use various mechanisms to keep the group together:

 

One is the message that it’s sinful to marry an unbeliever (that is, someone with a different belief). As an old Dutch proverb states,

 

When two faiths share a pillow, the devil sleeps in the middle.

 

This principle is common to all religions, with attendant punishments and warnings. Segregating education according to faith makes it easier to reject others, because ignorance breeds contempt.

 

Another is the imposition of numerous social rules on the individual in the name of God, sometimes accompanied by dire threats about the fate of those who don’t keep them. One of the Ten Commandments, for instance, is lent force by the threat of a curse “unto the fourth generation.” Blasphemy is severely punished in the Old Testament and is still a capital offense in Pakistan. Threats have also helped to make churches rich and powerful. In the Middle Ages, enormous sums were paid in return for “indulgences,” shortening the time that someone would spend in purgatory. As Johann Tetzel, a preacher known for selling indulgences, is alleged to have put it, “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.” In the beginning of the previous century, Catholic clerics were still automatically awarded indulgences based on the rank they held in the church. Threats and intimidation are effective even in this day and age. In Colorado, a pastor has introduced the idea of “Hell Houses,” where fundamentalist Christian schools send children to frighten them about the punishments that await them in the afterlife if they stray from the straight and narrow.

 

A further binding mechanism is being recognizable as a member of the group. This can take the form of distinguishing signs, like black clothing, a yarmulke, a cross, a headscarf, or a burka; or physical characteristics, like the circumcision of boys or girls; or knowledge of the holy scriptures, prayers, and rituals. You must be able to see who belongs to the group in order to obtain protection from fellow members. This mechanism is so strong that it seems senseless to try to ban people from wearing distinguishing accessories or items of clothing like headscarves. Social contacts within the group also bring with them considerable advantages and play an important role in American churches. The feeling of group kinship has been strengthened over the centuries by holy relics worshiped by the various faiths. It doesn’t matter that there are wagonloads of Buddha’s ashes in temples in China and Japan, nor that so many splinters of the True Cross have been preserved that, according to Erasmus, you could build a fleet of ships from them. The point is that such things keep the group together. The same applies to the 20 or so churches that claim to have Christ’s original foreskin in their possession. (According to Jewish tradition, he was circumcised at the age of eight days.) Some theologians have argued that Christ’s foreskin was restored on his ascension to heaven. However, according to the 17th-century theologian Leo Allatius, the Holy Prepuce ascended to heaven separately, forming the ring around Saturn.

 

Finally, most religions have rules that promote reproduction. This can entail a ban on contraception. The faith is spread by having children and then indoctrinating them, making the group bigger and therefore stronger.

 

(2) Traditionally, the commandments and prohibitions imposed by religions had a number of advantages. Besides the protection offered by the group, the social contacts and prescriptions (like kosher food) had some beneficial effects on health. Even today, various studies suggest that religious belief is associated with better mental health, as indicated by satisfaction with life, better mood, greater happiness, less depression, fewer suicidal inclinations, and less addiction. However, the causality of these correlations hasn’t been demonstrated, and the links aren’t conclusive. Moreover, the reduced incidence of depression applies only to women. Men who are regular churchgoers are in fact more likely to become depressed. An Israeli study showed that, in complete opposition to the researchers’ hypothesis, a religious lifestyle was associated with a doubled risk of dementia 35 years later. Moreover, there are studies showing that praying is positively correlated with psychiatric problems.

 

(3) Having a religious faith is a source of comfort and help at difficult times, whereas atheists have to solve their difficulties without divine aid. Believers can also console themselves that God must have had a purpose in afflicting them. In other words, they see their problems as a test or punishment, that is, as having some meaning. “Because people have a sense of purpose, they assume that God, too, acts according to purpose,” Spinoza said. He concluded that belief in a personal god came about because humans assumed that everything around them had been created for their use by a being who ruled over nature. So they viewed all calamities, like earthquakes, accidents, volcanic eruptions, epidemics, and floods, as a punishment by that same being. According to Spinoza, religion emerged as a desperate attempt to ward off God’s wrath.

 

(4) God has the answer to everything that we don’t know or understand, and belief makes you optimistic (“Yes, I’m singin’ a happy song/With a Friend like Jesus I’ll stand strong”). Faith also gives you the assurance that even if times are hard now, things will be much better in the next life. Curiously, adherents of religion always claim that it adds “meaning” to their life, as if it were impossible to lead a meaningful life without divine intervention.

 

(5) Another advantage of religion, it would seem, is that it takes away the fear of death -- all religions promise life after death. The belief in an afterlife goes back 100,000 years. We know this from all the items found in graves: food, water, tools, hunting weapons, and toys. Cro-Magnon people also buried their dead with large amounts of jewelry, as is still done in Asia today. You need to look good in the next life, too. Yet being religious doesn’t invariably make people less afraid of dying. The moderately religious fear death more than fervent believers and those who are only very slightly religious, which is understandable when you see how often religion uses fear as a binding agent. Yet many appear to feel a little uncertain about the promised life after death. Richard Dawkins rightly wondered, “If they were truly sincere, shouldn’t they all behave like the Abbot of Ampleforth? When Cardinal Basil Hume told him that he was dying, the abbot was delighted for him: ‘Congratulations! That’s brilliant news. I wish I was coming with you.’

 

(6) A very important element of religion has always been that it sanctions killing other groups in the name of one’s own god. The evolutionary advantage of the combination of aggression, a group distinguishable by its belief, and discrimination of others is clear. Over millions of years, humans have developed in an environment where there was just enough food for one’s own group. Any other group encountered in the savanna posed a mortal threat and had to be destroyed. These evolutionary traits of aggression and tribalism can’t be wiped out by a few generations of centrally heated life. That explains why xenophobia is still so widespread in our society. The whole world is full of conflicts between groups with different faiths. Since time immemorial the “peace of God” has been imposed on others by fire and sword. That’s unlikely to change soon.

 

Though it comes at a price, belonging to a group brought with it many advantages. The protection it offered against other groups improved survival chances. But the harm caused by religions -- largely to outsiders, but also to members of the group -- is enormous. It seems as if this situation won’t persist indefinitely, though. A study by the British politician Evan Luard showed that the nature of wars has been changing since the Middle Ages and that they are gradually becoming shorter and fewer in number. So we may perhaps be cautiously optimistic. Since the evolutionary advantage of religion as a binding agent and aggression as a means of eliminating outsiders will disappear in a globalized economy and information society, both traits will become less important over hundreds of thousands of years. In this way, freed from the straitjacket of outmoded religious rules, true freedom and humanity will be possible for all, no matter what their belief -- or lack of it.

 

The Religious Brain

 

Emotional excitement reaches men through tea, tobacco, opium, whisky, and religion.” -- George Bernard Shaw (1856 – 1950)

 

Spiritual experiences cause changes in brain activity, which is logical and neither proves nor disproves the existence of God. After all, everything we do, think, and experience provokes such changes. Findings of this kind merely increase our understanding of the various brain structures and systems that play a role in both “normal” religious experiences and the type of religious experience that is a symptom of certain neurological or psychiatric disorders.

 

Functional scans of Japanese monks show that different types of meditation stimulate different areas of the brain, namely parts of the prefrontal cortex and the parietal cortex. Religious belief is also associated with reduced reactivity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), as is political conservatism. Although the causality of these correlations isn’t clear, it’s interesting that taking initiatives, by contrast, is associated with increased activity in the ACC. The EEGs of Carmelite nuns have shown marked changes during mystical experiences when they felt they were at one with God. In a state like this, individuals may also feel as if they have found the ultimate truth, lost all sense of time and space, are in harmony with mankind and the universe, and are filled with peace, joy, and unconditional love. Neuropharmacological studies show how crucial the activation of the dopamine reward system is in such experiences. In this context, brain disorders are also instructive. Alzheimer’s disease, for instance, is linked to the progressive loss of religious interest. The more slowly it progresses, the less religiousness and spirituality are affected. Conversely, hyperreligiosity is associated with fronto-temporal dementia, mania, obsessive-compulsive behavior, schizophrenia, and temporal lobe epilepsy. A number of these disorders are known to make the dopamine reward system more active.

 

Carmelite nuns were asked to remember their most mystical Christian experience while undergoing functional scans. The scans showed a complex activation pattern of brain areas. Activation occurred in

 

(1) the center of the temporal lobe, possibly relating to the feeling of being one with God (this region is also activated in temporal lobe epilepsy, sometimes causing intense religious experiences);

(2) the caudate nucleus (an area in which emotions are processed), possibly relating to the feeling of joy and unconditional love; and

(3) the brain stem, insular cortex, and prefrontal cortex, possibly relating to the bodily and autonomic reactions that go with these emotions and cortical consciousness of them.

Finally, the parietal cortex was also activated, possibly relating to the feeling of changes in the body map similar to those in near-death experiences.

 

It’s sometimes hard to draw a line between spiritual experiences and pathological symptoms. The former can get out of hand, leading to mental illness. Intense religious experiences occasionally spark brief episodes of psychosis. Paul Verspeek, hosting a local Dutch radio show on Boxing Day 2005, asked psychiatrists how they would recognize Jesus Christ if he returned to Earth. How would they distinguish between him and mentally ill patients who claimed to be Christ? The psychiatrists were stumped for an answer. During the 1960s, when meditation and drug use were popular, many people developed psychiatric problems. They were unable to control their spiritual experiences, which derailed their psychological, social, and professional functioning. In some cultures and religions, however, voluntary engagement in meditative practices, trance, depersonalization, and derealization are quite normal and therefore can’t be seen as symptoms of a psychiatric disorder. Phenomena that Western culture classifies as chicanery or nonsense, like magic arts, voodoo, and sorcery, are considered normal in other cultures. Some also regard visual and auditory hallucinations of a religious nature (like seeing the Virgin Mary or hearing God’s voice) as a normal part of religious experiences. That said, a high proportion of patients with psychoses are religious, as their condition often prompts an interest in spirituality. And many use religion as a way of coping with their disorder. So problems with a religious bearing always need to be looked at in the light of what is considered normal in a particular era or cultural setting. Only in this way can “purely” religious and spiritual problems be distinguished from neurological or psychiatric ones.

 

Excerpted from “We Are Our Brains: A Neurobiography of the Brain, From the Womb to Alzheimer’s” by D. F. Swaab. Copyright © 2014 by D. F. Swaab. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Random House. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

 

http://www.salon.com/2014/01/04/this_is_your_brain_on_religion_uncovering_the_science_of_belief/

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Wealth may have driven the rise of today’s religions         

 

, 12/11/14

 

Today’s most popular religions all have one thing in common: a focus on morality. But the gods didn’t always care whether you are a bad person. Researchers have long puzzled over when and why religions moved away from a singular focus on ritual and began to encourage traits such as self-discipline, restraint, and asceticism. Now, a new study proposes that the key to the rise of so-called moralizing religions was, of all things, more wealth.

 

The new study “is by far the most significant advance I’ve seen in a long time,” says Richard Sosis, an anthropologist who studies the evolution of religion at the University of Connecticut, Storrs. “They’re offering what I think is a really novel theory to address this long-standing problem in the study of religion.”

 

Religion wasn’t always based on morality, explains Nicolas Baumard, a psychologist at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris. For the first several thousand years of human recorded history, he notes, religions were based on rituals and short-term rewards. If you wanted rain or a good harvest, for example, you made the necessary sacrifices to the right gods. But between approximately 500 B.C.E. and 300 B.C.E., a radical change appeared all over Eurasia as new religions sprung up from Greece to India to China. All of these religions shared a focus on morality, self-discipline, and asceticism, Baumard says. Eventually these new religions, such as Stoicism, Jainism, and Buddhism, and their immediate successors, including Christianity and Islam, spread around the globe and became the world religions of today. Back in 1947, German philosopher Karl Jaspers dubbed the pivotal time when these new religions arose “the Axial Age.”

 

So what changed? Baumard and his colleagues propose one simple reason: People got rich. Psychologists have shown that when people have fewer resources at their disposal, prioritizing rewards in the here and now is the best strategy. Saving for the future -- much less the afterlife -- isn’t the best use of your time when you are trying to find enough to eat today. But when you become more affluent, thinking about the future starts to make sense, and people begin to forgo immediate rewards in order to prioritize long-term goals.

 

Not coincidentally, the values fostered by affluence, such as self-discipline and short-term sacrifice, are exactly the ones promoted by moralizing religions, which emphasize selflessness and compassion, Baumard says. Once people’s worldly needs were met, religion could afford to shift its focus away from material rewards in the present and toward spiritual rewards in the afterlife. Perhaps once enough people in a given society had made the psychological shift to long-term planning, moralizing religions arose to reflect those new values. “Affluence changed people’s psychology and, in turn, it changed their religion,” Baumard says.

 

To test that hypothesis, Baumard and his colleagues gathered historical and archaeological data on many different societies across Eurasia in the Axial Age and tracked when and where various moralizing religions emerged. Then they used that data to build a model that predicted how likely it was that a moralizing religion would appear in all sorts of different societies -- big or small, rich or poor, primitive or politically complex.

 

It turned out that one of the best predictors of the emergence of a moralizing religion was a measure of affluence known as “energy capture,” or the amount of calories available as food, fuel, and resources per day to each person in a given society. In cultures where people had access to fewer than 20,000 kilocalories a day, moralizing religions almost never emerged. But when societies crossed that 20,000 kilocalorie threshold, moralizing religions became much more likely, the team reports online today in Current Biology. “You need to have more in order to be able to want to have less,” Baumard says.

 

Some religious studies scholars are skeptical, however. “It’s an interesting hypothesis” that deserves to be investigated, allows Edward Slingerland, a historian who studies religion in ancient China at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, in Canada. But when it comes to the transition from ritual religions to moralizing religions, the authors drew on outdated ideas, he says. For example, religion scholars now doubt that this change took place entirely during the narrow window of the Axial Age. “In early China, a lot of the moralizing stuff is arguably earlier than that,” whereas in the Arabian Peninsula it didn’t appear until about the 7th century C.E., Slingerland notes. He favors a hypothesis that has less to do with a certain fixed time period and more with the size and complexity of a given society; as people find themselves needing to cooperate with more and more strangers, belief in a high god encouraging morality helps smooth those new interactions and contributes to the overall success of the culture.

 

But both the political complexity and affluence hypotheses suffer from a lack of recent statistical data on religion, Slingerland says. The new paper should be “a call to arms for people who want to study history from a scientific perspective to start developing the tools we would need to do that,” says Slingerland, who is part of a team working on a database that aims to catalog the key features of religions around the world. “We’re only at the very beginning of being able to approach cultural history with any kind of rigor.”

 

Posted in Biology, Economics, Social Sciences

 

http://news.sciencemag.org/biology/2014/12/wealth-may-have-driven-rise-today-s-religions



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The Age of Atheists                        

 

How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God

 

Derek Rishmawy, 09/05/14

 

Peter Watson. The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014. 640 pp. $35.00.

 

After Plato's allegory of the cave, Nietzsche's parable of the Madman is probably the most famous in all of Western philosophy; indeed, the Madman's declaration "God is dead and we have killed him" has probably penetrated its consciousness at a far deeper level. Nietzsche asked an intellectual culture still living off the borrowed values of a Christianity it no longer professed: "How do we live in a world that has lost its central conceptual, moral, existential focus? What do we make of meaning now that we know God doesn't exist?"

 

Through two major works, Sources of the Self (1989) and A Secular Age (2007), Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor has argued that in the wake of Nietzsche the onslaught of scientism, rationalism, and secularism has thinned out the moral world we moderns inhabit. As a subtraction story secularism disenchants the world, emptying our sense of transcendence and pushing us into an "immanent frame" of living that's inevitably hollow and existentially impoverished. Other secular thinkers such as Luc Ferry and Ronald Dworkin have, in their own ways, joined Taylor in this judgment.

 

In The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God Peter Watson hopes to change the narrative by pushing back on Taylor's impoverishment thesis. In this massive and thoroughly entrancing work of intellectual and cultural history, the prolific London-based author aims to recount hitherto-untold drama of the multifarious and rather "thick" ways we've tried to "live without God" ever since we discovered his death about 120 years ago.

 

Beginning with Nietzsche himself, Watson focuses on the lives, stories, and theories of those who haven't merely lamented the loss of God but pushed through to find meaning -- or rather "meanings" -- of a more humble sort on the other side. Jumping from Europe to America to the Isles, Watson presents us with a cascading torrent of names (the back cover alone is plastered with them) -- whether poet, philosopher, novelist, dancer, psychiatrist, or theologian -- all of whom offered visions of life beyond traditional religious belief. The overall effect is to overwhelm you with the wealth of non-theistic options to meaning and fulfillment. To put it bluntly, Watson wants to show us we have more options than glum Dawkinsism or Jesus.

 

As a book of this magnitude defies any suitable summary, I'll simply offer a couple of practical reasons why Christians, and especially pastors, ought to be interested in this work.

 

Gallery of Idols

 

Watson makes the common mistake of assuming a definition of "religion" that clearly distinguishes it from "secular" thought systems, and then proceeds with his analysis as if everyone knows what he's talking about. As Westerners trained in the typical thought patterns of modernity, I suppose in some sense we do. But this mistake leads Watson to describe only some (usually the grander, more metaphysical) philosophies as "quasi-religious."

 

The problem, as William Cavanaugh has demonstrated in The Myth of Religious Violence, is that the dichotomy is a dubious modern construct that either includes "secular" philosophies most Westerners would want to exclude or excludes "religions" they'd want to include. Instead, it's better to speak of worldviews, metanarratives, narrative identities -- some of which explicitly appeal to the divine and some of which don't, but all of which perform the same function of organizing experience (the true) and giving structure to both our moral intuitions (the good) and view of the good life to be pursued (the beautiful). In that sense, then, they're all "religious."

 

If that's the case, Watson's narrative is valuable because it functions as a history of the most prominent intellectual and aesthetic idols and ideologies shaping our culture's affections and shared understandings. What's more, it is a sympathetic exposition. Watson is an honest partisan -- his approach is far more helpful than the quick, often inaccurate summaries of Christian apologists. I happened to be reading G. K. Chesterton's Heretics at about the same time I was reading Watson's descriptions of many of the same period, and I noted the difference. While Chesterton largely had their measure, you often can't feel the force of his critiques until you've sympathetically appreciated the appeal of those he's critiquing.

 

Why does this understanding matter? For various reasons, but according to recent Pew research, the religiously unaffiliated ("nones") now account for roughly 20 percent of the general population -- and the rate is even higher among millennials. That said, these aren't merely Dawkinsian atheists. In his 2010 book Generation Ex-Christian Drew Dyck helpfully complicated the picture by identifying six types of "ex-Christians" whom we need to reach. The Age of Atheists sheds light on an even broader spectrum. Indeed, Watson contends there's no "one way to live" but rather multiple, particular ways nonbelievers have been living, quite comfortably, without God.

 

What's more, Watson identifies numerous underlying threads uniting them all and making their presence felt in the lives of faithful parishioners. To take one example, his discussion of Freud, Maslow, Rogers, the search for self-realization, and the "triumph of the therapeutic" as a replacement for religious transcendence feels particularly relevant. If we're going to appeal to the cultural narratives people are embracing, we need to know their roots as well as the various moods, tones, and nuances they can take on. If we're not adept at recognizing more than one or two shades of unbelief, our outreach and preaching will likely only reach one or two shades of unbelievers.

 

Catalogue of Common Grace

 

The Age of Atheists is full of "pagan" wisdom, and Christians should not reject wholesale the insights of the secular. By God's common grace he's given many good gifts to the poets and thinkers of the 21th century (James 1:17) from which Christians can benefit. As Augustine and the early church fathers said, it's perfectly fine for Christians to plunder the treasures of the Egyptians in the writings of secular thinkers. Calvin warned against spurning the Spirit's gifts of truth in secular writers (Institutes II.11.14–15). And in this book, there is plenty to be plundered.

 

I was blessed by Watson's constant attention to and brilliant analysis of the nature and role of poetry in human life as a way of stopping, observing, and naming nature -- and enriching our lives in the process. All the same, I thought, Ah, but that insight actually fits so much better in the Christian worldview! The attention to detail, to the particular, to the local fits better in the view of a Christian who believes he's been deployed to name all of the creation that reveals God's glory.

 

Incidentally, I couldn't help but notice, in case after case, the importance of preaching real theology. Several accounts of atheists reacted against Christianity that was an unrecognizable shell of itself; they affirmed life in this world against Platonic, anti-materialist Christianities that hardly deserve the name. The social hope of the Deweyan pragmatist needs to be underwritten by resurrection, not agnosticism.

 

Final Thesis Fails

 

In the end, Watson's vision of the good life after God recalls Stephen Toulmin's description of Renaissance philosophy as "oral, particular, local, and timely" (Cosmopolis). He argues that instead of the grand, overarching, crushing sort of "meaning" that the great monotheisms, or ideologies like Marxism, espouse, we should "live down to the fact" of reality, embracing the smaller meanings we find in poetry, phenomenology, and pragmatic social hope (554). These avenues give us access to enriching observations about the real world we live in; a world with little corners we can name and know intimately; names that expand our shared vocabulary, rendering our societies and experiences more human in the process.

 

Though Watson makes a good showing, I'm not convinced. As one Ancient Near Eastern philosopher put it, "God has set eternity in the hearts of man" (Eccl. 3:11). We were made to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That grand, universal, timeless, cosmic purpose is the proper setting for all of our smaller, particular, and timely local vocations in the world. For that reason, no matter how much philosophy we read or poetry we write, though our language expands to the vast reaches of the cosmos, our hearts will remain forever restless until they find their proper rest in him.

 

Derek Rishmawy is the director of college and young adult ministries at Trinity United Presbyterian Church in Orange County, California, where he wrangles college kids for the gospel. He got his BA in philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, and his MA in theological studies at Azusa Pacific University. Derek blogs at Reformedish and Christ and Pop Culture. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

http://thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-age-of-atheists

 

請參照本欄下《宗教信仰與現代性並無衝突》一文(How to Live in a (Supposedly) Secular Age – P. Berger),以及本版(【知識和議題】)現在還需要假設「上帝存在」嗎?》一欄下之諸文 卜凱



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The Economics of Liberation Theology                 

 

Carroll Ríos De Rodríguez, 07/23/14

 

None of the prominent liberation theologians influential in Latin America had significant training in or exposure to the discipline of economics. This was odd given that their concern for the material well-being demanded at least some attempt to provide an economic explanation of underdevelopment and mass poverty. Instead of engaging in such economic reflection, many liberation theologians effectively married their theology to various renderings of what was then the fashionable dependency theory, which holds that that resources flow from a "periphery" of poor and underdeveloped states to a "core" of wealthy states, enriching the latter at the expense of the former.

 

In his 1991 book Will It Liberate?: Questions About Liberation Theology, theologian and philosopher Michael Novak devoted an entire chapter to painstakingly demonstrating the ties between dependency and liberationist thinking. One of the quotes he uses as evidence seems proof enough of the connection. According to the Brazilian theologian Hugo Assmann, liberation theology would make little sense

 

apart from the factual judgment that the poor of Latin America suffer not from simple poverty but from oppressive structures, linked to external forces of domination.”

 

Assmann and his peers were persuaded by Argentine economist Raul Prebisch’s insight that was central to dependency theory:

 

that peripheral economies were at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the developed, industrialized center due to the unfavorable terms of international trade.

 

On this basis, dependency theory maintained that governments should erect barriers to trade. These would reduce reliance on agricultural products and exports and lead to the emergence of a domestic industrial sector in underdeveloped countries. Other dependency theorists emphasized that the region’s status as dependent economies had even deeper structural and social causes. Therefore social transformations had to accompany state intervention and direction of markets. Here we should note that this sociological language was also more familiar to many Latin American priests and theologians than the more abstract jargon of formal economics, given that most such theologians were educated within a continental European university framework which often gave precedence to anthropological and sociological concerns.

 

Leading proponents of liberation theology were not simply looking to curb external domination or implement piecemeal types of reforms. They called for a more-or-less socialist revolution. Indeed, as Novak demonstrates, theirs was not a lukewarm socialism or mild social democracy capable of coexisting with private property, markets, and democratic institutions. It was, to use Gutiérrez’s language, the radical doing-away with “private appropriation of the wealth created by human toil” and the abolition of the “culture of the oppressors.”

 

How did dependency theory with its socialist-like proposals to solve poverty and the Marxist influence on liberation theology fuse together? One often hears disclaimers to the fact that not all dependency and liberationist writings were Marxist. This is of course true. Novak himself argued that “liberation theology forms a tapestry much broader than its Marxist part and is woven of many colors.” It is worth stating that the work of carefully distinguishing between the various theoretical foundations suited to liberation theology, as Novak and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI) did at the time, is not the same as trivializing the broader Marxist influences. There are some subtle differences between the Ratzinger-Novak caveat and other claims concerning the impact of Marxism. Some of these other assertions were that

 

(1) classic Marxism had been revised or distilled by the seventies,

(2) Marxism as an academic tool did not contradict Catholic dogma and doctrines,

(3) the first Christian communities were proto-marxian, and

(4) a “Christian socialism” that eschewed Marxist atheism and materialism was possible.

 

In a scholarly analysis published in 1988, H. Mark Roelofs maintained that the differences between liberation theology and old-style Marxism could be explained in the following manner:

 

Liberation theology is not a Marxism in Christian disguise. It is the recovery of a biblical radicalism that has been harbored in the Judeo-Christian tradition virtually from its founding … Liberation theologians turn to modern Marxism chiefly to gain a comprehensive understanding of contemporary class conflict and poverty.

 

In the face of such obvious equivocation – most notably, concerning whether it was possible to separate Marxist analysis from Marxism’s operating assumptions of atheism and materialism – Novak complained: “What no one clarifies is what is meant by ‘Marxist analysis.’” Novak went on to list seven elements in liberation theology that were present in much of the literature and decidedly Marxist in tone and content. These were

 

(1) the effort of liberation theology seeks to create a new man and a new earth,

(2) the espousal of a utopian sensibility,

(3) the benign view of the state,

(4) the failure to say anything about how wealth is created,

(5) the advocacy of the abolition of private property,

(6) the treatment of class struggle as a fact, and

(7) the denouncement of capitalism.

 

In Novak’s opinion, this worldview was not only theologically and morally wrong. It would result in Latin America paying a high economic and political price that would hurt the poor.

 

A ‘Liberal’ and Catholic Proposal

 

When he looked ahead to how Latin America ought to be transformed, Novak was categorical:

 

“Liberation theology says that Latin America is capitalist and needs a socialist revolution. Latin America does need a revolution. But its present system is mercantilist and quasi-feudal, not capitalist, and the revolution it needs is both liberal and Catholic.”

 

The platform that Novak recommended for Latin America – democratic capitalism – was thoroughly described in his 1982 book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. Novak went to significant lengths to explain that free markets, understood as spontaneous social institutions, were grounded on a substantive moral substructure. Humanity, he argued, could best achieve prosperity in an open environment, whereby the creative energies of millions of individuals were released from the base. According to Novak, markets also induce free and responsible participants to behave habitually with integrity and reliability; economic and social cooperation, for example, is preconditioned on the trust we can place in each other.

 

This line of thought was deployed by Novak for the intended audiences of Will It Liberate? Novak stressed, for example, that the market liberates us from poverty while democracy liberates us from tyranny and torture. In the format of a dialogue that he playfully calls a “catechism,” Novak established some of the liberation theologians’ biases against – and ignorance of – capitalism.

 

Capitalism, Novak insisted, is not morally bankrupt nor has it been improved on or superseded by the welfare state. Latin America, Novak went on to state, was still living in a “pre-capitalist, traditional system.” This meant that the market economy had not even been properly tested throughout the region. One cannot therefore say that capitalism has somehow failed. There is no reason, Novak added, why free markets should work only “up North.” Free markets did not benefit the rich to the detriment of the poor. Indeed, undue privileges now afforded some economic players in Latin America would not exist in a truly free market, and corruption would diminish.

 

The toughest objection of the liberation theologians addressed by Novak was what they perceived to be the Catholic Church’s alleged condemnation of capitalism. Was it not the case, the liberation theologians maintained, that economic liberalism led to moral permissiveness by making “money and wealth the measure of all things” and imposing an unyielding economic logic on life?

 

To such claims, Novak responded, “free markets are no more permissive than God himself, who sends his rain on the just and unjust alike.” The decline in moral standards and religiosity in the West, Novak stated, is not causally related to free markets. Indeed, he added, “the very foundations of the liberal society crack” when people abandon their faith in principles that antecede any state or social order” and that “reside in man’s spiritual nature.”

 

This article is excerpted and adapted from "Michael Novak, Freedom, and Liberation Theology" by Carroll Ríos de Rodríguez in Theologian & Philosopher of Liberty – Essays of Evaluation & Criticism in Honor of Michael Novak, edited by Samuel Gregg (Acton Institute, 2014).

 

http://www.acton.org/pub/commentary/2014/07/23/economics-liberation-theology

 

*     「入世神學」或可譯為「解難神學」或「救世神學」;前者接近佛家「出世」/「入世」之義,後二者則近於Liberation之義 卜凱



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Book Review: 'Strange Glory' by Charles Marsh         

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man of contradictions -- and his theology the essential response to modernity.

 

Strange Glory, By Charles Marsh, Knopf, 515 pages, $35

 

Christian Wiman, 05/30/14

 

When I was a kid growing up in the Baptist badlands of far West Texas in the 1980s, the only serious theologian I ever heard a word about was Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This was odd in one sense. Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran, and his theology was stringent, complex and fraught with a kind of vital void, a meaning in meaninglessness that Christians were just beginning to piece together from the shards of modernism and its tidal violence. By contrast, the sermons I heard in Texas tended toward fire-eyed warnings of the Rapture or clear-cut moral imperatives about fornication (bad) or football (good).

 

In another sense, though, the reference was apt, for Bonhoeffer (1906-45) was Christocentric to a secularly alarming degree, and so were we. He believed that God's remoteness was woven into the flesh and blood of living existence and that, moreover, "we are torn out of our own existence and set down in the midst of the holy history of God on earth." For Bonhoeffer, the church must penetrate every aspect of the lives of its parishioners; either it acknowledges and answers intractable human suffering and from that suffering wrings a strain of real joy and hope, or it is simply an easy extension of secularism and thus an abomination. That image of the upright, uptight, Yankee Episcopalian sitting rigid in his pew -- God's frozen people and all that -- well, let's just say that occasionally Bonhoeffer provided our more apocalyptic preachers with some potent rhetorical ammunition.

 

Plus, his was one hell of a story. There was the little boy with the taste for eternity deciding at 13 to become a theologian. There was the aristocratic, patriotic and astonishingly accomplished family crushed by the country they would have died to save. (The Bonhoeffer family lost four members to the Nazis.) There was the consummate intellectual who, safely ensconced in New York City at the start of World War II, returned almost immediately to Germany because, as he put it, if he did not suffer his country's destruction, then he could not credibly participate in her restoration.

 

By that point Bonhoeffer was already well-known, and not simply in Germany. He had written what still may be his most famous book, "The Cost of Discipleship" (1937), which is both bracing and haunting to read in light of the events that followed. ("Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only insofar as he shares his Lord's suffering and rejection and crucifixion.") Faith, Bonhoeffer stressed, could be found only in actions of faith: "Only he who obeys, believes."

 

Just about the entire German church, Catholics and Protestants, turned up its belly to Hitler -- and was gutted. Bonhoeffer was undeceived from the start. Within two days of Hitler's ascension in 1933, with storm troopers already in the streets, Bonhoeffer gave a dangerous radio address in which he proclaimed resistance to the Reich and support for the Jews. His sense of Christian responsibility and fraternity would only grow firmer. "Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing the Gregorian chant," he said in 1938.

 

Eventually this gentle, cerebral man became a quite capable double agent, ostensibly working for German military intelligence while he was actually passing information to the nations at war with Germany, as well as helping Jews escape. The pacifist so adamant that at one time he believed all violence was demonic joined a group that launched multiple assassination attempts on the life of Hitler. "Both the no and the yes involve guilt," Bonhoeffer told one of his anguished co-conspirators. The only consolation lay in knowing that the guilt was "always borne by Christ."

 

And Christ -- the immediacy of him in other men's faces, the suffering that was both shearing and shared -- was what Bonhoeffer clung to when the Gestapo arrested him in April 1943. For a time his circumstances, aside from the extreme isolation, were relatively mild because of his family connections and because the full extent of his "betrayal" was not known. Writings of all sorts -- letters, fragments, sermons, poetry -- poured out of him.

 

A different side of Bonhoeffer's theology emerged in prison: "The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God." His family would eventually find these writings, which gained an enormous readership after Bonhoeffer's death, a great consolation. Not only did they reveal his strength of character and existential serenity even as things grew truly awful -- Bonhoeffer suffered degrading, painful torture and was finally executed in April 1945 -- but they ameliorated some of Bonhoeffer's early sternness. They also restored the more mystical side of Bonhoeffer that had made him become a theologian in the first place.

 

Charles Marsh's excellent biography, "Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer," enters a crowded and contentious field. For years the standard life, and certainly the most theologically comprehensive, has been the book written by Bonhoeffer's closest friend, Eberhard Bethge, "Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Theologian, Christian, Contemporary." But it is almost 50 years old, it's a thousand pages long and of course Bethge had no access to any of the information that has been unearthed in the intervening years.

 

More recently, Ferdinand Schlingensiepen, founder of the Bonhoeffer Society and a close friend of Bethge, published "Dietrich Bonhoeffer 1906-1945: Martyr, Thinker, Man of Resistance" in 2010. Unfortunately for Mr. Schlingensiepen, his scrupulous and erudite book appeared at almost exactly the same time as Eric Metaxas's blockbuster, "Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy" (notice how the descriptors are amped up for a broader audience). Mr. Metaxas sought to "reclaim" Bonhoeffer, both from a certain strand of liberal Protestantism that reads most attentively from the existential, in extremis late work (my favorite part of Bonhoeffer, I should admit) and from the secular humanists who had, in Mr. Metaxas's view, sought to praise Bonhoeffer's courage while purging his Christianity.

 

Mr. Marsh does not even mention the Metaxas book or the enormous attention it brought to Bonhoeffer. He is a scholar, and Mr. Metaxas is a popular biographer, and it's possible that Mr. Marsh found no new information in the Metaxas book that he needed for "Strange Glory." Still, though Mr. Marsh deals quite well with the intractable contradictions of Bonhoeffer's beliefs and actions, he misses the chance to situate the theologian and his ideas more clearly within the contemporary context. A simple preface would have helped.

 

But he goes about his business quietly and professionally (the notes alone are a treasure of information), and he has a rare talent for novelistic detail -- which requires a genuine creative imagination as well as scrupulously documented research in order not to become ridiculous. It's lovely to read of young Bonhoeffer and his twin sister, Sabine, lying awake at night "trying to imagine eternity":

 

When the twins got separate bedrooms they devised a code for keeping up their metaphysical games. Dietrich would drum lightly on the wall with his fingers, an "admonitory knock" announcing that it was time once again to ponder eternity. A further tap signaled a new reflection on the solemn theme, and so it went, back and forth, until one of them discerned the final silence -- usually it was Dietrich. And with the game concluded, he lay awake, the only light in his room coming from a pair of candle-lit crosses his mother had placed atop a corner table.

 

It's inspiring to almost feel Bonhoeffer slipping verses or notes of comfort into the sweaty hands of fellow prisoners either coming or going from torture. Mr. Marsh is so good at these scenes, so deeply embedded within them, that you almost miss when the bombshell drops.

 

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was gay.

 

Well, no, that's not what Mr. Marsh says, not outright. What he says is that for a number of years Bonhoeffer and Bethge, who had been teacher and student, lived very much like a couple: sharing a bank account, giving gifts under both of their names, traveling together, sleeping by warm fires, and rapturously reading books and playing the piano madly at all hours. Their intimacy was that of lovers, not friends.

 

There is no question of consummation, nor even the suggestion that Bonhoeffer ever actively sought it. "Bonhoeffer's relationship with Bethge had always strained toward the achievement of a romantic love," writes Mr. Marsh, "one ever chaste but complete in its complex aspirations."

 

But what about Bonhoeffer's engagement, at the age of 36, to Maria von Wedemeyer, who was 20 years his junior and the first "girlfriend" he'd ever had? Mr. Marsh stresses not only that last fact but also the severe formality between them and their intellectual incompatibility (he had been her teacher -- and flunked her!). Bonhoeffer made his proposal just two weeks after Bethge made his own (to Bonhoeffer's 17-year-old niece) and, according to Mr. Marsh, "took it as a test of his own mettle -- his capacity for entering into and sustaining a romance with a woman and thus keeping pace, as it were, with the man who was his soul mate."

 

On one level, it's hard for me to care about any of this. It is possible for a man to fall in love with another man and not be gay. It is possible for a woman to fall in love with another woman and not be a lesbian. Or perhaps in both instances the lovers do warrant the words but in some more elastic and empathetic versions than contemporary American culture -- or at least conservative religious culture -- seems inclined to allow. Human desire is a complex phenomenon. Just think how much more complex is the human desire for God, or God's desire for what human love ought to look like.

 

Still, there's another way of looking at this. Theology is not a discipline like science, sociology or even philosophy. You can't draw some stark line between the life and work of the theologian, because in a very real sense the life is an active test of the work. When Martin Luther wrote, late in his life, that the Jews are a "base, whoring people, that is, no people of God, and . . . must be accounted as filth," and then went on to suggest that the only Christian thing to do to Jews might be to kill them, the comments not only anticipated and almost ordained the rise of Nazism but also seeped like sewage back through the rest of Luther's truly beautiful work, which can now never have quite the same smell.

 

And Bonhoeffer? He "became a theologian because he was lonely," wrote Bethge, who would have known best. That loneliness is woven into the early, Wordsworthian experiences with nature that Bonhoeffer claimed -- in a letter from a Gestapo prison -- "made me who I am." It is evident in the conflicted way in which he approached divinity: the awful longing for an absent God, the hunger for the hot touch of an absolute Christ. And one sees it most acutely in the way he pursued an always deeper intimacy with Bethge, who clearly determined the limits of their relationship, finally declaring in a letter that he simply could not give Bonhoeffer the kind of companionship he wanted.

 

There will be blood among American evangelicals over Mr. Marsh's claim. For some, it will be more damning to Bonhoeffer's memory than any anti-Semitic aside that Martin Luther made half a millennium ago. I suspect that's precisely why Mr. Marsh has written his book with such subtlety and circumspection: He didn't want this story to be the story. He may be in for quite a shock.

 

As for myself, I feel both grateful for and pained by the revelation. Mr. Marsh's evidence does seem compelling -- though I think he may underestimate the feelings Bonhoeffer developed for his fiancée. I am grateful because the research casts a different, more introspective light on some of Bonhoeffer's ideas and inclinations (his extreme need for a community that was bound together both physically and spiritually, for example). I am pained for the same reason: The discovery reveals the rift of emptiness, of unanswered longing, that ran right through Bonhoeffer and every word he wrote.

 

But this is precisely the quality that makes Bonhoeffer so essential to believers now. He embodies -- and refuses to neutralize -- the contradictions that have haunted and halved Christianity for well over a century. The same man who once declared that the church was the only possible answer to human loneliness also suspected that we were entering a stage in which "Christianity will only live in a few people who have nothing to say." The same man who once called marriage "God's holy ordinance, through which He wills to perpetuate the human race till the end of time" was almost certainly in love with another man -- right up to his dying day.

 

This is where Charles Marsh's book becomes truly beautiful and heartbreaking. Though by all accounts Bonhoeffer projected great strength and cheer even in the direst conditions, "fears of oblivion were a different matter," Mr. Marsh writes; "the worst times were those when the past felt lost forever. 'I want my life,' he had whispered [in a poem] in the dark in the summer of 1944. 'I demand my own life back. My past. You!' "

 

It takes a moment to realize just how poignant and surprising this longing is. Fear, when you are close to death, can be as much about memory as mortality. The fear is that all the life that has meant so much to you, the life that seemed threaded with gleams of God, in fact meant nothing, is unrecoverable and already part of the oblivion you feel yourself slipping into. Faith, when you are close to death, is a matter of receiving the grace of God's presence, of yielding to an abiding instinct for that atomic and interstellar unity that even the least perception, in even the worst circumstances, can imply. "Lord, that I am a moment of your turnings," as the contemporary poet Julia Randall wrote.

 

"Strange Glory" is a splendid book. It counters the neutered humanism extracted from Bonhoeffer by secularists who do not want to admit that his bravery and his belief might have been inextricable. It is honest to Bonhoeffer's orthodoxies, which were strict, and distinguishes him from the watery -- and thus waning -- liberal Protestantism that has emerged since the 1960s. And, best of all, Mr. Marsh very properly emphasizes the importance of the volatile, visionary thoughts in the last letters and fragments, which Bonhoeffer himself believed might be his best work.

 

The multiple Bonhoeffers offered up by competing camps are a chimera. There is only the one man, who was aimed, finally, in one direction. As Charles Marsh (channeling Bonhoeffer) says so eloquently at the very end of his book: "The word of God does not ally itself with the rebellion of mistrust, but reigns in the strangest of glories."

 

 -- Mr. Wiman teaches at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. His most recent book is "My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer."

 

http://online.wsj.com/articles/book-review-strange-glory-by-charles-marsh-1401485431



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Karl Barth’s Failure     

 

Karl Barth failed to liberate theology from modernity’s captivity.

 

Matthew Rose, 06/14

 

Karl Barth was the greatest theologian since the Reformation, and his work is today a dead letter. This is an extraordinary irony. Barth aspired to free Christian theology from restrictive modern habits of mind but in the end preserved the most damaging assumptions of the ideas he sought to overcome. This does not mean he no longer deserves serious attention. Barth now demands exceptionally close attention, precisely because his failures can teach us how profound the challenges of modernity are for theology -- and show us the limits of a distinctly modern solution to them.

 

My own interest in Barth was inspired by a conventional religious crisis and followed a recognizable script. As an undergraduate I was anguished to discover a conflict between the creed I was reciting in church and the arguments I was reading in Descartes, Hume, and Kant. Although my grasp of their arguments was imperfect, it seemed to me obvious that the Enlightenment philosophers posed a lethal threat to Christian belief. I found nothing alarming in their shallow accounts of the life of Jesus, the authority of the Bible, or the possibility of miracles. These I dismissed. But the modern consensus, involving thinkers of otherwise diverse views, that human reason could not attain genuine knowledge of God had become a source of debilitating dread.

 

Descartes instructs us to doubt everything except clear and distinct ideas, which turn out in the end to be few in number. Hume counsels that we restrict our knowledge to sense impressions of a material world whose causal regularities were largely imagined. Kant wants to transform speculative aspirations into an analysis of the knowing subject. Learning these things, I judged that modern philosophy imperils biblical religion not by elevating the power of reason -- histories claiming so are gravely misleading -- but by impairing our ability to reason properly about God. For if human knowledge is indeed limited to physical sense experience or to the categories of understanding imposed by the mind, one cannot speak credibly about the God of Christian doctrine.

 

As I soon discovered, however, initially with great relief, theological liberalism promised otherwise. We may be unable to reason directly about God, and in that sense the creed of my youth could not be affirmed in a traditional way, but it could nevertheless still be affirmed in an existentially meaningful way. A good deal of liberalism’s appeal, in fact, stemmed from the conviction that the Christian message could be genuinely personal.

 

A movement that had drawn some of Europe’s most gifted scholars over the previous two centuries, theological liberalism set its talents to securing articles of peace between an advancing modern worldview and a religious tradition in confused retreat. It adopted different strategies, but on the main question that disturbed my student slumbers -- how my deepest convictions could be legitimately affirmed as true -- the giants of liberalism agreed. They argued that if Christians would accept the limits on human reason imposed by the Enlightenment, believers not only would reap spiritual benefits but would encounter a purer form of Christian faith. Under the agreement negotiated by liberalism, Christian theology would cease defending truth claims about the order of nature and address instead the private faith of individuals or the moral good of secular society.

 

Two of Barth’s teachers provide examples. In the winter of 1906, Barth enrolled at the University of Berlin to study under Adolf von Harnack, arguably the preeminent academic in Wilhelmine Germany. Author of a major liberal historiography, History of Dogma (1894–98), Harnack was convinced that the teachings of Jesus had been distorted by Greek philosophy and could be recovered only through historical inquiry. Harnack invested scholars with tremendous authority, regarding the historical-critical method as part of the Reformation’s mission to return Christianity to its primitive essentials. He assured believers that modern thinking was an unambiguous blessing, as it could liberate them from a metaphysical mindset that was foreign to the original spirit of their faith. And that spirit was animated by a simple creed about the universal Fatherhood of God and his presence in every human soul.

 

Barth learned a similar lesson from Wilhelm Herrmann. A professor at Marburg, where Barth entered after leaving Berlin, Herrmann embodied the vibrant religious legacy of Kant, who had cautioned against the pursuit of unresolvable metaphysical questions. The “land of truth,” Kant warned, is a tiny island “surrounded by a vast and stormy ocean, the native home of illusion, where many a fog bank and many a swiftly melting iceberg give the deceptive appearance of farther shores.” Kant thought identifying reason’s “unalterable limits” portended not the end of religion but its ethical revival; the fact that the “starry skies above” were speculatively inaccessible meant human beings could now focus on obeying the “moral law within.”

 

Herrmann seized on Kant’s idea that religion was principally about morality and made truth claims fundamentally different from those of science. Theologians had wrongly thought that Christianity provided a privileged perspective on the physical world, a mistake the advance of the natural sciences could only expose to ridicule. But the uniqueness of Christianity was a matter of personal experience, not demonstrable knowledge. Herrmann argued that the Christian life involved communing with God’s spirit through the moral influences exercised by Jesus’s life on human history.

 

By uncoupling Christian theology from an outdated worldview, Harnack and Herrmann hoped that theology could better express the teachings transmitted by the biblical writers, a message allegedly free from a cosmology to which no intelligent person could assent. As Gary Dorrien writes in his excellent book The Barthian Revolt in Modern Theology (2000), Barth’s teachers thought Christian anxiety about modernity was misguided: “Harnack had assured [Barth] that liberal theology recovered the simple and beautiful religion of Jesus; Herrmann convinced him that liberal theology retained the essential gospel faith through its insistence that the living Christ could be known personally.”

 

Theological liberalism offered itself as a respectable way to preserve the culture, language, and ethics of Christianity without abandoning modern philosophy. There was much to admire in this tradition, and as a student I was impressed by its intellectual courage and institutional prestige. This was a route I might have taken had a perceptive teacher not handed me the first volume of the Church Dogmatics (1932).

 

In Barth I met a thinker who told me that liberalism was on a fool’s errand, offering a fraudulent solution to a misunderstood problem. Liberalism could not inoculate my faith against the challenges of modernity, because it misjudged the import of modernity for Christianity.

 

Barth wrote from a commanding position. He not only had lived through the rise and fall of European liberal theology but had directly influenced its changing fortunes. The defining events of Barth’s career occurred as a result of the First World War. After witnessing Christian support for German militarism and struggling as a pastor in a working-class congregation, Barth became convinced that the foundations of establishment liberalism, which had for a century supported the intellectual scaffolding of German culture, were irremediably corrupt. His ideas came together in an incendiary commentary, Epistle to the Romans, whose second edition, published in 1922, was famously said to be “like a bomb on the theologians’ playground.”

 

Barth’s genius was to have noticed that modern theology had effectively ceased speaking about God. It was not that God had disappeared from Western thought -- he was, as it happens, being conscripted into an expanding number of new roles -- but theologians were increasingly using God in order to explain or justify positions held on secular grounds. Sometimes the idea of God was discerned in the order of the natural world, at other times he was said to be the ground of moral obligation or the mystery of human subjectivity -- in any case, God was used to sustain a secular scheme of knowledge. To satisfy his need for truth, Barth wrote, “man steps out in a bold bid for truth, creating the Deity according to his own image -- and in a confident act of self-assurance, undertaking to justify and sanctify himself.”

 

Liberalism came in several varieties, but it consistently made two moves.

 

First, often drawing on something like St. Augustine’s observation that the heart intuitively seeks God, it argued that religion or religious experience plays an integral role in our lives. Sometimes we hide this from ourselves, but an examination of our deepest commitments reveals an ineliminable religious dimension to human nature.

 

Second, it argued that Christianity is the loftiest or most fitting historical expression of our innate religious impulses. The Christian proclamation could be deemed “true” because it corresponds to the religious needs of modern man.

 

Barth subjected to pitiless critique the idea that Christian theology could be developed around an interpretation of religious experience, famously saying, “One cannot speak of God simply by speaking of man in a loud voice.” In the seventeenth chapter of the Church Dogmatics, “The Revelation of God as the Abolition of Religion,” he presented his most searing criticisms. Barth did not so much deny human beings’ natural religiosity, which was so foundational for liberal theology, as give it a radical biblical interpretation. Yes, our hearts are restless, but left to themselves they rest before idols of our own making. The Bible unmasks all religions as the artifice of human presumption. “Religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture.”

 

In equating liberalism with idolatry, Barth borrowed from an unlikely source. Ludwig Feuerbach’s The Essence of Christianity, treasured as much by Barth as by Karl Marx, advanced an ingenious argument in defense of atheism. A student of Hegel’s, Feuerbach adopted the assumptions of liberalism and regarded religious experience as the proper subject of theological inquiry. But rather than showing that Christianity expressed a human religious possibility, Feuerbach turned liberal theology inside out, concluding that God was the projection of man’s highest ideals. God is man writ large. Barth admired Feuerbach’s subversion so much that he often assigned him to students. He wanted them to appreciate that Feuerbach simply took liberal theology “completely seriously,” which could only mean “turning lovers of God into lovers of men.”

 

Here we reach Barth’s pivotal argument. God is not known through spiritual striving, moral reason, or historical experiences. God is known solely through God himself. Barth did not dispute that attaining knowledge requires attentiveness and diligent investigation. He only maintained that knowledge begins with objects of experience and that, since God is no mere object, our knowledge of God must conform to what he graciously provides. “True knowledge of the one and only God,” Barth argued in his Gifford Lectures of 1937 and 1938, “is based on the fact that the one and only God makes himself known.”

 

For Barth it was therefore misguided to reflect on God from a standpoint outside faith in divine revelation. This is a matter of intellectual precision, rather than special pleading. “If God really is God then to approach Him or even to consider that we can know Him in any way except out of Himself,” Barth insisted, “would be a form of irrationality.” Indeed, the attempt to do theology apart from revelation, as Barth said of the work of Schleiermacher, is “just one gigantic swindle.”

 

Barth’s appeals to revelation earned him a reputation as an opponent of modern thought. It was entirely undeserved. He made a tactical alliance with the Enlightenment on a key point: We are incapax Dei, lacking in speculative powers capable of reaching divine heights. Barth used this pact, however, to secure his claim that knowledge of God can come only from God himself. Barth was no reactionary. His arguments were almost always careful attempts to repurpose modern ideas for Christian ends. Modern people had demanded freedom for human self-expression, and Barth only asked that the same courtesy be extended to God.

 

This led him to ground his theology entirely within Christ, God’s self-expression in history. He claimed, perhaps uniquely, that “revelation does not differ from the person of Jesus Christ. . . . To say revelation is to say, ‘The Word became flesh.’” Through this seemingly brilliant maneuver, Barth recognized and at the same time bypassed the Enlightenment suspicion of speculative knowledge. Barth agreed with the Enlightenment insistence on the historical and empirical conditions of our knowledge, only to observe that God himself became historical and empirical. The Incarnation therefore moved past the critical arguments of Descartes, Hume, and Kant. For in Christ, God becomes present to us from within, from below, in flesh.

 

With this insight, Barth set off in a decades-long attempt to inscribe all Christian thought within “the strange new world of the Bible.” As even those who opposed the idea conceded, there was something captivating about his extravagant efforts to interpret everything in light of the biblical story of salvation. God’s intervention in history was not simply an epistemic bridge linking the human mind to God. Barth argued, with extraordinary narrative verve, that Jesus Christ is also the source, ground, and goal of all created being. This violated no Kantian or Humean stricture, nor did it require recourse to philosophical speculation. Barth was merely attempting to show how a contingent historical event, the life of a first-century Jew, could be recognized as the universal truth of all reality.

 

Barth was often hailed as a biblical theologian, but the truth is that he authored one of the great metaphysical treatises in modernity, treating the person of Christ as the ultimate cause and explanation of all things. Christology provided him exclusive access to the questions traditionally seen as falling within the domain of philosophy but now deemed to be speculatively off limits. He argued that in Christ and only in Christ can one encounter the true and the good, the intelligible form through which all things were made. In this respect his theology worked much like a more classical style of philosophy, invoking Christ to explore the “principles” or “beginnings” of things. “In the history of Jesus,” he wrote, “we have to do with the reality which underlies and precedes all other reality.”

 

Barth used the Enlightenment critique of reason to secure the absolute priority of revelation. But his concession came with a price, a cost he would increasingly pay in his mature work. Having rooted theology completely within Christology, he was required to claim that God and his revelation were somehow identical. Revelation is not, in other words, a side door through which God permits us an obstructed view of himself. God is one with his deed in salvation history. He is his revealed life.

 

In defense of this claim, Barth asserted that the reason that God can be present with humanity in time is that humanity is present in God’s eternity. This arresting belief that God is in some way human from all eternity -- that humanity is eternally enclosed in the second person of the Godhead -- is the core of Barth’s entire theology.

 

What did he mean? This remains a topic of debate two generations after his death in 1968. He began by stressing the irreducibly personal nature of revelation. This was another shrewd use of modern thought. Where liberal theologians had rooted all understanding in human subjectivity, Barth rooted all reality in divine subjectivity. The idea was that God’s entrance into salvation history is a dramatic performance of his very self, not an aspect or feature of his identity behind which his deepest nature remained hidden. One might say that for Barth God is absolutely truthful: He perfectly shows himself as himself.

 

While it is difficult to ignore the ambition of Barth’s theology, it is also difficult to overlook its flirtation with novelty. Barth never fully owned up to the radical implications of his identification of God with revelation. He sometimes suggested that God actually constitutes his divine identity in his act of self-disclosure. That would mean that God’s revelation is not simply a trustworthy expression of his nature but is integral to it. If the idea could be put starkly, God’s being is not merely a being-in-act but a being-in-this-act. He is a God who is not only made known through his words and deeds; he is a God who lives through what he says and does.

 

Barth had special reasons for identifying God’s essence with his revealed actions. Of all the modern critiques of Christianity, the accusation that God was an obstacle to human flourishing and happiness pained him most. He probably had a tendency to over-theologize, and he traced the roots of this view, which he believed lay at the origins of secular thought, to the scholastic separation of the question of God’s existence from that of his revealed identity. Barth held this distinction responsible for the suspicion that God’s freedom and power are not intrinsically tied to his gracious offer of salvation. So long as the question of God’s existence even in principle admitted of an independent, philosophical answer, modern people would be prevented from recognizing what Barth most wanted them to see: that God eternally wills the redemption of the human race through the person of Jesus Christ.

 

In his extraordinary 1956 lecture “The Humanity of God,” Barth made the daring argument that from the very beginning, from before the foundation of the world, God the Father intends fellowship with humanity through the man Jesus Christ. As he put it, God is the eternal “partisan” of the human race -- not as a response to human sin, but as the first and original will of God. To modern readers who regarded Christianity as a distraction from pursuing human welfare, Barth therefore offered the story of a God whose eternal identity aims at the vindication of the human race. What takes place in God from everlasting to everlasting is nothing less than “the affirmation of man.”

 

At first glance, Barth orchestrates a stunning reversal. He allows modern philosophy to close off traditional paths to transcendence, but then exploits the vulnerability of philosophy to a God arriving in Jewish flesh. Yet Barth’s argument does not succeed, and its failure has the widest possible implications. Far from liberating theology from modern captivity, he leaves it trapped within the immanent confines of secular reason.

 

The mere suggestion defies both received wisdom and the canonical story of twentieth-century theology. Barth is widely acknowledged to be a defender of orthodoxy and is both praised and criticized for flouting the settled habits of secular thought. According to British theologian John Webster, Barth is “a central figure in the break up of the modern tradition,” a theologian whose “vigorous critique” of modernity exposed “its fatal weaknesses.” Barth achieved no such thing.

 

To understand his mistake and its ramifying consequences, we need to place his work within a broader historical context. Perhaps the best way to understand the spirit of modern philosophy is to see it as a dismantling of the classical understanding of God and the ordered cosmos it sustained. Classical theism names not only a way of thinking about God but a way of understanding the nature of the world and our place in it. Developed through common effort over centuries, it came to endorse a number of interlocking theses: that God’s essence is identical with his existence, that nature is governed by an act of divine intelligence and love, that rational beings find fulfillment in learning the truth about God, and that all knowledge is grounded in God’s self-understanding.

 

Part of the achievement of classical theism was to demonstrate the interdependence of these positions. Deny divine simplicity, and God’s proper relation to creation is dissolved. Deny that creation exists by participating in God, and its intelligibility is diminished. Deny that human beings naturally desire beatitude, and the moral law is obscured.

 

Modern philosophy assumes the falsity of classical theism. It begins by discarding, not disproving, the family of arguments that provide the metaphysical grammar of Christian orthodoxy. Barth followed suit -- and the results were fatal.

 

Barth yielded to modernity’s most pernicious idea, which took aim not at belief in the supernatural but at our rational capacity for knowledge of it. In denying what Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan called the “native infinity” of human understanding, Barth capitulated where he most needed to take a stand. He seemingly did not understand that restricting reason was modern philosophy’s great act of presumption, not humility. Nor did he understand that rejecting the secularity of reason was Christian philosophy’s great act of piety, not hubris. And his bargain with Kant -- turning the limits of reason into an opening for revelation -- could only corrode the foundations of Christian faith.

 

By rejecting the speculative power of the intellect, Barth was drawn into making two mistakes.

 

First, he turned his back on the metaphysics of classical theology, rendering almost unintelligible the conceptual idiom of the doctors and creeds of the Church. Barth did not hide this, and he worked hard to square his dogmatics with Christian tradition, replacing appeals to nature and causality with appeals to history and narrative, but the result was that he could not properly and consistently distinguish God’s nature from his actions in the history of salvation.

 

Barth’s second and deeper mistake was to sever the mind’s speculative relation to God. He dissolved the classical synthesis of faith and reason, collapsing all theological understanding into an exercise of faith. Unable to appeal to truth besides Jesus Christ, Barth was powerless to explain how truth could be known and communicated without supernatural assistance. He was even pressed to invoke divine revelation as proof of the existence of the external world, a sign something had gone very wrong.

 

His basic error is evident in his rejection of natural theology, which holds that careful observation of contingent beings can disclose the necessary being of God. This argument comes in several permutations, most of which are sketched by Thomas Aquinas, but its success in demonstrating God’s existence was arguably a secondary concern. The primary purpose of traditional natural theology was to show the indissoluble connection between the human intellect and a transcendent God who is Being itself.

 

Barth’s charge that some natural theologies compromised divine transcendence was true enough, but his indictment was indiscriminate. He did not appreciate that classical natural theology aimed at clarifying the proper reach and function of natural reason: that we can know with certainty that God exists but cannot understand his divine essence in itself. This teaches us both the nobility of reason (knowing that God is) and its radical insufficiency (not knowing what God is).

 

He simply could not allow that a genuinely philosophical understanding of God is demanded by the intellect’s desire to know. He wanted to sharpen his dispute with classical theism so as to make it entirely about the revealed nature of God. But this could not succeed, if only because what one holds about God is informed by a host of philosophical commitments. For its part, classical theism maintained that Christian belief both presupposes and propels philosophical inquiry. It acknowledged, even celebrated, that Christian belief is committed to philosophical positions concerning the intelligibility of the natural world, the power of the human intellect to understand that world, and our capacity to communicate truth. (Hence the First Vatican Council’s condemnation of those who denied that God can be known with certitude by the natural light of human reason.)

 

Why did Barth fail to see the theological necessity of metaphysical inquiry? His idée fixe -- that God is wholly identical with his self-enactment in history -- stood in the way. There can be no natural knowledge of God, after all, if God lives in and through his self-revelation. In passages wincingly difficult to read, he sometimes took to mocking natural theology and classical theism, suggesting that they bore witness to a demonic power rather than a God who lives in covenant relationship with humanity.

 

There is much of lasting importance in Barth. One can find contributions to Christology and trinitarian theology that surpass almost everything written in the twentieth century, as well as a meticulous cataloguing of the history of Protestant scholasticism. He never spawned vulgar popularizers, and to this day Barth scholarship has a well-deserved reputation for its exceptional quality and academic sobriety.

 

But we are living through the unraveling of the Christian metaphysic, which began with a rejection of classical theism, proceeded to abolish purpose from the material world, and is now eliminating the rational and moral nature of man. In order to recognize this metaphysical demolition for what it is -- one can scarcely repair what one misunderstands -- Christians are no more helped by Barth than by theological liberalism. Both collude with secular reason in denying our capacity to attain knowledge of the highest things. We will be immeasurably better served by recognizing, as John Paul II wrote in Fides et Ratio, that our “crisis of meaning” stems from failing to defend the ability of reason to know “the ultimate and overarching meaning of life.”

 

Matthew Rose is director and senior fellow at the Berkeley Institute. He is the author of Ethics with Barth.

 

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2014/06/karl-barths-failure


 

 

對本文有興趣的網友,請參照【現在還需要假設「上帝存在」嗎?】欄下的《「開明神學」一詞是什麼意思?(What Is “Liberal Theology?” - R. E. Olson)一文以及本欄的《宗教信仰與現代性並無衝突》(How to Live in a (Supposedly) Secular Age – P. Berger)。 -- 卜凱

 



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How to Live in a (Supposedly) Secular Age                 

 

The relation between modernity and faith is often perceived and presented as an epic struggle. But it’s actually not that difficult to be a modern person and hold on to one’s faith.

 

Peter Berger, The American Interest, 03/11/14

 

A somewhat unusual document landed on my desk a few days ago, in page proofs, sent by Eerdmans, the major Evangelical publisher. It is a book about to be published, written by James K.A. Smith, a decidedly Protestant philosopher on the faculty of Calvin College -- How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Taylor is the much celebrated Catholic philosopher, retired from McGill University, author of the massive book A Secular Age (2007). Smith is of a younger generation; I have read one of his books before -- Thinking in Tongues (2010) -- a feisty book billed as a Pentecostal contribution to Christian philosophy, in which Smith criticizes Christian philosophers for cutting the ground from under their own feet by accepting the naturalistic premises of secular philosophy -- and then trying to find space for the supernatural that their faith must affirm. Smith (whose Pentecostal allegiance is apparently relatively new) instead suggests that Christian philosophy should from the first “think in tongues” -- that is, base itself on the assumption that the world is indeed suffused with Spirit, is precisely what Christianity says that it is. I’m not interested in arguing whether that is a good philosophical method, but it is probably good pedagogy: “I won’t try to dissuade you from your view that we are in France; let me rather show you that we are in America”. (Whatever “tongues” Smith thinks in now, he is still listed as a professor of Reformed theology. So I was reminded of Karl Barth in his feistiest days. Barth once observed that he was completely uninterested in dialogue with Hindus or any people from other religions. He was asked, how then did he know that they were wrong. He replied: “I know it a priori”. This is not my style of thinking, but I must admit to a certain admiration for its Calvinist chutzpah! In the book mentioned here, Smith continues in the same vein, except that he now undergirds his argument with Taylor’s phenomenology of our supposedly secular age.

 

I think that Taylor’s magnum opus makes a very significant contribution, though I disagree with its central proposition:

 

We don’t live in a “secular age”; rather in most of the world we live in a turbulently religious age (with the exception of a few places, like university philosophy departments in Canada and football clubs in Britain).

 

(Has Taylor been recently in Nepal? Or for that matter in central Texas?)

 

Taylor is a very sophisticated philosopher, not an empirically oriented sociologist of religion. It so happens that we now have a sizable body of empirical data from much of the world (including America and Europe) on what ordinary religious people actually believe and how they relate their faith to various secular definitions of reality. Let me just mention the rich work of Robert Wuthnow, Nancy Ammerman and Tanya Luhrmann in the US, and Grace Davie, Linda Woodhead and Daniele Hervieu-Leger in Europe. There is a phrase that sociology students learn in the first year of graduate study -- frequency distribution: It is important for me to understand just what X is; it is even more important for me to know how much X there is at a given time in a given place. The phrase is to be recommended to all inclined to make a priori statements about anything. In this case, I think that Taylor has made a very useful contribution in his careful description of what he calls “the immanent frame” (he also calls it “exclusive humanism”) -- a sense of reality that excludes all references to transcendence or anything beyond mundane human experience. Taylor also traced the historical development of this definition of reality. It’s the kind of thing he does very well, as he did before on another topic in his justly celebrated work Sources of the Self (1999).

 

In reading Taylor, I am forcefully reminded of another heated controversy, which roiled the theological world in the second half of the twentieth century -- the one over Rudolf Bultmann’s project to “demythologize the New Testament”. His seminal essay on this topic began with the lapidary sentence:

 

Modern man, who uses radio and electricity and turns to modern medicine when ill, cannot believe in the world of miracles of the New Testament”.

 

I remember reading this sentence at the time and thinking: How does Bultmann know this? No evidence is cited; none seems required. It is an a priori statement. To use Taylor’s key term: The “immanent frame” is simply assumed to be the reality in which “modern man” necessarily exists. The empirical reality, today as then, is of course much more complicated.

 

I have spent the last few years trying to develop a new angle about the relation of modernity and religion. My book The Many Altars of Modernity, to be published later this year in English and German by Walter de Gruyter (Berlin and Boston), will try to dissect this phenomenon in (possibly tedious) detail. (I will quote again my favorite Zulu proverb: “If I don’t beat my own drum, who will?”) This is not intended as a preview. But let me spell out, in my own terms, where Taylor is right, and where he is not.

 

Yes, there is indeed a powerful secular discourse, which dominates in important areas of modern life, which for some people is the only discourse they find plausible, and which for many others is a “default discourse” in that they almost automatically fall back upon it in certain situations. We may as well use Bultmann’s old example: I am ill, I call my doctor because I am convinced that his definition of reality is most relevant to my problem, and while he and I talk about my illness in this “immanent frame”, alternative discourses (especially religious ones) are rigorously bracketed. But it would be a mistake to think that this bracketing is permanent and that this secular discourse may not also interact with this or that religious discourse. I cannot resist the temptation of referring to an interruption earlier this afternoon: Today is Ash Wednesday, a fact that was not at all on my mind as I was working on this post. The call was from an occupational therapist, who wanted to know whether I might find her services useful (I thought no). I emphasize: This woman knows absolutely nothing about me except for a recent accident; and I know nothing about her except for her OT expertise. When we had concluded our friendly and very brief phone conversation, she concluded by saying: “Have a blessed Ash Wednesday!”.

 

I have formulated the question here as if it were a matter of deciding whether the secular discourse can co-exist and interact with religious discourses. But we already know that it can -- the question is not if it can, but how the interaction occurs -- and of course how many and what kind of people engage in it. Of course there are instances of friction between the different discourses, and at times direct conflict. This should not obscure the empirical reality that most religious people in the world (most of whom, happily, are not philosophers) manage to be both religious and successfully operate with various secular discourses of the modern world. Just look at the United States: It is important, I think, to ponder the fact that the Bible Belt overlaps with the Sun Belt -- one of the most economically vibrant regions. Here are huge numbers of highly successful entrepreneurs, petroleum engineers, computer technology innovators -- many of whom also believe in the power of prayer, who will turn to a prayer group for effective help while they are having recourse to all the wonders of modern medicine. And mind you, some of these people are also “creationists” who deny evolution and believe that the earth is only some six-thousand years old (“young earth theory”). Don’t be fixated on the fact that these two discourses may fight it out in school boards across the region: People with these logically contradictory views are engaged on both sides of these issues. Most of the time, it seems, that people manage to live with what to an outsider may seem to be irreconcilable contradictions.

 

I think that the basic formula to describe the secular discourse (= “immanent frame”) of modernity was stated by Hugo Grotius, the seventeen-century Dutch jurist who was one of the founders of modern international law. Grotius wrote that the new discipline of international law should be developed “etsi Deus non daretur”/”as if God were not given”, that is, “as if God did not exist”. It is very important to understand that Grotius did not express an atheist worldview. Rather, he formulated a “methodological (ad hoc) atheism” (“etsi”/ “as if”). In the event, he had no alternative: How could an international law function in a Europe with states that were Catholic and Protestant, Lutheran and Calvinist and Anglican -- not to mention Orthodox Russia and the Ottoman Empire (whose sultan was also the Caliph)! Of course such law had to be independent of any particular religious belief! And it should be noted that Grotius himself was anything but an atheist, rather was a pious Protestant, adherent of the Arminian branch of the Dutch Reformation (which rejected the odious Calvinist doctrine that God has foreordained the damnation of most humans). The Calvinists, then in charge of the newly independent Dutch states, had no tolerance for dissenters within the Protestant camp -- and Grotius himself was forced into exile in England.

 

I am not competent to speculate about the origins of this “god-lessrationality -- which could even be envisaged and practiced by a pious Dutch Protestant in the seventeenth century. Very likely there are earlier roots (the social sources of nominalism?), but an important step must have been the discovery of the type of rational discourse that is the precondition of modern science and technology. Wherever it came from, once posited Grotius’ formula is capable of expanding into various areas of social life. To mention but two historically important areas, the religiously neutral state and the autonomous market economy -- both operatingas if God did not exist” -- presuppose Grotius’ dictum. However, as I have been at pains to point out, this does not mean that such secular discourse makes religion obsolete. Most of the time, for most religious people, it is an issue of drawing boundaries -- a division of social and personal life between the two discourses (or, if you prefer, “frames”). Of course there are both religious and secularist fundamentalists, who would wish either discourse to be banished at least from public life. Recent history has shown that both projects are difficult to realize (at least in the absence of a totalitarian state enforcing them -- and even then).

 

I think that this empirical conclusion is good news, both for individuals and for entire societies. The relation between modernity and faith is often perceived and presented as an epic struggle. Of course it is that sometimes and for some people. But there is a comforting message for those who want to be modern people and to hold on to their faith: Look -- it isn’t all that difficult!

 

http://www.the-american-interest.com/berger/2014/03/11/how-to-live-in-a-supposedly-secular-age/



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Your Own Personal Religion

 

Thomas Moore, 01/13/14

 

The first piece of writing I ever published was called "Christianity and Humanism." All my life I've been interested in undoing any separation between everyday life and religion. For thirteen years, starting when I was thirteen, I lived a monastic style of life in the Catholic Servite Order, and since leaving there in my mid-twenties I've tried to have a mark of monasticism on my lifestyle. I tend to be contemplative and visionary, and I live a fairly simple life and consider my work as a writer and therapist to be my best form of prayer.

 

I went from the most formal and visible form of religion you can imagine -- I wore a long black habit with a large rosary dangling from the belt and followed a precise schedule every day that included hours of meditation, ritual and prayer -- to what looks like a completely secular life. I've learned the lesson of Zen emptiness and hold to my version of Teilhard de Chardin's vision of the natural world as spiritual and holy. Today you couldn't easily find signs that I'm a religious person, yet religion is baked into everything I do, and I don't, as they say, wear it on my sleeve.

 

I'm in my early seventies now, and this evolving sense of religion, fortified by a Ph.D. in the field and another advanced degree in theology, has become a well-formed philosophy. I now publicly claim that we are entering a new era in which old competitiveness, moralism, dogmatism, exclusivism, sexism, and preachiness of the established religions is over. On the other hand, I would hate to see secularism win the hearts of the entire world, because by nature a fully secular world is soulless, and, as ancient writers often remind us, the soul is what makes us human.

 

So, an advocate of soulful living, I want to see religion thrive, but not religion as we have known it. I want to see it rising out of the heartfelt search of each man and woman for meaning and purpose. That search is the foundation of a religious life, and in a way it never ends. We always have more questions and can always go deeper into the convictions and understandings we have. This kind of religion is dynamic and tries to avoid static structures.

 

When they hear the title of my new book on this theme, A Religion of One's Own, people almost always ask: "But what about community?" Well yes, I say, we want and need community in everything, but we have grown used to religious community as a certain group of people who think alike on important matters. That kind of community belongs to an outmoded way of imagining religion. Today we can start with our spiritual discoveries and form a religious practice of our own. We can do this within the setting of either a formal religion, like a church, in a less formal group, or on our own. We will find community because of the power of our open mind and the sincerity of our quest. We will draw people to us inspired by our intelligence and fervor, and we will seek out people who show similar courage and a spirit of adventure. No worries -- community will happen.

 

I foresee a deeper kind of communal sense developing hand in hand with more intense personal involvement. Since the less significant trappings of institutional religion are no longer in the way, we can have a keen feeling for the planet and the beings that exist on it. Community now can be hugely inclusive: other types of belief, other ethnicities, animals, vegetative forms and even manufactured things will be part of it. My old colleague Ivan Illich used to speak about the loss of "the commons," the places and things that we share by living together: our roads, buildings, fields and public spaces. A return to "the commons,' inspired by our discovery of a sacred world, will result in a vivid community and strong ethics. We need to get past a too literal and centripetal sense of community.

 

In this new religious era the old traditions and institutions could come to life and become more relevant than ever. They are teeming with beautiful language, ideas, music, architecture, ritual and story. For our own religion, we don't have to invent the wheel. It's there in the books and buildings and customs spread around the globe. In my travels, I run into spiritual teachers and rabbis and imams and priests and sisters who are witnesses to a new spiritual intelligence. They are already far ahead in their re-visioning of religion, and they can guide and educate.

 

But you don't have to be a member or follower to build your religion from the traditions, learning from these wise people and being inspired by them. Still a Catholic in my own mind, I have three outstanding rabbis I can contact for counsel at any time. I am friendly with several sisters and priests who have been on the frontier of this new religiousness for years. My buddy in teaching spirituality and making it accessible is a Baptist minister, who is a master of the old theology and yet far ahead in re-forming religion for the future. These admirable people are variously close to or remote from the official old-style churches. Once you leave spiritual regimentation behind, you discover multiple ways of being genuinely and solidly religious.

 

The habit of preferring "spirituality" over "religion" is also passing. It's time to be more open, firm and courageous in countering the soulless, ego-centered philosophies of the modern era and embrace a new sacred. It's time not to abandon religion but to re-imagine it.

 

Thomas Moore is the author of A Religion of One's Own: A Guide to Creating a Personal Spirituality in a Secular World.

 

http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2014/01/13/your_own_personal_religion.html



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