Everywhere in Justice Wolterstorff’s interest in theological and philosophical history collides with his desire for syllogism, or for causal necessity, or for foundational or axiomatic truth. He is always rushing headlong toward the moment when, blessedly, “it proves impossible not to continue” toward the terminus of thought—indeed, for the moment when we can lay down thinking altogether—even if, lost in the rush, the relief of having arrived at a foundation obscures from the mind its having reached a parallel conclusion, like the sanction of state violence.
Posts Tagged ‘rational thought’
The heated exchange in this forum between Stathis Gourgouris and Saba Mahmood raises a basic question about conviction through which the relationship between critique and the secular can be approached from a different angle: can we be committed to—can we believe or have faith in—a particular position, idea, religion, etc. and nonetheless be fully critical toward it?
What’s so bad about heteronomous thinking, anyway? Stathis Gourgouris has used the term in several posts here on The Immanent Frame. He says that Charles Taylor’s book A Secular Age is an example of heteronomous thinking, and he also thinks that Saba Mahmood’s post on secularism and critique exemplifies it. Though Gourgouris doesn’t define “heteronomous thinking,” he seems to mean something like “thinking that depends at some crucial point on something outside itself.” He thinks this kind of thinking is pretty bad—though it’s less clear exactly why he thinks so. [...]
What are we to think of the idea, entertained by Rawls for a time, that one can legitimately ask of a religiously and philosophically diverse democracy that everyone deliberate in a language of reason alone, leaving their religious views in the vestibule of the public sphere? The tyrannical nature of this demand was rapidly appreciated by Rawls, to his credit. But we ought to ask why the proposition arose in the first place.
Many political theorists, pundits and even presidential candidates have advocated some variation on the claim that religious and secular reasons have a differential justificatory potential: at least some kinds of secular reason, but no kinds of religious reason, suffice to justify coercive laws in a pluralistic democracy….I disagree with this differential treatment of the religious and the secular — not only Habermas’ particular formulation, but any position relevantly like it.
That Jürgen Habermas and I probably agree on most fundamental issues does not mean that there are no differences between us; indeed we have engaged in a friendly debate over some of our differences over many years. Habermas writes as a “methodological atheist,” which means that when doing philosophy or social science, he presumes nothing about particular religious beliefs. Another friend of mine, the well-known sociologist Peter Berger, who is a professed Christian, also does his sociology from the point of view of methodological atheism. I have heard him in a public lecture say, “Now I am taking off my sociological hat and putting on my theological hat.” I don’t have two hats; I am a Christian sociologist. [...]
Heidegger did not need to point out (but he did) that God occupies a hegemonic place as the figure of transcendence that characterizes the Christian and post-Christian tradition (let us not rush too quickly to operate our own secularizing machines, global experts on world-religions that we are, to claim that other “traditions” equally partake of this particular character). But – and here is some more outbidding – God is not transcendent enough. In order to be a critical secularist, one would have to demonstrate a more unyielding antagonism, take a more radical stance (or agonizing distance), and install oneself in a more transcendent position vis-à-vis the object of one’s critique. What object? More often than not “religion” and better yet “religions.” But not only religion, of course.
Democratic citizens cannot determine in advance of actual public deliberation the reasons upon which their political decisions ought to be based. In order to be legitimate, their decisions ought to be based on those reasons that have survived the scrutiny of political deliberation in the public sphere.
In an essay entitled “Secular Criticism,” the noted literary critic Edward Said wrote that “Criticism…is always situated, it is skeptical, secular, reflectively open to its own failings.” To this I would merely add three questions: First, what work does the notion “secular” do here? Does it refer to an authority or a sensibility? Second, since criticism employs judgment, since it seeks conviction – of oneself and of others – to what extent does it therefore seek to overcome skepticism? Finally, if secular criticism regards itself as confronting the powerful forces of repression, finds itself open to all “failings,” can we say that secular criticism aspires to be heroic? [...]
I have long admired Charles Taylor and have read most of what he has written and always found him helpful. Yet for me, A Secular Age is his breakthrough book—one of the most important books to be written in my lifetime. Taylor succeeds in no less than recasting the entire debate about secularism. From the very first pages it is clear that Taylor is doing something different from what others writing about secularization have achieved [...]