Soft Sciences

The Owl’s last two written posts dealt with Science from their different angles. Here is a third, about some who claim to have a scientific world view and take on human affairs as fitting subjects for their investigations. Hence, we have sociology, political science, etc.

This might make an interesting thought-experiment, but what they call science quickly devolves to a misappropriation of a certain authority, a mystical certitude, supposedly coming from realms of objectivity above the fray of meanings as poets, theologians, politicians, and the rest of us think of them. At this point, social ‘scientists’ become truly dangerous. For if we ought to have learned anything from science as it plays out in the twentieth century (the atomic bomb, eugenics, Stalinism), it is not to trust these fellows with the language of justice or democracy.

Those abstractions belong to the discourse of political morality, not to science. We ought to be profoundly suspicious when sociologists and political scientists use them. Nothing in their profession qualifies them to use such language. Nothing in their ethos commits them to humane values, to meaning, except as fallible human beings like the rest of us. When they do introduce such language, nothing restrains them from using it manipulatively and cynically.

Here some genuine theological sophistication would protect us. For having it, one would recognize the fake religious nature of scientism, as of any claims of certainty, whatever their basis. Orthodox Christians have known for centuries to recoil from such claims, or at least to test them against the wider experience of the community of faith—not as regards cosmogony, which is interesting but spiritually trivial, but as regards human existence.

But again, our enemies have a partial grasp on the truth. If they could resist the temptation to demagoguery—or if the rest of us could prevent them rather than abet them at it—they would aid the Christian cause again. They would parse political questions in pragmatic, rather than moral-theological terms. (For there certainly are pragmatic reasons for even distribution of wealth, and for the broad range of citizens having a stake in decision making.) If they did so, they would go far to reduce confusion between eschatological hope, which is the stuff of faith, and optimistic social justice; the foreshortened, real-world version of hope.

This would mean desacralizing politics, treating problems and solutions which are, at least in principle, within our grasp, as temporary and pragmatic. It would mean taking responsibility for those goals we invent for ourselves, not pretending they are God’s will. One suspects this would defuse some of what we call the “religious” conflicts in the world.

Unfortunately, since the time of old King Numa, human beings have been incapable or unwilling to do this. However, it might be reasonable now at last, to think otherwise. If by now certain modern confusions have run their course, we might just accomplish such a desacralization. If so we could hope for a corresponding revolution in faith.

This would entail an end to talk of politics as ‘God’s plan’—sadistic talk, if one thinks very far into it. It would mean giving up the pagan myth of progress, having no clear program for the present, and no agenda for future perfection. It would mean infinite adjustability of political means to situations, rather than bondage to the quasi-metaphysical principles—false religions invading the discourse through the back door. It would mean forsaking our inescapably imperialistic view of most of the world (which strangely remains “third”, still ineligible for promotion, even after the “second” disappeared).

That is not to say that, when we adjust to faith, our worldly problems will at last come right. Only that we will be dealing with them as what they are, as worldly problems. They may be as insoluble as ever, but our footing in respect of each other will have changed radically. We may then see each other, whether people of faith or not, as equal in our necessities and limitations. This ought to give us a certain compassion for each other which we appear to lack until now. Works of compassion will have been transformed, from points of (liberals’) superiority over (conservative) infidels into acts of common sense, based on our knowledge of ourselves as befuddled sinners every one.

The freedom of a Christian means we make our own values in this world, while living with only one clear promise from God: that we are his people, and he is with us. Such is the rule of eschatological faith, which postpones ultimate judgments, meanings, and goals, into a mythopoeic future. Such faith operates not as a strut for confidence in this world, but as an antidote against it. For to say that our conundrums have their solutions beyond the horizon of this life is to say this life does not contain its own solutions, that true meaning comes only when our world is broken open from outside.

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