The first striking thing is their presumption of knowledge at several levels. Yet, they display abysmal ignorance.
(a) Christianity has not just had a two thousand years’ history. It has also had two thousand years of doctrinal development. In the latter, every notion that has been employed here has been continuously discussed, refined, contested and so on. Their meanings, as they apply to Christianity’s self-description, has seeped into and determined what they mean in the English language. Not only words like ‘Christ’, ‘Church’, ‘Worship’, ‘idol’, ‘God’ ‘revelation’ and so on but also issues like ‘Who is a Christian’? (Quid sit Christianum esse?) The discussions hardly exhibit any knowledge of either the richness or complexity of these matters; yet, they express the firm conviction that what is there to be known is also known. In matters of knowledge, this combination is deadly.
(b) For more than two hundred years, domains such as the history of sciences, philosophy of sciences have been conducting debates into the nature of scientific knowledge. For all the role the findings from these domains play in the discussions, they might as well be non-existent. One seems to know what a ‘scientific theory’ is, what ‘scientific laws’ are, what an explanandum is and what its relation to explanans is. Here is an illustration: it is nonsense to speak of Christianity’s intolerance without implying the intolerance of Christians. And it is said that such a claim should “provid(e) predictability about Christians.” Does it mean that the claim about the tolerance of Christianity should provide predictability not only about all those who called themselves as Christians in the past, all those who call themselves Christians in the present, but also all those who might call themselves as Christians in the future? Can any claim ever do this? How might any claim be capable of doing that? So one of the tests of the theory’s validity may be to work backwards from specimens of Christian individuals we find in daily life and ask ourselves if we find them “recognizably Christian” and also “tolerant.” Quite apart from the fact that no claim is ever be tested this way, how does this fare as an answer to the demand about predictability? What could one say about either the past or the future Christians by taking “specimens of Christian individuals we find in daily life”? And how on earth to answer the question, without a theory about Christianity, whether they are recognizably Christian?
Can any claim (on its own) ever predict anything? What is ‘predictability’? What relation, if any, is there between this notion and that of explanation? Of course, if there were an understanding of these issues, they would not have been brought forward as objections or criticisms. Yet, the presumption of knowledge makes one “…rush in where angels fear to tread”.
(c) It is this deadly combination that makes one (i) set up straw men by the dozens and (ii) knock them down. How can there be no revelation in India, when we speak of ‘Sruti’? asks one. “So any side-stepping about not wanting to discuss individuals except as “instances” of the Church they belong to is taking cover from controversy”, says the other. One knows what ‘revelation’ is; the other suggests “there is no science without human disposition”. Balu says that Hinduism and Buddhism are not religions since they do not have one sacred text, revealation (sic), creed, central ecclesiastical organization etc., says one. Yet the same Balu, hardly a few posts earlier, had said this: In fact, in my book, I show that beliefs, holy books, a founder or even God are not even necessary for religion (severally or in conjunction). These are empirical constraints imposed on religion by the kind of beings we are. Of course, one hypothesis is that Balu is inconsistent; the other hypothesis is that one does not understand what one reads. Pick your choice.
- How to produce knowledge about “Who is a Christian”—S.N.Balagangadhara
- On Patrick Hogan’s “Why Hindus should be grateful to Wendy Doniger”—S.N.Balagangadhara