Friday, April 12, 2002

Digital Theology

Apropos of my comments last week about the modern tendency to judge truth claims on the basis of who makes them instead of their own merits and to categorize in political terms, consider the following words from an essay by Fr. Edward T. Oakes:

One recent and sure sign of contemporary decadence is the habit of pigeonholing every theological position into the hoary categories of liberal and conservative and then judging the position on that basis, often without any direct acquaintance with the text advocating that position. I do not wish to deny some initial utility to these terms, but their constant invocation remains worrisome. For one thing, these terms are largely irrelevant in the history of theology (was Arius conservative or liberal?). And if the liberal/conservative spectrum cannot truly describe the past, why are these categories not similarly pointless today?

In my opinion, the reason for this dreary state of affairs is that great curse of the contemporary intellect, what I shall call the digital mind. In the famous debate over whether computers can think, I hold with John Searle and Roger Penrose that they cannot, precisely because they operate by manipulating binary oppositions. But I would also say the same of humans: they too prove incapable of anything passing for real thought whenever they browbeat every insight, like cattle being herded in a slaughterhouse, into the binary boxcars of liberal/conservative, progressive/traditional, liberating/constraining.

Amen, Father.

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