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A Philosophical Theology for Interfaith Dialogue

Here are some categories that I use as conceptual placeholders, nothing tightly systematic, just a loose heuristic to help keep useful distinctions in mind.

There are a lot of implicit presuppositions that we bring to the inter-faith table in dialogue, which can have us talking past one another without our knowing it. So, I like to be on the lookout for how it is others are approaching an issue from the following angles: 1) anthropology , our view of humanity; Phil's tripartite superhighways approach comprises a rather classic approach to what it is that we each bring to reality, for example, intellect, will and awareness 2) methodology or epistemology , or what it is that we find ourselves doing with that intellect, will and awareness in our approach to reality; I suggest that we describe, evaluate, norm, interpret and participate with reality, which is just another way of describing Lonergan's and others' hermeneutical spirals 3) axiology or the ends to which we aspire, such as truth, beauty, goodness and unity, the ends toward which we strive with our methodologies 4) phenomenal experience , or the manifold and multiform impacts reality has on our internal milieu, which is distinct from 5) phenomenology or metaphysics or ontology , which attempt to account for reality, phenomenology employing vague, more or less, common sense terms, and metaphysics aspiring, speculatively, to more robust descriptions using root metaphors like being, substance, process, experience and so on to describe our internal and external milieus and 6) our theological responses , their performative significance moreso than their speculative content .

Our theological responses then include such things as a) theological anthropology , who is this created-co-creator, wo/man, vis a vis ultimate reality? b) paterology , who is this creator, God? c) christology , who is this anointed one, Christ? d) pneumatology , who is this Spirit? e) apophatic theology , pointing to the very ground of being ? increasing our descriptive accuracy via negation? f) soteriology , why are we so needy and how are we made whole, justification ? g) sophiology , how are we made holy? what return shall we make? sanctification ? h) eschatology , where's all of this finally headed? glorification ? i) ecclesiology , how are we made a


people of God?

Further explicating item 5, phenomenology, I have introduced four categories, which pretty much correspond to classical categories of our encounter of world, self, other/God and ultimacies: a) intra-objective identity of unitary being b) intersubjective intimacy of our unitive strivings c) intra-subjective integrity of one's unified self and d) inter-objective indeterminacy of an ultimate unicity .

When all of this is taken together, we can describe what's going on in terms of witnessing revelation, both in terms of general and special revelation. To wit, below are 5 examples of each, respectively:

General Revelation: 1) descriptive sciences 2) evaluative cultures 3) normative philosophies 4) interpretive spiritualities (via a ubiquitous pneumatological imagination , although variously developed) 5) participative imaginations , all of these engagements methodologically-autonomous but axiologically-integral , meaning each probes reality with distinct questions but none, alone, are sufficient, all being necessary, for human value-realizations. The undue emphases then manifest as various scientisms, relativisms, rationalisms, spiritualisms and gnosticisms and so on.

Special Revelation: 1) sacred scriptures 2) religious traditions 3) ecclesial magisteria 4) theological interpretations 5) ecclesial participations ( sensus fidelium ), again integrally-related, each presupposing the others. The undue emphases then manifest as sola scriptura, fideism, traditionalism, hierarchicalism, super-rationalism, radical apophaticism and individualism and so on.

Optimally, for any given engagement of reality, none of these witnesses should be ignored, none over- or under-emphasized, all duly emphasized, though each may enjoy a certain primacy vis a vis the particular value-realization in play, but methodological primacy does not imply axiological autonomy.

See Chart Below, enlarged here: http://johnboy.philothea.net/2012_archived/witnesses%20to%20revelation.jpg


With those distinctions in mind, as introduced above, one caveat that seems to enjoy a consensus view, at least, so far in this thread, is the distinction between one's phenomenal experience and any ontological conclusions. Let me suggest, however, another distinction, which is that between an ontological conclusion and an ontological implication. I don't think we want to suggest that our phenomenal experiences do not have ontological implications but I do think we go too far, saying way more than we could possibly know, proving way too much, if we then try to articulate those implications in robustly descriptive metaphysical terms rather than vaguely suggestive phenomenological categories. Also, engaging other witnesses to revelation, there are certainly no ontological or metaphysical implications that come from our phenomenal experiences during meditation that we do not also have some access to through philosophical reflection, scientific investigation and so on. There is no privileged gnosis. THAT reality suggests both ontological continuity and discontinuity, autonomy and quasi-autonomy, some clear inter-relatedness even, beyond the merely analogical, even with God, seems to be a universal intuition but


attempts to suggest just HOW this might be so should be more modest and tentative with an epistemic humility proper to the highly complex ontological realities we propose to model.

It often seems to me that enlightenment experiences often engender - not only truly holy end-products , like compassion & deep consolations as well as some very practically efficacious by-products, like angst-free existential outlooks, but also some metaphysical waste-products , like certain philosophy of mind positions. The leap from a phenomenal experience of unitary being to a metaphysical description of consciousness, itself, is nothing short of fantastic (etymology = fantasy). It is as if, alongside space, time, mass and energy, a new primitive is given, consciousness, when all the empirical evidence suggests that consciousness clearly emerged from those realities and not vice versa. It is as if, after finally exorcising the ghost from inside the dualistic Cartesian machine and realizing that there are no homunculi taking up residence in each human mind, some have posited a singular absolute homunculus , Who, as the One, gazes out of its own manifesting plurality of the Many at reality, often curiously forgetting Who s/he is and therefore grounding all things soteriological in anamnesis (not forgetting or remembering or ridding oneself of delusion and illusion). Now, this account would amount to a harsh caricature of Eastern approaches writ large if I did not clarify that it is not usually the East that thus interprets nondual realizations metaphysically (although some religious cohorts have) but, instead, it has been westerners, who have misapplied such metaphysical lenses to practices, which are intended to lead one into an experience and not toward ontological conclusions.

But allow me to set all of that aside to turn our attention to another angle, which is that distinction between the phenomenal experience (including as well as our anthropological and psychological accounts) and what those experiences can sometimes mean spiritually as they might correlate with various types of consolation, which would indeed comprise part of the soteriological, healing trajectory of our primary encounters, variously, with God 1) as creativity, Father, 2) as contingency, Son, 3) as relational, Spirit, all determinate (via paterology, christology & pneumatology) and 4) as ground, Indeterminate Being-Itself, Ultimate & Uncreated.

Consider, then, these Ignatian accounts of consolation : http://www.theway.org.uk/Back/s104McGuinness.pdf and also http://povcrystal.blogspot.com...thout-cause.html?m=1. What I am tossing out for consideration is that I would not cursorily dismiss the possibility of authentic consolations flowing through certain of these experiences and I would not facilely


categorize them as necessarily ensuing with or without preceding causes (or even some combination thereof), as this requires careful and individual, not categorical, discernment. Such consolations do not gift one with speculative gnosis, metaphysically or theologically, but do gift us with self-authenticating en-couragement, no more and no less real, perhaps, because it's more vs less mediated, but the gift of a sovereign God, Who equips us each with all that is required for us to take our next good step on the journey, moving more swiftly and with less hindrance as She so decrees.


A philosophical theology for inter faith dialogue