Monday, September 1, 2008

Pardon me while I rant: Clouser, Kierkegaard, and the Cappadocians

A few weeks ago I wrote a post complaining that people misunderstand Kierkegaard. This past week I received verification that my complaint is correct, from a very unlikely source.

This session I’m taking a philosophy class; our focus is to examine the role religious belief plays in theory-making, and to that end we are reading Roy A. Clouser’s book The Myth of Religious Neutrality, Revised Edition. Clouser is professor emeritus of philosophy and religion at The College of New Jersey, Trenton, and is a Reformed Christian—or he is, at least, firmly in the Dooyeweerdian philosophical camp. In Chapter 5, Clouser gives his synopsis “of the [3] major positions which have been taken in the history of western thought concerning the general relation” of religious belief to theory-making: religious irrationalism, religious rationalism, and the biblical. I fully expected him to lump Kierkegaard with the first grouping and I was not disappointed. Rather than trying to explain the complexities of Kierkegaard’s thought, he gives three quotations from Kierkegaard’s writing that seem to prove his irrationalism, and moves on.

What was surprising, however, is that Clouser footnotes his Kierkegaard quotations with this revealing note: “Several Kierkegaard scholars have informed me that the position expressed in these quotes is actually misleading, and that his real position is more like my own [the biblical, of course]. They admit, however, that statements such as those I’ve quoted here certainly seem to indicate his position is as I describe it, and also that this (mis)understanding of him has long constituted his intellectual legacy. Since that is the case, I will leave the quotes as examples of the position being described, with the acknowledgement that they may not be accurate as to what Kierkegaard himself intended” (p. 344).

Read that again, because what Clouser is saying is mind-boggling. Clouser’s main argument in the book appears sound, but how am I supposed to take him seriously when he intentionally perpetuates a misunderstanding of another thinker, just because this misunderstanding is widely accepted??!! Clouser’s treatment of Kierkegaard’s thought in the first edition of the book is excusable, since he evidently didn’t know better. But after being informed by people who do know better, instead re-writing this section for the revised edition to more accurately portray Kierkegaard he buries a lame explanation in an endnote. Shame, shame, shame on him.

. . .

The following will probably only be of interest to any Orthodox readers of this blog, but read on if you wish. I have gone a little bit ahead of the class, and I find this isn’t the end of Clouser’s misreading and misrepresentation of other thinkers. Later in the book, while arguing that one’s view of the nature of God forms a presupposition that regulates one’s theory-making, Clouser defends what he calls an “alternative” view of the nature of God—“the view of God that was elaborated by the Cappadocian Fathers of the Greek Orthodox tradition, rediscovered in the west by Luther and Calvin in the sixteenth century, and championed by Karl Barth in the twentieth century. (I’ll call this Cappadocian and Reformed position the C/R view for short)” (p. 203).

Hmmm, I see a problem with historical accuracy here, but if Clouser actually takes the Cappadocian position I’ll overlook this inaccuracy. Clouser opposes his position to the view of Divine Simplicity as taught by Aquinas and most (if not all) of western Christianity, by adopting the essence/energies distinction found in the Cappadocians. (He more frequently uses the word “attribute” in place of energy, but he means the same thing.) So far so good.

However, as I read him, Clouser represents the Cappadocian postion (even quoting Lossky and St. Gregory Palamas!) as teaching that God’s attributes or energies are the created means by which God communicates himself to humankind, so that only God’s essence is uncreated. The whole point of Cappadocian theology, especially as represented by St. Gregory and the “Greek Orthodox tradition,” is that God’s energies are uncreated! Needless to say, I have cleared my final research paper topic with my professor, in which I hope to clarify the real Cappadocian/Palamite position against Clouser’s serious misunderstanding.

I suspect this will be an exasperating eight weeks for me.

1 comment:

  1. Its amazing what "scholars" get away with. When proofreaders know as little as the author its still ignorance all around, even with footnotes. sigh....