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A Newsletter For Reformational Thought
Volume Eight, No.2
Substance and "'Method in Weber's Protestant Ethic
by Paul Marshall
Can anything new J:je said on ..,the subject of Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism?1 In some circles the debate which the book sparked off is regarded as closed; closed because Weber's views are held to have been definitely disproved. For example, twenty years ago G. C. Hornans. said that Kurt Samuelscson's Religion and Economic Action "does not just tinker with Weber's hypothesis but leaves it in ruins."2 Yet despite this and other such verdicts that the Weber thes is has been II p r ove d " or "discredited,1I the controversial literature continues to increase and many historians and social scientists apparently st i l.I feel compelled to offer some sustained verdict on the matter.
One of the major reasons for the persistence of the debate is that underneath methodological arguments about historical causality is a deep-rooted ideological conflict.3 For Weber was asserting the importance of religion and belief as independent variables in shaping the pattern of history. While he was by no means mono-causal in his views of the origin of capitalism (or of anything else for that matter), it is still true that his writings on protestantism were, inter alia, one of his major antimarxist statements. One of Weber's intentions was to show that historical materialism could not account for the distinctive features of western culture.
For this and other reasons, then, understanding Weber's Protestant Ethic continues to be important. In this paper I wish to clarify the substance af the Weber thesis; to paint out some
, ambiguities in Weber's work; and, finally, to show that these ambiguities are rooted in Weber's methodology of social science.
II. The Substance of the Weber Thesis
It is important to see the 'Weber thesis' in terms of his larger enterprise.4 If this is not done then its content, intent and significance will be lost. The Protestant Ethic was not an isolated study. It was followed by, and was part of, the much wider comparative research which produced Weber's major studies of China, India, and ancient Israel.S On the basis of this massive work, he sought to develop a theory of religion and society that would account for the formative place that religion occupied in the generation and establishment of patterns of social action.
Weber's concern was to understand the modern world, particularly the Western world, as a whole. His problem was Western Civilization, Western Culture and, more especially, Western rationality; how it came to be and what forces brought it into being; what modernity is and how it came to emerge in the social and cultural evolution of mankind. His work on the Protestant Ethic and his comparative research into similar problems in other religions and cultures showed that one of the majur clues to this development lay in the realm of religion. There he could show that Protestantism, by legitimizing and imposing an ethic of individual rational achievement in this world (not just on an elite but on all, or at least the great majority, of a population) was a positive factor in the emergence of a capitalist economy. His work on India and China brought a confirmation in that it appeared that religious factors hampered a similar development in the East.
In the original text of the two parts of his famed study, Weber outlined his purposes in a more subtle, complex and, indeed, different way from that usually attributed to him.6 According to Benj amin Nelson, "Weber was intent on countering the following theses of theological and other partisans:
1. The thesis of Protestant polemicists that the secularization of the modern world was due to the "rationalism" and secularism of the French Enlightenment philosophes who had been bred in Catholic "culture areas."
2. The thesis of the Catholic polemicists that the secularism of the modern world had begun with Protestantism itself with the "rationalism" growing out of Luther, Calvin, and the Protestant scholastics.7
What Weber wished to show was that the "rationalized economic cosmos of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries" was not a product of these rationalisms" or even of any "rationalism" at all. He wished to show that it was the product of "irrationalism," that it was a by-product of a view of vocation which had spiritual ends and spiritual roots. As Weber says,
one may ••• rationalize life fro. fundamentally different basic points of view and in very different directions. Rationalism is an historical concept which covers a whole world of different things. It will be our task to find out whose intellectual child the particular concrete form of rational thought was, from which the idea of a calling and the devotion to labor in the calling has grown, which is, as we have seen, so irrational from the standpoint of purely eudaemonistic self-interest, but which has been and still is one of the most characteristic elements of our capitalistic culture. We are here particularly interested in the origin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling.8
Hence, Weber was interested in the roots of the difference between what he called a "traditional order" and a "legal-rational" one.
Spirit of Capitalism
In his investigations he took over a
notion, earlier propounded by Werner Sombart, of a "spirit of capitalism."9 This "spirit" was characterized by the rational utilization of resources for the purpose of accumulation and gain, but with little regard to any questions of pleasure in, or consumption of, goods which are so gained. It was marked by calculation and behaviour that was specifically and systematically "oriented by deliberate planning, to economic ends." Weber regarded this as a modern development which was not present in earlier capitalism, which had been of a mor~ adventurous, less thrifty, less rational, type. The distinguishing mark of this modern capitalism he described as "identical with the pursuit of profit, and forever renewed profit, by means of continuous, rational ••• enterprise.
Weber, of course, acknowledged that capitalism in some form or other had existed "in all civilized countries of the earth," that "there were at all times bankers and merchants." But he maintained that "a rational capitalistic organization of industrial labour was never known until the transition from the Middle Ages to modern times took place."lO Weber used Benjamin Franklin to typify this "spirit of capitalism," where infractions are seen not just as "foolishness but as forgetfulness of duty. "11 Having identified the "spirit" of modern capitalism, he now sought for an answer to the question of how such a way of approaching and utilizing the world had arisen.
The Protestant Ethic
Weber further identified what he thought was another feature, the "protestant ethic," which preceded and, in some fashion, gave impetus to the spirit of capitalism. This protestant ethic was particularly developed in Calvinism and was centered around a view of calling--the idea that one's faithful following of a job or trade was the focus of one's obedience to God. In the calling the world is accepted and sanctified, and, hence, religous energy and asceticism, hitherto confined to a monastic expres-
sion, now finds its expression in the world of a trade. Thus men pursue their work diligently and systematically, but without seeking to live luxuriously. "The moral conduct of the average man was thus deprived of its planless character and subjected to a consistent method.,,12
Weber maintained that:
An unbroken unity integrating in systematic fashion an ethic of vocation in the world with assurance of religious salvation was the unique creation of ascetic Protestantism alone. Furthermore, only in the Protestant ethic of vocation does the world, despite all its creaturely imperfections, possess unique and religious significance as the object through which one fulfills his duties by rational behaviour according to the will of an absolutely transcendental God.13
He thought that such a tendency was particularly prevalent in Calvinism, especially the Puritanism of seventeenth century England. This, he thought, was due to the fact that Calvinists felt that diligence (and perhaps success) in one's calling was a proof of one's election. The overall result of this "protestant ethic" was that large groups in the population now systematically organized their life around their work and rationalized their work. Furthermore, now they worked not just to satisfy needs, but because it was a duty.
Spirit of Capitalism and Protestant Ethic
Not only was this "worldly asceticism" a unique feature of protestantism, but Weber also saw some similarity between this view and that of the "spirit of capitalism." He concluded that the former "must have the most powerful conceivable lever" for the latter.l4 In his own words:
[Puritanism] alone religious motivations salvation primarily
created the for seeking through im-
mersion in one's world vocation. This Protestant stress was upon the methodically rationalized fulfillment of one's vocational responsibility •••• The inner-worldy asceticism of Protestantism first produced a capitalistic state, although unintentionally, for it opened the way to a career in business, especially for the most devout and ethically rigorous people .i5
Hence Weber thought that the "protestant ethic" had been a lever, a sort of midwife to the birth of " the "spirit of capitalism." He was not saying that protestants advocated money making. In fact, he maintained, "examples of the condemnation of the pursuit of money and goods may be gathered without end from Puritan writings."16 What he was interested in examining was how the protestant ethic of vocation and worldly asceticism has helped shape the later, more directly acquisitive, virtues of the "spirit of capitalism." It was not part of his arguments that Calvinists were warm to capitalism. Rather, he maintained that they unwittingly smoothed its path.i7
It is important to emphasize that Weber saw protestantism as only one factor in the development of the "spirit of capitalism," and perhaps a contingent factor at that. He maintained that he had no intention
of maintaining such a foolish and doctrinaire thesis as that the spirit of capitalism could only have arisen as the result of certain effects of the Reformation, or even that capitalism as an economic system is a creation of the Reformation. In itself, the fact that certain important forms of capitalistic business organization are know to be considerably older than the Reformation is a sufficient refutation of such a claim. On the contrary, we only wish to ascertain whether and to what extent religious forces have taken part in the qualitative formation and the quantitative
expansion of that spirit over the world.I8
••• it would also further be necessary to investigate how Protestant Asceticism was in turn influenced in its development and its character by the totality of social conditions, especially economic •••• it is, of course, not my aim to substitute for a one-sided materialistic an equally one-sided spiritualistic causal interpretation of culture and of history. Each is equally possible, but each, if it does not serve as the preparation, but as the conclusion of an investigation, accomplishes equally little in the interest of historical truth. 19
Nature of the Connections
We should also be clear about the nature of the factors which Weber thought linked the "protestant ethic" and the "spirit of capitalism." The nexus was neither a logical one, nor a theological one; that is, it was not that capitalism was somehow the logical outworking of protestant assumptions. Rather, the connecting factor that Weber emphasized was a psychological one.
While he is never very explicit on this point (a matter to which I shall return below) the nature of his language indicates the sort of connection he had in mind. He speaks of "the unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual," "the elimination of magic from the world," "antagonism to sensuous culture," "disillusioned and pessimistically inclined individualism."ZO He emphasizes that "Calvinism ••• caused very specific psychological premia to be placed on the ascetic regulation of life." These "did not exist consciously in every individual's mind in such absolute consistency and intellectual awareness. Rather, the individual grew up in the atmosphere created by these religious forces. .. "There emerged a 'habitus' among individuals ...... Zl
Hence Weber asserts that the "inner-
worldly ascetism" connected with the protestant doctrine of vocation created a dis-position toward continual, rational, restless labour, a disposition that continued on, and provided an impetus for the "spirit of capitalism," even after the religious spirit and teaching which had brought it to birth had passed away.
Weber was not the first to express such a view, but his work was certainly the most systematic and the best argued, even though it was merely a collection of journal articles. His writings provoked a storm of criticism, and historians and economists, sociologists and theologicans, political scientists and philsophers, Christians and non-Christians, Catholics) Protestants, Jews, capitalists and socialists all entered the debate from a variety of angles and with a variety of intents. Within fairly short order, academically speaking, Weber was criticized by Rachfall, Holl, Sombart, Brentano, See, Robertson, Fanfani, and Hyma, all in major works on the subject. Ernst Troeltsch and, to a lesser degree, R. H. Tawney. defended Weber's views in equally weighty tones. The criticism and countercriti.cism has continued to this day with the "Weber thesis" alternately being dead, alive, reviving, dying, or just there.
III. The Ambiguity of the Relation between Calvinis1ll., the "Protestant Ethic" and the "Spirit of Capitalism"
I do not intend to offer here any criticism of the Weber thesis. What I do propose to do is proceed, for the sake of argument, on the assumption that Weber has correctly shown that the "protestant ethic" and the "spirit of capitalism" do have some sort of systematic relation to one another. Proceeding on this basis, I wish to suggest that the way in which Weber portrayed this relation tends to misrepresent some of the important causative factors and to misstate the role of protestantism and of Calvinism. Further, I wish to suggest that this misrepresentation follows from Weber's methodology of social science.
I have stressed that Weber sees the linking factor as a psychological one. But what was the type of relation? He uses a variety of words to describe it. He speaks of "congruence" (I(ongruenz) and of "affinity" (Wahlvervandscbaft). It is the concept of "affinity." often described as "elective affinity," a concept central to much of Weber's sociology, that appears to be the most precisely stated form of the connective link. I would like to ask what the nature of this "affinity" is. In particular I would like to pose the question of whether the "protestant ethic" and. in turn, the "spirit of capitalism" reflect a development of the inner dynamic of Calvinism, or whether they represent a sidetracking, corruption or degradation of its essential thrust.
Weber is ambiguous on this matter, partly, of course, because this was not a question to which he was seeking an answer. He points out that "it would also be necessary to investigate how Protestant Asceticism was in turn influenced in its development and its character by the totality of social conditions, especially economic." He speaks, with some ambiguity, of a "gradual modification" of the doctrines of Calvin. He insists that "Calvin's theology must be distinguished from Calvinism. "22 In his ringing closing words of his original series of essays he describes the coming of the modern age of "Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart" in this fashion:
In Baxter's view the case for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the "saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment." But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage.
Since asceticism undertook to remodel the world and to work out its ideals in the world, material goods have gained an increasing and finally an inexorable power over the lives of men as at no previous period in history. Today the spirit of religious asceticism --whether finally, who knows?--has
escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer.23
In these words at least Weber seems to imply that the "spirit of capitalism" represents a departure from, a corruption of the thrust of Calvinism.
But, at other times, he seems to imply a different type of relation. He speaks, again with some ambiguity, of the "evolution" of Calvinism. In this instance, perhaps what is most important is the general lack of any qualification on Weber's part as to what species or type of "Calvinism" it is that has a relation to the "protestant ethic" and the "spirit of capitalism."24 Jacob Viner's connnents are to the point:
I have been unable to make up my mind whether Weber attributes to Calvinist and other theologians themselves the peculiar proposition to which he refers in his earlier writings on the theme as the "doctrine (Lehre) of Calvinism" (and later simply as "Calvinism"), or whether he only maintains that these constituted lay Calvinism as misunderstood, distorted, and corrupted by the rank and f11e.25
This is a not unimportant point, for it was precisely on this question that R. H. Tawney departed from Weber. Tawney asserted that later Puritanism, which was Weber's showcase for the "protestant ethic," was a corruption of true Calvinism, and that it was this corruption that provided an avenue to the later legitimation of acquisitive virtues.26
Recent researches into seventeenth century economics provide an additional reason to pose this problem. Viner describes the development of a justification of acquisitiveness amongst seventeenth century economists, a development quite independent of the influence of protestantism. A. O. Hirschman describes the beliefs, actions and reactions to capitalist
accumulation of "what is called today the intellectual, managerial, and administrative elite," and suggests that that reaction was favourable, not because the money making activities were approved in themselves, but because they ••• kept ••• men out of mischief ••• and had, more specifically, the virtue of imposing restraints on princely caprice, arbitrary government, and adventurous foreign policies. Joyce Appleby summarizes the economic pamphleteering of the century and describes numerous developed economic justifications for continual labour and self interest.27
From these researches it is clear that the most 'capitalist' or 'bourgeois' or 'rational' views of economic life in seventeenth century England were to be found in the writers on economics. These writers were, in the main, quite secular in outlook. Such views were not specific to Puritanism and, indeed, Puritans were far more reticent than these other sectors of society in advocating them.28
This finding does not, by itself, negate Weber's thesis, for one would still have to inquire as to what it was that allowed such mercenary teaching to grow and triumph, and one might still find that the fertile ground was prepared by the widespread acceptance of the "protestant ethic." But such a finding poses, with renewed force, the question of how we should precisely and normatively categorize the gradual acceptance by Puritans of such, to them, exogenous teaching.
IV. The Effects of Weber's Distinction of Facts and Values
If we accept that Weber was vague about whether the trends he described were or were not a degradation of Calvinism, then we can ask the question of why he was vague. The answer appears to lie in his well-known radical distinction between "facts" and "values," developed from Nietzsche, and the place they occupied in sociological research. In his "Anticritical Last Word" on the debate he called for further research on his thesis by
theological specialists. In doing so he admitted that some of his work might well be distasteful to theologians:
I understand entirely that this type of tracing of the relationship between certain religously motivated tendencies and their consequences for bourgeois life must appear to do injustice to the ultimate value content of the respective religious forms. For persons with sensitive religious natures, the coarseness and,externality of these motivations, when assessed religiously, would place them on the periphery of religious concern.
But his response to this realization was quite blunt. "This [injustice to the ultimate value content] is in fact so. Nonetheless, this purely sociological work must also be undertaken. ,,29
Weber was saying that if one adopts the stance of "purely sociological work" then one must shy away from the question of the authentic content of a religious doctrine. Such a question was not the object of sociology, of science. But this would, in turn, prevent him from saying, on the one hand, what authentic and integral Calvinism was and, on the other hand, what corrupted or peripheral Calvinism was. He did, indeed, try to specify the "essence" of Puritanism and Calvinism, but only by trying to determine what aspect of them exercised the greatest historical influence in the area in which he was interested. Beyond that his fact/value strictures would not let him go.30 Hence, we can find a basic reason why Weber was vague about the exact relations between Calvinism, the "protestant ethic" and the "spirit of capitalism": his sociological method would not allow him to say what authentic and integral Calvinism was.
V. Concluding Remarks
I have not analysed Weber's fact/value distinction. I have only tried to show that it could lead him into a
distortion in the presentation of his historical evidence, or, at the very least, could contribute in large measure to a distorted interpretation of his writing by its readers. Weber may still be right in suggesting that the complex of variables he studied eventually issued in the "spirit of capitalism." But, even if he is right, there is a world of difference between Weber's depiction of the process as one of "affinity" between the two and R. H. Tawney's depiction of the "splendors and illusions vanished; the metal cooled in the mould; and the Puritan spirit, shorn of its splendors"; between Weber's "congruence" and Tawney's description of the "spirit of capitalism" as an ironical "epitaph, which crowns the life of what is called success, mocks the dreams in which youth hungered, not for success, but for the glorious failure of the martyr or the saint."31
Weber's fact/value distinction was rooted in his acceptance of Nietzsche's assertion of the absolute subjectivity of values.32 In turn this distinction caused Weber to be ambiguous, and perhaps misleading, in his depiction of the relation between Cal vinism and the "spirit of capitalism. Weber's depiction has, in turn, been one of the major reasons for the jaundiced reputation which Calvinism has enjoyed in the modern world. No doubt Nietzsche would have been pleased.
1 Weber's writings on this topic were a series of journal articles in the Archiv fur Sozialwissenschaft in 1904-05.--of the variety of editions available the one to which I shall refer is Talcott Parsons, ed., The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (New York, 1958). This is a reprint of the 1930 edition.
2 Homans' quote is on the dust-jacket of Samuelsson's Religion and Economic Action (New York, 1961). There is an excellent review of this work by E. S. Morgan in the William and
~ Quarterly 3:20 (1963), pp. 135- 40. This review is also still one of the best and most succinct state~ts of the Weber thesis in existence.
3 See, for example Juan Luis Segundo, "The Hermeneutic Circle, Third Sample Attempt: Weber on Calvinism and Capitalism," Liberation of Theology (Maryknoll, N. Y., 1976), pp. 14-25; F. Sprinzak, "Weber's Thesis as Historical Explanation," History and Theory 11 (1971), pp. 294-320; R. Moore, "History, Economics and Religion: A Review of the. 'Max Weber Thesis' Thesis," A. Sabay, ed. Max Weber and Society (London, 1971).
4 The literature on the Weber thesis is voluminous, so that it is better to give a bibliography of bibliographies. See, for example, R. W. Green, Protestantism, Capitalism and the Social Sciences (Lexington, 1973); M. J. Kitch, Puritanism and Capitalism (New York, 1965); David Little, Religion, Order and Law (New York, 1969); S. N. Eisenstadt, ed., The Protestant Ethic and Modernization (New York, 1968);--B. Nelson, "Weber's Protestant Ethic: Its Origins, Wanderings and Foreseeable Futures," in C. Y. Glock and P. E. Hammond, ed., Beyond the Classics? (New York, 1973), pp. 71-130.
5 The Religion of China (New York, 1951); The Sociology of Religion (Boston, 1964); Economy and Society 3 vols. (New Jersey. 1968); General Economic History (London, 1927).
6 See Nelson, pp. 71 ff.(note 4 a-
bove); also Little (note 4 above). 7 Nelson, p. 72 (note 4 above).
8 Weber. pp. 77-78 (note 1 above).
9 W. Sombart, Der Moderne Kapitalismus (Munich. 1902); M. Weber, Theory of Social and Economic Organizations (New York, 1947), p. 147.
10 Weber, pp. 19, 21, 200 (note 1 above). For Weber's distinction of modern and pre-modern capitalism, see his General Economic History, part 4.
11 Weber, p. 51 (note 1 above). 12 Weber, p. 117 (note 1 above).
13 Sociology of Religion, p. 182 (note 5 above).
14 Weber, p. 172 (note 1 above).
15 Sociology of Religion, p. 220; see
also The Religion of China, p. 237 (note 5 above).
16 Weber, p. 157 (note 1 above).
17 Weber is often misunderstood on this point by critics whose arguments are thus decidedly off the mark. Kurt Samuelsson, for example, offers a wealth of examples whose purpose is to show that Calvin and assorted Calvinists thought the "wealth as an end in itself was odious." Samuelsson, p. 31 (note 2 above) •
18 Weber, p. 91 (note 1 above). See
also Nelson (note 4 above).
19 Weber, p. 183 (note 1 above).
20 See Nelson, p. 75 (note 4 above). 21 Max Weber, "Anti-critical Last
Word on the Spiri t of Capitalism, " W. M. Davis, trans. and ed., American Journal of Sociology 83 (1978), pp. 1114, 1115, 1124.
22 Weber, pp , 183, 220, 228, 229 (note 1 above).
23 Weber, pp , 181-2, 220 (note 1 above) •
24 Weber, p. 1123 (note 21 above).
25 J. Viner, "Protestantism and the Rise of Capitalism," Religious Thought and Economic Society (Durham, N. C., 1978) p , 153. Also Nel·son, p. 81 (note 4 above).
26 Tawney, Religion and the Rise ~f Capitalism (New York, 1954), esp. chap. 4; also Little, pp. 234-35 (note 4 above).
27 Viner, chap. 4 (note 25 a~ove); A.
O. Hirschman, The Passions and the Interests (Princeton, 1977~ pp. 129-30. (Hirschman does not argue that "money making activities" would have this effect but only that the elite thought they would); J. O. Appleby, Economic Thought and Ideo~ in Seventeenth Century England (Princeton, 1977).
28 On this point see my "The Two Types of Economists," appendix 3 of The Calling: Obedience, Duty, Labour and God in Sixteenth and Seventeenth
Century England, Ph.D. dissertation, York University, Toronto (1979), pp. 499-516; also see Appleby, chap. 3 (note 27 above).
29 Weber, p. 1127, fn. 25 (note 21 above) •
30 In practice, of course, Weber did go beyond this, as must anyone who
uses language. He refers to Calvin's "epigones" and the "general, run" of men, terms which imply that we are dealing with people markedly less profound than their teacher. But, in doing this, Weber was contravening his own rules. On this point, see Leo Strauss, Natural Right and History (Chicago, 1953), pp. 58-62; Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics (Chicago,-yg52). chap. 2;-and Weber's famous lecture on "Science as a Vocation."
31 Tawney. pp. 164, 176-177 (note 26 above). One might also enq~ire as to whether other alternate forms of degraded Calvinism are possible and whether they had different effects. The Carnegie Commission which enquired about the "poor white" pro-
Henry Vander Goot, Interpreting the Bible Ln Theology and the Church. New York and Toronto: Edwin Mellen Press, 1984. Reviewed by Gary Shahinian.
Vander Goot here gives a lucid and concise presentation of what he conceives to be the project of proper biblical hermeneutics. The basic thesis of the book is that the interpretation of the Christian faith gained from the Bible exists in the community of believers prior to theological and other scientific study. This attitude contrasts with what Vander Goot sees as an exaggerated reliance upon professional scholars to inform the church what the Scriptures teach, based on putatively correct hermeneutics. Academic experts in the various scientific fields germane to biblical study must rather presuppose in their findings the historic Christian community's interpretation of the faith.
Vander Goot nowhere states what historic Christian community he has in mind, and this omission is problematic to his overall argument. Although Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and Protestants share ecumencial creeds,
blem in South Africa debated whether one factor was a fatalism bred by a "wrong Calvinism." See H. M. Robertson, "European Economic Developments in the Sixteenth Century," South African Journal of Economics 18 (1950), p. 48.
32 See George Grant, Technology and Empire (Toronto, 1969), pp. 38ff.
Dr. Marshall is Senior Member in Political Theory and Vice President of the Institute for Christian Studies. His pUblications include Thine is the Kingdom (Marshall Pickering, Eerdmans, 1984) and Human Rights Theories in Christian Perspective (rCS, 1983).
they have vastly different interpretations of the faith. The "new hermeneutics" did not begin in the nineteenth century. They have been at work throughout church history.
Naive or pre-scientific knowledge has epistemological priority over theoretical or scientific knowledge in apprehending the Christian faith, according to Vander Goot. The meaQing of Scripture is that intended by God, its true author, and is arrived at through affirming the "obvious" and "common sensical" literal sense of the text as an extended narrative, emblazoned with hymns, parables, proverbs, and other literary devices that all have their grounding in the narrative. A pre-theoretical grasp of the overall meaning of Scripture at the least yields a constant structure of creation-fall-redemption-consummation. Far from being the exclusive result of the academic's refined tools of exegesis, such a grasp "is directly comprehensible to the naive Christian reader (p. 2). .. The Bible is God's work to us, the Christian congregation, whatever our social, historical, or cultural context. We need not know the milieu of the writer or his au-
.'eece in order to determine the true ~ng of the text. Through faith, ~ believer experiences the Scriptares as having only one author, God, and only one context, an authoritative standard for the church.
The Bible is a prolonged narrative beginning with creation rather than redemption, the Old Testament before the New. This aids us, says Vander Goot, in attaining a proper interpretaton. In the naive, believing mode, Scripture is read as a narrative "from the point of view of God and' his acts, not primarily from the point of view of its recipients and their beliefs about God and his acts," so that we are privileged to know God's deeds from his vantage poi.nt (p. 24) • " The Bible provides within itself "a certain inevitable interpretation created by the force of the events recorded (p. 26)." This interpretation follows from the literal, explicative sense of Scripture.
Vander Goat chooses to echo the traditional Protestant view that safeguards the sovereignty of God in self-revelation by investing Scripture with the like characteristic of sovereignty. Scripture possesses an inherent mode of meaning, and this "internal sense of the text has priority over any other (p. 32)." Although we all approach the Bible with our own prejudices and presuppositions, these are not necessarily limitations, but what we should strive to dispel are the "wrong prejudices" that interfere with the sovereignty of the text. A normative relationship is one in which the believer is subject to the canonical demands of Scripture in reverence to it as the Word of God. Critical reading of the Bible in terms of either
its text to make that the vance in reader.
or its message in the attempt it relevant fails to notice Bible provides its own rele-
its confrontation with the
In interpreting Scripture "the literal sense is the meaning intended by God ••• (p. 50)." God reveals His Work in a simple direct way unencumbered by nuance and contrivance. The literal
sense of Scripture is a matter of common sense in allowing the text to determine for itself how it should be interpreted. The Bible supplies its own unique hermeneutic that imperiously steers the reader on the right course of meaning. Scripture means what it says the way it says it, and so, it is the literal sense as proclaimed by the "Christian community of faith" that demands priority. Vander Goot adds that "the text of Scripture is the locus of its authority (p. 67)." It is the task of theology to clarify the previously given normative interpretation of the Bible as naively apprehended by the "Christian community of faith"; theology does not deconstruct the text of Scripture in order to get at the "real" scientific meaning "behind" the text.
There are several points of disagreement that I have with Vander Goot. First a literal sense of Scripture is nevertheless an interpretation, no more certain or trustworthy than any other interpretation. All interpretations of the Bible are the result of hwnan subjective activity with all of its failings and foibles. A literal interpretation of Scripture may be no more "obvious" or a matter of "common sense" than a symbolic interpretation, and perhaps even less so since the symbolic functions on the pre-theoretical level of epistemic functioning. One does not think about symbols; one either directly grasps them or not. It is the literal sense of words that
is a matter of analysis and much fusion, as recent philosophy of guage has amply shown.
I wholeheartedly agree with Vander Goot that the meaning of Scripture is that intended by God. But some person or group must determine what that meaning is. The Bible itself cannot determine its own meaning apart from human interpretation. Viewing reality from God's "vantage point" can never mean anything more than proper human perception of reality. Divine objectivity is not accessible to use in the Bible or anywhere else because we are human subjects, subject to divine law, and so, we cannot do more than res-
pond to God's Word, which means that we cannot ever avoid interpreting it.
Finally Scripture's authority cannot rest within its text, but it must rest within its meaning which, as Vander Goot states, is put forth by God. If Scripture were authoritative in its text, then knowledge of the original languages, and the exact words used, and the original writers, and their credentials for speaking about God, would be necessary in order to gain a correct understanding of the text's meaning. But this preoccupation with lower and higher critical operations is what Vander Goat wants to mitigate, and rightly so. Before one can properly interpret Scripture, one must surrender to it as the Word of God; Scripture cannot be authoritative purely on the basis of what is written within it, for that would commit one to a merely contingent authority derived from the exact word of the text (which we do not know). Here one fails to submit directly to the demands of Scripture as the Word of God, which Vander Goot commendably
Moral Autono.ay and Faith C~t~nt:
Conflict or Integrality: A Critical Assessment of Ca.peting Perspectives on Foundational Issues in Moral Education by J. Harry Fernhout
Abstract of a doctoral thesis
In contemporary attempts to articulate the nature and purpose of moral education, the question of the relation of religion and morality is an unavoidable issue. This thesis is a critical analysis of a currently popular pattern of understanding this matter, and an attempt to develop an alternative conceptual framework for dealing with it.
Currently popular arguments for secular approaches to moral education generally employ some conception of the autonomy of morality as an area of human concern, and the autonomy of
wants to reaffirm. By getting bogged down in the text of the Bible as the authority of its message, Vander Goot seems despite himself to assuage the radical demand of God's Word which takes hold of the reader of Scripture.
Despite the criticism I found Vander Goat's daring, straight-forward style of tersely articulating what he believes about biblical hermeneutics quite refreshing, given the ideal of ambiguity that characterizes many recent books on the subject.
Gary Shahinian is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute for Christian Studies, doing research on Whitehead's conception of evil. He holds the Master of Philosophical Foundations degree from the rcs, for which his thesis was on "The Problem· of Evil in David Griffin's Process Theology." He has the A. B. degree from Calvin College and the M. A. from Calvin Theological Seminary.
persons as moral agents. The first major thrust of this thesis is an effort to grasp the meaning and phil_osophical roots of this dual concept of moral autonomy. This is accomplished through an examination of the writings of two thinkers for whom the idea of moral autonomy is of central importance, Immanuel Kant and Lawrence Kohlberg. The key beliefs and assumptions, particularly concerning the nature of persons, embodied in their concern with moral autonomy are elaborated. It is argued that the emphasis on moral autonomy brings with it particular ways of interpreting the religion-morality relation. The autonomy of morality implies that morality is independent with respect to religion, and the autonomy of persons involves a strong notion of moral self-determination and freedom from external authority (such as God). Further, the idea of moral autonomy involves a narrow
interpretation of religion as a matter of personal beliefs and religious aff~ation, as a type of concern -'deb arises once (autonomous) moral~ty reaches its limits.
The thesis then develops the contours of a pattern of thinking, labelled the responsibility pattern, which incorporates an understanding of religious commitment as integral to life. The insights of W. Cantwell Smith are employed to articulate an understanding of religious commitment or faith as an investment of trust which informs a person's or a community's orientation to the world. Seen in this way, faith plays a key role in giving meaning and direction to life and bears significantly on morality.
Using this understanding of faith, an effort is made to reinterpret the concerns highlighted by the autonomy emphasis. An alternative conception of the nature of persons is articulated, emphasizing that persons exist not as autonomous individuals but as persons-in-relation. The idea of responsible agency is developed as an alternative interpretation of the notion of personal autonomy. Further, it is argued that within this alternative pattern of thinking it is possible to maintain a sense of the uniqueness or irreducibility of moral concern without either dissolving morality into faith or declaring it independent from faith. The conclusion is drawn that it is possible to articulate a viable reinterpretation of elements that are crucial to the idea of moral autonomy within a framework of thought which gives a more adequate account of the nature of faith commitment and its integral role in informing a view of reality and pattern of living.
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The various elements of the proposed responsibility pattern are also employed to generate a further critique of the autonomy emphasis. In particular, the reinterpretation of the nature of faith is used to suggest that there is a convictional orientation of faith bias embodied in the perspectives of thinkers who stress the importance of moral autonomy. In the cases of Kant and Kohlberg, this faith orientation is traced to their key beliefs concerning the nature of persons. An effort is made to show how this faith orientation influences their specific views of the nature of autonomy.
This critique leads to the conclusion that secular understandings of moral education which incorporate these or similar notions of moral autonomy are not neutral with respect to faith, and are, in fact, not open to more integral interpretations of the relation of morality and faith commitment. This suggests that the claim that such secular approaches provide a universally acceptable basis for public moral education is problematic. It is argued that opportunities should be created for the educational expression of alternative faith orientations. Some suggestions are made as to how the proposed responsibility pattern, in particular, can contribute to a rethinking of the nature of moral and religious (or faith) education!
Dr. Fernhout is Senior Member in Education at rcs. He is a graduate of Dordt College and holds the Master of Philosophy degree from rcs. He completed the Ph.D. in December 1985, at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto).
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