Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Famous Footnote 4

The apologist vs. scholar dichotomy has been getting some thoughtful attention lately inspired by Alan Lenzi’s reflections on several theological puff pieces passing as book reviews in the Review of Biblical Literature.

In a very real sense, this is a false dichotomy because no one is ever either fully on one side or the other. All of our thinking is more or less affected by our experiences, education, values, beliefs, agendas, etc. Some discussions of this issue play up the false dichotomy (e.g., Russell McCutcheon’s Critics Not Caretakers).

A balanced philosophical approach to this phenomenon – the conflict between religious experience and rational thought – was recently brought to my attention. It is apparently somewhat famous (or infamous).

Footnote 4 of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s The Halakhic Man (JPS, 1984) contains an extended philosophical discussion of these two fundamentally opposed perspectives. On the one hand, “cognitive man” wants to classify and prove everything based on verifiable evidence. This is the approach preferred by critical scholarship. Sometimes we confuse our religious or philosophical commitments with “verifiable evidence.” Here’s a sample quote from Soloveitchek (not from the footnote but from the main text).

“We must undertake a comparative study of the fundamental and distinctive features of the ontological outlooks of homo religiosus and cognitive man. For only by gaining an insight into the differences and distinctions existing between these two outlooks will we be able to comprehend the nature of halakhic man, the master of talmudic dialectics” (pp. 4-5).

Before I read more, I need to brush up on my philosophy jargon.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this Douglas. Lenzi is now going in my feed reader!