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Deformations of Faith

Deformations Of Faith

Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for your kind introduction. Ladies and gentlemen.

The subject matter of these lectures is supposed to be “Deformations of Faith.” The general topic of this meeting here is “On Faith.” It was selected as a topic–not as a problem in any particular science. I shall try to stick as closely as possible to the topical implications of the problems of faith and deformations of faith. Of course, when one speaks about deformations of faith one has first to determine what is meant by faith.

Again, adhering to the topical content, I should say the definition in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1–”Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the proof [evidence] of things unseen [not seen]”1–is the central formulation from the New Testament which has always been the basis of the theological and metaphysical examinations of what faith is–all through the Middle Ages right into the present. And we will start simply from there.

The first point that has to be made clear is what [is meant by] “the substance of things hoped for,” [EV aside: Well, it is comparatively simple.] but “the proof of things unseen” already gives difficulties in translation because the Greek term elenkas (έλεγχος), which is here translated as “proof’ doesn’t mean exactly proof. [There are] considerable explanations by Luther in his Bible translations as to how one should do that. He’s against “proof” because it has a logical implication. He believes, however, that translating it simply as “conviction” is too little, too weak. [He] settles for something like “persuasive force” in the experience of divine reality.

Coleridge’s Understanding of Faith

Now from that conception of faith we shall start. I shall select as a text–you might say for a sermon–from the formulations of the problem (which implies already the question of deformations) in [Samuel Taylor] Coleridge–a gentleman who in my opinion is much underrated as an English thinker.

In his “Essays on [the Principles of] Method”2 in 1818, he explains the following. He puts the formulation of Hebrews in the context of a philosophy of history. Let me read you a few sentences from it. In the childhood of the human race, its education commenced with the cultivation of the moral sense: the object proposed being such as the mind only could apprehend, and the principle of obedience being placed in the will. The appeal in both was made to the inward man . . .3 Now he quotes this passage from Hebrews 11: 1 and then especially verse 3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God; so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear . . .4

From this formulation now [we turn to] the deformation of faith. [He] goes into an analysis of the already dominant contemporary deformations of a conception of reality as: a reality of phenomena and nothing but the phenomena–the phenomena being the things which are seen while that which is the true reality is that which is not seen, the unseen. And when that predominates–now going back to Biblical texts in this Coleridge conception–when that happens, when the phenomena become dominant, then you get what Coleridge calls civilization in the material sense.

When you have then civilization in the purely material sense and try to base explanation of all reality purely on the phenomena–and the series of phenomena–then you will get a difference of opinion which no longer has a center in the problem of the unseen. You get the multiplicity of languages and–to use the symbolism of the Babylonian multiplication and diversification of languages as the proper symbolism for explaining–that you then get a multitude of opinions–what today we call pluralism–instead of an understanding of the reality with which we have to deal.

Well, let me perhaps quote one section more from Coleridge to that effect:

“Thus were the very first lessons in the Divine School assigned to the cultivation of the reason and of the will: or rather of both as united in Faith. [EV aside: Please observe that the reason and will united is faith. Reason, please.]”

“The common and ultimate object of the will and of the reason was purely spiritual, and to be present in the mind of the disciple, that the Idea is alone the source of reality and never as an image or imagination of something. The means too, by which the idea was to be excited, as well as the symbols by which it was to be communicated, were to be, as far as possible, intellectual.”5

So, in the conception of Coleridge who had come from a ministerial house, reason and faith belonged together–you can’t have reason without faith and you can’t have faith without reason–and when you lose faith you lose reason and, if you make reason independent of faith, you get also the rationalizations of the phenomena which are no longer a true interpretation of reality.

And then, for as far as deformation is concerned, still another sentence:

“But the men of sense, of the patriarchal times, neglecting reason and having rejected faith [EV aside: please, both go together, reason and faith], adopted what the facts seemed to involve and the most obvious analogies to suggest.”

They acknowledged a whole beehive of natural Gods; but while they were employed in building a temple consecrated to the material Heavens, it pleased divine wisdom to send on them a confusion of lip[s] [EV: Babylonian confusion] accompanied with the usual embitterment of controversy where all parties are in the wrong  and the grounds of quarrel are equally plausible on all sides. (502-503) [EV: thereby describing his contemporary situation]. That is the original problem as it is formulated in an English context by an English poet and thinker. And not much has changed about that. I have selected this formulation because Coleridge not only had a good theological background but also a good philosophical background. He was an excellent Platonist.

Deformation as a Permanent Problem in History

I want now to go into the question of what is first, the origin of the deformation, and then into some characteristics of the deformation. Now that origin of the deformation is not to be found only in the events of the French Revolution contemporary with Coleridge–those that motivated him to reflect on these questions–but you have it as a permanent problem in the history of mankind as far back as we have any written knowledge of civilizational processes.

This is the same situation which here is reflected on by Coleridge on the occasion of the French Revolution, the same we have today on the occasion of our contemporary Industrial Revolution, the same we have in the problem of the Sophists in Plato’s time, the same we have already in the increase of civilization of the Israelite kingdoms [essentially the same problem], and we have the same problem in the disturbances of the Egyptian Empire in the third millennium B.C.

So we have a constancy of the same problem but not on all occasions has the same problem been formulated with acuteness so that one can have a language in which to express it. This problem which is here formulated by Coleridge appears already in the same form in the Middle Ages and especially in one of the more neglected thinkers of the Middle Ages, who I think is one of the most important, of Anselm of Canterbury.

I want to go for a moment into the question of Anselm of Canterbury’s conception of faith and reason–and the analysis of faith as the task of man in the light of reason–the fides quaerens intellectum and its implications; again the Platonic implications which were as much the background of Anselm of Canterbury as they were of Coleridge here. Let me go a bit into that question of what is the original problem in the defection which leads to the deformations. It is a general problem of the rejection of the existence of God. [This term] “rejection” by the way in this context was already formulated by the Stoics, by Chrysippus’ [apistis? (lack of faith)] or by Cicero as “rejectionem” and it is to be presupposed here in this analysis of the “fool who rejects God.”

So I want to say a few words about the origin of the technical term, “fool.” I’m not using “fool” here in any pejorative sense but as a technical term in which it is used through the history of theology since antiquity, since Plato, as a peculiar type of existential deformation which in its rationalizations leads to the deformations of faith. This technical meaning of the term “fool” is the subject matter. One of the characteristics of our time now, of course, is that “the fool” is no longer a technical term in contemporary philosophy. I think you can go through all the philosophy departments of all colleges and universities in this country, as well as in Europe, and you will not find a professor of philosophy who deals with the problem of “the fool” as the problem of an existentially deformed personality.

The Crusades, Crisis, and Scholasticism

This problem of “the fool” I want to clarify a bit. It became acute in the twelfth century in the context of Anselm of Canterbury because that was again one of the great disturbances in Western civilization (just as we have today) through the expansion of the city cultures, increasing wealth and power of the national states, the new formations of orders, and so on, and the crusades, above all.

The First Crusade fell in the lifetime of Anselm of Canterbury, the last crusade still in the lifetime of Thomas. And that is the period which in intellectual history is identical with what we call “scholasticism.” And “scholasticism” is one of the responses to the questions raised on that occasion of these major disturbances to which I have just referred.

The problem is that when you get a disturbance on the pragmatic level then the symbolisms which hitherto have been accepted traditionally will be doubted as [adequate expressions of] order because we are living in a state of disorder when such pragmatic disturbances occur. And this attitude of doubting was at the time most energetic where professionally, the [existing] symbolism was [supposed] to be accepted, at least in theological contexts, especially in the monasteries.

You must imagine these medieval monasteries [as] youth movements practically, because the average life expectancy of a monk was about 25; when he was 30 he could hardly avoid becoming an abbot; and by 35 usually they were dead. And these kinds of alert energetic young people who doubted the formulations of the Creed and did not want to be referred to layers of authoritative texts like the Bible but wanted to know why they should believe what they did believe-they were not unbelievers-but they wanted to know why. That gave rise to Anselm’s (usually counted as the first scholastic) attempt to answer the question why should one believe if one wants to give reasons for the symbols which are the traditional symbols in a society. And that is the subject matter of his famous Proslogion.6

St. Anselm’s Proslogion and Gaunilo as Fool

Now the Proslogion, which gives you a rational analysis of the faith and explains the reason that is contained in the faith–the same problem as in Coleridge, as you see–this Proslogion was attacked by a gentleman by the name of Gaunilo who doubted the content of the Proslogion and in order to doubt it pretended that what Anselm tried was a proof of the truth of the faith.

It wasn’t, of course, because a believer doesn’t have any need to prove the truth of the faith; he wants to understand its reason which is a quite different matter. And on that occasion then comes up the question of “the fool,” because Gaunilo as representing the fool, himself representing it in his own interpretation, denies for methodological reasons now the existence of God which Anselm was supposed to have proved, but which he didn’t prove, of course. That introduced the question of “What is a fool?” And the term “fool” now must be clarified.

“Fool” as a Technical Term

As I said it is a technical term and we can’t do very much with it and understand defections of faith, the deformations of faith, unless we know what a fool is. Now everybody could refer to the term “fool” in the Medieval Latin insipiens with a certain guarantee to be understood because he could refer to the opening verse of that Psalms, Number 13.The fool will deny the existence of God, he will say there is no God. In that context the term “fool” appears.

From the Medieval Latin insipiens is translated by the King James Version as “the fool.” Now, this question of “the fool,” as I said, cannot be simply dismissed as a “foolishness” or something like that, because it is just as much a human possibility–to deny the existence of God–as [would be] a positive response to the experience of divine reality–a positive response which may result in the symbolism of a God or of the gods.

So the possibility to be an unbeliever is present in every man and is part of the nature of man just as much as the positive response. And in certain historical situations then this potentiality becomes actualized in such situations as I have mentioned: beginning from the third millennium B.C. in the Egyptian context, then in the Israelite context, then the Hellenic context, the Medieval context, in the French Revolution context, in the contemporary context and so on. You have any such number of realizations.

Now so far as the theological situation is concerned in this matter, everything is clear. “The fool says in his heart: There is no God.”7 Now the word “fool” translates the Hebrew word, the word nabal and that nabal is now translated [into Latin] as insipiens, as “the fool.” [Although] this last translation into English is questionable (I should say). It is perhaps not the best because the English word “fool”‘ derives from the Latin word follis, and follis, meaning a bellows or windbag, and has retained from its origin an aura of wind bagging, of silliness, of lack or weakness of judgment that will neither suggest the fundamental corruption of existence nor the spectrum of corruptive symptoms intended by the Hebrew word nabal.

The fool of the Psalms is not a man wanting in intellectual acumen–that’s very important because non-believing intellectuals usually are very clever and have a lot of intellectual acumen. So it is not that; it is not a foolishness in that sense. And such alternative translations as “the impious,” “the profane,” “the reckless,” or “the worthless” man, which have all been tried, all have their merits; but they show, however, the difficulty of rendering the richness of an early, compact symbol into a modem language with much more differentiated meanings.

However, a more satisfactory translation I believe is today impossible in English, idiomatically, and so I stick to “fool,” for lack of a better word. [So when someone asks] what does “the fool” mean, you have to clarify. In Psalms 13, the nabal (that is the word translated as “fool”) signifies the mass phenomenon of men who do evil rather than good because “they do not (I’m quoting) seek after God and his justice, who eat my people as they eat bread” because they do not believe in divine sanction for acts of unrighteousness.8 The personal contempt for God will manifest itself in ruthless conduct toward the weaker man and create general disorder in society. That is [all there in] the implications of the nabal.

Not Atheism But Spiritual Dullness

The situation envisaged by the Psalm seems to be the same as the contempt for God and his prophets characterized by Jeremiah 5: 12 and as early as the eighth century [B.C.] by Isaiah 32.9 In these Israeli contexts [the man of] contempt–the nebala–does not necessarily denote a differentiated phenomenon of dogmatic atheism but rather a state of spiritual dullness that would permit the indulgence of greed, sex, and power without fear of divine judgment. I stress that problem because today usually an atheist is just blandly assumed to be an atheistic person who denies the existence of God.

That is not yet the early context because nobody has asserted anything positively about the existence of God; there was no creed in this context, yet. But a dullness–this peculiar spiritual dullness, lack of education, illiteracy and so on. And [the] illogicality of assuming that if he doesn’t experience something, the thing isn’t real. This is impertinence. Megalomania. (EV aside: It is a dullness which you frequently meet in our college environment. Anytime, you can find not only a student but also a faculty member who will simply tell you: “I do not have any experiences of a divine reality, period.” And because he doesn’t have them, or believes he doesn’t have them, of course he has them, but in a different manner, but the assertion that he doesn’t have them is to be considered an argument instead of assuming what it implies, that he is a somewhat dull, defective personality. And that is frequently in college environments. I’m speaking of course chiefly from a knowledge of social science departments; it may be different in theology or other departments, but it seems to be almost the majority of the faculty today.)

Now, that contemptuous folly of which these passages speak can rise to the radical, of course, “There is no God.” But it is not yet the problem in the original text. The fool, in the original text, stands against the revealed God, he denies God, he does not stand against a fides, a faith, formlulated creed which is in quest of its own reason, the fides quaerens intellectum of Anselm. This further characteristic of the Anselm-Gaunilo debate must be sought rather in the philosopher’s tradition that has entered Christian theology.

Plato Analyzes Folly

And now I have to enter into that affair, the Platonic problem, because the same problem that appears here in the Middle Ages [had] in the 4th century already appeared–only with a somewhat better technical analysis–in Plato’s works on the occasion of the Sophistic revolt of the 5th and 4th centuries B.C. The term “folly” in the Platonic text is the term anoia in Republic II and Laws, X. In Greek society, since the Greeks were a very clever people, and had a very highly developed intellectual civilization, you have very perfect formulations. They have expressed their negative response to the experiences of divine reality in a series of negative propositions which circumspectly cover the whole range of the experience, much better usually than our contemporary intellectuals.

In both the Republic and the Laws, Plato represents these propositions as if they are a set. There were three propositions, [all] negative: (1) It seems that no gods exist; (2) even if they do exist they do not care about man; (3) even if they care they can be propitiated by gifts. [This] covers all possibilities. [Perfectly covering the aspects. Now] Plato does not give a specific source but refers to this triadic set of negations as prevalent in the intellectual environment; it probably is, however, a Sophistic school product for it has the same structure as a set of propositions which we have preserved in Gorgias’s Essay on Being. There you find the following set: (1) nothing exists; (2) even if anything exists it is incomprehensible; (3) even if comprehensible, it is incommunicable. Again perfectly covering all the aspects in articulate form, and I must say, much better than of any contemporary intellectual I know of. Very systematically.

The Loss of Contact with the Divine

The set suggests that in the Sophistic schools the contempt of the gods had grown into general loss of experiential contact with cosmic divine reality. So the loss of contact. The loss of reality is one of the features of all deformations. First you must have loss of the piece of reality before you can talk nonsense about reality. And this loss of reality is the real problem.

The periodic patterns of the negative propositions have developed as an expression for the resultant contraction of man’ s existence. This “contraction” I would again use as a technical term. If you contract existence in the sense of not participating in all possible dimensions of reality–as is presupposed in a normal, rational [mind as] in the first section of Aristotle’s Metaphysics “that man is by nature the creature that desires to know,” [then you deny that it is natural for man to go in all] directions in order to find out [the truth about things].10

When you contract your existence and lose certain sectors of reality then you get into nonsense propositions about reality. The mass acceptance of this pattern–we have the same problems today, the mass acceptance of such patterns–is perceived by Plato so strongly as a challenge to his rational quest for the divine ground that he devoted the whole of Book X of The Laws to its refutation.

The Sophists Refuted by Causation

Now the details of his refutation resulting in the positive propositions–that the gods exist; that they do care about man; that they cannot be accomplices in human criminality by offering them bribes from the profits of crime–they are not our present concern. But the basic argument is of importance.

In the presentation of Laws X, it appears that Plato considered this triad to be refuted if you could show that the predominant Sophistic conceptions of phenomenal causality–(EV aside: now we are back again to the text of Coleridge) that the predominant conceptions of phenomena as a cause of reality, were false. And he does it in the following manner.

[Plato says:] matter is never self-moving, all movements of matter are effects of causes and you have a network of such effects and causes. But where the network itself–the whole reality in which the movement of matter occurs with causes and effects–comes from cannot be found by exploring the network of phenomena. There must be something there that is self-moving and puts the movement into motion and that something is the divine psyche. So, on the level of the phenomena themselves you can’t do anything, but you must get at the origin of the movements in the phenomena. Now that is the argument.

Not a Mere Analytic Error but a Spiritual Disease

These negative propositions become a philosopher’s concern. There are other philosophers’ statements concerning structure and reality, but expressing existential deformation–that is the insight gained by Plato. He maintains that the Sophistic folly–the anoia–is not merely an analytical error (that is very important). It is not a question of argument (you cannot argue with [these] people).

It is a nosos–a disease of society requiring the psychological therapy which in the Laws he grants to the extent of five years. So, psychoanalytical treatment of five years is permitted to foolish intellectuals–in this project of government. (EV aside: Hmmph?) After that, well they are either to leave the country or get killed. But five years [allowed for] psychoanalytical treatment.

Here’s a very important new problem: [that of] deformations of existence. We have a term, nosos, for it. To negate the theories–the existence–of God and to base an interpretation of reality on the negation of the divine reality is a mental disease. It is not an alternative theory of anything, it is a mental disease.

Aeschylus, Prometheus, and Marx

This conception of the mental disease was not formulated for the first time by Plato. You find it already used in the same sense by Aeschylus in the Prometheus. There you have that famous scene where the agents of Zeus are just in the process of nailing fettering Prometheus up to the rock and Hermes down on the beach supervises the procedures. And there Prometheus speaks his famous words: “In one word, I hate all the gods.”

And Hermes, down on the beach, says: “Well. that is no small disease (nosos).” Such a sentence! And that has its modem implications; that’ s why I like to quote it always, because that Promethean “I hate . . . in one word I hate all the gods” was used by Marx as a motto for his doctor’s dissertation–carefully omitting the answer of Hermes: that is a mental disease.

The second part of the dialogue was omitted by Marx. So I like always to quote that so that you can see that what you have in the modern intellectualism. It’s a very classical case, this abbreviation of that quotation from Prometheus–of a deformation of reality deliberately.

Marx was a very good classical scholar, and he had read this Prometheus really, not just picked up that quotation some way. And in order to make his case he omits 50 percent of the reality. Because if he would admit the other 50 percent he couldn’t indulge in his nonsense. So the deliberate falsification of facts, of quotations, of deliberate omissions of this kind is one of the typical symptoms of a deformation of existence. It’s a very interesting case.

Scary Ignorance

Plato goes very carefully into the analysis of this Sophistic folly, but he does not yet develop the whole problem. For instance, he has not yet a concept developed by Chrysippus. Chrysippus developed a concept of the agnoia ptoiodes, that is “ignorance that is scary.” Ptoiodes means scary: a “scary ignorance.”  That “scary ignorance” has then become in the Latin formulation anxietas and [from that] the modern “anxiety.” And it is again one of the most interesting historical phenomena that in Plato and Aristotle there is not yet any term that would be an equivalent to “anxiety.”

“Anxiety” is a symbolism that arises contemporarily with the mental disorders themselves and they arise in antiquity after Plato and Aristotle in the wake of Alexander’s conquests and the disturbances caused by Alexander’s conquests in the faith structure of all the people affected. Then you get all of a sudden a “scary ignorance.” Formerly you get a simple ignorance, like Sophistic ignorance which was not an anxious–not yet an anxiety–ignorance. So anxiety begins with the Stoics after the classic philosophers.

Plato’s Epistrophe and Chrysippus’ Apostrophe

So. Plato has no term yet for anxiety, for instance. Then [as well] he does not have yet the Chrysippean term of the apostrophe12 which is the counter symbolism to the Platonic epistrophe or periagoge. In the Republic, you know, the captive in the cave is directed toward the light, he turns towards the light; that is epistrophe. Then when he turns away from the light, that is not yet a Platonic problem, but a Stoic problem. Mental cases then, he turns around back the other way, that is the meaning of apostrophe. So the turning towards the light is the one phenomenon, the turning away from the light back towards the cave–the apostrophe is the other one–that was used by Chrysippus.

These Stoic analyses of the new pathological phenomena in the wake of the Alexander disturbances was then summarized in the Stoic tradition by Cicero and he has for the first time developed the whole vocabulary of a psycho-pathology of existence. He calls it the morbus animi–a disease of the mind, and the disease of the mind is, especially, the rejection of reason. The rejection of reason in the sense of the reason that is willing to explore the faith. That is the primary experience as to its meaning, its limitations, and so on. But if reason is used to reject the primary fides, the primary faith, then it results in mental disturbances, in the morbus animi.

At Stake is the Existence of Man

[I only I want to go in that Platonic affair so far.] I only have to mention one more point. In the course of all these analyses of the disease and its syndromes, Plato created a neologism of world historic consequences. When dealing with the propositional sets, he used (as far as we know for the first time in the history of philosophy) the term “theology.” He created, apparently, the term “theology.”

In the Republic Plato speaks of the negative propositions as typoi peri theologias, as types of theology and opposes to them the positive counter propositions as true types. Both types please–that is important insight of Plato–the negative as well as the positive are theologies, because they both express a human response to a divine appeal: the one positive, the other negative.

They both are in Plato’s language the verbal mimesis respectively of man’s existence in truth or falsehood. So if you exist in truth you have a positive theology, if you exist in falsehood you have a negative theology. But a theology you have in either case. That’s a very important point. Not the existence of God is at stake, please, but the existence of man and his truth or falsehood. Not the propositions [standing] against each other but the response and the non-response to the divine appeal. The propositions have no autonomous truth of their own.

The truth of the positive propositions is neither self-evident–that God exists, for instance–nor a matter of logical proof. They would be just as empty as the negative ones if they were not backed by the reality of the divine-human movement and counter-movement in the soul of the proponent. And the great work of Plato is to provide the magnificent analysis and symbolization of the experiences back of the symbols. Without these experiences and the reality which they express the symbols have no meaning–neither the positive ones nor the negative ones.

The verbal mimesis of the positive type (as it has no truth of its own) can be no more than a first line of defense or persuasion in a social confrontation with the verbal mimesis of the negative type–as in the Platonic case. Even more, the positive propositions derive [an essential] part of their meaning from their character as a defense against the negative propositions, because nobody has to indulge in positive propositions as long as nobody is foolish enough to provide negative propositions. There simply are no positive theologies before there are negative theologies. As a consequence, the two types of theology together represent the verbal mimesis of the human tension between the potentialities of a response or non-response to divine presence in personal­-social-historical existence.

If the fool’s part in the positive propositions–that the positive propositions are in answer to a fool’s negative propositions–is forgotten, there is always the danger of derailing into the foolishness of believing their truths to be ultimate without recourse to the experiences which justify them. But that assumption of ultimacy would make indeed these positive propositions as empty of experiential truth in the background as the fools pretend them to be.

To sum it up briefly. The negative propositions as an expression of rejection of an experience of divine reality (it’s a negative possibility in human nature) are the original forms of theological propositions in opposition to such crisis situations in society. Then positive propositional forms are found like “God does exist,” “God does do this or that,” “He has these qualities,” and so on. But they are in response always to the negative propositions. The positive content on which originally they have to rest is quite elsewhere—in the experiences of divine reality and not in the propositions themselves. So, this is the problem I wanted to state here first before I go a bit further into certain symptoms of the defection.

Deformations Must Have Rational Form

After you have these things happen–as the Platonic situation or the Anselmian situation or, earlier, the Israeli situation or, [even] earlier, the Egyptian situation, [so before all of that has happened] you get then the possibility of deformations of a certain type.

The concept of reason in the classic sense [is] the only concept of reason that we really have (the original one). You cannot operate with an 18th century concept of reason which is already a deformation into instrumentalism. The concept of reason always meant, in all contexts where the problem appears, an exploration of the fides in quest of its own understanding, the faith that looks for understanding.

You can’t separate the two: that was Coleridge’s insight too. If you separate the two and pretend that the faith from which you start is not the symbolization of an experience but a proposition, or piece of propositional knowledge which you can doubt, then you have to deny its truth and then you have to recreate the truth because you cannot live without the truth (normally–perhaps there are exceptional cases) and construct a false truth, a deformation. Such deformations have always to assume rational form because, if they don’t have rational form, you have nothing to stand on in the topical connection of the history of mankind, because every true faith is at the same time a rational faith, has a rational structure, and, when you get a false faith, it also must have a rational structure.

Since [this deformation] doesn’t have a rational structure, you must have an additional reason and that is called, in a very good modern term used by intellectuals (usually for the wrong purpose), a “rationalization.” You rationalize a false faith into the pretext of a true faith. Let me refer to a recent example, for instance. A few years ago, I believe in 1971, there came out that famous book by [John] Rawls, A Theory of Justice. You may have seen it or seen the debates about it.

The Example of John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice

Now that famous book–A Theory of Justice. If you apply philosophical language (which is originally the Platonic), then, in Platonic language, Rawls’ theory would be a theory of injustice, because justice presupposes the openness toward divine reality as the [operating factor in the existent of a society in history], while Mr. Rawls uses [language] as the constructive factor–what he does is an ideological construct [making]­ certain assumptions in original [propositions which make certain assertions about] information or non-information and so on.

[There are a number] of assumptions which he uses himself in order to arrive . . . at the result of something which comes more or less close to a New-Leftist egalitarianism. That is, he starts from a certain opinion, as Plato would call it, a doxa, of certain egalitarianism. Then tries to find–in order to support his faith–a number of axioms. These axioms he has to invent for the purpose. He calls his purpose a theory (Plato would call it a doxa). It isn’t a theory. It is a non-theory. And the result is then a conception–not of any justice–but of what Plato would call the injustice of the ideologue who wants to impose his peculiar conception of reality on everybody else. Here you have a classical modern case of the dimensions of the problem of deformation.

In the first place you have certainly an accredited respectable gentleman who is a professor at Harvard. In the second place, he develops a contract theory in complete ignorance of the fact that in the Republic, Book II, Plato has explained why contract theories don’t work. Crass philosophical ignorance! Incredible impertinence in believing that he can develop axioms like contract theories and so on as a basis of anything. Complete ignorance of the famous Platonic dichotomies of philosophy and philodoxy, of justice and injustice, of doxa and so on, and episteme. And on this basis (I wouldn’t even call it semi-literate–at least three quarters illiterate) regarding philosophical matters, he publishes a book which attracts enormous attention (also enormous criticism, not only applause).

But after all, it is a major event if you look at the periodicals and the publications and so on; there are books written about it, there are articles written about it, and so on. So this production, which is practically a documentation of the illiteracy of our contemporary philosophical population you might say, is a book which attracts major attention and is an important event in society. [So you can see here] you have an oddity. And you have not any article as far as I know (that I have seen) that would analyze such a problem and simply say “that isn’t a theory of justice; it is a theory of injustice.” It is not a theory at all; it is a dogmatic construct. In order to explain it in the context of American history, one would have to interpret it perhaps as a modernized form of a holy-roller event. There is not a single article to be found anywhere in any scientific publication I know of that would analyze these matters in rational terms. There’s nothing.

The Need for “Rationalization”

Now, I’ll tell you what I mean by “rationalization.” Here you have a typical case of rationalization. But then you get more, because under various historical circumstances the rationalizations must assume different forms. I’ve referred to Plato for instance, but the Platonic rationalizations of the Sophist to which he refers have a peculiar form because the Sophist lived still in the contemporary cosmological fides, in the faith in the cosmological gods which he rejected. And when he rejects the cosmological gods and wants to have a rationalized system of anything, of reality, he must replace the cosmological gods who represent the earth, and the heaven, and the air and so on by material elements.

So Plato has then to attack the theory that the origin of things is in certain material elements. Now, these certain material elements are in the peculiar form which rationalization has to assume in the context of the 4th century because the former gods of the heaven, the earth, the fire, and the water have to be replaced by material elements. In our situation, the matter is different. When you get this great outbreak of modern ideologies in the 19th century you do not go back to the cosmological gods because they have long been disposed of. But men like Fourier or Saint-Simon or Comte or Fichte or Hegel or Marx must be new Christs (not new gods of the elements); they must replace Christ.

You find [this], for instance, in Hegel. I always like to quote that Introduction to his Logic where he explains “This book [this Logic] is written from the position of the Logos before the creation of the world and human affairs.”  That is, he takes the place now of the Logos in the sense of the Gospel of John, so he is now the new Logos only bigger and better than Christ was. This replacement of Christ by the modern egophanic thinkers, as I call them, is the peculiar form which the rationalization has to take today.

When these savior personalities then develop their theories, of course, they have to use then certain technical means (which are always the same even if externally they look very different), because what you have to replace is the classical philosophy of a ground of things–an Aristotelian or Platonic arche–first ground of things. And if the first ground of things cannot be (as it is in classical philosophy) the divine reality, then since there must be a first ground or you can’t have a rational system, the first ground must be replaced by something.

So either by physical matter or by race (the biological or physiological factor) or by pragmatic reason and so on or by the passions.  And you get then (if you go through the whole hierarchy of being), you find as a possible replacement for the arche a series of replacement rationalizations–you get physicalities, biologies, psychologies, [racism, and] pragmatic-­economic reinterpretations of the ground.

Again take the simplest case of Marx where he formulates that not consciousness determines being but consciousness is determined by being, understanding by being the economic relations; the economic relations takes the place of the arche in the Aristotelian sense. Or in other connections, the race takes the place. Or in other connections again, physics or physical matter takes the place and so on. So you get as many possible false rationalizations as there are possible identifications of the original divine arche with any part of the immanent structure of being.

Sometimes of course you can also combine them. For instance, Herbert Marcuse found it a good idea to combine certain Marxian and Freudian elements into the repression conception. So you get permutations. But you can classify all modern ideologies as types of such rationalizations or permutations of such rationalizations which all have the purpose of replacing the arche by this or that part of the immanent structure of reality. So these are the most important techniques of rationalization and of giving a body of rational science or apparently rational science to a false attitude of existence.

Pretending Ideologies are “Science”

One item in conclusion I should like to mention: that in order to have or give an appearance of rationality or science to these matters you first have to pretend that all these things are sciences; it starts on principle you might say with Fichte’s Wissenschaftslehre. You start with the conception of philosophy as a science in the technical sense or you have Hegel’s conception of the system of science or Marx’s insistence that his Marxist socialism is scientific socialism and so on. So the term “science” appears. In order to get a basis for the term “science” you must form then certain dogmas which represent a particular position.

So beginning with the 18th century we have the rise of the “isms” signifying positions, which positions are in the sense of the Platonic negative theologies, the negative ideologies which pretend to replace the complete view of reality which includes the divine experience. So you get in the 18th century first, more or less innocuous-looking “isms” like pluralism and monism and pessimism and optimism–all of this 18th century language. Then in the 19th century you get the social “isms” like socialism, communism, liberalism, conservatism, reactionism, and later, national socialism, fascism–all these “isms.” So, as a simple matter of diagnostic observation, whenever somebody classifies himself by an “ism” or defends an “ism” you know already that something is wrong and that you are supposed to be manipulated by some sort of intellectual crook–whatever the “ism” is. That is a very important point for understanding the contemporary situation.

On the technical side, [or one should say, the scientific side], one would have to formulate the problem in the following manner. We have a more or less already explicit articulation of the problems of reality including the experiences of divine reality.

If you consider all symbolisms which have a complete picture of all dimensions of reality, a symbolism in which theophany plays a role, [you can then call them] theophanic symbolisms. And then [if you] get at existential deformations which are called egophanic deformations and call all symbolisms which express an egophanic deformation a symbolism with an index epsilon, then you would have to say: every symbolism with an index epsilon is an egophanic type [which] is a function of some symbolism originally of a theophanic type.

So, one of the great tasks of science (I should say, today)–in theology, philosophy, political and social sciences–would be to give a classification of contemporary “isms” as egophanic symbolisms and show from which original theophanic symbolisms they derive. That would be a sort of dictionary of false doctrine. I’ve done it in part already, but it is a considerable job, of course. And I’ve given you some points as to how it is to be done–for instance this placement in the cosmological situation, in the Christian situation, and so on.

Well, I think that is enough.



1. King James Version.

2 Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Collected Works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Friend I, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, Bollingen Series LXXV, 1969), “Essays on the Principles of Method,” Essay X.

3. Ibid., 500.

4. Ibid.

5. Since Voegelin freely quotes Coleridge in a few spots, here is the passage directly from Coleridge:

Thus were the very first lessons in the Divine School assigned to the cultivation of the reason and of the will: or rather of both as united in Faith. The common and ultimate object of the will and of the reason was purely spiritual, and to be present in the mind of the disciple–μόνον έν ίδέα μηδαμη ειδωλιχώς, that is, in the idea alone, and never as an image or imagination. The means too, by which the idea was to be excited, as well as the symbols by which it was to be communicated, were to be, as far as possible, intellectual. Ibid., 50 I.

6. The discussion that follows, focusing on Anselm’s fides quarens intellectum, on Gaunilo’s misunderstanding of the Proslogion, and on “the fool” is included (in some spots verbatim) in “Quod Deus Dicitur.” CW vol. 12. Cf. “The Beginning and the Beyond,” CW  vol. 28, for more almost verbatim quoting of discussions of “fool,” “nabal,” “anoia,” and Plato, plus the negative triads, Chrysippus, etc.

7.  Douay-Rheims; “Psalm 14,” KJV. “The fool hath said in his heart: There is no God.”

8. Actually EV seems only to be paraphrasing. The substance of the “quoted”, i.e., paraphrased section is contained in Psalm 13, verses 1·6 that read:

1). Unto the end, a psalm for David. The fool hath said in heart: There is no God, They are corrupt, and are become abominable in their ways: there is none that doth good, no not one.

2). The Lord hath looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there be any that understand and seek God.

3). They are all gone aside, they are become unprofitable together: there is not that doth good, no not one. Their throat is an open sepulcher: with their tongues they acted deceitfully; the poison of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of cursing and bitterness; their feet are swift to shed blood. Destruction and unhappiness in their ways: and the way of peace they have not known: there is no fear of God before their eyes.

4). Shall not all they know that work iniquity, who devour my people as they eat bread?

5). They have not called upon the Lord: there have they trembled for fear, where there was no fear.

6). For the Lord is in the just generation: you have confounded the counsel of the poor man, but the Lord is his hope. Douay-Rheims.

9. Jeremiah 5. verses 12-13 read: They have belied the Lord, and said, It is not he; neither shall evil come upon us; neither shall we see sword nor famine. 13 And the prophets shall become wind, and the word is not in them: thus shall it be done unto them. KJV.

10. Cf. Aristotle. Metaphysics, 980a “All men by nature desire to know.” See EV’s discussion of this passage in Anamnesis.

11. Here Voegelin is paraphrasing Plato’s argument in Book X. The relevant portions of Book X are ca. 891 a-90 I a.

12. Cf. CW 34, J25-J26 (Autobiographical Reflections) on apostrophe.


This was a lecture was presented at the symposium, “Between Nothingness and Paradise: Faith,” at Hillesdale College in 1977.

Eric VoegelinEric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin

Eric Voegelin (1901-85) was a German-born American Political Philosopher. He was born in Cologne and educated in Political Science at the University of Vienna, at which he became Associate Professor of Political Science. In 1938 he and his wife fled from the Nazi forces which had entered Vienna and emigrated to the United States, where they became citizens in 1944. He spent most of his academic career at the University of Notre Dame, Louisiana State University, the University of Munich and the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. More information about him can be found under the Eric Voegelin tab on this website.

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