Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Theology from a human point of view

"...[I]n practice, both secular and religious attempts to speak of a moral universe commonly work as strategies for responding consistently and intelligibly to the world's complexity rather than as exhaustive interpretations; which suggests that we can read the religious account as claiming that it is in learning to respond to our ultimate origins and 'calling' that we learn to respond truthfully or adequately to the world. To say that a religious discourse is 'about' the whole moral universe may be simply to say that it offers a sufficient imaginative resource for confronting the entire range of human complexity without evasion or untruthfulness; only when divorced from this context of a kind of imaginative skill does religious discourse fall into the trap of pretending to be a comprehensive system for plotting, connecting, 'fixing' and exhaustively accounting for the range of human behaviour. In other words, religious and theological integrity is possible as and when discourse about God declines the attempt to take God's point of view (i.e. a 'total perspective')."

- Rowan Williams, "Theological Integrity" in On Christian Theology, 6.

What do you think Williams has in his sights here? Who is guilty of giving up on theology as "a kind of imaginative skill" and moving into trying to establish "a comprehensive system"?

Our knowledge of ourselves, our world and God can only be from a human, creaturely perspective. The temptation to be "like God" in our knowledge of the universe arises from a fundamental mistake about what it means to be us. Even where God reveals himself in Christ, we are still given human-shaped knowledge of God. This is not to say that we have inadequate knowledge, or only a rough sketch. Jesus said "If you have seen me, you have seen the Father" (John 14.9). A faithful human response to the call of God is not merely a second-best option, all that is left to us lesser beings. On the contrary, the humility and responsiveness required of us is a reflection of the humility and responsiveness found in the heart of God manifest in Christ.

8 comments:

h. goldsmith said...

i don't know if williams was thinking of american christianity or not, but a lot of churches here in the states have opted for the "comprehensive system" of legalism, which is easier, aside from the fact that it kills you.

byron smith said...

How does one distinguish between a comprehensive system and an imaginative skill that is capable of honestly facing every human circumstance?

Anthony Douglas said...

I thought of the fundies too.

In answer to the followup from Byron, my suggestion would be related to the amount of interpretation required within the system.

A good legalist makes sure that their rules cover every situation. It's a brute force approach, so doesn't work with any subtlety, but all bases are covered at least (ObAmerican reference).

What I suspect Williams means is that all you can do is set up guidelines or principles that seem secure, and then apply them into 'every human circumstance'. In this case, even the tiniest number of principles can be universally applied, though imagination is used in making the application.

From what I know of Williams, I rather suspect 'truthfully' leaves plenty of room for the 'I've got no idea what to do' outcome... and 'adequately' only comes out to play if the agnostic ethic stays in the box.

byron smith said...

From what I know of Williams, I rather suspect 'truthfully' leaves plenty of room for the 'I've got no idea what to do' outcome... and 'adequately' only comes out to play if the agnostic ethic stays in the box.
So cynical for one so young...

Anthony Douglas said...

I suppose that reads as cynical, though I wasn't being so unkind when I wrote it. There is obviously a place for saying 'can't be dogmatic here' - that's where the worst of the excesses he critiques do the most damage. So I don't really mind what he's saying in the quote.

But it would be good if he wrote it in English, so the rest of us could read it. (Ok, that was cynical)

h. goldsmith said...

What I suspect Williams means is that all you can do is set up guidelines or principles that seem secure, and then apply them into 'every human circumstance'. In this case, even the tiniest number of principles can be universally applied, though imagination is used in making the application.

i think, in fact, that christ gave us a few guidelines; love the lord and love your neighbor as yourself. you could maybe even make the argument that those two commandments are a comprehensive system.

Christian said...

Not sure I've understood Williams, but here's a thought:

Do we see Christ's perfected human wisdom in 'declining the attempt to take God's point of view' as he agonised and submitted in Gethsemane and on Golgotha? And if so, though, hasn't Christ's viewpoint changed after the resurrection when he says 'all authority in heaven and earth has been given to me' ?

Would it be saying too much that God's plan to bring everything under Christ is indeed 'a comprehensive system for plotting, connecting, 'fixing' and exhaustively accounting for the range of human behaviour' - though of course in a way that enables true human agency not detracts from it)

I guess where I'm going with this is that Jesus gave his disciples a clear view, in person, of the comprehensive program of the reconciliation of God's universe - even if he didn't give them the task of enacting this on their own accord.

Perhaps Williams is encouraging us to have Gethsemane-like humility and patience as those who can only humbly imagine not co-erce the vindication of God's ways....but I do think our discourse should have the confidence of those who in the resurrection have been given a God's-eye glimpse of the coming order of the universe.

freefun0616 said...

酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店小姐兼職,
便服酒店經紀,
酒店打工經紀,
制服酒店工作,
專業酒店經紀,
合法酒店經紀,
酒店暑假打工,
酒店寒假打工,
酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店小姐兼職,
便服酒店工作,
酒店打工經紀,
制服酒店經紀,
專業酒店經紀,
合法酒店經紀,
酒店暑假打工,
酒店寒假打工,
酒店經紀人,
菲梵酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,
禮服酒店上班,
酒店小姐兼職,
便服酒店工作,
酒店打工經紀,
制服酒店經紀,
酒店經紀,

,酒店,