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December 06, 2006



Professor O'Leary,

First of all, I love reading your articles! Please keep posting such thought provoking pieces.

That being said, I have some question regarding this essay. First, a minor point concerning the following passage:

"Religious vision, whether Buddhist or Christian, may offer an integral view of phenomena that philosophy as such cannot attain. Hegel and Schelling confiscated religious vision lock, stock and barrel for the cause of philosophy, but the methodological justification of this, both philosophically and theologically, remains controversial."

I completely agree with the first sentence. And I agree with you that Hegel "confiscated religious vision" so to speak, but I have to question whether it is really the case with Schelling. For while Hegel seems to clearly denigrate the significance of religion under "Absolute" conceptualizing philosophy, Schelling seems to be much more respectful of the religious experience (especially in his later philosophy of mythology and revelation).

I suppose this also raises the question, what is meant by "philosophy". If we take a less metaphysical approach and instead emphasize the role of philosophy as an exercise in opening the soul to the divine, then is it okay for philosophy (essentially wisdom seeking) to be more directly united with religious experience?

Also, much of what you said in this essay reminded me of Max Scheler, who distinguishes between metaphysical knowledge of God and religious knowledge of God, emphasizing the value of the latter as far more genuine than the former. Additionally, amongst other similarities, I also think that "love" and the "person" seem to be at the heart of Scheler's thought. Have you read any of his works?

Michael Bradley, Jr.

Suppose physical cosmology were to take a radical turn back towards, for lack of a better term, a "steady state" model, where it is asserted based on observation and theory that the physical universe admits of no discernable edge in space or time on sufficiently large scales. Advocates of non-mainstream Plasma Cosmology and some others have suggested we're headed right back that direction, if indeed the Hubble Relation, which equates galactic redshift with recessional velocity, is falsified -- you'd basically end up with a fractal universe, which should look the same however many times you "zoom out", in which gravity and electricity (in terms of plasma physics) are roughly equally important in shaping the large-scale structure of the universe.

"Big Bang" Cosmology, though so attractive for its seeming compatibility with the doctrine of creation "ex nihilo", seems to put God's power in a little "box" -- or "sphere" -- no bigger than a Planck-distance, and operating over a gnat of time no longer than a Planck-second. And it would seem that many theoretical physicists (given how few of them are ardent deists) are hoping that a Grand Unified Theory which can explain the initial singularity in mathematical terms will be so metaphysically compelling that they will be able to conclude that *perhaps* God wasn't necessary for "flesh" to have been put on the equations. So we're back to a clock-maker God or mathematically-powered agnosticism; and what can a Science-trusting Christian do about it?

BUT, if the universe is by empirical judgment a quasi-infinite expanse with no discernable large-scale edges in space and time, then the question of creation sticks out like a sore thumb, and it seems to me the philosophical sense of Aquinas will ring through the air clear as a bell, at least for those who are willing to be intellectually, philosophically rigorous. It's either that or embrace some sort of non-religious Hinduistic view of the unending, forever repeating dance of matter, energy, and change in which we find ourselves embedded. I'll opt for Aquinas and creation "ex nihilo".

Any thoughts on this?

Spirit of Vatican II

Thanks, Chris and Michael, for those stimulating comments. Yes, Schelling has an openness to existence, to tragedy and to faith, that is anti-Hegel and makes him the first patron of the existentialist backlash beginning with Kierkegaard. Scheler I have not read. On the imponderables of cosmology I am easily led in any direction -- I was taken in, at least until I got to the last chapter, by the two mad Russian brothers who claim to derive the whole universe from the gyrations of a number. The big bang theory at least as currently presented has all the hallmarks of reductive scientistic positivism. Most scientists treat the cosmos with as little respect and as much bumptious arrogance as they treat the human soul. Scientists tend to be brilliant grad students who have never grown up. On the other hand cosmology like evolutionary theory does seem to impose some brute empirical facts -- such as that the universe we know is about 15,000,000,000 years old, give a billion or two. I think we need to de-couple all such facts from the theological and ontological notion of Creation, which indicates the radical dependence of all that is, in its very being, on "what everyone calls God".

Spirit of Vatican II

I have added a qualifying parenthesis to my remark on Schelling; it is still debatable however.

As to philosophy as a religious quest, this is a quite puzzling matter for those who care for the autonomous identity of either philosophy or theology. James Mackey argues that by history and nature theology is just a continuation of Greek philosophy (whereas the Bible contains no theology in this sense). But once one adds, with Harnack, "on the soil of the Gospel" the nature of the enterprise is quite other than philosophy -- it proceeds ex auditu fidei, not ex intellectu entis.

Objection: did not the Greeks also proceed from religious premises? Perhaps, but the nature of philosophy is to dispense increasingly with those premises, or to rationalize them and integrate them seamlessly into the discourse of philosophy proper.

Hegel tries to do just that for Christian premises and theology has to resist that -- not in the name of irrationality but in the name of the nature of faith (as supremely clarified by Barth).

If a philosopher qua philosopher casts out into the sea of religious questing, he or she should be familiar with the state of play in the disciplines of theology and religious studies -- so as not to end up reinventing the wheel.

Such "religious philosophy" is to be distinguished from "philosophy of religion", as a philosophical reflection on the historically constituted religions.

Jean Greisch has a huge three-volume survey of the philosophy of religion (see http://www.nanzan-u.ac.jp/SHUBUNKEN/publications/jjrs/pdf/629.pdf), from which one can see how complex the questions of method become here.

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