Rationality, Communication and Postmodernism

From Berger (1967, 1974) to Habermas (1984, 1987) and Rorty (1990) the issue moves on about the rationality and/ or communicability of socially interested theologies.

David Tracy (1987, in Browning, Fiorenza, 1992) asserts that theology can make an offering for public discourse. This would include social Christianity. Tracy follows on from the sociological stance of Habermas which focusses on forms of rationality in the lifeworld as a means to liberate from domination (one objective of social Christianity). Habermas wants to avoid dominating subjective rationality by having communicative and argumentative reason. This depends upon available and reliable rationality, and therefore rejects thoroughgoing postmodernism. He considers scientific, social and aesthetic rationality (based on Kantian forms of what lies beyond a unified religion). Habermas sees a need for a utopian ethics of a good society (Tracy in Browning, Fiorenza, 1992, 38) but Tracy, more focussed upon conversation than argument, wants religion included as its own category (1992, 36-37) because religion aims to introduce ultimate reality. For Habermas, religion is part of a traditional authority and beyond rational discourse. It relies on its own private accessibility of experience (Habermas in Browning, Fiorenza, 1992, 238) and untranslatable irreducible symbols. In so far as Christianity has shifted rationality, it threatens the (supernatural) status of Christianity itself (231).

For Habermas, a sociological criticism (Wuthnow in Browning, Fiorenza, 1992, 222) that there may have to be separate "space" for poetry, myth and symbol, or perhaps a Durkheimian model for religion, is answered in general (Habermas in Browning, Fiorenza, 1992, 244-245) that this still leaves the problem of praxis and the issue of whether to re-enchant society or assert the model of rationality (245). Habermas holds that rationality liberates, not re- enchantment. In fact Habermas's scheme hardly moves anything on from the translations required from religion in the age of ideology. The only difference is in the role of intellectuals rather than, say, the working class, in a non-ideological plural but consumerist setting.

TCA (Theory of communicative Action). As in Marxism, the "system" keeps an economic base to cultural lifeworlds. Unlike in Marxism, however, culture is important. But it has become separated into private and public, a decline in the old sacred canopies and undermined traditional given moralities. There are similarities with Berger's analysis (1967, 1974). Habermas's solution to the contradictions of current institutional and ideological arrangements which produce legitimation crises, and hegemony, and the clash of rationalities within such culture, is the intellectual's rationality of communication and conversation. The normative claims of religion are lost as are its integrative functions based on old authorities and inheritances. Truth now is conviction by the best argument in freedom.

Some theologians use this. To fit in, Francis Shussler Fiorenza (Browning, Fioerenza, 1992, 75-77) points to theology's transformation by its uncoupling from traditional mythology and cosmology, its movement away from traditional authorities and towards a universalised anthropology, and that religious symbol systems are ethically evaluated and reinterpreted. Theology can thus communicate widely. Jurgen Habermas in a wide ranging reply (pp. 226-248) accepts the attempt to separate theology and religion but raises the issue of whether this leaves Christianity intact.

...the more that theology opens itself in general to the discourses of the human sciences, the greater is the danger that its own status will be lost in the network of alternating takeover attempts. (Browning, Fioerenza, 1992, 231)

The price at this modernist level could well be Habermas's preference for a rationality based around methodological atheism. It is parallel to pluralism of world views producing the :Homeless Mind' (Berger, 1974) and therefore for Habermas at the general level of dialogue. An alternative would be plural language games and only ad hoc alliances for discourse. As Gellner (1992, 37) says, it is one step from the Frankfurt School (and indeed Berger) to postmodern hermeneutics, of which he is very critical.

The emergence of high modernity or postmodernity. Pluralism intensifies so that truth itself becomes relativised into the process of language (away from Habermas's modernist truth maintaining communication) with a loss of the old objective-subjective division. Methodological non-realism (not atheism as such) becomes significant here where rationality is radically uncertain.