The term “postmodern” isn’t used in this essay, but it is certainly a postmodern critique. The writer brings up many points. He notes the conventional wisdom of what we might call the “modern” secular view that religion is not “rational” but emotional and thus prone to “impassioned” disagreement.
Most of us take for granted some variation of the following: religion involves heart-felt convictions and deep commitments, and therefore invokes impassioned disagreement, “exclusivist” and “intolerant” behaviour, and even violence. It is thus in dire need – given today’s social “problem” of “religious diversity” – of being (take your pick):
- eradicated by means of education;
- ignored until it withers away on its own; or
- “updated” in order to become a good ally to the “progress” of the modern world.
The questions posed by philosophers of religion suggest that they believe that religion needs philosophy’s help in order to come to rational, peaceful resolutions to social conflicts inflamed or caused by religion.
His response to that conventional wisdom is a postmodern response.
I would suggest that it is imperative for us to see that the questions posed in this way (and therefore the answers that they imply) are a relic of a past. Recall for a moment that the central task to which the Enlightenment “project” self-consciously set itself – glorious and youthful, if also utterly naive – was to discern and possess the rational conditions by which the truth of things could be accessed, and thereby to dictate to every field of human inquiry the rational scope of its enterprise, the conditions by which it could properly proceed to secure knowledge of its particular object.
It was this intent to “dictate” to every other field of human inquiry what “reason” had to mean that has been unmasked by the postmodern critique.
He also notes the link or connection between the secular’s assertion of a “universal” reason and the creation of modern fundamentalism.
In the end, Kant’s critically purified reason “saved” the objective knowledge of the sciences, which furnished the model of knowledge he took for granted in the first place, at the high cost of resting this knowledge on subjectivity itself, which could only be presumed but to be universal. It also “made room” for faith, though only by banishing the transcendent realities of faith from the field of what is humanly knowable (again, according to the model of knowledge provided by physical science).
This was an unstable solution. Perhaps it could be argued that solutions like this actually created the conditions for the rise of fundamentalisms, since it secured the relegation of faith to a realm outside of reason. Hence, paradoxically, such rationalism and fundamentalism are bed buddies.
What motivates the current secular fundamentalism is fear. Fear that it might be just another narrative and not a firm, objective, neutral, and universal foundation of truth. If it is no longer a privileged form of reasoning, then it will need to make its case, as a narrative, like all others and recognized diversity.
Religious diversity demands that philosophy change, giving up its historic self-conception as a quest for the truth of things as such and become a mode of reasoning that does not question the pluralistic context, but rather serves it, showing how it is necessary and universal. The Enlightenment did not go this far, for it only sought, erroneously, to replace a once unified religious culture with the unity of a rationality proffered by physical science from outside of that religious milieu.
A few might read this essay and see some sort of assault on “reason” or the assertion that “irrationality” is a viable option. And, of course, that would be to completely mis-read and misunderstand what is being asserted. What the writer is suggesting is that we think about “reason” in a different way.
Theology in fact has the resources and potential to save both “reason” and philosophy.