Fishbane-honest theology

My current reading project is the Jewish theology of Michael Fishbane in his book, Sacred Attunement.

Fishbane says that theology must have integrity.  It must be honest.  The alternative would be to fall back on traditions of the past that we cannot honestly appropriate today.

We have some models from the past for honestly grappling with Jewish tradition and new world views.

One kind of model consists of the rationalist theologians like Philo and Maimonides. They brought the philosophy of their times to bear upon Jewish scripture and tradition.  They were  philosophers but also biblical interpreters.

Another kind of model would be the Jewish mystics.  These often used Neoplatonic philosophy or Gnostic myth to transform and allegorize scripture.  Although very different from the rationalists, the mystics also tried honestly to put scripture together with more universal truth so that there was no gap between the two.

Even though these models are useful today, we cannot adopt them straightforwardly. Modernity presents us with three considerations that make this impossible.

First, we do not have a  single, coherent worldview to start from.  Instead, we have competing approaches to truth, epistemological methods, and ideologies.  Attempts to pick one of these as the basis for theology has led to the various theological fads of today. Because we cannot establish a particular approach to truth, relativism rules.

Second, multiculturalism means that rather than falling back on a single text, like scripture, we tend to pick and choose among many sacred traditions from around the world.  They all influence us.

Third, we assume we have no access to any higher realm or dimension.  Kant convinced us that we are trapped in the phenomenal world.  So, because we do not have access to a higher plane, any kind of theology would be impossible unless theology only consists of entertaining opinions.

So Fishbane says that no honest theology can block out what we know and experience as modern people.  However, he thinks that much thinking about the world is reductionist. In other words, for pragmatic reasons we tend to reduce all experience to ordinary experience.  We tend to foreshorten human experience to mere sensory sensation without taking into account the mystery of the ones who receive the experience and gets changed by it, ourselves

His way forward is to incorporate the artistic or aesthetic sense into the way we pay attention to the world.  This will enable us to intuit “something more”.  This is possible not because we can rise above the mortal, phenomenal world; but because God penetrates this world.


About theoutwardquest

I have many interests, but will blog mostly about what I read in the fields of Bible and religion.
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