The Relationship between philosophy and Theology in the Postmodern Age

The Relationship between philosophy and Theology in the Postmodern Age

When I was a student at a Catholic high school in Queens, New York, I was taught that although philosophy is the mother of the sciences, she is also the handmaid of theology. Sometimes the dialogue between philosophy and theology may have seemed to have taken the form of orders given by the theological mistress […]

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    When I was a student at a Catholic high school in Queens, New York, I was taught that although philosophy is the mother of the sciences, she is also the handmaid of theology. Sometimes the dialogue between philosophy and theology may have seemed to have taken the form of orders given by the theological mistress to her erudite but obedient maid, but that was a long time ago, if ever it was at all. The idea that philosophy should be in service to theology has been rejected in the West by most philosophers, and many theologians, at least since the Enlightenment period of European thought. But instead of bringing about the emancipation of philosophy, the result has been to place philosophy at the service of her own children, the natural and human sciences. Scientific realists would determine being itself by the ultimate dictates of science. So, where does this leave the relationship between philosophy and theology? Many see it as forever broken off, and many Christian theologians think that this is to the advantage of theology. As they see it, philosophy was never a very good servant, for it was always raising more problems than it solved. Of course, this attitude is not unknown to Muslin scholars. It is easy to find Muslims who are suspicious of philosophy; especially Islamic philosophy; there are even those, like Ghazali, who would accuse philosophy of blasphemy. Others would be satisfied if philosophy would mind its own business and stay out of the way of theological doctrine. philosophy, however, refuses to be ignored. It has a way of making itself noticed even by those theologians who wish it would just go away. philosophy accuses those who neglect her of lacking reason, and since it proclaims that reason is the difference between man and the other animals, this accusation amounts to the charge that those who neglect her are subhuman. So, after the rise and fall of positivism, after philosophy had been declared to be a servant of the natural sciences, assigned to clean up left over questions, philosophy arrives in the new dress of philosophy of religion, coyly proffering her own questions for the theologian. On the surface, most or many of the questions are those which have been familiar to theologians for centuries: How can the existence of God be proved? How can God know what free humans will do? Can God make a stone so large that He Himself cannot lift it? How can the eternal God know the temporal material world? And so forth. While on the surface, these appear to be the same questions familiar to theologians since reason was first applied to religion, once one becomes familiar with the contemporary discussions of these questions it becomes obvious that the philosophy of religion is not as innocent as she may seem. Her questions are not those of a naive girl seeking to understand her faith as best she can. philosophy has served the sciences for years, and its servitude to the sciences has required countless compromises with humanism, materialism, physicalism, naturalism, and other ideologies antagonistic to religion. When it raises its questions for the theologians, the arguments of all these ideologies are ready and waiting for whatever response the theologians may offer. If the theologian responds by rehearsing the standard discussions to be found in traditional texts, whether. Christian or Islamic, he will be accused of -ignorance and irrelevance to contemporary concerns. The philosophy of religion is by no means merely another name for rational theology as traditionally understood, for the very standards of reason which are applied to theological issues have changed. If the theologian is not to be caught off guard, he must be prepared to question these standards, and thus, to adopt an unfamiliar hypercritical stance toward the cannons of reason themselves. The dialogue between philosophy and theology today is not simply an affair between the questioning mind of the philosopher and the pious spirit of the theologian. Every question comes with unspoken expectations of what sort of answer will be considered suitable. Every search for a reason presupposes a standard of explanation. The expectations and presuppositions which inform the philosophy of religion are deeply coloured by the entire history of recent Western thought. Since many of those who write and publish in the area of philosophy of religion have been trained in analytic philosophy, the standards of analytic philosophy, which are influenced to a great degree by positivism, pragmatism, and the thinking of natural scientists, play an important but subtle role in this field. The situation is complicated by the fact that many philosophers -of religion, and even more Christian theologians, are influenced more by what is often called "continental philosophy" than by analytic philosophy. Most of the important continental philosophers have been from France or Germany, while the majority of analytic philosophers have taught at American or British universities. While philosophy in theU.S. has been dominated by analytic thought throughout, most of the twentieth century, over the last ten or fifteen years, continental thought has come to play a prominent role in American philosophy. What is emerging is a "world philosophy," but one from which the Islamic world is largely excluded. The reason for this exclusion is not because of some conspiracy to suppress Islamic thought, but because we Muslims have not seriously attempted to enter the discussion. If we are to enter the discussion, we must beware that it takes place in what is often hostile territory, in the context of expectations, presuppositions, and standards of reasoning many of which are quite foreign to those found in the Islamic sciences. Source:alhassanain.com

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