The Evel Knievel Logic of some Recent Theology

Imagine the great Jewish thinker Martin Buber hearing,

“The living God can therefore be thought of only as Father and Son, while a non-trinitarian, purely monotheistic God would in fact have to be declared dead.”

Now, imagine him discovering that these are words of a high-ranking Catholic prelate devoted to ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, Walter Cardinal Kasper. Finally, imagine Buber unearthing the following thesis as the prelate’s founding premise:

“An I without a thou is unthinkable” (Walter Kasper, The God of Jesus Christ, 1992, pp. 188, 241 [GJC]).

If Buber’s light unveils all personal being, was he too timid to shine it through the vault of the firmament? Or was His Eminence mounting up as Icarus?

Walter Kasper of course would say that he never tried to proved the Trinity to be true. But let’s look at his actual words:

If God is not to be understood as a solitary narcissistic being who (to put it paradoxically) would be highly imperfect by reason of his very perfection and would inevitably suffer from his own completeness, then God can only be conceived as co-existent (GJC, 306).

Well, let’s see whether a conclusion could be drawn from the first premise if we suppose the conditional enunciates a correct inference. Well, let’s see, last I checked, God is probably not a narcissistic being. Voilà! Therefore, he must be The Holy Trinity.

This is what I call Evel Knievel logic. Only, instead of 24 automobiles, the Cardinal has rocketed beyond all finite being to the very essence of God… all by a simple premise!

Chances are, something went wrong in the logic. After all, the Holy Trinity is a mystery of faith. But Vatican I is clear about mysteries: Human reason can never demonstrate their truth. Not today, not back in Isaiah’s time, not in the future. Never. Hence, the appearance of a demonstration – which surfaces again and again in they systematic portions of Kasper’s God of Jesus Christ, is problematic. Whatever he might say in words against this is edifying, indeed, but contradicts the performance. Lonergan called such things “performative contradictions”.

Why pursue this matter? Because Kasper’s is no isolated thesis. Scores of Christians have been subjected to homiletic spinoffs of the core argument, such as the “God is Not a Bachelor” sermon. Terse is the logic however rhetorically embellished: “Since God is not a bachelor, he is the Holy Trinity.” What should one do in face of the iron wit of this inference? Laugh hysterically—laugh at the Evel Knievel logic, all the while bewailing the caricature of a premise. What actually happens? Faithful crowds howl in laughter at “mere monotheists” who reject the premise, somnolently nodding in awe of an argument that must be sound because its conclusion is true. The sermon succeeds by the preacher’s rhetorical mastery and the good will of the laughing stock.

But scientific theology does not proceed with Evel Knievel logic. It attempts to state clearly its first principles and to work from and (where possible) towards these. It sometimes leaves us hungering for more to be said. This is the invitation to prayer, not the invitation to invent theological fictions—as has often been done since the rebellious usurping of scientific theology by the poets—that escape condemnation perhaps only because they are poetical.

2 thoughts on “The Evel Knievel Logic of some Recent Theology

  1. Are you saying that this attempt to essentially prove the truth of the Holy Trinity in beginning with a “God is Not a Bachelor” is problematic because the underlying assumption is that God just has to be a certain way (according to our premises)?

    1. No. But in the end maybe.
      First, I’m saying that the language throughout the text (these are no isolated passages) is that of demonstration from a universal premise that is presently knowable by all rational men. If the Holy Trinity is a strict mystery, such proof is impossible. The claim that proof is possible – which Kasper performatively makes – is rationalism or semi-rationalism. This is the first problem. The next problem is investigating what understanding of ‘being’ the Cardinal has such that he comes to enunciate the premise. I have argued elsewhere – in an article accepted for publication but not yet in print – that in fact his understanding of being is false. For instance, he guts substance. Interestingly, in this regard Ratzinger is worse (the early Ratzinger. He always has insight; this goes without saying. Yet, he guts substance and effectively reduces things to relations.) The understanding leads to consequences also: absence of effective natural theology. Third, that the purported insight into being he has is, on the one hand, used to ‘show’ the Trinity and, on the other hand, is in turn ‘verified’ by the Trinitarian doctrine constitutes circular reasoning. Lastly, that circular reasoning (#3) is used to sustain a false thesis (#2) constitutes IDEOLOGY.

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