News

Harvard Law School Makes Online Zero-L Course Free for All U.S. Law Schools Due to Coronavirus

News

For Kennedy School Fellows, Epstein-Linked Donors Present a Moral Dilemma

News

Tenants Grapple with High Rents and Local Turnover at Asana-Owned Properties

News

In April, Theft Surged as Cambridge Residents Stayed at Home

News

The History of Harvard's Commencement, Explained

Tillich: An Impossible Struggle

By Grant M. Ujifusa

MORALITY AND BEYOND, by Paul Tillich, Harper and Row, 95pp., $2.75

Without really knowing why, many of the Protestant faithful like to think of Paul Tillich as the theologian who has rediscovered the intellectual respectability of Christianity. This was certainly no easy job. After reading hundreds of philosophers and writers, Tillich still had to wrestle with a number of metaphysical titans--among them, Being, Non-Being, Being-Itself, The Demoniac, and the Eternal Kaires. In the end, these cosmic structures, along with his analysis of what man and history really are, come together "within a system that comprise the whole of man's interpretation of himself and the meaning of his life, which I undertook to develop in my Systematic Theology." A phenomenal accomplishment.

Tillich's theology depends on the use of ontological analysis, a method of philosohical inquiry into the fundamental nurture of being. This assumes to show no sensitivity to criticism. In an eight-line paragraph his most recent book, Morality and Beyond, summarily dismisses objections raised by analytical philosophy, "pure" pragmatism, "pure" existentialism (pure is not defined in either case) and value theories in psychology. Tillich thinks they all suffer from the demoniac malaise of our times, "self-sufficient finitude," or the "denial of the immanence of the infinite (God) in the finite (man)."

Tillich, then, is not as tolerant and broad-minded as many liberal Protestants would have him. In fact, Morality and Beyond shows clearly that Paul and Luther have been Tillich's main intellectual influences. The theologian has systematized the influence within a quasi-Hegelian hierarchy and has humanized it with subjectivistic notions from existentialism.

In the book, Tillich tries to use his ideas to settle the "obsolete conflict between reason-determined morals (man-centered) and faith-determined morals (God-centered)." Not surprisingly, faith triumphs over reason by subsuming it. In man, faith is prior to reason, Tillich says. It follows that Tillich can dispose of the two major types of reason-determined morals. First, there is "graceless formalism," which is compulsive adherence to religious doctrine. Like Luther, Tillich feels that formal laws separate man from God.

Second, "normless relativism." brought on by cross-cultural studies, leaves man agnostic and rootless. He needs a "common fundamental principle." And Tillich finds it; merely by asserting its existence. Most anthropologists disagree with him.

Moral Imperative

Tillich takes his "common fundamental principle" as far as a moral imperative: "The moral imperative is the command to become what one potentially is, a person within a community of persons." Now what does this mean? There is no clear answer given. It seems to be similar to a notion of Becoming or self-realization held by many contemporary existentialists. But in Tillich, the individual development is tied to a supernatural Logos, "the source of all physical and moral laws." Everyone is impelled toward Logos by the silent voice" or conscience within him. The immoral act, then, is not a violation of a specific rule, but a cowardly retreat from conscience and the responsibility of Becoming.

But what kind of a creature is this man who Becomes? Like Rousseau, Tillich is sure that man is essentially good. Why? Because the theologian claims an identity between man's moral imperative, the religious character of the imperative, man's essential being, and the will of God. "Moral commands are religious because they express the Will of God. The Will of God for us is precisely our essential being with all its potentialities, our created nature declared as "very good" by God."

But how good is "very good?" What happened to original sin? The difficulties don't stop there. To anyone who questions Tillich's belief in Logos, the giver of absolute moral laws, he writes, "there is self-deception in every denial of the natural moral law (Logos). For those who deny it must admit that a divinely revealed moral law can not contradict the divinely created human nature." This apparently means that Tillich's ontological notion of natural moral law has been confirmed by God himself.

Contradictions

The divinely revealed moral law, however, does seem to contradict divinely created divinely created human nature in other aspects of Tillich's thinking Luther and Pall both said existences itself is guilt, only God can save us from the law. Tillich agrees. Such thinking can hardly be considered liberal.

Tillich also makes some rather vexing statements about conscience--the agent through which we understand Logos. He says, "We can lose our salvation even when we do it with an uneasy conscience. The unity and consistency of the moral personality are more important than its subjection to a truth that endangers this unity." From Tillich's analysis of conscience one wonders if the theologian values the unity of Hitler's moral, personality more than six million Jewish lives A. conscience that is committed is not enough.

The professor's feelings on freedom of conscience also leave the reader concerned. "The judgment that one can not be a heretic with good conscience has been accepted by the church...Heresy is not an error in judgment or a difference in expression, but a demonic possession, splitting the moral self and producing a bad conscience. On this basis the church waged its war against the heretics of all periods." Does this give the church a right to pass judgment on a "bad conscience"? Tillich gives no clear answer. He does say, how ever, that the problems of individual conscience say nothing except that everybody has a bad one, needing the grace of God.

No Meaning

The final chapter of Morality and Beyond discusses the plight of moral values in today's changing world a world in which man has no home, an uniqueness no meaning. Technology, the thing-maker, and mass society the thing, have done away with of them, Tillich says Philosophy should concern itself with the moral confusion and propose solutions, not content itself to play language games.

One has to admire Tillich's struggle with moral problems, even though his findings possess insuperable difficul- ties. It is hard indeed to imagine Being-Itself leading the chosen people out of Egypt. Likewise, it is difficult to believe that moral and physical laws are absolute in the same sense.

The central difficulty in Tillich's thought lies in his attempt to compound mystical and oceanic notions, such as "Being" and "The Demoniac" with a rigid and absolute ontological system. The result is confusion, not clarity; metaphysical jargon, not insight. Morality and Beyond does not succeed. It does nothing to lessen the gap between morality, which belongs to man, and religion, which belongs to God

One has to admire Tillich's struggle with moral problems, even though his findings possess insuperable difficul- ties. It is hard indeed to imagine Being-Itself leading the chosen people out of Egypt. Likewise, it is difficult to believe that moral and physical laws are absolute in the same sense.

The central difficulty in Tillich's thought lies in his attempt to compound mystical and oceanic notions, such as "Being" and "The Demoniac" with a rigid and absolute ontological system. The result is confusion, not clarity; metaphysical jargon, not insight. Morality and Beyond does not succeed. It does nothing to lessen the gap between morality, which belongs to man, and religion, which belongs to God

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

Tags