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John D. Caputo


On Being Clear About Faith

A response to Stephen Williams.

I wish to thank Stephen Williams for his thoughtful and articulate response to On Religion. He raises questions that go to the heart of what I was proposing, and I am grateful for the opportunity to respond. When he writes that the point of my work is to argue that religion provides "a messianic space" that gives our search for justice "its deep dimension, power and, perhaps, meaning," he expresses sensitively what I am trying to do. He and I are agreed that love and justice go to the core of religion and about the danger of religious exclusivism. But he is worried that I have dogmatically made it impossible for there to be a "clear revelation," by which I think he means one that is clearly true to the exclusion of others. So he argues for an exclusively true revelation—the Judeo-Christian one—but without exclusivism, without pride and arrogance. That prompts a suggestion concerning the conditions under which a just and loving God might reveal Godself truly in just one time and place. Still, we cannot expect that even that revelation would be "universally clear," because human beings are as prone to flee the light as to seek it.

I begin with the point about "dogmatic skepticism," namely, claiming definitely to know that we cannot know certain things: "John Caputo says that no one can know whether or of what kind God may be." The emphasis falls on the "no one": you or I might be skeptical about knowing this, but to claim to know that no one can know it is dogmatic. If "knowing" whether or what God may be means that valid philosophical arguments to this end have been or will be forthcoming, then I am guilty. But, like almost all philosophers from Kant to the present, religious and nonreligious, I have perfectly "good reasons," principled ones, for arguing that attempts to sail that far beyond experience by way of speculative argumentation inevitably run amuck, which also explains why these arguments enjoy acceptance only among people of faith. I would not call ...

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