When I was an undergraduate, I took a course in Modern philosophy in which the professor opened up the class by asking the question: most evangelical Christians seem to think that post-modernism is really something to be avoided – but if post-modernism is rejected, was the modernism that it responded to really all that better? Post-modernity, in its most extreme or folk forms, seems to have all the connotations that Christians ought to avoid, or so we may be told, that it rejects that there is such a thing as absolute truth, that we can know that truth, with the accompanying endorsement of the view that what seems true for you may be well and good for you, but truth for another person may be altogether quite different.
The question was posed again for me as I read through a number of papers on the question of the impact of analytic philosophy on the philosophy of religion. Two of the papers were written by Charles Taliaferro and Pamela Sue Anderson – the former a Christian evangelical and the latter a feminist philosopher of religion, responding to one another. In a rare moment, I agreed with Anderson (almost) thoroughly.
Taliaferro held to a position that a “God’s eye view” is that which we must pursue in matters philosophical – with serious detachment and a strong attempt at leaving our assumptions by the door, we can come and just “look at the facts” and come to the same conclusions. Tough situations do exist, but by and large what is supposed to be desired is a neutral view. Analytic philosophy does this best, for in it one engages in a close analysis of texts, drawing inferences here and there through laws of logic that everyone can agree with.
Anderson, however, objects to all this. Her objections are many, but the central one that caught my attention was her insistence that it would be impossible to gain a view from nowhere, to strip ourselves of our worldviews, our situatedness in the world, and to eliminate our own perspectives as we come to a specific question. Impartiality is not so easily attainable, and agreement between two different people does not indicate that both have come to the question impartially. Two people can be biased (or partial) and yet come to the same conclusions, and Anderson contends that even in Taliaferro’s claims to be able to become totally unbiased or impartial “he is unaware of the locatedness of his world.” (p. 96).
So, whereas Taliaferro advocates for detachment and impartiality, Anderson advocates for an acknowledgement fully of one’s situatedness and location within the world – only then, Anderson thinks, can dialogue start to emerge and the role of the community can be seen to play a crucial role. Now perspectives on the truth can be offered, and points of view can be engaged fruitfully.
Perhaps I’m too much of a post-modern, but I see Anderson’s point here as almost irrefutable – and its where post-modernity has much to commend. Neutrality is impossible – and its amazing that one ought to even desire neutrality (Taliaferro’s linking of the God’s-eye perspective with impartial reasoning, too, is odd; is God really the observer of facts with no subjectivity? Seems the opposite: God is a personal thinker par excellence and the most partial, attached, and non-neutral thinker there is!). That one can be totally unbiased, neutral, when one looks at “the facts” is, it seems to me, a myth to be rejected, and it is rightly this sort of mentality that can justify the abuse of the minority position, or blindly reclaiming the normative few of one’s own circles as the ones who perceive the truth, and all else as just wrong.
One can never claim to possess the God’s eye perspective. The Creator-creature distinction too is important here. As creatures it is our role to not have the God’s eye – our knowledge is mutable, limited and always finite, and further tainted by sin. God’s perspective is his alone, and as I hold (as we must) that he has revealed himself in the Scripture’s, our access to the Scripture’s are limited by own finitude and sin. Our role as image bearers is to think God’s thoughts after him, not to be a neutral observer of facts. This process means that we must acknowledge where we come from – we come fully to the subject, to the sciences, as Bavinck would say, as whole persons. One cannot come to a question while separating one’s heart from one’s head. The person, emotions, background knowledge, and locatedness must be fully acknowledged, admitted, and even utilized when we come to questions.
For the Neo-Calvinist like Bavinck, this means understanding, first of all, the Antithesis between the Christian and the non-Christian. Neutrality is not that which we desire for – rather the Christian’s beliefs and emotions and confessions display a greater light, so Bavinck would say, on the questions that we address and on our views of the world. To strip ourselves off of these presuppositions would be to impoverish ourselves significantly.
For Anderson, its her situation as a feminist theologian that sheds light on the questions she is seeking to answer. And she is none the worse for that. For the Christian theologian, its the material content of the faith – the Trinity, redemption, Christology, that must be brought to bear to all which he seeks to address – in both natural and “religious” matters alike.
I just read two posts recently that Neo-Calvinism, and Van Til’s epistemology, are both products of a post-Kantian milieu. In these contexts, perhaps, the predicate “post-Kantian” or “post-Enlightenment” or “post-Modern” are equally accusations as they are descriptions. On the question of whether the two movements are substantially “post-Kantian” (or whatever), I contend, first of all, that they are not. They are both rooted in the word of God, and that’s where the locus of dialogue has to be.But, if one admits, that they are, and that both (organically connected) streams of thought are the fruits of learning from a post-Kantian context, then we are no worse off for it. If the alternative is simply the position that one can just reason in a neutral fashion in an impartial manner, accessing some natural law apart from regeneration or the spectacles of the Scriptures in the Christian community, then all the worse for that alternative, indeed.