Johnboy Sylvest says: September 2, 2011 Many times, when it comes to issues regarding governance, whether in political statecraft or church polity, it will seem to me that we are not so much dealing with theoretical differences vis a vis our essentialistic ideals but more so with practical differences in strategies regarding their existential realization. For example, classical liberalism might be reconceived as a pragmatic critique of anarchism, for “limited governance” does not compete with “no governance” as a theoretical ideal but, rather, as a practical accommodation to human finitude and sinfulness. If we were angels, we would require and could justify no governance. In the same way, when we employ distributist and redistributist strategies (e.g. antitrust laws & social safety nets or entitlements), it needn’t imply classical liberalism’s theoretical capitulation to the social democratic critique but may, instead, simply represent the creative tensions playing out in our practical application of subsidiarity principles. What has often gotten in the way, seems to me, is the introduction of distinctions that do not make a descriptive difference and therefore should not imply a normative difference, whether grounded in the overly optimistic and rationalistic metaphysics of the (often) catholic analogical imagination or the overly pessimistic and biblically fundamentalistic anthropology of the (often) protestant dialectical imagination. To say this concretely, there is no, so to speak, “religious” epistemology or “theological” anthropology. In a radically incarnational and profusely pneumatological interpretive stance toward reality, epistemology is epistemology is epistemology and anthropology is anthropology is anthropology. And, best we can tell, thus far, they are evolutionary. We are neither angels nor demons but animals. Among the animals we are differentiated as the symbolic species (call it ensoulment if you must) and thus enjoy an unparalleled degree of freedom (call it inspirited if you like), which is love’s very horizon. And, as if that were not true enough, beautiful enough and good enough, we’ve been “interrupted” with some very Good News to which both individuals and peoples can only respond in developmentally-appropriate ways. Through our evolutionary epistemology and anthropology, it has been revealed (by the Spirit, no less?) that an emergentist perspective is indispensable and must be brought to bear on our practical responses to this Good News (ecclesiastically, evangelically, catechetically, liturgically, etc) as well as our theoretical reformulations and inculturations (theological, Christological, pneumatological, soteriological, eschatological, etc). And this will inevitably invite a plurality of expressions, a diversity of ministries and a great variety of spiritualities while, at the same time, advancing our singular unitive mission. In the Hauerwasian Spirit of offering gratuitous provocations: 1) It may well be that, other than being an implicit rather than explicit response to the Spirit, the secular, itself, has often comprised a distinction without a difference vis a vis the religious (historically, culturally, socially, economically & politically). 2) 1
Humankind has always fancied itself as progressing theoretically from one school or system to the next when, mostly, it has bumbled and fumbled practically from one method or strategy to the next. Most of its modernist, postmodernist, liberal, orthodox, radically orthodox & other â€œschoolsâ€? have issued forth from an unconsciously competent pragmatic semiotic reealism that corrects our inveterate over- and under-emphases (except, of course, for us consciously competent but contritely fallible Peirceans). +++ Good questions, complex issues - One might distinguish between the merely moral norms of justice and the robustly unitive norms of charity, which exceed the demands of justice. Also, governments generally lack sufficient means to even meet the most fundamental needs that might be demanded by legitimate social justice ends and, hopefully constrained by subsidiarity principles (grounded in basic human dignity), are to be about merely providing for the basic public order and not otherwise co-opting the rights & responsibilities of individuals in meeting all the other demands of justice (beyond merely maintaining the public order), much less those of charity. Even if the members and/or subjects of a government should happen to share the same desired ends as a religion (motivated by charity), still, governments and religions would differ insofar as the former employs coercive means, by definition (govt is inherently coercive), while the latter does not, again, by definition (charity is inherently free). Ironically, though, many who resist statist economic impulses otherwise embrace a moral statism and vice versa. This is not to say that such leanings may not lead to virtue; arguably, they may even provide so-called schools of virtue. But such virtues advanced through coercion are not what I would call "theological" or charitable; instead, they are merely moral, merely an enlightened self-interest? Except for certain complex moral realities, ordinarily we might reasonably be able to stipulate that politics remains the art of the possible and that political dispositions less so differ vis a vis their moral outlooks but more so regarding practical strategies. With human dignity as our compass, principles like subsidiarity, the common good & a preferential option for the marginalized then guide our strategic decisions employing what are proper biases toward limited government and conservative approaches. Our biases toward legitimate established authorities and the conservation of accumulated human wisdom are weakly truthindicative,though, and not strongly truth-conducive. That is to say that just because that's how something was done in the 2
past is no guarantee that it will necessarily be the best way to do it in the future, but it is a wise way to start out! Sometimes we must conserve; sometimes we must progress. We do not know a priori via rationalistic deductive logic grounded in ideology which approach will be the most helpful. Rather, we learn a posteriori via inductive testing which will work, so to speak, pragmatically. I prefer, then, to view conservatism and progressivism as charisms, with some folks being gifted with the talents of settlers, who maintain the homefront, with others being gifted with the talents of pioneers, who strike out on new frontiers. This is not to suggest that people thus self-identify, politically. Unfortunately, they treat what are merely proper default biases of limited government and conservatism as absolutes, turning them into ideologies and ignoring the creative tensions of the subsidiarity principle. Or they treat the proper socialization impetus of the subsidiarity principle as an absolute, turning it into an ideology, forgetting that it is otherwise merely a necessary evil that should revert control and self-determination back to the lowest level possible at the earliest practical opportunity. As you wisely observe, this transcends political party divisions. Still, I affirm the value of our two party system and prefer to view its advocates as exercising differently gifted practical charisms rather than as they imagine themselves, which is as being in sole possession of absolute truths ;) Jacob re: the word "charism" 1) It was not employed analogically. 2) It has a secular meaning in social psychology. 3) Even when used theologically, it has both broad and narrow conceptions. Jacob re: the Spirit's presence or absence from political discourse, an incarnational (catholic) perspective would recognize the Spirit's influence in this or any country historically, culturally, socially, economically, even politically - as all good gifts flow from above, this despite personal and social sin and human finitude. Jacob - It is good that you recognize the prominent role played by prudential judgment. As I mentioned earlier, most governmental activities do not involve explicitly theological or even moral positions but, rather, practical strategies. Even regarding grave moral realities, people can agree on the ontological descriptions, metaphysically, the deontological prescriptions, morally, the canonical codifications, ecclesiastically, and the legislative remedies, legally, while disagreeing regarding the best practical strategies, 3
politically --- asking what is the best way to achieve the goals we all share and which can we most likely advance now vs later? Of course, engaging facile caricatures of others' views and employing broad sweeping generalizations of political parties, which are all comprised of diverse multifaceted coalitions, is not helpful either. Well, Jacob, I do traffic in nuance. And I have not addressed any moral realities. So, good observation there. :) And. more importantly, I note your uniform and thank you for your service! (My son is in the Navy.) What I am trying to do, however, is to introduce some important distinctions and to break open some new categories that, in my view, could help discover some additional common ground between the many divergent political viewpoints as well as more precisely locate this or that political impasse. Of course, it is also important to establish agreement on basic definitions, avoiding broad generalizations and disambiguating critical concepts. Finally, in a pluralistic society, we must also translate what are explicitly religious positions into arguments that are transparent to human reason. All of that may be too abstract. So ... Concretely, for example, roughly a third of republicans and GOP-leaning independents support legal abortion, while the same percentages apply to democrats and demo-leaning independents who self-describe as pro-life. Further, since the question of whether or not the criminalization of abortion would effectively reduce abortion is empirical, a matter of jurisprudence and social science, where one stands on its legality is not necessarily dispositive of one's moral stance. What we do know is that MOST people, regardless of their religious, moral or political beliefs, which are manifold, varied and heavily nuanced, want to reduce the number of abortions, therefore, it is helpful to come together and devise practical strategies to accomplish that shared goal. On the other hand, it is not helpful, in my view, to assume that political and legal and prudential judgments necessarily reflect anyone's moral reasoning regarding this or any other complex moral reality. It is especially unhelpful, then, to characterize what are essentially political movements and prudential judgments as evil or to apply sweeping categories like "the left," "progressives" or "the right" to groups of people whose underlying rationales are already known to drastically differ within the various factions and coalitions that comprise those groups. 4
My contributions to this thread are not theological. I'm not analyzing moral realities here either. And I'm not advocating any given political approach. I'm trying to introduce some categorical distinctions to help parse and frame political conversations at such a point where I think folks may have already stipulated to a significant level of agreement regarding certain political goals. I do resist the prevailing tendency among so many in our society, across the political spectrum, who insist on reflexively characterizing all political positions in terms of moral dispositions, demonizing others (and idolizing their own). You are spot on in that I do hold the view that what is good and moral is transparent to human reason without the benefit of special revelation and I do resonate with catholic social justice methodologies. To be fair to you and your articulate and spirited appeals, Jacob, please don't be frustrated that I am not engaging those specifics. It is because I have a personal policy of not engaging political and moral debates on facebook. (I do that at forums.philosophyforums.com from time to time.) My contribution here is philosophical, specifically metapolitical. So, we're talking past each other a tad because of this. For reasons stated above, I still have not discussed the moral angle. Sticking with prudential judgment angles: Beyond this facile caricature --- "I morally object to abortion, but the law should not prohibit it" --- is a much more complex set of considerations having a lot less to do with whether the law SHOULD prevent it and a lot more to do with with whether the law CAN prevent it. Again, regarding THAT the number of abortions should be reduced, even eliminated, I hold that most would agree; it is HOW to best realize that most worthy goal where most people seem to differ. The statistics I have studied are readily available in Pew Forum, Gallup and other polls. Even then, in trying to devise legislative remedies, beyond the matter of trying to figure out what will work, there is also the extremely problematical matter of what is politically feasible? If one ignores that dynamic, as have so many ardent social conservatives for decades, there will be no "fruits" to show either due to ineffectiveness. Finally, a lack of bipartisan agreement regarding MEANS and STRATEGIES is not evidence against a broad consensus regarding ENDS and GOALS. Oh, btw, Jacob, I cannot imagine why you would suspect that a distinctly Roman Catholic approach would necessarily change either your moral stances or recommended political strategies. In my view,you might well discover that it would only bolster your arguments by making them both more 5
philosophically rigorous in the public square as well as theologically informed from a faith-based perspective! ;)
Jacob, since you have politely expressed an interest and I happen to have the time and inclination, presently, I will respond to: "it is likely you are a Catholic, and have studied your philosophy and theology. I caution you against using these studies to rationalize away the need for responsible, faith informed citizenship."
There are so many aspects of being catholic (lower case) in one's approach to reality and those with which I most resonate are found - not only in Roman, but - Anglican and Orthodox and other catholic faith expressions throughout the world. The both-and/universality of a catholic stance, because of a profoundly incarnational outlook (and what is called an analogical imagination), sees God at work in the world --- in science, culture and philosophy, as well as religion. It places faith and reason in a proper relationship.
This is an oversimplification but one could say that 1) sciences probe reality and asks descriptive questions: What is that? 2) cultures probe reality and ask evaluative questions: What's that to us? 3) philosophies probe reality and ask normative questions: What's the best way to acquire or avoid that? 4) Religions probe reality and ask interpretive questions: How might we tie all of this back together? or re-ligate that?
Each of these sets of questions are distinctive, which is to say that they ask distinctly different questions of reality. So, we could say that they are methodologically autonomous and each is necessary in its own right. But, none of these methods are, alone, sufficient to mine reality's values, both the transcendentals like truth, beauty, goodness and love, as well as lesser goods. So, we could say that they are axiologically integral (axiological having to do with value). Science thus remains science; philosophy remains philosophy. We thus seek to "inculturate" our theologies and so on. Reason, alone, does not yield such value-realization; that would be rationalism. Religion, alone, doesn't either; that's fideism.
Catholic perspectives do believe that we can reason from an is to an ought, 6
from the descriptive to the prescriptive, from the given to the normative, over against any, as you say, moral relativism. And they do affirm that moral reasoning can proceed without the benefit of special divine revelation. We do highly value special divine revelation, though, because its consolations and unitive norms allow us to move much more swiftly and with much less hindrance on this pilgrimage of life. And we want to share that Good News!
So, no, you won't find a Catholic version of science or philosophy or even a particular type of culture, much less political stance. But you will find catholic perspectives thriving in our nation's primary & secondary schools and universities, hospitals, orphanages, relief organizations and we our jurisprudential skills have been highly valued by all faith perspectives and legal persuasions (check out the Supreme Court, for example).
I hope this helps. Thanks for your patience and willingness to dialogue.