With Friends like Rorty, who needs Enemies.

Now I would call myself part of the Emerging Church Conversation (whatever that is) and recently there has been quite a bit of conversation around Hauerwas and Stout. And while I have yet to work through Democracy and Tradition, it have heard from several at Princeton that Stout was not attempting to privatize religion and that in fact Stout conservative conversation partners (Rorty and Rawls) were also making more room for public religion.

Well, because i’m a primary source kind of guy I thought i would track down Rorty and Rawls and see what they have to say about religion.

Today is Rorty.

Religious Faith, Intellectual Responsibilities, and Romance from his Philosophy and Social Hope, pp. 148-167, written in 1997.
In this essay Rorty positions pragmatism between two totalizing discourses, that of religion (or those who feel a responsibility to Truth) and science (or those who feel a responsibility to Reason). But pragmatism replaces these discourses with a responsibility to others, instead of some non-human transcendence. All beliefs/justifications gratify some sort of desire or need. The justifications of science gratify the needs of reason and control, and the beliefs of religion gratify the needs of emotions and hope. Science and religion need not conflict in this view because they gratify different hopes and desires.

But does this entail that religion is privatized? Well, yes, for Rorty it does.

He says, “So its [a utilitarian philosophy of religion] principal concern must be the extent to which the actions of religious believers frustrate the needs of other human beings, rather than the extent to which religion gets something right” (p.148). And also, “The quasi-Jamesian position I want to defend says: Do not worry too much about whether what you have is a belief, a desire, or a mood. Just insofar as such states as hope, love, and faith promote only such private projects, you need not worry about whether you have a right to have them” (153), and back to science and religion, “Both scientific realism and religious fundamentalism are private projects which have got out of hand” (157) because they have romanticized a responsibility to the True or Real and made it obligatory to the public. So if a theist wants to continue in his belief he must adopt a demythologized/symbolic view of doctrine (here Rorty mentions Tillich).

The basic move in this essay is to a post-foundationalist, pragmatic policing of science and religion (making them both fideistic projects), and then offers up the concept of Romance (which can be directed toward a trade union, a novel, a congregation, or a doctrine) as a fuzzy overlapping of faith, hope, and love.

Now, the essay “Anticlericalism and Atheism” written in 2002 from The Future of Religion, continues his anti-foundationalist/metaphysical project of overcoming positivist conceptions of science and religion. Here he makes a tactical shift and recants of his rhetoric centered on atheism (which is as foundationalist and fideistic as theism) and outlines his anticlericalism, which for him is the necessary shift to the political from the epistemological and metaphysical. “On our view [anticlericalism], religion is unobjectionable as long as it is privatized- as long as ecclesiastical institutions do not attempt to rally the faithful behind political proposals” (p. 33). This is preferable because we all have the right to be religious but not the right to ask that everyone should believe. Rorty then talks about Vattimo (who has an accompanying essay in the book) and Vattimo’s view of the religion as kenosis (emptying). God, in Christianity, has emptied himself, all his powers, all his authority, all of his otherness into the human community. Religion as kenosis is divine love (which is the only positive doctrine religion is left with) and all else empties into the secularized field. This anticlerical view boils down to deciding not to talk either about atheism (unjustifiable hope in future) or theism (an unjustifiable gratitude for past)because they are private projects, but we should rather muster these unjustifiable projects for the common good of social cooperation, toward which pragmatism is the only sure guarantee.

Now, I don’t see how this is much of a movement toward allowing religion in the public square, or having in any way lessened the need for religion to be privatized. He has only changed the terms slightly from his more combative rhetoric of “Religion as a Conversation Stopper” (1994). I don’t see how any theist would think that Rorty is coming around.

But I’m not saying that pragmatism has nothing to offer. Far from it. I still need to learn more (who knows when that will be), but for right now it seems particularly deficient in its ability to conceive of religion outside of a strictly Enlightenment perspective. Rorty’s anti-foundationalism, while rightfully iconoclastic of modern ideologies (positivist science and fundamentalist religion), his anti-foundationalism has yet to move toward narrative or the recovery of history (which is exactly what he doesn’t want) and therefore is thoroughly Enlightenment and modern with its view of progress, no matter how post-metaphysical he claims to be. So I’m looking forward to Stouts book to see how he handles these issues.

And too often Rorty sounds a little too cozy with a Male-Eurocentric perspective that distains all those backward developing nations. I’ll end with this: Speaking for the dark ages and religion:

“To be imaginative and to be religious, in those dark times, came to almost the same thing–for this world was too wretched to life up the heart. But things are different now, because of human beings’ gradual success in making their lives, and their world, less wretched. Non-religion forms of romance have flourished–if only in those lucky parts of the world where wealth, leisure, literacy and democracy have worked together to prolong our lives and fill our libraries. Now the things of this world are, for some luck people, so welcome that they do not have to look beyond nature to the supernatural, and beyond life to the afterlife, but only beyond the human past to the human future.”

If I have time this week I’ll post on Rawl, but he is so boring I might not find the desire. Open his books are like walking into a white, sterilized room, with tables and little objects stacked neatly and orderly, with a sign that says, “Please be quite, we don’t want to really know you, and please no music.”

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