Student Presentation by Matt Dodrill
Subtraction Stories as Inadequate
• The process of determinative negation (or subtraction stories) does not adequately explain the ways in which the modern self-understanding has been constructed throughout history.
o Deism is not merely the “next layer” on the continuum of subtraction stories. The temptation for an “impersonal order” was present during the Patristic era. However the Patristics were able to tame Greek philosophy and bring it into harmony with Christian orthodoxy.
Strands of Deism
• 1. Disenchantment -- the mother of “causal laws”: Disenchantment leads to perceiving the world as mechanization. Aristotelian teleology is replaced by the causal explanations of science. Spirits and demons are no longer extracted from matter.
• 2. The disappearance of legend and the homogenizing of “profane time”: History excludes the stories of heroes and legends. Time is homogenized into profanity.
o Hence moral therapeutic deism (a term borrowed from Christian Smith)
o Hence the loss of the liturgy and sacred time (and watching Charles Stanley on television instead).
o Biblical criticism: if heroes and legends are excluded from history, how shall we read Scripture? This strand subjects Scripture to Cartesian (and Lockean) epistemology.
Plausibility Conditions: a Reminder
• Taylor reminds us that deism never sees the world as it is "given" to us.
o 274: “That their paradigm of ‘religion’ is a negative one is not the result of empirical discovery, but of their pre-existing framework.”
o 275: “…their stance is not forced on them by the ‘facts’, but flows from a certain interpretive grid.”
Some Pre-Modern Points of Tension in the Patristic Church
• 1. Platonic subordination of the body
• 2. The re-entry of the body and a new significance of history
• 3. Gathered stories and individuation
• 4. New significance of contingency
• 5. The emotions
• 6. God as a personal and communal being
o This (6) is the context in which 1-5 are set. Modern deism integrated 1-5, but not 6. Thus, the deistic grid is pretty different. What is missing in the deistic account is a personal God/personal order.
What Made the Deistic Grid so Powerful?
Latitudinarians and Categorical Societies
• Latitudinarians are an affinity to disenchantment and “authoritative” causal laws.
o 282: …”Latitudinarian clergy deployed a public version of Isaac Newton to promote a separation of creation from its Creator in order the better to ensure that rationality ruled both the natural and the social universes.”
This contrasts with communion and agape, which are not based on by the “rules” or “codes” that categorical societies are bound by.
• Autonomous reason and dignity vs. subjection and mercy: Even the "boundary" ethics of modern societies was birthed out of autonomous reason. The law constraints of the categorical societies are based on what humans want, not on demands imposed from without. Thus, humans are not constrained by authority. Law is self-imposed -- it's impersonal. By contrast, Christians see their highest mode of being arising out of relation that is not equal. There is a hierarchical authority retained. We need grace, and grace trumps the "supremecy of a high code" (p. 283).
Disengagement and Objectification
• 283: “Disengagement is correlative to what I have called ‘objectification’. To objectify a given domain is to deprive it of normative force for us, or at least to bracket the meanings it has for us in our lives. If we take a domain of being in which hitherto the way things are has defined meanings or set standards for us, and we now take a new stance towards it as neutral, without meaning or normative force, we can speak of objectifying it.”
• Mechanization neutralizes the whole domain.
Excarnation and “Embodiment within the Bounds of Reason”
• Deism excarnates the Scripture narrative. That is, the tensions described above are explained in terms of reason (disembodied minds, in contrast to incarnation).
o Two consequences:
1. Factor out embodied feeling (Kant)
2. Base morality on emotions (Hume)
Modern Reflections of Deism
• Commercial society’s rejection of communion-defined Christianity.
• Christianity as “right belief”; theology as “correct description.”
What’s next? Unbelief? (See La Mettrie’s quote, p. 293).
• What role would Taylor say science should play? He has shown how the scientific revolution helped drive the excessive emphasis on causal law, but what is a corrective?
• We do not want our apologetic approach to (perhaps unwittingly) carry deistic assumptions. However, how should we defend against the charge of fideism?