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From plurality to pluralism: a philosophical defense of religious relationship against relativism.

One of the major projects of the epistemology of religion is to address some form of what I will call the "insularity problem." We can state this problem in terms of Alvin Plantinga's notion of a believer's "noetic structure," which is "the set of propositions he believes, together with certain epistemic relations that hold among him and them." (1) The insularity problem arises when different believers possess divergent noetic structures whose beliefs contradict one another and, most problematically, lack common grounds on which to adjudicate their claims. (2) It will become clear that the insularity problem is not only that the beliefs of divergent noetic structures conflict but--as suggested by Plantinga's mention of "epistemic relations"--that their modes of justification do, too. In William Alston's terms, believers with different noetic structures maintain divergent "'doxastic practices.'" (3) Insularity, then, is opposed to intersubjectivity and undermines public contestability, because there are no shared rules of discourse across insular noetic structures. Insularity challenges religious knowledge itself inasmuch as religions' plurality and mutual insularity subjects them to skeptical questions about their ability to justify any of their truth-claims over rival claims emerging from contrary noetic structures.

My aim in this essay is to suggest a notion of religious knowledge that respects the challenge of the insularity problem. This religious epistemology must steer a course between the exclusivism of asserting one noetic system over all others and the relativistic agnosticism of being unable to commit to any. My proposal, which will draw on diverse philosophical and theological sources and considerations, can be stated most briefly as follows: Religious knowledge consists in entering into soteriological relationship with ultimate reality.

This formulation is so abstract as perhaps to appear either opaque or vacuous. It is much more easily recognizable in the terms of specific traditions: for example, Judaism's redemptive submission to God, Christianity's salvific relationship with Christ, Vedantic Hinduism's emancipatory absorption into the world-spirit, or Mahayana Buddhism's enlightening acceptance of emptiness. For the first term in this formula, "soteriology," we might be able to substitute a more descriptive term such as "salvation-liberation" and still cover a broad range of historical religions; for "engagement," I will argue that "relationship" is a good model with useful generality; but the final term (God, Christ, emptiness, or what have you) tends to be highly religion-specific.

For lack of more tradition-neutral religious vocabulary to employ, then, I have framed this epistemology in the fairly generic terms of soteriology, engagement, and ultimate reality. As a result, it might seem so general as to be devoid of content. This is to be expected since, as we will see, it is only in the context of a particular religion that religious truth takes on its substance. Up to that point, it is just as it should be that our definition of religious truth should be as purely formal as possible. Nor does its formality make the definition empty--this notion of truth allows, I think, a formally inclusive epistemology that renders intelligible the substantive truths instantiated in various religions, even as they confront apparently contradictory ones. What we can have, then, is a religious epistemology that is pluralistic without falling prey to relativism, one that equitably grants the possibility of truth to different belief systems, notwithstanding apparent insularity and mutual contradiction, without giving up on a reasonably robust transreligious notion of truth.

Although truth will lurk as a regulative ideal in the background of what follows--since without it questions of justification have little meaning--much of my discussion will center on the notion of justification, without direct reference to the distinct question of truth. The notion of truth--ultimately the critical one--will be bracketed until, toward the end of my argument, I have the resources to propose a third notion of religious truth between the equally perilous horns of strict correspondence and coherence. But, while the notion of justification will be heavily relied upon throughout my argument, I will abstain from specifying just what it is in which justification consists. This omission is apt because, as I have already suggested, what counts as justification comes with a particular noetic structure, and we will early and often see examples of this insularity. In an inquiry concerned with examining different noetic structures, we cannot stipulate at the outset what counts as justificatory.

I will also not specify (and sometimes even equivocate about) how to individuate noetic structures, that is, whether they are proper to individuals, groups, religions, sects, or whatever. If each individual has his or her own insular noetic structure, we would seem to be severely isolated from one another; but if noetic structures have the form of language games and if Ludwig Wittgenstein is right, they cannot be "played" in private. I cannot decide this question here; the way I talk about noetic structures (and, later, mind-sets and so on) will have to be reductive at times. I can only hope that my discussion will move in some useful and suggestive directions and that the issues I take up in this essay will apply equally well to any unit of analysis.

Insularity, Intersubjectivity, and Public Contestability

Philosopher John Clayton has provided illuminating case studies in the insularity problem. Thomas Jefferson, for example, thought that parochial sects like Calvinism encouraged atheism "by making the foundation of religion a 'local' revelation defended by the church in an incoherent and irrational way, rather than (as Jefferson commended) by affirming the foundation of true religion as being universally available to all in experience of the world and the free exercise of reason." (4) The problem with the foundations offered by the sects was their "locality" (which was not capable of rational defense), as opposed to the supposedly secure universality of reason and experience. Jefferson would follow the project, which David Hume attributed to John Locke, of maintaining "that faith was nothing but a species of reason, that religion was only a branch of philosophy." (5)

But, although the Enlightenment search for foundations might have been provoked by skeptical arguments, these foundations, too, proved vulnerable to skeptical treatment. By the time of Jefferson's writing, the security of reason itself had already been called into question by Hume and other skeptics before him. In the Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, Hume's Philo urged, "Let us become thoroughly sensible of the weakness, blindness, and narrow limits of human reason"; (6) Demea, too, noticed the continuing "uncertainty of each part, the eternal disputations of men, the obscurity of all philosophy, and the strange, ridiculous conclusions, which some of the greatest geniuses have derived from the principles of mere human reason." (7) The attempt at rationalization seemed to have been ineffective at securing at least some areas of human knowledge, including the religious.

The problem that will concern us about reason, though, is not just that it is shaky; most people, religious or not, agree that it works well much of the time. The problem is that reason--or, rather, reason as conceived by these Enlightenment thinkers in the employment of rational theology--is itself arguably insular to certain noetic structures, and so does not get us the universality that Jefferson wanted. As Clayton said, "It becomes clear that the vision of universal, tradition-flee natural religion, which is supposed to be above all particularities and attain through reason a kind of objectivity, is in fact none other than a secularized form of Christianity and more narrowly in this case of liberal Protestantism." (8) A more radical way to put it would be to say that Locke's project was turned on its head; it turned out that reason was nothing but a species of faith.

That is a stronger conclusion, of course, than is warranted by the insularity of natural theology, but the twentieth-century shakedown of all proposed foundations does end in a similarly strong conclusion. The neo-pragmatism of W. V. O. Quine, Donald Davidson, Wilfrid Sellars, and Richard Rorty, for example, relativizes any attempt at justification of beliefs-whether by arguments from experience, from reason, or something else--to their epistemic context, their noetic structure writ large. Indeed, one's very notions of what "experience" or "reason" mean and of what counts as justification are insular to one's noetic structure. No appeals to experience or reason are innocent of presuppositions.

Mind-Sets, Standpoints, and Total Environments

Charles Taylor has clearly articulated the extent of the insularity problem with regard to the belief stances of theists and their opponents: "Each stance creates in a sense a total environment, in the sense that whatever considerations occur in one appear transformed in the other." (9) The "total environment" of a belief stance, it seems, is very much what I understand by a noetic structure: It includes not just beliefs but also doxastic practices according to which evidential considerations (whatever that means according to the given stance) are interpreted--or, rather, according to which always-already-interpreted evidential considerations are assimilated to the belief stance. Things can get a little sticky here, because we might ask what it means for a single consideration to appear in two divergent total environments: If a consideration "appears transformed" in passing from one to the other, is it not then a different consideration altogether? I will not go much into this issue here but for now will simply appeal to the reader's common sense that we can access a common world of evidence--including sights, sounds, and utterances--even if we cannot agree about it. We might also cite Davidson's insight that disagreement and misunderstanding themselves presume a substantially common conceptual scheme. (10) In other words, for example, we can talk to each other and point at things, even if we are somehow talking past each other and seeing somewhat different things at the end of our pointers. Insularity does not necessarily imply solipsism.

Historian of philosophy Daniel Garber's more concrete language of "mind-sets" and "evidence" helps pin down the same point: "According to the secular scientific mind-set, the very same things that the theist sees as evidence for God are seen as evidences of a world independent of God." (11) Garber's concrete common sense circumvents the question of solipsism--he freely talked about "the very same things" seen through different mind-sets--but it also encourages some confusion that we should clarify. Garber psychologistically conceived of mind-sets as "cognitive states" (12) and defined them with the following metaphor: "Mind-sets are the glasses through which people look at the world." they make certain facts and reasons more salient than others, and enable us to see some things and ignore others." (13) This notion of mind-sets, however, seems to describe a mere cognitive bias, which could presumably be corrected by more rigorous methods of observation and analysis. What is really troubling about mind-sets is that, even if all the facts were given to them and everything were seen, all is distorted or colored by the mind-set's lenses, to use Garber's metaphor. To put it more carefully, what is considered as a fact or a reason at all is designated as one with a certain meaning according to the mind-set with which it is considered. So, Garber did not state the case strongly enough when he said that what was most important about mind-sets was their "tendency to form beliefs of a certain sort" (14)--what is most important, epistemologically, is, rather, their determination of what counts as a justified belief at all.

Cognizant of the anti-foundationalist view of mind-sets as insular and deeply totalizing, Garber wrote, "In a very real sense, the secular scientific view is as much a question of faith as is the theistic mind-set insofar as it cannot be established at the most fundamental level by rational argument alone." (15) But, we have to distinguish between this "establishment" taken in a psychological sense versus an epistemic sense. The psychological sense has to do with causing someone to have a mind-set, whereas the epistemic one involves justifying that mind-set. If it is only the psychological sense that is meant, the solution for secularists is simply to figure out and implement the nonrational methods most expedient for causing people to adopt scientific secularism (whether by bribery or brainwashing). This is no small thing, but is in the end a technical problem more than a philosophical one.

Contexts, Cognitive Worlds, and Charity

William James appreciated the plurality and insularity of mind-sets. In his preface to The Will to Believe, he observed that "there are the various 'points of view' which the philosopher must distinguish in discussing the world; and what is inwardly clear from one point remains a bare externality and datum to the other." (16) This plurality--not only of perspectives, but of ways to interpret evidence--demands Quine's and Davidson's "principle of hermeneutic charity." Ciayton's iteration, which he called the "presumption of competence," encodes the recognition of this plurality by allowing that "the basic claims of major religious traditions are likely to be justifiable as 'true' to members of the community concerned." (17) Furthermore, it is the insularity problem that requires Clayton's "practice of empathy," which he counseled as "imaginative participation of the observer in the spiritual and cognitive world of the religious tradition under scrutiny. This is a necessary addition to the presumption of competence because otherwise there is no effective bridge between the observer and the observed." (18) The observer must step from his or her insular mind-set into that of the target text or interlocutor.

The insularity problem runs deep; cognitive worlds are constituted by a rich complex of conditions, sensibilities, and practices, and these precede and underwrite beliefs rather than beliefs' underwriting them. Referring to Christian scholastic proofs of God, Clayton wrote:
   [I]f theistic arguments no longer make sense to so many of us
   today, this may be because we no longer find it possible to
   participate fully in the forms of life in which they were once so
   firmly embedded.... It is not because they make no sense to us that
   we no longer participate, but because we do not participate, they
   no longer make sense. (19)

Hence, Clayton placed importance on paying attention to the contexts in which claims are made. An argument between co-religionists takes place within a single noetic structure (let us suppose) and can therefore assume certain central tenets and standards of justification that belong to that mind-set. We who scrutinize such arguments from another mind-set might fred these links in the argument to be elided or asserted without further proof. However, an interreligious or extrareligious argument, since it crosses mind-sets, cannot take as much for granted; justifications in this context must seek common items that can count as reasons, or they will suffer from the fallacy of question-begging. "[T]here are some cases in which it seemed that what counted as 'good reasons' were reasons that were regarded as good by the community, even when they were not regarded as 'good reasons' by the audience outside the community to whom they were addressed." (20) This is exactly what we would expect, due to the dependence of standards of justification on mind-sets, inherent in the insularity problem.

Persuasion and Coercion

We can appreciate, then, the import of Clayton's thesis, "Religious claims are made and contested in a variety of contexts." (21) But, we have to watch carefully as he continued: "'Reasons' are always reasons for someone; they become persuasive when they are regarded as 'good reasons' by some audience." (22) Although this sounds very much like his observation cited just previously, I think we must take issue with this iteration. In the same way that we had to distinguish between psychological and epistemic questions when talking about mind-sets, we again have to distinguish between persuasion and justification when it comes to reasons. As far as I can see, by the way, it makes no difference at this juncture that mind-sets are global, "total environments," while reasons are localized and relativized within mind-sets. Whether globally or locally, we can still ask distinct questions about causal origination, on the one hand, and truth on the other. Although I admit that for the question of justification we do logically have to relativize a reason to an audience's noetic structure in order to see whether it should count as justificatory for them, I will argue that it is neither necessary nor sufficient for their being persuaded by it that they should regard it as a good reason.

Before explaining why, I should say that I take it that, when we are talking about a reason for an audience, there is no difference between its being regarded as good by them and its being good for them. We outsiders might deem that a reason regarded as good by them is not truly a good one, but we would then be bringing some external reasoning--our own noetic structure, which we regard as universally normative--to bear on their reason. However, if we (as Clayton instructed) participate in their world with full empathy, we are bound to find some reason that counts as good in their world (whether we evaluate it as good from our perspective or not); and, if we thoroughly presume competence of them, we cannot imagine them simultaneously to have a good reason and not regard it as one. They might as well say, "X is true, but I do not believe it to be"--a patently incompetent statement. Another (perhaps simpler) way to look at this is that if there is a difference between being-a-good-reason-for and being-regarded-as-a-good-reason-by an audience, then Clayton's statement that reasons "become persuasive when they are regarded as 'good reasons' by some audience" is trivial--it is apparently a tautology, a definition of what it is to be regarded as a "good reason." There would also be no apparent connection with his preceding clause: '"Reasons' are always reasons for someone."

Then, we can read Clayton as having said that reasons "become persuasive when they are good reasons for some audience." But, if we clearly distinguish causality in psychological persuasion from justification in sound argument, we cannot accept this claim either. A perfectly good reason can fail to be persuasive to an audience when not delivered in a pleasing tone of voice, for example, as many a spouse knows, or an otherwise bad reason might be persuasive if accompanied by flowers. These might be causes for acceptance of arguments, but not reasons. To view good reasons as persuasive in virtue of their being good reasons is to credit unduly the coercive power of rational justification; it is to confute rhetoric with reasoning.

Reasoning, Feeling, and Truth

Hume, of course, knew the frailty of human reason as well as anyone. In both the Natural History and the Dialogues, he frequently noted the greater power of the passions over reasons to motivate religious belief. "[E]ach man feels, in a manner, the truth of religion within his own breast; and from a consciousness of his imbecility and misery, rather than from any reasoning, is led to seek protection from that being, on whom he and all nature is dependent." (23) Now, this seems to be primarily a causal psychological statement about the genesis of religious belief, as opposed to one about its justification or truth. However, it stands out that Hume does not say that each person feels religious "belief" but, rather, "truth." Here, then, is an opportunity more explicitly to enter questions that I have skirted until now: What are some different possible modes of justification of belief, and what might these have to do with truth?

Pascal was more explicit than the notoriously cryptic Hume on the epistemological value of various modes of justification. "We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. It is through the latter that we know first principles, and reason, which has nothing to do with it, tries in vain to refute them." (24) A foundationalistic way to read Pascal in our terms is the same as saying that, unlike feeling, reason is internal to one's noetic structure but cannot reach beyond it to ground it in the truth about reality. In this way, he was partly anticipating the failure of Jefferson's universalistic rational theology. The principles that distinguish a truth-telling noetic structure from a false one were given only by feeling, for Pascal; since reason is built on feeling rather than the other way around, reason cannot call feeling into question.

Feeling, though, is a notoriously fickle foundation. Different people obviously have different feelings, and their mind-sets thus determined are different. How can one justify one person's foundational feeling over another? We cannot do it by reason, because reason is internal to the noetic structure. It would seem to take a leap of faith, then, but how is this leap of faith justified to be true? It also cannot be underwritten by reason. Pascal's answer: "Faith is a gift of God. Do not imagine that we describe it as a gift of reason." (25) Of course, it is perfectly clear that this answer, too, is internal to Pascal's noetic structure and tied up with religious belief in God. Although Pascal's noetic structure may be internally coherent, there is no external guarantee that it provides true access to reality.

Although this is the first time that I have explicitly raised the question of truth, it has, of course, been a background concern the whole time. Truth is implicit in the notion of justification; the goal of justification is truth, even if there is no way to know that one has achieved truth, outside of justification itself. This is not to say that a statement becomes true by being justified--truth and justification are distinct, but intimately related. Recognition of the insularity of justifications gets its bite from the question of truth. It is because we are interested in truth that insularity pushes an observer of various insular mind-sets to a relativistic epistemology. Post-foundationalism, we cannot take a God's-eye view--such a view, taken by a human, is itself recognized to be internal to a certain kind of noetic structure.

Faith, Conversion, and Soteriology

Even if he ultimately believed in the God's-eye view, Pascal was cognizant of the issue of insularity and the relativization of evidence to mind-sets, in Garber's telling:
   Pascal suggests that the evidence is available only to those whose
   hearts have been moved by the grace of God ... Pascal's God does
   not ask for a blind faith; it is a faith supported by reasons. But
   these reasons can only be appreciated after we are in a particular
   state of mind: after we have already dedicated ourselves to the
   search for God, only after God has moved our hearts. (26)

But, if God moves our hearts to faith, presumably there is some salvific effect--would this not justify faith in God? Is faith not known by its fruits? We must again answer that even such "facts of salvation" are only recognizable from within the mind-set that gives rise to them, so they cannot place faith in the realm of public contestability. Theologian Rudolf Bultmann, even with his faith commitments, heeded this limitation on facts of salvation: "Knowledge of them does not precede faith, so that it could be grounded on such knowledge in the way in which a conviction is otherwise grounded on evident facts. Of course, these facts justify faith, and yet they do so only as perceived in faith itself." (27)

So, it seems that we cannot use the achievement of a goal as an intersubjective measure of the truth of a religious mind-set because, as Clayton said, "The goal aimed at is as tradition-specific as the path taken. The goal is constituted as goal by the path chosen. It is the tradition followed that allows the practitioner to recognize the goal as goal." (28) It might be that the proof of the religious pudding is in the eating, but the pudding's proof is valid only for the eater.

Desiring Believing, and Objectivity

However, does the issue of insularity make a so-called "fact of salvation" any less true? That is, does the problem that it is not open to nonbelievers negate its soteriological character? Since salvation is of prime concern to the one saved, it would seem appropriate to think about facts of salvation less in terms of whether there is some intersubjective reality corresponding to a believer's being saved and more in terms of the believer's own experience of salvation. If this is right, soteriological truths would fall into the special class of truths that James delimited in The Will to Believe: "The desire for a certain kind of truth here brings about that special truth's existence." (29)

This might be the best way to think about religious truths in general. Due to the problem of insularity, there is no apparent way to adjudicate rationally between rival religious mind-sets, since they carry their own standards of justification within them. But, then, James's rule applies: "Our passional nature not only lawfully may, but must, decide an option between propositions, whenever it is a genuine option that cannot by its nature be decided on intellectual grounds." (30) Lacking common rational grounds of public contestability, we can ask with feminist philosopher Grace Jantzen: "What might happen, then, if we were to relinquish the preoccupation with the rational justification of beliefs and the evaluation of truth-claims and try to follow the path of desire to/for the divine?" (31)

Some might answer that a desire-based approach would land us in the relativistic realm of wishful thinking, but this fear seems to be borne of a vision of reality as a static state of affairs on which our desires have no effect. "James holds, on the contrary, that there are some domains in which truths will be hidden from us unless we go at least halfway toward them. Do you like me or not? If I am determined to test this by adopting a stance of maximum distance and suspicion, the chances are that I will forfeit the chance of a positive answer," (32) as Charles Taylor has read, supplying an exemplar of the class of truths that James discussed in the Will to Believe. Desires are determinative for the reality of the relationships between people, and perhaps it makes sense to conceive of religious truth on this model.

Relationship is just the analogy that Bultmann also used to talk about the justification of facts of salvation from within faith. "[A]mong ourselves trust and love are not grounded on the trustworthiness and love of the other person as things that can be objectively established but are grounded on the being of the other that is perceived in trust and in love." (33) This fits right into Bultmann's existentialist notion of faith, which takes religious pronouncements as having more the character of personal address than that of objectification. In James's words, "The universe is no longer a mere It to us, but a Thou; and any relation that may be possible from person to person might be possible here." (34)

Examination of the faith claims of religious mind-sets, then, shows them often to take the form not of objectifying propositions but, rather, of personal relationship. Of course, one might wonder why this interpretation of faith claims is allowable at all. Are not faith-claims exactly truth-claims about the way the world objectively is? Not necessarily; in thinking about faith-claims as constituting mind-sets, we open multiple ways of understanding their meaning. As Garber wrote, "Mind-sets come in a number of different varieties. In some cases, it is appropriate to think of a mind-set as a commitment to a particular proposition.... In other cases, mind-sets are not really propositional at all." (35)

In Kierkegaard's formative expression of the Christian mind-set, faith-claims are precisely not objective beliefs: "Christianity protests every form of objectivity; ... it is only in subjectivity that its truth exists." (36) In contradistinction to objectifying science and philosophy, Kierkegaard identified subjectivity with the passion toward which he thought Christianity aims. (37) As we have seen in Hume and Pascal, this is a plausible diagnosis of faith in general, consistent with the constraints of the insularity problem and with a relational model of religion. For Kierkegaard, indeed, the relationship between the subject and reality was central to nonobjectifying epistemology: "When the question of the truth is raised subjectively, reflection is directed subjectively to the nature of the individual's relationship; if only the mode of this relationship is in the truth, the individual is in the truth even if he should happen to be thus related to what is not true." (38) The sort of truth in question here, he clarified in a footnote, is "the truth which is essentially related to existence" (39)--which is to say the existentialist truth to which Bultmann was heir. To eliminate objectivity from religious truth is no less respectable and no more relativistic than the existentialism that dominated much of twentieth-century continental philosophy.

Nor, as we have seen, need an existentialist notion of religious truth forfeit the analytical resources of Anglophone philosophy* A religious epistemology of relationship should be susceptible of theorization by Nancy Frankenberry's radical empiricism, which is "an empiricism that sees 'knowledge of acquaintance' as having a vital function in interaction with conceptual 'knowledge about' ... where the 'given' is experienced relationally." (40) Consonant with my use of Kierkegaard, Frankenberry said that the religious significance of radical empiricism is that it "flatly opposes the subject-object view of experience that historically has perpetuated the assumption that the religious dimension of experience has to do with a subject experiencing a religious object as an object among others, much as a person experiences a chair or a table." (41) I cannot precisely spell out here the notion of experience with which such an empiricism would function but can only point to the radical empiricists in suggesting that we can conceive of religion as nonobjectifying, relational, and desire-based without forgoing the epistemic legitimacy of religious experience.

Relativity, not Relativism

If religion is conceived as a matter of nonobjectifying personal relationship with the divine--the divine, as desired according to a mind-set or noetic structure--what once appeared as a problem of the contradictory claims of different religions becomes less of a problem for truth. Each mind-set carries its own claims to justification, but the justification does not outstrip the specific structure of desire and its consummation, subject and object all rolled up together into a coherent and holistic relationship, making no claims on what occurs outside that structure of relationship. It can be seen as a Wittgensteinian sort of fideism by which, in Frankenberry's assessment, "statements of what is believed in a religious way are not to be taken as statements about historical or other empirical facts." (42) It is irreconcilable with foundationalism as applied to religion, with its demand for some common universal grounds of belief. In its place, we seem to be left with a sort of pluralism: If true religion is relationship, there might as many true religions as there are authentic relations.

Although it is somewhat more radical than the empiricism that Frankenberry has propounded, this pluralism is intrinsic to James's radical empiricism as he defined it: "He who takes for his hypothesis the notion that [pluralism] is the permanent form of the world is what I call a radical empiricist." (43) This pluralism is the implicit metaphysics that underlies the pragmatism assumed in his classic work, The Varieties of Religious Experience: "The obvious outcome of our total experience is that the world can be handled according to many systems of ideas, and is so handled by different men, and will each time give some characteristic kind of profit, for which he cares, to the handler, while at the same time some other kind of profit has to be omitted or postponed." (44) James's pluralism, his radical empiricism, and his pragmatism are tied together and collectively justified by prioritizing personal soteriology over remote objectification in religious matters. Opposing "religious egotism" to the impersonal scientific perspective, James wrote: "By being religious we establish ourselves in possession of ultimate reality at the only points at which reality is given us to guard. Our responsible concern is with our private destiny, after all." (45) What might appear to be an unphilosophical and ad hoc pluralistic and pragmatic methodology in Varieties can be underwritten by a religious epistemology that places soteriology at the center of religious knowledge. (46)

It is a short step, though, from pluralism to relativism---of which many have accused James--and the abandonment of any notion of truth at all. But, perhaps the relational view of religion need not push us that far. Charles Hartshorne, for example, repudiated James's move from relativity to pluralism, (47) propounding a consistent metaphysic and a God whose nature it is to be social. By analyzing relatedness, he displayed a God who can, without contradiction, be both absolute and related to all beings. (48) While I cannot enter into the details of the options here, there may be ways to make the relational notion of religion, initially somewhat implausible owing to its pluralism, work out metaphysically.

However, the result of this epistemology, while not necessarily relativistic, might compromise public contestability. This should not be surprising, because this view of religion was found as a solution within the bounds of the insularity problem, so it is in some sense private. But, there might be nothing wrong with its privacy. As Pascal's wager illustrates, the most important thing about a religion is its soteriology, not its ontology, and soteriology is a matter between the believer (or community of believers) "in relation to whatever they may consider the divine," (49) as James emphasized. The fact that it is not publicly contestable begins to seem irrelevant--all that is really needed from a religious epistemology is one that allows for facts of salvation, whatever that might mean for the believer. That, it would seem, requires meeting the divine halfway and entering into a relationship. That does not mean that the relationship is exclusive--with charity, we can begin to enter into others' religious worlds and see their truth. However, it might imply a removal of religious claims from disinterested public debate. If this is what the religious encounter implies, it is so much the worse for spectators.

(1) Alvin Plantinga, Warrant: The Current Debate (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 72.

(2) It bears clarifying at the outset that the insularity problem that I address here is not the radical incommensurability addressed by Donald Davidson, which is a problem of linguistic unintelligibility. A noetic structure is not the "conceptual scheme" whose existence he famously repudiated in the essay, "On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme," chap. 13 in his Inquiries into Truth and Interpretation (Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon Press, 1984), pp. 183-198; the insularity problem is the threat of justificational incommensurability, not what Davidson calls "conceptual relativity." Indeed, the possibility of mutual intelligibility is what allows the justificational insularity problem to arise at all.

(3) William P. Alston, "Religious Diversity and Perceptual Knowledge of God," in Philip L. Quinn and Kevin Meeker, eds., The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity (Oxford, U.K., and New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), p. 195. Originally published in Faith and Philosophy 5 (October, 1988): 433-448 (see p. 435).

(4) John Clayton, Religions, Reasons. and Gods: Essays in Cross-Cultural Philosophy of Religion, prepared for publication by Anne M. Blackburn and Thomas D. Carroll (Cambridge, UK., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), p. 25.

(5) David Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion and Other Writings, ed. Dorothy Coleman, Cambridge Texts in the History of Philosophy (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2007 [orig., 1779]), p. 14; emphasis in original.

(6) Ibid., p. 7.

(7) Ibid.

(8) Clayton, Religions, Reasons. and Gods, p. 29.

(9) Charles Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today: William James Revisited, Inst. for Human Sciences Vienna Lecture Series (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2002), p. 55.

(10) See Davidson, "On the Very Idea."

(11) Daniel Garber, "Religion and Science, Faith and Reason: Some Pascalian Reflections," Criterion 41 (Winter, 2002): 38.

(12) Ibid., p. 8.

(13) Ibid.; emphasis in original.

(14) Ibid., p. 9.

(15) Ibid., p. 37.

(16) William James, "Author's Preface to The Will to Believe and Other Essays in Popular Philosophy (New York: Longmans, Green, & Co, 1897)," in William James, Pragmatism and Other Essays (New York: Washington Square Press, 1963), p. 188.

(17) Clayton, Religions, Reasons, and Gods, p. 2; emphasis in original.

(18) Ibid.; emphasis in original.

(19) Ibid., p. 177.

(20) Ibid., p. 7; emphasis in original

(21) Ibid., p. 4; emphasis in original.

(22) Ibid.

(23) Hume, Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, p. 68.

(24) Tr. in Garber, "Religion and Science," p. 5.

(25) Ibid., p. 6.

(26) Ibid., p. 7; emphasis in original.

(27) Rudolf Bultmarm, New Testament and Mythology and Other Basic Writings, sel., ed., and tr. Schubert M. Ogden (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), p. 115.

(28) Clayton, Religions, Reasons, and Gods, p. 33.

(29) James, Will to Believe, in James, Pragmatism, p. 209.

(30) Ibid., p. 200; emphasis in original.

(31) Grace M. Jantzen, Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion (Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, 1999), p. 86.

(32) Taylor, Varieties of Religion Today, p. 46.

(33) Bultmann, New Testament and Mythology, p. 115.

(34) James, Pragmatism, p. 211.

(35) Garber, "Religion and Science," pp. 8-9.

(36) Kierkegaard's Concluding Unscientific Postscript, tr. David F. Swanson, intro, and notes Walter Lowrie (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press for American Scandinavian Foundation, 1944), p. 116.

(37) Ibid., p. 117.

(38) Ibid., p. 178.

(39) Ibid.

(40) Nancy Frankenberry, Religion and Radical Empiricism, SUNY Series in Religious Studies (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1987), p. 85.

(41) Ibid., p. 88.

(42) Ibid., p. 9.

(43) James, Pragmatism, p. 188.

(44) William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: d Study in Human Nature (Gifford Lectures on Natural Religion, Edinburgh, 1901-02) (New York: The Modern Library, 1902, 1929), p. 120.

(45) Ibid., pp. 491-492.

(46) It also underwrites James's orientation toward individual religious experience, but we could also imagine it being applied to faithful collectives.

(47) Charles Hartshorne, The Divine Relativity: A Social Conception of God (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1948), p. 92.

(48) Ibid., p. 25.

(49) James, The Varieties of Religious Experience, p. 32; emphasis in original.
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Author:Mundra, Anil
Publication:Journal of Ecumenical Studies
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2013
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