I’d like to make a quick point here for the validity of religious language by appealing to a distinction Rorty makes about language, then in short pointing out where and why I feel he goes wrong.
In Rorty’s book, “Contingency, Irony and Solidarity”, he distinguishes (not directly) between two types of vocabularies or languages; First, what he calls a “Final Vocabulary” he defines as follows:
“All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest sefl-doubts and our highest hopes. They are the words in which we tell, sometimes prospectively and sometimes retrospectively, the story of our lives. I shall call these words a person’s “Final Vocabulary”.
It is “final” in the sense that if doubt is cast on the worth of these words, the user has no noncircular argumentative recourse. Those words are as far as he can go with language; beyond them there is only helpless passivity or a resort to force. A small part of a final vocabulary is made up of thin, flexible, and ubiquitous terms such as, “true”, “good”, “right”, and “beautiful”. The larger part contains thicker, more rigid, and more parochial terms, for example, “Christ”, “England”, “Professional Standards”, “decency”, “kindness”, “the revolution”, “the Church”, “Progressive”, “rigorous”, “creative”. The more parochial terms do most of the work.”
On the other hand, Rorty defines Metaphorical Language as follows:
Although first, it should be understood the claim Rorty makes in my post just below, “Systemic Truth / Rorty”.
Rorty points out Nietzsche’s definition of “truth” as “a mobile army of metaphors”…
"...but in order to accept this picture, we need to see the distinction between the literal and the metaphorical in the way Davidson see’s it; not as a distinction between two sorts of meaning, nor as a distinction between two sorts of interpretation, but as a distinction between familiar and unfamiliar uses of noises and marks. The literal uses of noises and marks are the uses we can handle by our old theories about what people will say under various conditions. Their metaphorical use is the sort which makes us get busy developing a new theory… One should not think of metaphorical expression as having meaning distinct from their literal ones. To have meaning is to have a language game. Metaphors, by definition, do not…"
The issue I have here is simple, and of course (again) centers around my defense of religious language; Rorty would quickly reduce the whole enterprise of Christianity to a “Final Vocabulary”, and thus as such is bound to be justified only by reference to circular argumentation. Whereas in a general sense, Christians certainly do tend to hold to a static/final vocabulary relative to they’re beliefs, it does not stand (while looking at Christianity from a historical perspective) that it is not at the same time “a mobile army of metaphors”. Only when one takes the view that our current belief is not metaphoric can we reduce it to notions such as final vocabulary; I would suspect that the intellectual theologian, as well as myself, don’t have such static patterns of thought with regard to God, or Christianity. There may be certain principles that underlie Christian thinking, however the way in which we define those things, the way we talk about them, is certainly metaphorical (or so I'd suggest). Furthermore, the way we bring into the fray of our beliefs that which wasn’t there before constantly changes along side the evolution of our metaphors.
To put it another way, Rorty would reject Christianity not just on the grounds of being a so called final vocabulary, but as it implies an ultimate Truth or a means of getting in touch with a reality that exists “out there”. i.e. it is a means of certainty (the two are really the same). Rorty’s view of science (for example) is one that merely suggests, we’re not discovering truths which lead us closer and closer to the nature of the way the world is in itself, but merely developing new languages, through the formation of new metaphors, that are better suited to an ever changing world. However, this would be the same argument that I would employ for what religious language does.
So it seems to me a bit short sighted of Rorty to reduce Christian thinking in such a manner; although at the bottom I understand that his suggestion would be that God is akin to the sort of thinking which says there is a truth outside ourselves to be know, and thus rejects it also on those grounds. However I’ll come back with his same language and simply state that that is mere metaphor as well, that there is no reason that Christianity, in that sense, cannot fit into the framework of a neo-pragmatist world view…
There is no necessary need (as Christians), while in the process of redefining and changing our metaphores, to loose sight of where we began, in this case with Christ. And there is likewise no necessary need to continue to view God as some ultimate outside reality, or some fire burning within us, as neither of these views will change the principle target that Chritianity would aim for, e.g. freedom, love, so on. In this way, I'll let Rorty have his stance of Christian dogma and God as a means of certainty as something we can do better without (I completely agree), but again, there's no reason we need to ditch Christianity in the process of adopting a more pragmatic worldview.
(on a side note)
Rorty goes on to describe the “Ironist”, the sort of person that should replace the metaphysician (and once again, I find myself in agreement), he says:
The Ironist is someone who fulfills three conditions: 1.) he has radical and continuing doubts about the final vocabulary he currently uses, because he has been impressed with other vocabularies, vocabularies taken as final by people or books he has encountered; 2.) he realized that argument phrased in his current vocabulary can neither underwrite not dissolve these doubts; 3.) Insofar as he philosophizes about his situation, he does not think that his vocabulary is closer to reality then others, that it is in touch with a power not himself. Ironists who are inclined to philosophize see the choice between vocabularies as made neither within a neutral and universal metavocabulary nor by an attempt to fight one’s way past appearance to the real, but simply by playing the new off against the old…”
The obvious question that comes to mind for me then, is how a Christian cannot at the same time be an ironist after Rorty? Is it not in the Christians best interest to be skeptical? To continually take new views of his beliefs in light of others? To redefine his/her metaphors; in affect assimilate ideas such as, acceptance of the homosexual community and they’re language practices? Isn’t it in the Christians best interest to constantly keep in mind “2”? And finally, isn’t part of Christianity not to judge others, not to consider them right or wrong, but rather to reflect upon one’s self? Is there any reason why the Chrsitian cannot be progressive in his metaphorical content?
I don’t know? I shall have to think about this some more.