The world against me rages, its fury I disdain;
Though bitter war it wages, its work is all in vain.
My heart from care is free, no trouble troubles me.
Misfortune now is play, and night is bright as day.

--Awake, My Heart, with Gladness (Auf, Auf, Mein Herz, mit Freuden), Paul Gerhardt

Monday, June 15, 2015

All Philosophy is Morality and Teleology – and Other Tacitly Known Truths? (a Christian view)

The philosopher Epicurus explicitly said that his philosophy was designed to eliminate "physical pain and mental disturbance" (particularly the fear of the gods and death), resulting in personal happiness.
The philosopher Epicurus explicitly said his philosophy was designed to eliminate "physical pain and mental disturbance" (particularly the fear of the gods and death), with the aim of personal happiness.
“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:10)

"If religions can be defined as 'doctrines of salvation', the great philosophies can also be defined as doctrines of salvation (but without the help of God)." -- Luc Ferry

"[philosophy is like a religious conversion]... It involves "a total transformation of one's vision, life-style, and behavior."-- Pierre Hadot

"Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion -- a full-fledged alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality." -- Michael Ruse (see here for source of last 3 quotes)

“There is simply no such thing as a methodological naturalism that is not also an ontological naturalism. And ontological naturalism is, at bottom, a bad theology that does not know itself.”-- Michael Hanby

"Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved." -- Chesterton, Orthodoxy, chap. 2
Several years ago, when I was thinking about what all human beings could reasonably agree on (as I was discussing cataloging library books with Library of Congress Subject Headings of all things), I came up with the following minimal list...
Getting PERSONal: MyAssumptions. YourAssumptions?
  • We exist! (or: “I exist. You exist” [kind of like "I'm OK. You're OK"])
  • We share a world out there
  • Despite all the messiness, there is some order out there to be discovered (particularly in the minds of other persons).
  • It makes sense (is worthwhile) to try to learn about this world
  • Our "epistemological equipment" (senses and reason) also "makes sense", so we can rely on it to learn about the world out there.
  • Our experiences of reality are analogous to other healthy persons (i.e. those who have received appropriate socialization - love)
  • People are universally endowed with at least some shared concepts: e.g. “thirsty”, “clouds”, “tears”, “sad”, “food”, “mother”, “father”, etc.

Goldstein on Plato’s mathematically-inspired virtue, basically an amputated natural law: “The beauty of proportionality that has led one on, because one loves it, would cause one to abhor a situation that would bring one into disproportion with everyone else… the impersonally sublime is internalized into personal virtue” (p. 392, 393, see Gorgias 507e-508a, Philebus 64e, and Timaeus 47b-c)
Rebecca Goldstein on Plato’s mathematically-inspired virtue, basically an amputated natural law: “The beauty of proportionality that has led one on, because one loves it, would cause one to abhor a situation that would bring one into disproportion with everyone else… the impersonally sublime is internalized into personal virtue” (Plato at the Googleplex, p. 392, 393, see Gorgias 507e-508a, Philebus 64e, and Timaeus 47b-c)
Looking at this now, as I was trying to find common ground and justification for the same, I certainly was trying to start small...

Bigger fish to fry now.  Trying to drastically simplify and make plain the life of the mind. Real philosophers out there – what do you think?:
  • We know more than we can tell. (Polanyi) More or less so.
  • Thought experiments can help us see what we tacitly know - and challenge us regarding our claimed beliefs compared to our actual behaviors.
  • If God does not exist, then there may be subjective "meaning" but no ultimate meaning.
  • Rather, we make up all as we go, and everything must be about power and practicality. Words, for example, get reduced to manipulation...they are "power tools".
  • Therefore, "we" "humans" have no real essence (this is a "useful fiction") and further, "if God does not exist, the person does not exist". (Zizioulas)
  • If God does not exist we must embrace the meaninglessness of all things - except, or course, our own opinions of all things!
  • So in like fashion, if God does not exist, science does not exist* - at least as many today understand the term science.
  • For what has become of truth here? Here "truth" and utility are one - with all recognized ethical norms emerging and being created within relevant community(ies).
  • In sum, what works is true and what is true is what works.**
  • Furthermore, since all empirical observation is "philosophically mediated", all of this "science" is really philosophy.***
  • All philosophy is about how we are to live.
  • All believe not any way or "form of life" will do - some must be discouraged or even actively suppressed.
  • Therefore all philosophy is teleology (see more here).
  • More: all philosophy is morality (see more here).
  • Akin to an acceptable monastic rule.
  • Truth, of course, must to some degree be tied up with this.
  • For if we grow disposed to ignore truth, our neighbor will not let us do so entirely.
  • Therefore, we speak of “righteous” persons.
  • These understand they must live in accordance with what is.
  • The true person lives well, we say, recognizing natural limits and their own limitations.
  • And yet, for the unbelieving philosopher, what is, physically and morally and spiritually, is even less important than what he wants to do.
  • Therefore, ultimately curiosity about what is, not conviction, describes him.
  • For the heart wants what it wants.
  • And being "true to himself" is the apex.
  • "His truth” is that creation is god.
  • All suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but some more so.
  • He may nevertheless begin to live according to what he knows on earth, but not from heaven.
  • ..."If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?"
  • As C.S Lewis said, Christianity is the Truth Myth.
  • Therefore: no Christ, no true philosophy also.****
  • The Christian, as opposed to the unbelieving philosopher, is first and foremost true to Christ.
  • For he knows the truth is that the Creator, Jesus Christ, is God.*****
  • And that words - particularly God's words - are first and foremost, gifts of love.
  • And that he has been buried and raised with Him in baptism (in the death and resurrection of Christ)!
  • Peace, joy, and eternal life (beginning now - see John 17:3) with God - the true consolation indeed!
  • Here we see the real intended end of man.
  • While a tree or animal cannot deliberate over whether or not to rightly grow and reach their intended end, a man can - a Christian can...
  • Therefore: Not my will, but yours be done!
  • Here he finds himself, as he loses himself - along with the whole of Christ's bride, the church.
  • He thanks God for what has been, what is, and what will be coming.
  • And that it is in Him that we live and move and have our being - unto the fullness of life eternal.
  • He is good! Thank God Jesus is God!



* "No God, no science", says Michael Hanby, although his approach varies from mine. More interesting things from him: “Current scientific practice is upheld by a political, economic, educational and cultural citadel that is virtually impregnable and that bears only an incidental relation to the search for truth.” To Hanby, Darwinism is a “living affront to the conviction that the desire for truth lies deep within us and plays an active role in extinguishing it....if it is impossible to live as if your theory were true, it probably is not.”

** “…the Baconian equation of knowing and making is…knowing not for the sake of control but by means of control, knowing by controlling which accords epistemic and ontological priority to parts separated through analysis.” (Hanby, p. 34, No God, No Science?)

*** Note that I am not saying here, for example, that all facts are contested due to different worldviews, or something like that. Rather, I would say that we all have much philosophy in common - and it is more our practice than our stated beliefs which demonstrates this (hence the possibility of the MyAssumptions list resonating with others)

Hanby provides excellent fodder for thought here. Again, note that his overall views are quite different from mine:

“….science is constitutively and therefore inexorably related to metaphysics and theology. To say that this science is intrinsically constituted in relation to metaphysics and theology is to say that science is not simply distinguished from metaphysics and theology merely by a difference of method (experimental, empirical, or mathematical) that would demarcate them externally, though this is not to deny that there is a methodological difference. Nor are they simply distinguished in virtue of their end or of the fact that science typically trades in what can be observed, or measured, or predicted, or manipulated. The question of precisely what the empirical sciences observe is a complicated matter, since empirical experience is already a highly “stylized” experience. And it is not always the case, in astronomy, for example, or in certain branches of physics, or even in reconstructing certain features of a hypothetical evolutionary past, that the objects of science can be observed or manipulated. Where it is the case, the very fact that empirical experience is “stylized” is an indication that there is no such thing as empirical observation that is not philosophically mediated. To say, then, that science is intrinsically constituted in relation to metaphysics and theology is to say, first, that it remain dependent upon a tacit metaphysics and theology in the very act by which it distinguishes itself from them, and second, that science is constituted as such in distinction from philosophy can theology by the manner in which it relates itself to them (precisely by distinguishing itself from them), as a way of attending to “the whole” through its perspectival attention toward a part. To say that this relation is inexorable is to say that it cannot be willed away. It can be forgotten, neglected, suppressed, or materially distorted, but never escaped. The more vehemently a Dawkins or a Dennett asserts this atheism, for example, the more definite and grotesque his theology becomes….. conceptions of nature determine in advance what sort of God is allowed to appear to thought and consequently, the range of meanings that can intelligibly attached to “creation”… [this is] an alternative theology that determines in advance both what sort of God can appear to thought and what sort of “nature” may manifest iself…” (pp. 17-18, 19, 35, No God, No Science?)

… If then the assumption that science is extrinsic to metaphysics and theology betrays itself and expresses a distinct metaphysics and theology, what is the distinct ontological and theological content that lies within this extrinsicism and its notions of a metaphysically neutral method and limit?...” (33, No God, No Science?)

**** The man who is religious but not Christians, on the contrary, really does seek the Divine, but does so wrongly - both externally and internally. And until turned by God, he cannot do otherwise.

***** Does the cross of Christ always equal foolishness? We are not saved by reason, but with Christ, grace, and faith, we are certainly saved with, in, and through our reason. This does not mean that we achieve this through reason’s powers – it only means that we begin to understand who we are, our sin, who God is, and His work for us in history. Reason that is truly reasonable cannot be autonomous from sensory experience or history. Divine revelation, which we are told is “at work in you believers” (I Thes. 2) is in part history told by God.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Imagination, abstraction, and limits

Rod Dreher wants to talk about the trouble with nominalism.  That’s above my pay grade, I am afraid, even as I am thinking that I am going to eventually have to learn more about this area (from what I understand about it, it seems that a strict approach to nominalism is clearly fatally flawed, even as it surely provided some answers for other philosophical theories that did not seem able to account for the complexity found in the world). 

Will have to tackle that more later….  For now, let’s deal with modern ideas of what constitutes knowledge we can be pretty sure of and the proper use of such knowledge….

The ELCA Lutheran philosopher Tom Christenson is a smart guy:

The powers of human imagination are necessarily linked to the powers of abstraction.  An architect imagines a building as floor plan or section.  In order to do so she must abstract from many aspects of humanly experienced space.  A physicist imagines masses in gravitational fields.   In order to do so he must abstract from many aspects of the bodies considered.  These aspects are irrelevant to his study, though they may be very relevant to him in some other facet of his life.   This is not how he experiences the world, but it is how his science requires that it be seen.  An economist imagines the world as a network of realities measurable in monetary units.  This imagined world is an abstraction of certain features from among a continuum of features including ones the architect and the physicist (and the economist herself in a different context) find relevant.  Only certain measurable features of the world enter into an architect’s, a physicists’s, or an economist’s way of imagining.  The world thus imagined is simplified and clarified.  The relations between focal quantities are expressible in formulas.  The economist’s quantities do not fit as variables in the physicist’s formulas; the physicist’s do not fit the economist’s formulas eithers.  Different features of the same thing (e.g., of steel girders or the midday sun) may appear in the imaginatively clarified worlds of all three thinkers.  

Human imagination and focused attention allow us to perceive and interpret the world in many patterns.  The variation in those patterns of imagination/abstraction make possible such widely diverse things as space flight and short stories, computers and mythology, skyscrapers and pornography, relativity physics and the work of Shakespeare, chemistry and ethics.  Because each is an imaginative reconstruction of the world, it is an abstraction of the world.  Because each focuses something in, it also focuses something out.  Because each expresses a way things are, each also expresses a way things are not.  Each is able to tell a truth because each does not tell the truth. 

[Nathan’s note: yes, I too was wondering what pornography was doing in a list of otherwise undeniably good and useful things]

Herein lies one of the sources of our difficulty as humans.  We have been so highly and perhaps naturally impressed by what we have been able to see and understand from our imagined/abstracted points of view that we have become seduced into thinking that these abstractions are reality itself.  So we have created religions on the basis of our mythologies, and schools of thought on the basis of our disciplines.  We have declared alternative views heresies, reduced others’ ways of thinking to nonsense, and persecuted those who have not occupied our thought-world, calling them savages, uncivilized, and uneducated; calling those who did not know our stories and languages illiterate and barbarian.  We have turned these abstracted worlds into playing fields on which all must play in order that we can win and they will lose.  Their loss justifies their poverty and disenfranchisement.  They cannot complain.  They had their chance.  We have called it equality of opportunity. 

Thus our accomplishments in imagining and abstracting have often been accompanied by claims for the comprehensiveness, absoluteness, and exclusivity of the views based on them.  The appropriate response to this realization is not to abandon or accuse this human ability to imagine and abstract.  The proper response to learning that tools can be dangerous is not to stop using them.  The proper response is to be much more critical of our own claims to exclusivity and comprehensiveness.  We must realize that it does not follow from the fact that my view reveals a truth about the world that alternative views must be presumed false.  Monet painted many pictures of Rouen Cathedral.  Each of them does not refute the others.  He was not a failure for not being able to paint the picture.  Our failure lies not in imagining and abstracting, but in taking our imaginings and abstractions as the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.  It isn’t that we need to find a newer, truer view.  We need to find the power to criticize ourselves honestly and then go on to celebrate the variety of our own and other’s limited successes.  Let us be happy we have as many paintings of Rouen Cathedral as we have without lamenting the fact that we do not have the picture of Rouen Cathedral, whatever in the world that might be… (pp. 74-75)

I think that Christenson says some things that are helpful here and some that are not so helpful.  I will refrain from doing a detailed exegesis of what he is written here.  Suffice it to say that while he wants to just talk about painters, I would like to talk also about photographers as well – which can indeed sometimes provide a “newer, truer view” (contra 76 ; see 80)  

It seems to me that for Christenson, taking into consideration the subjective aspects of knowing (i.e. the fact that knowing is something done by individual persons of various backgrounds and views) must necessarily go hand in hand with a dismissal of rigorous attempts to “size up’ the cosmos that exist outside of us in a manner that has at least some concern for notions of objectivity (see p. 103 in particular) and the notion that some descriptions and viewpoints of this or that may be superior (“newer, truer view”) to others across a variety of cultural contexts (see p. 76, paragraph 1). 

In spite of his words on p. 106 that a key aspect of knowing is that it is “object-focused” (and it does not need to be prejudiced, unobservant or untrustworthy), I think that his view leaves him unable to defend himself versus the charge that his very own way of seeing things is nothing more than a way of advancing his own agenda (his own “transcendent, global claim[-making] power-defined epistemology” [p. 104] ; see his own remarks about being wary of this on page 126, paragraph three) at the expense of a rigorous concern for truth, including seeing things as they really are (which he also wants to do, shown, for example, in the John Updike quote he uses on page 122). 

In other words, for some Christians in particular, he can be dismissed as just another garden-variety ideologue (albeit a “soft power” one and not a “hard power” one) and indeed a sexual-libertine one at that! (not just because of his remarks on pornography – there are other reasons for thinking this might be the case).  Of course, saying this may not be fair to Christenson himself, but it seems to me that more robustness is actually needed in his systematic treatment of epistemology – one that is more explicitly self-aware vis a vis other viewpoints (I get the impression that he thinks that since he perceives that he does not hold to his own views “in a dogmatic way”, that he would never be capable of “beati[ing] someone over the head with [his] version of reality, truth, beauty, or goodness” [or worse!, p. 79], which is basically what I thought was happening to me throughout much of his book, since I disagreed with several of his views, descriptions, assertions, etc.). 

This reminds me of a book I recently read by the integrationist linguist Roy Harris (I appreciate integrationists and am somewhat attracted to their theories), called After Epistemology.  In it, he says that “Classical thinking, imposes an epistemological hierarchy, in which linguistic knowledge takes priority over non-linguistic knowledge” (AE, p. 78), but I submit that that this is a recurring human story.  It seems to me that human beings have a tendency to suppress any “non-linguistic knowledge” – or any kind of knowledge for that matter – which they find inconvenient, that “cramps their style”. “Inconvenient truths” and annoying contextual knowledge, sometimes seemingly trivial, sometimes more clearly of wide consequence, (this is not to insist that apart from our own or other’s lies, deceptions, and illusions that our senses and minds are perfectly reliable – i.e. that what is within us [our “personal equipment”] tracks in a perfectly “one-to-one” way with what is external to us – but that it is reliable enough for helping people do what they are meant to do) are to be mitigated – and it only makes sense that they would do this with our words – to create our own meaning.   

I agree with Harris that Classical thinking was unique in that it was “a bold attempt to move knowledge into the public domain” (AE, p. 79, emphasis Harris’), but I think that whatever the motives of those who did this, overall, it served to help fight against our tendency to suppress our knowledge of ourselves and the world.  Overall though – of course – suppression still reigned and reigns – and new kinds of knowledge suppression were undoubtedly introduced and made possible by this new “public language” as well.  A little stability, a little order, a little love, a little pleasure, perhaps a little justice (however conceived): what more could one ask from life?  “What is truth?” indeed.     

In any case, from this Christian’s perspective, Both Christenson’s and Harris’ ideas are certainly able to be easily molded towards the service of moral pursuits at odds with the Scriptures.  Any view of the world that assumes there always have been and always will be some stable categories – even if only during our time on earth! – must be suppressed, or at the very least, mitigated.

This goes along with the spirit of the age.  Hans Ulrich Bumbrecht, professor of Romance languages at Stanford University, from his 2004 book “Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey”:

What I want to say….is that there is probably no way to end the exclusive dominance of interpretation, to abandon hermeneutics… in the humanities without using concepts that potential intellectual opponents may polemically characterize as “substantialist,” that is concepts such as “substance” itself, “presence,” and perhaps even “reality” and “Being”.  To use such concepts, however, has long been a symptom of despicably bad intellectual taste in the humanities; indeed, to believe in the possibility of referring to the world other than by meaning has become anonymous with the utmost degree of philosophical naivete – and until recently, few humanists have been courageous enough to deliberately draw such potentially devastating and embarrassing criticism upon themselves.  We all know only too well that saying whatever it takes to confute the charge of being “substantialist” is the humanities on autopilot

(quoted in Armin Wenz, Biblical Hermeneutics in a Postmodern World: Sacramental Hermeneutics versus Spiritualistic Constructivism, LOGIA, 2013)

Now I would not say that we can never, a la Kant a la Plato, talk about “Instantiations (creating concrete representations of abstract things or ideas) of noumena (a “thing in itself”) for phenomena (a “thing as it appears to be”, i.e. through one’s sensory experience and construction by the mind)”, but this should be the exception, not the rule – especially in theology!  Aristotle, for all his imperfections, is more in line with biblical thinking here.

For more reflection on Christianity, epistemology and history, also see the series I did elsewhere on my other blog, What Athens needs from Jerusalem.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

We know more than we can tell

Thus said the 20th century scientist-philosopher Michael Polanyi.  Tom Christenson, in his book “The Gift and Task of Lutheran Higher Education” tips his hat to Michael Polanyi on several occasions.  In one instance, as Christenson explains what our approach to knowing should be, he says the following:

“Our own approach, I would argue, should be the opposite of Descartes’ exclusivism.  Let us begin by looking at knowing inclusively, by noting the variety of ways of knowing there are and then examine the variety of modes such exemplars embody:

-Being able to recognize one’s own camel in a herd of 200 camels
-Knowing how to successfully turn the corner on a bicycle
-Driving a car – safely getting where we wanted to go
-A doctor diagnosing a disease
-A teacher detecting that a student does not yet understand
-A young man discovering that he is gay [note: I would say has homosexual inclinations]
-A child learning to recognize that she is experiencing a headache (not as simple as it seems)
-A person realizing she was born (or do we only know this on someone else’s authority?)
-A person realizing that he will die (Tolstoi’s Ivan Illich)
-A student concluding on the basis of lab experiments that the unknown substance is aluminum oxide
-A psychologist diagnosing a patient’s problem
-A physicist concluding that the earth is in motion
-Knowing what time it is in spite of not being able to say anything non-metaphorical about it (St. Augustine’s puzzlement)
-Einstein postulating that time is the fourth dimension
-Shakespeare seeing deeply into the human psyche
-A reader seeing deeply into Shakespeare
-Annie Dillard experiencing “the tree with the lights in it”
-A parent realizing deep love for his children
-A child learning the language of his parents well enough to say, “I don’t want to eat because I amn’t hungry”
-A student of Buddhism understanding the truth of the teacher’s claim: “The self is a cultural construct, not a reality”
-A young woman knowing her self well enough to set priorities for her life, turning down a proposal of marriage
-A man discovering that some of his most basic beliefs about human fulfillment were false
-A grandmother once again making flawless piecrust
-A student finally “getting” a poem by Wallace Stevens
-A witness to a crime testifying under oath
-A couple dancing a samba

(pp. 105 and 106)

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Should libraries ever be “neutral”? Can any library? One Christian’s perspective (part III of III)

Picking up from part I and part II

There is no doubt that all of us have the desire to know. It has been said that “knowledge is power” and while that is undoubtedly true, we are not only trying to simply gain more control of the cosmos when we endeavor to learn.  There are many things in life that we are simply curious about.  We seek “knowledge for its own sake” even as we sometimes seek to know things that others around us may not deem to be appropriate, relevant, or even true.   This was true of human beings even before the Enlightenment. 

That said, perhaps even this should give us pause, especially after considering the metaphysical claims of the Sprint ad embedded here (take some time to look at it).  Consider these challenging words from Parker Palmer’s To Know As we Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey:

Curiosity sometimes kills, and our desire to control has put deadly power in some very unsteady hands.  We should not be surprised that knowledge launched from these sources is heading toward some terrible ends, undeflected by ethical values as basic as respect for life itself….  If curiosity and control are the primary motives for our knowing, we will generate a knowledge that eventually carries us not toward life but death.

But another kind of knowledge is available to us, one that begins in a different passion and is drawn towards other ends.  This knowledge can contain as much sound fact and theory as the knowledge we now possess, but because it springs from a truer passion it works towards truer ends.  This is a knowledge that originates…. In compassion, or love (pp. 26-27, HarperSanFrancisco, 1993, quoted in Christensen, p. 99)

In addition, wisdom would tell us that some knowledge is dangerous in the wrong hands, some knowledge is simply dangerous, and all will agree that there are at least some things we know (until they are shown to be false!) that need not and perhaps should not be doubted!  All this said, what does this mean for our conversation about this issue of neutrality?  Can more be said?  Is this something that we should strive for at all, even if it is nothing more than an ideal?

While there are certainly times in life where it is wrong to be “neutral”, I do think that there are times and places to strive for this – and to encourage such efforts – as much as possible.  By “neutrality” I simply mean giving a voice to persons who attempt, by their education and reasoning, to persuade others regarding issues that are very important to them and others.  In times such as these, it is a very special teacher who can hold student’s interest and is able to not tip his or her hat as to which way she leans about what she thinks about this or that – even if it is philosophically na├»ve to say that any person can truly be neutral!  As regards libraries, striving for some kind of neutrality – across a narrow or broad selection of topics – may not be able to be much of a focus for some as their missions will understandably guide the material that they select.  That said, libraries in aggregate can get very close to just this ideal, via the modern marvel of interlibrary loan, allowing the exchange of perhaps very disparate materials from very disparate institutions!

In the end, I think all real neutrality is impossible: we are all idealogues, every one.  The fact that evidence which is public, relevant and convincing is (evidently) important to many of us cannot change this fact – a fact that I do not think is necessarily bad.  The real problem and question, I suggest, is what kind of idealogues are we?  It seems to me that libraries are often made up idealogues who at least occasionally like to have their views challenged, which is another thing that attracted me to the profession.

That said, I can’t necessarily say the same thing for some other persons of the “liberally educated persuasion”.  Just the other day while listening to N.P.R., I heard a program in which highly educated men – men whom I have generally found to be quite reasonable – made it clear in no uncertain terms that “religious freedom” – that is the practices which flow from the beliefs I have discussed in this series – will need to be a casualty of the continued march of progress (ah, progress).  It was a jarring and disconcerting experience, even as I certainly am not ready to resort to feverish language about persecution. : )

Nevertheless, experiences like these makes statements like the following, from Wayne Bivens-Tatum’s book “Libraries and the Enlightenment”, all the more interesting to me: “Devout religious believers who also believe that everyone should worship as they do understandably dislike or even fear freedom and autonomy” (p. 35)

Is it possible that the “devout religious believers” Bivens-Tatum mentions might be a broader category than he thinks?  Is it possible that the number of those who fear “freedom and autonomy” might be more than he suspects?  In any case, I am always curious to know where men and women who sign on to the purely secular version of Enlightenment think “the rights of man” came from – if not simply from the “will to power”!  It seems to me that even highly educated persons can be as unreflective about questions like these as can those who produced the mind-blowing (or destroying!) Sprint ad above.  No, if this series of posts has caused anyone to even doubt the veracity of Bivens-Tatum’s statement above – as regards some devout Christians at least – it will have been worth my efforts. 

Just because I, for example, might have extremely strong convictions about what is true – that I generally don’t think are good to doubt – does not mean that I can’t genuinely engage other’s views and “learn from the disagreement” (the Catholic Christian and librarian Gabriel Naude [1600 – 1653] said: “God permits us to profit from our enemies”, quoted in Bivens-Tatum, 153).  And it definitely does not mean that I do not sometimes wonder whether I could be wrong about this or that.  And if even after confronting numerous persons and books of the contrary opinion I continue to hold on to a fierce conviction that everyone should indeed worship Christ, this certainly does not mean that I need to, as Christensen says, “beat someone over the head with [my] version of reality, truth, beauty, or goodness”.  Much less that I need to, as some frequently imply, pick up the sword about it if we disagree, i.e. be a “human[] willing to destroy for the sake of their abstractions”!* (p. 79, 80, The Gift and Task of Lutheran Higher Education, 2004 ; see p 123 and 192 as well)  The New Testament, after all, informs those who believe that Jesus Christ is God speaking to them in these “last days” that their weapons are not fleshly, but spiritual.  There are some judgments that only God is meant to administer.

But here is one judgment I feel confident in making: libraries – and perhaps “Enlightenment libraries” most of all – are a wonderful gift of God.

Soli Deo Gloria.

*though I certainly consider Christian doctrine more than an abstraction!