Just over the transom from Jacques:
Enjoying your posts as always! Thanks for writing so regularly, at such a high level. Reading your posts on Wittgenstein on religion I have a few quick thoughts about religion (or Christianity specifically). When I first started reading Wittgenstein, I initially thought that he had in mind some very different reason for thinking that historical evidence or facts were irrelevant to religion. Then I realized this was just what I wanted to think, for my own reasons; I think you've done a good job here of explaining what he and his followers probably have in mind, and why it seems so absurd.
Still, I have sympathy for his claim that it just wouldn't matter if it turned out that all the Gospels were fabrications (for example). I'm not a Christian--at least, I don't think I am one? But I have the strong intuition that the story of Christ is just true, in some ultimate sense, so that if it's not historically true that would only show that history is a superficial or irrelevant kind of truth--that it just doesn't matter what happened historically if we want to know about ultimate things like God, the soul, the afterlife.
If I learned that Christ never existed, for example, then I'd be inclined to interpret this "fiction" as some kind of intrusion of a higher reality into our lame little empirical world. God might well pierce the Veil of Maya in a "fictional" story, right? If this world is illusory or second-rate somehow, it wouldn't be that surprising if that's the way it works. The prisoners in the Cave might first intuit the real world outside by seeing (similarly) "fictional" representations of the real world produced by the figures in front of the fire.
So I think Wittgenstein overlooks an important third possibility: the truth of Christianity might be neither "historical" nor some set of "truths of reason" but instead some other truth that is just as "objective" (i.e., independent of any language games) but which is only grasped by means of a historically false narrative (or by means of participating in a certain language game for which questions of truth and falsity with respect to the empirical or historical world are irrelevant). I realize this is kind of sketchy and vague! Do you know what I mean?
This is fascinating and I encourage Jacques to work out his ideas in detail and in depth.
A comparison of Christianity with Buddhism suggests itself. As I understand Buddhism, its truth does not require the actual existence of a prince Siddartha who long ago attained Enlightenment by intense seated meditation under the Bodhi Tree and in so doing became Buddha. This is because one's own enlightenment does not depend on what some other person accomplished or failed to accomplish. There is no Savior in Buddhism; or, if you will, one is one's own savior. Salvation is not vicarious, but individual. Buddhism is a religion of self-help, or 'own power': if one attains the salvific state one does so by one's own power and doing and not by the mediation or help of someone else. History, then, doesn't matter: there needn't have been someone in the past who did the work for us. The sutras might just be stories whose truth does not depend on past events, but is a function of their efficacy here and now in leading present persons to the salvific state (nibbana, nirvana). Verification in the here and now is all that is needed.
What Jacques is saying sounds similar to this. The Christian story is true, but not because it records historical facts such as the crucifixion, death, and Resurrection of one Jesus of Nazareth, who took the sins of the world upon himself, the sacrificial lamb of God who, by taking the sins of mankind upon himself and expiating them on the cross, took away the sins: agnus dei qui tollit peccata mundi. Jacques is telling us that the Christian story is true whether or not it is historically true, and that its truth is therefore not the truth of an historical account. And he agrees with Wittgenstein that the truths of Christianity are not propositions discernible by reason. I think Jacques is open to the idea that the truth of Christianity is revealed truth, a sort of revealed 'fiction' or 'myth' that illuminates our predicament. But Jacques disagrees with Wittgenstein, and agrees with me, by denying that Christianity is a mere language game (Sprachspiel) and form of life (Lebensform). That would subjectivize it, in contradiction to its being revealed truth.
Jacques is proposing a fourth way: Christianity is the revelation by God of a sort of 'fictional' or 'mythical' truth that does not depend on what goes on "in our lame little empirical world." To evaluate this one would have to know more about the sense in which Christianity is true on his reading. Buddhism doesn't need historical facts because its truth is a matter of the efficacy of its prescriptions and proscriptions in inducing in an individual an ever-deepening detachment from the samsaric world in the direction of an ultimate extinguishing of desire and the ego that feeds on it.
I seem to recall Max Scheler saying somewhere that the Buddhist project is one of de-realizing the sensible world. That is a good way of putting it. The Buddhist meditator aims to see through the world by penetrating its radical impermanence (anicca) which goes together with its total lack of self-nature or substantiality (anatta), the two together making it wholly 'ill' or 'unsatisfactory' (dukkha).
Christianity, however, is not life-denying in this sense. Christ says that he came so that we may have life and have it more abundantly. This life is a transfigured life in which the self is not dissolved but transformed. Christianity does not seek the eradication of desire, as does Buddhism, but its re-direction upon a worthy object.
Orthodox -- not majuscule but miniscule 'o' -- Christianity is not susceptible to Jacques' reading. Christianity is a very strange religion blending as it does Platonic and Gnostic elements with Hebraic materialism and particularism. (How odd of God to choose the Jews.) Although Gnosticism was rejected as heresy early on, Platonism is essential to Christianity as Joseph Ratzinger rightly argues in his Introduction to Christianity. (Ratzinger was Pope before Bergoglio the Benighted. The German has a very good theological-philosophical head on his shoulders.) But Jewish materialism and particularism are also essential to Christianity. No orthodox Christian can gainsay what Saul/Paul of Tarsus writes at 1 Corinthians 15:14: "And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain." (KJV)
How the mystical-Platonic-spiritual-universal elements (Augustine, Pascal, Kierkegaard, et al.) can be made to fit with the material-historical- particularist elements is not easy to say. There are a number of tensions.
But the main thing that speaks against Jacques' interpretation is that Christianity does not propose an escape from this material world of space, time, flux, and history. This world is not illusory or the veil of Maya as on such Indian systems as Advaita Vedanta, nor is it anicca, anatta, and dukkha in the precise senses that those terms have in original, Pali Buddhism. This world is not a product of ignorance or avidya, and the task is not to see through it. The goal is not to pierce the veil of Original Ignorance, but to accept Jesus Christ as one's savior from Original Sin. The material world is real, albeit derivatively real, as a created world.
Is this world "second-rate"? Well, it does not possess the plenary reality of its Source, God. It has a different and lesser mode of Being than God's mode of Being. And it is a fallen world. On Christianity, it is not just mankind that is fallen, but the whole of creation. What Christianity proposes is not an escape from this world into a purely spiritual world, but a redemption of this world that somehow spiritualizes the gross matter with which we are all too familiar.
So on my understanding of Christianity, the problem with the material world is not that it is material, but that it has been corrupted by some Event far in the past the negative effects of which can only be undone by subsequent historical events such as the birth of Christ, his atonement, and the Second Coming. History is essential to Christianity.
Like Jacques, I too have Platonic tendencies. That may come with being a philosopher. Hence I sympathize with his sketch. Maybe the truth lies in that direction. But if we are trying to understand orthodox Christianity, then Jacques' approach is as unacceptable as Wittgenstein's.