The Rigor of Love and The Love of Rigour

Even — and indeed especially — those who are denominationally faithless can have an experience of faith.

The above quote comes from Simon Critchley’s recent article about Kierkegaard, The Rigor of Love, that appeared in the NYTimes’  Opinionator Blog on Aug 8. 
Critchley continues with:

If faith needs to be underpinned by some sort of doctrinal security, then inwardness becomes externalized and the strenuous rigor of faith evaporates.

Some might identify this position with the much derided (though I don’t really know why) “new age spirituality” of the ’60s and ’70’s, but whether or not there’s a connection I have a lot of sympathy for both.

On the other hand from The Philosophical Primate we have this:

I’ve read many variations on this theme over the years: discussions which purport to redefine ‘faith’ and ‘God,’ but in reality only obscure the meanings of such words as they are commonly used, and in the end utterly fail to offer any definitions at all, new or old. Whatever the intended purpose of the authors, such writings have no effect in the world but to provide intellectual cover for ‘faith’ as more ordinarily defined and manifested, wherein people believe claims about the world to be true — primarily religious claims — in the complete absence of legitimate evidence, or even in the face of clear counter-evidence.

I too am very much concerned with the “intellectual cover” issue, but the Primate is also challenging the intellectual rigour of Critchley’s article and so is effectively fighting on two fronts at once. He opens with a statement that he is “unconvinced” by Critchley’s “word salad” and goes on to say:

The details of Critchley’s essay aren’t interesting enough in and of themselves to address. I’ve seen it all before in many forms, and frankly a point-by-point analysis is wasted effort when each “point” is so thoroughly nebulous and insubstantial:

He’s right, of course, that “point-by-point” refutation would be pointless (in both senses of the word) because he is also right that Critchley’s article isn’t presented as an argument. But he (along with others of his ilk) is wrong to assume that logical rigour is all it’s cut out to be. Not all problems can be resolved by it, and there are other legitimate avenues to conviction (including art and poetry).

With regard to the “intellectual cover” issue, Primate continues the paragraph I first quoted with this:

Defenders of traditional religious thought and institutions, even those whose views are most explicitly rejected by thinkers like Critchley and Kierkegaard, feel free to co-opt their musings nevertheless: The very Christians Kierkegaard criticizes borrow his prestige, and that of other respected academic theologians, to claim that their sort of faith and religion are intellectually respectable; they toss around Kierkegaard’s “leap of faith” language as if it were coined in support of their religious views, even though it springs from a critique that rejects so much of what they embrace.

So not only do such writers fail to justify their own claims — because those “claims” are not claims at all, but rather evocative poesy without substance or definable meaning — they advance the cause of those whom they theoretically oppose.

Now this clearly admits that Keirkegaard and Critchley “reject” and “oppose” dogmatic religion, but it objects that the weapons they provide are being used against us. Of course it is in the nature of any weapon that it can backfire or be co-opted by the enemy, but that is often the result of not learning to use it properly or not maintaining control of its use.

I submit that the appropriate response to K&C is not to tear down but reinforce their rigour (or understand their reasons for lacking it), and then use them the way they *want* to be used (and respect their power enough that you take proper care to *not* let them fall into the hands of the enemy).

This entry was posted in religion and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *