Samstag, 14. März 2015

Leonard Swidler: The Importance of Critical-Thinking for Deep-Dialogue, Humanization

  1. The Turn toward Dialogue

Though these reflections will focus on the foundational role of Critical-Thinking, I want to first note that for over half a century I have been writing about Dialogue,[1] about Self-Transformative Deep-Dialogue.[2] Much of the world seems to be catching up in 2015 concerning the importance of Dialogue. True, the term is still often used with little understanding, confusing it with a “soft-sell” approach to push one’s own truth. Still, a growing number of leaders have been grasping that “Nobody knows Everything about Anything,” and therefore they must engage in dialogue in order to constantly expand and deepen their grasp of reality. Briefly put, dialogue means that because I cannot know everything about a subject from my standpoint alone, I need to be in dialogue with you to learn about those dimensions of reality that you perceive from your place in the world, which of course is other than mine.

Although dialogue is needed in all the culture-shaping institutions of society, I have most of all reflected on and written about the need for dialogue in the most comprehensive of all the disciplines, religion/ideology, which provides “the explanation of the ultimate meaning of live, and how to live accordingly, based on some notion and experience of the Transcendent.”[3] I will continue here to focus mainly on religion, and its secular counterpart, ideology.

True, Deep-Dialogue is vital to a fully-realized human life, but that Good Life is a two-sided coin. The “other side of the coin” (besides Dialogue) of our Humanity is Critical-Thinking. If Dialogue is to become Transformative Deep-Dialogue, it must be constantly paired with the other side of the coin of our Humanity: Critical-Thinking.

  1. The Turn toward Critical-Thinking

First, it is important to be clear about what is meant by Critical-Thinking. Of course it does not mean some sort of finger-wagging at a person or position, nor does it even mean taking a negative stance toward someone or something – to “criticize someone.” Rather, it goes back more to its etymological roots, Greek, krinein, “to make a judgment.” That judgment is first of all an intellectual decision based on a review and analysis of the evidence concerning some topic that “X” is the truth of the matter. For example, I get up in the morning and see that a large tree in my front yard is down, and I want to know why. To answer that question I have to carefully investigate the evidence: Is the break in the trunk ragged, or even? Is there sawdust on the ground near the trunk? Are there bite marks on the trunk break? ... After gathering all the evidence and analyzing it, I hopefully have a clear enough collection of clues to be able to come to a krinein, judgment – for example: “the badger from the nearby pond chewed the trunk in half and took many of the branches to build its dam and house.”

This is a simple enough example of the everyday sort of judgments (krinein) based on “critical-thinking” we humans make all the time. However, there are myriads of areas where we are not in the habit of using such critical-thinking to make judgments and decisions. In those areas we often are taught by our parents and peers as we grow up not to “think critically,” but rather to follow unquestioningly some authoritative pattern or figure. This is especially the case in the area of religion, because religion, or ideology, attempts to answer those human questions that we cannot avoid answering, but for which we can find no definitive proof. I call them “Limit Questions.” They are unlike physical questions, such as, “Do I have a broken leg?” An x-ray will provide a definitive answer to that question. However, there is no Christian or Muslim or Buddhist x-ray machine – there are just x-ray machines! Or, “What is the sum of two plus two?” Once I know the meaning of the terms “two,” “four,” and “plus,” I have the definitive answer: “four.” Again, there is no Jewish or Hindu or Confucian mathematics – there is just mathematics!

However, Limit Questions are the sort that do not admit of definitive proof. For example: What happens to the human person after the grave? Oblivion? Heaven/Hell? Karma/Reincarnation? Nirvana? ... The answers to this question produced, and continue to produce, what we in English call Religions, which ultimately are based on “faith,” trust, not reasoned evidence. If we had definitive proof, as for the physical and abstract kind of questions as above, we would not have the myriad of religions that we do, providing the answer to that, and like, “Limit Questions.”

Let me give a concrete example of just how pervasive – and early! – these Limit Questions are. Our oldest child, Carmel, was born in Germany, and hence spoke only German when we returned to the States when she was three years old. Carmel thought earthworms (Regenwürmer in German) were thoroughly evil (böse in German). Shortly after our return to America, Carmel and I took a walk after a warm rain –  and there were a number of earthworms crawling about. After walking quietly, and looking about carefully, for a while, Carmel gently asked me, Vati, ist Gott gut? (Daddy, is God good?) I said, Ja. We walked further in silence, and then she asked, Vati, hat Gott alles gemacht? (Daddy, did God make everything?) I began to be wary now, but never-theless responded, Ja. More silent walking together – and then the Limit Question: Wer dann hat die Regenwürmer gemacht? (Who, then, made the earthworms?) The Limit Question of, “How can evil and a good God co-exist?” at age three!

Thus, we humans are beset with fundamental “Limit Questions,” and we come up with answers which by their nature we cannot definitively prove, but cannot avoid answering, either explicitly or implicitly. There is a great danger in all this, because our Intellect, Reason, which unavoidably asks these questions, can take us only so far in producing answers to them, and then we are open to providing answers by the Will/Power: This Authority, the Will, decides that this rather than that is the answer! The Intellect cannot totally convincingly tell us that “A” is the correct answer, or B, or C ... It will point us to the best of the three, or whatever number of possible answers, and then the Will takes over and in an act of “trust” (“faith,” from the Latin, fides, means “trust”) decides to accept A or B or C or none, and to live, frequently unquestioningly, accordingly - which, as noted, is the very definition of religion:
An explanation of the ultimate meaning of life, and how to live accordingly,
based on some notion and experience of the Transcendent
- containing four “C’s”.

  • Creed refers to the cognitive aspect of a religion; it is everything that goes into the “explanation” of the ultimate meaning of life.
  • Code of behavior or ethics includes all the rules and customs of action that somehow follow from one aspect or another of the Creed.
  • Cult are all the ritual activities that relate the believer to one aspect or other of the Trans-cendent, either directly or indirectly, prayer being an example of the former and certain formal behavior toward representatives of the Transcendent, like priests, of the latter.
  • Community-structure refers to the relationships among the believers; this can vary wide-ly, from an egalitarian relationship, as among Quakers, through a “republican” structure as with Presbyterians, to a monarchical one, as with Hasidic Jews vis-a-vis their Rebbe.
  • Transcendent, as the roots of the word indicate, means “that which goes beyond” the everyday, the ordinary, the surface experience of reality. It can mean spirits, gods, a Personal God, an Impersonal God, Emptiness, etc., etc.

Especially in modern times there have developed “explanations of the ultimate meaning of life, and how to live accordingly” which are not based on a notion of the transcendent, e.g., Marxism, Atheistic Humanism. Although in every respect these “explanations...” function as religions traditionally have in human life, because the idea of the transcendent, however it is understood, plays such a central role in religion, but not in these “explanations...,” as was discussed above, for the sake of accuracy it is best to give these “explanations ...” not based on notion of the transcendent a separate name; the name often used is: Ideology.[4]

  1. The Roles of the Intellect and the Will: The True and the Good

We humans are composed of body and spirit. The body part is obvious enough. The ancients also thought that the spirit part (Latin, spiritus, “breath”) was likewise obvious: No spirit, no breath? – we were looking not at a human being, but just a slab of meat. The term “spirit,” thus, usually refers to something “interior,” that does not occupy space, as my foot or hand does, for example. Until recently almost everyone thought there was a human body and an enlivening spirit, or soul (German, Seele). Materialists, however, argue that there is only matter, that what we think of as spirit is just a projection on our part. At the same time, however, there are equally highly intelligent thinkers who argue that human consciousness cannot be reduced simply to physical brain waves, that there are realities that are not matter, “parts-outside-of-parts.” These thinkers at times suggest that materialists are encountering another Limit Question – one they cannot avoid asking, but cannot answer to the satisfaction of all (as in, e.g., “I definitely have a broken leg,” or “two plus two is four”), and so, with their answer they form yet another “religion/ideology,” with its Creed, Code, Cult. …  

So, whatever the quality and character of our human spirit, vast numbers of thinkers have under-stood it as having two related but distinct dimensions: Intellect/Reason and Will/Decision. The Intellect is our faculty which seeks to know, to understand, that is, it seeks the Truth, to grasp reality as accurately as possible. Of course, our five senses already do precisely this on the physical level, and pass what knowledge they receive onto our “abstract Intellect or Reason.” The Will takes the information provided it by the cognitive faculties and perceives it as “that which is sought after,” the Good. Thus, our cognitive faculties seek the True, to be united with it in a manner appropriate to their structure, e.g., the eye becomes “one” with the object when it sees clearly. Our appetitive faculties seek the Good, to be united with it in a manner appropriate to their structure, e.g., the palate becomes one with the food, or the ear with felicitous sound.

  1. The Contribution of Plato and Aristotle

At the headwaters of much, though not all, of humanity’s abstract thinking stand Plato and his student Aristotle. Plato, was, and still is, immensely influential in shaping how we understand the world and ourselves – all across the globe, not just in the “West.” His student Aristotle, however, has been even more influential, especially in the incredibly productive area of the physical sciences, for he himself was also a physical scientist, a biologist. Much of the world stood on his shoulders well into the Modern period, and even today his methodology and thought pervade the modern world, even where it is attacked. In profound ways the orientations of the thought of Plato and Aristotle – or analogous patterns in Asian thought – lead us along helpful, and not so helpful, paths.

Let us look first at Plato. He espoused the position that true knowledge is found by returning to Inborn Ideas, and then acting rigidly by them. This is made clear by his famous Allegory of the Cave (The Republic (514a–520a). According to it, we humans are sitting in the cave of our physical world facing the inner wall of the cave. Up behind us runs a path parallel to the cave, and along this path passes true Reality in the form of various Ideas. Further behind the path and the various Ideas is the Light, like a sun. The Light shines over the Ideas and casts shadows on the inner wall of the cave. We humans see those shadows cast on the wall and think that they are the Real, whereas they are not. However, if by seeking Philosophy (Greek, Philia, “love,” Sophia, “wisdom,” that is, Plato’s understanding of wisdom) some turn and walk toward the Light – though it is very painful and difficult at first – they will be rewarded by attaining the true Ideas, which are also the Good. Thus, we do not arrive at the True and Good by way of the senses and thinking, by the Intellect. Rather, we arrive there by way of a deliberate decision, an act of the Will, which seeks the Good that is simply presented to us.

Aristotle was an intense, but independent-thinking, student of Plato. He rejected Plato’s epistemology of Idealism, that is, knowledge coming from within – we need only turn within to seek the Ideas, which are inborn. Aristotle argued that – as his centuries-later brilliant student, Thomas Aquinas, put it – nil in intellectu quod non prius in sensu, “nothing is in the intellect which was not first in the senses.” Humans come to the Ideas in the following manner: For example, the idea “dog,” is gained by perceiving via the senses many dogs and their characteristics, as well as many non-dogs; then by way of abstraction (Latin, ab, “from,” tractus, “pull,” as in tractor) there is “pulled out” the essence or Idea of dog (those “shadows on Plato’s cave were real!).

Clearly this is how Aristotle operated as a biologist (using first the inductive method – observing many dogs, and then abstracting to the essence of the species “dog”; and then the deductive – having inferred the essential qualities of all canines, deduce that they are present in each individual of the species), and then he argued that this procedure was valid for all thought. Thus, according to Aristotle, humans arrived at the True, and therefrom, the Good, by way of the Intellect/Reason, Thought, not by way of Decision, that is, not by an act of the Will.

  1. The Struggle for Dominance: The Intellect and the Will

Seeking the True and seeking the Good are both profoundly valid activities for humans. However, the way it is done, and which predominates, the Intellect or the Will, have massive consequences for human life. It doubtless was essential at first for human sheer survival, and then continued growth, that the Will predominated. Following the Will of the (male) leader the first 90,000 years of human life on earth – until agriculture was invented (probably by women) circa 12,000 B.C.E. – was an absolute necessity for the until then hunter/gatherer human society.

However, ever so slowly, the Intellect grew more and more in importance. Writing, a huge leap forward for the Intellect and humanity, was invented about 2300 B.C.E. The first “Sacred Scriptures,” the Vedas, were created around 1500 B.C.E. Then came the immense Intellectual break-through in the four ancient civilizations – the Fertile Crescent, Greece, Indus Valley, Yellow River Valley – called by scholars today the “Axial Age” (800-200 B.C.E.).
There broke through then 

1. abstract Reason in Greece,
2. the turn from the external to the internal in the Hebrew prophets,
3.  the plotting of the personal path to the goal of life by the Buddha, the pattern of the Human, Ren by Confucius ...[5] The rise of the Intellect vis a vis the Will was also reflected in slowly moving away from the Community being all-consuming to the Individual Person. Increasingly it was, and is, understood that the Person (Intellect/Reason) is not ultimately for the sake of the Community (Will/Power), but that the Community is for the sake of the Person. (More about this later.)

The pattern should be becoming clear: The Intellect is rising ever more rapidly. Think further, past the massive advanced ancient societies of the Egyptian, Chinese, and Roman Empires to the early Islamic Caliphate, the European Renaissance, the 18th century Western Enlightenment with its birth of democracy and human rights – then mass education, world travel, today’s ubiquitous internet ... all born from the Intellect/Reason.

Of course, all was not calm and continuous progress of the Intellect. The 20th century ushered in anti-Intellect ideologies: Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, Maoism, which in the name of the Will butchered more humans in that century than perhaps existed from the beginning to then! The struggle between the Intellect and the Will continues, and doubtless will as long as there are humans. Nothing with humans is truly certain, except death. Nevertheless, the pattern up to now is clear for those who look carefully. Those who side with the Intellect/Reason over against those who side with the Will/Power clearly are on the side of History – so far.

It will be helpful to review here something of the struggle between the Will and Intellect particularly in the history of Christianity and Islam because currently they are the most powerful world forces of Religion/Ideology – after the horrendous demise of the Ideologies of Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and Maoism. In the 21st century the latter’s violence is largely succeeded by that of Islamism. Christianity may no longer be engaged in such huge violence, as in the centuries of the Crusades (in response to Muslim Jihad), and in the West Christianity may be receding in the face of advancing Secularism, but it is nevertheless massively formative and influential. There are, after all, two and a half billion Christians in the world. Also, there are also about one and half billion Muslims. Together, Christianity and Islam make up 55% of the world’s population!

  1. Islam: Early Dominance of the Intellect, and Then of the Will

Islam was born in the early seventh century in Arabia among rather uneducated tribesmen – the founder, Mohammed (570-632) was himself illiterate. In the next decades his tribesmen went on a Jihad in the sense that they attacked and conquered much of the then Christian world – east-ward including the Near East to India and present-day Bangladesh, and westward across North Africa into Spain and central France. In the next generations they set up their governing structures and slowly merged with the culturally more advanced Greco-Roman and other local populations, and then by means particularly of the “House of Wisdom,” founded by the Abbasid caliph Harun Al-Rashid (786 to 809 – also of Sheherazade, “Thousand and One Nights” fame), they started to translate into Arabic all of Greek scholarship, particularly science and philosophy, and then went on to expand and deepen it even further.
Out of this field favorable to the development of the Intellect, there grew up early in the 8th century the Mutazilite School of Islamic thought, which endorsed Reason to interpret and apply the teachings of Islam to the ever-changing realities of human life. In applying the principles of Islam (from the Sunna – customs of the Prophet – as well as the Qur’an) to living issues, Muslim religious leaders used Ijtihad (Arabic, “Independent Reasoning”). That is, Reason, Intellect determined action, not the Will, Power. Soon, as a result of the work of the “House of Wisdom, and similar efforts, outstanding philosophic scholars of the Intellect grew up, such as Al-Kindi (801-873), Al-Farabi (872-950), Ibn Sina (980-1057), and Ibn Rushd (1126-1198). They person-ified the “Golden Age” of Muslim Intellect. Hence, this period has come to be known both as the “Islamic Golden Age,” and the “Islamic Age of Enlightenment.”
They were, among other things, a major influence on the explosion of Christian thought with the European rise of the Universities in the 11th and subsequent centuries. Christian medieval scholars, like Aquinas, engaged them seriously, so that whenever they mentioned an interpretation of Aristotle (always called “The Philosopher”) by Ibn Rushd (known in Latin as “Averroes”), he was always referred to as “The Commentator.” (More of that below.)
Unfortunately, this Intellect-centered approach was challenged by a counter-group emphasizing a Will-centered one, a so-called literal understanding of the Scriptures and Tradition. Actually, all so-called “literal understandings” of Sacred Scriptures of whatever religion or ideology are necessarily not really a “literal” understanding, but rather A’s understanding, or B’s understanding, or X’s…. Were the one correct understanding so clear that nobody could mistake it, there then would never be the massive splinterings that always result from such fundamentalisms. Hence, the approach of exercising the Intellect to apply the text to the ever-changing circumstances is increasingly abandoned and is replaced by the power of the Will. In the case of Islam, after an early dominance of the Intellect via the Mutazilites, the Will-oriented counter-group of interpreters arose in the mid-9th century, the Asharites. They espoused an anti-reason stance about everything, truth being found only in the Qur’an as understood in a traditional manner. Ijtihad was increasingly held to be no longer appropriate since all the validly reasoned application of the Qur’an to everyday life had already been done! Reason could not even truly learn why things happen the way they do in this world, insisting on a kind of divine occasionalism (more of that also below).
One of the most influential Muslim thinkers of this period was the controversial figure Al-Ghazali (1058-1111). He started out being trained in Greek philosophical thought, but in his late thirties he suffered a deep depression and skepticism about the ability of reason, and went into seclusion. Eventually, he came out of seclusion, and wrote a frontal attack on rational thought (On the Incoherence of the Philosophers[6]), rejecting all intermediate causality, insisting not only on God being the Ultimate Cause of everything, but also as being the only and ubiquitous Immediate Cause of everything. This was based on a very “literal” understanding of a number of statements in the Qur’an stating that, “God caused ...,” as asserting a kind of divine “occasionalism.”
Al-Ghazali understood those Qur’anic statements to mean that, for example, a swinging bat did not cause the hit ball to fly away, but that when the bat became contiguous to the ball, God immediately caused the ball to fly away. Hence, the human Intellect, reason, was not capable of discerning that A caused B, because A did not cause B. Rather, in each and every instance in all of reality God was/is at work directly making one thing follow the other. The swinging bat did not “cause” the ball to fly; rather, was just the “occasion” (hence, the term “occasionalism”) at which God directly caused everything to happen. Humans could not reason to the causes of events, but could only perceive that one thing followed another, being caused directly by God’s Will (which, of course, could arbitrarily change in any instant. That meant that the Intellect, Reasoning, of the Mutazalites (and everybody else’s) was out! The Door of Ijtihad (“Independent Reasoning”) was slammed shut. The word was: “Follow the dictates of the Will, of those who had memorized the Qur’an and would apply it in unchanging fashion to the changing world” – leading ever more rapidly to an increasingly stillborn Muslim culture.
Islam continued to be militarily successful, finally conquering all of the Christian Byzantine Em-pire in 1452 (though losing Spain in 1492), and continued to attack and occupy eastern Europe, reaching and besieging Vienna first in 1529 and last in 1683, as its high watermark. Still, intellectually, culturally the Intellect slowly was losing the struggle against the Will in Islam, reaching the sad, indeed, miserable, state of affairs in much of the Islamic world described by the 2009 United Nations report carried out by prominent Arab scholars.[7]
Nevertheless, and partly because of, this dire state in much of the Islamic world in the twenty-first century, increasing numbers of Muslim thinkers and leaders are exerting huge efforts to move away from the domination by the Will/Power to the Intellect/Reason. Let me mention just two current examples. First, there was the extraordinary outburst of the Intellect/Reason of the Arab Spring (Facebook generated!). True, it succeeded only partially, e.g., in Tunisia and Morocco, and suffered a very serious setback in Egypt, and a much more horrendous one in Syria and Iraq. But even in the midst of that latter reversal, the advance of Intellect/Reason in Iraqi Kurdistan with its burgeoning freedom of thought and bustling universities gives serious hope.[8]
A second example is in the area of Dialogue itself. In 1978 my friend Eugene Fisher and I were asked by Sargent Shriver (founder of the American Peace Corps) to set up an ongoing Jewish-Christian-Muslim Scholars Trialogue. We gathered ten Jewish, ten Christian, and ten Muslim scholars from around the world to meet twice a year. Soon our ten Muslim colleagues decided among themselves to search for other like-minded dialogue-oriented Muslim scholars. They searched, and searched, and searched … in the whole world, but could find none – or at least none who felt free to speak! This remained so until six years after the initial shock of the 9/11/01 Islamist attack on the U.S. when 138 Muslim scholars and religious leaders from around the world on October 13, 2007, issued the amazing public letter “A Common Word Between Us,” inviting Christians leaders and scholars to join with them in Dialogue.[9]
Then, onto the stage of world interreligious dialogue strode King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, the heartland of Islam! Having met Pope Benedict XVI in 2007, King Abdullah launched a “World Conference on Dialogue” with all the religions of the world in Spain, the land of the medieval “Golden Age” of interreligious dialogue – Convivencia (!) – on July 16-18, 2008.
Suddenly Muslim leaders, global and local, are striving to embrace Dialogue - clearly a move away from the Will/Power to the Intellect/Reason.

  1. Christianity’s Struggle, and Avoidance of Complete Dominance of the Will

Christianity grew out of the life and teaching of Rabbi Yeshua ha Notzri, Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, as reflected in the four Gospels, and extrapolated into the transcendent figure of the Meshi-ach, Messiah, Christos, Christ by the Pharisaic Hellenistic Jew Saul/Paul of Tarsus. It spread first among the overseas Jews (of the 100 million population in the first-century Roman Empire, there were perhaps eight million Jews, of which about six and a half lived outside of Israel), and among so-called “God-fearers,” i.e., Gentiles (non-Jews) who visited the synagogues of the Empire because they were attracted by monotheism and Jewish morality – the Good Life.
There were six major Jewish groups in the first century contending about the right way to lead the Good Life: 1. Pharisees, 2. Sadducees, 3. Essenes, 4. Zealots, 5. Hellenists, and 6. Followers of Rabbi Yeshua. Only numbers 1 and 6 survived the first/second century Jewish wars with the Roman Empire, and eventually became known as “Judaism” and “Christianity.”
Many Jews became followers of the teaching of the Good Life by Rabbi Yeshua, but even many more of the Gentile “Fellow-Travelers” became followers of Yeshua’s teaching of monotheism and the Good Life, partly because of its intrinsic attractiveness, and partly because it did not entail embracing all of the 613, mostly ritual, laws of the Pharisaic camp. Christians from this latter group – Gentiles – quickly grew to be the dominant cultural group. This led to the influx of Greek philosophical thought into Christian life and thought. There thus followed a vigorous interplay between the Christian Scriptures (Hebrew Bible/New Testament) and Greek thought and philosophy, producing the massive work of the Christian Fathers – there are hundreds of volumes of the writings of the “Greek and Latin Fathers” known as Patristics.
The history of Christianity took a dramatic turn when it moved from the time of the vicious persecutions by the Roman Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the 4th century to becoming de facto the religion of the Roman Empire under his successor Constantine (“if you cannot defeat them, join them!”). It carried out furious debates of the Intellect from the 4th to the 8th century, producing seven universal, “Ecumenical” Councils. However, the western half of the by then basically Christian Roman Empire suffered two successive devastating invasions, the first by Germanic barbarians crashing in from the north (410 A.D. and following), and then by Arab Muslim tribesmen from the south (638 A.D. and following). This led to the European so-called Dark Ages (500-1000 A.D.) where the Light of Reason was dimmed (but not in Eastern Christianity, until it fell to Muslim armies in 1452).
Western Christendom began to gain cultural momentum in the eleventh-twelfth centuries just when Islam was culturally, scientifically, intellectually at its peak, and there consequently was an immensely fruitful interchange between the two during and despite the constant political and military battles. There was a similar struggle within Western Christianity between the forces of the Intellect and the forces of the Will, as occurred in Islam. In fact, the constant military struggle with Islam and the ultimate destruction of the Christian Roman Byzantine Empire in the east led to a stillness in the world of the Intellect there – seeming to stretch from seventh-century thought to the present. Only now does Eastern Orthodox Christianity appear to once again begin to apply the Intellect to contemporary issues.

  1. A Dominant Intellect Exemplified by Thomas Aquinas
It is well-known that the weakest argument for or against a position is that of Authority, the Will/ Power over the Intellect/Reason. In this regard, it is interesting to note the form of argumentation used by many medieval scholars – Jewish, Christian, and Muslim – preeminently exemplified by Thomas Aquinas. Clearly, not the Will, but the Intellect, holds the pride of place there.
Thomas first states a question, for example, in his first substantive question posed at the beginning of his Magnum Opus, the Summa Theologiae: “Whether God Exists?” (Utrum Deus sit?)[10] He then answers by first giving several negative arguments, stating in this case: “It seems that God does not exist.” (Videtur quod Deus non sit.) This is then followed by his own position on the subject, first in the form of a quotation from Authority, usually a biblical quotation – in this instance, Exodus 3:14: “On the contrary, it is said … ‘I am who am’” (Sed contra est quod dicitur …‘sum qui sum.’). Thomas’ Intellectual/Reasoned position is then clearly stated: “I respond that it appears the existence of God can be proven in five ways ...” (Respondeo dicendum quod Deum esse quinquae viae probari potest.)
What was given first in support of his position was the weakest sort of argument: Authority (the Will/Power)—in this case, and throughout his Summa Theologiae, most often a quotation from the Bible. However, this argument from Authority is not for Thomas the seriously thought-out argument. Rather, he then presents a very nuanced, rational, argument for his position (the Intellect), often including a whole range of necessary distinctions—after all, the heart of rational thinking is the ability to make distinctions. In this case, Thomas presents his famous Quinque Viae, “Five Ways,” for proving the existence of God. It is that rational argumentation that carries the day, not the weak argument from Authority (the Will/Power). He then closes the questio taking up the prior counter-positions, responding to each of them seriously, very carefully, rationally. It is the Intellect/Reason, not the Will/Power, that is dominant![11]
Western Christianity then, after the Dark Ages, resumed building an amazing culture with the Intellect/Reason at the center – Aquinas being only the best known of medieval intellectual giants, followed by the further cultural efflorescence in the Renaissance, and the tumult of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, both using the Intellect/Reason to further their causes. In the midst of this struggle there rather stealthily grew “Independent Reason,” leading to the 18th century Enlightenment with its seeing Freedom and Reason as at the heart of being Human – hailed by its Christian Intellect advocates as an advance, and by the adherents of the Will as the Great Serpent leading to the demise of Christianity and the rise of Secularism.[12]
There exists now in 21st century Christianity the fullest range of views concerning which should dominate, the Intellect/Reason or the Will/Power, with the very conservative wing insisting on the Will/Power (the Fundamentalist reading of Scriptures and its traditional application at one extreme), and the very liberal wing insisting on the Intellect/Reason, adapting Tradition to a now exponentially changing every-day life (perhaps the “New Age” at that extreme). There are huge forces within the two and half billion Christians today pulling in myriad directions, including very Will/Power oriented ones alongside the Intellect/Reason forces. Nevertheless, despite all the counterattacks by the forces of the Will/Power – e.g., those led in the Catholic Church by the Restorationist Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI – the forces of the Intellect/Reason clearly are continuing to expand, once again represented by a Pope, in this case, Francis.

  1. Conclusion
In conclusion let me reiterate what I stated early in these reflections: Not only is Dialogue, Transformative Deep-Dialogue, essential for a further flourishing of a Global Civilization with both the capacity of achieving untold goodness and joy for all the Earth, and at the same time even destroying Civilization – Corruptio optimi pessima! “The corruption of the best becomes the worst!” Equally necessary, but perhaps more difficult to achieve, is Critical-Thinking, the lifting up of the Intellect/Reason to give the enlightening direction, to lead to the True, and thence show the Will/Power the way to the Good Life.

[1]  My first article was “Ecumenism in Germany,” Commonweal, January 23, 1960, and first book Dialogue for Reunion (New York: Herder & Herder, 1962). My “Life of Dialogue” can be traced in River Adams (Maria Kaplun), There Must Be You. Leonard Swidler’s Journey to Faith and Dialogue (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2014).
[2]  Leonard Swidler, Dialogue for Interreligious Understanding. Strategies for the Transformation of Culture-Shaping Institutions (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2014).
[3]  See Leonard Swidler & Paul Mojzes, The Study of Religion in an Age of Global Dialogue (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1990) for a discussion of the definition of religion and ideology. Ideology, like religion, provides an “explanation of the ultimate meaning of life, and how to live accordingly,” but without the Transcendent.
[4] See Swidler and Mojzes, The Study of Religion.
[5] See Karl Jaspers, Vom Ursprung und Ziel der Geschichte (Zürich: Artemis, 1949);The Origin and Goal of History, trans. Michael Bullock,  (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1953). For an academic discussion of the Axial Period, see Wisdom, Revelation, and Doubt: Perspectives on the 1st Millennium B.C., Daedalus (Spring, 1975); and The Origins and Diversity of Axial Age Civilizations, ed. S.N. Eisenstadt (New York: State University of New York Press, 1989). For a recent and further in-depth analysis of the Axial Period, see Robert Bellah & Hans Joas, eds., The Axial Age and Its Consequences (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). For more on Bellah’s work, see:
[6]  Nearly a century later, Ibn Rushd wrote a response, The Incoherence of the Incoherence, but unfortunately for the Islamic world, the anti-intellectualism of Al-Ghazali and similar thinkers largely gained the field and subsequently have by and large dominated the Muslim thinking world – though many modern Muslim scholars are struggling to reinstate the Intellect, Reason to its rightful place of honor.
[7]  See, United Nations Development Program, Arab Human Development Report 2009:  
See also Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind (Wilmington DE: ISI Books, 2012).
[8]  Since 2010, when the Kurdish student Huner Anwer came to the Dialogue Institute at Temple University for training in dialogue, there has been a steady stream of students, faculty, judges, business leaders, politicians ... Back and forth between Iraqi Kurdistan and the United States.
[9] See: was quickly followed up by a major scholarly conference at Yale University, which also deliberately included Jewish scholars: “The ‘Common Word’ letter was drafted by Muslim leaders and addressed specifically to leaders of ‘Christian churches everywhere’ in order to address concrete issues and problems between Christians and Muslims. Given the extent, however, to which Jewish concerns are intertwined with those of Christians and Muslims, and given the historic Christian and Muslim tendency inappropriately to exclude the Jewish community, we are deeply committed to seeking out Jewish leaders and scholars to play a central role in the ongoing Common Word dialogue.”  
Andrew Saperstein, Rick Love, and Joseph Cumming, “Answers to Frequently Asked Questions Regarding the Yale Response to ‘A Common Word Between Us and You,’” Miroslav Wolf, Ghazi bin Muhammad, and Melissa Yarrington, eds., A Common Word (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010), pp. 179f.
[10]  Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, cum textu recensione Leonina, cura et studio Petri Caramello (Rome: Marietti, 1950), Prima Pars, questio II, articulus 1.
[11]  Thomas, like Al-Ghazali, also had a mystical encounter with the Transcendent, which, for a time, led him to suspend his intellectual activity. When his assistant Reginald urged him to continue his writing, or rather, dictation, Thomas responded, “Reginald, I cannot, for all that I have written seems like straw to me” (mihi videtur ut palea – Brian Davies, The Thought of Thomas Aquinas. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993). He, nevertheless, did again take up his intellectual work. However, not long after that, while travelling, he collapsed and died at the relatively young age of forty-nine.
[12]  Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007), sees the rise of secularism not as the elimination of religion from society, but as the result of the self-reforms inaugurated within Western Christianity itself, following out an intrinsically built-in entelechy in human evolution.
Leonard Swidler,

Aus:  Journal of Ecumenical Studies (JES); vol. 50,1 (Winter, 2015)
Lizenz: Creative Commons

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