Een midden-positie tussen relativisme en fundamentalisme
In hun boek In Praise of Doubt. How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic, proberen Peter Berger en Anton Zijderveld een ‘midden-positie’ te formuleren tussen relativisme (relativering is nodig) en fundamentalisme (fundamenten zijn nodig). Gezien de seculariseringthese gefalsifieerd is, moet de beschaafde wereld een vorm vinden om om te gaan met de pluraliteit, m.n. omdat alle levensbeschouwelijke posities tenderen naar absoluutheid. Vandaar hun ‘lof der twijfel’, als inenting tegen het denken dat je de waarheid in pacht hebt. Eigenlijk is het een agnostische positie, theologisch een verwoording van het ‘eschatologisch voorbehoud’, filosofisch een opschorting van het definitieve oordeel: ‘epoche’. Interessant is dat de auteurs het ‘Verlichtingsdenken’ zelf ook meenemen als een van de geviseerde ‘ismen’, terwijl ze met hun keuze voor ‘Doubt’ radicaal in de traditie van de Verlichting staan. Hier kunt u een samenvatting lezen.
Aan het eind van het voorlaatste hoofdstuk brengen zij de voorwaarden voor die positie onder woorden, met een knipoog naar Immanuel Kant. Zelf vind ik de punten 2-5, en 7 overtuigend. Punt 1 is logisch-circulair. Hier zijn de auteurs het slachtoffer van hun geprotestantiseerde visie op wat religie is (‘Set of beliefs’… Zie over deze valkuil het vierde deel van mijn online-essay over religie en vrijheid). Punt 6 is van de denkfout in punt 1 het logische gevolg: een overschatting van het positieve belang van religieuze instellingen op zich. Maar soit, de gedachtenoefening zelf blijft de moeite. En hoort u het ook eens van een ander.
Prerequisites of Any Future Worldview That Will Be Able to Present Itself as a Middle Position Between Relativism and Fundamentalism:
- A differentiation between the core of the position and more marginal components (the latter what’s been called adiaphora by theologians).
The practical consequence of this differentiation is to mark the outer limits of possible compromise with other positions. In the modern plural situation, there are strong pressures toward such compromises—in sociology-of-knowledge terms, toward cognitive and/or normative bargaining. For example, Christian theologians may define the resurrection of Christ as core, but the other miracles of the New Testament as in principle negotiable. For another example, in the current European debate over the integration of Muslim immigrants into democratic societies, the mutilations and stonings mandated by traditional Islamic law may be deemed nonnegotiable, but the wearing of kerchiefs (hijab) in the name of “Islamic modesty” may be negotiable.
- An openness to the application of modern historical scholarship to one’s own tradition—that is, a recognition of the historical context of the tradition.
Such a recognition makes fundamentalism difficult to maintain. We’ve already mentioned the dramatic case of Protestant biblical scholarship, its openness now absorbed by Catholics and some Jews, though as yet very few (if any) Muslims. In the latter case, a theological, as against a merely factual, differentiation between the portions of the Qur’an that originated, respectively, in Mecca and Medina will be very important for a distinction between core issues and adiaphora in Islamic thought (and indeed Islamic practice). This point is obviously more relevant for religious than for secular traditions, though there are secular analogues. The debates within Marxism of the relation between Marx’s early writings and Das Kapital is a very interesting case.
- A rejection of relativism to balance out the rejection of fundamentalism.
Relativism leads inexorably to the cynicism discussed earlier in this chapter. If “anything goes,” cognitively as well as morally, the position as such becomes basically irrelevant: If there’s no such thing as truth, one’s own position becomes a completely arbitrary choice. If relativism is applied cognitively, flat-earth theory has to be given the same epistemological status as modern astronomy—or, for a more timely case, creationism and evolution would have to be given equal stature in a high-school curriculum. Relativism has normative consequences as well: It would argue that the “narrative” of the rapist is no less valid than the “narrative” of his victim.
- The acceptance of doubt as having a positive role in the particular community of belief.
We need not repeat what we said about this earlier in this chapter. [bijv. deze passage: Doubt is the hallmark of the agnostic. The believer might immediately answer that he too is confronted by doubt all the time, adding that that’s why it’s faith and not knowledge that he or she adheres to. The difference is that the believer is plagued by doubt and searches all the time to be delivered from it, whereas doubt is endemic to the agnostic. If not a fanatic true believer like Calvin, the believer lives with and in faith that is troubled by doubt. If not a fanatic atheist like the quoted Darwinist, the agnostic lives with and in doubt that is troubled by faith. It’s a thin line, but an essential divide.
- A definition of the “others,” those who don’t share one’s worldview, that doesn’t categorize them as enemies (unless, of course, they represent morally abhorrent values).
In other words, the community of belief must have the ability to live in a civil culture and to engage in peaceful communication with the “others.” Manifestly, the absence of such civility leads to disruptive processes in society, ranging from a vituperative climate in public life to violent civil war.
- The development and maintenance of institutions of civil society that enable peaceful debate and conflict resolution.
Politically, the liberal democratic state, guaranteeing human and civil rights (notably freedom of religion and freedom of association), is by far the best available political system for enabling peaceful debate and conflict resolution. Even the Jacobin formula, which accepts no intermediary between the individual and the state, is not conducive to the moderation of “middle positions,” even if the state is formally democratic. History has shown a need for “mediating structures”—an array of institutions standing between private life and the state. This is what’s meant by liberal democracy; as political columnist Fareed Zakaria recently reminded us, there are also illiberal democracies, which maintain the machinery of competitive elections without their foundation in civil society. What has been happening of late in various countries of the Middle East makes this point clearly.
- The acceptance of choice, not only as an empirical fact but as a morally desirable one.
This acceptance is not only a matter of allowing individuals to make unconstrained decisions on a wide array of religious, moral, and lifestyle issues (obviously within certain limits—I should be free to follow my religious beliefs but not to practice ritual cannibalism, to choose my “sexual preference” but not if it entails rape). It’s also an institutional matter—that of accepting a plurality of voluntary associations, again over a wide array of religious, moral, and lifestyle issues.