Subtitle: A Secular Jew Comes to Faith in Christ. Thomas Nelson, 2016, 269 pp. I was aware of Klavan only as a hard-punching conservative PJ Media columnist before reading a review that 'turned me on' to this book. It arrived last night thanks to the synergy of Amazon.com and the U.S. Mail. I'm on p. 18, nearing the end of Chapter 1, "Great Neck Jew." Klavan is an uncommonly good writer and I will undoubtedly read the whole thing. If you are a tough-minded American Boomer like me on a religious/spiritual quest you will probably be able to 'relate' very well to this book. A fortiori, if you are Jewish.
A track star at the University of Southern California, Louis Zamperini was swept up like so many of his generation into World War II. Story and interview here.
In May 1943, his B-24 crashed into the Pacific. For 47 days, he floated on a raft in the ocean. He was then captured by the Japanese, who held him prisoner until August 1945. These experiences tormented Zamperini’s postwar life, but in 1949 things began to turn around for him. Zamperini forgave the men who held him prisoner, including the sadistic Japanese corporal, Mutsuhiro Watanabe, who was known as the “Bird.”
Zamperini credits a young Billy Graham for bringing him to Christ and forgiveness.
A major problem with Scholasticism is the innate desire that all men have to participate directly and ontologically in their God. We all want that real connection. Sudduth explains, “I pondered this experience for several minutes, while at the same time continuing to experience a most blissful serenity and feeling of oneness with God”.
The fact is Van Tilism and Scholasticism, its Grandfather, can never give man real and ontological connection because like the fools they were, they tried to take the Ultimate Principle of Plotinus and the Pagans and somehow get a Christian worldview out of it with their theory of Absolute Divine Simplicity. This leaves only a pagan ecstatic trance state for Christian men to seek in their attempts to connect to their creator. Thus Sudduth, was in my opinion, simply following his monad back to its Pagan source. He is being consistent. Sudduth says, “I had gone so far in my Christian faith, but it was now necessary for me to relate to God as Lord Krishna.” Notice he doesn’t say, “through Lord Krishna” but “as” Lord Krishna. In Plotinus’ construction hierarchies of being emanated from the One which represent levels of composition , and at each hierarchy was an intermediary. In different versions of this metaphysical construction, the gods are intermediaries on this chain of being. As one move up the chain of being one becomes ontologically identified with the intermediary. Sudduth says, “Since this time I have experienced Krishna’s presence in the air, mountains, ocean, trees, cows, and equally within myself. I experience Him in the outer and inner worlds, and my heart is regularly filled with serenity and bliss.” You see on his view, God is in the state of mind not the proposition.
In conclusion, I commend Sudduth for his logical consistency. When will the rest of the Scholastic Reformed have the courage to do the same? My Scholastic reader, Sudduth is taking Absolute Divine Simplicity to its logical end. I have two options for you.
1. Follow Sudduth
2. Leave Scholastic Neoplatonism for Gordon Clark’s Scripturalism: An absolute Triad: Three ontologically distinct persons; three distinct complex-non-simple eternal divine minds who find their hypostatic origin in the person of the Father.
I'd love to comment, but I have a dentist appointment. Man does not live by bread alone, but without bread and the properly maintained tools of mastication, no philosophy gets done, leastways, not here below.
Afternoon Update: I now have time to hazard some brief and off-the-cuff bloggity-blog commentary.
Earlier in the post, the author writes, "Once someone believes that truth and God cannot be found in a proposition, but in a psychological state, truth by definition becomes something subjective and arbitrary." The full flavor of this no doubt escapes me since I haven't read Van Til or Gordon Clark. Not that surprising given my background, which is Roman Catholic, though as 'Maverick Philosopher' suggests, I aim to follow the arguments where they lead, roaming over the intellectual landscape bare of a brand, and free of institutional tie-downs and dogmatic ballast. The lack of the latter may cause my vessel to capsize, but it's a risk I knowingly run.
But speaking for myself, and not for Sudduth, though I expect he will agree with me, I do not understand how anyone could think that the ultimate truth or God (who is arguably the ultimate truth) could be found in a proposition or a body of propositions. Doctrine surely cannot be of paramount importance in religion. That is a bare assertion, so far, and on this occasion I cannot do much to support it. But I should think that doctrine is but a "necessary makeshift" (to borrow a phrase from F. H. Bradley) to help us in our "Ascent to the Absolute" (to borrow the title of a book by my teacher J. N. Findlay). The name-dropping gives me away and indicates that I nail my colors to the mast of experience in religion over doctrine. (Practice is also important, but that's a separate topic.)
Thoughts lead to thoughts and more thoughts and never beyond the circle of thoughts. But I should like to experience the THINKER behind the thoughts, which thinker can no doubt be thought about but can never be reduced to a thought or proposition. Philosophy operates on the discursive plane, cannot do otherwise, and so is limited, which is why we need religion which in my view, and perhaps in Sudduths', is completed in mystical experience.
The path to the ultimate subject that cannot be objectified, but is both transcendentally and ontologically the condition of all objectivity, is an inner path. I needn't leave my own tradition and make the journey to the East to find support. I find it in Augustine: Noli foras ire, in te ipsum redi. In interiore homine habitat veritas . "Do not wander far and wide but return into yourself. The truth resides in man's interiority." The way to God is through the self. The way is not by way of propositions or thoughts or doctrines, and certainly not by fighting over doctrines or condemning the other guy to hell for holding a different doctrine, or a doctrine that plays down the importance of doctrine.
The ultimate truth is not propositional truth, which is merely representational, nor the ontic true of things represented, but the ontological truth of God. (This tripartition can be found in both Heidegger and in Thomas.) Now if I find God, but not "in a proposition," but by experience (in fitful glimpses as if through a glass darkly here below, in the visio beata yonder) does it follow that that I have merely realized "an arbitrary and subjective psychological state"? That is a false alternative. Not that I wish to deny that some mystical experiences are nonveridical and misleading. Humans are subject to deception and self-deception in all areas of life.
There is also the matter of the divine simplicity. Here I will just baldly state that a God worthy of worship must be an absolute, and that no decent absolute can be anything other than ontologically simple. For more, I refer you to my Stanford Encylopedia article and the divine simplicity category of this weblog.
This is hotly contested, of course. Athens and Jerusalem are in tension, and you can see that my ties to Athens -- and to Benares! -- are strong and unbreakable. There are deep, deep issues here. I am not a master of them; they master me. One issue has to do with the role of reason and the power of reason. While confessing reason's infirmity, as I have on many occasions in these pages, I must also admit that it is a god-like faculty in us and part of what the imago Dei must consist in -- and this despite what I have said about the discursive path being non-ultimate.
I grant that the Fall has (not just had) noetic consequences: our reason is weaker than it would be in a prelapsarian state. But we need it to protect us from blind dogmatism, fundamentalism and the forms of idolatry and superstition that reside within religion herself such as bibliolatry and ecclesiolatry.
We should not paper over the deep tensions within Christianity but live them in the hope that an honest confrontation with them will lead to deeper insight.
And a little Christian charity can't be a bad idea either, especially towards such 'apostates' as Michael Sudduth.
Before I posted Michael Sudduth's open letter on Saturday, site traffic for the month was averaging between 1600-1900 page views per day; yesterday, however, saw a surge -- the Sudduth surge to give it a name -- up to 2880, and now, at high noon Tuesday, I'm at 2200. Meanwhile, the industrious Mr. Lull (cybernaut extraordinaire, etc. etc.) has supplied me with two further links on the topic.
The indefatigable Dave Lull, argonaut nonpareil of cyberspace, friend and facilitator of many a blogger, pointed me this morning to Triablogue where there is some commentary here and here of a mainly churlish sort on the recent conversion of Michael Sudduth. Comments like those encountered there reinforce me in my view that comboxes are often better kept closed, except that our old friend Tony Flood did surface there and made a decent comment. (I wouldn't be surprised if it was the industrious Lull who hipped Flood to the Triablogue posts.)
In any case, reading Flood's comment put me in mind of his main site and I wondered what was happening over there. Well, it looks like old Tony himself has made a doxastic shift too, one back to his origins:
I have returned to the Christian orthodoxy from which (this may come as a surprise to some of you) my thinking strayed. Those fields did not yield what they seemed to promise. The harvest of my intellectual discontent is still on display here, but henceforth new content will reflect my new-old interests.
My current priority is situate myself mentally within Christian orthodoxy, a matter that I do not think has been settled for me. I believe myself to be a member in good standing of the Roman Catholic communion within the Catholic Church, from whose fold I do not exclude Eastern Orthodox and Reformed Christians.
The distinguished members of Tony's Gallery of Heroes are now under quarantine.
Inasmuch as mature religion is more quest than conclusions, a truth lost on the New Atheists and their cyberpunk auxiliary legions, belief change is to be expected and is often a sign of a vital and sincere seeking for a truth which is hard for us in our present predicament to discern. So my hat is off to Mike and Tony as the one swims the Ganges while the other refreshes himself in the Tiber.
Addendum 1/23: Logging on this morning, I found three messages from Dave Lull and one from Tony Flood. Lull apprises me of a second comment by Flood at Triablogue, a comment even better than the first, one that I have just now read, and mostly agree with.
The New Year has brought me quite a lot of surprising e-mail, but the following missive wins the surprise prize. (Since Dr. Sudduth has sent his open letter to numerous correspondents, and has posted it on his Facebook page, I feel entitled to post it here in its entirety without his explicit permission.) Comments later, perhaps. A fascinating document.
This from D. J. Stove, the son of atheist and neo-positivist David Stove:
When the possibility of converting to Catholicism became a real one, it was the immensity of the whole package that daunted me, rather than specific teachings. I therefore spent little time agonizing over the Assumption of Mary, justification by works as well as faith, the reverencing of statues, and other such concepts that traditionally irk the non-Catholic mind.
Rather, such anguish as I felt came from entirely the other direction. However dimly and inadequately, I had learnt enough Catholic history and Catholic dogma to know that either Catholicism was the greatest racket in human history, or it was what it said itself that it was. Such studying burned the phrase "By what authority?" into my mind like acid. If the papacy was just an imposture, or an exercise in power mania, then how was doctrine to be transmitted from generation to generation? If the whole Catholic enchilada was a swindle, then why should its enemies have bestirred themselves to hate it so much? Why do they do so still?
This reminds me of the famous 'trilemma' popularized by C. S. Lewis: Jesus is either the Son of God, or he is a lunatic, or he is the devil. This trilemma is also sometimes put as a three-way choice among lord, lunatic, or liar. I quote Lewis and offer my critical remarks here.
Just as I cannot accept the Lewis 'trilemma' -- which is not strictly a trilemma inasmuch as not all three prongs are unacceptable -- I cannot accept the Stovian 'dilemma' which strikes me as a text-book case of the informal fallacy of False Alternative. ". . . either Catholicism was the greatest racket in human history, or it was what it said itself that it was." Why are these the only two alternatives? The Roman Catholic church claims to be the one, true, holy, catholic (universal), and apostolic church. One possibility is that the Roman church was all of these things before various linguistic, political, and theological tensions eventuated in the Great Schism of 1054 such that after that date the one, true, etc. church was the Orthodox church of the East. After all, both can and do trace their lineage back to Peter, the 'rock' upon whom Christ founded his church. That is at least a possibility. If it is actual, then the present Roman church would be neither a racket nor what it claims to be. It would be a church with many excellences that unfortunately diverged from the authentic Christian tradition.
Or it could be that that true church is not the Roman church but some Protestant denomination, or maybe no church is the true church: some are better than others, but none of the extant churches has 'cornered the market' on all religiously relevant truth.
I get the impression that Stove has a burning desire to belong to a community of Christian believers, is attracted to the Roman church for a variety of reasons, some of them good, and then concocts an obviously worthless argument to lend a veneer of rationality to his choice.
My point is a purely logical one. I am not taking sides in any theological controversy.
I feel moved to comment on parts of R. J. Stove's statement. Maybe later. But at the moment I am more strongly drawn to the pleasures of the mountain bike. There is nothing quite like cranking a mountain bike through the foothills of a beautiful mountain range at sunrise. And the high I get after 1-2 hours of this is qualitatively different from the types of euphoria induced by hiking and running, though these are exquisite as well.