Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Don't Conflate Anglican Conservatism with Orthodoxy! Here's Why

Some comments I recently made in conversation here seem to have struck a nerve. So let's bring them out into the light; my hypothesis is that affirmations of faith made in the narrative mode are gibberish and nonsense, but relatively benign nonsense for all that. That is:

I would not dare conflate Anglican conservatism with doctrinal orthodoxy, just as I would not wish to conflate Borg-style panentheism with orthodoxy. The elite populating our consvervative Anglican think tanks cannot actually say "God exists" and mean it in the traditional sense, much lass confess Jesus is Lord and Savior. And I mean "cannot" in its strict, logical sense; it is logically impossible, unless they back down from their so-called "orthodox" theology.

Why? Any adherent of Lindbeck or narrative theology relativizes discourse, including especially theological discourse, to a conceptual framework, a way of life, a language game. That is inconsistent with traditional orthodoxy, which made affirmations of faith in an absolute sense, not in a relativized sense. In the traditional mode (a la Aquinas) one simply confesses "Jesus is Lord and Savior" simpliciter; in the narrative mode one confesses "Jesus is Lord and Savior" only relative to some language game. Thus, when a "Lindbeckian" says "Jesus is Lord" what she means cannot be the same as what is required of the faithful. This is a problem indeed: God wishes to be worshipped in Spirit and Truth, and not truth-relative-to-language-game-n.

As a confirmation of the seriousness of the charge, note that Lindbeck himself was compelled to disavow his own theories in First Things, claiming to profess a form of Realism. Ludicrous, yes, but Linbeck seems eventually to have "got it"--many others still seem lost in the dark. Here is Dulles making my point in a relatively innocuous fashion:

If we are to worship, speak, and behave as though the Son of God were himself God (as Lindbeck rightly affirms), is it not because the Son really and ontologically is God, whether anyone believes it or not? By inserting the homoousion in the creed, the Council of Nicaea was indeed laying down a linguistic stipulation; but more importantly, it was declaring an objective truth.

[Full disclosure: I did not realize Polanyi was a metaphysical realist contra Wittgenstein, presuming Dulles' reading in the article is correct. That's a sore point indeed--I've been wrong about Polanyi in the past then, criticizing Harding's recourse to Polanyi, as if that tied Harding to language game relativism. While there is an issue about whether his "participatory realism" is sufficient, it at least seems to be an effort in the right direction.]

Here is Lindbeck's response (scroll down); first he sees Dulles' issue:

He [Dulles] thinks that my stress on their intrasystematically regulative role makes it doubtful that they also function propositionally; or, in more conventional terms, he suggusts that the emphasis I place on truth as coherence with other beliefs obscures the primacy of truth understood as correspondence to objective reality. He concludes that “Lindbeck’s own program concedes too much to postmodern relativism.”

Then he makes the disavowal; first:

This indictment, I shall argue, is a mistake, but as I am in part responsible for the misunderstandings which occasioned it, I shall not blame the Cardinal, but simply seek to clarify the confusions that have led him astray.

That is:

The ontological truth claims of the creedal confession of faith remain existentially foundational and are also chronologically prior to its becoming dogma in 325 and 381.

I love it. And from Lindbeck....Oh well: Wittgenstein defenestrated. Looks like meat's back on the menu:

Cardinal Dulles infers that I am “postmodern” chiefly from my use of Wittgenstein and Geertz. That use, however, was heuristic rather than probative and could be entirely omitted without materially affecting my argument.

What's left of the ruined edifice, i.e. "my [unaffected] argument"? Lindbeck again:

Formally, however, it would be better to say from a doctrine-as-regulative perspective that the linguistic stipulation protected (not “declared”) objectively true affirmations.

"Protected" you say? Wittgenstein and narrative theology were to be deployed the way you'd set out O'Douls Amber for the kiddies at the prom party; or: it's not the full-strength version of Wittgenstein, it's Wittgenstein-changed-into-water. And I did not see Lindbeck spelling out what "protected" should be taken to mean here. Dulles acknowledges the movement Lindbeck has made:

At the end of my review I expressed the hope that George Lindbeck could amend his cultural-linguistic theory to give greater attention to the capacity of religious language to disclose the reality of God. I am gratified to find that in his response he shows a great willingness to move in this direction without forfeiting the strengths of his present position.

Have his Anglican followers made this crucial defenestrating movement as well? Making it seems to "downgrade" Wittgenstein all the way--leaving only, in Lindbeck's terms, cognitivist and expressivist ways of articulating the faith. The "cultural-linguistic" approach, post-movement, seems to be a way of articulating an updated cognitivist/propositional approach, better armed now to battle expressivism. To my knowledge, though, Lindbeck's conservative Anglican admirers have not followed him in his return to the propositional approach.

Thus, it still seems there is a problem for Lindbeck's people. In a sense it is O.K.: their affirmations may be taken as so much inspired babbling in tongues. In this case there is the benefit that everyone already knows what they are trying to say b/c the noises are so similar to genuinely significant speech--thus Paul's strictures on babbling are satisfied.


At 9:33 PM, Blogger Paul Davison said...

"Borg-style panentheism"? You lost me there...

At 2:41 PM, Blogger The Anglican Scotist said...

Borg is just the most high-profile defender of a view with about God with a long history that has found contemporary defenders: NOT that nature is God and God is nature (pantheism or Spinozism) but nature is part of God, who in turn is more than mere nature: not an identit ybetween God and nature, but a kind of intimate participation of nature in the being of God. At least that is the best brief sense I can make of it.

I'm not a panentheist, and I think panentheism is not the traditional view of God, but at least it leaves God-talk intact--it is not antirealist.


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