I love Stanley Fish for his willingness and ability to see the bankruptcy of his employers. He regularly stands on the foundation which supports him and whacks at it with his prodigious intellectual sledgehammer. I admit I haven’t read enough to see if he ever tries finding another rock to build on, but I suspect he doesn’t and that’s his point.
His latest New York Times blog post is a must-read. It takes up presuppositionalist themes again by reviewing Steven Smith’s The Disenchantment of Secular Discourse, a work wielding the same hammer Fish does. Secular reasons, Smith argues, are actually religious ones smuggled in. There is no safe secular arena where neutral arguments reign.
It is not, Smith tells us, that secular reason can’t do the job (of identifying ultimate meanings and values) we need religion to do; it’s worse; secular reason can’t do its own self-assigned job—of describing the world in ways that allow us to move forward in our projects—without importing, but not acknowledging, the very perspectives it pushes away in disdain.
And this from Smith’s book:
The secular vocabulary within which public discourse is constrained today is insufficient to convey our full set of normative convictions and commitments. We manage to debate normative matters anyway—but only by smuggling in notions that are formally inadmissible, and hence that cannot be openly acknowledged or adverted to.
And yet it seems most Christians don’t understand this. They have agreed with the intellectually bankrupt bullies that religious evidence has been ruled inadmissible. So Christians go on TV and talk about the horizontal, sociological effects of homosexuality or teen pregnancy. They never mention the vertical. Granted, in the world God made, horizontal effects are part of God’s general revelation. But no one can repent of their sins and trust creation. Christians are the only people who have a good answer for why the negative sociological effects of sin are in fact negative. We’ve got answers for Fish’s powerful questions!
It always amazes me to read the comments from readers after Fish’s essays. The very first comment:
As an atheist, I read this whole piece waiting for the part where Mr. Fish would explain how, without invoking a secular/religious distinction, a society can prevent the majority religion from imposing its creed on everyone else. However metaphysically unfulfilling it may be, “smuggling” sounds a lot better than “theocracy.”
The only appropriate response to that comment is sorrow. “I will not be ruled by God!”, she is saying. “I’d rather be ruled by a puppet with my own hand inside.”
The next commenter appeals back to his presuppositions: evolutionary naturalism explains all.
The next commenter simply asserts that “there is no ‘metaphysics’ only physics.” Only observable facts are true.
When the truth, or even a portion of it, comes into the house to burn it up, people run and get their valuables.