Christianity: Philosophy? Story? Something else? A Brief Jaunt Through Intellectual History Caféchurch 12/03/2013
What This Evening is About•What I want is a way ofbeing Christian whichadequately responds to thechallenges whichcontemporary societythrows up, but is true to the“depth grammar” ofChristianity itself.
The Enlightenment•A movement to find out what isreally, universally true, withoutrelying on authority and / orrevelation.•Key Word: Objectivity•Started in perhaps the 17thCentury, still sorta-kindacontinuing today.•(aka Modernism)•It’s a fascinating thing, and hasdone many extraordinary things –some good, some bad.
Sapere aude‘Dare to know! (Sapereaude.) "Have the courageto use your ownunderstanding," istherefore the motto of theenlightenment.’(Kant What isEnlightenment)
How, Exactly?•By the use of Reason,figure out things for yourself.•All “reasonable” people willultimately agree on what isTrue (and Beautiful andGood)•Don’t believe just becauseof authority•The best sort of knowledgeis thus scientific (becausethe most “objective”)
Terry Pratchett: Enlightenment Author•With his insistence onthe ability of reasonablepeople to sort things outwithout unnecessaryfuss, or indeedbloodshed, and his de-mythologising take onthe world, TerryPratchett is very muchan Enlightenmentthinker out of his time.
Political Outcomes•The French revolutionattempted to sweep away thedetritus of history, to create abrave new world of “Liberté,égalité, fraternité”•The Glorious Revolution inBritain did a similar thing(Only less glamorously)•Also the AmericanRevolution•What is a nation for?
Science•Primacy of mathematical and observable proof.•Newtonian physics led to a tidy world•Archetypical type of knowledge of theEnlightenment
DeterminismWe may regard the present state of theuniverse as the effect of its past and thecause of its future. An intellect which at acertain moment would know all forces that setnature in motion, and all positions of all itemsof which nature is composed, if this intellectwere also vast enough to submit these data toanalysis, it would embrace in a single formulathe movements of the greatest bodies of theuniverse and those of the tiniest atom; forsuch an intellect nothing would be uncertainand the future just like the past would bepresent before its eyes.—Pierre Simon Laplace, A PhilosophicalEssay on Probabilities
Philosophy•Attempt to figure things outfrom pure reason.•No role for revelation•The retreat of the “God of theGaps”•Deism•“I have no use for thathypothesis” - Pierre-SimonLaplace•Theory, not story•Static, not dynamic
EthicsAct only according tothat maxim whereby youcan at the same timewill that it shouldbecome a universal lawwithout contradiction(Kant’s CategoricalImperative Groundworkof the Metaphysic ofMorals)
How Does One Apply This to The Bible?•To try to find out whatreally happened –Liberal scholarship, quest for the Historical Jesus•Good examples ofbehaviour to emulate –This seems to be the root of the New Atheist critique
Not Just “Liberalism”• Biblicists tend to read theBible in a similar way•Which is why to questionthe factual accuracy of,say, Genesis, is soproblematic•Brian Mclaren calls this a“constitutional reading” -trying to find clear rules
Allowable Questions•Enlightenment thinkinglends itself to questionswith objective-seeminganswers•It likes technical fixesfor problems, which canbe justified on thegrounds of theirusefulness•It’s aim is to leave noroom for mystery
Quick Excursus•Blake’s picture, “TheAncient of Days” is partof his protest againstthe overly rationalistic,machine-like, Deist Godof the Enlightenment•William Blake: 1757-1827
Fit (or lack thereof)•This explains the feeling of“lack of fit” we get sometimes.•If the best sort of knowledgeis as scientific as possible,then where does that leaveFaith?
The Limits of the Enlightenment•Ultimately the Enlightenment seems to havefoundered on the problem that “all reasonablepeople” appear to believe very different thingsabout important things: –What is the role of the state? –When does a foetus become a person? –Should there be limits to economic growth?•Postmodernism, Feminism, Post-Colonialism,Marxism, etc, critique the “privileged” position ofwestern, modernist, materialistic, etc ways ofknowing –The Greens are part of this•Can you really have knowledge which doesn’trely on a point of view? Is there really any suchthing as “totally objective knowledge”?
Question•Do you identify with theEnlightenment, or withits critics?
Another way of reading it•The Bible is not a book ofethical maxims•Christianity is not aphilosophy which could beworked out by philosopherssitting in armchairs.•Whatever it is, you have tounderstand it as story first
Questions•Do you see thedifference betweenreading the Bible as asource of moral maximsand Eternal Truths vs.reading it as Story, andindeed History?
The Basic Point•Christianity is Story, notSystem. If you don’t get it as astory, you don’t get it at all.•Of course, we can’t leave thingshere – it actually has to be true.•But if you don’t get the primalidea, you won’t be transformedby it.
Obligatory C S Lewis QuoteNow as myth transcends thought, Incarnation transcendsmyth. The heart of Christianity is a myth which is also a fact.The old myth of the Dying God, without ceasing to be myth,comes down from the heaven of legend and imagination to theearth of history. It happens—at a particular date, in a particularplace, followed by definable historical consequences. We passfrom a Balder or an Osiris, dying nobody knows when orwhere, to a historical person crucified… under Pontius Pilate.By becoming fact it does not cease to be myth: that is themiracle. I suspect that men have sometimes derived morespiritual sustenance from myths they did not believe than fromthe religion they professed. To be truly Christian we must bothassent to the historical fact and also receive the myth (factthough it has become) with the same imaginative embracewhich we accord to all myths. The one is hardly morenecessary than the other.(C S Lewis “Myth Became Fact” )
Christianity vs. Philosophy•To start from philosophy and tryto force Christianity into it, isalways to leave somethingimportant out.•The problem with Modernism isthat it trusts theories more thanstories.•Christian thinking starts with theEvent, and reflection on it.•Rather than a single focus onlearning facts about the universe,Christianity engages the mysteryof how to live.
And the Word became flesh andlived among us, and we haveseen his glory, the glory as of afather’s only son, full of grace andtruth. …From his fullness we haveall received, grace upon grace.The law indeed was given throughMoses; grace and truth camethrough Jesus Christ. No one hasever seen God. It is God the onlySon, who is close to the Father’sheart, who has made him known.John 1:14-18
The Problem…•This is a bit of a problem forus, because we would muchrather an uncontroversialsystem everyone could agreeon.•The temptation is to “de-mythologise” faith, to make itfeel less problematic, moreuniversal.