THE QUESTION OF TRUTH IN POSTMODERN INTERRELIGIOUS PLURALISM

 

Perhaps the most significant research program in the USA is The Center For The Study of World Religions at Harvard University. Here scholars from all the world religions give voice to their belief and behavior systems. Ultimately, there can be no constructive dialogue apart from the influences on Western civilization, e.g., Anti Science, Revisionist History, and Postmodern forms of Epistemology and Hermeneutics (see my studies on the above categories; also studies on “Relativism and The Problem of Truth Claims”, The Freeman/Mead Controversy”, “The Death of Truth” “The Rage Against Reason” “The Attack on Science as Merely a Eurocentric Operation”).

 

Religious conviction has displayed a ubiquitous diversity through history. Buddhism and Hinduism existed in India next to Jainism and materialistic currents. Zen, Confucianism and Taoism have lived side by side in China. Judaism marked off its own identity over against the Babylonians, Sumerians, Egyptians, Canaanites and various fertility cults. In the Hellenistic world, which was the cultural home of Christianity (e.g., Acts 17), religious pluralism dominated the religious world until long after Augustine (e.g., the coming of Christendom). With the invasion of Islam, whole cultures became uniform under the power of new religions to generated religious surrender and obedience.

 

Christianity identified itself with the whole of Western culture. The religious current in our postmodern culture questions the mutual relationship of the pluralism of religious options (e.g., America in 2003 is the most religiously pluralistic culture in history). The academy had moved from concern with True Truth to Relevancy (audience and reader response). This radical shift is exposed in the Anti Scientific movement and the claims that science is Eurocentric in origin and the move from hard science to “Communication Theories and The Social Sciences”. Postmodern cultural relativism derives from Boas, Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict’s social anthropology, et.al., and relativistic linguistic theories of Whorf and Sapir and other corruptions of language. Cultural and Epistemological relativism derives from the false assumptions of science as being the exemplication of Empiricism as the method of scientific success of Empiricism as the source of cultural relativism (research, data accumulation, calculus of probability, truth as democratic voting of participation in mediating between alternative assertions (possibly both propositions are false but they cannot both be true; see my essay, “Narrative Displacement in Logical/Mathematical Paradigms); also “The Mead/Freeman Conflict: in the LCC/S Library). Much of the controversy stems from a logical confusion of description and explanation in scientific theory (see my papers, “The Christian Faith and Scientific Revolution” “The Problem of Demarcation in Newton, Kant, Einstein, and Whitehead” “Eastern Antecedents to the Development of Western Science” “Theories of Scientific Method: From Renaissance to Postmodern Anti Science” “Teleology, Mechanism and Ontology” “Teleology as Subversive Poison”).

 

The Veritas Quest

 

Here are some postmodern gurus concerning True Truth: “The secret of theory is indeed that truth doesn’t exist.” (J. Boudrillard, “Forgetting Boudrillard” Social Text, no. 15 (Fall, 140-44, 1986:141). “The problems are the traditional problems of any philosophy which leads knowing to a knowledge of ultimate unknowability and there upon summons knowing to unknown itself--as by an active forgetting.” (Richard Harland, Superstructualism: The Philosophy of Structuralism and Post Structuralism (London: Metluen, 1987:118); see my essay, “Terrorism of Truth: Truth/Theory in Postmodern Epistemology” and “The Search for True Truth in Cyberspace” (LCC/S Library).

 

The long voyage to discover the teachings of oriental wisdom did not involve a serious confrontation with the question of truth. People regarded their own culture and faith as superior. But for the last century many people did see fit to adapt their own faith to new circumstantial contexts. The assured results of 19th century (Western) science and the applied scientific method to history, precipitated the Historiographical and Hermeneutical Revolutions. The cultural impact of Modernism, Liberalism and Liberal Theological Revolution made their appearance. In spite of these developments, Western Superiority remained unchallenged. In Protestant circles, Barthianism gained ascendency, but Barth’s fundamental weakness is that he never engaged the scientific revolution. His pseudo-Calvinism could not save him from reducing the “Christian faith” to a fideistic phenomena, i.e., faith justifies itself. This is irrational fideism! The Christian faith never did and never will rest in irrational fideism, even after Freudian reductionism of faith to psychological neurosis. Only in a postmodern citadel of chaos has the “absoluteness of Christianity” been challenged.

 

New developments in Western science, particularly the relativism of the Social Sciences, have cast new light on the question of how religions (not Christianity) are related in Western culture (e.g. Philosophy of Religion, Psychology of Religion, Sociology of Religion, and History of Religion are post Kantian, 19th century developments). Many postmodern factors point out the limitation of Western culture, i.e., (1) Pollution, (2) drug/sex addiction, (3) feelings of uneasiness/despair, and (4) doubt as to the meaning of existence (Is That All There Is? Ecclesiastes) The mutual contact between cultures has been extended exponentially due to the emergence of the global village propounded by the revolutions in media and education. The multicultural/Diversity/ Tolerance syndrome has arisen full-grown from the head of the gods/goddesses! How is the “absolute claim of Christian truth” to be fused with our postmodern encounter with the claims of other faiths? This is especially relevant to the Counter Culture of the 1960’s and The Youth Culture in our achievement, consumer culture (the values of Youth, Beauty, Success, e.g., The Pop Culture in music, literature, art, etc.) This phenomenon means a breach with the “old self-evident truths” of classical faith systems. Thus enters resurgent Gnostic systems of faith and spirituality, i.e., both irrationally contentless doctrines and creeds --What?

 

Our postmodern plurality of philosophies of life are not a new phenomenon. Confrontation with exclusive religions such as Christianity and Islam is sometimes problematic for less exclusive religions (e.g. Inclusivism (universalism, “Christians Anonymous in a Non-Christian World”--Karl Rahner’s claim) Exclusivism, Syncreticism (all religions are basically alike), Pluralism (only Tolerance can solve our impasse). There is only a limited number of alternative responses: (1) Universalism--everyone is “In” regardless of feelings or behavior; (2) Inclusivism, everyone is not in, therefore there must be an acceptable basis of belief and behavior; (3) Exclusivism, a truth basis for behavior, therefore everyone is not included; (4) Annihilationism, is an exclusive view - all are absorbed in a universal monism, “One” (Heaven or Hell? Justice and Judgment are gone from our nonjudgmental culture.)

 

Examination of the truth question is very complicated. Various religions not only have specific views of truth, but they also have their own theories about the nature of religious truth. The dialogue between not only alternative, but often contradiction theory claims, is not only with the content of religious truths, but also the semantic load on truth in the pluralism of religious tradition. Are they mere alternative views or are they contradictory views? In our postmodern discussion of inter religious relations, there are often elaborate/contradictory views. Christians analyze the “logic of religions;” others pair personal involvement with people from many religions with considerable knowledge of religion studies. After training in “Analytical Philosophy” Hick made profound acquaintance with non-Christian religions.

 

The question of truth has become more complex due to the contribution of comparative religions studies and the philosophy of religion. In our postmodern religious pluralism, we must become acquainted with the views in other religious traditions. But within the mode of the relativistic social sciences, we “need” to consider the “uniqueness” of each religion seriously. The most serious fallacy in much of this discussion is the fatal identification of description and explanation in the hard sciences (see my papers, “Christian Conviction in Our Pluralistic Cultural Wars: Syncretism, Diversity, Pluralism, and Relativism” and “From Syncretism to Pluralistic Relativism”). Too often the discussion is presented from the Anglo-Saxon cultural discussion concerning “religious truth.” Postmodern discussion is controlled by the point of view of Western secularization. Postmodern limitation of philosophical enquiry completely relativises the discussion by the charge that even science is Eurocentric enterprise and therefore limited to Western culture.

 

Within the context of relativistic philosophy and religion the enterprise cannot be exorcised within the context of any specific religion (i.e., Christianity is already bound to its limit). If one interprets the philosophical, cultural maze analysis of the phenomenon of religion, then there is no metanarrative for critique; therefore all religious claims are equal in the field of discourse. Of course, the phenomenologicl methodological approach to our discussion already relativizes all religious claims as “equal.” We must keep in mind that no neutral description of phenomena is possible, including religious claims. Postmodern Hermeneutics claims that all knowledge claims are inseparable from the context or horizon in which one lives (See my paper “Historicity and Hermeneutics: Dilthey to Gadamer and Heidegger”)

 

The religious pluralism of our postmodern Western culture must engage themselves of conflicting religious claims, but this brief study will encounter only Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. From merely a relativistic phenomenological approach, no religious claims can set in judgment on any other religious claim. Only Islam and Judaeo/Christianity are exclusivistic in our cafeteria of religious alternatives. All religions make sense out of the daily lives of the participants, but they have no place to critique the truthfulness of their belief/behavior system; therefore truth has become an obsolete concept in the present dialogue. World religions clearly provide a Functionalistic/Structuralistic point of reference, but these relativistic perspectives cannot provide basis of truth claims, so truth claims are not part of the postmodern narrative. Here we enter the postmodern citadel of Irrationalism.

 

If it is “True” that our pluralism of religious traditions have divergent concepts of truth, there is no way we can be “sure” that we are all speaking about the same thing. Do emet, satya, aletheia, and hazz always convey “truth?” Phenomenologically, you can never know whether you are always dealing with one phenomenon, viz. prayer, meditation, worship, etc. (See G. Van der Leeun, Phenomenologie der Religion (Tubingen, 1933) p. 634). As the phenomenological procedure is a devious form of relativism, i.e., it never asks nor could never ask--whether “the appearance” before the self is “true,” except in a totally subjective sense (to me). This dubious methodology can never confirm whether another is intersubjectively true. Intersubjectivity is the criterion of “objectivity”! The only question that phenomenology can ask is--”Is it true for me?” This is surely the irrational basis of most postmodern “truth claims.” Is it true for me? Does this method imply that the investigator establishes the categories, so that he conceptually maps out a pluralistic reality without being able to claim that what is being described is a “true” phenomenon. Clearly, this methodological procedure provides a pluralism of “truth claims.” If we ask any participant, do you “believe what you hold as true--is true? The answer would surely be true, i.e., that he or she holds a truth statement as true, but this is not the same as declaring that what they hold to be true is in fact true. This is an entirely different question. This position is postmodern fideism, i.e., something is true because I believe it to be so. This position declares that a plethora of contradictory belief systems are all true for the believers. Only cultural relativism fused with irrational phenomenological method could declare such alternative contradictions to be “true.” We clearly are using the concept of “truth” from a postmodern lexicon. People appraise their knowledge: they ask themselves what the nature of knowledge is and whether their own knowledge is correct. This irrational procedure has entered the postmodern academy via Revisionist History and Anti-Science. Both terms, i.e., religion and truth, are chameleon-like terms. The so-called parallel and similarities often ignore their radical/fundamental differences. If neither religion nor truth have no intersubjective meaning, then we are talking about different worlds. Religions do not have in common a definition of “truth,” but knowledge (i.e., we can and do have knowledge of error and insight and their personal evolution always plays a role in the discussion of religions, cults, occults, etc.) If their semantic load is different in each religion, then they cannot be rationally compared (see my papers, “The Rage Against Reason: Gurus of Postmodern Irrationalism” “Relativism and The Problem of Truth Claims” and “The Conflict Between Freeman and Mead” -- all in the LCC/S Library).

 

Is the meaning of “Truth” only applicable within the context of each religious tradition? (e.g. Wittgenstein’s Language Game. This is irrational tribalism where only power remains to negotiate between alternative belief/behavior systems). If religion is only a question of what will ultimately bring people a feeling of well being and salvation, it is possible to apprehend something of what stirs other people in their religion and of what they have experienced in terms of one’s own interest for these concerns. Therefore understanding the concepts of religion and truth in our pluralism of religions--belief and behavior systems-- is imperative.

 

Since it claimed that Christianity and Science represent only a Western understanding of these issues, the postmodern lexicon contains a term Eurocentricism. Ever since Plato, the concept of truth has been a central concern in Western Philosophy. For Plato, truth is transcendental. Therefore, truth is made available by thinking: truth is approached by thought. Truth is related to being itself, the highest Being, the One, the Good, the True, and the Beautiful, the yearning to contemplate the truth is actually the quest for the Divine. (Plato, The Dialogues of Plato (Trans. By B. Jowett, Oxford 1953, II, p. 371ff.) Later developments in his thought need not concern us here.

 

For Aristotle, truth does not abide beyond the visible world in the realm of ideas but in statements (i.e., logical proposition). Those two geniuses represent the roots of Western thought, (i.e., between Rationalism and Empiricism). Truth is the correspondence between thought and the form of things (Aristotle, Concerning The Soul (p. 62 (no. 43,b,8). Western thought expresses narrative displacements between two epistemologies, even during the scientific revolution (Galileo, Newton, Kepler, et.al.). The structure of knowledge by human reason and culture is unfolded in the developments concerning the idea of correspondence between thought or speech and being was rarely called into question (only Gnostics and Pantheists). Kant asserts in his Critique of Pure Reason--”The nominal definition of truth, that it is the agreement of the cognitive with its object, is granted; what is wanted is to know a general and safe criterion of the truth of any and every kind of knowledge.” (Critique of Pure Reason (tr. Max Muhler) (NY, 1960, p. 48 (B:82)

 

Kant stands in the tradition of Thomas Aquinas’ classic definition: Truth is “adequatio rei et intellectus” (correspondence between the subject matter and the mind). The intensification of this definition is visible in the confrontation between Thomas and Maimonides. Kant assumes that agreement or correspondence exists in one way or another between cognition and what is known; against the backdrop of his reflections on the structuring of knowledge by human understanding and reason, he regards the chief question to be what the criterion for truth is.

 

With the coming of 19th century Historicism, i.e., the historicity of knowledge is determined by time and culture. This “insight” is the foundation for later Phenomenological Philosophy on the European continent (see my paper, “From Historicism to Relativism”). In the latter work by Wittgenstein, and in later Analytical Philosophy in England as well, the connection of the meaning of statements to their context or language game was taken into account. Austin’s definition of Truth exhibits the impact of this development: “a statement is said to be true when the historic state of affairs to which it is correlated by the demonstrative conventions, i.e., the one to which it refers--is of the type with which the sentence used in making it is correlated by the descriptive conventions.” (J.I. Austin, “Truth” in Truth. Ed. G. Pitcher (Englewood Cliffs, NY, 1964), p.22) and the discussion concerning thinking by D.W. Hanilyn, The Theory of Knowledge (London 1971, p. 133).

 

Relativism, conventionalism, structuralism, “operationalism,” contextualism, phenomenology, the Sociology of Knowledge thesis, Social Constructionalism--all take the place of the “permanent structure” which Kant thought to discern by human cognition. He escaped the relativism of our present plight by holding that Euclidean Geometry, Aristotlean Logic and Newtonian Physics were non-negotiable, foundational structures. While in fact, all three of Kant’s absolutes have been called in question by our postmodern prophets of “Cultural/Epistemological Relativism.” Austin’s position is also suspect by reducing language conventions and common sense. Common sense is equally suspect to Martin Heidegger. Truth is concealed: It must be revealed, as Heidegger described it in relation to the Greek word “Aleithia.” Heidegger placed over emphasis on the event character of the truth in his later work (Heidegger, Sein und Zeit (Being in Time) (Tubingen, 1967, pp. 281f.) The historicity and the intangible and normative transcendental character of truth have also been underscored by H.G.Gadamer in his analysis of the understanding of texts as he states, “In understanding we are drawn into an event of truth and arrive, as it were, too late, if we want to know what we ought to believe.” (H.G. Gadamer, Truth and Method (English translation from the German, Wahrheit und Methode (Tubingen, 1965, p. 465)

 

Knowledge of truth always stands within the subjective horizon of understanding. On the other hand, knowledge is always knowledge of the subject matter (“die Sache”), which retains its own value and normativity for the subject as over against that of the subject. At the end of his description of the modern discussion of truth theory in Western philosophy, there had always been what is known and the subject who claims to have knowledge. Cognition is always knowledge on the part of a person who knows, but it is simultaneously also knowledge of matters, which retain their own independence with respect to the person who knows. In all knowledge/truth claims there must be justice to both poles, i.e., objective-subjective. There must be coherence of matters known and the object known. This trek is to point out the nuances which religious epistemology introduces.

 

In many situations it is not always possible for a person who has personal knowledge of a matter is to make his knowledge fully explicit. Polanyi has used the expression “personal knowledge” in connection with components of knowledge incapable of being explicated (M. Polanyi, Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post Critical Philosophy (London, 1958, see esp. P. 139, 300ff, 311ff.), Knowledge is always someone’s knowledge; it is knowing within the context of personal commitment. Perhaps Gadamer shares this perspective. Each human being has, in part, the same horizon of understanding as people from his time and culture, but each has his own personal horizon as well. As a result, knowledge concerning a matter is not wholly capable of being made explicit. Personal experience can be put into words but not entirely. There is always an element of tacit knowing, as Polanyi called it (see M. Polanyi, op.cit., p. 86; and H. Prosch, Meaning, 1975, pp. 34f.).

 

If the use of language is merely “conventional” then there could never be a “revolution of scientific theory and scientific narrative displacement would be excluded from the start.” (See Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, 1970, pp. 205f; and my papers, “Relativism and The Problem of Truth Claims” “The Rage Against Reason” “Gurus of Postmodern Irrationalism” “Attack on Science As Merely An Eurocentric Operation” “Whatever Happened to True Truth?” and “Prolegomena To Theories of Scientific Revolutions: Attention to Kant, Lakatos, Carnap, Popper and Kuhn. The heart of Postmodern Relativism is that Language is merely conventional (all Language Systems have their own conventional meanings. There is no metanarrative for critique, therefore, total Cultural Relativism.)

 

Contextualization in Context

 

If all Truth claims are context bound, then there can be no metanarrative justifying evangelism and missions (our Lord’s statement in Matthew 28 is offensive to postmodern relativists). But context plays a constitutive role in determining the meaning of statements. They have meaning only within a certain frame of reference, a certain horizon of understanding, a “Language Game,” “World View,” “Legitimization Structure,” etc.. The Marxists have long claimed that there is a relationship between knowledge and action that implies there are interests at stake. Why is it historically true that there is widespread concern for truth at various junctions in history? If “interest” is central, what we are to understand by “interests” is that in which those who are interested, regardless of whether that interest is “legitimate”, “fancied,” or “real.” Christians, (et.al.) Usually regard people’s erroneous interests as obstacles which prevent them from facing truth. There are limited numbers: (1) Correspondence Theory of Truth--this has been the dominant theory in Western thought. (2) Coherence Theory of Truth--essentially, this theory maintains that the more systematically coherent our beliefs are the truer they are. The central weakness of the coherence is that it is conceivable to have two coherent theories of truth that are indirect contradictions. This is true from Hegelian Idealism to postmodern monistic pantheism. (3) Pragmatic Theory--this theory argues that what is “true” is that which works! This is a Relativistic Functionalism that attracted the effectiveness that is highly valued in postmodern “pop culture.” The essence of this claim is that the “end” justifies “the means.” This position leaves the moral questions out of consideration. Dewey’s pragmatism derives from Darwin’s “survival of the fittest.” (See my essay, “The Influence of Darwin on American Pragmatism on The Academy” and “Our Postmodern Dilemma Between Impasse and Irrelevance” (in LCC Library.).

 

The criteria often mentioned in connection with scientific statements are coherence, compatibility, intersubjectivity (e.g., objectivity), verfiability, and empirical fit (correspondence to facts). Many deny the applicability of these criterion for religious truth claims. Is the criteria for scientific truth claims applicable in any “rational critique” of alternatives, which are often contradictory religious claims? In postmodern cultural/Linguistic Relativism the significance of these criteria should be clear. (The last paper in this section of analysis will uncover the “Truth Claims” in world religions.)

 

(James Strauss, Professor Emeritus, Lincoln Christian Seminary, Lincoln, IL)