Saturday, August 11, 2007

a secularization of prophetic calling

Can religious sensibility grow to love its place in deep time, beyond tangles of theistic vanity?

In one of the postings from a recent Habermas group exchange, “K” briefly renders an argumentation strategy for renewing the integrity of prophetic calling for progressive politics, which I want to dwell with further. None of my comment below was part of the email exchange.


K> Amanda Anderson[… The Way We Argue Now: A Study in the Cultures of Theory] claims that sincerity functions more as a legitimating factor for existing norms, which is why postmodern theorists reject it as simply re-inscribing dominant power structures. Postmodern theory tends to favor authenticity, she claims, in the sense of rejecting existing norms (and assigned identity categories) and challenging the status quo.

G (today): I mistakenly recalled that you wrote that Anderson favored authenticity, but maybe the upshot is the same since, apparently, she accepts the sense of norms that allegedly causes the postmodernists to favor authenticity over sincerity.

K> In the case of religion specifically, Anderson’s distinction seems to map onto Ken Wilber’s distinction between “legitimate” and “authentic” religious pratice, where the former reinforces existing norms and the latter agitates for social transformation...

G: There’s a little semantic vertigo here, based perhaps in ambiguities about the meaning of 'norms' (presumed invalid by postmodernists, but referring to valid regulatives for Habermas, who distinguishes norms from "factical" regulatives or unquestioned, so-called "norms"). So, so-called “legitimacy” (the object of “sincerity” that’s conformist for postmodernists and Anderson, according to you?) isn’t really legitimacy, but Wilbur depends on a notion named “legitimacy” that is apparently (from a Habermasian perspective) related to really-genuine validating (“reinforcing existing norms”)—depending on whether you mean by ’norms’ valid regulatives (Habermas’ sense) or inherited “norms” (factical regulatives, for Habermas). Wilbur’s notion might accord with Habermas’ (not equivalent, but workable together), if by 'norms' Wilbur means valid regularives; but the postmodernist/Anderson sense wouldn’t accord with the Habermasian sense and Wilbur’s (depending on his sense of “norms”)—worse yet if Wilbur’s sense of legitimacy is also conformist (where “existing norms” are the conformist variety). In that case, Wilbur's sense is just inapplicable to Habermas'— and that might be the case, given that you’re counterposing Wilbur’s “legitimacy” with need for social transformation. That's a lot of runaround, but maybe it usefully dramatizes the sense of semantic vertigo.

So (to vertiginously recapitulate—playfully), mapping the postmodernist’s distinction (which includes a sense of phoney sincerity which is not Habermas’ sense of ’sincerity’ and a sense of authenticity which isn’t religious) into Wilbur’s distinction which, if religious, includes a sense of authenticity that is unrelated to Habermas, is apparently invalid (though not inasmuch as Anderson retains a sense of authenticity accordant with Habermas’ sense of ethical life—but then the religiously-related mapping isn’t valid).

The vertigo dissolves, for me, in appreciating that: (1) there are valid and phoney claims to sincerity; (2) authenticity is primordially about fidelity to one’s own capability for flourishing (I would argue); and (3) theistic calling reflects the natural human interest in flourishing (I would argue).

K> In the case of American religious history, I have been wondering whether the so-called “prophetic” voice of religious liberalism (e.g., the Social Gospel and contemporary religious progressivism) represents the “authentic” aspect of this dynamic.

Religious sensibility may find a solidarity with secular life already awaiting it. Agitating for social transformation is integral to an emancipatory interest and for social movements in Habermas’ work, based in the natural human interest in flourishing, independently of its historical form in prophetic calling, which was also motivated (one could argue) by the natural human interest in flourishing, anciently rationalized in terms of theistic design. There’s nothing especially theistic about the interest in social transformation, though there has been something especially religious about the appeal of authenticity (for a theologized sense of lifeworldliness), because heartfulness is integral to intimacy and family throughout anthropological history, thus also for religious history born from anthropological deep time (which I like to call “the Face of The Deep”). “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time” (“Little Gidding”).

Authenticity is also integral to the history of humanism that never was religious, beginning with the poetic Greek love of wisdom that became philosophy, and the appeal of authenticity appears in Renaissance romanticism, in literary sensibility from the troubadours onward; and recently, in existential philosophy and humanistic psychology.

So, semantic vertigo arises from an apparent nominalism of drawing on shared terms (used differently by authors) to provide cues for related engagements. You have sincerity and authenticity itself (in normal, lexical meanings), “sincerity” that’s phoney/conformist, “legitimacy” that’s phoney, legitimacy that’s valid, authenticity that’s existential (JH), authenticity that’s religious (Wilbur?), and (I suppose) authenticity that’s prophetic (brought by you into the mix), and evidently the prophetic sense fuses the difference between the other two senses of authenticity and the sense of real sincerity. What a complex!

Religious calling is already always in solidarity (nonconsciously) with a historical legacy of human interest that bridges religious kinds of lives with non-religious lives. The shared calling, then, is to understand profoundly our shared humanity, which is primordially future-oriented, in light of which (making promising futures) pasts are found to have been anticipating our shared comprehension of already-always shared deep background. Our historically global Present is frontstage in futural Time—not born from the past, but from the primordial futurity of human sensibility.

After all, God was always a future awaiting us in our aspiration for perfectibility, ever unfulfilled, yet profoundly generative.