Wednesday, December 12, 2012

WHAT HAS SOCIETY COME TO WHEN RELIGIOUS VIEWS ARE PRESENTED POSITIVELY ON PUBLIC TELEVISION?


My colleague Benoît Côté has already addressed, in a noteworthy manner, the article published by a certain Mr. Brisson in the Huffington Post. I published his response to Mr. Brisson on my blog, as a guest blogger, here. If you understand french, I would highly recommend reading his article. I also wish to say something about the documentary and Mr. Brisson's response to the documentary. I will, however, be coming at it from a slightly different angle, so though I agree profoundly with Benoît Côté, our responses do not seem to overlap in any significant way.Due to the importance of the subject that I will be discussing, this will be one of the few blog posts that will be published in both French and English (French edition will be published later). 

Recently RDI showed a documentary entitled Les Soldats de Jésus (The Soldiers of Jesus),[1] which sets out to explore the protestant evangelical movement that is gaining a certain importance in Quebec. The documentary sets out with the purpose to understand, from the point of view of those who would call themselves evangelicals, what evangelicals believe, how they live, the role of the pastor, and what they consider to be religiously and morally important. Interestingly enough, the “authority” that the documentary relies on for explaining the important “evangelical” doctrines that distinguish evangelicals from other religious movements is not, himself, an evangelical. He, Frédéric Dejean, points out what he considers to be the important differences between evangelicals and other “Christian” movements, you might call them, “evangelical distinctives”: (1) The elevation of the Bible as the only authority, according to a literal interpretation,[2] (2) The importance of a personal conversion, that is the choice of the individual, and (3) The importance of evangelism in the life of the believer. He also claims that it is this literal interpretation of the Bible that leads to the rejection of evolution, and a number of certain moral views.

To be entirely honest with the reader, I, personally, did not plan on watching the documentary, however, the day after the documentary was broadcast I began noticing a number of interesting responses to the documentary. A large number of evangelicals were thrilled that, finally, for the first time ever, the media represented the evangelical movement as the evangelicals understand it. Rather than focus on the “black sheep” or fringe movements that call themselves evangelical, the documentary sought to portray the evangelical movement as it is perceived by the majority of those who are practicing evangelicals. Some of the evangelicals that I spoke with told me that they were disturbed by certain elements that were brought up in the short (45 minute long) documentary – elements that, as a philosopher and theologian, I would never touch on unless I had at least an hour in order to properly explain the doctrine in question. There was another type of reaction that I came into contact with, a reaction that, to be totally honest, can only be characterized as militant atheism, and a rhetorical attack on evangelicalism. A friend of mine sent me an article published by Pierre-Luc Brisson, at the Huffington post. The reaction of Mr. Brisson is, to be honest, the only reason why I even considered watching the documentary. Mr. Brisson’s response to the documentary requires, itself, a response that points out his biased, uninformed, and unfair, treatment of evangelicals.

In this blogpost, though I may refer to certain elements that are presented in the film, I am writing with the purpose of pointing out a very dangerous ideology that presents itself in Mr. Brisson’s response to the documentary.[3] I will begin with a short outline of his article, and then I will point out a number of important principles that we must keep in mind whenever we wish to interact with any point of view, whether it be religious, philosophical, scientific, etc.

Mr. Brisson begins his article with a brief explanation of what the evangelical movement is. It seems that his understanding of the evangelical movement comes entirely from the documentary, as, in his short article, he simply does not give us any new information. Anybody who watched the documentary, and then read his article could immediately jump to the third paragraph. From the third paragraph to the end of the article Mr. Brisson engages in what is, to the unbiased reader, quite obviously,[4] a rhetorical attack on the documentary and on the evangelical movement. “Wait”, someone might say, “but he brings up some important and true facts.” I will come back to the “facts” that Mr. Brisson points out in the course of this article.

There are a number of important principles that need to be taken into consideration whenever we approach, and attempt to understand, any point of view. Looking at these principles will help us to put Mr. Brisson’s article, and the documentary, in perspective. First of all, in order to truly understand any movement, ideology, philosophy, religion, or even a simple opinion, you must, absolutely, do two things. First of all, you need to listen more than you talk. That is, you need to hear or read (in articles, interviews, books, documentaries, etc.), what the people holding the view in question (the members of a movement, the politician in a political party, or a philosopher advocating his view) think, how they see their movement (philosophy, political party, etc.), and what they see as being the logical consequences of their movement, ideology, politic or philosophy. This is just the only appropriate way to approach any view, whether it be religious, political, moral, scientific or philosophical. For example, if I want to know what Heidegger thinks, then the first thing I need to do is read Heidegger. You don’t start your research by reading philosophers that disagree with Heidegger. You don’t disagree with Heidegger based upon hear-say. You cannot rationally disagree with Heidegger until you’ve understood Heidegger. You seek to understand, in his own words, what Heidegger thinks. This goes for any position whether it is political, religious, scientific, philosophical or otherwise.

The second thing that you need to do in order to truly understand a position is to stay away from the fringe movements, the extremists, and the fanatics, that associate themselves with the position in question. To represent a philosophical position by presenting the views of a person (even if they associate themselves with that position) that the original philosopher disagrees with is simply not honest. For example, to represent a political party by pointing out one of the members who was caught engaging in some questionable act is a rhetorical move used to throw dirt on that political party. It is not an honest engagement with the beliefs and positions of that movement, because, more than likely, the reality is that the political party would not condone the actions of that individual. In the same way, to throw dirt on a religious position by pointing to fringe movements, groups, or people, that associate themselves with that religious position, that have been involved in questionable actions, is a rhetorical move that seeks to dismiss the religious position based on actions that the core group would not condone, rather than engage with the important doctrines of that religious group. This is what our reputable Mr. Brisson does when he brings up the law-breaking “evangelical schools”, when he mentions what he perceives (in what I would consider a romanticized perspective) as the political agenda of the evangelical movement, and when he mentions what he perceives as necessary evangelical scientific and moral positions (denial of scientific fact, evolution, as well as positions on abortion and homosexuality). Mr. Brisson, and dear reader, if you are going to criticize any position, be it philosophical, political, or religious, please, concentrate on the central tenets, and not on certain views that are debated even amongst those who claim to represent that position.

The second principle that we need to keep in mind when approaching, criticizing, or engaging with any point of view, is that you cannot contradict, criticize or oppose in any way a position that you do not understand. How can you measure whether or not you understand the position in question? You must be able, in your own words, to explain the central tenets of that position to a person whose beliefs would be considered as representative of that position, such that they agree with your explanation (of course, and this is a purely rhetorical remark, that would you mean that you have to actually talk to the people who hold that position, and listen to them as they explain their position). I would refer the notable Mr. Brisson to a book on how to have a true conversation, How to Speak, How to Listen,[5] written by the well-known, non-evangelical, philosopher, Mortimer J. Adler

The third point is that we need to remember that everybody interprets the world differently, based upon a number of different factors. Therefore, if I may permit myself a little bit of humor, it is, in general, a bad idea to generalize a position and apply it to all those who associate themselves with that position. There are always those who, claiming to adhere to a certain position, either, see things differently than the majority, or who simply do not follow the guidelines that the majority follow. We normally refer to this type of member as a fringe group. You cannot use the fringes of any position to discredit the views of that position. For example, many scholarly atheists do not agree with the tactics of the militant atheists, such as Richard Dawkins and the New Atheists, and do not wish to be labeled under the same banner as the New Atheists. So, it would be unfair, biased, and dishonest, to use Richard Dawkins as the model atheist. Furthermore, most of the atheists that I know, and for whom I have a great deal of respect, would be offended if I told them that Hitler is the model Atheist, and that you can’t have a balanced view of atheism unless you include the fact that many self-proclaimed atheist political leaders have been the cause of some of the greatest massacre’s in world history. Any such claim is purely rhetorical, unless it can be proved, based upon the central claims of Atheism that such actions follow necessarily from the central tenets of atheism. In the same way, it is a rhetorical move, to point out, as our reputable author Mr. Brisson does, the law-breaking “evangelical schools”, what he perceives as the political agenda of the evangelical movement, and what he perceives as necessary evangelical scientific and moral positions. As a matter of fact the central tenets of Evangelicalism include the teaching that evangelicals are to obey the laws of the country in which they live, pay their taxes, and be law-abiding citizens. Anybody doing otherwise, even if they claim to be evangelicals, is not acting according to evangelical teachings, and, therefore, cannot be used as a representative of evangelicalism, at least in that issue. As for the political agenda, the central tenets of evangelicalism have no political agenda. Rather, evangelicals are encouraged to be law-abiding citizens that seek, through the means that are given them by the country in which they live, to live peaceful lives in accord with their moral principles. As for the evangelical views of science, Mr. Brisson seems to enjoy painting a false picture of what evangelicals think about science. The fact of the matter is that there is no “official” view on the relationship between the Bible and science; these are subjects that are currently debated, quite freely, in evangelical circles. So, to brand all evangelicals as people who reject scientific facts based upon literal biblical interpretation is pure rhetoric, and false. I think that, probably, most evangelicals would agree that it is bad practice to reject scientific facts based upon what the Bible says. Rather, they would ask, is this scientific fact, indeed a fact, and, is it properly interpreted? Furthermore, assuming that it is a fact, why should an atheist scientist’s interpretation of that fact be accepted over the interpretation of, say, a Christian scientist? Remember, “facts” are interpretable. So, to be more to the point, it should be pointed out that many evangelicals do not deny evolution, but accept it as fact, and interpret the Bible accordingly. However, on the other hand, to claim that evolution, understood as the process by which all the various species, that are now present on earth, developed out of one original ancestor through natural selection and genetic mutations, is a “fact” is pure rhetoric. Evolution understood as defined above is still highly debatable. Furthermore, science, understood as the empirical study of natural, repeatable, phenomenon, cannot prove evolution scientifically. Evolution, as defined above, can only proved through an inductive process which resembles the process used in archaeology. But, of course, this type of process is highly interpretable. Therefore, it is a rhetorical move, to claim that evangelicals reject scientific facts such as evolution, designed to create, in the general public, a disdain for evangelicalism.

A fourth principle for interacting with a religious, philosophical, political or ideological position is the importance of the public forum. Mr. Brisson seems to think that it is inappropriate to present the evangelical position, as it is understood by the majority of evangelicals, in a public forum. This attitude betrays a major presupposition that Mr. Brisson seems to hold. Namely, he seems to think that religious views should be considered as less important than private opinions, specifically, his own private opinions. Apparently he has inadvertently bought into relativism. Simon Blackburn, a well-known philosopher, in a book on the question of truth, begins by saying, “There are real standards. We must fight soggy nihilism, skepticism and cynicism. We must not believe that anything goes. We must not believe that all opinion is ideology, that reason is only power, that there is no truth to prevail. Without defences against postmodern irony and cynicism, multiculturalism and relativism, we will all go to hell in a handbasket. So thunders the conservative half of us – of each of us. But perhaps the thunder and conviction betray an anxiety. We may fear that there is another side of it, that our confidence is dogma, that our bluff may be called. There are people who are not impressed by our conviction, or by our pride and our stately deportment. They hear only attempts to impose just one opinion.”[6] In this way he wakes us up to the fact that some people don’t care about truth, all they want is for everybody to get along. Truth is, indeed, a problem. The problem with truth is that it is exclusive. Either there is a God or there is not. There is no middle ground here. You could be agnostic about the existence of God, but this is not a middle ground. All you are saying is that you don’t think that we can know which of the options is true. The problem is that one of the two options is true, and the other false. Mr. Brisson seems to think that the claims that evangelicals are making, should not even be allowed to be discussed. But wait, evangelicals are making claims about reality, that if they are true, would seem to carry grave consequences in society and in the individual lives of every person in the world. It seems to me that this type of religious position cannot, should not, be ignored. Not because it is true, but because people think it is, and are publicly claiming that it is. Therefore, it needs to be debated publicly. Blackburn, in the same book, in discussing William James’s pragmatism notes that pragmatism leads to the privatization of belief. “And it is this privatization of belief that leads to relativism: my belief ceases to exist in a public space, up for acceptance or rejection by all who pay attention. It starts to be a matter of ‘my truth’ or ‘your truth’, like my ornaments or your ornaments, which serve fine if they are to my taste or yours, and about which we can be indifferent to the taste of others.”[7] Mr. Brisson seems to think that evangelicalism, and other religions, should be squashed, and not brought up for honest discussion in the public forum. I would argue that the most dangerous religion, ideology, philosophy or political movement, is not the one that is publicly presented and debated, but, rather, the one that is not made public, which not debated publicly, which is not open to intellectual opposition. The reason why cults are so dangerous is that they keep their central tenets hidden from the public, and don’t reveal them to their members until they have reached a certain level in the cult. Evangelicals don’t do this. They wear their faith on their sleeves. They are quite open and willing to have their central tenets debated in the public forum. So why not let them? If their claims are found to be false, then evangelicalism will begin to sink into oblivion. The only way to truly get rid of any position is to debate it openly and to show that it is false. However, if you’re going to debate any position publicly, then you need to keep in mind the principles that I have been outlining above. The central tenets of the position need to be presented, and defended, by those who represent the great majority (not the fringe or extremist movements).

In the final paragraph of the article Mr. Brisson claims that this documentary was an intellectual insult. Now, based upon the principles that I have enumerated above, I would have to disagree with Mr. Brisson. The documentary portrayed evangelicalism as the evangelicals themselves see it. Therefore, it is in fact an intellectually honest documentary, and the first step in a public examination of the central tenets of evangelicalism. Rather, what is insulting to the intellect is presenting fringe movements, and the black sheep of a position, as if they are representative of that movement, without explaining that the great majority of those that hold the position in question disagree with the claims and actions of the fringe movement. What is insulting to the intellect is the raising up and destroying of straw men as if one had explained and demonstrated the falsity of a position. What is insulting to the intellect is painting an entire movement, position, ideology or religion with the same brush, without noting the many differences within the movement. It is also intellectually insulting to criticize the aesthetic elements of the presentation of a position rather than to interact with the central tenets of that position. In fact, any philosopher who criticized the presentation of another philosopher based upon the lighting, the clothing of the philosopher, and the way he or she did their hair, would be laughed out of the room, and their career would be on the line.

This documentary, and Mr. Brisson’s response to the documentary, have brought up an important question for our society today; one which I mentioned above. What place should religious views have in the public forum? My response to this question is that we should be dragging (figuratively speaking), the primary representatives of all religious views, philosophical positions, political ideologies and scientific view, etc., into the public forum. For our own social well-being, we should be openly debating all claims to truth. It is not intellectually honest to reject a truth claim prior to hearing its best defense of its central tenets.


[1]It can be viewed, in French, at the following link: www.tou.tv/les-soldats-de-jesus.

[2]There is not enough room in this article to explain the nuances of this type of interpretation. Needless to say it is frequently misunderstood, as is evident in the interview, with Raymond Gravel and Réal Gaudreault, that took place on Radio Canada the day before the documentary in question was shown. (Cf. www.radio-canada.ca/audio-video/pop.shtml#urlMedia=http://www.radio- canada.ca/Medianet/2012/CBF/MediumLarge201212101006_3.asx.)

[4]Just for fun, I would like to point out that my insertion of the words “quite obviously”, is a rhetorical move. Coupled with words “the unbiased reader”, I create within the reader a certain reaction. Most people want to read and understand something in an unbiased way. So, by saying that a certain truth is obvious to the unbiased reader, I am touching a certain desire in the reader. Now the reaction to this type of rhetoric could be positive or negative. That is, negatively, the reader might simply assume that I am right, because, “it is quite obvious to the unbiased reader”, and they are unbiased readers, so it must be true. Another negative reaction is to dismiss the entire article because the reader considers themselves to be unbiased readers, however what is claimed to be obvious was not so obvious to them, and therefore the article is worthless. The only positive reaction that we should have to any type of rhetoric is to examine the claims, so as to see whether or not they are true. I enjoy the use of rhetoric, so long as it is not used to destroy the credibility of other authors. It is quite useful for presenting valid and true arguments in a convincing manner. However, rhetoric should never be used to attack the character of a person, or in an attempt to discredit (regardless of the truth) a position. Rhetoric is the art of convincing people.

[5]Mortimer J. Adler, How to Speak, How to Listen (New York : Touchstone, 1997).

[6]Simon Blackburn, Truth : A Guide (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2005), xiii.

[7]Ibid., 9.

Publication par un Invité: Réponse au documentaire « Les soldats de Jésus » et à la réaction de Pierre-Luc Brisson dans le Huffington Post par Benoît Côté


Suite à la diffusion du documentaire Les Soldats de Jésus à l'émission Les Grands Reportages de RDI le lundi 10 décembre 2012, M. Pierre-Luc Brisson a publié une réplique virulente dans le Huffington Post au portrait que ce documentaire fait des évangéliques québécois. Il m'a paru bon d'y répondre afin de combattre les préjugés et les caricatures qui ont été véhiculés encore et encore sur la foi évangélique au Québec et ailleurs.

Le documentaire peut être vu ici :
http://www.tou.tv/les-soldats-de-jesus  

L'article de M. Brisson peut être lu ici :
http://quebec.huffingtonpost.ca/pierre-luc-brisson/evangelistes-quebec_b_2278108.html

Et voici ma réponse :


M. Brisson,
Je sens malheureusement à travers les propos de votre article, l’irrésistible envie de voir à tout prix le mouvement évangélique, québécois ou autre, associé avec tout ce qui y est souvent associé et que vous n’appréciez pas. C’est dommage, car cela vous a empêché de saisir ce que le documentaire d’hier voulait accomplir, soit de montrer à quoi ressemble la vie quotidienne de la très grande majorité des évangéliques québécois.

Malheureusement, quand on suit cette grande majorité d’évangéliques dans leurs vies quotidiennes, on trouvera peu de sensationnalisme : pas d’agenda politique de transformer Ottawa en filiale républicaine américaine, pas de scandales odieux dont les médias raffolent, pas de tentatives de laver le cerveau des enfants ou de qui que ce soit... Bref, pas grand chose qui puisse faire la une des journaux. Mais beaucoup de prière, de communauté, de soutien dans les moments difficiles, de solidarité, de partage et d’amour.

C’est cette vie quotidienne des évangéliques que le documentaire visait à mettre en évidence, en laissant la parole à ces membres d’un mouvement qui se voit la cible de beaucoup de préjugés de la part de personnes qui ne le connaissent que de l’extérieur, à travers le portrait que les médias ont pu en donner.

Alors pour le spectateur extérieur qui ne prend pas la peine de s’informer correctement avant d’émettre son opinion, tous les évangéliques sont des créationnistes, des ignorants, réfractaires à la science moderne, des reclus qui lavent le cerveau de leurs jeunes dans des écoles frisant l’illégalité, qui organisent des campagnes de haine contre les gais et lesbiennes, qui brûlent des cliniques pour avortement et qui lisent la Bible de façon « littérale », ce qui veut dire dans la bouche de ceux qui emploient ce terme que les évangéliques mettent leur cerveau en sourdine lors de leur lecture du texte biblique pour appliquer le texte directement sans réfléchir.

Bâtir un portrait des évangéliques à partir de ceci, c’est appliquer la même mécanique rhétorique qui fait de tous les musulmans des terroristes, de tous les politiciens des corrompus et de tous les policiers des brutes violentes. Je dis donc non à cette vaine rhétorique, et je pose simplement la question : avez-vous déjà été en contact avec une communauté évangélique, comme celle que le réalisateur du documentaire a côtoyée pendant 18 mois en faisant son film? Sinon, sur quelle base pouvez-vous affirmer que le portrait qu’il en fait n’est pas fidèle à ce qui s’y passe?

Ainsi, le documentaire d’hier cherchait à présenter exactement ce qu’il a présenté : pas une « infopub », comme vous le dites avec condescendance, mais le portrait de dizaines de milliers de québécois qui ont trouvé sens et valeurs à travers leur relation avec Dieu, qui vivent une vie quotidienne dans laquelle la dimension spirituelle est prépondérante, et dans laquelle le désir le plus cher est de suivre l’exemple de Jésus-Christ, jusqu’à montrer un amour si radical qu’il est révoltant parfois aux yeux de l’extérieur (comme le couple qui exprimait sa volonté de chérir et d’aimer un enfant qui serait né d’un viol). Ce que la très grande majorité des évangéliques veut faire, c’est vivre une vie qui ressemble de plus en plus à celle de Jésus, et ce même si nous nous frappons toujours à notre faiblesse humaine.

Je suis évangélique, j’ai été enseignant pendant de nombreuses années, et je suis présentement à la maîtrise en philosophie de la religion et en philosophie moderne. En tant qu’académique chrétien, je trouve malheureux de lire dans vos mots l’envie de voir ce documentaire barbouillé de sensationnalisme. Si les 8 écoles que vous mentionnez et si les fameux liens politiques avec Ottawa ne sont pas représentatifs de la vie quotidienne de la très grande majorité des évangéliques québécois, en quoi est-ce pertinent de les intégrer dans un documentaire qui présente les tranches de vie que le réalisateur (qui n’est pas chrétien en passant) voulait présenter?

Pour une fois, et je m’en suis trouvé très étonné, j’ai pu voir dans les médias une présentation du mouvement évangélique qui ressemblait drôlement à une semaine normale dans mon église, et dans la très grande majorité des églises évangéliques. Et quand je vous entends qualifier ce traitement de « déséquilibré dans son contenu et ses choix », je lis entre les ligne que le portrait que vous vous êtes personnellement fait de l’évangélisme est construit à partir de généralisations sur des faits reprochables et des scandales qui ne sont pas du tout représentatif ni des croyances fondamentales des évangéliques, ni de leurs vies ou de leurs valeurs. Avant d’écrire votre commentaire, vous auriez dû, vous aussi, passer quelques temps dans une de ces communautés, pour confronter votre préconception avec la réalité.

Il est vrai que les évangéliques ont des positions qui ne sont pas « politically correct » et qui choquent les valeurs contemporaines. Nous les assumons complètement, car elles découlent de choix dans la hiérarchie de nos valeurs et de nos croyances. Ce qui n’est pas acceptable, c’est de se voir caricaturés sur la scène publique avant même d’être vraiment connus. Alors venez passer quelques temps avec notre communauté (AXE21 à Sherbrooke), et vous verrez que le portrait des évangéliques qui ressortira de votre séjour sera proche de celui que vous avez vus dans le documentaire à RDI. Vous ne serez pas d’accord avec tout ce dont nous faisons la promotion, évidemment, mais votre expérience sera loin de se rapprocher de ces discours dérangeants et provocateurs que vous auriez aimé voir mentionnés dans le documentaire.

Avant de critiquer, il faut connaître ce dont on parle, et à la lumière de vos propos, si vous aviez vu hier le documentaire que vous auriez aimé voir, cela aurait été un documentaire empreint de sensationnalisme, bon pour la télé, certes, mais en rien représentatif de ce que vit la très grande majorité des évangéliques.

Bien cordialement,

Benoît Côté

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Être et son Opposée selon Heidegger


Heidegger commence, dans le 4ieme partie de l’Introduction à la Métaphysique (tout les numéros de pages font référence à l'édition suivant: Martin Heidegger, Introduction à la Métaphysique, trad. Gilbert Kahn (Paris: Gallimard, 1967).), d’explorer être en le comparant avec le devenir, l’apparence, le penser, et le devoir. Le chapitre est intituler la limitation de l’être, mais un titre plus à propos serait la délimitation de l’être. On à parler, dans la section précédente, de l’importance de connaître l’essence de l’être, et dans cette section Heidegger nous amène sur la recherche de l’essence de l’être. La Quatrième section est divisé en 4 parties (si on ne tiens pas compte d’une courte introduction, et une courte conclusion) correspondant aux 4 aspects qui délimite l’être par une opposition à l’être, et une union avec l’être. On dirait que Heidegger nous amène sur un voyage de dé-couverture de l’essence de l’être. On ne nous donne pas 4 points, dont nous allons les regarder en ordre pour développer 4 parties de l’être. Au contraire, on nous donne 4 points qu’on doit traverser, en ordre, pour pouvoir aboutir, on l’espère à l’essence de l’être.

Dans l’introduction aux 4 délimitations, ou distinctions, Heidegger nous explique que ces quatre délimitations sont le même pour tout humanité, ce qui semble être différente de son concentration habituelle sur la pensée de l’occident. Il dit, « Ces distinctions ne sont pas seulement restées dominantes à l’intérieur de la philosophie occidentale. Elles pénètrent tout savoir, tout faire et tout dire, même lorsqu’elles ne sont pas présentées comme telles ni dans ces termes (p. 103). » On pourrais demander quel sens on devrais donner au mot « restées », est-ce que Heidegger est en train de dire que la pensée de l’occident à influencer la savoir, faire et dire de tout humanité? Ou, est-ce qu’il est train de dire que ces 4 distinctions percutent tout savoir, faire et dire humain? Je suggère qu’il affirme le deuxième des possibilités, parce que, lorsqu’il nous explique les 4 délimitations, il nous ramène (dans chaque section) à Héraclite et Parménide, avant la corruption ou mécompréhension de la pensée occidentale les à transformer. Ce qui sous-entends que ces délimitations précède la pensée occidentale, c’est-à-dire, qu’ils ont priorité, non-seulement historiquement, mais en importance et étendue.

On regarde, en suite, dans une courte section, comment le devenir délimite l’être. Déjà nous voyons, dans cette courte section comment Heidegger va procéder dans son analyse de l’essence de l’être (à travers les pensées de Héraclite et Parménide). Il va démontrer comme chacun de ces aspects, tout en étant l’opposée de l’être, et, en même temps, unis avec être. Il affirme qu’à travers l’histoire de la philosophie, les philosophes ont toujours dit la même chose (p. 106). Les deux premières oppositions philosophique, Héraclite et Parménide, peuvent être résumé comme ceci : 1 – l’étant n’a plus besoin de devenir, parce qu’il est (p. 104); 2 – il n’y a pas d’être, tout « est » devenir (p. 106). Il veut que l’être soit le devenir, et, « le dire de l’être de l’étant en a lui-même l’estance (latente) de l’être qu’il dit (p. 106). » Pour linstance on à de la misère de comprendre comment être, qui « se montre comme la solidité propre du stable rassemblé sur soi, pur de toute agitation et de tout changement (p. 105-6). » puisse être essentiellement la même chose de la devenir perpétuelle de Héraclite. Mais cette section ne nous donne rien de plus pour nous aider à comprendre ce qui parait comme une contradiction (X, dans son essence, ne change pas - X, dans son essence, change.). Peut-être que Heidegger est en train de dire ces 2 affirmations semblablement contradictoire de l’être de l’étant?  Et, donc, l’être dont on regarde serait l’être par lequel on comprendre l’être de tout étant? Quelque chose qui est stable, mais qui change perpétuellement?

Sans résoudre cette problème, on avance à la prochaine section – être et apparence. Dans cette section il prendre plaisir à mettre en opposition la théorie de connaissance moderne (qui aurait pris son départ chez Descartes) et la façon Grec de parler des apparences. Pour expliquer la façon Grec (surtout la façon de Parménide et Héraclite – selon Heidegger) de comprendre apparence, il nous amène à travers une exposition de l’étymologie du mot, et des multiples sens qu’on peut donner à ce mot. La conclusion de la section est que l’apparence, proprement définis, est un aspect de l’être, ou, peut-être, plus radicalement, « Apparence signifie ici exactement la même chose qu’être (p. 109). », ou « ‘Être’ veut dire ‘apparaître’ (p. 110). » Apparence veut dire, selon Heidegger, « le se-montrer, le se-présenter, l’ad-sister, la pro-jacence (p. 109). » Est-ce que apparence est être, ou est-ce seulement un aspect d’être? C’est-à-dire, est-ce qu’on devrait l’utilisé comme synonyme de être, ou pour décrire être? Dans cette section on nous explique d’avantage, ce qu’il veut dire quand il dit que le devenir est être. On nous explique que le devenir est l’apparence de l’être (p. 123). Ce qui me ramène à ma question précédente. Est-ce qu’on parle ici de l’être de l’étant (ou de l’essence de l’être de l’étant – p. 123)? Le devenir n’est pas, proprement parlant, être – « présence qui-apparaît-en-s’épanouissant (p. 123) », mais ce n’est pas non-plus non-être – « absence (p.123) ».  Le devenir est l’apparence (l’alternance entre l’épanouissement et l’évanouissement) ce qui est l’essence de l’être de l’étant!

Comme d'habitude, je ne suis pas sur, mais, je pense qu'on avance un peu dans notre compréhension de l'être selon Heidegger.

Friday, December 7, 2012

THE MORAL QUEST BY STANLEY J. GRENZ: A BOOK REVIEW


The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics. Stanley J. Grenz. InterVarsity Press, 1997.379 pp.$30.00. ISBN0-8308-1549-X.

This book is, according to Stanley Grenz himself, the result of fifteen years of teaching ethics.[1] Just a quick glance through the exhaustive endnotes (some 48 pages), and the bibliography (some 17 pages long) demonstrates that Grenz has put a colossal amount of research into this book. It comes with an index for scripture usage, and for the main ideas and authors that we meet as we read through the book. The purpose of the book is to outline, in contrast with the varying philosophical and theological moral systems that have been advanced throughout the years, what the author calls a biblical ethics. In the preface he summarizes his conclusion: “My basic conclusion is that the Christian ethic is the outworking in life of the theological vision disclosed in and through the narrative given to us in Scripture.”[2] Grenz recognizes that in order to write a book that provides a complete moral theory he will have to interact with the some of the more important moral theories that have been produced by the philosophers and theologians of the past.

In his first chapter he takes the time to outline some of what he considers are the main concepts in moral philosophy, and the ways of distinguishing between the different moral theories. The clearest point that he makes in this chapter is that there is essentially no difference between the terms ethics and morals. He says, “Although ethics and morality may not be completely synonymous, to set up too strict a distinction between the two is probably arbitrary. As we noted above, the presence of the two terms in our language reflects our dual Greek and Latin heritage. Most people tend to use the words somewhat interchangeably.”[3] Unfortunately his distinctions are, in general, more confusing than helpful. He would have been better served if he had simply explained that there are three main questions that distinguish the different views, and that all views can fit under these questions. 1. How do we determine what is morally right and what is morally wrong? 2. What is this distinction or determination based upon? 3. How do we go about becoming morally virtuous people? Most moral theories can be easily categorized based upon how they respond to these three questions. Grenz, however, chooses to distinguish between theories that are either deontological or teleological.[4] He then turns to a distinction based upon values and distinguishes between theories based upon what they see as valuable: pleasure, positive interest or self-realization (eudaimonian ethics somehow finds itself into this category).[5] The most important distinctions that he makes are found when he examines the question of the foundations of morality. He distinguishes between what he considers to be three basic theories: 1. Naturalism (by which he seems to be referring to Natural Law theory, although he seems to include some form of the Divine Command Theory under this category.[6]).[7] 2. Intuitionism, which is described as the theory that we simply know intuitively what is right and wrong.[8] 3. Noncognitivism or emotivism.[9] He concludes this first section with the overly general and unwarranted claim that “Upon closer inspection, however, we discover that the path we have been pursuing is actually a dead end. We have been walking around in a cul-de-sac. Universal human reason can only lead back to our starting point – the reasonable self.”[10]

Though it seems that Grenz has already, in the first chapter, without examining any of the actual views of the great philosophers and theologians of years gone by, sounded the death tolls for philosophical ethics, he continues in his second chapter to consider the views of five different philosophical views on morality. In chapter two he expounds the views of Plato,[11] Aristotle,[12] Epicurus,[13] the Stoics,[14] and Plotinus.[15] Without going into detail about any one of the authors, the attentive philosopher will most likely note that these are very introductory surveys of the views of these great thinkers. Unfortunately the treatement given to these philosophers is unfortunate. Their theories are much more elaborate than Grenz lets on. Frequently his explanations are simply false. It makes the reader wonder whether Grenz understood these thinkers well enough to be able to criticize them. In this reviewers humble opinion this section is so horrendous that it should have been left out of the book.

The third chapter is a summary of how Grenz views the ethical theory that is to be found in the Bible. This section is quite interesting for any student of the Bible and seems to be influenced primarily by a reformed interpretation of scripture. Throughout this chapter Grenz contrasts the philosophical moral theories with the claims of the Bible and constantly attempts to show that the philosophical attempts at explaining morality have failed, whereas the Bible has succeeded. In order to make such comparisons Grenz is obligated to make such raging generalizations that he is, in many cases, simply wrong. In this chapter we also see him introducing the notions of community that will become so important for his later development of his theory of “Biblical morality”.[16] We also find him opposing eudaimonian ethics and the teaching of Christ in claims such as, “For Jesus the good life is not the quest for happiness but the pursuit of God’s kingdom.”[17] He does, however, describe what he sees as a biblical principle (as opposed to a philosophical moral principle), that “Conduct flows from character, he taught, but true character arises from devotion.”[18] (Devotion, of course, is just a way of conducting oneself.) Aristotelian philosophers would immediately point out that this is exactly what Aristotle himself would say.[19]

From his interpretation of the Bible and what the Bible teaches about ethics, Grenz then takes us, in chapter 4 into the moral theories of three men who he claims are the best representatives of Christian moral thought in their respective time periods: Augustine, Aquinas and Luther. Now, it seems that the first two choices would be generally accepted. However, it is certainly strange that Luther is included in his list of great Christian ethicists. However, be that as it may, this chapter falls prey to the same problems of the chapter on the moral theories of the Greek philosophers, notably when he comes to Aquinas’s moral theory. In this reviewers humble opinion, it would have been a good idea for the author to read, a little bit more attentively, the Summa Theologiae, coupled with a wonderful book, also written by a protestant theologian, entitled Aquinas, Calvin, & Contemporary Protestant Thought: a Critique of Protestant View on the Thought of Thomas Aquinas.[20] In section 5 Grenz outlines a colossal number of contemporary Christian views of ethics. In the section 6 he explains why it is important for Christians to engage in ethical discussions in the public forum. Finally, in sections 7 and 8 Grenz outlines his own theory which is a combination of what he calls the Theonomous view of biblical ethics,[21] and the notion of comprehensive love. It seems that his moral theory fits nicely into the category of Divine Command Theories. He founds his moral theory soundly on the Bible,[22] as interpreted by Grenz, in what seems to be a reformed understanding of scriptures.  Chapter 8 is an interesting, but, unfortunately, unenlightening explanation of the notion of comprehensive love. He sets out to explain how the principle of love, as exposed in the Bible, is the basis for all of Christian ethics. However, he never actually tells us what love is, and concludes the chapter with a quote from Paul Tillich claiming that love cannot be defined.[23] Now, he has just spent the last 20 pages telling us what it means to apply an ethic of comprehensive love in the church, yet, unfortunately we cannot know what love is? He can point out 4 different types of love, show how they are used in scripture, how we must integrate them into our lives, and even how God demonstrates each of these different types of love in the trinity, yet, we cannot know what love is; love is indefinable! This makes the philosopher reminisce (pun intended) about Socrates discussion with Euthyphro about what it means to be just. Socrates asks the young Euthyphro to tell him what it means to be pious. Euthyphro goes on to give a list of pious actions. Socrates responds, “Bear in mind then that I did not bid you tell me one or two of the many pious actions but that form itself that makes all pious actions pious, for you agreed that all impious actions are impious and all pious actions pious through one form, or don’t you remember?”[24] How is Grenz able to talk about so many types of love if he does not know what love itself is?

In conclusion, in spite of the fact that I agreed with much of what Grenz has to say about what a Christian ethics should look like (mostly found in the last two chapters of the book), I disagree adamantly with how he arrives at almost all of his conclusions. I honestly got the feeling that he couldn't explain why his conclusions were right. Overall, I have to say that Grenz is guilty of oversimplification of a number of philosophical and theological views concerning moral philosophy, of misunderstanding the philosophers and theologians that he explains and subsequently rejects, and, sometimes, what he says about the various philosophical and theological viewpoints is blatantly false. Furthermore, Grenz is constantly, throughout the book, contrasting the general philosophical effort to talk about ethics (saying that it is circular and futile) with the theological or biblical view of ethics, interpreted by Grenz (which is inherently true). This contrast seems to demonstrate a misunderstanding of the relationship between faith and reason, as well as a certain naive view of biblical interpretation. Sometimes he gets things right, however, when he does, I always get the frustrating feeling that the point is made better elsewhere. Furthermore he contradicts himself but doesn't seem to realize it,[25] and criticizes authors that he clearly does not understand. All in all I was thoroughly disappointed with this book due to the points enumerated above. I would not recommend it to someone who has never studied moral philosophy before, as they will not be able to discern between Grenz's blatant misinterpretations of the various philosophers and theologians, and what he gets right. It might be of interest to someone who has a background in ethics, or who is teaching a course in moral philosophy as they will certainly find many interesting conclusions (last two chapters), and citations to use as foils against which they can give a proper interpretation of the various philosophers and theologians.



[1]Stanley J. Grenz, The Moral Quest (Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 1997), 10.

[2]Ibid.

[3]Ibid., 23. In this quote, he refers to the definitions of the respective words, ethics and morals, that he gave just a couple paragraphs earlier. The two words mean the same thing, “custom or habit. (Ibid.)”

[4]Ibid., 29-36.

[5]Ibid., 36-40.

[6]Ibid., 47

[7]Ibid., 44-48.

[8]Ibid., 48-50.

[9]Ibid., 51-54.

[10]Ibid., 57.

[11]Ibid., 60-67.

[12]Ibid., 67-77.

[13]Ibid., 77-82.

[14]Ibid., 82-88.

[15]Ibid., 88-93.

[16]Ibid., 103.

[17]Ibid., 110.

[18]Ibid., 116.

[19]Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics, Bk. 2, ch. 1, 1103b21-26,” in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon, trans. W. D. Ross (New York: Random House, 1941), 953.

[20]Arvin Vos, Aquinas, Calvin, & Contemporary Protestant Thought (Washington, D. C.: Christian University Press, 1985).

[21]Grenz, 251.

[22]Ibid., 96, 197, 205, 212, 215, 218, 231, 256.

[23]Ibid., 296.

[24]Plato, “Euthyphro, 6d-e,” in Five Dialogues, trans. G. M. A. Grube, ed. John M. Cooper (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 2002), 8.

[25]Grenz, 217, 224, 237, 277.