June 23, 2014
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:
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.
Image: Ludwig Feuerbach (source)
June 19, 2014
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.
June 14, 2014
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.
Image: Bowdoin College, Hubbard Hall, Spring 2012
June 7, 2014
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)
June 5, 2014
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”
June 1, 2014
“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