A question about...

...Barth, starting-point, and fideism


[Created 3/18/97]
I am doing a Ph.D. on Karl Barth (1886-1968), the Swiss German theologian, and am trying to understand the use of reason in his early thought--up to his study of Anselm. An impossible but exhilarating task. In any case, I take it from some of the remarks you make about proof, namely that we cannot prove God since the reductio structure of apophatic theology and philosophical theology, namely that to prove that a is not be is not to prove that b, cannot provide a basis for Christian faith. This is Pascal's God of the philosophers: clever but irrelevant to faith.

I DO believe that God has left His fingerprints all over creation--including the various attempts at 'proof'...but that strictly speaking, they only amount to 'evidence' to be perceived in a pattern...they are semantic clues, reinforced and mutually interpreted by other clues--testimony from others, conscience, moral notions, etc....

Do you have any opinions about Barth,

I have not studied Barth closely, and too much of what I know about him is anecdotal...I have seen him largely through the eyes of Thomas Torrance, because of my research in theological method...

I think one of the major influences I got from Barth--mediated through Torrance, probably--was the need to derive rationale, method, and criteria FROM THE SUBJECT MATTER ITSELF, as opposed to from an outside discipline like phil.sci, or psychology or whatever...this position makes a certain amount of sense, but leaves one a bit methodologically hungry...the problem of 'starting point' becomes acute to the 'comparative' student, and confessional for the pre-existing 'believer'...

we DO methodologically 'wake up' within a confessional community (however loosely defined), and hence we have very limited freedom about the initial conditions, boundary values, presuppositions...it literally takes a 'conversion' to switch communities...

on the other hand, I disagree with radical subject-confined knowledge...and hence with the purely paradigmatically-captive approaches (one of which is fideism)...to even (1) recognize dissonance within a system (the cracks in its ability to solve a common set of problems) and (2) to UNDERSTAND the alternative views (to both initial reject them, and later to convert to them) REQUIRE THE ABILITY TO 'step over into' another's paradigm temporarily...this implies that there MUST be a base set of operant procedures, methods, 'common sense' positions, and some base for 'naive' or 'folk' approaches...to even HAVE discussions about paradigms requires some subject-invariant 'skills', basic to the discussants...

this will give you the rather obvious clue as to how i will approach the issue of Wittgy-fideism...the only way we can discuss language games and criteria, is TO HAVE SOME meta-game that is game-invariant (or that is self-modifying in its application--perhaps via metaphorical 'fuzziness')...

To me, the concept of a 'self aware fideism'--that is, a position that CALLS ITSELF 'fideist' (a meta-position term!)--has already conceded defeat! It is self-stultifying to use a meta-term to deny the possibility of meta-terms...

BTW, my favorite piece of Barth is the preface to Anselm...his "I can see through no eyes but my own" is a CLASSIC EXAMPLE of the contradiction I refer to above! While it is certainly true TO A LARGE DEGREE, due to the confessional/paradigmatic nature of our studies, it is NOT the ONLY position we hold at any given time...I maintain that we CONSTANTLY operate in multiple levels of factual, operant, and meta SIMULTANEOUSLY--we are in constant internal dialogue with any number of 'audiences'...Barth could not even know that other positions (thru other eyes) could be different than his, WITHOUT a formal (or generic) ability to 'construct' an alternative view with which to contrast his...

Anyway, the preface was my favorite...I remember vividly my experience of reading it early in my seminary experience...I got about three or four paragraphs in and I realized that I was in the presence of greatness...I was face to face with a staggering mind and insight...it was a very powerful experience...I also had a similar experience on my first encounter with Luther...


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