I've more or less stopped blogging, and I don't expect this will auger a return to that. Things to do, etc.
But for the past few days I've been participating in a discussion over at Postmodern Conservative. I've been generally impressed with the quality of the fare over there, but not quite as much as its predecessor, to be honest. Then Rob sent me a link to another post which gets at my concerns far more eloquently and completely than I had in my comments. The bloggers at PoMoCon got wind of it and are apparently mulling their response. I'm sure one will be forthcoming in the next few days. But I've got a suggestion which I believe would be too long for a comment, and so I make a post here.
In essence, my complaint, and the one advanced by Freddie, is that the pomocos are essentially trying to get the benefits of traditional foundationalist conservatism without conceding the central motivating force behind it: the existence of God being the reason and justification for pretty much everything.
As commented on the main blog, part of me really can't understand why the contributors at PoMoCo, many if not most of whom are self-described Christians, or at least theists of some description, are unwilling to make this move. It seems pretty obvious to me: if you like the system you get when you believe in God, and you also happen to believe in God, why not just take that and run with it? In thinking about it overnight, I came up with two possible reasons, which I shall discuss here.
The first is that if you start with God, or at least have God do a lot of heavy lifting in your thinking, there's the fear that you'll be unable to reach common ground with those who do not so believe. In some sense I understand this: I'm increasingly unable to discuss fundamental issues with non-theists--and even some theists, to be honest,--because for me, the belief in God really does make all the difference in the world. Just about everything I believe is dependent on some level on the reality of God. If that gulf is something you want to avoid, trying to get around that is rational, even if futile.
But on further reflection, I don't think this is a justification for not making the move anyways. If what you're trying for is a deep, intimate connection with someone, finding that kind of common ground will be pretty important. If, however, you are engaged in a discussion of political theory, one need not marry one's interlocutor to be productive. In politics, I don't give a damn whether you believe the same things I do as long as you're willing to support my political initiatives, and I won't be that upset if I have to compromise on points x, y, and z, if you're willing to compromise on a, b, and c. Recent history might suggest that this kind of pragmatic approach isn't actually practical anymore, as ideological differences are so pronounced that this kind of compromise is no longer realistic, and that may well be the case. But I don't think hiding the football about one's own ideological commitments and how they justify one's policy preferences is anything like a solution.
A second possible reason I think is a bit more understandable: they aren't willing to have God play such a large role in their system because the way that has traditionally worked is unsatisfactory. This I can see, particularly as this group of commentators seems to have a deeply-felt sensitivity towards the "tyranny of reason." The way theism has traditionally been applied to life, particularly in the Catholic tradition that several of the pomocos seem to hail from, is unbelievably rationalistic. Everything depends upon a particular concept of rationality which is dictated by a hierarchical authority structure which never really recovered from the body blow it suffered in the 16th century. Protestantism isn't entirely free from this either, particularly in fundamentalist circles, though this winds up being infinitely less compelling than the Catholic version. In essence, the traditional foundation seems too static, too impersonal, too dependent upon a conflation of what is dictated to be rational/logical with what is ethical. If this is what they I rejecting, than I join with them in rejecting it.
Fortunately, there is another option. I object to the view of God described above for similar reasons: thinking about God that way prevents one from having to deal with God as a person. Thinking of ethics as being inevitably dictated by reason means you don't have to think of ethics as a relationship with God. I believe that things are right or wrong not because they comport with or violate abstract rational principles, but because they are pleasing to or offensive to God. I believe that the world is the way it is not because this is the only version of reality permitted by the dictates of logic, but because God chose, at every minute point, to do things this way instead of that way. I also believe that there are a lot of issues for which there are either no satisfactory answers or several satisfactory answers, and that God has delegated a significant degree of decision-making to us, His children. I discussed this at some length a whole ago, and the ideas I presented there continue to be the core of my political philosophy.
If I am correct, breaking the connection between the ethical and the rational--not that the two are in conflict, but that if anything, it is the latter that is dependent upon the former, not the other way around--then this move, treating God not as the ultimate rational principle but as a personal sovereign, who makes his decisions based not on the confines of reason, but because of his sovereign good pleasure, may well serve to get the pomocos all of what they want (except for the first issue I discussed above, but again, I don't think there's any way around that). A lot of things which previously appeared to be fixed and immovable--systems of church hierarchy, aspects of personal ethics, and the vast majority of political life--are suddenly freed from their moorings. But because one moves forward based not on the dictates of reason but because of a relationship with a Person, one is capable of making choices and advancing policies and compromising on those policies. The critiques of postmodernism are preserved largely intact, but by allowing God to be a player in the system instead of requiring postmodernism to "get us to God," the foundation is shielded in some sense.
In addition, I think this would answer a lot of Freddie's critiques of the pomocos, because rather than saying "I believe because I need to," one says "God is real." The way in which meaning is derived from that is distinctly postmodern, but the base commitment is not simply choosing something willy-nilly. I doubt he'd agree to follow me down this road, but I'd like to think that if he randomly stumbled across this, he'd at least agree that I've got something here.Posted by ryan at October 10, 2008 9:32 AM