Sunday, September 13, 2009

Moral perfection or the lack thereof

I believe that it is not a matter of the church requiring its ministers to accept a series of dogmas. How could they honestly say that they have no doubts about any of these dogmas? If they had no doubts, they would hardly be very good Christians, because the intellectual life is as ambiguous as the moral life. And who would call himself morally perfect? How then could someone call himself intellectually perfect? The element of doubt is an element in faith itself.
-Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought (From his lectures at Union Theological Seminary)

There's a complicated history with the problem of doubt in the Christian church. It was under Calvin and therefore of great influence in Protestantism in general that absolute faith became the inward sign of salvation. If you doubted as a Calvinist or a Puritan or an early Congregationalist, then that was it. You were not one of the elect, and you were not saved. And there was nothing you could do about it. You were destined to burn in hellfire for all of eternity. No amount of good works would change that.

This was a abrupt departure from the Catholic church and undoubtedly a reaction to the corruptions of the church in selling indulgences for sin. Under Calvin there could be no such corruption of the church because it was not within its ministers power to offer such things. God had already chosen before creating creation, I suppose.

Predetermination always seemed a little crazy to me. I do remember at one time looking at the arguments reconciling freewill and predetermination, and, while I can't actually remember them now, I remember there were some seriously unnecessary philosophical acrobatics involved. Kind of like digging a tunnel underneath an invisible and not really real wall.

While, I believe, most modern protestant sects don't embrace the concept of predetermination, absolute faith still seems to remain as a cornerstone of the general Christian religion. As Tillich points out, absolutes are pretty much impossible for human beings. Absolute faith is impossible as is absolute understanding, which is the twin here of absolute faith. The point of the book of Job wasn't that god's a sadist, but that humans don't understand really what's the what. The logic of God is not a logic that our finite minds can really fully grasp.

No doubt a great part of this emphasis on faith over thought has a lot to do with the Enlightenment and the clash between science and religion that's been going on since they locked up Galileo for heresy. Also surely an important political aspect of the protestant splintering. Faith may have more to do with maintaining the integrity of the various sects' structures and keeping adherents from contemplating other options than its connection to serving to bring people closer to God. Which strikes me as ultimately counter productive. If a religious institution is engaging in dogmatic requirements for political reasons, the flock is ill served. An ill served flock is a wayward one. I would guess.

Anywho, Tillich makes a similar point but in reference to ideas and earlier times:

Salvation in Stoicism is a salvation through reaching wisdom. In Christianity salvation is brought about by divine grace. These two approaches are in conflict with each other to the present day.

It seems kinda' nutzo to think that wisdom and grace are in conflict. There's no inherent conflict between these two, and that's one of Tillich's main points. There doesn't have to be a conflict between faith and reason, religion and philosophy. The conflict is a conflation of human logic with the more direct logic of infinity. Maybe. Tillich is all about synthesis, and I love that. Let's work it all out. It's not easy, but it sure ain't impossible. Infinite possibility exists in humanity's bold future.

Alright, enough with the religion already. Going to the second half of a double header tonight and then again on Tuesday to see Matzuzaka's hopefully triumphant return to the mound. I sure do hope the Dice man can salvage something from his lost season and help the Sox down the stretch here. I guess it was inevitable that the Yankees would eventually field a team that could dominate. I mean, how many years can you have a player payroll that's at least 100 million dollars more than any other team and as much as two hundred mil more than some and still suck.

A lot of us here in Boston were hoping that the answer to that question was forever, but no luck. Ah, September baseball. You make me forget all my cares, if only for a moment.

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