Sophia, Androgyny and the Feminine in Franz von Baader’s Christian Theosophy

My article “Sophia, Androgyny and the Feminine in Franz von Baader’s Christian Theosophy” has been published in “Adyan/Religions”, a bilingual Arabic/English journal based in Doha, in its issue devoted to the topic “Women and the Feminine in World Religions.” Click on the link for the online copy of this journal.
Baader’s view of humanity’s original androgyny is a good counterweight to the early church’s wrongheaded emphasis on asceticism and denial of female sexuality.  Baader’s “40 Propositions Taken from a Religious Philosophy of Love” celebrates the ecstasy of sex. It is not quite Christian tantra, but it does provide the basis for a positive appreciation of marriage. His views on the inner feminine and masculine also anticipate Jung by almost a century. But of course Jung read Baader.
The Reformed theologian J.H. Gunning, Jr. adopted Baader’s views, and regarded Jesus as having been androgynous. Abraham Kuyper followed many ideas of Gunning and Baader, but disagreed on this point. Dooyeweerd was silent on this and most other theological issues.


The Mother of the Lord

Margaret Barker’s book “The Mother of the Lord: Vol. 1: The Lady in the Temple” discusses the religion of the Israelites prior to the reforms of King Josiah and the Deuteronomists. Many surprises here, including the idea of the feminine consort of G_d, worshipped before monotheism and how this and other ideas were taken up by the early church as one Jewish sect in contrast to others (although most of that will be discussed in Vol 2). She writes from a theological and exegetical perspective, but her views fit with the archaeological evidence gathered by Israel Finkelstein.

Archaeology’s challenge to faith

Israel Finkelstein shows how recent archaeological discoveries will challenge our previous understanding of the history of events referred to in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament). These are radical challenges to what most Christians and Jews have assumed to be the facts on which their faiths are based. The entire book, The Forgotten Kingdom, has generously been placed online here:…/pdfs/pubs/9781589839106_OA.pdf
This relates to my puzzlement when visiting the British Museum last year as to why there are no Egyptian records referring to Moses. But Finkelstein’s evidence discloses many more surprises.
And here is an excellent video summarizing some of the archaeological and textual evidence that challenges history as related by the Old Testament. Controversial? Yes. But watch this and then look at the additional scholarly sources, both critical and supportive.


It is time to renounce the idea of a presuppositionalist Christian worldview

Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987): when was the last time you saw him mentioned in The New York Times? Molly Worthen, a professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, mentions him in her op-ed “The Evangelical Roots of our Post-Truth Society.” Worthen is correct that Cornelius Van Til’s ideas of Christian worldview are responsible for the current denial of truth and the idea of alternative facts in US politics. Van Til was also the main influence on Francis Schaeffer, who shaped the religious right, as well as on Rousas Rushdoony and his theonomists who seek a kind of Christian jihad.

Dooyeweerd tried hard to promote an alternate viewpoint. He disagreed sharply with Van Til. See the articles in the book “Jerusalem and Athens.” Dooyeweerd rejected Van Til’s view that there is no point of contact between different worldviews; Dooyeweerd insisted on common states of affairs. And Dooyeweerd rejected a presuppostionalist approach to philosophy. What counts is not presuppositional beliefs, but ontical conditions or onticl presupposita that are common to everyone. And Dooyeweerd did not accept a propositional view of biblical revelation; he also was sharply critical of the use of theological ideas as the basis for philosophy, as in Vollenhoven’s philosophy (which follow’s Abraham Kuyper’s idea of religious antithesis; Dooyeweerd said that the antithesis is not between groups of people but an antithesis within the heart of each of us).

The issue is what evidence counts in the critique of science, and what commonalities are accepted as holding true for everyone. It may be, as Dooyeweerd argued, that there is an experience-based Christian worldview. But such a worldview cannot be based on theology or even on biblical exegesis. Both theology and exegesis are sciences, in the sense of theoretical activities, and are themselves subject to critique. It is the presuppositionalist idea of worldview that is a problem, when presuppositions are taken to be theological beliefs.

I recognize that this is going to be a problem for “Christian” colleges that have emphasized the priority of beliefs. But these colleges are part of the problem.

For Dooyeweerd, what is important to worldview is our experience of time and our selfhood that transcends time. Even his ideas of creation, fall and redemption, where he perhaps smuggled in some theological ideas, were interpreted in terms of this temporal/supratemporal philosophical framework. For Dooyeweerd, theology is dependent on philosophy. And Dooyeweerd believed that his philosophical transcendental critique was able to communicate with those who did not share his beliefs, unlike Van Til who said there was no point of contact whatsoever.

Reformational philosophers and evangelicals need to take responsibility for these mistaken ideas and the damage that they have caused to U.S. society. It is time for them to publicly renounce the idea of a distinct Christian worldview in Van Til’s sense of presuppositions based on theological beliefs.


James Skillen’s critique of Trump

James Skillen, former director of Citizens for Public Justice, has written this article that is very critical of the Trump administration. I know Skillen, and have discussed reformational philosophy with him at his home in Annapolis, Maryland. I am glad to see that he is taking this stand against Trump. I wish he had gone even further and explained how some mistaken ideas in reformational philosophy, and in the Christian schools that he supports, have directly contributed to the present political situation.


Betsy DeVos and Christian Schools

Betsy DeVos, the new Education Secretary in the US, comes from a Christian Reformed background, and is a supporter of charter schools, including Christian schools. This Atlantic Monthly article traces her heritage back to Abraham Kuyper and the education debates in the Netherlands. But it makes the important point that in the Netherlands, there is regulation of religious schools, whereas DeVos is opposed to government regulation. So apart from the fact that DeVos will be weakening the public system, her support for unregulated Christian schools will encourage those schools to continue to teach alternative science and alternative facts, all in the name of an “antithetical” worldview. I believe that such Christian schools do more harm than good. Dooyeweerd tried to correct such mistaken ideas when he opposed creation science, and when he affirmed that there are common states of affairs despite different worldviews. I hope that reformational philosophers will see how an incorrect idea of worldview and antithesis has led to Trump’s outrageous nonfactual viewpoints, and that they will speak out against DeVos’s views.


Politicians, the media and the truth

Donald Trump’s distrust of the media, his refusal to take a question from CNN, his desire to move the press corps from the Press Room in the White House, his misuse of the term ‘fake news’—these are all developments that are welcomed by his supporters, who mistrust anything that the “liberal media” reports. I believe that the religious right is in large part responsible for this attitude with its incorrect idea of the “religious antithesis.” Such people believe that we cannot know any facts correctly unless we have the right religious beliefs. As I have argued elsewhere, this comes from reformational philosophy, but it is a misunderstanding of Dooyeweerd, who said that the religious antithesis is not to be used to divide people, but only for self-critique. Furthermore, he said that there are common “states of affairs” that can be appealed to regardless of one’s religious convictions.

The problem is not confined to the religious right. On the left, the idea of constructivism is the dominant ideology—that we construct our reality by the ideas that we bring to it and by our background. The end result is the same as the idea of religious antithesis in leaving no common ground or common facts on which to base our discourse. In its extreme form, we are left with solipsism, where we can never understand the other person. It is said that one race can never understand another, that one sex cannot understand the other and that he/she should not even write about it, that the classic literature of the past is by dead white colonialist males and therefore irrelevant. And it is said that constructivism will lead to a kind of postmodernism and even post-truth society. In fact, as I have shown in my recently published article, constructivism is not postmodernism at all, but an extreme form of Kantian modernism in its denial of a common “givenness” to our experience. It is this idea of a common “givenness” to our experience that is lacking in both the religious right and in the constructivism of the left, although I would extend the idea of what is given to our experience to more than a sensory manifold.

It is the job of the press to explore and bring to light the common facts by which we can test the truth of what politicians are saying. And when Trump is shown to have lied about facts, it is not a proper response to then “pivot” and say that Clinton also lied. That kind of pivoting is a refusal to answer the question, and it only reinforces the idea that there is no common standard by which to judge truth. Lies on both sides need to be addressed head on. Yes, there is bias, and yes we need to beware of the “echo chamber” effect when we listen to only one source of news. But there must be a bedrock belief in common facts if we are to ever be able to communicate with each other.