The subjugation of Transcendence
The first chapter recounted a story of misplaced attempts to secure humankind’s place in the world by forcing reality to conform to a set of preferred ways of knowing. The resulting distinction between objective knowledge and subjective opinion gave rise to a closed comprehensive liberal worldview, in which the natural world and the Cartesian self are seen as ontologically basic, and individuals are free to pursue their own subjective visions of ultimate reality and the good life. The second chapter suggested that this worldview constitutes only one amongst many potentially viable ways of understanding our place in the ultimate order-of-things; and one that, given its various flaws, is not self-evidently the most powerful currently available. This being the case, the pervasive presence of comprehensive liberalism within contemporary culture means there is a genuine danger of it becoming an unquestioned ideology. Replacing the image of the dislocated self driven by a hermeneutic of suspicion with a vision of the embodied self driven by a hermeneutic of trust opens up a new set of possibilities: in particular, the possibility of rejecting an epistemology that forces reality to conform to pre-established ways of knowing in favour of an epistemology driven by an attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible engagement with the actual order-of-things. This opens up the further possibility of cultivating a genuinely plural society in which adherents of a range of incommensurable worldviews (epistemic relativity) engage in the pursuit of truth and the cultivation of truthful living (judgemental rationality) in relation to the ultimate nature of reality (ontological realism) on the basis of an open political liberalism guided by the underlabouring resources of critical realism. We turn now from philosophy to theology. The current chapter tells a story of the subjugation and accommodation of religion under the auspices of an epistemic fallacy that required both theological and philosophical accounts of Transcendence to be evaluated in the light of a priori epistemic criteria rather than a posteriori ontological encounters. As we have seen, these criteria required the dislocated Cartesian self to provide empirically, rationally or experientially certain proof of the veracity of Transcendent truth claims through the exercise of rational autonomy against a background of thoroughgoing scepticism. The struggle of both natural and revealed theology to hold their ground in the face of sustained critique led, on the one hand to the self-protective retreat of religious
believers into private fideistic and fundamentalist ghettos, and on the other hand to a reductive accommodation of religion to the norms of comprehensive liberalism grounded in an appropriation of the romantic category of the self-evident certainty of spiritual experience and intuition.