Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Guest Post: Luedeman on "What does Athens have to do with Jerusalem?"

Professor Luedeman has asked me to post this guest post contribution to the Blog Co-op.

"Why I'm a Secularist," by Gerd Luedeman

Secularism not only teaches us to base our lives and thinking on the findings of critical scholarship in both the sciences and the humanities, but also persuades us to apply critical investigative tools in every field of academic endeavor. My lifelong study of the Christian religion illustrates both of these principles.

Theology is a scholarly discipline when it observes the intellectual protocols of the modern university and bids farewell to deductive epistemological principles of any kind - including revealed truth and any privileged knowledge God. Theology becomes a valid academic discipline insofar as it employs the historical-critical method's three presuppositions of causality, the potential validity of analogies, and the reciprocal relationship between historical phenomena. But this adoption of the atheistic methodology of secularism demands that traditional religion undergo a Copernican revolution.

However it may disenchant the world, true objectivity means relinquishing the canonicity or sacredness of particular writings, any claims to a revelation, and all distinctions between orthodoxy and heresy except those found in historical discourse. This same even-handedness outlaws dogmatic and theological judgments unsupported by empirical evidence, and refuses to deal with questions of religious truth except to compare different truth claims. The scholar of religion must steer clear of ideologies, but it is obliged to use the methods and insights of the sciences and humanities, including those derived from such neighboring disciplines as sociology, psychology and ethnology, for their illumination of historical phenomena is often decisive. Its assumptions and conclusions must remain open to peer review and revision on the sole basis of best evidence.

Therefore petitionary prayer by academic theologians amounts to self-betrayal. As Huck Finn says, "You can't pray a lie." Still, though excluded from the ranks of true believers, we can be religious spirits without religion, hoping by critical secularism to make the world a better place.

(First published in Free Inquiry 25 (2005/6), p. 35.)

10 comments:

José Solano said...

“Theology is a scholarly discipline when it observes the intellectual protocols of the modern university and bids farewell to deductive epistemological principles of any kind - including revealed truth and any privileged knowledge God”

This is nonsense. It’s a vain effort to subsume theology to a faithless and sterile examination of an individual’s limited knowledge of particular events in time and space. Living faith shatters these pretensions of objectivity in the name of observing an historical process that is in reality known very incompletely. It rejects the unfounded faith in a blind atheistic, thoroughly presumptuous and subjective secularism. The statement is nonsense because it essentially eliminates theology as a discipline altogether for there cannot be any real theology, any real study of God if there is no God and the belief and acceptance of God comes only through faith and/or direct experience. As the Orthodox Church understands, there can be no theology without being in communion with God. And so, the theology this assertion proposes can be no more than an absurdity, that is, it becomes a “scholarly discipline” when it is devoid of all substance, when it rejects “revealed truth and any privileged knowledge of God.”

Of course, it is a completely understandable though immodest perspective for the faithless. It’s immodest because it implies that historical objectivity is attained only via faithlessness; that faith is an impediment to such objectivity. Living faith is not is not perturbed by these old tales.

Phil Snider said...

What I seem to be reading here is that theology is only a valid scholarly exercise when it obeys the ideology behind secularism; an ideology which is implicitly (at best) critical of orthodox formulations (as Prof. Luedemann makes clear here, I think). My only question is why do we have to assume that critical scholarship/sciences have the monopoly on reason and intellectual ability/integrity?

Peace,
Phil

JMS Providence said...

It sounds to me that we have the same old argument of one extreme versus another...e.g. nature versus nurture. How is it that we can't strive together for the best of both worlds? That, to me, would be our best effort toward objectivity, though undoubtedly subjective as knowledge and ancient resources come to the surface.

paulf said...

Shorter Jose: "Anything that disagrees with my views is nonsense."

Jose, what is nonsense is that there is such a thing as a "relationship" with God.

I've attended churches for more than four decades (still do). It always puzzled me why people who claim to have a relationship with God have so many diverse objectives. Not only about things such as interpretations of scripture or whether to vote for George Bush, but every little thing.

Every church has a fight every so often in which one group says God tells them the pastor is a rat and the other side says he is a holy man.

It took me a while, admittedly, but eventually I figured out that they are all just making it up.

If there is archeological evidence that contradicts "faith," I have to believe the evidence and adjust my beliefs accordingly. Scientific evidence is that the earth is billons of years old and man did not just pop up one day 6,000 years ago. I have to adjust my interprettion of Genesis in that regard, and not discount facts because I believe the Bible says otherwise.

José Solano said...

Sorry, Paulf but you’re making empty personal attacks. If you have nothing reasonable or of substance to contribute no discussion is possible. Offer something other than personal insult. I address issues and assertions without attacking the person whom I try always to treat with respect.

Talon said...

Uh, you called somebody's statement nonsense, I said your statement is nonsense. Any difference? Good goose gander, blah, blah. Dish it not take it, etc.

José Solano said...

Dear Talon/Paulf,

You said, “Shorter Jose: ‘Anything that disagrees with my views is nonsense.’"

This is a personal attack and a lie. You can say that any of my statements are nonsense and then try to demonstrate why this is so. That’s what I have done with Lüdeman’s assertion.

I’m not engaging in sophomoric comments.

Trou said...

I think that the approach of Dr. Luedeman is essential to the study of theology. One must have an open mind or it will be necessarily tainted by preconceived misconceptions. What's so hard to understand about that. We see examples of people with their minds already made up missing out on learning and discovery because they already know and are not interested in having their "truth" adjusted. We see this with YEC and geology and evolution. We see it with dualism and studies of the brain. We see it in regards to sin and homosexuality or child development. So much that could enhance our understanding of the world and what makes us tick yet there seems to be those that reject facts out of hand because they already know what's true.
Here's a thought for you. If it's true it will stand up to examination. Why protect your cherished beliefs? If they are true you have nothing to worry about. If they are wrong then you have just learned something that can help you grow and mature.
I say, follow Luedeman's protocol and use the scientific method in theological studies. Don't pretend that faith has any value in this scholastic endeavor. It only muddies the water.

You said, “Shorter Jose: ‘Anything that disagrees with my views is nonsense.’"
"This is a personal attack and a lie. You can say that any of my statements are nonsense and then try to demonstrate why this is so. That’s what I have done with Lüdeman’s assertion."

This was not a personal attack and if you had continued to read the comment you would have read reasons as to why paulf disagreed with you.

paulf said...

trou, thanks for understanding.

I understand I am not always the most diplomatic poster, but it is ironic how many Christians (and no, I don't specifically mean you, Jose) who are so quick condemn the godless as evil reprobates who are leading America on the handbasket to hell are so sensitive about people who criticize them.

Trou said...

Dale Martin wrote in "Sex and the Single Savior",

"One of the central goals of much of my writing over the past several years has been to undermine a common assumption, common among lay Christians as well as scholars: that the Bible 'speaks' and our job is just to 'listen.' Repeatedly we encounter biblical scholars talking as if the text of the Bible contains certain, identifiable 'meaning' that it 'communicates' to us, and our task is to be as passive as possible and 'receive' that message without distorting it too much. My scholarship, on the other hand, has attempted to highlight the activities of interpretation by which people 'make meaning' of the biblical texts. I have insisted that the texts don't 'speak'--except in the most tenuous of metaphorical senses of that term--and that we humans have to do lots of hard work to interpret the text before they have any meaning at all." (p. 1)

"One regularly comes across a certain tone in debates about Christian ethics, a tone by which one or both parties in the debate seem to say, 'Don't blame me! I'm not opposed to gay people (or the ordination of women, or name your issue). The Bible is. The Bible tells us..." Such people never admit that the Bible doesn't actually talk. They do not acknowledge their own interpretive processes by which they have arrived at what they think the Bible 'says.' People throughout history, therefore, have committed grave ethical offenses--supporting slavery, oppressing women, fighting unjust wars, killing, torturing, and harming their fellow human beings--under the cover of 'the Bible says.' As long as the text itself is thought to provide its own interpretation or to constrain or direct its own meaning, the ethical and political responsibility of interpreters can be masked, denied, or slighted. Immoral interpretations can be--and have been--blamed on the text rather than the interpreter."

Sorry for the large quotes but here is a scholar who speaks on the subject much better than I can and says that we often bring much more of our selves to the interpretation of the text than simply faith. And all of this extra stuff has the potential to be not just wrong but harmful.