Archive for November 2016

Epistemology and Certainty   Leave a comment

parallel-lines

Above:  Parallel Lines

Image in the Public Domain

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How do we know what we know?  We can be certain of some propositions, but how so?

I have liked to say that, for me, human depravity is not a matter of faith but of objective reality confirmed by observation, history, and journalism.  The underlying assumption of that statement is that perceiving objective reality does not require faith of any variety.  Lesslie Newbigin‘s argument against that assumption has occupied my thoughts today.

St. Clement of Alexandria, the Pioneer of Christian Scholarship, argued against those Christians who thought that they did not need pagan knowledge, specifically, Greek philosophy–especially Platonism.  He replied by saying that Greek philosophy paved the way for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  A millennium later, in the 1200s, Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas argued for the compatibility of faith and reason–specifically, the philosophy of Aristotle, with some elements of Platonism.  These three saints, all of them great intellectuals, assumed that faith and reason were separate.  In the twentieth century, however, English Presbyterian Lesslie Newbigin, picking up on St. Augustine of Hippo, argued that all certainty hinges on faith, and that the sole basis of proper Christian confidence and certainty is Jesus Christ.

Let us consider, O reader, the example of Euclidian geometry.  It relies upon certain assumptions, upon which other assumptions depend.  This does not mean, of course, that Euclidian geometry is inaccurate.  The only question is one of how we perceive it.

Newbigin objected to St. Clement of Alexandria’s claim that Greek philosophy functioned as a prologue to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  To say that the truth of the Gospel depends upon anything else, Newbigin argued, is to make that thing more important than the Gospel.  He found examples of this in Roman Catholicism, conservative Presbyterianism, and much of Christian apologetics.  Newbigin also objected to the claim that faith and reason are separate.  He wrote that all certainty is a matter of faith, for we all assume that x, y, and z are accurate and that the world operates in a certain way.

The categories in my head come mostly from Thomism and the Enlightenment.  In Thomism I, an intellectual, find affirmation of the inclusion of true knowledge, regardless of its origin, as compatible with Christian faith.  From the Enlightenment  and the Scientific Revolution preceding it I receive modernism (as opposed to postmodernism) as a way of knowing much via evidence and observation.  As pastors and priests have taught me, there are two kinds of knowledge–that which we can know via observation and hard evidence and that which we can know only via faith.  But what if this assumption is wrong?  What if we know only by faith and the issue is by which kind thereof?  What if all certainty is a matter of faith?

If so, I can change my mind.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

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Two Encounters   Leave a comment

snapshot_20161031_1

I dressed up as a priest for Halloween this year.

Image Source = Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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Last year, on the quadrangle of the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia, I noticed the presence of individuals from an Evangelical campus ministry.  They were from elsewhere, for they were unfamiliar with the campus.  One young man from the organization found me and asked me a seemingly simple question:

Do you believe in God?

I asked him what he meant by that.  He obviously did not expect that answer, so I elaborated.  I explained that, if he meant,

Do you affirm the existence of God?,

the answer is always “yes.”  However, I continued, in the historic creeds of the Church, belief is really trust.  Therefore, if the question is

Do you trust in God?,

the answer is “usually.”  He approved of that answer.  I perceived that he had not thought of that distinction with relation to the question he had asked me.  Then he handed me a slip of paper with some basic Christian theological questions on it.  My answers met with his approval, and we parted company on pleasant terms.  The encounter did me no harm and might have given him something edifying to contemplate.

If the people who have knocked on my front door in hopes of converting me were like that young man, I would not have objected to speaking to them.  Usually I just ignore the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons until they give up and leave.  I have, on occasion, argued with them when they have caught me in a bad mood.  I have even slammed my door in their faces when I have been in a really bad mood.

Last night, however, I was merely being cautious.  Shortly after 8:00 I heard knocking on my front door.  I looked through the peep-hole and saw two men standing outside.  I ignored them until one of them announced that they were from the Churches of Christ.  Then I opened the door and commenced to have a pointless conversation which never ceased to be polite.  We were all civilized men, after all.  The conversation ended with one of the men (the only one who did much speaking) informing me that he regretted that I refused to accept the true religion and would therefore go to Hell.  He was especially unimpressed with my religious affiliation and my affinity for Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism.  I should have just ignored these men, for the conversation accomplished nothing productive.

Professor Phillip Cary, in his Great Courses series The History of Christian Theology (2008), speaks of religious traditions, the members of which do not think of them as human traditions.  He does this with a particular reference to the Reformed churches.  The two men with whom I conversed last night were like that, only from the Stone-Campbell tradition.  Tradition is simply that which people pass down from generation to generation; there is nothing inherently wrong or sinful about that.  The question of being wrong or sinful pertains to the content of any given tradition.  I know that I, as a religious person, keep certain human traditions; I cannot be religious and do otherwise.  I know that I as a Christian, keep certain human traditions; I cannot do be one and do otherwise.  I know the human traditions that I, as an Episcopalian, keep.  I also know that all of them are not identical to the traditions that my fellow Christians of different backgrounds keep.  So be it.

I am also much less likely than my recent visitors to say that someone will go to Hell.  That is God’s call, not mine; this is as matters should be.  I also expect that my visitors and I will go to Heaven.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDWIN HATCH, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LEO THE GREAT, BISHOP OF ROME

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Posted November 10, 2016 by neatnik2009 in Episcopal Church

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