Jens Zimmermann on the Secular-Religious Debate

Quotes on Secularity from Jens Zimmermann’s book Incarnational Humanism

Understanding the nature of reason is central to our conception of human existence. We have to resist a narrow conception of human rationality that excludes religion as irrational because such a view cripples our ability to analyze correctly the current state of Western culture. As Rodney Stark has argued in his book The Victory of Reason, Christianity’s ability to combine faith and reason with a progressive view of human nature laid the foundation for Western science and technological progress…. Building on Judaism, Christianity also allowed for the concepts of human dignity, personhood and individuality that have decisively shaped Western views of society. (25 & 26)

Neither the best nor the worst features of modernity are comprehensible without the transformative influence of Christianity on Greco-Roman culture. Without religion, the West would not be what it is, and without understanding the religious roots of Western culture and their continuing influence on Western thought, we lack the self-understanding necessary to address our current cultural crisis. (26)

The reduction of reason to scientific objectivity, combined with an individualistic understanding of the human self as an island of autonomous consciousness and will, has drawn a sharp line between faith and reason, between science and religion, between fact and value. (35)

Living in a postsecular world means that secularism is no longer the standard for reasonable thought. If indeed it is true that Western culture continues to experience a crisis of identity and purpose, the dogmatic exclusion of sources of transcendent purpose (i.e. religion) seems unwise…. Such dogmatism is not secular thinking, if secular is taken at its root meaning of “this worldly”. Rather, the arbitrary exclusion of religion from reasonable discourse is secularist ideology, a fundamentalist rejection of all interpretation of the world, except the materialist one that excludes religion.  (41)

When science begins to think, that is, when it moves beyond verification and begins to interpret the meaning of its findings, science takes recourse to philosophy and theology. (42)

Insightful Quotes from Jens Zimmermann’s book Hermeneutics: a very short introduction. (OUP, 2015)

For Gadamer,  tradition and authority are not the enemy of reason or critical thought. Rather tradition furnishes the web of conceptions within which we live, move, and have our historical being. To be sure, as we all know, tradition and authority can often be abused, but such distortions should not mislead us into denying their important role for our perception of the world. Authority, for example, is ideally never imposed but derives from the superior skill or life-experience we recognize in others…. Indeed, authority and tradition are linked precisely in the recognition that our knowledge about the world depends on others who have mastered and passed on skills by tradition…. This positive view of tradition as the storehouse of human knowledge recognizes the natural limits of human finitude. No individual can reinvent from scratch insights gained over may generations, but rather always draws on the handed-down experience of tradition through recognized authorities…. The goal is to become aware of these guiding influences and creatively adopt those that are fruitful while weeding out those that cripple our thinking.  (44)

Natural science, economics, and politics depend on literature, philosophy, and religion for educating the imagination. Every chapter in this book shows that we cannot oppose facts to values, but that all facts are integrated into meaningful wholes through personal commitment to some kind of vision of how things ought to be. If this universal hermeneutic claim is true, then the shaping of our imagination through historical, philosophical and literary texts in the humanities is indeed paramount. (69)

Both in science and in theology, facts are important, but what ultimately matters is the theory or world picture by which we integrate the individual parts of what we know into a meaningful whole. Even experimental verification by itself is no guarantee for arriving at the correct interpretation of reality…. Striving for coherence through the integration of particulars into a meaningful whole, science proceeds hermeneutically…. Science depends as much on tradition, personal involvement, commitment, and intuitive insight as does any other mode of knowing. The creative and visionary side of science also aligns scientific activity with the creative arts, poetry, and literature.  (128-29)

Hermeneutics enquires into the conditions of understanding…. Hermeneutic philosophy provides an important antidote to fundamentalism. Secular and religious fundamentalists still defend the modernist illusion of timeless, certain knowledge. Their shrill voices are defensive, sometimes even violent, stances towards others are driven by the fear of relativism. In contrast, by insisting on the interpretive nature of all human knowledge without falling into relativism, hermeneutics encourages the interpretive humility essential to any dialogue. Acknowledging the profound mediation of even our deepest beliefs through history, tradition, and language should induce us to admit that we could be wrong and are thus open to correction. The awareness that our own interpretive framework can benefit from another’s encourages conversation in order to learn…. Insofar as hermeneutic philosophy encourages conversation among those of different faiths and cultures, hermeneutics will remain an essential part of our future. (131-2)

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