Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Notes on Fr. Thomas Joseph White's "Sociology as Theology"

Original article: http://www.firstthings.com/article/2013/06/sociology-as-theology

Robert Bellah's Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age seeks to explore the evolutionary roots of human religious behavior. It examines particularly Israel, Greece, China, and India. It ends with the "Axial Age" (~ 200 years before Christ), the moment "in history when human thought attained a genuinely universal character and a profound ethical maturity."

Two tendencies in modern times: Enlightenment thought and liberal Protestantism (a response to the Enlightenment; hereafter LP). LP sought to explain religion with a "bottom-up" approach, a sociological perspective that grounded religion in human nature itself, instilling ethical attitudes. This is a form of Christian humanism. In modernity, two other deeply-rooted worldviews have emerged: evolutionary atheism and postmodern pluralism.

Animals have adapted to allow better ways to survive. Language -> leisure -> culture -> philosophy, ritual, art, etc. Within culture, we tell stories, narratives of the history of the cosmos.

A problem with Bellah's work is that he doesn't address the deep metaphysical questions that have arisen in human consciousness that demand an answer. His evolutionary hypothesis, while given much food for thought, doesn't explain how we have spiritual qualities and concepts, such as justice.

Fr. White moves over to the topic of pluralism in Bellah's thought—what are we to make of many religions? Bellah rejects the idea that there is "one true religion." But he also rejects the Enlightenment's attempt to color history as the history of progress, from early myth to modern "reason." Rather, Bellah insists that the Axial Age gave rise to "a diversity of cultures in different, nonreducible ways." Religion and ritual have enduring importance and are not simply to be replaced by scientific thought.

Bellah, in this way, embraces what certain postmodern thinkers have begun to recognize: religions are different, and they must be treated as such and respected and studied for what each is and is not. From these religions, a framework emerged that allowed for the development of critical analysis. Each religion and tradition has its own narrative and norms that are irreducible to a single essence. So contrary to modern attempts to point out that all religions are basically the same, Bellah shows through rigorous history and cultural studies that "the universality of the Axial Age cannot be separated from the particularity of its religious embodiments." Bellah is "weary of a cheap religious syncretism that ignores the real differences of belief and practice among the ancient religions." Each religion partially converges but is also partially incompatible with the others in their proffered visions of reality.

But, Fr. White presses, does man seek the absolute? And why should LP ignore metaphysics? But the problem of religion without revelation is that "it's not rational."

But the plurality of religious traditions suggests that "by our own powers we cannot finally resolve all the questions." So can we ask: "What if God has revealed himself to humanity?" The revelation isn't the enemy of reason but its intelligent light and answer, the unity that we have always sought.

Our religiosity then is a "sign of our latent desire for the truth about God, but it is also a sign of our confusion and fallenness." Religion without grace is obscure and dangerous. The life of grace is distinct from fallen humanity's religiosity, even at its best.

True religion is neither bottom-up nor top-down entirely: it's (here it comes...) BOTH-AND. The balance was perfected and performed in Christ, the God-man. Christ heals, purifies, and elevates all attempts at religiosity by grace. Christ, the Alpha and Omega, "fulfills and perfects our native religiosity."

No comments:

Post a Comment

All comments ad hominem or deemed offensive by the moderator will be subject to immediate deletion.