A word from Wittgenstein

Christianity is not a doctrine, not, I mean, a theory about what has happened and will happen to the human soul, but a description of something that actually takes place in human life.  (from Culture and Value, p.28)

We are headed toward Lent.  Tomorrow is Septuagesima, the beginning of Pre-Lent, for those who still use that season.   At least in communities influenced by Liberal Catholicism, Pre-Lent is a season devoted to the Holy Spirit.   What better way to prepare ourselves for the Lenten renewal than by spending two and a half weeks invoking the Spirit?  

Lent always puts me in a Wittgenstein mood.

One of the things Christianity says, I think, is that all sound doctrines are of no avail.  One must change one’s life. (Or the direction of one’s life).  That all wisdom is cold; and that one can no more use it to bring one’s life into order than one can forge cold iron.  A sound doctrine does not have to catch hold of one; one can follow it like a doctor’s prescription. – But here something must grasp one and turn one around. – (This is how I understand it.) Once turned around, one must stay turned around.  Wisdom is passionless.  In contrast faith is what Kierkegaard calls a passion. (from Culture and Value, p. 53)

Somewhere else, Wittgenstein remarks that believing in the resurrection would require changing one’s whole life.  In light of recent discussions on this blog, here is an intriguing comment which Wittgenstein made to one of his friends:

For all you and I can tell, the religion of the future will be without any priests or ministers.  I think one of the things you and I have to learn is that we have to live without the consolation of belonging to a church.   (from Rush Rhees, ed., Ludwig Wittgenstein: Personal Recollections, p. 129)

Regardless of the future shape of religion, Wittgenstein’s insistence that a reshaping of life is necessary for religious language to make any sense is worth pondering, on the threshold of Lent.   DZ Phillips, a philosopher of religion much influenced by Wittgenstein, writes:

To say ‘This is the true God’ is to believe in Him and worship Him.  I can say ‘This theory is true, but I couldn’t care less about it’ and there is nothing odd in what I say.  On the other hand, if I say ‘This is the true God, but I couldn’t care less,’ it is difficult to know what this could mean.  Belief in the true God is not like belief in a true theory. (from The Concept of Prayer, pp.149-150)

Such language only makes sense within the context of a transformed life.  Do our religious convictions make sense?


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