Friday, June 20, 2008

Michael Novak, Liberal Theologian

As I will be referencing two distinct works by Gary Dorrien, I though it important to provide a link to his profile at Union Theological Seminary. He is currently the Reinhold Niebuhr Professor of Social Ethics there.

As profiled, sympathetically if critically, in Dorrien's The Neo-Conservative Mind, Novak's intellectual and spiritual journey across the ideological spectrum is usually the case cited for the way the new left was self-destructive in the 1960's and 1970's. Originally far to the left, especially on the war in Vietnam and on issues of social justice, Novak moved more and more to the right, until he became a poster child for a new kind of conservative intellectual. With his exploration of what he termed "democratic capitalism" (as opposed to "social democracy"), Novak was among the first to argue that democracy and capitalism are necessarily linked, giving a certain legitimacy to arguments, for example, that the capitalistic reforms in communist China might lead to democracy there, should we just let nature take its course.

Trained in Roman Catholic theology, Novak has also written on issues of religion. One would think that someone schooled in St. Thomas, Ignatius Loyola, and other luminaries wouldn't write the following, as Novak did in the "On Faith" forum at The Washington Post on-line:
[T]he evidence about God is not to be sought “out there.” It does not reside among other classifiable, sensory objects in this universe. The question about God is essentially a question about one’s own personal identity.

To put this in some kind of context, Novak is claiming that those whom he refers to as "the New Atheists" are backing off from their claims to have conclusively proved there is no God (despite the fact that one cannot, using logic, prove a negative). My point is not that Novak doesn't use this pretty easy take-down. Rather, someone schooled in, and a member of a Christian organization dedicated to, the idea that the beliefs of the Christian faith are available to anyone through the use of reason, using evidence available to all is suddenly saying that the claims of the Christian faith are far less open and public.

As Dorrien outlines in detail over three volumes of The Making of American Liberal Theology, this is exactly what constitutes a central tenet of liberal theology - the "evidence" and "proofs" for God are not so much about logic and evidence as they are a reflection of the inner life of the believer. I am not criticizing Novak for holding this position. Nor am I criticizing the position in and of itself. Rather, I am simply remarking that Novak seems to have made a theological turn to the left in his declining years.

This is a good thing.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More