Society Gathers in San Diego for Fifth Annual Conference

January 12, 2015 § Leave a comment

This year, we gathered to explore the possible relations and mis-relations between Adventism and 19th century ethical philosophy. Are humans “good with(out) God?”

Broaching this issue required situating Adventism’s relationship to the moral reasoning of the Enlightenment. Thinkers like John Stuart Mill and Immanuel Kant had articulated new was of thinking about right and wrong, emphasizing the calculation or maximization of utility or the weight and clarity of moral maxims and duty.Two features stand out of such approaches to morality—their universal aspirations and the displacing the central role religion traditionally played in grounding and motivating moral norms. Mill insists that God commands what God commands because God, too, is a utilitarian. Kant claims that God cannot command what goes against what we know to be moral rationally.

In the 19th century, we have both the culmination of the Enlightenment project, as well as a rejection of and reaction against it. Hegel, for example, constructs an all-encompassing rational system of explanation and understanding of reality and morality. Kierkegaard, we’ll see, rejects this as a form of intellectual hubris and idolatry.

Is Adventism an expression of or rejection of the Enlightenment’s intellectual and moral aspirations?

Charles Taylor has provided the helpful analysis of contemporary culture as being a three-cornered debate between religious humanists, secular humanists, and anti-humanists. The confusing nature of this debate is that allegiances shift and change with any of the two parties ganging up on the third, depending on the given issue. Does Adventism side with Kierkegaard and Neitzsche’s, some might say prophetic, critique of modernity? Or does it side with Hegelian systematization over Kierkegaardian fideism? Might it embrace certain elements of Neitzsche’s and Kierkegaard’s critique of Christianity?

Presenters and participants grappled with these and related questions throughout the day.

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