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On Religious Root and Faith (Pistic)) Function

This is the result of an email discussion on Thinknet about what Dooyeweerd called the Religious Root of our existence. I place it here because it contains some useful points and clarifications. In one or two places, arguments are based on quotations from the Bible, illustrating the way some Christian thinkers might work. A.B.


On Religious Root and Faith (Pistic)) Function

In response to "in both cases it is obvious that the function of faith cannot be identified with the religious root of temporal existence" I wrote "No, I'm afraid it is not 'obvious' that the function of faith cannot be identified with the religious root. Please can you explain philosohpically why this must be so for Dooy, i.e. why he finds it 'obvious'? That is, why cannot the religious root of our entire existence NOT be a function?"

1. Clarification

The first thing I have discovered is that my question is ambiguous, having at least two meanings, that need to be clarified.

  1. The difference between the subject and his/her functioning in the pistic aspect of faith, vision and commitment. That this was a possible interpretation of my question was made plain by RC's replying with "No "function" or activity of a person can be identical with the person peforming the function". But it was not the interpretation I intended.

  2. The difference between functioning in the pistic aspect and our heart orientation towards God or some substitute for God. This is what I was really asking about.

It would seem on face of it that (1) is indeed obvious: the subject that functions cannot be the same as the functioning. (But I wonder, in the case of animals, whether this distinction is entirely obvious - but I will not enter that discussion here.) But to me, it is (2) that is not obvious. I will summarize and rearrange the replies I have received thus far.

Further, Roel pointed out that "In our central-religious center, our I-ness, we participate in that Radix, so in a sense you can see the religious root as orientation, but actually it is much more than that." OK, let us accept that the religious root is more than orientation.

Later, RC made the points: "A pistically qualified function is that of trust or belief. The agent performing any such act is the humans heart, while any specific act of reliance or belief is its function. The "orientation" has to do with what has "captured" the heart wrt divinity. Either God or some God-substitute is "what your heart clings and entrusts itself to" (Luther) in a way not analyzable, but which is the "root" (source) of our ACTS of belief & trust. / D. always insists that belief & knowledge cannot be identified with the intellect or with logical acts of distinguishing and conceptualizing, on the ground that knowledge and belief take place in the HEART not in any function of it. So although logical acts are necessary to the formation of knowl. & belief, it is only in the heart that all our various functions converge (thinking, feeling, believing, expecting, etc.) and there that all their aspects are unified. That is why he objects to Aquinas' def. of belief as "intellectual assent". It's more than that."

One more point (Roel): Our religious root is not just individual, but social. [I suppose this links with Dooyeweerd's discussion of the religious I-we relationship. But also, this suggests the religious root might be closer to the pistic aspect than some think, since, importantly, the pistic aspect is also social in nature (because it is a post-social aspect).]

2. A Philosophical Need for Distinction between Religious Root and Pistic Aspect

I have always wanted to understand the philosophical need to make a distinction between religious root as heart orientation, and functioning in the pistic aspect. I found Roel's drawing our attention to NC I, p.31) useful:

"But, at least within the horizon of cosmic time we have no single experience of something 'pre-functional', i.e. of anything that would transcend the modal diversity of the aspects. We gain this experience only in the religious concentration of the radix of our existence upon the absolute Origin. In this concentration we transcend cosmic time."

On reading this, I could at last see why it is philosophically necessary (under Dooyeweerd's thought) to maintain that orientation of heart must be different from functioning in the pistic aspect. The reasons I have adduced are as follows.

To speak of a 'single experience' implies two things:

Therefore, for both reasons, we can have no 'single experience' of anything pre-functional. Therefore, experience of something pre-functional (e.g. God?), if possible at all, must be non-distinct in terms of both:

This means that, if possible at all, this kind of experience must be of a radically different kind that:

This could appropriately be described as the orientation of heart or religious root. But functioning in the pistic aspect is both an experience that is distinct from other experiences and is temporal, by virtue of it being aspectual functioning. (However, this arguments relies on one interpretation of Dooyeweerd's ideas, and there are other which might make this argument non-valid.)

(RC responded to the overall conclusion above "This conclusion sounds right." But he responded to part of the above with "He's talking only of experience of our selfhood, i.e., heart. That only God knows the heart is a biblical teaching, and an old theme in Jewish and Xn theol." However, I question whether the 'Biblical teaching' was really intended to make the philosophical claim that only God knows the heart; the standard Biblical texts that indicate that seem to me expressions of frustration or wonder, rather than statements from which we can build a philosophical dogma. However, they might be useful for such purposes. / RC also claimed that D. believed that we have no experience at all of our selfhood. That seems to contradict D's drawing our attention to "he has put eternity in our hearts", so I am seeking clarification from RC on that. )

See also the Dooyeweerd Page on Time.

3. On the Self

(See also the Dooyeweerd Pages on the human Self and also on what it means to be human.)

CH: Self. "modal functioning in time is related to the root-totality of the man who is functioning". Self.

CH: Uniqueness of Dooyeweerd: "Is there something new in the way Dooyeweerd deals with this central question of man? .. of meaning-totality? Yes, I think there is. ... I think that what Dooyeweerd saw very clearly was the importance of time. And I think it is here that he differs from older ways of dealing with the question of meaning"

AG spoke, by analogy to the heart and its arteries and veins, of the centre differentiating out (to use Roel's words for AG's ideas). I like this, because it seems to me that in Dooyeweerd diversity and unity are not two separate things but are always together and need each other. Therefore, the idea of the heart as something that differentiates out into the whole, seems to resonate with this.

Roel makes a call for us to speak of 'I-ness' rather than 'heart'. Indeed, I notice that Dooyeweerd himself used 'heart' very seldom, preferring instead 'ego' and 'self'. (See his index.)

Roel also drew our attention to the issue of the 'I' after death.

(RC later responded with the following points: "Scripture is remarkably persistent in speaking of the heart as the unity of a person, spirit as the diversity proceeding from that unity, and soul as the embodiment of heart and spirit. The usage isn't 100% uniform, of course, but it's close. My senior paper in seminary discovered this when i checked every reference of those 3 terms in Hebrew & Greek. / D emphasizes, however, that the unnity of the heart doesn't ever exist apart from its divcerse expressions, or apart from being related to other selfhoods, or - of course - apart from God. So it is essentially relational rather than an independent thing-in-itself. [Note link with the self being social, by Roel, above. AB])

RC then added the following, which seems to be a new point in this debate [my italics]: "The upshot relative to terms like "root" is that the heart is the unity and source of all that "proceeds from" it (to use Jesus' words). D also uses 'root' for the entire human race, however, and when he does that he means the religious orientation of humankind. So, he says, that Adam was the first root of the race while Christ has become the new root of the race."

4. Dynamism and Time

(See also the Dooyeweerd Page on Time.)

CH: The importance of time: "I think that what Dooyeweerd saw very clearly was the importance of time."

CH: Dynamism. "the first pages of NC1. There Dooyeweerd introduces the idea of totality, and there at some point he brings in time all of a sudden. As if he means: we cannot talk about totality if we abstract from concrete time, from time as it drives us onward. Reality is dynamic, indeed. Meaning is dynamic."

CH: Philosophy as activity. "Philosophical thinking is an actual activity; and only at the expense of this very actuality (and then merely in a theoretic concept) can it be abstracted from the thinking self" [NC I:5] There must not be abstraction from the "actual, entire ego that thinks" (ibid.). There is always "the self that is actually doing the work. That ego is actually operating ... in all ... functions ... within our temporal world" (ibid.).

CH: Necessity of Time. "A philosophy which does not lead to reflection upon this entire ego in its actuality in time must from the outset fail to be directed to the totality of meaning of our cosmos. This is my point: Totality includes time."

5. Creation Seeking Its Own Meaning

(See also the Dooyeweerd Page on philosophical implications of being created.)

CH: Creation seeks meaning.

"The heart, the root, the radix. What is it? It is religious. It asks for its very own meaning. In its totality. Man cannot be man without being concerned about his own being. This is old stuff in philosophy."

"Now we have to connect this with the peculiar nature of the totality that it searches for its meaning. It looks for its meaning to its origin. But it looks for its meaning as inclusive of its timefulness."

[Shades of Hegel here: what Hegel called Spirit seeks ever to actualize itself. If we may for a moment escape our anti-reaction to his thinking of this as the Divine, and think of this as Created Reality, then Hegel may be allowed to have had a similar insight as Dooyeweerd did. Created Reality (or whatever we want to label it) seeks for its own Meaning and this involves Time.]

CH: The actuality and dynamic concreteness of Creation. "Creation then appears to be not a theory, or an idea, or an article of faith. But rather something very anti-nominalistic, a reality as concrete and dynamic as the timefulness of all created things"

DS tried to give four "good reasons for this distinction". Three are useful. One concerns metaphor. One concerns why humanity has no qualifying aspect. One emphasizes that every aspect is important for every thing. (See below for some of this.)

6. The Flexibility of Humanity

DS makes a very useful explanation of why it is (or might be) philosophically necessary for humanity to lack any one qualifying aspect. The argument, as I understand it, goes as follows:

Except for the last step, I find this a useful argument. I extend it as follows, to see if I have understood DS's argument. For example, animals are qualified by the sensitive aspect. Therefore their whole activity is led (even dominated?) by the norms of this aspect. While we know (from the dogma that animals cannot function as subjects in post-sensitive aspects) that their activity cannot be led by post-sensitive aspects, we also find that their activity cannot be led by pre-sensitive aspects such as biotic or physical. Their fulfilling the norms of the biotic aspect are mediated to them via the sensitive aspect of feelings. Whatever is the qualifying aspect restricts the subject's activity to being led by that aspect, and functioning in earlier aspects is mediated through that aspect and serves the interests of that aspect.

DS pointed out that Dooyeweerd toyed with the idea that humanity is led by the pistic aspect but then abandoned this. I think we need to hear what Dooyeweerd's reasons were for abandoning this. But it becomes understandable if the above reasoning is correct: if we were qualified by the pistic aspect, then all we do would be led by that aspect, in that all other aspects would be subservient to it and mediated through it. Instead, humanity can act as led by any aspect.

(However, this argument does depend on a particular understanding of the notion of qualifying aspect, and I am not sure I fully agree with it. However, as I do not disagree with it either, I find the above argument useful.)

The final step above does not convince me. Why is it that having no qualifying aspect implies heart orientation?

7. The need to use metaphor

In his second point, DS points out that metaphors "are used in order to speak about the religious dimension of creation". I did not appreciate this fully until I read Roel's explanation of why we need to use metaphor to speak of that which is trans-aspectual.

"However, for [Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven] - with their cosmonomic idea - it might be useful, not to say essential, to speak about that, what transcends our theorizing. It is obvious, that this speaking itself is necessarily bound to our temporal horizon, and might contain flaws. Nevertheless the fact remains, that it is possible. For some reason metaphorical sentences seem to be extremely useful for doing so, and that is - in my opinion - one of the reasons D&V have used it frequently and, I may add, with success."

This helped me think: most words refer to something aspectual. We have no concept of anything pre- or supra-functional. Therefore if we are to convey meaning about it, we must use metaphor.

There was considerable verbiage on the semantics of words like heart, which I did not find useful, so will not recount here. Except that AG helpfully pointed out that we use the word 'heart' in three ways: pre-functionally, supra-functionally and functionally. Also a couple of people pointed out usefully that Dooyeweerd used four metaphors in particular for this: heart, root, prism and "square box divided into square boxes in total symmetry" [though I have never come across that last one!].

8. Pieces I disagree with

DS gave four reasons for the distinction between heart orientation and pistic functioning. Three I found useful. But his first reason I find unconvincing, maybe because rather rambling and tortuous. As far as I can see, his argument is:

  1. Words usually used to express something meaningful in a particular aspect (e.g. love) may be used metaphorically to refer to something trans-aspectual (pre-functional) and total.
  2. The Bible sometimes uses 'love' in this way (Entire law is summed up in 'Love neighbour as self')
  3. Therefore the distinction between heart-orientation and pistic functioning is valid.
But I question the validity of stages 2, 3 at least in that argument.

(I think more was intended here, ... A.B.)

Copyright (c) 2005 Andrew Basden.

This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

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Created: 9 May 2005 Last updated: 16 May 2005 Roy Clouser's responses added.