Faith and Reason

In order to illustrate the merits of such interaction, let us consider the eirenic example of Basil Mitchell, the philosopher of religion whose joint seminar in Oxford with Maurice Wiles on the relationship between philosophy and theology has already been mentioned. Mitchell contributed an essay on 'Philosophy and Theology' to the Festschrift for Frederick Copleston,34 in which he argued that, whether he likes it or not, a theologian is bound to be, for much of the time, a philosopher. Granted that he requires his own specialist skills for the study of the Bible and the Christian tradition, nevertheless the task of interpreting that tradition for today, in respect of its meaning and import for contemporary life, is essentially a philosophical task, calling 'for familiarity with moral philosophy and the philosophy of mind' and, we may add, philosophical logic. For questions of coherence are at stake, as we shall repeatedly see in the present book.

Mitchell is equally clear that the theologically trained philosopher is not simply applying to the theological agenda philosophical methods that have worked well in other areas. The special problems of analogical discourse in talk of God have to be reckoned with. But the fact that the theologians use human language in ways that need careful scrutiny if they are to be understood in today's world, and the fact that religious language has metaphysical implications that have to be explicated and defended, show that the theologian is already something of a linguistic philosopher and something of a metaphysician. Philosophy can be overly critical, as with the logical positivists, and it can be overly imperialistic, as with the Hegelians, the Heideggerians and the Whiteheadians. But it can also help to make the issues clear and aid the process of resolving them.

In much of what follows we shall bear the work of Basil Mitchell very much in mind. Mitchell's own book, Faith and Criticism35 contains an excellent defence of the interdependence of faith and criticism. 'Without faith in an established tradition', he writes, 'criticism has nothing to fasten on; without criticism the tradition ceases in the end to have any purchase on reality.' This could be read in a purely 'internalist' way as a defence of the use of critical methods within a faith stance, seeking its own inner rationality. But that Mitchell is in fact appealing to standards of critical rationality intelligible to any careful enquirer is quite clear from his account of the discussion that he once had with a Hindu philosopher, who at one point remarked, 'I am surprised to hear you say that. I should have thought that from your point of view, you would have said something more like this ...' He then went on, so Mitchell tells us, to develop his, Mitchell's, position in directions that Mitchell had not thought of, but acknowledged to be right.

It is in this respect that Mitchell's approach is to be preferred to that of Diogenes Allen in his book, Philosophy for Understanding Theology. In many ways, this is an extremely useful book. Allen shows how elements in all the schools of philosophy, from Plato to the present day, can be, and have been, used in order to appreciate more deeply the meaning of virtually every major Christian doctrine. But, for Allen, this is entirely a matter of faith seeking understanding. This is not just a question of the theological agenda controlling the selection and use of philosophical concepts. Faith is the precondition of the whole enterprise. One learns from philosophy, but only from a standpoint already adopted within the Christian religion and its theology. Much insight can certainly be achieved this way, as we shall see in the course of the present book. And Allen's very brief treatment of analytic philosophy in his concluding chapter contains some fascinating hints on the way in which the application to theology of the skills of linguistic philosophy can enable a religious object 'to emerge and to exhibit itself, so to speak'.38 But Allen, apparently, does not agree with Mitchell's conviction that such insights can be shared across the borders ofthe different religions and across the borders of belief and unbelief.

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