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Logos in humanty
a note on de-theologization
September 24, 2006 / April 15, 2007 / November 29, 2008

[formerly: letter to a student of religion” / revision of ¶s 1-7, April 15]

1 — I was fascinated with Pope Benedict’s Regensburg lecture. I have no problem emplacing a phenomenology of “God” in post-ontotheistic discursive inquiry. The following dialogue with key parts of his lecture finds the university antedating the Church, while finding the Church integral in the evolution of our moral humanity.

2 — Perhaps Protestantism originates with John Duns Scotus, at the door of Renaissance times. According to Benedict, Duns Scotus separated the appearance or discernible order of God’s freedom (i.e., “voluntas ordinata”) from God’s freedom itself, a self-differentiating of God (to Scotus, but really a self-differentiating by Scotus of human freedom vis-à-vis “God”) which, to Benedict, privatizes freedom in/as the image of God’s self-withdrawing from the world. “...[T]here arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata.” Ultimate freedom was indiscernible, thus giving to human self-conception a freedom wholly human, associable with striving to merely orient human freedom by God’s order while conceiving that freedom relative to one’s ownmost potential, keeping ultimate freedom indiscernible in (I think) intuited integrity of our potentially autonomous humanity (ergo, so-called “secularity” warranted by the intuited humanity of one’s potential for conscience).

3 — Apparently (for Pope Benedict), this differentiation within God’s freedom (revealed through Duns Scotus) separates God from the world (in God separating Himself from human freedom, perceived by us as being separated from ultimate freedom), “even lead[ing] to the [our projective?] image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness.” But this self-differentiation of God might also express—contrary to Catholic mind—an image of humanity’s self-designing freedom (evolution of individuation toward modernity), appropriating “God” to warrant our capacity for freedom, which Benedict finds capricious, because God can ironically be absented from the world through exaltation, perhaps thereby inviting an Othering of God that leaves us ultimately alone. (This associates to a version of narcissistic personality disorder, called an esteeming disorder, where one keeps the other on a pedestal, thereby distanced and distracting from one's feared emptiness. Protestant psychology retrieved God in one's ordinary humanity.)

4 — One might argue that Kant (an emigrant Scot) formalized a differentiation of freedom in reason from order in God when he “stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith” (a recipe for anxiety that forebodes self-divided existentialism?). “God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions.” The Catholic mind needs that, actually. The Protestant mind welcomes that the potential of our freedom is left to its own resourcefulness, which indeed is always at risk of succumbing to capriciousness (but so it goes).

5 — “As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy,...” This would be an analogy between God’s order and human order. But the real analogy is expressed by the self-differentiation of human understanding reflected in what Benedict laments as the Scotian self-differentiating of God (a self-differentiating of Christianity that would lead to Protestantism that expresses evolving individuality toward modernization). But that’s not an analogy that the Church wants to endorse. You might feel that something's confused here: The Church needs the difference between God and us in order to have mirroring, yet laments modern results (as not properly analogous) which embody the difference outside of the Church (as did the life of Jesus relative to the rabbinical Judaism of his time).

6 — Benedict’s Church is conflicted here: In the analogy, “....unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language.” Ergo, the endless need of hermeneutics (the Church's to be dependently preferred) and fated conflicts of interpretation that hybridize Christianity into divided families (at first, Eastern and Western), genera (Protestant and Catholic), and species (monastic orders, Protestant denominations). The great analogy is self-differentiation in cultural evolution, exemplified epochally by the history of Christianity.

7 — True, “God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism;....” But that’s inapplicable to the reality of anthropological self-differentiation reflected in God: If our faculties express “our created reason” (according to Benedict), then flourishing capability for self-reflectivity—leading to diversification of our humanity—can bring us closer to “God” (though maybe farther from the Church), which reflects the original Protestant ethic (as well as Ordinary Language philosophy of religion, whereby the diversification of God talk expresses the legacy of “God” brought into our evolving humanity, which is The Message of Jesus, relative to an anthropologization of religion).

8 — Thus, ironically, self-reflectivity of reason may be in primordial solidarity with the Church’s “God,” though not with the God of the Church, inasmuch as “the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos.Logos is only revealed via mind, and self-reflectivity is a matter of mind. The better that one comprehends logos, the better is God given due duty of care. “[L]ove of the God who is Logos...”—now capped, interestingly (but sensibly: Logos is God, as far as we’re concerned)—is a logos whom/that “continues to act lovingly on our behalf.” To love Logos’ love is to exemplify the logos of Logos. Divinity of Mosaic “I Am” may derivatively show in self-reflectivity of whom, of “whatI am able to be, which is the motif of humanism (i.e., the self-enabling of our evolving humanity, though of course sans theologization of logos) from at least the early modern renaissances (Florentine and Elizabethan) through Romanticism and existentialism to recent positive psychology (born of the human potential movement of the mid-20th century).

9 — But apparently the Church needs to alienate Logos from anthropological understanding (in terms of scientific understanding, generally alientated from the Church by the Church) in order to preserve the hermeneutical mandate of the Church (divinely chosen to channel Logos for ordinary humanity), as Benedict does alienate “science” from Logos via a constricted (formalist) comprehension of the relationship of discursive inquiry to science:

10 — “First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific.” Here, Joseph (it is Joseph back in his homeland, reconciling the self-differentiation of university inquirer and benedictine shepherd) conflates the theoretical and experimental components of natural science (or else: mathematizes theory) in the interest of reducing science to empiricism (nothwithstanding his concluding objection to positivist senses of science).

11 — “Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion.” True, among other criteria. What is scientific is not thereby only what is mathematically empirical. In philosophy of science, scientificity is formally relativized to its experimental or criteriological mode, but not reduced to that. For example, theoretical biology is rigorously systemic and experimentally sophisticated, but more than experimental. Anthropological explanation of religious life, like theorization of cultural evolution generally, may have analytical rigor apart from mathematization. This pertains to the theoretical work of all sciences. What Habermas calls “reconstructive” science (e.g., developmental psychology, historiography) seeks methodological rigor, but not mathematical empiricism. It would be demonstrably false to imply that, since “the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of [empirical] scientificity” that a science is thereby dominated by it, i.e., empiricist.

12 — “A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this [mathematical-empiricist] method excludes the question of God,....” Quite true, but a richer sense of science does not. For example, history of religion, psychology of religion, sociology and philosohy of religion do not methodologically exclude the question of God, though the Church thereby loses control of The Question (which was a keynote of early modernity). “God” as ultimate mystery of order, as efficacious personification of the elusivenesss of the Theory of Everything seems to have been Einstein's sense of reverence for the notion of God. Certainly, plenty of scientists turn to an abiding sense of “God”.

13 — Ironically then, Joseph is quite correct to conclude that “[c]onsequently, we [of the Church!] are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned,” yet the irony may live beyond Joseph’s benedictine questioning, in the evolutionary condition of theologization of ultimate mystery. True, “..if science as a whole is this [viz., empiricist] and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny,...then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by ‘science’,” which is only to say that science is irreducible to his “‘science’”: Evolution is pursued scientifically in anthropology. Human development is pursued in public policy scientifically, and this can be done without “man himself” (?) being reduced. (Indeed, an educationist sense of human potential may look more ambitious than the Church's sense of “man,” e.g., through an Emersonian or Deweyan sense of humanity, in light of feminism and humanistic psychology).

14 — Furthermore, there’s nothing about what’s “tenable in matters of religion” that can’t be considered scientifically, e.g., considered psychologically or (given that philosophy is one of Joseph’s sciences) considered philosophically. Indeed, “[t]he subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion,” but this doesn’t have to entail that “the subjective ‘conscience’ becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical,” since ethical inquiry and self-reflection may involve any genre of relevant insight (including a phenomenological epoche about one’s developing conscience that yields to the lead of exemplars, as bright teens normally do).

15 — Now, as if Joseph and I are sitting together: It’s not the case, Joseph, that “[i]n this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and [instead] become a completely personal matter.” To the contrary, ethics retains its power (through education and culture) to create community that enables personal capability and self-understanding, as a matter of making a life, and as a matter of understanding, say, one’s place in “our” Local Region of the cosmos (S.E.T.I. optimist here.)

“This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity,...”

16 — No, Joseph, it is not. But ethics may profoundly share with religion concern for our humanity’s “disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it.” Of course, “attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate,” but of course ethics has a rich legacy of its own, via Literature and Philosophy—which, by the way, “bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament.”

17 — It is not the case that “the scientific ethos...is...the will to be obedient to the truth,” rather the ethos is to discover and appropriate the truth to developing and evolving lives and societies. Granted, obedience “embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit,” which ethical inquiry can well appreciate, without surrendering. Duty of care is integral to ethical life. But that imprint of the Greek spirit was not primordially obedient, as it also came to maturity in the humanism that may enkinder Christian life with the modernity that you rightly praise, near the end of your presentation.

18 — Yes, let us be “broadening our concept of reason and its application” as we “rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity” ethically and, as needed, critically. Let broadening the application of reason be about enabling humanity. Let faith partner with ethical modernity in such a venture, as developments outgrow obedience to become authentic care—outgrow faith to become realistic and reliable trust. Such is the way, so briefly expressed here, by which “[w]e will succeed in [broadening] only if reason and faith come together in a new way”—precisely: enhancing the capability of reason and thereby “disclos[ing] its vast horizons.”

19 — Yes, Joseph, “[i]n this sense theology rightly belongs in the university...as inquiry into the rationality of faith” that must be informed by universities’ well-formed discursive inquiry, especially (as appropriate) scientific results.

20 — Indeed, “[o]nly thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today.” But, Joseph, you’ve apparently been too long away from the university. It’s no longer the case that “[i]n the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid.” Any university department of philosophy or science (or refereed journal) shows the contrary. The challenge to reason’s capability is expressed by the university as such, whose planetary singularity of multi-disciplinary discursivity is breathtakingly vast. I tell you, Joseph, Logos is just divine, a happy thing.

21 — The business of multiculturalist (“postmodern”) theology should be to bring “the world’s profoundly religious cultures [to] see [no] exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason.” So, I agree with you: “[R]eason which is deaf to the divine...is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures.” But just as the dialogue of education relegates adolescence to a stage of life without diminution of the value of adolesence within the vast potential of there being stages of life (where learning may never end, as long as there’s human life), so the dialogue of cultures is an enlightening, an exalting university of disclosed vastness which, with no diminution, eventually “relegates religion into the realm of subcultures” within the culture of multipolitan planetarity.

22 — Indeed, “listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.”

23 — Yet, “talk about being...the truth of existence” merely begins a path of thinking. “The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which” a university, grounded in the scale of its multidisciplinarity, enters into the debates of our time, through which “a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.”

24 — With you, I say: “It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.”