Is epistemic humility useful?
Does it really get us anywhere? Clearly, we cannot employ EH about every proposition of the faith; some propositions are genuinely constitutive of any catholic, apostolic Christian community with Christ as its head:
(1) Jesus is lord and savior.
(2) Jesus was resurrected.
Giving up (1) puts a community beyond the catholic pale; I would argue denying (2) does so as well.
But consider (3):
A priest may wear vestments.
Back in the day, (3) occasioned passionate division--but now? Do I need to argue that (3), whether true or false, is outside the core of Christian dogma? Being mistaken about (3) is a less urgent problem than being mistaken about (1) or (2). It may indeed be that Christ has decided in favor or against (3); the core of truths like (1) and (2) does not imply what Christ would say, and we have no way of knowing here below what he has decided in his current heavenly estate. Because we have no way of knowing Christ's mind on (3), and the core does not decide, we should be humble about (3). For the church has to take a stand on (3)--it has to decide in its common life whether to allow vestments. It must take stands in disputes that go
beyond its knowledge; how can it do so responsibly?
Here is one place humility is useful--a humble attitude to those stands which the church must take without knowledge seems proper; presuming infallibility or arrogating to ourselves the power of determining right and wrong when Christ already has decided seems immoral. We will have usurped God's role--hardly prudent in the the long term. By taking on humility in the face of such actions, we assume our proper position in relation to God, one where we do not pretend moral autonomy.
Not all propositions outside the core admit of such treatment, some will say:
(4)The church may bless gay unions.
They will say that even though the denial of (4) is not part of the core, we have excellent reason for thinking that in Scripture Christ has shared his mind with us on (4) in a way he has not with (3). The church neeed not go out on a limb in denying (4): in fact, humility toward the denial of (4) might seem like a vice--why qualify the denial of what Christ has so explicitly denounced?
Pace critics of humility with regard to (4)--we should not regard a denial of (4) as absolute. Long consensus around an interpretation of something outside the core, even with a consensus around the clarity of an interpretation, does not imply the interpretation is right. Admitting this seems to me a requirement of Christian realism: we do not make reality for ourselves, especially the moral reality. God does, and our yielding to his sovereignty is not optional. Thus, for instance, it is open to God to test our humility, even by decreeing X for a duration and then correcting us by decreeing the denial of X--will we yield the familiar to his will? We must remain receptive to possible correction, even in those beliefs outside the core that come to us with a long, impressive consensus among the faithful.
There is another use of epistemic humility, one brought to mind recently by a post from Tobias Haller. No creature can express the full measure of God's perfection--we are not just exceeded by a bit, but by an infinite magnitude. The variety of creation serves to show God's glory by imitating him more fully than one kind could. The variety of creation is itself of value.
Might it be that God desires not a large, mushy, grey theological uniformity in worship, but a variety? Might variety in worship be of value in itself, the very variety better showing God's glory to the world? If so, then the means to worship with variety is useful. It seems evident epistemic humility is just such a means. For EH permits divergent parties like Anglo-catholics, evangelicals and modernists to come to the same altar--for each party, by maintaining humility, maintains that the other parties are as legitimate manifestations of human worship and thanksgiving to God--a necessary condition, it seems, of actually having them worship together, being one as Christ wished.