Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Confucianism and the Emergence of Right Reason: Natural Law, Human Fallibility and the Transcendence of God

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:00
Location: Hörsaal 42 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Mark GOULD, Haverford College, USA
Notions of natural law and human fallibility, when constitutive of the logic of religious commitment, and when that commitment is dominant in the values of a society, predispose that society towards reasoned argument (and derivative social practices like the development of democratic procedures). Beginning with the distinction between original sin and fitra (human’s natural affinity for God) respectively, in Christianity and Islam, I explore how the notion natural law, when coupled with original sin, and thus the fallibility of our understanding, predisposes Christianity to be compatible with democracy. The absence of a notion of natural justice and the belief in man’s natural affinity for God, and thus the ability to follow precepts laid down by God, predisposes a contradiction between Islam and a democracy that composes laws from the people. Because God is understood as immanent within the Church in Roman Catholicism, the fallibility of humans derived from original sin is mitigated through the authority of the Church. In consequence, the relationship between Roman Catholicism and (the origins of) democracy is mitigated considerably.

Natural law, when coupled with a weak notion of human fallibility should, as in Confucianism, preclude the need for revelation. In Judaism, where there is reasoned access to a notion of justice that regulates God’s actions and no belief akin to original sin, we nonetheless find revelation. I explore the effects of the way this revelation was understood, arguing that Judaic revelation established a pattern of religious commitment that constituted a tendency that transcended its origins, eventually obviating the need for revelation within the context of rationally-regulated disputation. While other social conditions for the genesis of democracy were absent in Jewish history, a tendency towards the rational and discursive adjudication of intellectual disputes became manifest, one that facilitated the emergence of natural religion.