Friday, December 31, 2010

Politics and Theology

In my previous post I discussed Strauss' argument that political things are inherently subject to evaluation and judgment, approval or disapproval, praise or blame, etc. It seems to me that theological and religious things are of a very similar nature, especially since they often make contradictory and mutually exclusive claims about reality. (Even syncretic religions such as some forms of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Sufism implicitly deny the exclusivistic elements of non-syncretic religions.) As before, not taking religious and theological claims seriously prevents us from understanding them as what they are. Even if we eventually reject those claims as false, we must first attempt to understand those claims as those who advanced them understood them, if we are interested in the pursuit of truth.

Another statement of Strauss' may also be relevant to theology, in the context of distinguishing political thought from political philosophy: "Political thought may not be more, and may not intend to be more, than the expounding or the defense of a firmly held conviction or of an invigorating myth; but it is essential to political philosophy to be set in motion, and be kept in motion, by the disquieting awareness of the fundamental difference between conviction, or belief, and knowledge." (p.12) If this can also be seen as a distinction between thought and philosophy in general, then if theology or religion is in any way to be concerned with truth it must be a philosophic theology -- a theology constantly aware that the sincerity of a conviction or belief says nothing about its truth.

The way in which Strauss' discussion of political things could also be applied to theological things struck me as a possible clue, that perhaps the problems of politics and the problems of theology are somehow linked or related. It also gave more meaning and explanation to the title of Spinoza's work: Theologico-Political Treatise. Perhaps the political problem is really and inextricably a theologico-political problem.


Spinoza, Benedict. Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
Strauss, Leo. What Is Political Philosophy? And Other Studies

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