I just saw this article recently, and I thought to myself pietism, and Kant. My mind, you see, works like a search engine. The other ‘search term’ I got was the name of an old Master of mine. Knowing that Tony Blair is a Christian, yet keeps this conviction very secretive, somewhat brought a bit of warmth to my heart as I thought of this. Recent events for me have been so distressing and so alienating, that I find comfort in being reminded of the old seminary days; the days which implanted the values in me which I admire so much. When I struggle for the causes that I do; I remember why I do it, and remember the time when they taught me why I should do what I do.
Having a conviction, it doesn’t have to be a religious one, but more a moral/virtue/psychological commitment, is something that is very superficial if it is expressed as the utterance of the schema “I am a(n) x (person)“. It is for this reason that I do not like to state the personality traits that I think I have. I don’t want to say ‘I am a brave person’, or ‘I am wise’; this is for two reasons. Firstly, from Destre/Michael, the influence from Socrates’ (I need not say any more about this), and secondly (the purpose of this article), that it is better, and even more helpful not to say in the form of an utterance, “I am a Christian”, or “I am angered by injustice”. It is most captured in something Michael once said to us, when we asked him “why do you commit so much to the cause?”, and he answered:
“I can’t tell you why, but I’ll show you…”
This was also funny because he was paraphrasing an Aristocrat’s joke. Michael’s point, which is something that I was taught, was that our convictions are almost useless when uttered. “I am a philosopher”, “I am a man”, “I love you”, “I will fight to the death”; these utterances mean almost nothing. All too often have I seen men and women claiming great things of themselves and their dedications, but too infrequently have I seen them genuinely committed to their words.
Instances of ‘secret faith’
This so-defined secret faith which I described above, can be instantiated in many ways:
Example 1: The poor woman who gives a penny, which is a great deal of her wealth, in contrast to the rich men who give comparitively little of their own proportion of wealth, yet proclaim their greatness of charity. [Mark 12:38-44]
Example 2: Those who help us the most, but do not claim any responsibility, or glory for their actions; despite their glory/responsibility being well deserved
Example 3: Those whose convictions are integral to their actions, but so integral, it need not be mentioned. Members of Areopagus try to aspire to this goal. Although Master Destre has highlighted a small issue within this (an issue for another post)
The seminary connection
They taught us in the seminary to do good; to be men for others; to give everything that we do our all. We were to be heroes among men; I feel great disappointment in not aspiring to this standard. My ideals of malehood (read this as virtu/power) and heroism were formed during thsoe days. Standards which I just can’t meet.
Our most sincere beliefs are a private matter, that is what we were taught. Be humble, yet great; that is the ultimate maxim. I should learn more humility. I should train more to be the person they wanted us to be.
Finally; the Kant-connection
It is, of course, customary for us in the blog to refer to Kant. This post is by no means any exception. So, why is Kant relevant? Kant was brought up during the Enlightenment; where society was objecting to public or institutional religion. This is, an odd angle to bring up private faith. It is commonly perceived that the Enlightenment seemed to have anti-Christian sentiment/tendencies. Does it? That’s a good question, I am not sure. But it is far from obvious whether this is the case; remember, that the greatest minds of that time were Christian; Newton, Leibniz, Descartes (arguably), Robert Boyle, the Cambridge Platonists, and lets not, of course, forget the Bishop of Cloyne, George Berkeley. In the words of my beloved philosophy tutor: they are no fools.
Kant was brought up in the Pietist tradition. What I think is important that comes from this is Kant’s tendency (fostered by his upbringing) to avoid these liturgical traditions over practical action and moral conviction. In this way, is there a similarity between Immanuel’s upbringing and mine (although we didn’t purposely avoid the liturgy; we did emphasise the pragmatics a lot more).
The moral of the story
If there is a moral to this post; it is this. I hear so many people denigrating the politicians of today for their religious belief. This is just as bad as denigrating their policies on discrimination in virtue of their social-class minority. This is just another ad hominem. So what if Blair is an Christian? So long as he kept it in its place (ie. not in his political career), he can do what he likes; he could be a BDSM enthusiast and it won’t have to bother us if he keeps his life seperate! I’m sure, if he did have a BDSM interest it would impact on his political career in some way; but lets try and limit it; just wear a leather collar, for example, than impose torture laws…
Of course, when I talk of faith; I am agnostic whether this relates to substantive metaphysical doctrines. Is it a funamental part of Spinoza’s ‘faith‘ in the intellectual love of God that there is a conatus and necessary causation? Probably not! The awe that Spinoza talked of was the beauty of seeing all true propositions in the same realm, the beauty of truth. This is analogous to Lewis’ claim of taking side with physics, but not taking sides within physics.
You might think this post is too middle of the road for me. Don’t worry; I have more extreme things to say yet 🙂