Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Theology's Conversation Partners: Continental, Analytic, or Beyond?

This is a summary and my response to a article over at first things brought to my attention at GO Thinktank, where I originally posted this.


Reno begins with a distinction between foundationalism and anti-foundationalism, with modernity championing the former and postmodernity the latter. Reno asks, Against the appeal of postmodern thought and its reveling in the positive side of nihilism (Vattimo), must we revert back to a foundationalist enterprise? Must we either, in rejecting violent universalizing discourse, embrace postmodern thought and its loss of Truth, or embrace a foundationalist Truth?

Reno answers, No. You can be post-foundational, yet retain truth, in analytic philosophy!

Drawing on the history of philosophy, he draws a line between ancient philosophy as "way of life", a "disciple of the soul," where as scholastic philosophy "does not so much sing about the meaning of life as prepare for, clarify, order, support, and clear away interruptions to the song sung according to another score." (please see the very helpful commenton the difference between "playing music" and "music criticism" by cynthia). Analytic philosophy has taken the mantle of this scholastic understanding, while continental philosophy has spoken in the dialect of the ancients.

But analytic philosophy is not a foundationalist discourse (in a sense) and ought to be embraced in it scholastic function, rather than passed over as a conversation partner in favor of the more prophetic continental discourse.

He concludes with affirming the analytic tradition as holding out the most promise "as a suitable conversation partner for theology in the crucial jobs of strengthening the doctrinal backbone of theology and restoring a culture of truth.

That is the gist of Reno's offering:
please, no more continental philosophy; analytic is very heplful.

My response:

I concede that analytic philosophy might be very helpful for all the reasons Reno suggested, and I even concede that continental philosophy in its nihilistic revelling betrays Christian doctrine.

The question for me is: How do we keep ideology (idolatry) critique, yet not lose truth? The continental tradition majors in the former, while the analytic tradition majors in the latter. But we need both.

And, using Reno’s own typology, I would say that many theologians gravitating toward the continental tradition also resonate with the understanding of philosophy/theology as “way of life”, as a “disciple of the soul/community.” This is why Marx’s statement, “Philosophy is about understanding the world, but the point is to change it!” resonates so deeply (is this a theory/praxis spilt? Perhaps yes; perhaps no.)

And in this post-Christendom situation, is the goal to restore Christendom (a culture of Truth, as Reno affirms), or is it something else. That something "else" is as "a way of life" is why it makes it hard to jump into analytic philosophy.

However, I would end with another alternative to either the post-foundationalist nihilistic postmodernity or post-foundationalist analytic philosophy: the emerging philosophies of the likes of Badiou and Zizek (based in Lacan) who equally draw from and challenge both traditions (especially pomo), but retain truth beyond foundations.

So, for a post-foundational philosopher who still trades in “truth” and the “universal,” I suggest Badiou's being and event as a good start.

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