medieval-religion: Scholarly discussions of medieval religion and culture
I do not wish to engage in a long point-by-point debate with Richard Landes. Some of his points I would agree with, in some instance I think he has indeed misunderstood my argument, as I undoubtedly at points have misunderstood his. For the sake of clarity, I think the key issue he raises occurs in his comments about Augustine and power/love.
From a Jewish/Christian perspective, in a _fallen_ world, yes, power, lust for power, dishonest, deceit etc. _seem_ to make the world go round. I believe Augustine would say that this is not right and not good and, in the end, not as real as justice, truth, honesty and love (including the courtesy I argued for) making the world go round. But that of course requires faith in an allpowerful God of love, which also raises the terrible problem of "whence evil" if such a God exists.
Hobbes, Nietzsche etc. in varying ways are saying that, of course, since no such allpowerful and loving God exists, one has to take the brutish, power-lusting world as the only world there is. Am I wrong to think that Plato would disagree? Even Aristotle? For this reason, putting Augustine in the same category as Hobbes and Nietzsche is mistaken, in my view.
So, we are back to the clash of worldviews. Christian (and Jewish) faith in an allpowerful loving God, despite the problems (not insoluble, I believe, but very difficult) of theodicy that raises, permits a hermeneutic of at least conditional empathy. Enlightenment faith in Justice and Reason also permits it at least those in polite society and affluence managed to live that way for a while. Kant provided a temporary synthesis and Nietzsche blew it to smithereens. My own view is that in the long run impersonal Reason and Justice can't sustain the faith and hope required to entertain conditional empathy under really severe conditions of poverty, injustice etc. That, I believe would also be Augustine's reasoning in the _City of God_. Nietzsche, it seems, would agree, except that he could not believe in an allpowerful loving personal God, so he felt obligated to sign on with Hobbes, making what Augustine would call the _fallen_ world into the only real world.
In response to the question (perhaps raised by Professor Kline) as to why I'm insist that a hermeneutic of suspicion is "dehumanizing"--this is based on the premise that humans are made for relationships/love (which follows from the Jewish and Christian believe in a personal God of love), so failure to entertain trust for others, at least until evidence of untrustworthiness appears, is an inhuman act. (The same understanding of the person as made for love means that certain limits are placed on how one may treat even a person who has proved untrustworthy.)
Finally, Professor Kline asks why it has to be either/or. I was saying it has to be either trust or suspicion. I laid out a continuum, insisting one has to start with trust to be fair and humane, unless one has contrary evidence. One has to be fair and just in assessing evidence, not prejudge even the evidence etc. This is not naivete nor simplistic but very complex. I was, however, protesting against starting from the principle that all people are fundamentally self-deceived or dishonest and untrustworthy, hence their self-presentations must be handled with suspicion. Even in world full of obvious injustice and untrustworthiness, a response of complete suspicion is dehumanizing because prejudging--unless, indeed, no such thing as Love truly exists and life is _merely_ survival of the fittest or and nasty, brutish and short. More polite variations of this exist--rational choice theory etc.--which argue that all human interactions are essentially contacts/bargains and caveat emptor. I think this is really Hobbes warmed over, but I could be wrong.
It all turns on whether Hobbes or the rational choice folks or Nietzsche are correct about human nature. If they are, then it would not be dehumanizing to prejudge suspiciously or to jump to conclusions and railroad evidence out of preexisting suspicion. It would merely be intelligent self-interest and self-defense. If Augustine (and John Paul II, perhaps the leading exponent of persons-made-for-love philosophy today) is right about human nature, then throwing in the towel to a fallen world's libido dominandi would betray the best and finest of human nature and settle for a mess of pottage. But it does require religious faith in a loving allpowerful God to do that. (Whether faith in Justice along Enlightenment lines is still credible to anyone, I don't know. Some people probably do operate with something of that philosophical system. It has become very difficult, though to many it might seem an easier choice than the soft and degenerate and irrational, counter-intuitive [Nietzsche] Christian-Jewish belief in a loving omnipotent God.
Richard Landes agrees in principle that it's not either/or and rejects an total hermeneutic of suspicion, but believes, if I understand him correctly, that _evidence_ shows that a very far-reaching hermeneutic of suspicion is warranted. He reads the evidence differently, and along Hobbeseian rather than Augustinian lines, though he assimilates Augustine to Hobbes. He may be right about human nature, he may be right to insist that what Augustine and Christianity calls a _fallen_ world is the only world we have and that lust for power simply has to be accepted as a fact of live, that it would be naive and very dangerous to explain things now as having fallen away from a good origin and that Justice/Love/God can and is engaged in restoring justice, love, truth to a fallen world.
I hope it is clear that I respect those who hold other worldviews even though I think they are wrong to hold them, just as they think me wrong to hold the one I hold. I do try to entertain conditional empathy. I do not assume they are self-deceived and that their self-explanations must be second-guessed.
My purpose in this thread and in the earlier one on canonization is to point out the way our worldviews do influence how we read the past--certainly in complex ways. I believe that Professor Landes's response actually illustrates that basic point, even as my posts also do.
Finally, I hope it is clear that I from the start have acknowledged my worldview commitments and how they influence the way I read history. Too often, even in this thread, perhaps, people assume that while I point out how others (e.g., those who attacked the canonization causes of Pius IX or Pius XII) are influenced in their reading of history by their commitments, I am somehow free of such commitments and more "objective." I do believe the religious worldview I hold to be the Truth, otherwise I would not hold it (and, if I believed truth were ultimately unknowable, then I'd hold that religious/philosophical worldview).
My effort here is to debunk those who casually take as self-evident the superiority of their worldviews, whether Hobbesean or Nietzschean or Enlightenment Rational.
And yes, even the response that, well, it's all complex and one ought not make it so either/or or so systematic--let's just recognize that we ought to be more ecclectic, that we in fact are, most of us, rather ecclectic in our methods and our underlying philosophies, so why get your knickers all twisted over this? Even that response is a based on a worldview/philosophy/religion: that Reality is ecclectic, that a mixture of them major religious/philosophical approaches is probably best, that we can't be real sure, but we can muddle through. That's a respectable way to view reality, but it is a philosophy because it denies the degree of knowability of Truth and Justice (and Love) that the other major systems, even while they argue with each other, assert.
I happen to believe that it helps to be more, not less, explicit about one's commitments, whether Hobbesean or Christian, Platonic or Buddhist, not because they're all more or less the same in the end, but because only by being clear about oneself can one overcome self-confusion, self-deception and express oneself more clearly to the other guy so that he stands a ghost of a chance of understanding me. Of course, only if he has clarified to himself his commitments and how they might affect his hearing and interpretation of me, will he have a remote chance to understand me.
Thus, it is in the interest of increasing communication and clarity of conversation that I raise these issues. If I have done so in an excessively either/or way, I apologize. My philosophical commitments push me to start with the big picture, the basic priniciples and achieve clarification and nuancing based on the basic principles rather than starting with nuances. But that may be the result of my religious/philosophical commitments to the existence and knowability of Truth. In conditional empathy I could see how someone who believes otherwise about the knowability of Truth would want to start and stay with the nuances, since the Principles are, in the end, unknowable, for sure.
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