TRUTH AND AUTHENTIC HUMANITY
Plenary Address by Dr Carver T Yu
The human condition, the possibility and actuality of being human, is the heart of the Gospel. Theology has to be "anthropocentric" if it is to be truly theo-centric, for as God unfolds Himself to us, we see humanity at the heart and in the horizon of His unfolding. "The Word became flesh" as the heart of the Gospel points to the fact that, as intended by God, truth is to be unfolded and actualized in concrete human reality.
At the same time, what is at stake for our present age is precisely the problem of authentic humanity. More than half a century ago, Berdyaev prophetically warned, "What is taking place in the world today is not a crisis of humanism... but the crisis of humanity. We are witnessing a process of dehumanization in all phases of culture and social life... Man has ceased to be supreme value, he has ceased to be any value at all."l And the observation of a German sociologist, Wolf-Dieter Narr, decades later, seems to confirm Berdyaev's concern. According to Narr, modern society has become "a society of conditioned reflexes", a society "where the individual is important only as a bearer of attributes - with reference to this or that attribute but not to what these attributes constitute: the person."2
The awareness of the crisis of-humanity is pervasive in modern society.
In the realm of historical reflection, we see an acute awareness of the breakdown of a humanistic synthesis. Christopher Dawson sees the modern world as the culmination of a continual breakdown of the Medieval humanistic synthesis, 3 while Berdyaev sees it as the result of the breakdown of the humanistic tradition since the Renaissance. Jaspers in his Man in the Modern Age points to the emergence of human masses, the powerlessness of individuals, the dissolution of traditional values, and the rise of nihilism, as signs of what he calls the "despiritualization of the world." 4 At the same time, starting from Spengler's Decline of the West, we see the sudden revival of the cyclical view of history, indicating the awareness of the real possibility of cultural breakdown. We have some of the most prominent historians-philosophers of history like Dawson, Sorokin, Kroeber, and Toynbee, who take such a view. Toynbee in particular is most pessimistic in the last book he wrote just before he died. In Mankind and Mother Earth, he warns that due to the vast gap between man's spiritual and his technological capability, not only human culture but also the biosphere are in danger of being destroyed completely.
At the same time, what strikes us as a possible sign of cultural dilemma is the gulf between technological optimism and literary pessimism. Amidst great scientific achievements of which the human person should be proud, we hear some of the most passionate indictments against the human person as well as laments for the human condition among literary artists. We have a host of literature testifying to the experience of the loss of personhood. Literary expressions of Joyce, Eliot, Kafka, Pirendello, Musil, Mann, Auden, Beckett, Hemingway, Camus, and Bellow, to name just a few, present the tragedy of modern man obsessed with his own self only to find it caught in the maelstrom of socio-cultural forces, metaphysically suppressed, scattered and dissolved into a stream of consciousness with no centre of integration or orientation. In the socialist context, the struggle for selfhood is equally if not more frustrating. Arthur Koestler testifies in his Darkness at Noon how the "personal I" can be transformed into a "grammatical I" with no personal content, a mere "first person singular" of a party functionary.
Erich Kahler set forth his analysis of the plight modern humanity most brilliantly more than three decades ago in his The Tower And The Abyss,5 and in comparison with some of the more recent critiques of modernity by Habermas and Lyotard, we can see that it is still highly relevant. Kahler points us to the continual breakdown of community due to continual rationalization in all spheres of human life. This prepares the way for collectivization, and communion which is the root for the human person's individuality is lost. At the same time, with the centre of integration or orientation being displaced by functionality, the inner world of meaning and values becomes fragmented by discontinuity and diversity of experiences. When both community and individuality are lost, what is still left for humanity? In light of this, the prophetic judgement of T S Eliot of the condition of modern man is most illuminating:
"Son of man
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images." (The Waste Land)
This inner fragmentation and the external rationalization/collectivization, according to Kahler, prepares the way for totalitarianism and barbarism right at the presumed pinnacle of Western civilization.' To W H Auden, Western tradition has effectively discredited itself because the whole historical development culminated in totalitarianism and barbarism, for:
"... the new barbarian is no uncouth
Desert dweller; he does not emerge
From the fir forests; factories bred him
Corporate companies, college towns,
Mothered his belief. He was born here."6
It is no wonder that reflection like that of Dialectic of Enlightenment by Adorno and Horkheimer to explain the logic of such historical development is felt to be needed. David Riesman also tries to make sense of the existential condition of modern man by placing him in a historical process of socio-cultural change. The Lonely Crowd seeks to portray modern man in contrast to Medieval as well as Enlightenment man. According to him, the character of Western man as an individual has gone through three stages of change. In the first stage, we see in the Middle Ages tradition-directed individual living in a community of hand-craft productions, with clear identity defined by his participation in a common world of meaning and values. In the second stage, we again see individuals with distinct and clear identity, the inner-directed individual in the Age of the Enlightenment who lived in an early industrialized society and was completely sure of himself with an inner certitude. However, in the third stage, we see the other-directed individual in post-industrial capitalistic society (in particular United States) who is uncertain of his own identity, with his self being emptied of meaning and values, driven merely by insatiable need for approval and recognition7. To put it more acutely, as Narr points out, "The change in behaviour long observed by Riesman, Mitscherlich, Weber, and many others consists in a destruction of 'inwardness', in a loss of the individuals' mechanism for reflection and for the process of experience."8 At the same time, correlative to all this development, as modern society is more and more rationally structured, modern man finds himself less and less at home in it, as A C Zijderveld observes:
"Modern man... does not 'live in society', he faces it as an often strange phenomenon. This society has lost more and more of its reality and meaning and seems to be hardly able to function as the holder of human freedom. As a result, many modern men are turning away from the institutions of society and searching for meaning, reality, and freedom elsewhere."9
If culture is a projection of man's self understanding, then we have to examine what understanding of the human person is to be held accountable for a socio-cultural condition with such an intense awareness of the crisis of humanity. And if legitimation is the name of the game, then we have a legitimation crisis here. Whatever perception of authentic humanity presently held to be truth, projected and objectified as concrete socio-cultural reality culminating to our present condition, has to be critically examined. For more than three centuries, the power of criticism has been regarded to be the heart of the Enlightenment. Now it is the Enlightenment ideal of the human person that has to be brought under critique. And for more than three centuries the Christian faith has been subjected to all forms of critique in the name of reason, without being aware of the fact that what has been presented as reason may have been more ideology than anything else.10
Perhaps Christian theologians should take the power of critique more seriously, instead of submitting to the Enlightenment critique of the Christian faith passively, they should bring the spirit of critique all the way back to the critique itself, so that the ideology intrinsic to the Enlightenment as well as the inner contradictions there may be revealed. Perhaps, very often, theologians succumb all too easily to the onslaught of philosophical currents, and are not critical enough, not only of our own proclamation, but also of the ideologies in vogue which are presented as reason and truth over against the Gospel as truth. So theologians have a two-fold task: on the one hand they have to be critical of the ideologies of their time, and at the same time, they have to be constructive in bringing forth the spiritual resources from the Gospel for socio-cultural synthesis.
2. The Question About Truth - The Heart Of The Problem
I had originally embarked to unveil the inner contradiction in the historical working of the innate entelechy of the Enlightenment ideal of man in terms of reason and freedom. I was in fact well on the way to show how reason has undermined and negated itself as it is being worked out as naturalistic-mechanistic rationality and functional rationality, and, how freedom is being turned into slavery due to the radical change of the nature of knowledge which is vital for autonomous decision and due to the loss of inwardness in modern man. But as I was writing, I had a deep sense of uneasiness. I felt uneasy, because I was aware of the fact that in unmasking the Enlightenment ideal as ideology in the context of presenting the Gospel as truth, I could be perceived as merely pitting one ideology against another. Suddenly I remembered a warning from Gilson: "when religion tries to establish itself on the ruins of philosophy, there usually arises a philosopher to found philosophy on the ruins of religion. After a Gazali, there often comes an Averroes, who answers the Destruction of Philosophers by a Destruction of the Destruction..."11 Besides, there have been severe critiques of the Enlightenment, as Horkheimer and Adorno would even see it as a process of self-destruction. I sensed that I was not dealing with the heart of the matter. At the same time, there seemed to be something more to my sense of uneasiness. There was the awareness that crisis of the modern condition is deep. In this age of so-called "post-philosophy", we are confronted with the final assault of any form of systematic understanding or meta-narrative, as Lyotard trumpets his war cry, "Let us wage war on totality; let us be witnesses to the unpresentable...," for in post-modern culture, "the question of the legitimation of knowledge is formulated in different terms. The grand narrative has lost its credibility, regardless of what mode of unification it uses, regardless of whether it is a speculative narrative or a narrative of emancipation."12 It is not that we need to agree with a Lyotard, a Derrida, a Rorty, a Kuhn or a Feyerabend, but they do reflect the mood of the age, where, "Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world..."13 For this age, mere theoretical analysis may either be ignored with a yawn, or received with a benign shrug as a self-legitimated different paradigm-language game among many others. Perhaps something needs to be done; perhaps we need to understand our situation in a slightly different way, and a different question needs to be asked.
We are here to discuss how we may present the Gospel as public truth. But what then is truth? How is truth - or how should it be understood here? Or in what form is truth being grasped and presented here? I think the heart of the matter lies here. Without a critical awareness of the way we speak of truth, we may fall into the same trap that the "innate entelechy" of the Enlightenment ideal leads modern man to.
Is it not the habit of the Western mind that whenever the question concerning truth arises it is almost exclusively the question concerning the epistemic status of truth, how truth may be identified theoretically as truth? Is it not true to say that, the question how truth may become concretized and realized as human reality rarely surfaces in philosophical discourses, which never really get beyond the questions concerning truth - values, truth-conditions or the plausibility of theories of truth? Is it not true that the question concerning the appropriation of truth or identification with truth is pushed into the realm of spiritual discipline, something distinct from knowledge, even theological knowledge? Is it not because of this that philosophy becomes a conceptual or language game, and becoming that, it has become irrelevant in addressing the question of the meaning or meaninglessness of human existence? Is it not true that, intimidated by philosophy and for fear of being marginalized, theology very often feels constrained to take the same approach to truth?
We shall show how the question of truth is relevant to our understanding of the modern condition.
As it is commonly held that the medieval world was a synthesis of trends of three traditions - Christian, Greek, and Roman. Even in the diastasis of the medieval world, the three continue to maintain a certain relation between them with increasing tension among them. In such a synthesis, according to Dilthey, the Greek tradition gave to the Western world an aesthetic-rational(istic) (aesthetisch-wissenschaftliche) spirit. This spirit seeks to bring everything into a metaphysical unity, with a highest Intelligence (eine hochste Intelligenz) or World-Reason (Weltvernunft) as the ground of everything. The World-Reason (gottliche Vernunft) is not only the principle through which everything is ordered into a logical and mathematical harmony but is also the link between human knowledge and existence. It is this spirit and the ground lines of an aesthetic-rational(istic) perception of reality which defines the formal structure of the European culture, while the Roman will for order, justice and law energizes the ordering of socio-political relations.14 Both had significant impact on the church. While the Roman will for organizational order affected the structural shape of the church, it was the aesthetic-rational(istic) spirit of the Greek that had far-reaching impact, for it defined to a certain extent the theological orientation and the thought-form of the church. The prophetic-apocalyptic pathos is subdued with a metaphysical structure, and truth as theoria becomes totally dominant.
In more or less the same vein, Husserl sees European humanity as being directed in its historical development by the ideal of universal rationality. According to him, "in European humanity there is an innate entelechy that thoroughly controls the changes in the European image and gives to it the sense of a development in the direction of an ideal image of life and of being, as moving toward an eternal pole."15 The innate entelechy is the philosophical attitude seeking a universal unity of all being in the environing world (Umwelt). It had its birthplace in ancient Greece. With this attitude, theoria as universal science aiming at universal rationality emerged, marking the beginning of the life-goal of a new humanity.16 Out of this attitude, there were of course various trends of development. There was, for example, what Husserl calls the tendency toward naive objectivism leading to the split between man as spirit and world as nature, and there was also continual homogenization of spatio-temporality, and continual mathematical idealization, paving the way for a naturalistic perception of reality. But what is relevant to our discussion here is the continual development of the theoretical approach to knowledge and truth. Such a development was of course not a necessary development. Great philosophical spirits like Socrates, or Plato and Aristotle were careful to recoil from such tendency. To them, philosophical speculations are invariably motivated, guilded and oriented toward the fulfilment of authentic humanity. The quest for the meaning and way of life was always in sharp focus. No doubt, for Socrates, disciplining of the mind for clear and consistent thinking is the starting point of a reflective life, and the "highest good" in such a life is knowledge. Yet, discipline of the mind is at the same time of the discipline of the will, leading to virtue. And in Socrates' death, we see truth being affirmed and verified with life. However, even there, the relation between contemplation and realization of truth in human existence was not always clear. And in fact, it seems that right understanding was conceived to lead to virtue naturally.
The theoretical approach to truth became all the more dominant and in fact took a significant turn in Descartes. In Descartes, epistemological speculation clearly took priority in the quest for truth until it occupied the whole scope of the quest. "Cogito" gives certainty to the self primarily as a thinking being. As John Macmurray rightly points out:
"the philosophy of Descartes rests upon the assertion of individual freedom in the field of reflection. Descartes does not claim freedom to act, only freedom to think... Thinking is the essence of the self. The self is a mind... The identification of the self with the mind, and so with the spontaneity of reflective life in a world of ideas, in opposition to a material world which is external to it is characteristic of all modern philosophy."17
What made matters worse was the fact that Descartes started his quest from a position of radical skepticism. The quest for truth became a quest for epistemological certainty. From then on the whole philosophical energy of the Western tradition has been spent on trying to eliminate skepticism which one accepts as the starting point for the quest for truth. No wonder Kant would lament that:
"It still remains a scandal to philosophy and to human reason in general that the existence of things outside us (from which we derive the whole material of knowledge, even for our inner sense) must be accepted merely on faith, and that if anyone thinks good to doubt their existence, we are unable to counter his doubts by satisfactory proof."18
The fact that such a position is problematic is revealed in Heidegger's response to it:
"The 'scandal of Philosophy' is not that this proof has yet to be given, but that such proofs are expected and attempted again and again. Such expectations, aims, and demands arise from an ontologically inadequate way of starting with something of such a character that independently of it and 'outside' of it a 'world' is to be proved as present-at-hand."' 9
It can also be revealed perhaps even more clearly in contrast to the ancient Chinese thought. The Chinese approached reality or truth with Ching (reverence) to Tao (Being). Ching is the intuitive confidence for the unity between Tao and human existence, and thus for the existence and infinite value of man as well as the cosmos. Tao was grasped in the immediacy of existence as well as the constant dialogue and communion between Tao and human being. Because of such confidence, philosophical energy was spent almost totally in the cultivation of authentic humanity through attentive following of the way of Tao, through harmonious intercourse within the communion of beings. For the ancient Chinese, to be a philosopher or to be wise is simply to be human. So Confucius would regard an illiterate peasant as a profound philosopher. Much intellectual energy was spent on "The Learning of Hsin-hsing (heart-nature)". Here, Tao or Truth of Being is not to be grasped merely as an object of thought, for it is in the human person's inner being or in the depth of his/her humanity can it be grasped and realized. That is, Tao or Being can only be grasped In Its very actualization or concretization in authentic human existence. A human person knows Tao or Being in his/her authentic acting out of what is natural to his/her Hsin-hsing. Thus cultivation of inwardness and transcendence is the true business of philosophy, as Wang Yang-ming, one of the greatest Neo-confucianists, described how his students were to acquire wisdom:
"Listening first with mixed doubt and belief.
My students find their heart finally revealed.
Their hearts are like mirrors in the mud,
Enclosing the light within the darkness.
Dust and dirt once removed,
The mirror will reflect the beautiful and the ugly."20
And once the "mirror" becomes clear, his being can reflect Tao, for:
"Hsin (mind-and-heart) is Tao (the Way), and Tao is T'ien (Heaven). If one knows (his own) heart, he would know the Way and Heaven."21
Something to that effect may be said to be propounded by Heidegger, although more obliquely:
"The essence of thinking, experienced in this way, that is, experienced on the basis of Being, is not defined by being set off against willing and feeling. Therefore, it should not be proclaimed purely theoretical as opposed to practical activity and thus restricted in its essential importance for the essence of man."22
In fact, for those who take subjectivity seriously for the unfolding of Being, even for some of Western transcendentalists, the skeptical-intellectualistic approach to truth is not the only possible path. If indeed according to subjectivists, the human person's thinking cannot go beyond experience, proceeds from experience and concerns with nothing but experience, then man has to 'listen' to experience carefully. For the Confucianist or even some transcendentalist philosophers (like Fichte, for example), it is precisely in (transcendental) reflection on experience that one finds an intuitive awareness of the principle of purpose running through all our experiences. A very different path of philosophizing could have been taken, and the concern for truth as the Way for authentic humanity could have certain socio-cultural implications. But even then, there is something more to the "fatal heritage" from Descartes - the subjectivistic turn in the quest for truth.
With this subjectivistic turn, the very nature of human being is defined not merely as a thinking self (rather than an agent whose being is in his act), but also defined as a self who is a "worldless subject". The world becomes nothing but an "environing world" created by the subject her/himself. The modern age, as Heidegger characterizes it, is the Age of the World Picture, as Western man seeks to subject everything under his/her dominion, and turn them into a system of representation or symbolization.
When the basic assumption that there is unity of the self, or unity and universality of transcendental reason, the subject can be sure of itself as the centre of everything. But as soon as the question concerning the unity of the self, or the unity or universality of transcendental reason, or the reality of the mind, is raised, the spectre of nihilism would continue to haunt modern man. In fact, the de-construction of the fundamental assumption of transcendental reason as the universal character of the self has taken place along two paths leading to the same result. Along the path of the Hegelians, reason is no longer regarded as an attribute of the self and rooted in the self, but is merely a manifestation of the "transcendent" Reason, which unfolds itself in a socio-historical process. Transcendental reason as the centre of certainty of the transcendental self is submerged in Reason. The former vision of the autonomy of reason which is synonymous to autonomy of the self is shattered. Autonomous reason is completely determined by some Absolute Principle beyond it (though some kind of identity between reason and Reason is sought to be guaranteed). In the worst scenario, the self becomes a mere function of a historical process, or human perception of truth coming out of reason is nothing but a necessary product of a certain stage of historical development. Any illusion that truth is the "discovery" out of the responsible act of the self is dissolved. In another path, following the empiricist path, as transcendental reason collapses under the weight of persistent skepticism, the ultimate certainty of the Cartesian "I think" is taken over by the certainty of "I speak". The reality of language becomes the ground of certainty. Consciousness thus gives way to language. Before, consciousness was regarded as the ground and presupposition of language. But now, it is language which gives consciousness its form and content. And the logic of language becomes the controlling centre.
With the discovery of subjectivity, Western man is supposed to be on the way to interiority or inwardness, grounding himself in himself, liberating himself from the necessary attachment to that which is external to himself, particularly external authority. Yet it is an interiority of thought in contrast to an interiority of life as the Protestant principle. What is perceived as a historical process of interiorization turns out to be a process of exteriorization. For as the self turns inward, cutting himself off from the impact of reality which is much more profound, he is confined to the resources within the confine of his consciousness. Instead of opening himself up to be informed and enriched by that which is other than himself, he has nothing but himself to play with. The horizon of self-transcendence no longer lies in that which truly transcends the subject, but is within the boundary of consciousness. The transcendental act is thus nothing but an act of objectification and projection of the structures and content of consciousness, be they the structures of sensibilities or understanding, or of the will, or of emotion. Objectification of the consciousness becomes the defining quality of humanity (e.g. Ernst Cassirer). Instead of receiving from the "Source" of being, the objectifying spirit seeks to "exhaust" itself. There is no longer any "mystery of being", the inwardness of the subject is to become something completely objectifiable. In Kant subjectivity is objectified as universal categories of understanding. Following this route, the structure of consciousness becomes objectified in terms of the structure of language. Here, the grasping of truth lies in the grasping of the innate structure of understanding or the inner logic of language. The other route is taken by Hegel. Hegel gives subjectivity a socio-historical dimension. Subjectivity is to be exteriorized as the logic (or inner dialectic) of a historical process. Subjectivity is therefore to be "recollected" through "recollecting" what have been spread out in history. With this trend of objectification, man is on the way of becoming a function of a socio-historical process. Again grasping truth here is the grasping of Reason in history or the inner dynamics of the evolution of social systems.
In both cases, truth for the cultivation of humanity, whether in terms of personal existence or in terms of socio-cultural fulfilment, is by and large neglected, except in reactive movements such as Marxism and existentialism.
3. Truth As The Way To Humanity
With all the explosion of empirical knowledge, with all the analytic sharpness and semantic precision, with all the construction, reconstruction and deconstruction, where does it lead modern man to? The prophetic judgment of T S Eliot cannot be more timely as we look at our situation today:
"The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness; Knowledge of speech, but not of silence; Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearer to death no nearer to God.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?..."23
These words of Eliot should be pondered again and again by the church with an attitude of self-questioning. We have to ask ourselves, can it be possible that the proclamation of the church too brings "knowledge of words, but ignorance of the Word"? and we give the human person information and knowledge when they come for wisdom? Or have we not missed the point of proclamation? Have we not missed the vital needs of the people for whom the Gospel should be Word of life? Again, in all our intellectual endeavour to justify our belief before philosophers and scientists, have we not misplaced our intellectual energy and missed the real issues at stake? As Eliot points out to us once again:
"The world turns and the world changes,
But one thing does not change.
In all of my years, one thing does not change.
However you disguise it, this thing does not change:
The perpetual struggle of Good and Evil.
Forgetful, you neglect your shrines and churches;
The men you are in these times deride
What has been done of good, you find explanations
To satisfy the rational and enlightened mind.
Second, you neglect and belittle the desert.
The desert is not remote in southern tropics,
The desert is not only around the corner,
The desert is squeezed in the tube-train next to you,
The desert is in the heart of your brother."24
Have we not missed the most fundamental of human reality in our pursuit for truth? Have we not forgotten the way God chose to "proclaim" Himself, not through the overpowering manifestation of Himself as protesta absoluta, but through humiliation and suffering? Truth does not seem to be proclaimed by God Himself for exhibition of the Immensity of divine rationality, but that human beings may have life and have it abundantly. And so, "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth." It is in the humility and incomprehensibility of the Incarnation that "we have beheld His glory."
"The Word became flesh" radically changed our perception of truth. Truth is truth concretized as true humanity in Jesus Christ, who is both the truth, the light and the way. As the light, it shines into the darkness of our heart; as the way, It points to and leads to authentic humanity. In Jesus Christ, truth is not an abstract representation of the Absolute, but authentic humanity in concrete reality, unfolded in a life which is life-for-others. Through Jesus Christ we do not come to know God as Pure Thought, but as a God who acts, who encounters human beings and engages them in His very acts. The actuality of God's being is manifested in His acts, not as a sheer manifestation of what He is capable, but as manifestation of His freedom to love, His goodness in actualizing this freedom to love through self-limiting, self-giving acts culminating in the actuality of Jesus Christ. And all these are to become concrete human reality in us. Truth, following the principle of identity, is actuality becoming actuality itself. It is the actuality of authentic humanity in Christ becoming actuality in us. It is through our very act in our freedom to love that we become actual. In becoming so, we become the actuality of truth.
Such an understanding of truth is in no way anti-intellectual. It calls our attention to examine the way we place our intellectual energy and creativity. The exercise of our intellect is part and parcel of our realization of truth in us.
Is it therefore not the duty of theologians to develop theological structures for the cultivation of this life-for-others? If theology is to be a science, should it not be completely determined by the object of its "comprehension", by the mode, scope and intent of God's revelation as revealed in Jesus Christ? As we write our theological tomes, should we not at the same time ask, whether we are writing truth into the human person's life. What exactly is this whole business of faith, if it is not meant for the transformation of our life? As I am asking this question, W H Auden's "Christmas Oratorio - For The Time Being" comes to my mind. The three Magi ask themselves, each to himself: why have I been following the star? To this, the first Magi answers:
"With rack and screw I put Nature through
A thorough inquisition... Her answers were disjointed...
She is just as big a liar, in fact, as we are.
To learn to be truthful now
Is the reason I follow this star."
And the second Magi confesses:
"My faith that in Time's constant
Flow lay real assurance
Broke down on this analysis –
At any given instant
All solids dissolve, no wheel revolve,
And facts have no endurance -
And who knows if it is by design or pure inadvertence
That the Present destroys its inherited self-importance?
With envy, terror, rage, regret,
We anticipate and remember but never are.
To discover how to be living now
Is the reason I follow the star.
And for the third Magi:
"Observing how myopic
Is the Venus of the Soma,
The concept Ought would make, I thought,
Our passion philanthropic,
And rectify the sensual eye
Both lens-flare and lens-coma:
But arriving at the Greatest Good by introspection
And counting the Greater Number, left no time for affection,
Laughter, kisses, squeezing, smiles:
And I learned why the learned are as despised as they are.
To discover how to be loving now
Is the reason I follow the star."
And they join together:
"To discover how to be human now
is the reason we follow the star."
To this human quest, what do we as theologians have to say?
As narrative theology is now in vogue, I will take advantage of this to tell you stories Instead of presenting profound theological or philosophical arguments. I was told a story about a young man in the Sung Dynasty, after much toil and danger in his quest for truth, he came before a Buddhist master and begged him to show him the way to truth. The master turned him back for reason of unbearable hardship in the quest. The young man drew his sword and cut his left arm off, to show his determination for truth. Several years ago I was told by a Sister who worked with Mother Teresa about a story of her own...
While philosophers are busy ascertaining the verification of truth, we have to ask, is it not possible that truth may have to be verified in a different way? Is it not true that in our Christian experience, truth has to be verified with our life, precisely in this age when man has gained everything except life, when he loses his inwardness, his self. Perhaps, the word of Nathan the Wise (Lessing) should be taken more seriously, although the "as if" attached to his advice is to be discarded. In the final analysis, it is life that proves to be a verification that truly matters. And as public truth it is the truth in life that is most in want in the modern world. Thus Christian truth has to be verified as truth in the life of those who proclaim it as truth. Perhaps we should start thinking how we may best use our intellectual energy to develop frameworks for the actualization of truth while defending truth theoretically. T R Glover reminded us of the Early Church, "The Christian proclaimed a war of religion in which there shall be no compromise and no peace, till Christ is Lord of all; the thing shall be fought out to be bitter end. And it has been. He was resolved that the old gods should go; and they have gone. How was it done? Here we touch what I think one of the greatest wonders that history has to show. How did the church do it? If I may invent or adapt three words, the Christian "out-lived" the pagan, "but-died" him, and "out-thought" him.25 May we ponder carefully on these words.
1. Nicholas Berdyaev, The Fate of Man in The Modern World, tr. D A Lowrie, Ann Arbor, 1961, page 25.
2. Wolf Dieter Narr, "Toward a Society of Conditioned Reflexes," Observations on the "Spiritual Situation of the Age", ed. Jurgen Habermas, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1984, page 36.
3. Cf. Progress and Religion, London: Sheed and Ward, 1920, and Dynamics of World History, London, 1957.
4. Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age, tr. C Paul, London, 1951, pp 128-30.
5. Erich Kahler, The Tower and the Abyss: An Inquiry into the Transformation of Man, New York: The Viking Press, 1967.
6. W H Auden, "The Age of Anxiety", Collected Poems, London, 1976, page 353.
7. David Riesman, The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1950.
8. Narr, op. cit. page 33.
9. A C Zijderveld, The Abstract Society, London, 1972, page 49.
10. Cf. Gerald J Galgan, The Logic of Modernity, New York: New York University Press, 1982, pp. 137 ff.
11. Etienne Gilson, The Unity of Philosophical Experience, Westminster, MD: Christian Classics, 1982, page 35.
12. Jean-Francois Lyotard, "The Post-modern Condition", After Philosophy, ed. K Baynes, J Bohman, and T McCarthy, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987, pp. 69, 82.
13. W B Yeats, "The Second Coming" The Collected Poems of W V Yeats, New York: Macmillan Co.
14. Wilhelm Dilthey, Welthanschauung and Analyse des Menschen seit Renaissance and Reformation, Berlin: B G Teubner, 1914, pp 1-17. Cf. Stanley R Hopper, The Crisis of Faith, New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1944.
15. Edmund Husserl, Phenomenology and the Crisis of Philosophy, tr. Q Lauer, New York: 1965, page 157.
16. Ibid., page 173.17. John Macmurray, The Clue to History, London: SCM Press, 1938, pp. 183-4.
18. Critique of Pure Reason, Bxl note a.
19. Martin Heidegger, Being and Time, tr. J Macquarrie and E Robinson, Oxford: Blackwell, 1978, page 249.
20. Julia Ching, To Acquire Wisdom: The Way of Wang Yang-ming, New York: Columbia University Press, 1976, page 63.
21. Ibid, page 125.
22. Martin Heidegger, Nietzsche, vol. 4: Nihilism, New York: Harper and Row, 1982, page 218. Cf. D M Levin, The Opening Of Vision: Nihilism and the Postmodern Situation, New York: Routledge, page 14.
23. T S Eliot, "Choruses from 'The Rock'," Collected Poems: 1909-1962, London: Faber and Faber, 1963, page 161.
24. Ibid., page 163.
25. T R Glover, The Jesus of History, London: SCM Press, 1917, page 213.