Quid Est Veritas? (Series Introduction) Pilate asked him, "So you are a king?

" Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. I was born for this, and I came into the world for this: to testify to the truth. Everyone who is committed to the truth listens to my voice." Pilate asked him, "What is 'truth'?" After he said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, "I find no basis for a charge against him.
By telling Pilate that he came into the world ―to testify to the truth,‖ Jesus implies the possibility that world views are not all equally valid, incommensurable, irreducible. Jesus‘ words imply instead that life might express something more than mere reputation, opinion, and power; his words suggest that a human life—a life that he exemplified—might express something divine, something of eternal value. Pilate‘s own choice, however, was ultimately was to crucify Jesus. He agreed to execute an innocent man in order to appease public opinion, to preserve his power. Perhaps, then, Pilate was a cynic. Perhaps we should interpret Pilate‘s question to Jesus—what is ‗truth‘?—as revealing his skepticism toward the idea that a human life might express something greater or higher than mere prejudice, power, or opinion. And yet, Pilate was conflicted. Before making his final decision, Pilate makes a rather curious request—he asks for a bowl of water in order that he might wash his hands. If Pilate really believed that truth were entirely reducible to power and to public opinion, it is difficult to explain this choice. If Pilate really ‗knew‘ that truth was an unrealizable fantasy, a purely human construction, what explains the sense of guilt that he hoped to wash away? For Pilate had power. And the decision to crucify Jesus appeased public opinion. If Pilate believed that truth was nothing more than these things, nothing more than an ideas employed by historically contingent people to serve their own interests, all of the pieces should have fit. If Pilate really believed this, he would have simply decided to crucify Jesus and been done with it. No hand-washing would have been necessary. And yet, staring into the eyes of Jesus, Pilate could not be sure of himself. Those eyes made him stop. He could not help wondering to himself if Jesus was moved by something more than mere opinion, more than mere power. Pilate could not help wondering, in that moment, if Jesus was really moved by a will that was greater than

the merely finite whims of human preference and prejudice. Pilate could not help but wonder if the will that moved Jesus—a will that Jesus believed in so strongly to even be led to accept death on a cross—was something real. Something that mattered. Because of the conviction that Pilate saw in the eyes of Jesus, he could not help wondering if this will that claimed Jesus was also a will that claimed him. Pilate‘s question is a question that we are all confronted with. The purpose of this series is to try to shed light on this question. ―What is truth?‖ Many philosophers and intellectuals today view religion as a quaint past time, something that is best left to people‘s private lives in order that issues of real substance might be pursued. Many non-intellectuals (and many intellectuals as well) view philosophy as useless for different reasons—as trivial academic specialization, mired down in jargon, preoccupied with contesting questions irrelevant to real life. Hegel is my favorite philosopher not least because he decisively rejects both of these views. In this series of notes I attempt to articulate what I find to be some of the most interesting points of Hegel‘s philosophy in hopes of bringing out a contrast with the evangelical understanding of religious faith that I grew up with. Philosophy is defined as the love of wisdom. It is my hope that these notes are not received as empty speculation but as a pathway for spiritual transformation intended to make us wiser, more understanding, and more committed to the growth of ourselves and our societies. In the words of Plato, The true lover of knowledge is always striving after being -- that is his nature; he will not rest in...appearance only, but will go on -- the keen edge will not be blunted, nor the force of his desire abate until he have attained the knowledge of the true nature of every essence by a sympathetic and kindred power in the soul, and by that power drawing near and mingling and becoming incorporate with very being, [he will] live and grow truly, and then, and not till then, will he cease from his travail. In keeping with this Platonic spirit, the goal of these notes is nothing less than to suggest ways that our lives might come to be a better expression of spiritual truth than

they have been in the past. The purpose is growth, understanding, and wisdom for their own sakes.

I: Truth and "Brickianity": Hegel, Rob Bell, and a Critique of Revelation
To say that the purpose of this series is to try and make clear how our lives might be better made into an expression of spiritual truth requires some clarification. First of all, is important to realize that when philosophers like Hegel speaks of spiritual truth (Hegel variously calls this the Rational, the Absolute, the summum bonum, or the divine Logos), he has no interest in calling to mind doctrines that rest themselves wholly on the reliability of the specific events and moral precepts narrated in any single religious text. Hegel thinks, as I do, that there are good reasons for viewing the Bible, when read in a literal way, as an unreliable source of spiritual truth. Once a Lutheran seminary student, Hegel carefully considers and ultimately rejects the idea that Christian scripture provides a clear road map to God‘s precise plan for humanity; he rejects the difficult idea that mankind was all headed for hell until a particular person lived in history and died in order to appease the wrath of an otherwise loving God.2 Hegel describes himself as religious, but his religious convictions do not center around a specific set of doctrines that make the whole structure of his religion rise or fall. For instance, Hegel does not rest his religious convictions on whether or not the Israelites were really led around by Moses in the desert for 40 years; whether an angel really gave Joseph Smith Golden plates; whether or not Mary was really a virgin, etc. (In fact, there are some good reasons for disbelieving all of these claims).3 Even so, doubting any of these particular facts, according to Hegel, does not provide any good reason for ceasing to have spiritual commitments altogether. If we reject the validity of these kinds of events, it does not follow that religion as such should be rejected; it only follows that we need to reject a certain kind of religion. Hegel calls this kind of religion that rises or falls according to a rigid interpretation of historical facts or doctrines, ―positivism.‖ Even when such religion gets spiritual matters right through the form of pictures, Hegel thinks that religion‘s traditional refusal to let go of positive dogma and its confusion of the foundation of spiritual truth with historical fact have created obstacles to spiritual progress.

Evangelical pastor and writer Rob Bell, unlike Hegel, accepts the Bible as true both historically and morally. However, Bell actually agrees with Hegel‘s skepticism toward religious positivism in a qualified sense. In his book The Velvet Elvis, Bell suggests that there are two ways to view one‘s faith. One way is to center it on doctrine. On this view of Christianity, each belief (in the Trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, seven-day creation, etc) is like a brick in a wall. The problem with this kind of Christianity—Bell calls it ―brickianity‖—is that if one brick gets taken out the whole structure collapses. For instance, if we would learn tomorrow that Jesus‘ body had been found in the tomb some peoples‘ faiths would collapse completely; they would have no reason to continue to strive for religious truth and they would view everything they stood for previously as a lie. But, we may wonder – if we no longer believe that the Bible is free from error, do we really believe in anything? Does all truth suddenly become up for grabs if we view the Bible as a historical, human product that must always be interpreted by fallible humans rather than as an inflexible imprint of uncontroversial divine authority? Bell doesn‘t think so. He thinks that some truths would remain eternally regardless of whether or not our supposed ‗foundation‘ for those truths were to be undercut. From Bell's perspective, questions that pre-suppose that those who reject the Bible‘s authority no longer believe in anything reflect the wrong kind of mindset: a belief in ‗brickianity‘ rather than Christianity. To get us out of that mind set, Bell tries to persuade us to see Christianity not as a system of positive facts, but as a way of life. He compares Christianity to jumping on a trampoline. We don‘t try to give people a list of facts in order to persuade them to experience our joy. We just tell them to jump. Doctrines, on Bell‘s view, should never be the center, the foundation. They are only springs that better enable us to jump. In other words, doctrines are only tools intended to help us better find words in which to put our commitment to a certain way of life—a way that we believe to be right and true, a reflection of God‘s will. According to Bell, doctrines are means to an end rather than ends in themselves; a doctrine does its job if it ―has brought a fuller deeper, richer understanding to the mysterious being who is God.‖ However, according to Bell‘s view, any one claim to have figured it all out, to have affixed religious truth for all time, brick by brick into a rigid system, is foolishness: ―The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions, we are no longer dealing with God. We are dealing with somebody we made up‖ (Velvet Elvis, 25).

Hegel thinks it is intellectually dishonest to view the Bible as a reliable source of historical fact and moral doctrine. However. which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity. from man.Hegel‘s criticisms of the spirit of religious positivism are more radical version of Rob Bell‘s criticisms of ―brickianity. we may rightly wonder what Hegel means by ―religion‖ when it is divorced from so much that we associate with the term. Hegel. we do nothing of ourselves. Does religion have any meaning if it cannot be understood in terms of doctrine. is not diverse from things. We …share the life by which things exist. if we seek to pry into the soul that causes. from space. facts. This is because Hegel is not only dissatisfied with positive doctrinal Christianity. all philosophy is at fault. Even so. …. Here is the fountain of action and of thought. but one with them. Here are the lungs of that inspiration which giveth man wisdom. We lie in the lap of immense intelligence. Hegel does not fall into the camp that one would normally associate with people who are confidently irreligious. or fanciful interactions with a being that we imagine listens to us worry about the details of our lives?5 Hegel is interested in religion much in the way that Ralph Waldo Emerson articulates it below: For the sense of being which in calm hours rises. Hegel rejects the claim that self-conscious human beings can be completely understood by an objectifying science. He is also dissatisfied with the world-view often taken by those who reject religion for atheistic naturalism. and proceeds obviously from the same source whence their life and being also proceed. like his most influential disciple and critic. When we discern justice. from time.‖ In contrast to Bell (who affirms all of the tenets of the traditional Christian faith). when we discern truth.6 . but allow a passage to its beams. he rejects the idea that our final goal in life is simply to go about fulfilling our instincts and pursuing what brings us pleasure. we know not how. in the soul. from light. In particular.4 in one sense actually greatly prefers the religious standpoint over the kind of reductive atheism that would interpret human beings to be purposeless machines at the whim of arbitrary natural forces. and which cannot be denied without impiety and atheism. If we ask whence this comes.

he rather believes that such principles are the symbol of something divine beyond us. we become the instruments of God. in committing ourselves to realize such ideals. but fragmented into a plethora of individually-tailored religions.7 because he places great value in the universality that philosophy. Though Hegel would sympathize greatly with Emerson‘s ability to take a divine or transcendent perspective with regard to human purposes. Hegel thinks that we can understand the divine with our minds. However. The argument here (which has its source in Platonism) is that we need a rational approach in order to have the tools to describe a good which is not just good ‗for me‘ but one which meets impartial and objective standards accessible to all. a divine way of being. Hegel supposes that religious truth does not then simply become a function of our current desires. he would disagree emphatically with Emerson‘s claim that ―all philosophy is at fault‖ for trying to articulate this source of being. that the highest good. revelation must fill the void created by rational thought entirely divorced from faith. the major concern of the Christian is precisely that Reason alone is insufficient to uncover the will of God. for instance.8 Even though Hegel dismisses the validity of religion based on positive doctrine (tradition) or on relationship (subjective feeling). The believer sees confidence in reason not as liberation but as unjustified arrogance. Hegel‘s concern is that a society that pursues this form of spirituality would not become united in pursuit of a shared truth. exists beyond people and calls mankind to realize and express it. In other words. According to Emerson. in the moments that we seek truth and justice we are a channel. In other words. this first cause to which our souls are drawn. Hegel believes that we do not just employ ideals such as justice and truth to meet our given desires.Like Emerson. can provide. Former Pope John Paul II. or rational critique. arbitrary subjectivism. has argued that the objectifying stance of reason is insufficient and self- . Hegel critiques Romantic philosophers like Emerson. In contrast to Emerson. According to the believer. Hegel rejects the idea that truth. Hegel believes that justice and truth do not lie wholly within human beings. but that we are drawn to them by a divine spark within our souls. Without such standards the concern is that that we will end up with a spirituality that turns out only to be shallow. Hegel is religious foremost because he believes that divine truth. a conduit to the fountain of all life and being. exists only locally as a function of people‘s given interests and needs.

I‘ve come to think. form of critical reason is not the only alternative to an uncritical faith in a particular religious tradition. Keeping the possibility of a balance between critical reason and blind commitment may be necessary after we fully face up to the difficulties of claiming that revelation can be a legitimate source of spiritual truth. and studying all modes in which it looked at by every character of mind.9 Hegel would agree entirely. I have come to suspect that it is the nature of humanity to think that our first intuitions are the best and most truthful ones and that everyone else is deceived. is more likely to disrupt your spontaneous convictions.S. The Revelation Model of Truth My beliefs about the dangers of revelation go hand in hand with my view of human nature.‖ 11 This view of the good comes close to Hegel‘s view of spiritual truth. 10 However.‖ As Mill sees it. … The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others … is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it. In short. to make them seem oddly strange and limited. rather than to give you progressively more confirmation and certainty that you have been right all along. The position of the moral philosopher Iris Murdoch expresses this insight well: ―When you are actually seeking the good – rather than deluding yourself and serving your ego – the good unsettles and potentially transforms who you are. For Hegel. he must know ―that he has sought . Mill articulates this Hegelian perspective he claims that ―the way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject.defeating. Hegel supposes that you must actually distance yourself from your own current beliefs and values. and a good-faith working assumption that one‘s own view might be changed by the results of the inquiry. being unsettled is thus a necessary part of genuinely seeking (though not of living and applying) the truth. assume with me against the grain of John Paul II‘s thought for a moment that a purely objectifying. detached. the genuine pursuit of truth. to get a clear perspective. the man whose judgment deserves confidence must be ―cognizant of all that can …be said against him‖. a suspension of judgment until all the evidence has been weighed. that it cannot capture the eternal aspect of the human soul. is by hearing what can be said about it by of every variety of opinion. In order to do this properly. finding truth demands actively making sense of the sincere claims of others. Hegel‘s formula for finding truth demands a charitable and humble examination of the arguments that others make. However. For Hegel. J.

Such passages can have the side effect of discouraging an active search through the views of others that would challenge one's intuitions about what is of utmost value in life. Thus. strife. an important principle for effective leadership is steering clear of trivial or petty disputes. mankind‘s powers of reasoning have been corrupted by sin and are thus not trustworthy instruments for finding spiritual truth. Passages like Isaiah 55:8-9 or Psalm 131 instead emphasize themes like obedience. but as a matter of getting in touch with an authority wholly external to mankind. Christians who believe in revelation tend to see truth not as a matter of charitable investigation within competing human interpretations. malicious talk. According to a certain kind of religious view. some Christians assume that truth should be a passive matter of receiving revelation from a powerful external source rather than an active matter of searching out the claims of others. And—as part two and three of this series suggest—it is important to . instead of avoiding them. In 1 Timothy 6. many Christians feel differently about truth.‖12 However. and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter. there is not very much support in the Bible for such a view. Unfortunately such themes are not isolated to the Old Testament. To be sure. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy. and a resignation to the will of God—a will which it is useless to try to criticize since it cannot be fully understood through human minds. Though certainly many people who call themselves Christians today are sympathetic to the model of truth articulated by Mill and Hegel. for instance.for objections and difficulties. they are conceited and understand nothing. acceptance. evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind. who have been robbed of the truth … Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge. Paul's advice to Timothy emphasizes passivity and obedience instead of critical judgment and independent thought: If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching. which some have professed and in so doing have departed from the faith.

‖ … The end result? We become God in our own minds. An evangelical blogger provides an example of a popular Pauline stance toward spiritual truth as she reacts to the views of Rob Bell: The Bible is not a product of ―Divine fiat‖. . At some point. or rejecting the existence of hell. your rebellion will take you places you never dreamed you would go. they are dangerous perversions that should be fought. all deviations from her current understanding of the truth are not interpretations that should be carefully investigated. Where does it all end? Rob Bell ends up promoting doctrines of demons— that we are co-creators with God. On her view. or the atonement .. When you abandon a high view of Holy Scripture.14 And it seems like Bell has a case. but that she has simply dismissed them from the outset since they disagree with the authority of her tradition. Paul‘s perspective which attributes all departures from ‗godly teaching‘ as the work of arrogant and deceitful men could be seen as producing an undesirable effect on the mindset of many Christians toward spiritual truth. This woman‘s view may initially sound somewhat arrogant. Bell would probably say that he was not intending to disagree with God‘s authority. God blinds those who willingly believe a lie. It may seem like she hasn‘t even given Bell‘s arguments a fair shot.‖ According to this woman. One must reject views that contradict authority (such as Rob Bell‘s ―doctrines of demons‖) because such views lead to idolatry (―We become God in our own minds‖) and to ―rebellion.13 These comments suggest that this woman believes that truth is a function of revelation. rather.That‘s where it all ends. it may not be so obvious on which side of the debate lie arrogance and blindness. a ―high view of Holy Scripture‖) and of rejecting anything that falls outside the bounds of this authority. Upon closer inspection. However. If none of us are God or have unmediated access to his views. Rob Bell says. it does not seem any more or less arrogant / demonic on the face of it to advance a fuzzy and open-ended understanding of God over a rigid and traditional understanding of God. but only with this woman‘s rigid and narrow interpretation of God. We can make things up as we go.. truth is a matter of getting in touch with the right authority (here.recognize that even avoiding legitimate disputes can sometimes be a necessary evil in order to bring the clarity needed for spiritual commitment to take shape in concrete action. ―it‘s a human product.

For her to find spiritual truth she has probably been taught that she should not rely upon the reason of her mind (what Martin Luther once called ―the devil‘s bride‖). In no particular order. scripture. compares and judges the results of prayerful meditation according to scripture.‖ This particular woman ended up coming to a judgment about the merit of Bell‘s spiritual views which opposed her own. I will call this process ―the revelation model of truth. a divine-revelation view of truth effectively suggests that this woman should instead shut herself off from outside influences. In this process she intends to empty herself of all of her worldly opinions and knowledge in order to be better able to hear what God tells her directly about the issues at stake. This is intended in order that can hear a personal God speak directly to her heart. A different woman describes something like this stage of truth-seeking when she describes an experience which led to her conversion: . but the revelation of the Holy Spirit. churches teach that truth is a function of divine authority. The typical Christian practice of revelation as I understand it involves three pillars that each support and balance the others—prayer. For purposes of clarity. Specifically. one prays and listens to God in private. Typically. To answer the spiritual questions raised by Bell this woman would probably begin by praying about Bell‘s views from a position of repentance in her inner room. this woman has probably been taught a particular method for finding truth within the church she participates in.However. This woman thus probably learned in church that any attempt assess a view such as Bell‘s depends on her ability to get in touch with a power not her own. and then further shares and compares the results of private study within one‘s community of believers. Whereas a philosophical approach to truth would foremost prescribe that this woman should go make sure that she has thoroughly read and understood Bell‘s arguments. I think it more likely that this woman‘s response to Bell is a natural outflow of her understanding of how truth is found. and community. this woman‘s reaction to Bell has not been formed just because she is arrogant or because she cares about her own opinions more than about finding truth. I want to now consider the process that she may have gone through in order to reach this conclusion.

The concern from a Hegelian position. of course. and a lot of soul searching. However.islamfortoday.com/lynette. many people. even though this woman had previously been a Christian. Prayerful meditation and soul-searching based on a ―powerful feeling and voice‖ heard in one‘s heart have led many people to develop or reinforce life-defining religious views. The difficulty is that this same process. Suppose that . this particular woman‘s experience did not lead her to Jesus. we would probably not expect it to validate a doctrine like Bell‘s to which she had previously had a strongly negative emotional reaction. .. her ultimate conclusions ended up reinforcing (or in this case. have had similarly powerful experiences which were interpreted as validating the Christian faith. (Her complete testimony is here: http://www. talking with people. What did I have to fear?? …At that moment. she was deliberately pursuing an experience with God from an Islamic perspective. about the metaphorical nature of hell) more seriously rather than less seriously. as a rule. I knew at that time that I had to convert …It felt right and nothing else mattered. However. No surprise. To be sure. However. we might expect our evangelical blogger when praying in her inner room to have an emotional experience that would validate only the beliefs that she was already willing to believe. is that recourse to passive feeling and intuition rather than active thought and charitable critical judgment will tend. but to Mohammed. It was what I needed to hear. In the same way. I was standing in my son‘s room trying to pray …To this day. including myself.htm) In this case.After months of reading. this same attempt to seek God can lead to contradictory results in different circumstances. I started crying and crying. the claim that ―nothing else mattered‖ but what ―felt right‖ creates a particular difficulty if we are seeking spiritual truth that is relevant to all people. she was reading an Islamic prayer guide when her experience occurred. let us suppose for the sake of argument that an intense and deeply emotional experience ends up leading our evangelical blogger to take Bell‘s views (say. In other words. The kind of experience this second woman describes is not uncommon.. creating) a belief in Islam. to reinforce what one already believes before any prayerful meditation occurs. If our evangelical has an emotional experience at all. I believe it was God talking to me-that is how powerful the feeling and voice inside my head was.

most people who hear their opinions disputed are likely ―place the unbounded reliance only on such of their opinions as are shared by who surround them. But again. then. for example. to ―his party.‖ This seems logical enough— when an individual‘s opinion is called into question. or to whom they habitually defer. her Bible study. and that the same causes which make him a Churchman in London. etc. he tends to look beyond himself to the leading opinions of others in his social or spiritual world. After praying and reading this woman would then ideally submit her personal struggle with Bell‘s arguments in humility to the authority of the spiritual community of which she is a part (her pastor. this woman questions her previous interpretation of scripture rather than reinforces it. she will probably only read scriptures that she has previously interpreted as consistent with her literal interpretation of hell—the lake of fire.‖ For the believer. There is a final step in the process of revelation. let us suppose for the sake of argument that in the process of reading. Revelation 14:11—this woman thus concludes that the smoke from the lake of fire rises forever as a symbol of God‘s justice but that eternal smoke does not necessarily entail that people are actively tortured forever in hell. even to the opinion of an entire world epoch—does not guarantee the acquisition of truth. this usually entails submitting one‘s views to the authority of the spiritual community in which he participates. Yet Mill points out the problem with this mode of validation—deference to an authority figure. In Mill‘s words.‖ The numerous theological differences within sects of even the same religion suggest the implausibility of viewing one‘s particular religious . the person who places their faith in the judgment of the community in which they participate fails to realize that ―mere accident has decided which of these numerous worlds is the object of his reliance. One would thus expect that this process would then likely to provide another barrier to her willingness to change her opinion. Sure. As J. the woman would likely open to the passages in the Bible that she has previously found relevant with respect to the doctrine of hell. would have made him a Buddhist or a Confucian in Pekin. To do this. however. his class society. his church. to a community of judgment. his sect.S. etc). Let us suppose that after reading that this woman is suddenly struck by a dramatically different interpretation of. The next step in the revelation model would be for this woman to submit the content of her revelation to the authority of scripture. Mill puts it.after solitary reflection this woman comes away unsettled rather than reaffirming what she previously believed. Lazarus and the rich man.

and 3) after she has submitted her views to a community with theological positions convergent with her previous beliefs. In fact. since people often choose their own religious communities based on existing beliefs there would logically be a tendency for one‘s spiritual community to merely echo.community as the one true repository of divine authority. . a trap. she will be likely to confront them with hostility. As we have seen. brought on because Bell spoke with ―slippery‖ words that initially sounded like sound doctrine. when she does. Furthermore.15 In summary. cause my previous convictions to be shaken up. this entire process could only have been started because this woman read Rob Bell in the first place.‖ this woman was arguably wrong to read Bell in the first place. On her view. the truth-as-revelation method suggests that this woman‘s final judgment of Bell‘s arguments will take shape after:  1) she has (prayerfully) listened to convictions about those arguments impressed upon her emotions in private 2) after she has compared her private convictions with passages of scripture that she has previously interpreted as being consistent with her own views.   Additionally. rather than independently confirm. it would seem that adhering to the revelation model of truth would only tend to systematically support and reinforce my current convictions.‖ this woman will rarely have a chance to encounter spiritually views substantially different from her own. However. I have claimed that a philosophical method for discovering divine truth suggests that one‘s previous beliefs should be violently shaken in order that what is pure within them can be sifted out from what is just tradition. the revelation model of truth not only fails to incorporate a role for the importance of being unsettled in our deepest convictions—in many cases it actually entails the opposite. such beliefs. If this woman interprets what Paul means by ―godly teaching‖ to be only ―teaching that already agrees with my current understanding of God. if ever. Furthermore. reading Bell was an accident. If she also regularly abides by the Apostle Paul‘s injunction to ―flee ungodly teaching. from these examples it would seem that following the revelation model of truth would rarely.

It reflects a commitment to be transformed. I would now hesitate to think that the intuitions of my heart. tradition. Even so. Anyone who has seriously lived a lifestyle of prayer knows that the process of revelation does not always make you feel comfortable and merely reinforce your self-satisfied views. I. their deepest spiritual commitments. is ethically noble but is not necessarily ethically true. The experience and practice of revelation. I have come to think that my intuitions do not in themselves provide a reason or justification for the defining commitments of my religious life or of my religious community. of my current spiritual identity. When I reflect in private or with my spiritual community I will probably thus tend to affirm largely Christian values and lifestyle. for instance. They are simply evidence of what I currently care about. It is the same for all of us. to be renewed. Both in the case of the evangelical woman and the woman who converted Islam. by something beyond our merely selfish instincts. and emotion is not to say that it has no value. could ever be relied upon to reveal responsibilities of universal validity applicable to all people. in a certain sense. I think that a commitment to live a lifestyle that seeks truth through revelation is noble and admirable in many ways. Because of this. then. The deeply held intuitions and passionate convictions that are impressed upon a prayerful person‘s heart through prayer and reflection within one‘s spiritual community do reveal something important. their experiences in meditation reveal what deeply matters to them. A commitment to live one‘s life according to divine revelation is ethically noble because it expresses a . I have come to think that my private intuitions do not show what matters to everyone for all time. my sense that I am being spoke to by a voice beyond me. Any practicing Christian who believes in revelation knows full well that their moral identity formed through prayer and Bible reading is not identical with their ego or their self-interest. am only who I am even today because of the love for the person and teachings of Jesus that I grew up with. the voice that we hear in prayer can actually be quite unsettling since it calls us to reject apathy and to rise above selfishness. Though I used to accept the revelation model of truth. Though I have suggested that the revelation model of truth can reinforce our previous prejudice. All I am suggesting here is that the precise content of how we should be renewed.To say that the revelation model of truth fails to provide a means to distinguish the discovery of spiritual truth from the reinforcement of prejudice. of how we should direct our efforts cannot be validated merely by following those convictions to which we are led to in our inner room.

see Geza Vermes' excellent book.com/note. The gist of that article was that the sorts of Pharaohs that had civilizations powerful enough to enslave the Jews and set them to work weren‘t around at the time that the Jewish story is believed to have taken place. A final difficulty is that Moses—the alleged author of the Pentateuch—dies in his own book. Charles Taylor (philosopher and political theorist). Jesus the Jew. some have thought. It is an odd thing. the practice of revelation provides no guarantee that following the intuitions of one‘s traditional religious community will lead us to actions that truly express the highest good. 26). Abdullah An Naim (political theorist). see http://mattflaherty.person‘s ongoing commitment to transform themselves into a reflection of a will that is above their own. Jose Casanova (sociologist).com/Jesus-Jew-GezaVermes/dp/0800614437. For a more comprehensive take on the relationship of the Bible to truth.amazon. 3.html . are some of my favorite modern thinkers who treat the truth claims of religion with intellectual seriousness. but he is not afraid to raise his own doubts on the score: ―…what if as you study the origin of the word virgin. As far as Moses goes. you discover that the word virgin in the gospel of Matthew actually comes from the book of Isaiah. Robert Bellah (sociologist).com/2010/01/truth-and-bible. and then you found out that…in the first century being ‗born of a virgin‘ also referred to a child whose mother became pregnant the first time she had intercourse? …Could a person still love God? Could you still be a Christian?‖ (Velvet Elvis. free from the accidents of prejudice and tradition.facebook. When it comes to Mary being a virgin.php?note_id=269219669868) Notes 1. Nevertheless.http://www. 2. the pure Logos.blogspot. and Alisdair MacIntyre (philosopher). Rob Bell similarly believes in the virgin birth. Also I seem to remember reading something that suggested that Egyptian history doesn‘t do a good job matching up with the Jewish history of Exodus. chapter 8. to suppose that the uncreated cause of the Universe whose essence is Truth and Justice would require something as antiquated and barbaric as a sacrifice in order to appease his wrath towards a human race. it seems unlikely that it would take the children of Israel 40 years to cross a desert that takes about two weeks to cross on foot. <End of Part I> (Part two is here: http://www.

of chivalrous enthusiasm.html) .‖ It has drowned the most heavenly ecstasies of religious fervour. Hegel writes in The Phenomenology of Spirit: The force of spirit is only as great as its expression. … At the same time. It supposes dualism and not unity in nature and consciousness." He articulates the problem with 19th century German society. in "The Communist Manifesto" in similar terms when he claims that The bourgeoisie . in the icy water of egotistical calculation. they are God‘s very own. than callous ―cash payment.4. 5.. (Paragraph 10. All that is solid melts into air. if this substantial knowledge …pretends to have immersed the very ownness of the self in the essence and to philosophize in all holiness and truth. It is the spirit of God pronouncing his works good. When the proponents of that view abandon themselves to the unbounded fermentation of the substance. Here is Ralph Waldo Emerson on prayer: ―Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the highest point of view. all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify.has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest. All fixed. trans. they suppose that. all that is holy is profaned. are swept away. ―Self-Reliance. …everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. it has.‖ (―Self-Reliance‖) 6. … instead of devoting itself to God.com/titpaul/Site/Phenomenology_of_Spirit_page.. fast-frozen relations. to a greater degree simply given itself free rein …to its own arbitrariness. he will not beg. of philistine sentimentalism. Terry Pinkard:http://web. by spurning all moderation and determinateness. with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions. It is the soliloquy of a beholding and jubilant soul. As soon as the man is at one with God.mac. He will then see prayer in all action. that they are those to whom God imparts wisdom in their sleep. From Emerson‘s essay. but as "the heart in a heartless world. What they in fact receive and what they give birth to in their sleep are also for that reason merely dreams. It is worth remembering that Karl Marx describes religion not just as the opium of the people. by throwing a blanket over self-consciousness and by surrendering all understanding. But prayer as a means to effect a private end is meanness and theft.‖ 7.

On Hegel‘s view. misjudgment. and they are thus themselves to be loathed. in its one-sided concern to investigate human subjectivity. personal history. prejudices. In The Phenomenology of Spirit. but only ―being-for-itself‖—or only the feeling of personal pride and pleasure that comes from believing oneself to be committed to high ideals. John Paul II writes: Reason. to the mere form of universality. the theologian believes that individual heart can validly express what is good for all people—he believes that one‘s intuitions. the problem with a society of people committed to the laws of their hearts. etc. then. emotions. sentiments. rather. Hegel describes how a certain theological perspective leads to the result of fragmentation and alienation. Therefore …the individual …now he finds that the hearts of people are opposed to his admirable intentions. the concern is that action which follows the law of the heart ―merely has the form of universality‖ and in reality is actually just ―something particular. seems to have forgotten that men and women are always called to direct their steps towards a truth . paragraph 373). and self-righteousness.‖ In other words. For when one takes action based merely on an emotional intuition (rather than in response to a process of self-conscious critical dialogue) the result is that ―others do not find the law of their hearts in this content. can reveal or illuminate revelation of the Holy Spirit. the theologian assumes that God has drawn all men unto him with prevenient grace.‖ (SeePhenomenology of Spirit. just as he had turned against what their hearts had put forward. 9. what is good for all. the danger is that the merely ―particular content‖ of one‘s heritage. he supposes that the process of introspection into one‘s deepest convictions impressed upon the heart does not express the universal. Hegel suggests that genuine spiritual truth can be missed through this process. they find to an even greater degree that it is the law of another‘s heart which has been put into practice. However. that God has impressed the consciousness of his will on every heart which the individual can choose to accept.8.‖ Hegel describes the unpleasant results of the individual‘s commitment to the law of the heart: others ―equally turn themselves against the actuality which his heart put forward.‖ As Hegel sees it. are falsely taken to be what is good for all people. When one follows this law of the heart. This belief is based on the assumption that ―every heart must take cognizance of itself within the law. is that it gives rise to misunderstanding.

15. Very much in the spirit of John Paul II's comments above. it reviles itself for so doing. it is also conscious of this loss. or like the rows of closed and labeled boxes in a grocer‘s stall‖ (Phenomenology of Spirit. Sundered from that truth.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_j p-ii_enc_15101998_fides-et-ratio_en.‖ (From Melissa Orlie. p. etc. http://www. detached form of reason fails to capture the depths of the human spirit. Bell writes. a purely critical. and now demands from philosophy not so much knowledge of what it is. the people that don‘t believe in a literal hell either go to Rob Bell‘s church or don‘t go to Bible study at all.html‖ here or here 13. her church community will probably be made of people that believe the same doctrines that she does.edu/toc/modeng/public/MilLib2. ―The moment God is figured out with nice neat lines and definitions. On the issue of hell. and of the finitude that is its own content. 31). 11.php/articleid-3159 14.virginia. for instance.(Fromhttp://www. individuals are at the mercy of caprice.which transcends them. 150) 12.com/article.html. For the evangelical blogger. we are no longer dealing with God. as the recovery through its agency of that lost sense of solid and substantial being‖ (PS. All quotes in this essay are from ―On Liberty. in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all. ―Conversely. a synoptic table like a skeleton with scraps of paper stuck all over it. According to Hegel.) 10. 4). It has happened therefore that reason. 25). not daring to rise to the truth of being. rather than voicing the human orientation towards truth.worldviewtimes. Turning away from the empty husks. ―Taylor and Feminism: From Recognition of Identity to a Politics of the Good‖ In Charles Taylor: Contemporary Philosophy in Focus. and their state as person ends up being judged by pragmatic criteria based essentially upon experimental data. has wilted under the weight of so much knowledge and little by little has lost the capacity to lift its gaze to the heights. viz.vatican. Though there are exceptions to every . <a href=―http://etext. for Murdoch. Hegel polemically claims that the naturalistic science of his own day results only in ―a report ‗clear as noonday‘ on the universe as an organism.‖ The famous essay is available online. We are dealing with somebody we made up‖ (Velvet Elvis. p. we would probably assume that the people that believe in purgatory are over in the Catholic Bible study group. the good is betrayed or lost from sight when we transform it into a substance to which a particular group or identity can lay claim. and confessing that it lies in wickedness. He claims that ―Spirit has not only lost its essential life.

is if the process of divine revelation applied in practice turns out to seem very suspiciously like simply the practice of Our Tradition. Hegel's deeply spiritual philosophy strikes me as a welcome alternative both to barren rationalism and to mystical traditionalism. this community—because of the people that have chosen to attend it—will likely have a strong tendency toward convergent interpretations of many major concerns of the faith. The problem with mere science (a problem that I expand upon in <a href="http://www.com/note. nor the purely demythologized atheism I critique in <a href="http://www.php?note_id=262930094868">part one</a> of this series on spirituality. or B) one‘s views were a major reason for associating with that community in the first place (i. The question I want to ask in this second part of the paper.rule.com/note. I go church-shopping for a ―Bible-believing‖ church after I leave my formative church).e. .php?note_id=428045734868">part four</a> strike me as an adequate response to the realities of the human spirit.facebook.php?note_id=262930094868">part one</a> of this series.com/note..facebook. what is the alternative? Hegel thinks that Scientific Thinking alone won't cut it for us as a replacement for God even if such thinking rightly debunks some of the claims of revelation.php?note_id=428045734868">part four</a> of this series) is that it gives us a universe full of facts but without meanings. If either A or B is the case.facebook.com/note. I say this because religious communities almost always fulfill one of two criteria: A) the religious community is the source of one‘s theological views (if one has grown up within this particular community). Neither the uncritical practice of revelation I critique in <a href="http://www. II: The Dialectic of Tradition and the Ideal Introduction In <a href="http://www.facebook. I used Hegel‟s method of finding religious truth to criticize a generalized model of seeking revelation. when this woman brings her private theological investigations to her Bible study or to her pastor there will be a systematic tendency for the discussion to result in the dismissal of competing views and the endorsement of the views already held by the members of the flock.

Hegel views religious truth as equivalent with expressing the will of God. For example. the major insight is that Hegel‟s conception of truth changes from a Chosen People clinging to their positivist traditions and merely hoping that they will get lucky (and their One Way will turn out to have been the plan all along) to an active search within all traditions for the truest and best forms of life..Like most religious people. of God‟s plan for humanity. Another way of putting this is to say that Hegel‟s critique of positivity does away with the notion that religion is about getting lucky. Hegel thinks that all of the self-understandings of these traditions should be played off of each other in order that the best one might emerge. no one particular religious tradition has a skeleton key to unlock the content of this Idea. however. and philosophy throughout human history as fair game for discovering the content of the divine will. religion. Hegel doesn‟t suppose that finding the tradition that happened to have been built up around the true God (e. politics. Hegel rather sees all of the forms of life as articulated in art. do better than others in this examination. To put Hegel‟s position broadly. Some traditions. or of striking it rich by finding the road-map to all truth dropped by God into history. Truth for Hegel thus does not involve the passive acceptance of a single tradition. Hegel thinks that the Ancient Roman tradition of the rule of law and rights for individual citizens is better than a barbarian society that subordinates the goals of the common people to the whims of the warlord or chief. the summum bonum) that is beyond us. Regardless of which traditions end up faring better than others after examination. Hegel thinks that the freedom of individual conscience characteristic of Protestantism is better than authoritarian strains characteristic of 19th century Catholic and Jewish practices. According to Hegel. He rejects the notion that divine truth is a matter about getting knocked off of your horse by a voice from heaven. Hegel thinks that the identification of the Ancient Greeks with their earthly community as their purpose and calling is better than the ascetic Christian who believes that her only home is heaven. but an active search within all traditions to find what is best within them. of course. he supposes that someone expresses the divine will when they commit themselves to living according to traditions of a historical community that deserve their adherence. the Jewish one) provides insurance that you have found the truth. . realizing the kind of freedom that truly expresses of our divine nature involves remaking our lives over from chaotic instinct into lives that express an Idea (the will of God.g. For Hegel.

John Stuart Mill suggests in “On Liberty.”[i] Mill describes the perspective of the dialectical philosopher when he claims that it is the tension between opposed “modes of thinking” that “keeps each within the limits of reason and sanity” in matters of spiritual commitment. or conservativism and liberalism—each have a part of the truth. to sociality and individuality. Mill effectively suggests that one needs a dialectical analysis for “knowing and distinguishing what is fit to be preserved from what ought to be swept away” from pairs of competing ideals that guide our practical ethical choices. Mill gives some examples: Unless opinions favourable to democracy and to aristocracy. and an the other standing antagonisms of practical life. common sense usually falls into the trap of painting one side of a conflict as good/true and rejecting the other side as evil/erroneous. From the perspective of the dialectician.” that conflicting doctrines usually are not either wholly true or wholly false. A Brief Note on Dialectics Hegel‟s is (in)famous for his use of a philosophical term called “dialectics. distorted. in the great practical concerns of life.g. Thus. However. and disjointed from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited. these are concepts which may thus appear initially to be contradictory. Like pathbreaking artist who tries to catch you in the spirit of her vision. the dialectical philosopher's task is to create a new way of thinking that can enable these divisions to be overcome. evangelicalism and Catholicism. are expressed with equal freedom. In what follows I want to share with you my understanding of Hegel‟s conception of spiritual freedom. Hegel‟s unique conception of freedom provides an archetype. and the other down. to cooperation and to competition. to liberty and discipline. is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites … it has to be made by the rough process of a struggle between combatants fighting under hostile banners. . to luxury and to abstinence. one scale is sure to go up.” To think dialectically is (among other things) to consider the necessary interaction between two concepts that have aspects that are in permanent tension.. “exaggerated. a kind of ideal model of spiritual life.But how do we know which traditions deserve our adherence? Hegel doesn‟t think that there is any simple tie-breaker that we can use to choose between traditions. and enforced and defended with equal talent and energy. Truth. to property and to equality. more often conflicting ideologies—e. there is no chance of both elements obtaining their due.

For instance. it must have the ability to stand back from all courses of actions. rather than a moment that reinforces your previous convictions. no decisions would ever be made and society would revert to chaos. critical. etc.‟ Hegel’s Dialectic of Freedom: Universality and Particularity “According to the moment of universality. if every time you went shopping that you actively considered whether or not it would reflect the highest good if you paid for the bag of apples in your cart.) Without dispositions formed through tradition that privilege some specific kinds of actions over others—such as paying for groceries— Hegel supposes that society would not really be free so much as it would simply grind to a halt. but is rather pursuing what is actually good for all people. reflection—but this process . the apples will go bad anyway in a couple of days. These dispositions learned through acculturation within particular cultural groups serve the vital function of privileging some ways of life over others. self aware. Generally speaking. He calls the two concepts „universality‟ and „particularity. The speculation of the universal part of the dialectic is necessary to assure oneself that one is not merely pursuing instinct and tradition.Hegel‟s own conception of freedom is found in a dialectical analysis of two concepts that—like “cooperation and competition” or “liberty and discipline”—are in permanent tension but which are nevertheless both vital to spiritual life. speculation. habits. (After all. consideration. Imagine in other words. you could give the apples to a homeless person. Hegel‟s sphere of particularity thus involves emotions. the capacity to abstract from all specific situations and to be aware of itself apart from them. imagine if every time you went to the grocery store you engaged in the moment of universality. to reflect on different options and their consequences. you could give the money you save by stealing the apples to charity--but then again would it be good for society as a whole if everyone stole apples? etc. taking action requires that one choice be preferred over another enough for a person to be comfortable enough to make a decision and to be willing to abide by its consequences. the moment of particularity essentially involves commitment and action. the withholding of a final judgment. a free person must have the power of selfawareness. The moment of the universal is akin to Iris Murdoch‟s definition of what it feels like to seek the good—a moment that is unsettling. Universality is about weighing options. Without the dispositions and habits characteristic of the dialectical moment of particularity. and traditions which aid in decision-making.”[ii] This moment of universality thus essentially involves consideration.[iii] In contrast to the reflective nature of universality.

The dialectical moment of particularity is intended to balance the deficiency of the moment of universality. These traditions—when we have chosen them carefully and interrogated them thoroughly—Hegel supposes are not simply good for us. rather than fleeing all commitments. Hegel describes this moment of individuality as one of self-limitation: one limits oneself because. in other words. An evangelist I grew up listening to captured the shortcoming of universality memorably with one of his signature catchphrases—“the paralysis of analysis. “When there‟s a new level. it is only through the presence of traditions that Hegel supposes that abstract ideals are able to take shape into action. The unreflective habits and dispositions characteristic of the dialectical moment of particularity are necessary in ordered to move people past paralyzing reflection to action. after detaching themselves from and reflecting on all options. “According to the moment of particularity. to be free.[vi] . The particular actions. or synthesis.” “According to the moment of individuality …a person must. and habits of Hegel‟s ideal society do not just serve the given individual interests of a society‟s members. between universality and particularity he calls “individuality. Hegel‟s dialectic of freedom thus emphasizes the importance of deliberation while not discounting the vital role that specific traditions must play in order to give life to the ideals that are discovered through deliberation. the goal of this model is that a commitment to active consideration of all possible choices (universality) will help us choose the dispositions (particularity) that enable individuals to express the best form of life possible.is fundamentally in tension with the certainty that human beings need in order to make decisions in their daily lives. a calling that draws the individual members of society to it and gives them a sense of purpose. a person must choose a particular option and act in a particular situation. but express something beyond us. and yet one self-limits oneself because one chooses the situation as a result of reflection and deliberation. they must accept one situation as worthy of their effort and commitment. eventually commit themselves to.”[v] Roughly put. and to choose and to act they must choose something specific and do something specific.” (My other favorite was. traditions are essentially forms of life that privilege specific values and practices within communities. one accepts one situation in life. there‟s a new devil”). identities. The identification with the values of Hegel‟s ideal community rather provides a goal.”[iv] Hegel‟s resolution. one option. From this perspective. Without choosing and without acting a person cannot be free. and ultimately identify themselves with.

Such „freedom‟ would really only mean that we have allowed our lives and our choices to be determined arbitrarily by our emotions—emotions which arise from brute mechanical causes (endorphins. Hegel follows Kant in thinking that freedom cannot just be about the moment of particularity. Nor does Hegel hope. For Hegel. It is only after a dialectical journey where we piece together the essential features of the ideal community—only after we have understood outline of the community whose habits. our sense that human life lacks a clear purpose. following Kant. Hegel thinks. However.The ultimate goal for Hegel. While the hedonist is right to think that the moment of particularity is free in some sense. We tend to think of freedom simply as the ability to do what we want. we think of freedom in terms of the dialectical moment of particularity—the ability to act on our impulses. though not in practice)[viii] consider this kind of freedom to follow impulse as the only version of freedom worth aspiring to realize. is necessary to overcome our sense of alienation. Hegel would claim that the freedom of a hedonist is only the freedom of a feather being blown by the wind.g. assured that a given lifestyle deserves our allegiance. However. then. we our nature is to be joined to others within a community that expresses specific traditions and habits. could be said to deserve our adherence. etc) and contingent life circumstances (e. The kind of freedom that Kant and Hegel seek is something substantially different from the freedom of a feather being blown on a breeze. as do apologists for positivist religion. after careful reflection characteristic of the dialectical moment of universality. Hedonists (as well as many liberals. Going through this process of reflection ourselves. to uncritically vindicate one existing tradition as containing all relevant truth imaginable for now and for all time. supposes that a freedom consisting only of the spontaneous fulfillment of whatever habits and dispositions we happen to have would not be true freedom at all. culture and form of life express commitments worthy of adherence—that we can find ourselves „at home‟ in the world. Hegel. In other words. Hegel‟s conception of freedom is quite different from our common sense understanding of freedom. of our religious calling. in theory.[vii] The Christian view of freedom as conformity to the will of God mirrors Hegel‟s conception of freedom quite closely. habits we have happened to inherit from others). is not to reject tradition in favor of some pure and abstract vision of truth. the habits of this community are to be those that. Furthermore. Hegel simply gives us an ideal picture that he thinks expresses the content of our divine nature.. Kant and .

The Ideal In contrast to a freedom of pure particularity. We look to see not just which land looks most pleasant. but by emptying itself. perceives the self-existence of Truth and Right.” In other words. To use the analogy of the captain. I feel like Emerson‟s soul that beholds “the self-existence of Truth and Right. perhaps—I know that I am called to realize these virtues regardless of what I currently feel.[ix] Again. when I read that those who hunger and thirst after righteousness will be filled. Emerson describes something like the moment of universality when he states “The soul raised over passion beholds identity and eternal causation. the dialectical moment of universality is the moment where we abstract away from merely particular choices and commit to choosing the most valid.”[x] When I read the beatitudes I feel something like the moment that Emerson describes. in a different part of me—in my soul.Hegel rather seek something closer to the freedom of a captain who carefully directs his ship across an open sea towards a land that is his destiny. Christianity does this through attention to the dialectical moment of universality. When I read that those who are most blessed are the poor in spirit. Jesus. The kind of life articulated within great religious traditions like Christianity rather seems to express something that is genuinely . overturns the idea that greatness should be expressed terms of hierarchy and power and models a vision of greatness constituted by the purity of soul—a soul that does more than express its own will. the moment of universality is where we step back and look through the telescope at distant shorelines and decide which direction shall be our destiny. but which land calls us to it. some particular emotions and instincts within me might actually make me cringe at the painful thought of humility and self-sacrifice. the most beautiful. Of course. Hegel supposes that the Christian faith rightly expresses an element that rises above a directionless play of instinct to something divine. becomes a channel for active. in washing the feet of his disciples. lifetransforming love. I feel like the values expressed in the Sermon on the Mount draw me not merely because they are a function of my current desires. However. the most worthy of all choices. When I read the story of Jesus washing the feet of his disciples. something unconditionally worthy. I feel this calling particularly strongly. but because these ways of being deserve adherence for reasons apart from what I merely happen to desire. Such a vision seems to express more than the mere play of mechanical forces in an arbitrary universe. in the divine part of my nature. we seek to bring ourselves in harmony with the land that claims the allegiance of what is highest within us.

When the rich young ruler asked Jesus how much of his wealth he should give away. Jesus did not respond with a practical answer that would neatly translate to a universally workable model of society. why not just focus on them completely and ignore what Hegel calls „particularity‟? Why. Such a life seems not to just have my loyalty. but rather demands a complete transformation the basic desires in a person‟s life. we might wonder. Such abstraction is Hegel‟s way for making space for the possibility that human beings might direct their lives according to what is worthy rather than simply what they have happened to inherit through tradition. For instance. if the ideals set forth in the gospels seem self-evidently right even after close examination.great. It involves deliberately unsettling oneself from the beliefs and preferences that one has inherited in order that one might engage in radical reflection about which choices and lifestyles are truly right. he responded by radically challenging the state of the rich young ruler‟s heart. And finally. Instead. Jesus changed the subject. However. in other words. but to actually be worthy of my loyalty. hungering for righteousness. the third difficulty I am faced with is the question of how much money I should give him. It is not enough to merely give some money to the poor in order to meet . should we not simply pursue the universal. Yet. if I give money to the man on the street I don‟t really have any guarantee that this man will not use my gift to do something irresponsible. or demonstrating agape love should really entail in practice. highest ideals and be done with it? The problem with a one-sided view of divine truth arises as soon as we ask ourselves what being poor in spirit. the purest. Jesus‟ answer suggested that true spirituality does not consist in fulfilling a list of obligations. The universal moment of the dialectic entails the necessity of abstracting from all possible choices and taking time to consider which paths of life deserve adherence. In fact. say that a man on the street asks you for money. that is genuinely meaningful. becoming a servant. we might also understandably assume that love also requires accountability and responsibility. even if I do decide that love requires giving. if we think about it further. We might think that it is good to give the man money because it would be the loving thing to do. The Particular However. more reflection may lead me to wonder if my gift creates a situation of dependency that prevents this man from really taking the responsibility for his life that would come with attempting to work at a job.

S. In a world where everyone took Jesus‟ advice to the rich young ruler literally.the minimum standards necessary of being a decent person. as completely meaningless. Mill describes this thread of Christian spirituality: . we need specific traditions and habits learned within a community. Jesus‟ advice is obviously not intended to be a straightforward answer to how charitable donation should work for all time. we need our abstract commitments to become integrated into a particular self-definition that characterizes us as a member of specific spiritual communities.S.” The difficulty with a divine principle such as agape love is that it is only a principle. of a distant horizon that is always beyond us. J. evangelism would be the only work anyone did and the rest of society would grind to a halt. However. and emotion. There is a strain of Christian thought which downplays the noble idea that our particular selves can be continually transformed by the renewing of our minds. In fact. True spiritual enlightenment rather entails that you must be willing to count your possessions as nothing. it is hardly a workable model for how a real society—Christian or not—should run. habit. For if every Christian convert immediately gave all of their money away to the poor. that question cannot even answer questions as basic as whether or not we should go to work tomorrow morning. It is because of instances like these that J. and rather seems to want us to get rid of our particular selves all together. when it comes to moral identity Christians actually sometimes forget the importance of tradition. often impossible to be interpreted literally …possessing rather the impressiveness of poetry or eloquence than the precision of legislation. To deal with the kinds of decisions demanded of us every day we need the dialectical moment of particularity. Individual Will and Christian Self-Denial Though I have accused Christian epistemology of being too traditional. In other words. Mill rightly claimed that the Gospel expresses itself “in terms most general. However spiritually sublime this answer is. in comparison with one‟s commitment to live a life that expresses the truth. Answering the question “What would Jesus do?” is not enough to tell us how to live every aspect of our life. it cannot only consist of an ever-receding goal. a true spiritual life cannot just consist of abstract ideals. human nature suggests that the other half of society would probably quit their jobs and start taking handouts.

in contrast to the Christian ideals of renunciation. humility. to our contingent passions and aspirations. Mill accuses Christian morality of the same essential problem as Nietzsche: Christianity teaches us to ignore „wrong to ourselves.‟ by which he means wrongs to our individual will. Abstinence from Evil. is not desirable in the same way. Innocence rather than Nobleness. The risk is that being taught to value negative virtues like meekness. idealism can thus steal the very joy from our existence. regret over the past. The concern is just that a continual policing of our feelings. can erodes our ability to affirm our lives. there is great truth and value in the originally Stoic practice of mastering emotions such as fear of the future. To be sure. If we let it. afraid to aspire to great things. completely mastering other emotions such as anger. and humility. but that the moralism of the dominant class will draw everyone to the middle. Jesus‟ dramatic and poetic phrasings capture the spiritual truth that it is indeed noble to cultivate our emotions so that we master them and they do not unjustly master us or others.” In its horror of sensuality. and vitality. it made an idol of asceticism. However. and humility. What concerns thinkers like Mill and Nietzsche about Christian societies is not that their instincts will run wild. could hardly be . his independent and heretical spirit. The wrong that abstract idealism works upon individuals is that it can turn spiritual life into a continuing exercise in futility. and a longing for pleasure in the present—mastering such emotions allows us to have a sense of control and purpose and replaces anxiety with the peace that comes from self-control. We can always be better.S. power. rather than energetic Pursuit of Good: in its precepts (as has been well said) “thou shalt not” predominates unduly over “thou shalt. It is not that Jesus is wrong to tell us that we cannot even harbor lustful thoughts for our neighbor‟s wife or anger at our brother without being guilty of adultery and murder. passive rather than active. Jesus‟ own fiery passion. meekness. meekness. we can always master our passion more. in great part.Christian morality (so called) has all the characters of a reaction it is. The essentially critical tendencies of Christian idealism are what motivated Nietzsche to form his alternative spiritual system—a philosophy of affirmation. and selflessness above all things will turn civilization into a place where people become afraid to trust their hearts. afraid to stand out for fear of criticism. a learned habit of mistrust for all „fallen‟ instincts. For these particular emotions—the emotions that are connected to our individual will and to our passion—are the very means by which all action is motivated. The continual impossibility of fully measuring up to any ideal makes it difficult to view one‟s life triumphantly. J. a protest against Paganism. Its ideal is negative rather than positive. ambition and pride in exchange for gentleness.

is comprised in obedience. In contrast to this Calvinistic view of human nature that views all strong impulse as something corrupt that needs to be mastered. no doubt. J. therefore. there is no redemption for any one until human nature is killed within him. that is. is no evil: man needs no capacity. Strong individual impulses are not always the temptations of the sin nature. Many persons. or cut out into figures of animals. by many who do not consider themselves Calvinists. All the good of which humanity is capable.S. However. however. and. he is better without them. the mitigation consisting in giving a less ascetic interpretation to the alleged will of God. in a mitigated form. You have no choice. by the necessary conditions of the case. J. and it is held. Nevertheless. than as nature made them. To one holding this theory of life. just as many have thought that trees are a much finer thing when clipped into pollards. crushing out any of the human faculties." Human nature being radically corrupt. This is the theory of Calvinism. sincerely think that human beings thus cramped and dwarfed. are as their Maker designed them to be. Mill summarizes his view of Calvinism: According to that. certain versions of Christianity have ignored the importance of individual emotions. in a way prescribed to them by authority. and no otherwise: "whatever is not a duty is a sin. thus you must do.interpreted as a model for the humble Christian morality that Mill and Nietzsche critique. In some such insidious form there is at present a strong tendency to this narrow theory of life. but in the way of obedience. and to the pinched and hidebound type of human character which it patronizes. and susceptibilities. as well as „Christian self-denial. the one great offence of man is self-will. If Jesus had mastered his ability to feel anger.S. asserting it to be his will that mankind should gratify some of their inclinations. Sometimes a commitment to the truth instead of hypocrisy requires anger in order to be realized. the same for all. of course not in the manner they themselves prefer. but that of surrendering himself to the will of God: and if he uses any of his faculties for any other purpose but to do that supposed will more effectually. they are right to suggest that the way in which Christian morality has been historically interpreted occasionally suggests that the world would really be a better place if all merely individual ambition and pleasure-seeking were to be completely replaced for a commitment to serve God and others.‟” He elaborates: . capacities. he would not have taken a whip to the changing tables in the temple. Mill holds that “„Pagan self-assertion‟ is one of the elements of human worth.

Moody suggests in short. are also the source from whence are generated the most passionate love of virtue. than of an indolent and impassive one. There is no natural connection between strong impulses and a weak conscience. Strong impulses are but another name for energy. that society both does its duty and protects its interests: not by rejecting the stuff of which heroes are made. In contrast to other traditions within Christianity that emphasize the possibilities of sanctified reason and spiritual perfectibility (such as the post-millennial optimism of Charles Finney[xiii]) Moody implicitly suggests in the passage quoted above that Christianity should foremost be about maintaining an entirely inward purity of soul.” In a later sermon he added that „a line should be drawn between the church and the world.L. Moody sees one‟s particular self as irremediably corrupt and fallen—something that needs to be entirely rejected. Those who have most natural feeling. Moody and Jerry Falwell. “Moody. is merely to say that he has more of the raw material of human nature. Christian spirituality has often cramped the free and natural development of individual passion and aspiration. that Christians should have no concern with interacting with . in a noble but misguided attempt to seek purity to promote self-transformation. The natural connection is the other way. are always those whose cultivated feelings may be made the strongest. save all you can. Energy may be turned to bad uses. The same strong susceptibilities which make the personal impulses vivid and powerful.It is not because men's desires are strong that they act ill. This error is not limited to Calvinism. perhaps of more evil. but more good may always be made of an energetic nature. God has given me a lifeboat and said to me. It is through the cultivation of these.[xi] Sociologist Jose Casanova summarizes: In a sermon Moody once said „I look upon this world as a wrecked vessel. it is because their consciences are weak. It can also be seen in certain kinds of fundamentalist thinking inspired throughout the 20th century by preachers such as D. Moody no longer saw „a City upon the Hill‟ but Sodom. To say that one person's desires and feelings are stronger and more various than those of another. and every Christian should get both feet out of the world.L.‟ …Looking up at urban America from the vantage point of his Illinois Street Church in Chicago. but certainly of more good. and the sternest self-control. and is therefore capable. The Beautiful Soul One unfortunate legacy of Christian spirituality is to have erred too often on the side of conformity and asceticism.”[xii] The brand of fundamentalism practiced here by D.

cultures. and fundamentalist preachers such as Moody and Falwell is at least partly understandable. In contrast to the difficulty of maintaining purity of heart amidst the complexities and . It seems that Moody cannot be bothered with the merely contingent traditions that give life to the day-to-day practices and projects of existing social communities. Moody effectively uses his hope that an utterly different world will be ushered in by God as an excuse to avoid interacting in good faith with the current world he is in. For Hegel. This desire for the universality of moral contemplation apart from the messy particularity of morality‟s realization is the same desire that leads monks or philosophers to withdraw from social life into their monastery or ivory tower. Rather than starting a new movement of one‟s own. When one is drawn to the ideal it can seem best to retreat to solitude since action in the world inevitably corrupts the purity of one‟s heavenly vision. developing a business). politics. Instead.. after all. the monastic vow of poverty (and/or six years of grad school in the humanities) begins to look more attractive. Moody promotes the idea that Christians should withdraw altogether from traditions which do not subscribe to his particular conception of what is of utmost value. After a while. whether or not my motives were fully upright in giving the money.g. Moody seems to see no value in engaging seriously with the values. Leaving society to its own devices seems like a more attractive tradeoff the more elusive the prospect of preserving the purity of my soul in a fallen world begins to seem. academicist philosophers. coaching a sport. whether or not the money could have benefitted someone else. I have to concern myself with whether or not the money really benefitted the man. the move made by ascetic monks. or actively engaging with the habits and practices of daily life in hopes of positively transforming existing traditions such figures would rather abandon the impurity of their ties to the world completely. As soon as I give money to the man on the street.the various individual aspirations that give life to projects within diverse societies. and practices of individuals and social groups who are motivated by distinct conceptions of what is valuable in the world. etc. If I am a committed idealist it does not take long for me to start wondering whether or not it would be much easier to be done with the whole messy business of action altogether. he seems to have no time for traditions and institutions that are given life through following merely individual passions (e. It is this way with all moral action. improving a school. As soon as I stop merely praying for all of those lost and fallen souls and start considering concrete practices and solutions that I might implement in my community in order to better our common life it becomes much more difficult to assess how pure my claim to truth really is. As a result.

a life of poverty. it allows the monk to perfect an entirely inward kind of freedom. As the solitary captain gazes at a distant land purer and truer than all of the corruption and frailty around him he is partly free. However. this captain believes himself to be free simply with through identification with this vision.” However. or „fallen. because that land has captured his soul and his imagination. when possible.‟ things. True. the freedom of the fundamentalist Christian or of the monk does not demand that one ever actually go about setting the sail and beginning to track a course through the storm. And the monk is free in a sense—he experiences the freedom that the captain feels when gazing into a telescope at the distant land. In this effort to contemplate ideals apart from the messy details of their realization. The Beautiful Soul fails to realize that true freedom is not found in the imagined reunion with an everreceding shore. the captain knows that his true nature is that he is a citizen of that distant shore. This inward freedom demands only that you become independent from the world—only that you master the world‟s hold upon you and. He is rather called to seek out something greater than himself. research. Hegel views the stance of the Beautiful Soul as fundamentally flawed because it abstracts away from particular desires and institutions that actually structure people‟s lives. and contemplating the differences between that land and the place in which he currently lives. or service allows the monk (or the monk-like academic or preacher) to focus solely on transforming himself. This captain finds his freedom because he knows that his true nature is not to aimlessly drift about life on the land until the passage of time removes all trace of his life‟s work and purpose. To put this in terms of the analogy of the boat. getting people enthused about the idea of living in a place utterly different from where they currently are is their highest spiritual calling. He is free because he knows himself to be independent of aimless wanderings of the land-lovers around him.ambiguities of daily life in society. meditating about that land. Hegel is sympathetic with the desire for this pure form of freedom characteristic of preachers such as Falwell and Moody—Hegel‟s label for this kind of person is “The Beautiful Soul. Rather. Or perhaps they . Inward freedom is a freedom of rejection rather than endorsement: it finds its life from the abandonment and mastery of all particular. but rather is found in the very act of directing the vessel at all amidst a perilous and uncertain sea. save others from its corrupting influence. the monk feels himself to be free. Evangelicals in the tradition of Moody think that handing out maps to everyone. he knows that in his lifetime he is called not to be a plaything of his arbitrary desires. the captain may see the distant land that calls to him only as through a glass darkly.

The difficulty facing Hegel is to recover the function of what religion did for people through his philosophical understanding of freedom. The Calling of Community Hegel‟s critique of Christianity. self-creation. equality. or the appreciation of individual initiative. From Hegel‟s perspective the divine drama is not just about one man coming into history to save the rest from punishment. Other spiritual traditions such as liberalism. And no one but the most jaded and uncharitable cynics can question the dedication of evangelicals—their commitment to live out their principles through sharing them with others rather than standing back and letting everyone else continue on a course they believe (rightly or not) leads to a watery grave. concerns involve perfecting the particular details of daily life or entail providing clarity. she believes that every tear shall be wiped away. Rather. Some destinations are truer than others. and home should be located in all of the reality. Marxism. From a Hegelian perspective the important thing is that the destinations we choose to devote our lives to not be located in a place utterly beyond our current world. and ambition. from Hegel‟s perspective. but with eternal source of goodness and being and joy that has given us life. Rather. until we actually grab an oar and row. every crushed dream will be restored as we are reunited. Hegel thinks that the greatest story ever told is a continually unfolding history of the development of freedom. calling. The religious believer holds that a perfect kingdom will come after this world is over. ability and opportunity to work at decent jobs. tragedy and beauty of this present world. We cannot just row anywhere. might well be accepted as scoring some valid points. or Nietzscheanism sometimes do a better job of emphasizing other values—things such as freedom of conscience. the moment of universality. definition. equally important. the ability to have a sense of control over one‟s fate. Hegel and his generation supposed that our mission. Some of these. peril.think that the boat they are on is sinking. However. and affirmation to individual vision. just as Marx‟s critique of capitalism. Christians emphasize the importance of cultivating personal virtue— especially compassion—and close-knit communities. broken beyond repair and people should be persuaded to get off the boat entirely rather than attempt to set sail together towards a destination. But this is an entirely different thing than claiming that Hegel‟s (or Marx‟s) alternative solution to what he critiques is itself valid. not only with all those precious to us on this earth. that every mutilated purpose. and brotherhood—a history that we do not just read but that we make. No one with a beating heart . of course. true freedom is impossible. Some of these concerns involve the sublime contemplation of the ideal.

But what Hegel does forcefully suggest to us is where the real story is. dreams. everyone knows that identification with something so abstract as one‟s country or with „freedom‟ in general cannot respond fully to all of the particular. But no one with a beating heart has ever been able to prove that these things are not just dreams either. Hegel supposes that we have simply overlooked the infinite significance of identifying ourselves with a historically specific community of people that attempts to structure its common life around a commitment to the concrete achievement of freedom and equality for all of its citizens. real heroism are found: “True independence and freedom come not from fleeing the life of this world but only from learning how to live in a community with others. mysteries. None of us is positively sure either way and it seems unlikely that one day some sudden discovery will arise that will help us to answer this question. with characteristic audacity. Hegel‟s emphasis is appreciated. that this obsession with immortality is merely a sickness that has arisen because of the decline of the republican spirit. in human communities. Differentiated by our theological background and our personal dispositions.”[xiv] From this perspective. more doubtful others. He suggests that it is within this fragile world of human history that real adventure. At the end of the day. real challenge. the wisdom of States. Even Hegel himself agreed that purely human history—in which his philosophy attempts to find all divine meaning and purpose—initially presents itself to us “as the slaughter-bench at which the happiness of peoples. The nature of the world is too harsh. the challenges. In fact. we all just have various degrees of hope or doubt on this score. Hegel supposes that we only pine for immortality because we have lost our ability to affirm ourselves as participating in the historical drama of true and good purposes realizing themselves in human history.doesn‟t hope that these things will come to pass. attachments and hopes that make up a human life in the same way that dreams of eternal reward can. what is beautiful is no less beautiful for its fragility. He claims. and the virtue of individuals have been victimized. We‟re more certain some days. a commitment to human freedom in an uncertain world may be all the more noble for its very uncertainty. Despite Hegel‟s optimism. too unpredictable to provide the solace and assurance that belief in eternal life and a Godas-father-figure can provide. passions.” However. and blessings of temporal life within the human communities that continually shape us and . Hegel‟s philosophy does not give us final answers or final assurances. shortcomings. For those of us that have a hard time shaking doubts about our souls‟ immortality.

bursting the bonds which kept them down. in the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule. with similar exclusiveness.that we play a part in shaping ourselves are not just accidents on the way to personal salvation. are generally some of these suppressed and neglected . Instead—at least Hegel would suggest—our inheritance. our kingdom. when the conflicting doctrines. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent. life within these communities is our calling. of which the received doctrine embodies only a part.com/130/”>here</a>. but exaggerated. Perhaps Hegel is right.edu/toc/modeng/public/MilLib2. may be right here among us. [Mill goes on] The brilliant passage excerpted above continues: …Heretical opinions. <a href=“http://etext. and disjointed. they are not just Augustine‟s „vale of tears‟ from which we need redemption. maybe the kingdom we long for is not a distant dream where we are all utterly changed. Perhaps our inheritance prepared from the foundations of the world is not just eternity. share the truth between them. Popular opinions.html” here</a> or <a href=“http://www. from the truths by which they ought to be accompanied and limited. Heretical opinions. From Hegel‟s point of view. instead of being one true and the other false. or fronting it as enemies. but because we realize that the will of God is synonymous with a will to promote compassion and solidarity within our temporal human societies. sometimes a greater.bartleby.virginia. our calling. They are a part of the truth. on the other hand. are often true. on subjects not palpable to sense. as. distorted. and setting themselves up. are generally some of these suppressed and neglected truths. Perhaps the sometimes courageous and sometimes broken human beings that make up the people in real historical communities are not so fallen as to be incapable of progress towards truth that they seek out through their own minds. but seldom or never the whole truth. Perhaps a humble commitment to transform our own lives and the lives of those around us might be motivated not just out of fear that we will displease an infinite being. as the whole truth. and many-sidedness the exception. and the nonconforming opinion is needed to supply the remainder of the truth. and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion. on the other hand. Notes [i]All quotes in this essay are from “On Liberty. But there is a commoner case than either of these. sometimes a smaller part.” The famous essay is available online.

and setting themselves up. [vi] “Although virtue consists in self-determination according to universal purposes rather than private ends. Even progress. Hegel. … it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him. and many-sidedness the exception. or multitude. and has shut no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person. one partial and incomplete truth for another. more adapted to the needs of the time. at least obviously. and having up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought objections and difficulties. Hence. is by hearing what can be said about it by of every variety of opinion. that the way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject. 199 [iii] John Start Mill describes what might be seen as the essence of the moment of universality when he describes the person whose judgment deserves confidence: … he has kept his mind to criticism on his opinions and conduct. it is not only insight or consciousness but also involves the . who have not gone through a similar process. p. No wise man ever acquired wisdom in any mode but this. instead of avoiding them. 199. as. as the whole truth. with similar exclusiveness. [ii] From Frederick Beiser‟s Hegel p. or fronting it as enemies. to profit by as of it as was just. [iv] Frederick Beiser. Hegel. nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. even in revolutions of opinion.truths. 199 [v] Frederick Beiser. and expound to himself and upon occasion to the fallacy of what was fallacious. p. and studying all modes in which it looked at by every character of mind. bursting the bonds which kept them down. be said against him. that the new fragment oftruth is more wanted. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others. far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice. for the most part only substitutes. one part of the truth usuaHy sets while another rises. The latter case is hitherto the most frequent. improvement consisting chiefly in this. is only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for. … he has felt. being cognisant all that can. in the human mind one-sidedness has always been the rule. which ought to superadd. and either seeking reconciliation with the truth contained in the common opinion. than that which it displaces.

initially at least. and other things demanded of us by the society in which we live. the would-be dialectical philosopher must first become alienated from the traditional and unreflective spirituality of their formative community—a process that. however. however. While there may be a grain of truth in the idea that the definitive character of civilizations can be recognizably differentiated from others based on commitment to ideals. We could consider Japanese societies. which have arguably mastered impulse more effectively and out of a stronger sense of obligation to their community than have Christian societies in the West. History of Philosophy.” [ix] Hegel supposed (infamously) that some civilizations of his day without Christianity were still stuck in the moment of particularity. [viii] Hedonists think that freedom to follow their own impulses is only thing that has importance.agent‟s identifying „heart and soul‟ (das Herz. We pay our taxes. erodes a sense of meaning and purpose rather than restores it. [vii] This claim that the practice of dialectical philosophy can make the user feel „at home‟ is more paradoxical than it first appears. for the liberal finds significant spiritual meaning not just in following impulses. but in affirming and defending regulations that make it possible for all people to follow their impulses without unnecessary interference. [x] From “Self-Reliance. for instance. 139/145). for example. obey the laws of the land. he suggested that many African civilizations. Liberal defenders of positive liberty such as Leonard Hobbhouse and John Dewey are influenced by Hegelian ethical holism and provide an interesting contrast to more common versions of liberalism that primarily emphasize what Isaiah Berlin called “negative freedom. das Gemut) with the insight” (Hegel. cast our votes as a responsibility of citizenship. hadn‟t yet internalized the importance of seeking the ideal but rather were still simply driven by their instincts. at the same time. to a calling. Hegel was almost certainly overrating the importance of Christianity for this move. we are cognizant that our only purpose on this earth is to know Christ and to make . But. For in order to feel „at home‟ in the world. Liberals though theoretically agreeing with this position are not the same as the hedonist in practice.” [xi] In 1965 Falwell described his sense of Christianity: "We have few ties to this earth. rather than a merely contingent evolution of habit (see Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalismfor an account and critique of this process).

however—see Jose Casanova. because they form a part of who we are . [xiii] See Jose Casanova. [xiv] Frederick Beiser. Tradition and the Birth of the Ideal by Matt Flaherty on Monday. that progress in discovering truth can only result from a charitable dialogue where we suspend our judgment about beliefs inherited from tradition. against the model of revelation. 148). Public Religions in the Modern World. pp. However. III. I suggested that seeking truth in private. rather than what is actually good. I would find it impossible to stop preaching the pure saving gospel of Jesus Christ and begin doing anything else--including fighting communism or participating in civil rights reforms" (cited in Casanova. The goal of this suspension—what Hegel calls "the dialectical moment of universality"—is to try and evaluate competing choices as if we are seeing them for the first time in order to see if those choices when compared with the choices of others are truly worthy of our loyalty. Furthermore. We cannot not rely on deliberation. on the moment of universality alone—we also need to consider what Hegel calls the dialectical moment of particularity. Public Religions in the Modern World. Thus. Public Religions in the Modern World. Traditions. This moment emphasizes the importance of cultivating the habits and emotions that motivate our actions.Believing in the Bible as I do. 156-7. in part two of this series I suggested that we cannot just adopt a onesided formula for judging truth.. 121. Hegel. [xii] Jose Casanova. p 140. Falwell‟s views changed (for the better) later in his life. pp 139-140. For spiritual truth is not just an abstract decision that can be correct or incorrect. but a way of life that must affect the specific decisions a person makes.Him known. I also followed Hegel in suggesting that truth is not really truth if it occurs apart from commitment. 04 October 2010 at 19:20 Introduction In part one of this series I attempted to suggest that a commitment to spiritual truth— rather than a commitment to believe what is comfortable—requires humility and a willingness to be changed. I claimed. where you rely on the impressions of your emotions and upon the views of those in your traditional community (what I called ‗the revelation model of truth‘) can sometimes mislead us into reinforcing what is comfortable.. p..

she needs to fall in love with the good for herself. To develop her life into the expression of the Ideal. this two year old must first learn the habits internalized in the collective wisdom of her society. To be more exact. In part four of this series I attempt to shed light on the dialectical moment of universality—or on how we actually find spiritual truth ourselves in practice. this is not within our control. Much research has suggested1 that learning habits of selflessness. In this installment. something that would emerge by itself if the oppressive restraints of society were one day cast off. It also demands accountability to share the progress of one‘s spiritual journey toward these ideals with mentors. As my father has pointed out in more than one sermon. Of course. and fellow journeyers. However. perhaps the most important step on the road cultivating a life that expresses spiritual truth happens around the age of two. and even justice requires the presence of a consistent environment of loving discipline in one‘s early childhood years. we do have the ability to move beyond this basic attachment to the good created in the early years of childhood by committing ourselves to living within a certain kinds of community. Tradition: The Birth of the Good We are not with a commitment to live a life that testifies to the truth. are necessary to allow spiritual truth to be lived out. I want speculate both on how a true will—a will that is not just an abstract decision but a way of life—gets created in the first place and how these precious commitments are maintained in an uncertain world.by affecting what we take to be of utmost value.2. sympathy. I will limit myself to expanding on the dialectical moment of particularity. Specifically. leaders. In fact. Fostering a love of the ideal--a commitment that transcends the calculations of mere self-interest--requires life within a community that is trying to express something higher . And to really internalize these habits for herself (rather than simply parroting these habits because they help her get what she wants). Goodness is not completely built into human nature. cultivating a spiritual life demands being inspired by heroes that a community invests with a kind of sacred significance. A toddler is not born loving the idea that she might leave the pull of selfish instincts behind for carefully cultivated virtues intended to express the noblest capacities of the human spirit. for actual decisions to be made. however. anyone who does not believe that the sin nature exists just needs to examine a two-year-old.

. history. but of united souls shared journeys. Churches are uniquely effective in creating this kind of community—communities not just of common interests. In elementary school children learn things like how to sit still and how to not hit each other during milk-break in order that they can begin to transform their lives from formless chaos—dominated by impulses of the moment—into a sphere of deliberately willed choices. It is about trying to convince young people to live lives of true freedom—lives that express what is excellent. and English provide narratives of heroes and models of lives (e. involves cultivating freedom only in the sense that it tries to allow children to be liberated from the tyranny of their instincts. Abe Lincoln. . Socrates. Jean Valjean) that can inspire us to live our lives in a certain way. can sometimes help to seduce souls on the path to the good more effectively than other social institutions. But even beyond assisting in the mastery of instinct. Galileo. also serves the purpose of creating a community that reinforces modes of being in the world with a goal of transcending mere egoism and instinct. Most of education. as a comprehensive system of belief that invests even relatively minor parts of daily life with eternal significance. one other major social institution that attempts to further the comprehensive spiritual work of the church. education also helps shape the space of possibility in which deliberate choices capable of expressing dignity and truth can be made. And there is not a perfect substitute for the role that churches play. Education—what Hegel called ―the art of making man ethical‖—like religion.than their own respective interests. There is. what is good. Education at its best is not just about a strategic commitment to acquire technical skills in order that one can eventually produce products or services for society in an efficient manner. Education is also about shaping souls. It is perhaps because of this that we can often observe that many people who no longer strongly believe in the religion of their childhood still continue the tradition of raising their children in church.g. Sometimes interacting with these historical figures or fictional characters can get at the roots of our emotions enough to motivate us to make our lives over from formless instinct into life choices that express commitments that are worthy and true. It involves a shared commitment to grow in the expression of a will that is good and true. In particular. Atticus Finch. of course. Churches. subjects such as social studies. of course.

self-mastery. of excellence that comes from doing your part. politics. It requires. or a Rotary club traditions do spiritual work by providing you with some kind of vision of what kind of life it is good to lead.Most of us are not self-motivated enough to develop a substantial spiritual life just through reading books. Because we may be influenced by any number of competing or overlapping traditions throughout our lives. perhaps you view the major significance of your life to lie in the communication and shared experiences that make lasting and meaningful relationships with family and friends possible. however. Whether they take shape in a family. Alternatively. and not asking for handouts. Or perhaps you find your energy and purpose in a tradition of hard work. a church. . or service. in other words. of course. Perhaps you view your relationship to what is good as tied up in your political commitments. a fraternity house. spiritual growth generally also requires living within a community with a certain structure and set of expectations. Traditions are the life blood of society because they do nothing less than inform the commitments that we allow to define our lives. relationships. The many competing and overlapping traditions that we are a part of. None of these forms of spirituality and meaning are mutually exclusive. taking care of your own. or yet again. We may find spiritual significance in your life to some degree in all of these areas—through formal religion. Perhaps living out your own commitment to the highest good as you understand it involves formal religious exercises such as reading a Bible and prayer. or maybe you use your free time read books that challenge you to think differently. self-cultivation. traditions serve to form your vision of who you are and where you are going and what matters most to you in the world. the dignity of discipline. It is possible to pursue these areas out of more than just devotion to one's momentary desires. the spiritual side of our lives may take many different forms. Whether they take shape in Sunday School or in a university. Because of this. that we learn from and become inspired people who are trusted authority figures within a tradition—whether they are people I read about in books or the teachers themselves. of dedication. to expand your horizons. The uniting thread of all of these areas—or what makes it possible to view them as spiritual areas of our lives—is just that it is possible to pursue these areas out of a commitment to more than personal convenience. perhaps you invest little significance in formal religion or in work and you choose to cultivate your spiritual life in other ways. but out of devotion to what is good. work.

an education in the liberal arts might that society requires things like self-reliance. on the other hand. and charitable dialogue. of allowing people to fulfill their potential. graduate school in the humanities tends to create a particular vision of the good that may contrast (but does not necessarily conflict) with the agendas of other traditions. I do not just need to acquire a set of technical skills. Of course. and to teach her students to be the kinds of people with the independent judgment and critical skills that will enable them to help their formative traditions continue to grow. Another way of saying this is that Sunday school teachers are trying to create followers of tradition and college professors are trying to create leaders of tradition. based on what is convenient or comfortable for their own goals. required individual practices. but they have many features in common: they both demand the presence of mentors. As I see it. skepticism. who might benefit from . not everyone who attends a college or a church aspires to become a different person in the process.One specific example of a tradition that fosters spiritual growth that has recently been important in my own spiritual journey is the tradition of humanities education. to aspire to become something better than they have been before. (sacred) texts. and obedience. Both a church and a college are communities that set forth visions of the kind of person that it is good to be. she also aspires to keep that tradition off balance and self-reflexive. my goal of becoming a college professor in the humanities will allow me to share in the good work done by high school English teachers and Sunday School teachers—the work. or the received wisdom of a tradition. Like all traditions. compassion. and co-journeyers who are working towards the same spiritual goals in order to do their work. I also have to grow spiritually. Many people may instead only participate in traditions strategically. work. in short. we can all probably think of some people who seem to believe that their life. is not only attempting to inculcate the common sense. The professor. to embody ageless values. These traditions may differ in emphasis about what is of utmost value. For awhile many of us may feel the draw of the playboy or the skeptic who stands outside of traditions completely. and values are the center of the universe. In order to be either a successful member of either. mocking the seriousness and conventionality of people who live by their creeds. The difference between a humanities professor and a Sunday school teacher is just that the Sunday school teacher relies on communicating the common sense of the tradition which he inherits. to become a different sort of person. In fact. Whereas an education in the church might suggest that society foremost needs things like righteousness.

rather than a commitment to tradition. but a society of isolated. as I will suggest in the next section. too unsettling to our ego. However. etc… to be saved. in elementary and high school. too narrow-minded. questioning the value of a particular tradition may be equivalent to questioning the value of our way of life. The difficulty with questioning the value of traditions that we have allowed to form a part of our very identity is that we disrupt the kind of faith that we need to help us live our daily lives. And. Whether they are cultivated in the family environment of early childhood. too Republican. to be moved by visions of what is good and important as set forth in various traditions that we find important. Most of us do attempt to let ourselves be changed. too socialist. this process of questioning can occasionally be very painful. A commitment to truth. too elitist. The question is not whether or not we need tradition. self-righteous enclaves—enclaves of people who believe that everyone other than their own group is too sinful. However. most of us do not stand in this kind of relationship to traditions for very long. smoke a joint.an added bit of self-conscious skepticism. The Consolation of Revelation . and stop taking our lives so seriously. those of us who do allow ourselves to be changed in this way are faced with a peculiar difficulty which is not faced by the non-serious skeptic. The society that fails to care about truth and only cares about tradition would become a society not of united spirits on a shared journey. if we fail to care about truth altogether because questioning our traditions is too uncomfortable. However. this process of self examination is important if we care about the difference between a commitment to tradition and a commitment to truth. Perhaps every now and again in our lives it does not hurt to listen to the skeptic who advises us to step out of the rat race of society. However. our society would become an unfortunate place. To wonder about the latter is to ask ourselves whether we might continually refine our own lives in pursuit of the ideal and to continue to share our quests with one another. For those of us that do not treat traditions as merely a game to be played or an obligation to put up with. or in a preferred religious institution. it is only because we have inherited traditions that we are able to care about what is good in first place. can be interpreted as a hope that we might continue to press our various formative traditions to reach beyond themselves rather than allowing traditions to become rigid and isolated from the rest of society.

but for some reason. Granted. reading this particular article had a deeply unsettling effect. However. And. I felt . it is rather a good way to find reassurance that the specific spiritual choices that we are making are already the right ones. I was worried because the purposes that I had been striving to attain for the past three or four years. A good friend of mine sent me an article several months ago which made the argument that graduate school in the humanities is a waste of time and money. Seeking revelation. the revelation model of truth helps us to reassure us we have found righteousness and that we can stop looking and begin to live.However. I have read similar articles before. I found myself gripped with anxiety. now suddenly seemed useless. I tried to suggest is not a good way to change our defining goals so that they align more closely with spiritual truth. My spiritual doubt took the form of speculation. perhaps most importantly. the purposes for which I had sacrificed my time and energy and emotional resources to try to achieve. but I was unable to concentrate. believing only in the truth of our tradition while assuming that those outside of our tradition are all deceived is comfortable. I tried to suppress my concerns and return to the work I had been doing before reading the article. I criticized the ‗revelation model of truth‘ in the first part of this series because it allows us to do this too easily. Maybe the only thing important in the real world—a world where your ability to feed your family has no relationship to the state of your soul—is economic efficiency. to try to persuade them to value things like dialogue and self-expression over authority and efficiency. to change themselves. The profound temptation of this approach to spiritual truth was recently brought home to me vividly. The revelation model of truth helps to reinforce our belief that the cherished habits and values of our tradition are the most noble ones to which we can aspire. The result of this speculation was that the value of the very person that I had been trying to become for the past three years no longer seemed clear. I was partly worried for non-spiritual reasons—I was partly worried by the mundane possibility that I might never get a job in a field that was overrun with tough competition. In this moment. Maybe society didn‘t need any more people telling its young people to read books. I was also worried for spiritual reasons—I was also upset because the value of that work I was doing had been cast into doubt. After reading it. Maybe people learn everything they would ever need to know about being a good person in their families and churches and further education is a waste of valuable resources that could be used to acquire more practical skills. it helps to preserve our ego.

sad. when one finds oneself all lazy. which it had before. When we face them. or if it weakens it or disquiets or disturbs the soul. in thePhenomenology of Spirit. ―The life of Spirit.very much as did Saint Ignatius when he described the condition he called ―darkness of soul. taking away its peace.‘ He believes. it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit. It would be wonderful if truth always restored peace to the soul. tepid.‖5 By this. or uncertain? This latter perspective on spiritual truth is the one that Hegel defends. in other words. we have to come up with a strategy to respond. Ignatius instructs us. without love. I take Hegel to mean that finding spiritual . Ignatius supplies one possible answer to this question. of the highest good? St. but makes us afraid? What if truth is sometimes upsetting to who we are and who we have been trying to become? What if truth sometimes requires a rude awakening that temporarily undermines our resolution because it makes us feel foolish.‖ I experienced something very like what Ignatius describes as ―the unquiet of different agitations and temptations.‖3 These situations are not uncommon. but to be firm and constant in the resolutions and determination in which one was the day preceding such desolation. it can be comforting to believe as St. without hope. or less good than what the soul had previously proposed to do. moving to want of confidence.‖ Hegel tells us. of a distracting tendency. It can be quite reassuring to believe that every disturbance of tranquility is an evil pestilence that should be brushed away.4 In dark times. …if in the course of the thoughts …it ends in something bad. However. is a life that ―does not shrink from death and devastation. a communion with the spirit that is above our own reason and wisdom. tranquillity and quiet. and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. worried. what if the truth—as was the case for Pontius Pilate—does not always confirm our hopes and give us courage. that truth comes from self-emptying. Ignatius believes in what I described in part one of this series as the ‗revelation model of truth. How do we find the courage to go on with our lives while not neglecting the demands of the truth. His counsel to me in this kind of situation would thus be this: In time of desolation never to make a change.

Even though radically new ways of seeing the world can indeed lead to chaos—or even evil—new interpretations of life are the only means by which spiritual advances can happen. new ways.truth does not just involve affirming a way of life that you are drawn to in your heart—a vision of spiritual matters that you currently find to be beautiful and reassuring. more noble. In fact. Hegel suggests that true spiritual affirmation and genuine reassurance can only come after certainties have been shaken and tested. petty.‖ By describing the journey toward spiritual truth in this way. Friederich Nietzsche. From this Hegelian perspective. . He claims instead that authentic spirit is only what remains beautiful and worthy after one has journeyed through potentially paralyzing and unsettling questions and faced them. the unsettling questions that arose on that day I read that article about graduate school were not questions that I should brush aside as the temptations of an evil spirit—they were rather questions that I needed to face. or Sigmund Freud—are the necessary precondition for our eventual acceptance of ways of life that are more beautiful. practices that characterize the revelation model of ‗truth‘ are not valuable for uncovering greater insight or enlightenment regarding what the Ideal requires. Martin Luther. of little value. In order to make advances in paradigms of spiritual truth one needs such figures to disrupt the common consensus and begin to interpret the world in ways in fresh. He thinks that the only way to recover true spiritual beauty is to subject one‘s cherished commitments to the paralyzing gaze of what he calls ―the understanding‖—a gaze that might well make your commitments (and. from Hegel‘s perspective. Karl Marx. you yourself) seem small. He suggests that it is only after we have tried our most cherished commitments in the crucible of doubt that we can be assured that our commitments reflect the pure ideal rather than only the reassuring prejudice of tradition. my sense of spiritual desolation. and prophets—figures like Socrates. more wise than what has previously been thought and believed. and poets in order to do that. Jesus Christ. my sense of doubt. The work of revolutionary philosophers. indeed. One needs skeptics. poets. prophets. would not suggest that I had gone astray from the truth. The Practice of Revelation as Embodied Ideal From this Hegelian perspective. It is because the truth often unsettles our most cherished commitments that Hegel describes the way of Spirit as ―the way of despair. but that I was one step closer to finding it.

Though the practice of revelation is antithetical to the kind of exploration and discovery that leads to advances in spiritual truth, this is not to say that such practices do not serve an important spiritual purpose. As Paul Rabbow and Pierre Hadot have shown, spiritual practices popularized in Christian tradition by the likes of Ignatius have their roots in Ancient Greek philosophical academies.6 As with the philosophical academies from which the practice of meditation sprang, religious exercises are not valuable for creating new and original arguments or interpretations of the world. Rather, their purpose is to enable the acolyte to become a different kind of person. As Arnold Davidson puts it, they have the ultimate goal ―of transforming the lives of individuals, of providing them with a philosophical art of living that required nothing less than spiritual metamorphosis‖: ...the simple knowledge of a doctrine, beneficial as it was, did not guarantee its being put into practice. To have learned theoretically [for example] that death is not an evil does not suffice to no longer fear it. In order for this truth to be able to penetrate to the depths of one's being, so that it is not believed only for a brief moment, but becomes an unshakable conviction, so that it is always "ready," "at hand," "present to mind," so that it is a "habitus of the soul" …one must exercise oneself constantly and without respite—"night and day," as Cicero said. … These exercises are certainly exercises of meditation, but they do not only concern reason; in order to be efficacious, they must link the imagination and affectivity to the work of reason.7 Though I have been critical of Ignatius‘ spiritual as a model for discovering spiritual truth, this is not to say that such exercises—like the philosophical exercises described above which preceded them—do not have immense value. For it is undeniable that the form of life that Ignatius sets forth in his meditations has been conditioned at least in part by genuinely universal ideals—ideals that set forth a form of life that is not just preferred for reasons of prejudice, but which truly deserve adherence. Because of this, such exercises can be perceived as the very means by which an otherwise purely abstract Ideal takes shape in peoples‘ lives. To borrow the terminology from part two of this series, spiritual exercises bring ‗particularity‘ to a form of life that would otherwise remain only an abstract moment of ‗universality.‘ In Davidson‘s words they help truths become more than the belief of ―a brief moment,‖ but an ―unshakeable conviction‖ that ―penetrate[s] to the depths of one‘s being‖ (22). Ignatius‘ exercises, like other spiritual exercises rooted in tradition, in practice, in a concrete lifestyle, have value because they help our spiritual lives take definition. They do not simply give us superficial knowledge

of the scholar, but rather help us to actually begin the (endless) work becoming a different person—a person whose will and emotions have been trained to be moved by the right kinds of things. In other words, spiritual exercises and practices help bring substance and commitment to a life that would be an otherwise empty shell of speculation. The Anxiety of the Ideal and the Consolation of Faith Not only do spiritual practices give life to the otherwise abstract demands of the Ideal by integrating timeless precepts with our daily routine and emotions. The simplicity and repetition of spiritual practice also plays the crucial role of helping people retain their sense of consistency and identity. As Davidson summarizes, ―The consolations had as their goal ‗to recall well-known things, to reactivate them in the soul.‘ These consolations were one important place where ancient philosophers tried to provide their followers with the spiritual means to maintain their psychic equilibrium, a goal that was especially acute and difficult in situations that were precarious and painful.‖ Hegel conceives of the Universal, the Ideal, not as a personal father figure but as an impossible standard. Not unlike the interpretation of the Christian God as a righteous judge, the Ideal is haughtily indifferent to the weaknesses and contingencies and foibles of our emotions, of our history, of our deepest fears, hopes, and dreams; pure spiritual truth is as unsatisfiable as a God who demands absolute perfection from fallen humanity. Untarnished by allegiance to any particular tradition, the Ideal indifferent to the needs of human beings who need to get up and go to work tomorrow, who need to keep caring for their families, who need to keep finding a reason to believe in themselves and in their societies. If Hegel is right about the indifference of the actual truth to human needs, the revelation model of ‗truth‘ does more than help us integrate timeless ideals with our emotions. The practice of revelation also helps us with living. For moments of meditation which enable you to center yourself, to find your resolve, to take heart; they help us continue to be assured, to hope, and to get in touch with the center of who we are and who we are hoping to become. Sometimes meditation helps us with the business of life by providing us with, just as Ignatius tells us, ―courage and strength, consolations, tears, inspirations and quiet, easing, and putting away all obstacles, that one may go on in well doing.‖9

I suggested previously that the only way to fully pursue the universal moment of the dialectic is to lack any substantive commitments of one‘s own—or to turn into a philosophical skeptic, an ―empty shell‖ of mere speculation about what the ideal requires rather than a person who actually puts ideals into practice. However, this is not quite true. Though the dialectical moments of universality and particularity are in permanent tension, one can also maintain a certain level of particular commitment even while traversing a Hegel‘s ―way of despair,‖ in a dialectical journey of spirit. This latter option is rarely chosen, however, because of the likelihood that in so doing, one may sacrifice one‘s very peace of mind in the process. As Dostoevsky suggests through the character of Ivan Karamazov in his famous novel, when one tries to combine an endless spiritual search with sincere commitment, the resulting spirituality becomes so multifaceted and ambiguous that it can turn into a source of great anxiety.10 Because of this, without some baseline foundation of practice, routine, and tradition, any possibility of substantive personal spiritual transformation usually ends up being abandoned in exchange for merely playful or ironic speculation. For the ideal is, by definition, unreachable. To spend one‘s life actively searching for it while also attempting to transform oneself in the process is arguably to condemn oneself to despair. The revelation model of ‗truth‘ is important because the demands of real life do not always afford us opportunity for Hegelian reflection where we cast the value of our way of life into question and attempt to face all of our doubts. Often life requires immediate action. Because of this, the best choice is frequently not to reflect, but just to take a step of faith. Sometimes defending what is most beautiful to us in the world occurs at a time when our resources are the lowest, when our resolve to act comes close to being overwhelmed by despair. In such times, freedom does not come from facing every question and doubt, but precisely from what Caryl Emerson describes as ―moments of unjustified hope‖—from clinging to whatever source of inspiration that we can find in order to take heart. Such moments should not be taken as a reason to abdicate our responsibilities to listen humbly to others. Moments of faith serve a different purpose than revealing truth for now and all time. The spiritual freedom that comes through faith does not give us ―license to change the world,‖ but rather ―the strength to respond to it creatively and with love.‖11 From this perspective, having faith involves maintaining the resolve that it takes, whatever the objective facts or circumstances of the world may be, to attempt to make something beautiful out of your life today. Like Mother Theresa, who continued to serve

orphans in Calcutta even though her journals would later reveal that she had been experiencing a world of private pain and doubt regarding even the existence of God,12 the noblest acts of faith take place precisely when our reasons for going forward have been undermined. Faith is not reducible to clinging inflexibly to a doctrine whose purpose has been unexamined. Faith is rather the commitment to bring beauty into the world even when no rationale for why the world deserves it and no assurance that one‘s efforts will ultimately be successful may be forthcoming. However, as my good friend Tim Kruse articulates in a response to my first note, we are not just called to faith. We are also called to the truth. We are also called, in other words, to a commitment to examination of even the most cherished beliefs by which we live our lives. For apart from reflection, apart from facing our doubts, there is no way to know for sure whether or not that next step of faith really is the best to which we can aspire. There is no way to know for sure, in other words, whether or not we will one day come to see our efforts—however noble, creative, or self-sacrificing they may seem to us at the moment—as futile, misguided, or wasted. Sometimes we would like to close our eyes and just have faith. At times, we would very much like to avoid the questions that I was forced to face when reading that article about graduate school: What road am I heading on? Where does it lead? What kind of person have I been? Who am I becoming? Faith is precious. But even animals have something like faith. The rabbit trying to survive does not ask why it takes the risks that it does when it seeks food in an environment where predators are lurking. The rabbit just takes the next step; it just puts one paw in front of the other. This is courageous, but it is not yet divine. The divine part of the human soul only lies in its ability to face the vertigo of self-doubt. As self-conscious beings we have the ability to wrench ourselves away from our instincts and to direct our eyes to the horizon of the eternal in order to see if what we are currently drawn to is the same as what is truly good. As fallible human beings, seeking the truth is always precarious—we must always make choices that lack any external guarantee of their value. However, though we are fallible, we are fundamentally different from animals; we are capable of expressing our divine nature whenever we assess where we are headed and deliberately choose a path. We may struggle to find the path that leads to the truth on our own, confidently dismissing the opinions of even well-respected others and deciding for ourselves. Or we

capable of empathy and identification with those different from themselves) to emerge what is required is (1) specific powerful others (usually called parents) who are libidinally cathected. those others cannot be absent or remote. This demands constancy in early object identification. The superego has a specific history. This and this alone lays the groundwork for the child to become a social being. Whether we rely upon our own judgment or the judgment of others. it bears a double burden of aggression. they must be real human beings to whom the child is erotically attached.com/note. in other words. see the New York Times article. (2) In order for reality testing. capable of occupying the position of the other. the objects of both love and hate. 2. however. the child must engage in a series of complex experiments . popular.html. nor will ―objective‖ structures and institutions do the job. For a reader friendly summary of some research in childhood psychology. ―The Moral Life of Babies‖:http://www. here is Jean Bethke Elshtain summarizing the views of Freud: For persons capable of a moral point of view (that is. essential to mature development and the emergence of genuine individuality to occur.facebook. Or. it is only when we face the vertigo of doubt that truth can be found. a favorite philosopher or historical leader—who we sense have traveled the way of despair that leads to the truth for themselves. on those men or women that we suspect have chosen the road of truth over the road of convenience. <End of Part III> (Part IV is here: http://www.com/2010/05/09/magazine/09babies-t. or comfortable—that our lives have a chance to express what is truly divine. We may rely. a combination of the child‘s own aggressivity and the child‘s introjection of parental authority.nytimes. a pastor. In order that this aggressivity be bound. in other words. On the subject of the early childhood requirements of ethical growth. it is only when we fragile human beings make a deliberate choice to follow what we currently believe to be right—rather than what is convenient. scorning their doubts and their comfort in hopes of making something beautiful out of their lives and the lives of others in their communities.php?note_id=428045734868) Notes 1.may rely on men and women—whether they are a mother.

http://www. It is this power. Philosophy as a Way of Life with introduction by Arnold Davidson. For the moment that is what you are doing …yourself . and tarrying with it.org/ccel/ignatius/exercises. Second Rule ―For Perceiving and Knowing in Some Manner the Different Movements Which Are Caused in the Soul‖ from The Spiritual Exercises of St.‖ (From Hegel.html 4. Jean Bethke.org/ccel/ignatius/exercises. This intertwining escapes the confines of particular families and feeds into.xix.xix. http://books. Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face. p.V. Ibid.W. 149-50.F. Davidson is quoting Illsa Hadot in the above excerpt.html 10.html 5. The wise Father Zosima—who later praises Ivan for his ―exalted heart that is able …to set its affection on things above‖—memorably addresses Ivan‘s spiritual misery: ‗That idea has not yet been resolved within your heart and is tormenting it. Fourth Rule ―For Perceiving and Knowing in Some Manner the Different Movements Which Are Caused in the Soul‖ from The Spiritual Exercises of St. Trans. in utter dismemberment. Paragraph 32) 6. 22.i. From Hadot. For an extended argument about the indebtedness of Christian thought and practice to Ancient philosophy. Ignatius of Loyola.google. Philosophy as a Way of Lifehttp://books. as it were. Seehttp://www. the wider culture. Miller. pp. Ignatius of Loyola.ccel. (From Elshtain. The Phenomenology of Spirit. A. Fifth Rule ―For the Greater Discernment of Spirits‖ from The Spiritual Exercises of St. 9.com/books?id=RNDmvMrpr4YC 8. but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. http://books. out of sheer despair.com/books?id=RNDmvMrpr4YC 7. Pierre. ―Don‘t Be Cruel‖ in Richard Rorty: Contemporary Philosophy in Focus.ccel. But even a martyr sometimes likes to keep himself amused with his despair.org/ccel/ignatius/exercises.google. in what sense the methods of meditation set forth and practiced in Ignatius of Loyola's Exercitia spiritualia were deeply rooted in the spiritual exercises of ancient philosophy‖ (Hadot. even as it is fueled by.ccel.com/books?id=-2I0g6IpG1UC&pg=PA149 3. see chapter four of Hadot. It wins the truth only when.of thought and action within an environment of loving discipline. G. Pierre. ―It was the great merit of Paul Rabbow to have shown.ii. Ignatius of Loyola.i.xix. in his Seelenfuhrung. http://www. it finds itself. Ethical and erotic are necessarily intertwined in moral life.google. not as something positive. ―But the life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation. 126). which closes its eyes to the negative…on the contrary.

most dignified. For if everyone finds their own spiritual life path.Susan Felch and Paul Contino. still looking at the Elder with a vague. and then his life‘s work will fall apart. their own route to personal growth. the leader has to scramble to invent a reason that he should still be listened to even if he doesn‘t have all of the answers. and therein lies your great unhappiness. Thus. he doesn‘t believe in the possibility that his flock could ever remain united if all . 86 http://books. p. 81-82.html Part IV: Religious Mystery and Spiritual Truth A Definition of Spiritual Truth: ―Acknowledging the kind of life that it is most noble.8599. 11. See http://www. However when this leader is faced by questions that lack clear answers. p. trans David McDuff. Awareness of what is most worth living for.00. -From The Brothers Karamazov.not believing in your own dialectics and with pain in your heart smiling skeptically at them to yourself …This question has not been resolved within you. Ed. he may subconsciously be gripped by a particular fear. for it insistently demands resolution…‘ ‗But can it be resolved in me? Resolved in a positive direction?‘ Ivan Fyodorovich continued to inquire. and most beautiful to lead. Emerson. ―Afterword‖ in Bakhtin and Religion: A Feeling for Faith. In other words. And the existence of this community also happens to provide him with a job.‖ The Birth of Spiritual Mystery: A Speculative History Imagine a leader within a tradition who finds himself without answers to difficult questions about what is of utmost value in the world. Why pray at this church instead of at the mosque? Why be kind instead of cruel?). The fear is that people might realize that he cannot provide good answers to some problems (e. the leader doubts the capacity of his flock to be committed to a common set of ideals apart from trust or faith in someone else‘s (usually his) opinion. Caryl. In other words.com/books?id=w3vk3BkIHa4C 12.g.google.1655415-1.. strangely.time. how could a community continue to exist? The leader doesn‘t trust people enough to see and be moved by spiritual truth itself.com/time/world/article/0. inexplicable smile. This leader probably has helped to accomplish the valuable and fragile work of creating a community bonded by a common set of ideals.

or shaman that they are indeed following something authentic and noble. hunches. Sometimes trusting the vision and ideals of a decisive leader with a clear vision instead of relying on oneself to independently assess the merit of every spiritual decision is a practical necessity. and as a result they have accepted poetry as a justification for spiritual authority. The problem is not so much with the leader. the flock may conclude from the conviction and vision that they sense in their pastor. himself happened to stumble on the awareness of how to find spiritual truth. as it is with the flock. The flock has accepted their leaders‘ description of them as helpless sheep. Without having a clear answer to this question. and that their primary job is to follow. and that God only told certain people who wrote certain books—books that he happens to be an expert in interpreting. He claims that only God decides what truth is. then. He invents the idea—presenting it poetically and persuasively as possible. . one day. gut feeling. However. even if they cannot completely feel or understand the ideals that move their leader for themselves. They continue following the leader‘s advice and thinking that all of their questions about what is of most importance in this world have been laid to rest. Even without understanding fully. For all leaders must inspire people to take action through some amount of poetry rather than through purely rational argument. the flock continues to follow.the sheep have to hold them together is their own independent convictions about what is most worth living for. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with such a response. priest. this leader thinks of a solution. that the only way to reach truth is childlike faith. and the leader knows full well that most of his sheep are too busy to take the time to understand all of the reasons why they have chosen to be who they are. if he is in the same fallen condition as they are. The problem with the above story is not really with the leaders themselves. the flock fails to ask the vital question— how their leader. of course—that everyone‘s mind is too feeble or too corrupt to understand the Truth about what brings true purpose and happiness to human life. The operate—as we all have to do in many situations—on intuition. So. And the flock may then choose to be guided by these leaders. Providing lengthy philosophical defenses for every ideal is quite a burden. The problem is only when the flock is content to remain in this dependent state forever because they have been told to be humble and to trust. rabbi. And this move keeps his flock distracted long enough to stay obedient and not revert to chaos.

But to Wilt this seems like an arbitrary choice. when I consider my basically Hegelian spiritual views I don‘t see the concept of faith coming into the picture at all. from . Karli. Religions have a fancy name for contradictions that require trust. So I don‘t trust Jesus.In fact. Critiquing Karli‘s beautifully articulated views on religion makes me feel a bit like a plumber might feel if he were critiquing the design of the Sistine Chapel! Even so. he wonders. By accepting the excuse that some things are beyond human understanding entirely—when in reality. And I don‘t trust Hegel either. I am rather convinced for myself—rather than needing to take Hegel‘s word for it—that the views Hegel articulates are worthy ones. has this sort of theological gift. revelation seems to be a fully human and fully divine process. nor is it something we obtain through thought and reason. who responded to my last note. Why. say. and yet it is both of those things. should I have any justification for trusting Hegel‘s view of the world over the view. The sheep have just stopped asking those questions. Trust. Mysteries. They call them ‗mysteries‘ or ‗paradoxes‘ and they usually try to describe such paradoxes in language that is as poetic as possible. of Jesus? In fact. She writes: like the Incarnation. human understanding is the only kind we have—sheep can end up taking certain forms of life as authoritative and incontestable that may actually deserve more examination. their leader probably does deserve respect. He is probably sincere. Truth is not something handed to us by God to believe in. … we can ponder this mystery all day. But none of this itself makes the hard question about who or what it is most valuable for a person or community to become more clear. and Truth In the conversation after part one of this series my friend Wilt correctly asserted that my view of spiritual truth borrows heavily from Hegel‘s metaphysics. His heart is probably in the right place. And I think that‘s a good thing. For if one has to trust that one‘s view of the world is true—or if one has to close one‘s eyes to the difficulties of a view and just go by faith—I have come to believe that the door for self-deception can be opened. And without a strongly articulated vision it is true that the life of the community itself would perish.

with regard to the kind of life that they are hoping to live. This view believes in a personal God who ghost-wrote the Bible as the instruction manual for our existence. but the vision of the ideal endorsed by traditional Christianity is one where people follow the example of Jesus‘ lifestyle and accept most . ‗truth‘ that requires a belief in mystery or an acceptance of paradox might well be pleasant. or ‗mysteries. inspiring. an impasse. First. And second. it requires a rational explanation of all paradoxes involved one‘s set of beliefs. the theologian or literary critic who employs a poetic word picture that allows the reader to relish contradictions and mysteries is creating a distraction which can cover up a failure to find truth. Hegel has no time for the theological fascination with mystery and contradiction. It is a contradiction. From a Hegelian perspective. What we might call Hegel‘s definition of spiritual truth thus requires two things. let us take an evangelical Christian view. People sympathetic to this aspect of Hegel‘s thought tend to think that ‗mysteries‘ and ‗paradoxes‘ have tended historically to have an uncomfortably close relationship to the justification of arbitrary authority. There are disputes over the details. He instead suggests that truth can always bear scrutiny. what is noble.‘ but if it can make better sense of the intuitions that motivated your old religious view in the first place. It is easier to understand Hegel‘s two criteria for spiritual truth by applying them to specific examples. My interpretation of Hegel‘s position is that you adopt a new view not only if it does not fall prey to any contradictions.my deliberate. However. it requires the articulation of some perspective that helps people orient their lives toward what they see as good. or comfortable to believe in. unless it can stand up to the light—or unless it can bear close examination and hard questions without falling apart— Hegel thinks that we must conclude that it is not truth. of most importance. indeterminacies. To my mind. which she has decided to leave unexplored. Karli‘s willingness to tolerate mysteries is equivalent to her throwing her hands up in the air in surrender. Contradictions in Evangelical Christianity First. Criticizing reliance on paradoxes and mysteries for blocking spiritual truth only makes sense if some alternative definition of spiritual truth can be set forth. plumber-like perspective. of course.

This view also has to explain the thorny paradoxes that arise when one tries to specify how exactly and to what extent the Bible is authoritative in any way other than a fictional work like The Lord of the Rings could be called ‗authoritative. The results of this have traditionally entailed a belief in a humanity that is inherently evil. a will that moves every conscience alive to the search for truth.‘) There is much in this evangelical Christian view that is worthy of the highest aspirations of the human spirit. that he would allow the senseless suffering of innocents. The contradiction arises when one claims that a tradition is authoritative in theory.of the teachings of the Apostle Paul. Finally. Like Jesus himself. For instance. all Christian views—along with other major monotheistic religions—also need to explain why. if God is all powerful and all good. that Paul didn‘t really mean that women shouldn‘t speak in church. revolutionary. deserving of punishment before an all good and loving God. as I have argued elsewhere. it requires converting to the proper religious tradition. in other words. according to this version of Christianity the way to avoid this punishment requires not any amount of sincere efforts. Jesus was not wrong when he told Pilate that he came into the world ―to testify to the truth. (And maybe the right religious tradition will turn out to be an evangelical one that emphasizes your need to transform your life based on a sense of emotional investment or ‗relationship. but then occasionally ignores that tradition in favor of a certain intuitions (say that the earth is actually older than six thousand years. Furthermore.[1] intractable contradictions between theory and practice arise whenever someone claims to treat the Bible as more than simply a set of inspirational myths that occasionally sets forth some character archetypes worth emulating. that divorce—despite Jesus‘ blanket condemnation of divorce outside instances of sexual infidelity—is actually acceptable in the case of spousal abuse) in practice. and/or inspired revisions of that tradition. this view requires some tangled philosophical gymnastics to explain certain issues. Even so. Since acknowledging that such suffering exists can be deeply . which is to say.[2] most leaders are comfortable pretending that a scriptural tradition is somehow always ‗authoritative‘ even while occasionally themselves proposing heretical.‘ Or.‖ His life was indeed an expression of a will that was higher than his own. the evangelical has a difficult time explaining her simultaneous belief that God is just and her belief that God plans to punish people (eternally?) who grow up sincerely believing in other religions. but essentially believing in the right thing.

everything has a cause. adopting an evangelical Christian view of the world will usually involve accepting some amount of contradiction or incoherency. A kind of purely de-mythologized atheism that we might associate with people like Richard Dawkins accomplishes this by dispensing altogether with the notion that human life can be said to have any purpose. . justice. this usually ends up requiring that you take someone else‘s assurance that these kinds of questions have been resolved without understanding yourself how they have come to be so. No mystery. This de-mythologized atheism can explain the existence of hope.g. a purely de-mythologized view of the universe.[5] Of course. As a result. However. Biased by a well-founded desire to encourage people in a difficult world. ―why there is something rather than nothing?‖). as far as it goes. sometimes people pretend that such suffering never occurs. In practice. In one important sense.[3] arguably no amount of explanation for God‘s goodness has ever been able to stand up to the weight presented by a single photograph of a starving child.discouraging. Such atheism interprets the existence of the human race as creatures mastered by equally insignificant instinctual forces. is internally consistent. it supposes the human race is just another product that cropped up from some primordial soup that will disappear into the perspective of time with as much significance as a herd of ants. atheist naturalism does not provide thorough and complete answers to every mystery of the universe (e. the beliefs of people such as Dawkins are for the most part admirably free of mystery. and inconsistency. Spiritual Emptiness in Demythologized Atheism In contrast to this religious view we might consider a second kind of view which avoids contradictions altogether along with the concomitant need to believe in mysteries or to have faith. and redemption as simply a curious set of chemical reactions that have arisen for the purpose of making life within a herd more successful. to help us grow in character. No need to trust. While some of these explanations are nothing short of brilliant and have profound spiritual value. indeterminacy. Perhaps no view can do that. this naturalistic atheist view of the world meets Hegel‘s criterion for truth—internal consistency. some thinkers claim that all suffering in can be explained as having a purpose to test us. Everything has been explained.[4] Since even the most creative attempts by the most brilliant theologians to reconcile the kinds of contradictions I have just specified arguably end up involving little more than rhetorical evasion. love.

A different way of putting this point would be to say that certain kinds of atheism see the world only two-dimensionally—as a muddle of equally insignificant and arbitrary forces. might be viewed as something more than mere technical adaptation. Purely de-mythologized atheism does not make sense of the idea that when human beings self-consciously construct their lives in terms of their own evolving conceptions of what is truly good. As Charles Taylor points out. even if we accept that a naturalistic atheism is admirably consistent and without contradictions. doubt. from a Hegelian perspective we nevertheless would have to determine it incomplete or empty with regard to inescapable questions of the human spirit. that such progress matters. Or. finding spiritual truth requires . Thus. it does not give expression to an internal conviction that some of us may have that we. According to Hegel. as members of the human race. In particular. internal consistency is a necessary but not sufficient criterion for a true view of the world. or futility. De-mythologized atheism fails to see that human history. scorning our own sense of fear. but as a work where all of the parts contribute to a whole that expresses a greater theme.[7] For truth on the level of the spirit requires not just descriptive accuracy and lack of contradiction—it also requires making sense of the intuitions that motivate other people‘s lived relationship to their understanding of what is good.However. in other words. How am I to live? What goals ought I to pursue? No naturalistic philosophy (as most naturalist philosophers themselves freely acknowledge) can answer these questions. but might be interpreted more as a work of art—not just an objectified set of data that can be analyzed without reduction into its component parts. The problem with the kind of atheism described above is that it does not have the ability to make sense of all of the intuitions that motivate a religious position in the first place. It fails to make sense of the idea that human lives are capable of expressing spiritual beauty.[6] religious faith—despite what many atheist philosophers seem to think—is not just a fad. are called to realize a will that is higher than our own interest and convenience—a will capable of expressing purposes of irreducible value. that human beings can be expected one day to get over completely. it fails to see that when we strive to realize what is highest and best within us. that we prove our divine essence. but it nevertheless fails to acknowledge the third dimension of the human spirit. For religious concerns deal with a space of questions that are inextricable from the human condition at its most basic level. This view may not be strictly incorrect. a passing trend. I follow Hegel in supposing that this sort of atheism remains incomplete.

and forms of life that express our best current understanding of the highest aspirations of the human race.[9] . We have come to realize that we really are here only for a short time and that what comes afterwards is far better than the fleeting pleasures that this world has to offer us. there is an argument to be made that the truth of those views—which.[8] it is a testimony that only the most imperious and insensitive of philosophers could ignore: In the Muslim community we have found another family. Who are we to deny the good fruit of traditional religious belief that we see in concrete. love and acceptance …Since embracing Islam we have found direction and purpose for our lives. at the end of the day. We have found the meaning for our existence. is a matter of opinion anyway—is irrelevant. practical life changes? When we claim that we are in possession of a truth that others do not have. A certain kind of practically minded person might be satisfied with this alone and view the truth of her spiritual views to be irrelevant. might we be needlessly eroding the foundation that happens to give hope to someone else‘s life? A Muslim woman gives a testimony similar to the testimony my mother gave in response to my first note. It may ultimately matter very little at all whether or not your definitive values are free from contradiction.making sense of the goals. purposes. short-sightedness. We have found friendship. Who needs to be sure that one has really constructed a substantive set of views based on lifestyle choices that ‗genuinely‘ have value and dignity? If your religion helps you get up in the morning to face the world with courage. Four Arguments Against Dialectical Spirituality (1) The Pragmatic Objection The Hegelian view I have been articulating in this series of notes (and all philosophical views more generally) has to consider the objection that the great value it places upon rationality is misplaced. Is it obvious that deliberately chosen and internally consistent views are always best? Is a view without inconsistencies or contradictions clearly to be preferred in all cases over views that contain contradictions? Traditionally religious faith simply works for many people—it gives many people a sense of hope and purpose. or inconsistency.

confusion. and self-deception. a certain kind of dignity that each aspires to that it would seem . The liberal position thus supposes that it is senseless and even arrogant to imagine that we would have a responsibility to criticize the views of others in order that society might one day be united by a shared commitment to common values. contradictory. We can surely agree to respect this woman‘s quaint attachment to traditions that we personally do not believe to contain spiritual truth or genuine dignity. or was it better embodied in the more traditional lifestyle of our ancient societies?[10] The liberal finds it short-sighted to overlook the reality there are trade-offs to each form of life. (2) The Incommensurability Objection This pragmatic and compassionate liberal way of proceeding has particular persuasive force when it is combined with another concern—the concern that it is senseless to say that there is any one life that better expresses ―the divine ideal‖ than any other. person who expends great effort on personal achievement embody the divine ideal better or worse than an Indian. what the philosopher or theologian calls ‗truth‘ is just the prejudices and fantasies of one social group being arrogantly imposed upon the taste of others. It simply denies that this is a problem worth worrying about. because it gives people something to believe in. communalistic. According to this view. individualistic. or senseless? On the whole religion does the world more good than harm. The liberal rightly wonders about certain difficult questions: does a plumber‘s life express the divine ideal better or worse than a college professor? Does an American. According to the liberal position. anyway. what is important is not finding truth.Whether or not this woman‘s Muslim beliefs are actually completely free from rational inconsistencies may be irrelevant. This liberal view that I have been trying to articulate assumes that religion can indeed get people in to muddles. but finding what happens to make people happy and comfortable. So what if we find certain aspects of her tradition parochial. What exactly that ‗something‘ consists of may not really matter as long as people are not hurting anyone else in the process. person who sacrifices a chance at personal success to provide for his family? Do we express the divine ideal better now in modern industrialized countries. The highest good from this liberal perspective is a society where everyone is free to pursue whatever individualized constructions or personal fantasies happen to move them.

human beings are incapable of working through their failures. The theologian supposes that confusion. The theologian preaches that it is only by denying themselves and finding the one true Tradition that people can be put in touch with a Power beyond themselves and so be saved. The theologian sees self-deception and short-sightedness everywhere. The concern is just that if we attempt to stifle the practical judgments that we make every day—the judgments about which life choices are more dignified or more short-sighted—we might fail to learn from others. Worse. ignorance. some authority that would be utterly beyond our human world. misunderstandings. (3) The Theological Objection The theologian agrees with both the liberal and the philosophical assumption that human beings are easily capable of pursuing purposes they believe to be worthwhile but which are actually illusions or dead ends. The theologian interprets these muddles to be evidence of sin. and self-deception through their own conscious. the theologian thinks that these muddles put human beings in a desperately serious predicament. The difficulty with this liberal position is not the genuine insight that some forms of life are incommensurable with others. that we will fail to press ourselves to be better than we have been in the past. Indeed. and willful sin are so widespread that no amount of cooperation or good faith dialogue is sufficient to rectify it. separation from God—sin that perhaps even makes human beings worthy of eternal judgment. whereas the liberal claims that these muddles aren‘t worth worrying about (provided such views do not lead to the interference with the freedom of others). On the theological view.[11] The difficulty is that we all—liberals included— cannot stop ranking and judging different forms of life in practice. the theologian thinks that human beings left to themselves are in no condition to repair these shortcomings. even within the recesses of his own heart. . However. cooperative effort. The only way out of this impasse presented by the wretched state of humanity that the theologian sees in the world is thus recourse to some power. the liberal often points out that such ranking has historically been the fuel with which campaigns of imperialism have been fed. depravity.ethnocentric or elitist to rank as better or worse.

taking the compassionate yet elitist approach.‘ the theologian effectively rejects the philosopher‘s assumption that human beings are capable of making some meaningful progress based on their sincere efforts to get past their spiritual shortcomings. rejects this assumption. the philosophical and theological views assume that human beings have a responsibility to help one other become free from ignorance. the interpretation of the commands that God finds acceptable turns out to rely heavily upon the religious tradition in which the theologian happens to believe—the one tradition that has the proper method of discovering the revelation of the Bible and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit. he rejects the possibility that any amount of man‘s deliberate or sincere effort will be enough to save him from evil. the theologian rejects the philosophical assumption that the most dignified and noble choices will tend to derive from value systems that have arisen only after human beings have carefully taken the time to make sure that their chosen purposes are not inconsistent. Since the theologian presupposes that man (including his ability to reason) has been thoroughly corrupted by sin. In contrast. As a direct outflow of this understanding of spiritual truth. as we have seen. The practical upshot of the theological view effectively turns out to be a dismissal of the . Instead of seeing spiritual dignity as a function of a clear-sighted and self-conscious choice of a human being to follow his own convictions. the liberal is more concerned with humanity‘s comfort than humanity‘s spiritual development.The theologian agrees with an essential component of this philosophical attitude. to more truly express the divine Logos. More specifically. the theologian refuses to make any distinction whatsoever with regard to the dignity and value of free life choices that do not explicitly line up with God‘s revealed authority. He follows the philosopher in believing that human beings have a responsibility to realize a divine will above our merely given preferences. Usually the theologian‘s definition of spiritual truth depends upon consistency with a certain set of divine commands. However. By endorsing the view which I have called the ‗revelation model of truth. the theological view supposes that the dignity or worth of people‘s free choices rests solely on whether or not these choices happen to coincide with a list of the things that God finds acceptable. the theologian rejects the means that the philosopher employs to reach this end. or self-defeating. to make progress. Furthermore. The liberal.

let us suppose for the sake of argument that one comes to reject the theologian‘s mistrust of sincere human efforts that do not conform with the tradition he/she happens to think is right.[12] Perhaps we might conclude as a result of Bellah‘s observation that our ideals are thus not the sort of things that we ought to deliberate about. the social norm that one ought to privatize one‘s spiritual convictions becomes more than just a pragmatic way to avoid . our sense of meaning. For explicit critique of specific life choices that express what is of deepest importance to some people is impossible to do without disrupting a kind of unreflective identification which is arguably integral to an experience of a meaningful life. habitual identification with the practices of a community—the kind of identification that he is fully aware is antithetical to the critical spirit of modernity. Robert Bellah makes the argument that a certain subjective sense of spiritual meaning becomes unavailable without a largely unconscious. However. (4) The Erosion of Meaning However. in the same way that adopting a purely impersonal or rational critical perspective toward a relationship in our lives might change or distort our feelings of love for another person. There is the real concern that being self-reflexive and critical with respect to the things in life that are most precious to us can erode our sense of identity. Logically speaking. And let us suppose further that one also comes to see the liberal‘s pragmatism as a form of well-meaning paternalism unworthy of the highest efforts of the human spirit. For any person with strong spiritual convictions can probably easily understand the temptation to come up with a definition of spiritual truth that would effectively render one‘s most cherished views invulnerable from criticism. (He has defined spiritual truth as what God has decreed and then attempted to validate the truth of his spiritual tradition by claiming that God has decreed it). the theologian‘s view is internally consistent.dignity of any choices that do not result in a basic agreement with the theologian‘s own spiritual view. perhaps the theologian‘s view is a bit too convenient to be trusted. and of the very philosophical enterprise in which he engages. An important difficulty with dialectical or philosophical spirituality still remains. If we accept Bellah‘s argument that a largely unconscious identification with a lifestyle is essential for having a rich sense of meaning. even if his justification for his view is circular.

until heaven and earth disappear. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.html [2] It is hard for someone familiar with the stunning departures that Jesus makes from traditional Old Testament law. not the least stroke of a pen. not the smallest letter. Though these are important objections. Notes [1] I specify in a different note what emerged as the most significant contradictions in my own quest to understand the nature in which the Bible was authoritative here: http://mattflaherty. I will try to argue. <End of Part IV> (Part V is here: http://www.conflict.com/2010/01/truth-and-bible. Through discussing the views of Kant and Hegel I try to make the case in the next installment of this series that consistency and self-awareness make possible a certain kind of dignity that is essential to true spiritual freedom. I tell you the truth. To put it simply.php?note_id=430726679868).com/note. There is a meaningful distinction.com/note. .facebook. will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.facebook. that we all often make between the worth of actions that have been done in full knowledge and awareness and the worth of actions that have been performed in the absence of such knowledge.blogspot.php?note_id=401647539868. [3] The explanation for why a good God would allow suffering that most inspires me is Seneca‘s. I want to suggest in the next part of this note why we nevertheless might take the great value that philosophers put on rational deliberation and internal consistency seriously ourselves. to not view Christ‘s words in Matthew 5 as disingenuous: Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have excerpted it here: http://www. submitting one‘s cherished ideals to the heartless universality of rational critique may erode our sense of the sacred.

On a more serious level. Dawkins seems to be right when he points out that believing in existence of a personal God (a God who is father / lover / judge that can hear prayers. It would have sufficed that no one have invented the bowler hat. rather than sinful humanity. extra-terrestrial insemination.‖ and that our identity always entails . makes sense. we would simply need to assume that one child in history has in fact starved to death despite having two loving parents and a community willing to support them—say. rather than assuming that it got here from a personal God. What it does is just give us a new airplane (―God… the Ultimate Boeing 747. 30-1) Since Taylor sees the sphere of religion and the disputes of that sphere as inextricably entweined with the question of what is of utmost value in human life. and who is all-powerful and all-good) doesn‘t really help to explain the presence of this airplane in the scrap yard. pp. Dawkins does look a bit silly in The God Delusion when he is attempting to think of alternative explanations for the origin of the universe (parallel universes. because of the results of some natural disaster. If the universe‘s existence is as unlikely as a hurricane sweeping through a scrapyard and suddenly assembling a complete airplane. [6] Taylor writes: If we see a dispute in some society about what is the fashionable way to wear a bowler hat flat or at a rakish angle. Taylor emphasizes what he suggests some atheist polemicists ignore—―that it belongs to human agency to exist in a space of questions about strongly valued goods.[4] One would have to assume that the child did not starve because of the willful negligence of other people in order to avoid the complex issue of God allowing free will. In order for God himself to be at fault then. I think it is fair enough for Dawkins to argue that keeping the question of how the universe got here open. Taylor supposes that many atheist critiques of religion are short-sighted. we would all agree that this whole issue might easily.(from Sources of the Self. intervene in the world.‖ as Dawkins so winsomely puts it) that we still have to explain. and one day might totally disappear from human concern. not have existed. some atheists take this view towards the dispute among different religions …The whole issue area in which these answers make sense didn't need to arise. However. [5] Admittedly. these atheists believe. etc).

rather it is that this provides the frame within which they can determine where they stand on questions of what is good. or what I endorse or oppose. . in which we pass as if we had never been. or it can be met by connecting one's life up with some greater reality or story (43). and this is what gives meaning. (43) …The aspiration to fulness can be met by building something into one's life. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good. or admirable. And he gives some examples of the kind of spiritual aspiration that he is talking about: …some committed leftists see themselves as part of the socialist Revolution. or early stage of anything. or fuller Being. to . it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand. Or they may define it in part by the nation or tradition they belong to. or worthwhile. or some meaning. say. whether it is just …time which is both wasted and irretrievably lost. or the march of human History. or whether one day is just following the next without purpose or sense. some pattern of higher action. 27) [7] Here is Charles Taylor. beyond recall. say as a Catholic. or valuable. explaining what he takes to be the inescapable questions of the human spirit (questions which a naturalistic atheism provides no help in answering): Is my life amounting to something? Does it have weight and substance. or is it just running away into nothing. What they are saying by this is not just that they are strongly attached to this spiritual view or background. or harbinger. p. or an anarchist.the construction of ―an understanding of what is of crucial importance for us. the past falling into a kind of nothingness which is not the prelude. People may see their identity as defined partly by some moral or spiritual commitment. or of value. or a Quebecois. or opening. into something insubstantial? Another way the question can arise for us (below we will see better why) is whether our lives have unity. as an Armenian.‖ He writes: To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. or what ought to be done. (from Sources of the Self. In other words.

which is the same. what we have found .agreed. pp. lying. the aspiration is to be able to order their lives. loving. with the Ideal. For those who espouse the honour ethic. gives them hope for eternity. gives them purpose. gives them joy beyond anything else I've ever seen or heard about. not even Hegel himself (may . For those who define the good as self-mastery through reason. So why would I trade in what I have for what you have? As I see it. then perhaps in the shape of their lives themselves. even their enemies. and one's family. actually heals diseases. … within certain religious traditions. and the unbearable threat is of being engulfed and degraded by the irresistible craving for lower things.(from Sources of the Self. the best objection my mother made to me was this: ―You seem to be advocating living in a constant state of re-examination. 'contact' [with the Good. fathering. if not in one of the recognized artistic or intellectual media. stealing. as doubting continually. a greater good if you will. 44-45) [8] My mother writes: You propose that there are universal truths. teaching. Well. motivates them to love their fellow man. with fuller Being] is understood as a relation to God and may be understood in sacramental terms or in those of prayer or devotion. that changes people's hearts for the better. The aspiration is to glory. I don't think that Hegel's philosophy can do any of that. in one's work for instance. For those moved by one of the modern forms of the affirmation of ordinary life. makes bad people into good people and good people better -and all that without even mentioning the amazing and inexplicable presence of the Spirit of God Himself interacting with. that people should live for something higher and strive to achieve some ideals of greater good . or at least to avoid shame and dishonour. People for whom meaning is given to life by expression must see themselves as bringing their potential to expression. releases them from shame and guilt. I have found a truth. porn. sets them free from life-long addictions (to drugs.for how long? Perhaps until we come to agree with Hegel?‖ My response is that in an ideal world. which would make life unbearable and non-existence seem preferable. I think. cheating and any other vice you could mention). the issue concerns their place in the space of fame and infamy. it is above all important to see oneself as moved by and furthering this life.their lives. protecting and sharing Himself with us. be-friending.

and an overall judgement may be hard to make. They are self-absorbed. available online:http://www. (Ibid. yes. in which it shows its roots in Christianity. are worried about the state of their own souls. Charles Taylor articulates one of the most forceful objections I have heard to this kind of relentless idealism when he describes the objection raised by a more Kantian version of ―Enlightenment morality‖: A central feature of Enlightenment morality.islamfortoday. overcome poverty. increase prosperity. they think. relieve suffering. augment human welfare. or the defence of justice. should count as an authority trustworthy enough to set all of our personal doubts to rest. what one should love or admire. …Our scientific effort should not serve simply to create objects of contemplation for us. Some moderns see our predicament in relation to earlier societies somewhat in this way. 84-85) [9] From the personal testimony of Khadija Evans. But this.com/evans01. 61) . We may indeed be able to understand the transition in terms of gain and loss. prone to narcissism. Charles Taylor (a Hegelian) acknowledges that the incommensurability objection has force in some cases: there is another very poignant sense in which we may be unable to choose between cultures. but there may be some of both.56 …we all should work to improve the human condition. So. (FromSources of the Self pp. the improvement of the lot of mankind. a painful and disruptive re-examination of all the beliefs that we hold most precious. is the stress on practical benevolence. …[by contrast] those who are concerned about what is valuable. but should serve to "relieve the condition of mankind". They have little doubt that we have a better science. that we have explored more fully the human potential for selfdetermining freedom. has gone along with an irretrievable loss in our attunement to our natural surroundings and our sense of community. I am advocating a kind of continual doubting. and not committed to altruistic action.his name be praised!).htm [10] Though not defending the liberal position I have been articulating above himself.

the past actions of this woman have clearly indicated that she is in love with someone else. In fact. yet who also had the courage to face the truth that she did not really love him before . as a good Hegelian. Nevertheless. that we cannot definitively weigh up. we hear that she probably would have died were it not for this man who—at great personal risk to himself—ran into the building to save her.google. However. he has made himself believe that she also loves him.‖http://books. he sympathizes with the ethical ideal that we have a responsibility to help each other grow through critical dialogue rather than just tolerating each other within a ―preshrunk moral universe‖: It may be that our contact with certain cultures will force us to recognize incommensurability. But we certainly shouldn't assume this is so a priori. (Ibid.[11] Charles Taylor acknowledges the force of the liberal position I have been articulating. The story goes on and we hear that one day this woman found herself caught in a burning building with no way of escape. supposed goods will turn out at the end of the day to be defensible as such. Regardless of whether or not this man has been honest with himself—or regardless of whether or not he has fully faced up to the reality that this woman does not love him as he loves her—after hearing this story we could agree that this man‘s actions are in some sense heroic. we still might qualify our judgment of his heroism. 62) [12] For a provocative discussion and critique of the relationship of meaning and reflection. and good. noble. We might imagine a second man who loved this woman just as much. because of the blindness of his love. as against simply a balance of goods-and bads-foreveryone. this man loves the woman blindly and desperately. just that we don't start with a preshrunk moral universe in which we take as given that their goods have nothing to say to us or perhaps ours to them.com/books?id=pLullgfjs20C&pg=PA203 Part V: Spiritual Truth and Enlightenment Kant and Hegel on the Dignity of Deliberation Let us imagine that we hear of a man who is in love with a certain woman who does not return his love—in fact. and. see Robert Bellah‘s ―The History of Habit. However. …[This] does not mean of course that all our. or all their.

The ideal society. is ‗a kingdom of ends‘—or a society of dignified and free agents who mutually respect one another‘s ability to make free choices according to their practical reason. In order to make possible human lives that are truly free. While a man who believes. and a stance toward moral truth that would view human lives as ends in themselves. Our preference for the second man may stem from a conviction that a choice made under delusion. we might be inclined to think that he is not quite as admirable as the man who has fully reconciled himself with the truth before making his decision. Hegel derives his love for this kind of free and dignified human life from Kant. Kant‘s view should also be distinguished from what I have called the ‗theological view‘—the view that sees human lives as worthwhile solely to the extent that they end up performing actions that are on . probably also overvalues for this reason—this kind dignity. The difference seems to be that the actions of the deluded man have not resulted from a fully free and self-conscious choice. clear-sighted. In such a society everyone would fulfill their spiritual potential by making decisions guided by nothing other than their own. Kant famously distinguished a stance toward moral truth that view human lives as a means to realizing good ends. regardless of the motivations of the agents involved. the philosopher attempts to unweave the web of beliefs desires and habits that enable people choose actions—even good actions—for reasons extraneous to their goodness.making his decision to act. lacks the dignity that comes from the kind of truly free choice made by the second man. This Kantian view of the highest good is much different from a utilitarian view that would claim that the most worthwhile choices are the ones that create the best effects. a choice whose motivation partly results from inconsistent and contradictory judgments. In order to make possible a space of human choices that are chosen for their own sake— choices made merely because they are good rather than for reasons of habit or popularity—the philosopher attempts to unravel inconsistencies and contradictions in the beliefs that motivate our actions. like many philosophers. according to Kant. that he is saving a woman who loves him is admirable. But perhaps we can see why he finds this form of dignity compelling. If this second man chose to save this woman—and did so in spite of his knowledge that she did not return his love—perhaps it would seem that this second man deserves slightly more of our admiration. conscientious judgment. Hegel loves—and. truly honorable. falsely.

God‘s will could never be realized by subordinating an independent moral judgment in favor of emotional hunches of revelation or of some inherited list of rules. or traditions. So. According to Kant. instinct. to God‘s will. ―Would it make sense if everyone were to do X‘?).. For Kant. Kant thought that he could come up with a rule that would determine the path to the highest good. have had your rational faculties corrupted by sin) in order to agree with the view of someone else who claims to know precisely what God thinks about some matter. in other words. nothing else other than your own. Kant argues that our independent moral judgment is in fact the only path we have to discovering God‘s will. He thinks that our ability to employ our reason to dutifully choose a path of action that rises above mere convenience. the Beatitudes. if you are considering telling a lie. Kant argued that all you . In his words. Paul‘s instructions to the Corinthians. stories. for example. that one‘s own independent judgment should ever be suppressed in ‗humility‘ (since you. he thought that he had found a formula that would lead to decisions that express spiritual truth in roughly every case. etc). Kant does not suppose. it is people who claim to have heard from God but who suggest courses of action that conflict with reflective and conscientiously made decisions who are deceived about God‘s will. then. that one expressed a pure and divine moral will. that God happens to approve of. in other words. From Kant‘s perspective."[i] (Or. we should "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. or pleasure.g. you should always act upon the result of your own moral reflection. whenever we act for no other reason than accountability to the highest sense of duty to ourselves and to other free human beings we prove our divine essence. Individualistic Duty versus Hegel’s Concrete. Communal Transformation Rather spectacularly. Kant’s Abstract. independent. Kant would say that if the results of your independent moral reflection ever conflict with a course of action that someone else tells you that God requires. The Ten Commandments. is the very means by which God‘s will is expressed in human lives. From Kant‘s perspective. as a fallen being. common sense.some list (e. Kant thinks that a person—in order to be truly free and dignified—must use her own reason to come to an independent and uncoerced judgment about the worth of her actions before choosing them. it was enough to be assured that one followed the highest good. Rather. if you abided by a relatively simple formula for decision making—a formula that relied upon no one else other than yourself.

that our search to realize the good. does not just lie in a commitment made out of duty to abide by a list of rules. or what we should admire or love. can transform our very identity and the identities of others in our communities by changing the purposes and projects that we take to be of utmost value. Kant seemed to suppose that a relatively simple act of rational deliberation would always make your spiritual duty clear. spiritual force of Kant‘s practical philosophy. While Hegel fully acknowledged the innovative.‖[ii] Hegel‘s relocation of the sphere of the divine will from Kantian moral proceduralism to an entire way of life shared by a historical people attempted to preserve the Aristotelian ideal of harmony. the Absolute.[1] Kant‘s practical philosophy had the great merit of uncovering a new kind of dignity. Not only did Hegel attempt to move past Kant‘s conception of spirituality as a duty external to our desires by reinterpreting spiritual life as a cultural inheritance that we . As Charles Taylor phrases it. From Hegel‘s perspective.had to do in order to find the moral truth of the matter. even revolutionary. the divine will. The case of lying. your divine duty. a new kind of freedom that previous philosophers and religious thinkers had not yet fully envisioned. the Hegelian objection to Kantian philosophy is essentially that it limits itself only to ―what it is right to do rather than with what it is good to be‖--the Kantian conception of morality as duty only concerns itself ―with what we ought to do. the highest good. Hegel‘s holistic moral philosophy attempted to recover the possibility that Saint Paul spoke about when he claimed that we should seek to continually transform ourselves by the renewing of our minds. of reconciliation to the ideal within oneself. Kant supposed that you had found your answer to the moral truth of the matter. Hegel rather supposes that we can come to love the good for ourselves. he nevertheless was one of that philosophy‘s most trenchant critics. for instance—in all cases regardless of motivations involved or desired outcomes at stake—was a violation of the moral law. In Kant‘s ideal society everyone could in theory see for themselves what their moral duty was rather than needing to blindly conform to the authority of a tradition—a tradition that they might not fully understand themselves and whose claims to truth may be incommensurable with the claims of other traditions. and not also with what is valuable in itself. would be to consider lying from a universal perspective—what society would be like if everyone lied? If you conclude that things would actually be quite a mess if everyone were to lie. Whereas Kant envisioned the life of truth as one of perpetual conflict between duty and inclination.

spiritual life depends on inheriting a way of living.[iii] Rather than limiting his spiritual philosophy to a narrow realm of universal duties believed to be rational. He supposed that any genuine and substantial spiritual life always depends not on any one formula—however intuitively plausible such a formula may seem—but rather depends upon the inheritance of an entire way of life shared by a historical people. and nation-states that make substantive claims about the kind of person that it is good to become. (sittlichkeit) which guides people in the kinds of decisions that are made in certain spheres of life. And Hegel also followed Kant‘s rejection of the theological effort to find some tiebreaker that could adjudicate which list of Dos and Don‘ts was the one true list actually set down by God. Hegel thought would not be found in one of the countless documents drudged up from the past that various groups of people believe to be invested with sacred or mystical authority. Hegel recognizes that we do not ever rely strictly on reason in order to access the good. Even while making these important and highly controversial revisions of Kant. if it could be made clear at all.can aspire to embody. Hegel nevertheless hoped to preserve the kind of dignity. universities. Hegel thus attempts to engage with cultural traditions of the sort I attempt to describe in part three of this series—those comprehensive traditions such as churches. Hegel thought that the divine will took shape every day throughout human history in the commitments of people to remake their lives over from instinct in order that they might accord with traditions that they believed to be worthy of adherence. an ethos. it is worth emphasizing again that Hegel did not lightly dismiss the vision of the good that Kant made possible. While revising the abstract and individualistic overtones of Kant‘s philosophy. schools. The relationship of human beings to God. the kind of relationship to following the truth for its own sake. Hegel also understood that no ethical culture can be reduced to an abstractly ―rational‖ formula arrived at independently. Hegel thought that the relationship of human beings to the divine will rather took shape in something simpler—in something so obvious that we might easily take it for granted. From this Hegelian perspective. . we rather rely upon the intuitions that have been shaped in us through contingent historical traditions. (My sister Anne illustrates the importance of tradition—rather than any formula or list of rules—for guiding ethical choices vividly in her response to my first two notes). which it had been the brilliance of Kant‘s moral philosophy to uncover.

It assumes. In The Phenomenology of Spirit. it rejects approaches to spirituality that rely upon a foundation of a mysterious authority beyond human understanding. It further assumes that to merely see and fully understand the reality of the human situation will itself draw people to the most excellent way of life. for the will of God. He thought that part of our responsibility to the highest good demands that we examine divergent conceptions of the good life (religious. political. that there was no way around the need for us to weigh different forms of culture. into a process that demanded awareness of the ways that the spiritual selfunderstandings of different cultures relate to one another (Marxist disclaimer here[iv]). Hegel supposed.With this move.g. or Christian morality) that are of essential and of enduring value and those aspects that we are better off leaving behind. Hegel supposed that when attempting to find the highest form of spiritual truth. Greek ethical life. in effect. rather than just tell us. Grace and Enlightenment This dialectical approach to spirituality follows Kant in opposing the revelation model of truth. to see if there any characteristic aspects of a view that fall into problems in practice that a different view might avoid. when clearly seen. or mystified in order to be persuaded to make their lives into an expression of the Ideal. Stoic philosophy. Whereas the religious way of proceeding endorses the practice of revelation accessed through feeling and through tradition. that people do not need to be manipulated. Rather than accepting the poetic talk of leaders as a justification for spiritual authority. in other words.. always already draws people to itself. Hegel effectively turned the search for ethical truth. philosophical). against one another on their own terms. artistic. that any time in human history and culture where souls were genuinely seeking the good deserved close examination. In other words. deceived. Hegel tries to show how views of the world or cultural ideals—what he calls ‗shapes of Spirit‘—can sometimes end up conflicting with their own highest principles and thus require interpretation in a slightly different way. the philosophical way of proceeding rejects . the dialectical approach hopes to unravel mysteries and contradictions in order to recover the pure ideal beneath them. This Platonic way of proceeding assumes that the deliberate and self-conscious seeking of truth will lead people to the Good. or different substantive competing visions of the good life. against each another to see if there are any blind spots that one view overlooks. It assumes rather that the ideal. He attempts to show us. a true vision of the good by distinguishing between those aspects of various views (e.

is ―the human being‘s emergence from his self-incurred minority. Enlightenment. The Enlightenment makes the wager that it is enough for human beings to be know the good in order for them to be moved by it. The theologian supposes that behind Enlightenment ideals lie the naïve assumption that there is some core human nature that everyone will be able to access that will bring their hearts and minds into agreement about what is good. and other seductions employed by leaders to justify their particular vision for their spiritual community because it is more comfortable to be free from the burden of deciding spiritual matters for ourselves. ―Minority is the inability to make use of one‘s own understanding without direction from another‖[v]). I need not think. if only I can pay. and so forth. as Kant defines it. It is the idea that the human race would have no higher judge their own hearts and minds. To the extent that religious leaders fail to promote the ideal of independent judgment is probably the extent to which they are under the sway of a particular theologically motivated perspective. Kant suggests that we remain in thrall to mysteries. The theologian argues instead that agreement with regard to the highest good does not . Kant supposes—just as will any good college professor and many good pastors or priests—that the labor of discovering and sorting through your spiritual views for yourself is well worth the personal growth that such a search makes possible. others will readily undertake the irksome business for me. The aspect of Enlightenment that moves Kant is just the idea that people might no longer be swayed by any arbitrary justification for authority. out of their own free choice. the philosopher‘s faith in humanity‘s ability to discover the Ideal is misplaced.revelation in favor of enlightenment.‖[vi] Though independent thought does take work. rather than because they have been duped into behaving well by leaders who tell them that adopting their views will lead to temporal prosperity. In his (polemical) words. Kant envisions a society where human beings would be mature and dignified enough to be committed to the values of their cultural traditions for their own sake. but clear-sighted maturity. paradoxes. It may be that college professors or high school teachers do a better job of promoting this kind of maturity than most religious leaders. or a better life in reincarnation. The defining ideal of Enlightenment is thus not childlike faith. I need not trouble myself at all. ―It is so comfortable to be a minor! If I have a book that understands for me. a doctor who decides upon a regimen for me.‖ (And. as he explains immediately after. From this theological perspective. eternal reward. karma. a spiritual advisor who has a conscience for me.

philosophy. Hegel rather saw grace at work whenever the common sense of the culture that shapes the kind of person that you become is worthy of adherence. On this view. Hegel self-consciously takes it as the starting point of his spiritual philosophy that one‘s social environment conditions the kind of person that one becomes. Hegel just found it short-sighted to suppose that any one particular religious tradition had contained all the important answers in the unfolding of divine revelation through the ages. Hegel did partially agree that grace came to human lives through the work done by religious institutions: Hegel himself attended Lutheran services regularly until his death. and he also agreed with the theological assumption that all of man‘s progress was ultimately a product of the divine. Hegel supposed that spiritual revelation. he rejected the idea that only one tradition had been the source of all or even most of the spiritual revelation regarding the kind of purposes that it is best to pursue. the grace of God.happen naturally but is rather a product of divine grace. an inheritance over which any specific individual has no control—that she is born in Germany today rather than the Germany of the 1940s. Hegel effectively supposed that the theologians were right that grace was real but short-sighted about where grace came from. Through no merit of their own. German children today grow up being taught to respect the freedoms of their fellow human beings instead of being . human beings need some power external to them—divine favor or providence—that will enable them to move beyond their innate corruption and selfishness in order to realize purposes of genuine value. grace could be seen as entering into the picture not just when a mysterious and inexplicable force acted upon the emotions of particular individuals. A Hegelian conception of grace could be interpreted as awareness of the divine favor involved in being born into a society with rational laws and customs that respect the worth and dignity of all persons. Hegel also saw divine grace at work in art. of the will of God realizing itself in history. On a Hegelian view. and certainly in rational laws and constitutions. In other words. For example. a modern German might see it as grace—or the product of a gift. in non-Christian religions. In other words. then. Grace—or a work external to the individual that leads her to spiritual truth— according to Hegel does not just come from supposedly flawless sacred documents or authoritative traditions. could potentially come from any from any practice that serves to define the character and practices of a culture which are worthy of adherence. the kind of human life that it is most beautiful to lead. the kind of projects that one will take to be definitive of one‘s life.

customs. to various modern and competing notions of what it means to become an individual. and culture in order better reflect ideals of eternal value. politics.. With this move Hegel tried to persuade people to stop viewing grace as a mysterious process over which mankind had no control and to begin viewing grace as a product of the work of human beings striving for excellence in the areas of art. to simply tell her that something is forbidden. A religious understanding of a moral command (e. to articulate precisely what it is involved in a commitment to . he does not view grace as a Calvinist views the revelation of the Holy Spirit--as some mystical process over which human beings have no control--but as the work of culture in history. a simple command. and philosophy throughout history. This view of grace enabled Hegel to interpret God‘s will not as a static tradition. to the Enlightenment. inflexible. ―Thou shalt not kill‖) is very similar in form to the kind of moral instruction that we might make to a child (e. and authoritarian. it is one thing to give a child a rule that is enforced through power or authority. Taylor emphasizes. we often limit ourselves to providing a rule. he agrees that people require something external to them to move past their inherent selfishness and cultivate the kind of lifestyle that is worthy of adherence. a life that might be seen as expressing ideals of eternal value. From the Ancient Greek polis. Faith Like an Adult The difference between a traditionally religious understanding of spiritual duty and a Hegelian understanding of spiritual development might be explained by way of comparison to the difference between the moral directions that we give to children and the moral explanations we give to adults.g. Hegel interpreted the history of the human race a work continually in progress in which societies attempted to better their work. homosexuals. to the monasticism of the middle ages.taught that Jews.g. Hegel agrees with the religious thinker that human beings are not drawn to the divine ideal by their unreflective impulse. Charles Taylor points out that with a child. but as an ongoing and unfinished work which continually builds upon the revelation of the past. It is quite another matter. and communists are inferior beings who do not deserve a chance at happiness.. Nevertheless. ―Don‘t talk like that to Grandpa!‖). Hegel effectively sees grace at work whenever an individual who passively absorbs the common sense of his culture comes closer to a life that is worthy of adherence. However. to the Roman constitution. religion. to the Reformation.

researched. to explain to someone exactly why we see a certain action to be dishonorable or mean-spirited. along with an ensuing discussion. In practice. or frightened into believing. Jose Casanova makes a similar (albeit more comprehensive. It would not involve attempting to enforce adherence to dogma that is actively resisted by the consciences of others.respect the elderly. Both Hegel‘s and Kant‘s interpretations of spiritual authority rely upon a belief in the ability of human beings to conscientiously choose the right course of action. Jesus or the Universal? My attempt to articulate here what I see as some of the spiritual value in Enlightenment-inspired philosophy grew out of an initial desire to specify the precise nature of the disagreement that I have with Anne and Karli‘s excellent responses to the first two installments of this series. as Saint Paul tells us. This is a distinction that I have attempted to press in previous notes that consider arguments against gay marriage. When we are older. Anne decides instead of defining . (I have reposted his argument. Moving past the confining authority of a religious tradition that limits itself to a list of Dos and Donts would involve sensitively engaging with explanations about why exactly issues such as ‗the sanctity of human life‘ or ‗the sanctity of marriage‘ matter. Hegel supposes that true authority. the actual divine will. In her response. and generally brilliant) argument when he claims that churches can sometimes fail to respect the conscientious disagreements of others when it comes to the issue of abortion[viii]. rests solely upon on our ability to be persuaded for ourselves of the value of the vision of the good life that moves a fellow soul in search of the truth. to force ourselves to spell out in a fuller and richer way in what exactly the goodness or badness of an action consists so that a listener might come to be moved by the ideals for herself.here. by people who claim to be in touch with some mysterious authority beyond human comprehension. Hegel thinks that spiritual conviction should be a matter of what we are convinced ourselves deserves our loyalty rather than what we simply let ourselves get convinced by. Crucially. Both of them reject reliability and coherence of the idea that the salvation of humanity rests upon their acceptance of the tenets revealed within a particular tradition mandated by a mysterious God who determines what is right simply through his power to enforce his will. we put childish things behind us.[vii] It would be a different matter for us. in other words.

however. Regardless of whether or not the near-mythic figures of Jesus and Socrates are seen as complementary spiritual archetypes. I sympathize with Anne‘s acceptance that Jesus has come to represent for her the very essence of spiritual truth. I subscribe to these values expressed in Christianity because I believe that they can meet the demand of Hegel‘s dialectical moment of universality. or egocentric instinct. but fully knowing the Incarnate God. Rather. . Karli claims that ―perfection is not knowing all truths. I do not think that they are true simply because Jesus happened to say them and because Jesus happened to be God. self-mastery. Perhaps speaking for many Westerns also moved by the spiritual ideals of academia. convention. Anne and I remain largely in agreement on the point that much of what is valuable in contemporary Western spirituality owes a great deal to the inspiration of Jesus. The only difference I have with Anne and Karli on these issues is the reason why I think these commitments are spiritually true. Similarly. or contrasting ideals in a dialectical tension. a deliberate suspension of inherited common sense intended to shatter all of what is merely prejudice and tradition. I might submit Socrates as another possible candidate for the archetype for embodying universality. and still emerge intact. commitment to living out the Ideal. to limit her understanding of the ideal to the universality of the person of Christ.‖ There is much to agree with in these claims. Jesus rightly criticizes people who acknowledge the truth with their lips. but whose hearts are far from it and teaches us that spending time polishing the outside of the cup is often only a shallow cover-up for lives that are broken and decaying on the inside. I think these values I mentioned as characteristic of Jesus‘ message can stand up to a kind of disengaged view from nowhere. These commitments stand in stark contrast to ideas that life should be directed by hierarchy. free from mere prejudice and tradition. An incomplete list of the divine truths demonstrated by the life of Jesus would surely include forgiveness. I do not disagree with Anne‘s claim that there is much in the life of Jesus that reflects the untarnished ideal. tribal loyalties. In other words. and a belief in the universal brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity.truth as the dialectical journey I have been trying to describe throughout this series.

no formulas that give us spiritual revelation. Indeed. but that spiritual truth can only be reached through a faithful and charitable examination of the views of others. It is not that a truly free and spiritually mature human race (provided they are socialized into an environment of loving discipline in early childhood) would be unlikely to see much of eternal beauty in the life of Christ. the fundamentally religious ideal of a kingdom of brothers and sisters united in the work of a common body is a very deep thread in Hegel‘s spirituality without which Hegelianism (and Marxism. Affiliating truth with a person seems to give the impression that there is some formula. quiet your mind. I am not in the least bit uncomfortable with the current lofty position that the figure of Jesus Christ in our Western paradigm of spirituality. I have suggested against this religious view and with Hegel that there are no shortcuts. its successor) would be unrecognizable.My only hesitation with Anne‘s choice of phrasing (―the universality of his person‖) is that I interpret it to be making the false suggestion that there is any better way of discovering spiritual truth than the disengagement brought on through critical reflection. philosophers such as Hegel and Kant differ from many modern interpretations of Christian spirituality in thinking that the dignity. Close your eyes.‖ As I have already stated. I just reject the aforementioned sub-text which I take to be part of much contemporary evangelical spirituality in practice. some one-size-fits all model that can justifiably lay to rest for all time the responsibility of the human race to test all judgments about what constitutes a worthy life for itself. You‘re too sinful to really understand anything anyway -. a sense that one has a blue-print found in one person or in one rational formula makes possible an arbitrary dismissal of forms of life that we might otherwise come to see have a justifiable claim upon our loyalties. the free choice of the . Nevertheless. go by faith / feeling / relationship. the actual decisions that would end up getting made by people within Hegel‘s ideal community (he calls it ‗the community of Absolute Spirit‘) would probably be similar in many ways to the Christian ideal of bringing the kingdom of heaven to earth through the creation of the fellowship redeemed believers.what you interpret as your conscience disagreeing with established religious authority is pride. On my view. ―Get on board with Jesus‘ authority and forget your questions. In fact. The concern from a Hegelian or Kantian perspective is that a belief that truth can be reduced to the authority of the Right Tradition cripples the freedom and the dignity of the human race.

421. forget your questions. it is not necessary for everyone to be a critical and self-conscious philosopher in order to live a life that does some spiritual good. but who rather ―uses observation to see reasoning and judgment to activity to gather materials for decision. the Christian injunction that one should become as a child. discrimination to when he has decided. Believing with Kant and Hegel that the dignity of the human race matters in itself.‖[ix] From this dialectical perspective.‖ Even conceding this point. it robs the human race of its ability to live a life based on their own convictions.google. which human life is rightly employed in perfecting and beautifying. Among the works of man.human race itself matters in itself.[x] Notes------------[i] From Kant‘s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. The hope of Enlightenment spirituality is rather that we might become the kind of person that John Stuart Mill describes in ‗On Liberty‘—the kind of person who does not accept the authority of spiritual leaders or public opinion at face value. it is a mark of immaturity that people are content to imitate the example of authority figures rather than independently and critically seeking to test competing claims to spiritual truth for themselves. but also what manner of men they are that do it. From this philosophical perspective. Mill is nevertheless moved by the dignity he sees in the ideal of dialectical spirituality. Of course. however. firmness and self-control to hold to his deliberate decision.com/books?id=DHUSAQ3wwC4C . available online: at http://books. par. and kept out of harm's way. without any of these things. As Mill himself puts it. and do what the leader of a tradition tells you. Mill states the ongoing challenge of the Enlightenment to the Calvinist conception of religious duty: It really is of importance. Adopting this more philosophical—as opposed to strictly religious—understanding of spirituality would go hand in hand with our accepting that the process of how we come to choose our actions are in some ways as important as the content of our choices. the first in importance surely is man himself. not only what men do. ―it is possible that he be guided in some good path. runs the risk of leaving mankind in perpetual immaturity.

whether or not I should drink alcohol.com/note. It explains in a fuller and richer way the meaning of this action for us.[ii] This quote is from Charles Taylor‘s Sources of the Self. are only those cultures that have had sufficient technological advancement (or sufficiently exploited the labor of lower social classes) so as to give its citizens sufficient time for spiritual. and aesthetic pursuits.. or perhaps mean-spirited .‖ (You can read her note here: http://www. that a certain act is forbidden. or defy my husband‘s wishes.. or spend more time praying or preaching or serving or having or not having sex.google. or swear. and to describe the higher mode of life and feeling which is involved in recognizing this. or recycle. being obligatory or forbidden. consists in. [v] From Kant‘s ―An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?‖ Available online athttp://www. but not to understand yet what kind of badness it exhibits.org/reference/subject/ethics/kant/enlightenment. above). It is possible to know. intellectual. it should be said.com/books?id=OYN88ArbxUAC [iii] Anne states that she depends upon the guidance of a specific community (rather than a formula or list of rules) in order ―to shed light on . for instance.facebook. It is quite another to set out just what makes human beings worthy of commanding our respect. because that is what respecting your rights as a human being requires. 84:http://books.htm [vi] (See note v.marxists. Later one may learn that it is something dishonourable. … Articulating our qualitative distinctions is setting out the point of our moral actions. p. just what its goodness or badness.php?created&&suggest&note_id=312257063383) [iv] The cultures that interest Hegel. [vii] This distinction and example (and much of the phrasing I use in my summary) are all Charles Taylor‘s from his Sources of the Self: It is one thing to say that I ought to refrain from manipulating your emotions or threatening you. as a child sometimes does.

pp. or what it means to respect age.… The child or the outsider can be told what not to do.facebook. 192-201. ―On Liberty. We can get a sufficient grasp of the commandment. above).com/books?id=ScTePJKjiTMC. 'Thou shalt not kill'. can be given a description of what to avoid which they can understand. I have excerpted the argument for easier reading here:http://www. . among other places. 'Don't talk like that to Granddad!' before we can grasp articulations about the sanctity of human life.google. here: http://books." The essay is available.php?note_id=427949264868 [ix] All quotes by Mill in this note are from his famous essay.com/note. a language which is a lot richer and more culturally bound. … To move from external action descriptions to the language of qualitative distinctions is to move to a language of "thick description"…that is. [x] (See note ix. or can obey the order. before they can understand just what is wrong. because it articulates the significance and point that the actions or feelings have within a certain culture [viii] See Jose Casanova's Public Religions in the Modern World.

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