Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hinduistic Conversion of Sudduth

To make a long story short, a well-known Calvinist Christian philosopher, Michael Sudduth has converted to a certain form of Hinduism, and the thinkers over at RealApologetics.org have it very wrong. Sudduth wrote a very long protracted defense of his conversion experience, reproduced here. Again, notice at Triablogue how Sudduth's very long an personal articulation is an example of "emotional immaturity." It sounded very coherent to me, but what I really want to address is RealApologetics.com. Jamin Hubner has made a very strange argument.

Put simply, he denounces the "impersonal method" of "Christian analytic philosophy." He does not define what he means by impersonal. However, on the about section, it seems consistent to say that analytic philosophy of religion is not proper. For anyone seeking "to do apologetics apart from a biblical basis simply do not meet the standards God has for His people." Implicit and consistent with this commitment is the thinking that moving past biblicism, a commitment to a literal inerrant reading of scripture is the only basis to think about God. The analytic philosopher doing philosophy of religion in terms of Plantinga or Craig is way off base. Thus it is a no-brainer in explaining Sudduth's conversion:
So, yeah, it’s not terribly surprising that a “Christian philosopher” can jump ship and give his life to Lord Krishna, given how disconnected “Christian philosophy” is these days from the very foundations of Christianity: theology. 
So the concealed move is an ad hominem in disguise of a rational point. Hubner has offered a ad hominem argument that took the form:

(1). Sudduth claimed Hinduism is an expression of his previous Christian faith and converted to Hinduism.
(2). Sudduth is not a theologian
(3). Therefore, Sudduth's claims about his own conversion are false (and therefore not a challenge for Protestant Christianity.

Sudduth's conversion and testimony reveal nothing as a challenge for Christian apologetics because Sudduth is not a real thinker about Christianity. If he were, he would be a theologian and then reflect on the demands of explicating faith. The starting point of Sudduth's conversion is a species of proceeding to adopt a position removed from theology. Now, this drives me bonkers. It's a bait and switch with our really addressing the issue. This type of rhetorical shit is passing off the self-affirming bias of a theologian as reason why we ought not to be surprised. Sudduth is not like us; he was never like us. He is a philosopher and not a theologian.
I think we are giving up too much by allowing philosophy to be somewhat autonomous and disconnected from its very roots: God and His Word. The fact is, there exists no true philosophy apart from true theology, as Bavinck, Van Til and others have asserted through and through. And so, whether we like it or not, there exists no true philosopher apart from a true theologian.
However, this does nothing to explain why we should not listen to Sudduth's conversion on rational grounds. Hubner never addresses Sudduth's letter on rational grounds. To do so, might be to use reason; instead, Hubner just pounds his fist table thumping like a pretentious child that someone disagrees with you about the nature of the world. Sudduth offered deeply personal reasons why his faith changed only to be rebuked in disrespectful ways. A proper philosophical treatment of Sudduth would have respected his point, attempted to re-create the reasons he displayed in his testimonial and then propose a reasoned defense and challenge Sudduth. However, this just displays Hubner's ignorance on what philosophy requires.

More than that, however, I want to protest against a certain type of evangelism that assumes biblical inerrancy and its literalism as a starting point. Those points are certainly key foundational points as to how Hubner proceeds and why he founded the website in the first place. Yet, these two positions are common in Protestant thought. They stem from the re-appropriation of Augustine's personal relationship with God. By re-appropriating that one may have a personal relationship with God, the Protestant reformers sought to delegitimize the authority of the Catholic Church. They challenged the longstanding authority of the Church. Thus, many Protestant churches put the burden of self-discovery and faith in the hands of soul-seeking individuals. Fast forward to Evangelical often non-denominational "Christian" places of worship, and you will find many Americans reading the Bible on their own, discovering God in Bible classes taught by a pastor (sometimes anointed by Church Elders as in Baptist churches with little or no training in religion), but putting the emphasis to grow and learn about Christ on their own. Yet, what these individuals do not do is read enough Augustine to know what defined that personal relationship.

If you read Book 1 of Augustine's Confessions you'll find that he was taught Latin and Greek by the grammarians begrudgingly. He had a stellar education for the day, and with respect to his ability to think, he was certainly a genius. Beyond that, the latter part of the Confessions offers thoughts about God and eternity which are not contained anywhere in the Bible. He reflected and thought through his faith while historically inventing theology. In the Protestant world, it's not as if Bessie and Mary are going to learn to read Attic Greek anytime soon at their huge megachurch, learn how to read the Bible in its original language nor study the tradition that informed Biblical understanding for the past 2000 years since Christ. In fact, if you accept Biblicism and inerrancy what you read is what you get. It's as if we can just lift insight straight from the text in English no less and we are removed from the burden to actually think through the requirements of faith much less the burden of interpretation and the history of past interpretations that unknowingly shape our conceptions. I think this is a process and belief that goes without questioning in Protestant circles and it is stupid. Even at first glance, a Reformed theology takes its cue from John Calvin, a person that assumed many things about the nature of reality without argumentation, like the doctrine of the Elect and predestination. These are beliefs that merit philosophical questioning.

So the theologian is left scrambling and this is very much the case with Hubner's comments. The theologian scrambles because Socrates and his followers are able to poke holes in the orthodoxy of tradition. As many philosophers know, tradition is not warrant or justification even though all theologians like to feign that authority or their own tradition is warrant enough. What philosophy does is push the envelop past where the faithful like to tread. God's eternity is a concept that demands reflection. It's not as if the Bible has any answers about the nature of reality; it does have passages that one can interpret as offering an explanation for reality in some ways. It's not as if the Bible offers self-evident moral truths about internet privacy laws. The Bible can be many things. It is a book written for a very popular audience, and some are incapable of reflecting past the point of comfortable naive literalism where the faithful do not read critically and question the revelation of truth--much to their own detriment. Their were Baptists that defended the right to own slaves in 19th century America, and there were Northern Baptists that felt it immoral. Religion can be co-opted by many forces and the want for a clear-cut and un-ambiguous reading experience of the Bible motivates Hubner belief that theology trumps/constrains philosophy. In truth, philosophy enriches the naiveté of this type of faith itself. Faith is not as simple as picking up a dropped coin. There is a deep background that informs us, even unknowingly to the purpose, context, history, language and associated meanings to any claim we might make. Now, if this sounds like phenomenological hermeneutics, then good. It should. Even plain hermeneutics matters, however. Anyone can claim the simple neutrality of the Bible, but interpretation is anything but neutral.

In this post, I have explained what I believe may motivate the calling out of Christian philosophers as non-theologians. Despite the fallacious reasoning of the earlier ad hominem, I have sought to explain why I think Hubner thinks it is enough to say that Sudduth is not a theologian. In other words, (2) has no bearing on whether or not we should accept (1) as true. Even then, there are implicit assumptions that motivate Hubner. Hopefully, I have given the reader some context as to why interpretation matters reflecting on the very pre-understanding of the non-denominational Christian inspired by the Protestant move to re-appropriate Augustine's personal relationship with God. This re-appropriation is naive in identifying Augustine with any democratized attempt to know the Bible only in English since nobody in the democratized sense had such a command to make sense of the Bible in the original language. Such efforts have attempted to be like the New Critics in English literature that argued for a text-centered-only approach. Such naiveté clearly gives evidence to the wrongheaded notion that tradition does not matter and that our understanding of scripture can be simply be lifted off the page due to the text's inerrancy as revealed religious scripture. Even if we concede the special class of revealed truth to the Bible, the communicability in language and the subsequent unavoidability of interpretation leads me to think that the text-centered-only approach -- which is also the reason why impersonalized reflection of analytic Christian philosophy of religion is criticized in the first place -- expresses the desire of non-denominational Christians to leave their faith purposefully unchallenged. While leaving a faith unchallenged and dismissing philosophy not rooted in the Bible may be convenient, it adds nothing to the fact that such naiveté leaves many philosophical questions unanswered about faith, and philosophy exposes these unrefined elements much to the chagrin of those that pretend otherwise.

No comments: