foucault

In the previous post, I provided my lesson on Feuerbach and Nietzsche, taken from my Sunday school series on modernism and postmodernism. Here is the lesson on Michel Foucault, the widely influential French critical theorist:

Class 11: Foucault

Even though philosophy departments have moved in other directions (even back to both classical and modern metaphysics), Foucault is still alive and well within the various “studies” departments: cultural studies, women’s studies, religious studies, queer studies, pick-your-identity studies, and so on. Most importantly, echoes of Foucault can be heard across wide swaths of our culture today, with the millennials proving to be a highly receptive audience.

I did not record any audio for the lessons, so you do not have my running commentary. But, I think the slides are sufficient and hopefully of interest. This was one of the shorter lessons (in terms of the number of slides), because I spent extra time carefully explaining the technical terms in use and offering my criticisms at the end.

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Image: Michel Foucault (source)

Feuerbach_Ludwig

This past spring, I did a 12-week Sunday school series on modern and postmodern philosophy. Borrowing from Jacques Barzun, I entitled the class, “From Dawn to Decadence: An Introduction to Modernism and Postmodernism.” Clearly, we like to challenge our church members to new heights of astuteness. As Presbyterians, they accepted the challenge!

I presented the last 400 years of intellectual and cultural development as a continuous narrative. Beginning with early Deism, we looked at the chief works of figures like Locke, Descartes, Rousseau, et alia, and then the transition to the mature Enlightenment with Hume’s skepticism and Kant’s response. With Hegel, we have a significant new departure by way of a historicized metaphysics, which naturally led into the Left Hegelians and 19th century atheism. Subsequently, in week 9, we finally came to Feuerbach and Nietzsche. Here is the presentation for download:

Class 9: Feuerbach and Nietzsche

In the final weeks of the class, we looked at existentialism (Sartre, Camus) and finally postmodernism (using Foucault primarily, but also Serene Jones as representative of feminist “gender constructivism”). Perhaps surprisingly, I received really good feedback from church members, in what ended-up being a fairly large Sunday school class.

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Image: Ludwig Feuerbach (source)

What did the PCUSA do?

June 19, 2014

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Leave it to the Presbyterians to make matters confusing.

The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA) has been meeting this week in Detroit. This afternoon was the fated series of votes on amending the Book of Order to allow for the “marriage” of homosexual couples. I watched the whole thing, and this is what happened.

The first proposal was for a two-year study committee, which was voted down. Everyone wanted to move on with the the two significant proposals:

(1) Issue an Authoritative Interpretation (AI) for the Book of Order, which would retain the current definition of marriage in the BOO while allowing for the discretion of individual ministers to decide whether or not to perform same-sex marriages. It passed. This, of course, results in an AI that is in contradiction to the BOO, as some delegates rightly complained. Nonetheless, it passed. An AI does not require the approval of the presbyteries.

(2) Amend the BOO to redefine marriage as between “two persons.” This also passed, which would make the aforementioned AI meaningless. The difference is that an amendment to the BOO requires the approval of the presbyteries. This will happen over the course of the next several months. I assume that the presbyteries will approve the amendment. Interestingly, there was a motion to amend the amendment by adding that marriage is “traditionally defined as man and woman,” which was approved. But this was just a gesture to the conservatives, so that the BOO will effectively have two definitions of marriage: (1) two persons, or (2) specifically man and woman.

The AI was smart politicking by the liberals. If the amendment does not pass by the presbyteries, they will still have the AI. And in the meantime — until all the presbyteries have voted — the AI is in force. So, gay marriage passed at this year’s GA.

As was to be expected, the evangelical voice at this year’s GA was noticeably weak — very weak. Since the last GA in 2012, the PCUSA has seen 300 or so churches leave for evangelical denominations. My church, Westminster in Charlotte, is among those who joined ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians. The evangelicals who have remained (for now) are exhausted. They gave up before this GA even started, and I cannot blame them. The course is fixed for the PCUSA. They will join the UCC, mainline Lutherans, and Episcopalians. Good luck with that.

Oh, and at the “ecumenical worship service” yesterday morning, Katharine Jefferts Schori (the presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church and super-liberal radical feminist, with a penchant for suing departing congregations) was presiding at the service. The decision to have Schori preside was effectively a middle finger to the evangelicals.

At this service, they also prayed the “world religions” prayer, celebrating the “diverse faith” around the world — Muslims, Buddhists, and spiritual seekers of all sorts.

 

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This is what “tolerance” looks like:

“Colleges and Evangelicals Collide on Bias Policy” (Michael Paulson, New York Times, June 9, 2014)

Well, when truth claims are reduced to culturally-conditioned “norms,” which are then reduced to power plays and “rituals of truth” (Foucault) — then we really shouldn’t be surprised when postmodern liberalism is consistent. It is not about reason, much less tolerance in any meaningful sense. It’s about reconstituting, as they would say, the cultural conditions from which “truth” arrives in human consciousness and receives its legitimacy. Power is all that really matters.

With the massive 23-campus Cal State pursuing the same course of action, in addition to half a dozen other colleges where evangelical associations have lost their official status, it looks like an “evangelical underground” is emerging in our secular academies. On the upside, a little discomfort and loss of privilege will probably do us some good.

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Image: Bowdoin College, Hubbard Hall, Spring 2012

Bijbel Hersteld Hervormde Kerk

Mike Licona (Houston Baptist University) has written a response to the “new fundamentalists” — Norman Geisler and friends — who have been vilifying prominent evangelical scholars at Wheaton, Trinity Evangelical, Asbury, Denver, even DTS, and other places heretofore not exactly reputed for their liberal bias.

“On Chicago’s Muddy Waters”

Licona highlights J. I. Packer and B. B. Warfield as insufficiently orthodox, if we were to apply Geisler’s absurd delimitation of inerrancy. You can even sign a petition at the Defending Inerrancy website, which is surely one of the most ludicrous things I have ever seen in my life as an evangelical. (Though, this takes the cake.) Daniel Wallace at DTS has written a response as well, reviewing a recent book.

On a related note, another Old Testament professor has been forced to resign at a Reformed seminary, WTS:

“What Did the OT Writers Know? Another Controversy Erupts at WTS”

Professor Green teaches that the “authorial intent” of the OT writers need not include an explicit christology. The divine intent, partially veiled in earlier redemptive history, was discerned by the NT writers in their (inspired) appropriation of the OT. Call me naive, but I thought this is what everyone believed.

I tell ya, this peculiarly anxious brand of Calvinism is hellbent on making itself look ridiculous to all observers, not just those on the outside — but on the inside as well. The gospel is foolishness. This is just silly.

rogerscruton

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Rousseau told us that we are “born free,” arguing that we have only to remove the chains imposed by the social order in order to enjoy our full natural potential. Although American conservatives have been skeptical of that idea, and indeed stood against its destructive influence during the time of the ’60s radicals, they nevertheless also have a sneaking tendency to adhere to it. They are heirs to the pioneer culture. They idolize the solitary entrepreneur, who takes the burden of his projects on his own shoulders and makes space for the rest of us as we timidly advance in his wake. This figure, blown up to mythic proportions in the novels of Ayn Rand, has, in less fraught varieties, a rightful place in the American story. But the story misleads people into imagining that the free individual exists in the state of nature, and that we become free by removing the shackles of government. That is the opposite of the truth.

Roger Scruton, “The Good of Government” (First Things, June 2014)

Scruton on Foucault

June 5, 2014

Scruton

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For Scruton, The Order of Things “is an artful book, composed with a satanic mendacity, selectively appropriating facts in order to show that culture and knowledge are nothing but the discourses of power” to be condemned as just further forms of oppression. A work not of philosophy but of rhetoric, “its goal is subversion, not truth”, and it perpetrates “the old nominalist sleight of hand that was surely invented by the Father of Lies—that ‘truth’ requires inverted commas, that it changes from epoch to epoch, and is tied to the form of consciousness, the episteme, imposed by the class which profits from its propagation”. This is a core conception of the cultural relativism that is now a taken-for-granted premise of academic discourse, while Foucault’s “vision of European culture as the institutionalized form of oppressive power is taught everywhere as gospel”, as Scruton laments.

Mervyn Bendle, “The Philosophy of Roger Scruton”

Hans Lassen Martensen som ung. Litografi efter maleri af D. Monies

“A mind starved by doubt has never been able to produce a dogmatic system.”

— Hans Martensen

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Hans Martensen (1808-1884) was a Lutheran theologian and a professor at Copenhagen prior to his appointment as bishop of Zealand in the Church of Denmark.

I was given a copy of his Christian Dogmatics, which has proven fascinating reading. Martensen is not an easy figure to categorize. He was influenced by Schleiermacher, Schelling, and Hegel, but he was also shaped by the Lutheran mystic, Jakob Böhme, which resulted in a volume dedicated to expounding Böhme’s theology. If we were to consider the “subjective” versus “objective” orientations in (respectively) Schleiermacher and Hegel’s theologies, Martensen gravitated more toward the latter, while pushing against what he perceived in both to be a problematic pantheism, which fails to account for the personal God of divine revelation. Mortensen is committed to the church and setting forth the church’s doctrine.

I have glanced ahead at some of his doctrinal treatments, and there is much to like and much to question — but I will reserve greater judgment until I have read the whole book. He is a gifted writer and mercifully clear for a continental theologian steeped in the aforementioned names.

For readers of this blog, I think you will enjoy Martensen’s definition of dogmatic theology:

A confessing and witnessing church cannot be conceived to exist without a definite sum of doctrines or dogmas. A dogma is not a δόξα, not a subjective, human opinion, not an indefinite, vague notion; nor is it a mere truth of reason, whose universal validity can be made clear with mathematical or logical certainty: it is a truth of faith, derived from the authority of the word and revelation of God; — a positive truth, therefore, positive not merely by virtue of the positiveness with which it is laid down, but also by virtue of the authority with which it is sealed. …

Dogmatics is not only a science of faith, but also a knowledge grounded in, and drawn from faith. It is not a mere historical exhibition of what has been, or now is, true for others, without being true for the author; nor is it a philosophical knowledge of Christian truth, obtained from a stand-point outside of faith and the church. For even supposing — what yet we by no means concede — that a scientific insight into Christian truth is possible, without Christian faith, yet such philosophizing about Christianity, even though its conclusions were ever so favourable to the church, could not be called dogmatics. Theology stands within the pale of Christianity; and only the dogmatic theologian can be esteemed the organ of his science, who is also the organ of his church — which is not the case with the mere philosopher, whose only aim is to promote the cause of pure science. This desire to attain an intelligent faith, of which dogmatics is the product; this intellectual love of Christian truth, which should be found especially in the teachers of the church, is inseparable from a personal experience of Christian truth.

And now the most interesting bit:

…speculation which treats the truthfulness of Christianity as something problematical, which looks for certainty respecting it in the results of its own investigations, cannot be called dogmatical speculation. For dogmatics assumes at the outset the absolute truth of Christianity, independently of all speculation. The δος που στω [place upon which to stand], so often expressed by an inquiring philosophy, is for dogmatic theology answered at once; the theologian does not make the truth depend on his investigation, but only seeks to gain by his thought a firmer grasp of the truth which he already accepts as absolutely certain, and at which he first arrived in quite another way than that of speculation. …The theologian confesses himself to be a Realist, that he thinks, not for the sake of thinking, but for the sake of truth; he confesses, to use Lessing’s pertinent simile, that the divine revelation holds the same relation to his investigations as does the answer of an arithmetical problem, given at the outset, to the problem itself. Dogmatics, therefore, does not make doubt its starting-point, as philosophy is often required to do; it is not developed out of the void of skepticism, but out of the fullness of faith; it does not make its appearance in order by its arguments to prop up a tottering faith, to serve as a crutch for it, as if, in its old age, it had become frail and staggering. It springs out of the perennial, juvenile vigour of faith, out of the capacity of faith to unfold from its own depths a wealth of treasures of wisdom and of knowledge, to build up a kingdom of acknowledged truths, by which it illumines itself as well as the surrounding world. Dogmatics serves, therefore, not to rescue faith in the time of its exigency, but to glorify it — in gloriam fidei, in gloriam dei. A mind starved by doubt has never been able to produce a dogmatic system.

[Christian Dogmatics, pp. 1-4]

I like it. This is an especially beautiful way to express the theological task: “It springs out of the perennial, juvenile vigour of faith, out of the capacity of faith to unfold from its own depths a wealth of treasures of wisdom and of knowledge, to build up a kingdom of acknowledged truths, by which it illumines itself as well as the surrounding world.”

Kiekegaard was not a fan.

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Image: A young Hans Lassen Martensen. Lithograph after painting by D. Monies. (source)

“Christianity is certainly not melancholy, it is, on the contrary, glad tidings — for the melancholy; to the frivolous it is certainly not glad tidings, for it wishes first of all to make them serious.”

Søren Kierkegaard, The Soul of Kierkegaard: Selections from His Journals, p. 129