Tuesday, March 08, 2005

For those who care...

(and count your lucky stars if you don't) below is a statement by George Lindbeck that makes it abundantly clear that the "cultural linguistic" approach is NOT antithetical to the "propositional" approach.

Inspired by Wittgenstein, Lindbeck came up with the cultural linguistic paradigm in order to communicate the Gospel to the postmodern mind. It was not intended to undermine our confidence in that Gospel. If you don't believe, me - take it from the horse's mouth:
George Lindbeck Replies to Avery Cardinal Dulles:

In reviewing The Church in a Postliberal Age (October 2003), Avery Cardinal Dulles focuses on what he calls the “Lindbeck project”—put forward most fully in The Nature of Doctrine (1984)—taken as a whole rather than on the particularities of the book itself. This is all to the good as far as I am concerned, for I have long been waiting for him to put his comprehensive assessment of the project into print. The review reads like a request for a public response, and for that I am grateful. Before responding, however, I should mention that James Buckley, the editor of The Church in a Postliberal Age and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences of Loyola in Maryland, is in effect a coauthor of the book. He has woven those of my shorter writings he selected out of many into a remarkably unified whole by means of extensive interpretive comments. He did this work without any input from me: I did not even know which writings and organizing themes he had chosen until the page proofs arrived. To my shame, however, I never read them, and thus it is I who am responsible for the editorial failures Cardinal Dulles cites. The most egregious, the failure to correct the consistent omission of fide from sola fide Christi in an article of that title, happened long before Buckley’s watch when I condensed and rewrote an essay which I first published, as a footnote indicates, in a German version (which, not surprisingly, is free of this error). Cardinal Dulles does not blame anyone by name, but it should be made clear that it is I, not Buckley, who am at fault. Turning now to my reply to Cardinal Dulles, I shall, except for thanking him, bypass the “many aspects of the Lindbeck project” about which he says he is “enthusiastic.” What Cardinal Dulles criticizes is not so much my cultural-linguistic view of religion as the associated regulative (or “grammatical”) understanding of church doctrines (or “dogmas,” in Roman Catholic usage). He thinks that my stress on their intrasystematically regulative role makes it doubtful that they also function propositionally; or, in more conventional terms, he suggusts that the emphasis I place on truth as coherence with other beliefs obscures the primacy of truth understood as correspondence to objective reality. He concludes that “Lindbeck’s own program concedes too much to postmodern relativism.” This indictment, I shall argue, is a mistake, but as I am in part responsible for the misunderstandings which occasioned it, I shall not blame the Cardinal, but simply seek to clarify the confusions that have led him astray. As I have already indicated, Cardinal Dulles suggests that the chief reason for what he regards as my relativism is that “for Lindbeck, the truth of Christianity . . . is predominantly intrasystemic.” He then goes on to say, as if this were a consequence, that “[Lindbeck] refrains from saying that God is in Himself triune or that the Son of God is really a divine person.” This apparent implication is, I suspect, stronger than he intends. We know each other well enough so that I do not take him to imply that I have mental reservations about these affirmations when I recite the Nicene Creed on Sunday or defend Chalcedon against its detractors. Rather, the fault with which I am charged, as I interpret it, is that my project either appears or is relativistic despite my intentions to the contrary. Cardinal Dulles writes in reference to my treatment of “the missionary enterprise” that “the rhetoric of Lindbeck, if not his actual thought, seems to undercut” what I want to say. Most of his criticisms seem to reflect a similar doubt as to whether the problem is with my “rhetoric” or with my “actual thought” (i.e., theories), but their cumulative effect leans towards the latter. Thus, to illustrate, Cardinal Dulles appears to think that I doubt the following: “In agreement with Lindbeck’s editor, I [Dulles] do not see the cultural-linguistic approach as antithetical to the propositional. If we are to worship, speak, and behave as if the Son of God were himself God (as Lindbeck rightly affirms), is it not because the Son really and ontologically is God, whether anyone believes it or not? By inserting the homoousion in the creed, the Council of Nicaea was indeed laying down a linguistic stipulation; but more importantly, it was declaring an objective truth.” Moreover, Cardinal Dulles seems to suspect, though he does not assert, that I neglect the point Polanyi argues against Wittgenstein “that we cannot intelligently debate about linguistic rules unless we are conjointly aware of the subject matter to which the words refer. To substitute grammatical debates for debates about the things meant is to obfuscate the necessary connection between meaningful language and reality.” From this obfuscation it follows, Cardinal Dulles concludes, that “Lindbeck seriously undermines, if he does not dismiss, the propositional truth of dogma.” This he apparently equates with the propositional truth of Christianity. I take this to be the core of the complaint that Lindbeck “concedes too much to postmodern relativism.” Given the conventions governing book reviews, Cardinal Dulles is precluded from citing chapter and verse in support of this indictment, but I shall try to fill this gap by discussing three difficulties that have led many readers to conclude, as he does, that I undercut “the propositional truth” of the faith. The first difficulty attaches to the self-involving character I attribute to religious truth claims in general and Christian ones in particular. This, to be sure, is not a problem for Cardinal Dulles, though it is for many others, but why this is so needs explanation. He is not among those who find the virus of relativism in my contention in The Nature of Doctrine that a sentence such as “Christ is Lord” becomes a “first-order proposition” capable of “making ontological truth claims only as it is used in the activities of adoration, proclamation, obedience, promise-hearing and promise-keeping which shape individuals and communities into conformity to the mind of Christ.” To deny this contention is to suppose that those whose assent to the truths of the faith is, in Newman’s sense, purely notional and not at all real are nevertheless uttering first-order propositions, truth claims about the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, when they recite the creed. Such a supposition implies, in turn, that propositions are verbal formulae or, perhaps, Platonic ideas rather than, first of all, beliefs, judgments, acts of the intellect, as medieval Aristotelians and many modern thinkers maintain. Cardinal Dulles like myself, if I understand him rightly, is on the side of the medievals supplemented by Newman in reference to the sentence just quoted. If so, however, I find it puzzling that he doubts that I, like him, “do not see the cultural-linguistic [regulative] approach as antithetical to the propositional.” Why does he not take at face value my claim that the version of the regulative approach to doctrine which I utilize is compatible with “the modest cognitivism or propositionalism represented by at least some classical theorists, of whom Aquinas is a good example”? The answer to this question appears to lie in a second source of difficulties, my rhetorically motivated but also, as time has shown, conceptually confusing tripartite division of truth. Cardinal Dulles is one of many who have been misled, and so I shall here simply summarize a mea culpa and a clarification first published fifteen years ago (see my “Response to Bruce Marshall,” The Thomist 53 [1989] 403-6). I there agree that it is confusing to speak, as I do in The Nature of Doctrine, of three kinds of “truth”: categorical, intrasystematic (coherentist), and ontological (correspondence). This trichotomy can be innocently employed. It does no harm and may be helpful sometimes to speak of two other kinds of “truth,” categorical and intrasystematic, that are necessary in order rightly to affirm the ontological truth of, for example, Christus est Dominus. First, in the absence of appropriate categories and concepts, Christ’s Lordship is misconstrued. That Lordship is unlike any other: it involves, most astonishingly, the suffering servanthood of One who is God. Unless this is in some measure understood, “Christ is Lord” is false: it predicates the wrong Lordship of Jesus Christ. Nor does this proposition correspond to the reality affirmed by faith unless it is also, in the second place, intrasystematically “true,” that is, coheres and is consistent with the whole network of Christian beliefs and practices. In the light of these clarifications, the tripartite division of “truth” implies neither relativism nor lack of objectivity. Yet even if the trichotomy is in some circumstances harmless or perhaps even helpful, it is also dangerously confusing. Categorical adequacy and intrasystematic coherence are “truth” only equivocally. Properly speaking, they are necessary though not sufficient conditions for truth in the third (but primary) sense of correspondence. My original discussion of the matter refers in passing to the distinction between conditions for truth and truth itself, and is thus technically free of error. But the references are tangential and fail entirely to advert to the related and decisive distinction between the justification of belief (for which categorical and intrasystematic “truth” are conditions) and the truth of belief (which is a matter of correspondence). Because of these deficiencies, it has been easy to suppose that the second, intrasystematic kind of “truth” is an alternative to rather than a condition for propositional or ontological truth. When this happens, readers falsely conclude—with delight in the case of postmodern relativists, but, more to my liking, with sadness in the case of Cardinal Dulles—that “for Lindbeck, the truth of Christianity . . . is predominantly intrasystemic.” A corrected formulation, in contrast, simply notes that special attention to the intrasystematic (and categorical) conditions for affirming ontological truth is inseparable from a cultural-linguistic perspective on a religion such as Christianity. It most emphatically does not imply that the realities which faith affirms and trusts are in the slightest degree intrasystematic. They are not dependent on the performative faith of believers (as if, for example, Christ rose from the dead only in the faith of the Church), but are objectively independent. The remaining and third difficulty is definitional. To define official church doctrine, as I do, in terms of its intrasystematically regulative functions is to exclude ontologically propositional uses. Thus instead of saying that the Lindbeck project “seriously undermines . . . the [ontologically] propositional truth of dogma,” Cardinal Dulles could have gone further and said that the project by definition entirely strips dogma of such truth. The insertion of “by definition,” however, provides an escape for him as well as for me. He could have added, if he was so inclined, that stripping dogmas of ontological reference by definition relocates rather than abolishes affirmations of the propositional truth of the faith. These affirmations are not to be looked for in the regulative, dogmatic uses of the Nicene Creed, for example, but rather in its more basic use as the Church’s liturgically central and communally and individually self-involving confession of faith. The ontological truth claims of the creedal confession of faith remain existentially foundational and are also chronologically prior to its becoming dogma in 325 and 381. This makes it possible to agree with the substance of Cardinal Dulles’ statement that “[b]y inserting the homoousion in the creed, the Council of Nicaea was indeed laying down a linguistic stipulation; but more importantly, it was declaring an objective truth.” Formally, however, it would be better to say from a doctrine-as-regulative perspective that the linguistic stipulation protected (not “declared”) objectively true affirmations. This is not an unprecedented suggestion. Newman among others can be invoked in favor of this regulative rather than declaratory role of official doctrine. As I read him, he includes the insertion of the homoousion in the creed among those “exercises of reasoning [which] indeed do but increase and harmonize our notional apprehension of the dogma” but add little to our real assent, “and if they are necessary, as they certainly are, they are necessary not so much for faith as against unbelief.” One final comment: Cardinal Dulles infers that I am “postmodern” chiefly from my use of Wittgenstein and Geertz. That use, however, was heuristic rather than probative and could be entirely omitted without materially affecting my argument. The influence of John Henry Newman has been considerably greater although I rarely mention him: he is not a favorite among the postmoderns whom I am also, I admit, trying to address. In the secondary literature, furthermore, the legitimacy of my reliance on Thomas Aquinas has been much more discussed than has my relation to any modern, much less postmodern, author. On that point as well as many others I treasure Cardinal Dulles’ opinion, but I hope he will be able to agree that at least “postmodern” and “relativist” can be dropped from his list of criticisms.

Source: Jan. 2004 correspondence in First Things