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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

David Bentley Hart

In the May issue of First Things, there was a Theology as Knowledge Symposium which asked the question of why the study of theology is no longer considered a reliable way to gain knowledge, and whether that assumption is likely to change. Those discussing the questions are James R. Stoner, Jr., Stanley Hauerwas, Paul J. Griffiths, and David B. Hart. I looked up the article in the first place to learn more about David Bentley Hart, who, as Wikipedia writes ...

... is an Eastern Orthodox theologian and cultural commentator. He has taught at the University of Virginia, the University of St. Thomas (Minnesota), Duke Divinity School, and Loyola College (Maryland). His work exhibits a wide-ranging knowledge of the Western philosophical tradition, from classical antiquity to postmodernity. His own theology and philosophy are deeply informed by the writings of the Church Fathers. Hart's writings are notable not only for their robust theology, intellectual passion, and bracing rhetoric, but also for their incisive wit, acrobatic prose, and the frequently playful deployment of Hart's prodigious vocabulary ...

Below are some snips from Hart's contribution to the discussion of theology as knowledge ...


... Once, in an age now rapidly receding into legend, theology enjoyed the status not merely of a science but of the “queen of the sciences,” whose special preoccupation with the highest things—God, the soul, the virtues, the transcendentals, metaphysics—invested her with the privilege of legitimating, inspiring, and unifying all the lesser disciplines. Now, though, her estate is much diminished ....

Religion, after all (as everyone knows), is a realm of purely personal conviction sustained by faith, which is (as everyone also knows) an entirely irrational movement of the will, an indistinct impulse of saccharine sentiment, pathetic longing, childish credulity, and vague intuition. And theology, being the special language of religion, is by definition a collection of vacuous assertions, zealous exhortations, and beguiling fables; it is the peculiar patois of a private fixation or tribal allegiance, of interest perhaps to the psychopathologist or anthropologist, but of no greater scientific value than that; surely it has no proper field of study of its own, no real object to investigate, and whatever rules it obeys must be essentially arbitrary.

Now, as it happens, theology is actually a pitilessly demanding discipline .... one can still plausibly argue that theology is no more lacking in a substantial field of inquiry than are history, philosophy, the study of literature, or any of the other genuinely respectable university disciplines .... in fact, it would be hard to name a discipline outside the hard sciences or mathematics that can be mastered adequately without some degree of theological literacy.

And yet, all that said, theology will never be restored in the modern university to anything like the status it once enjoyed, or even to the status of a particularly reputable form of knowledge. Nor is it entirely certain that theologians should wish it to be ....


Read the reast of what Hart has to say (link above) ... it's interesting :-)


Blogger Matthew said...

Hm. The rest of his comments seem to advocate theocracy (by the right people, of course), which I have a hard time getting my brain around.

6:35 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Matthew,

I agree with you - I don't think a theocracy is a good idea. Our current political administration is an example of the wedding of politics and religion gone really wrong.

I read an article about this subject a while ago - An Interview with John Dominic Crossan - "Paul and Empire"
Adam S. Miller, Journal of Philosophy and Scripture - and Crossan says kind of the same thing, that when Paul and the others of his time called Jesus "Lord", they meant it in a political sense, as well as a religious sense, believing that religion and politics couldn't/shouldn't be apart.

But what Hart writes at the end of his article, and writes with a kind of irony and despair, I believeto be a good thing and true ... ... The desert, after all, has often proved the most fertile garden of the spirit... . I think religion works best when it's not alligned with the powers that be but with those who are marginalized.

11:19 AM  
Blogger Matthew said...

I agree about "when religion works best", but I wonder why that is. Seems like it should work well on either level, but that never seems to pan out.

6:09 AM  

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