Sunday, April 09, 2006

George Lindbeck is not an Apostle

George Lindbeck, a writer on religion, gets lots of press around where I teach. His argument is simple, though effectively an unholy mating between two strains of thought on religion --namely, from Schleiermacher and Wittgenstein.

Lindbeck sees religion as a comprehenseive interpretive scheme embodied in myth(s) or special narratives, where the rituals of said somehow structure human experience and understanding of self and world. He wants to hold that there are dimensions of human existence that can really be understood only by experience and not by cognitivist encoding of truths by propositions. (In other words, science is devalued, as it often is by pious believers, even intellectual ones.) On my view, this is very close to what Schleiermacher would say today if he were alive and writing.

Like Wittgenstein, or at least on one version of Witgenstein at one era in his life, Lindbeck wants to analyze religion a cultural, linguistic framework that shapes all life and thought of the believer.

But how does one know if the scheme represents reality?

The magic happens when one's interiorized skill (think Pavlov, people), "the skill of the saint, manifests itself in an ability to discriminate 'intuitively' (nondiscursively) between authentic and inauthentic, and between effective and ineffective, objectifications of the religion." (Lindbeck, 1984, 36).

How nice. Sadly, however, intuition is terrible when it comes to reflecting reality. We are biased, prejudiced, and over-confident of our abilities. We have selective memory, and even the best of us are the butt of practically every logical fallacy sooner or later.

So then, Lindbeck's view of religion would fly only if intuition were trustworthy about the way the world is or objective when we happen to apply it. But intution is neither trustworthy nor objective. Thus, don't be a sucker. Take a pass on Linkbeck's analysis of religion.


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