RE: MD Philosophy and Theology

From: David Buchanan (
Date: Sun Apr 13 2003 - 18:26:06 BST

  • Next message: David Buchanan: "RE: MD Philosophy and Theology"

    Scott Sam Rick and all:

    DMB wrote:
    > An objection that it "begins with the conclusion", is simply pointing out
    > that perhaps the difference between what's social and what's intellectual
    > can be demonstrated by the tension between doctrinal authority and
    > intellectual freedom. My questions about and objections to putting
    > theology on the fourth level revolve around that.

    Scott replied:
    I don't see them as "beginning with the conclusion", but as "beginning with
    revelation". And the first thing they must do is account for that beginning
    (called apologetics). The ways they have accounted for it are varied, but a
    common one amounts to "it just is the case that I have faith in this
    revelation, by the grace of God".

    dmb says:
    See. This is what I'm talking about. When asked to justify or explain these
    giant, GIANT truth claims, the answer is only "I have faith". Frankly I'm
    baffled that you and Sam don't see why this sort of thing as a problem. I
    don't see how you can adopt this stance and simultaneously claim theology to
    be intellectual. I'd say it is non-intellectual at best. It borders on the

    Scott continued: ...............But the point I and I think Sam want to
    make is that in that accounting is the argument that questions of the
    existence or non-existence of God, of the origin of everything, of whether
    or not the universe is meaningful or meaningless, whether or not
    Enlightenment is for real, are not answerable by reason alone. Therefore,
    one inevitably works from one faith or other (the agnostic is a de facto
    secularist, since revelation requires a response). I can speak from
    experience on this. When I had my Aha! moment about the non-spatio-temporal
    nature of consciousness, from that point on I had faith in mysticism, even
    though that involves a great deal more than just non-spatio-temporality. I
    cannot prove that mystics are authentic revealors, but since that time I
    have assumed that they are, and from that assumption have drawn out
    consequences. Of course, this is not sectarian theology, since I am not
    restricting myself to any one mystic, but it is the same kind of
    intellectual activity.

    dmb says:
    Yikes. You're mixing mystical experience and sectarian theology in confusing
    ways here and I hardly know what to make of it. But I just wanted to point
    out that, yes, of course, some things are not "answerable by reason alone",
    but it does not follow that we ought to suppliment this inadequacy with
    irrational reasons or unreasonable rationalizations. I mean, there is a
    world of difference between the pre-rational and post-rational modes of
    thinking. So if reason alone is inadequate, the answer is clearly NOT to
    rely of something even less reliable than reason.

    DMB asked:
    > Is it fair to say that theologians are
    > encouraged or even free to question the Church's central doctrines? The
    > distinction between social and intellectual levels, in this case, seems to
    > revolve around the issue of authority and freedom.

    Scott answered:
    The answer depends on which Church and when. A Protestant theologian --
    now -- can write whatever he damn well pleases, as long as he doesn't
    pretend to be speaking for the institution of which he is a member. A
    Catholic can also write whatever he damn well pleases -- now -- as long as
    he does not hold a theological teaching position in a Catholic institution.
    Hans Kung had his license to teach theology at Tubingen revoked. So
    Catholics are restricted when they are considered to be speaking for the
    Church, though lately they can get away with quite a lot that is at variance
    with Church doctrine. This is partly because Catholic doctrine has itself
    gotten a lot looser since Vatican II. In any case, the line as to what is
    allowed and what not is fuzzy.

    DMB says:
    He can write and say whatever he pleases, "as long as he does not hold a
    ...position". Well, that doesn't sound like intellectual freedom to me.
    Losing your job and career is a very real and very punishing penalty. Don't
    be fooled just because we don't burn people at the stake anymore.
    Persecution and the exercise of authority come in many forms.

    Scott continued:
    Matthew Fox got into trouble because he is a priest, and so his writings,
    being contrary to doctrine, were seen by the Vatican as a case of one if its
    preachers preaching the wrong thing -- and being "in your face" about it. I
    would consider him a theologian, since what he wants is to change, or at
    least radically reinterpret, Catholic doctrine. If he were not a priest,
    then his books would not have aroused controversy -- he would be just
    another ultra-liberal Catholic. I would say that Huston Smith's "The World's
    Religions" was not a theological book (call it comparative religion), but
    his "Why Religion Matters" is, if one stretches theology to include
    non-sectarian work. It is a sort of apologetics. Watts is also sometimes
    theologian-like, when he promotes and explains Zen, though again that is
    stretching things a bit since Zen has no God, but Psychotherapy East and
    West is not theological. Just my thoughts.

    DMB says:
    Matthew Fox is wrong, in your face, a radical reinterpreter and an
    ultra-liberal, eh? Whew! Any chance the Vatican has you on its payroll? I
    think Fox is doing exactly what needs to be done; he's saying that we have
    to give up the quest for the historical Jesus in favor of the Cosmic Christ.
    In other words he wants to abandon literalism in favor of mysticism.
    Remember the old saying quoted by Pirsig? That the Cardinal gets nervous
    when a Saint enters the Parish? Matthew Fox springs to mind when I think of
    that. It a classic conflict between freedom and authority, between
    experience and doctrine.

    Alan Watts is an interesting case too. He was friends with Joseph Campbell.
    He attended King's College and was an Anglican priest, an Episcopalian
    priest, earned a masters in theology, was granted an honorary degree for his
    work in comparative religions, but is known to millions for his writings on
    Zen and such. He was a flawed, but astonishing man.

    Huston Smith, too, emphasizes the mystical. These guys have a profound
    respect for religion and spirituality, enough to devote their lives to it,
    yet they were not restrained by doctrine or authority. As such, I think they
    all go beyond theology even as it is included in what they're doing. You're
    not likely to find these guys saying anything like "it is just the case that
    I have faith in this revelation." They'll say something more like what
    Campbell said; "I don't need faith. I have experience."

    Thanks for your time,

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