Friday, 5 May 2017

Romans and Critical Realism, III

Okay, says the reader of my previous two posts on Romans and Critical Realism, I can see how Paul thinks that reality is inferred from data (to use Lonerganian and Collingwoodian sort of language); I can see how his antipathy towards idolatry could be a rejection of the intellectual error of confusing data with reality; but what does any of this have to do with the moral dimension upon which he so strongly insists? The answer, I suggest is: Everything.

As we begin, let us consider how Paul progresses through this section. First, he states in 1:18 that "the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth." He then explicates exactly what it means to suppress the truth in vv. 19-23. Then, in vv. 24-25, he argues that "Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the degrading of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever!" This is followed by his (in)famous jeremiad against same-sex relations, both male and female, as an example of the degradation. That jeremiad tends to get the attention these days, but I'm more interested in how Paul is constructing the relationship between morality and knowing. It seems that Paul sees a sort of cycle at work: immorality leads to the suppression of genuine knowledge, and in turn that suppression leads to immorality.

Upon reflection, this makes a great deal of sense. Morality is about values. And the resolute will to know truth, whatever it might be, regardless of whether it contradicts and challenges one's current suppositions, is a value. It places the desire to understand our collective world above the personal desire to control that world. It makes in fact a great deal of sense to think that a person lacking robust values might not put much of a premium on truth (one perhaps need only look to Twitter for evidence of that). That's why Lonergan sees moral conversion, i.e. the conversion to placing value before satisfaction, as antecedent to intellectual conversion: valuing, we learn to value truth; valuing truth, we learn how to find it. This additionally explains why Paul can see that the suppression of truth also leads to greater immorality. There is a sort of feedback process between morality and knowing: as we learn to find truth, we come to better apprehend the world; as we better apprehend the world, we better refine our values, including the value we place upon truth; in turns further teaches us how to find truth. But if we do not value truth, then do we not learn how to find it; instead, misapprehensions lead to further misapprehensions; and as our misapprehension of the world grows, we increasingly misapprehend the moral dimension of the world, calling evil good and good evil.

Now, it would clearly be disingenuous to say that Paul and Lonergan independently struck upon similar understandings of the relationship between morality and knowing. Lonergan was a Jesuit priest, a theologian and philosopher who engaged deeply with the Christian tradition. That meant that he engaged deeply with Paul, and with thinkers who engaged deeply with Paul. We should not be surprised to find Pauline valences and indeed citations throughout Lonergan's corpus. We should also not be surprised if our ideas about what is good and true differ from Paul's. We've had two additional millennia to develop the feedback between morality and knowing. But that is a matter for theologians who work in functional specialties other than my own, so I will leave it there.

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