Monday, May 28, 2007

Unexamined Presuppositions 1

There is a school of thought among the Reformed called presuppositionalism. It is controversial even amongst the Reformed themselves, no doubt due to its insistence that circular reasoning - at least on a foundational level - is inescapable (whereas others say that circular reasoning is irrational). There are good critiques of it from a Catholic perspective available elsewhere, and I do not intend to make what would surely in comparison be a poor quality effort in that direction myself.

What I wish to do in this post (and possibly subsequent ones) is consider the question of what we might call unexamined presuppositions. The presuppositionalist says that we all have them, and that if we wish to think Christianly, we need to try to identify those presuppositions that we have unconsciously held. Once we have discovered them, we need to evaluate them, rejecting those that are non-Christian and consciously adhering to those that are biblical. This by itself seems to be an admirable goal, though one doesn't necessarily need to be a presuppositionalist in order to recognize it. Consider, for example, the effect of one's culture upon the way that one thinks. To the extent that a people shares a culture, it is because they have accepted certain norms and patterns of behavior that inform the way that they act and think. If a Christian is part of a culture that seems to have more non-Christian elements than Christian ones, it behooves him to identify those non-Christian elements and to root them out his life to the extent that they are evil.

To do this is difficult. It is difficult because it requires us to examine why we do what we do, and why we think what we think. To that extent we must try, so to speak, to get outside our own heads and to look back inside. This is not something that we are going to be very good at: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it? I the LORD search the mind and test the heart, to give to every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:9-10). God knows what is in our hearts, but it is very hard for us to know ourselves. And if it is hard for us to know ourselves, it ought to be obvious that the difficulty is several orders of magnitude worse when we seek to know others! A generous helping of charity seems to be undeniably in order when we look at others: they are doing their best, just as we are.

What I propose to do in the next few posts is to examine the roots of Protestantism. The revolt against the Catholic Church occurred within a specific milieu. It is unreasonable to pretend that Luther, Calvin, and the rest of Protestantism's forebears were untouched by their culture. They surely were, just as we are by ours. In what ways might they have been influenced? How did those cultural influences affect them?

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