Above all, the author wanted to critique the syncretistic modern society around him, one wherein scholars from academia, and their perceived hardening truths and tenets, were elevated above those multi-sided sages of old in whom Kaufmann believed was found a wisdom for all ages; and, coeval to this evolution in the world of thoughtand the language with which it was (mis)construeda cooly impassioned foray against the ways in which our innate religious consciousness has been forced into deforming and misleading confinement through the dogmatic rigor of philosopher-theologians fully attuned to that modern academic meme of settling proclaimed truths with linguistic manipulations and straitjackets. I am in halting agreement with those who feel Kaufmann is not only anticipating the push back against religion undertaken by the (so-called) New Atheists, but doing so in a much more intellectually rigorous and temperamentally impressive mannerfor this is the kind of subtle text that might require another read or two ere one could confidently deem the authorial scope to have been fully grasped. So it is that all of the He, Man, Him, and Mankind below come from the horse's mouth, and don't reflect my own acceptance of the possibility of our eventually righting this global boat being dependent upon that future date when females, having become fully fed-up with the state of the union and determined to suffer no more nonsense, shall collectively give the lads an extended time out over in the corner and take over the entire affair, including, but not limited to, all of those -isms which seem to preoccupy the minds and energies of those bearded boys obsessed with speed bags and soft tacos. ************************************************* Brilliant second chapter wherein Kaufmann contrasts Positivism with Existentialism even while establishing them as philosophies of revolt which, studied together and separately, make problematic traditional philosophy as we know it from the works of Plato and Aristotle, Descartes and Hobbes, Berkeley, Kant, and Hegel; one setting store in symbolic logic, the other within the confines of ordinary languagebut both are possessed of deeply unhistorical, even antihistorical outlooks. Kaufmann on the difficulty of achieving entire correctness in an endeavor echoes Ortega y Gasset on Partial Truths of philosophy, and building on absence of errors in any portion of thought. To know vs to believe: inversion from Plato's absolute, eternal and immutable for the former, to Christianity's emphasis on the latter as the higher, perduring truth. Kaufmann makes the sardonic point that Aquinas would have had Kant and Hume burned at the stake for their philosophies against his Second Proof. Interesting in how WK stresses Aquinas' difficulties in working with the anthropomorphic and Platonic Idea-form divinities bequeathed to him by the ancient Greeks; he deals with them by discarding all that fits not with his conception of One and One such Christian God only. Theologians, mystics, scholars, monks, gospels, scripture, exegetes, Talmud, Midrash: all possess varying conceptions of God. As in my own thoughts about Novikov, Kaufmann notes that Heaven is an analogy of the sky, but is non-spatial. Kaufmann objects to the theologists' usage of symbols and signs, as they declare the former to be universally applicable to religions to make them palatable by inferring they have a set meaningbut the author shows that they are actually ambiguous, just as religious myth is meant to be. Some parts of religion are meant to be literally true; others vague and interpretive; theologists, in trying to tame religion for modernity, misrepresent this mythological timber and ambiguous content: the validity and worthwhileness of theology become questionable. Demythologization is required when dealing with such as Christianity and its tenets, that we may not only ask about the evidence for those beliefs, but their moral implications. Kaufmann contrasts the humanity and compromise of Judaic interpretations of Hellagnostic in perdurance of termwith Christian fervor for pain, torment, and eternity, as well as how the more humane teachings of Origen, Arius, and Pelagius have been condemned and anathematized. Judaism offers something the Christian is not offered: a religion without theology. Judaism preached law, not truth, and its Rabbis, though bound by the corpus of the Talmud, still were free to interpret scripture as they would, even against popular belief. If some of the liberal Protestants were right in thinking that Jesus tried to establish a kind of Reform Judaismand as a matter of historical fact they are probably wrongthen it would have to be said, and some of them have said, that Paul wrecked this early attempt with his effort at assimilation, with his fusion of this religion with the beliefs and practices then current in other religions. Paul mixed pagan and other religious elements together with Judaism in his conception of Christianity, that it would have more appeal to the non-Jewish masses. Christian truth was mostly that of belief, whereas that of Judaism was more of trust, even intimacy. Making Christ out to be a Moral Superman overlooks that He was quite ambiguous in his moral messagesand it was Paul who claimed what Christ preached is the need for faith in a believer, and that this alone would suffice to clear the way for salvation. Modern Liberal Protestant Christianity finds truth where Christ and his messages already reinforce what they now believethere is no prospect of changing one's life, but rather confirming one in one's present beliefs. Niebuhr exemplified what Kaufmann is critiquingwhile admirably concerned with social ills and their eradication, he emulates the Liberal Protestant theologian's tendency to subjective over objective means, to project their own preferences and convictions onto Jesus, to allow conscience and personal desire to override history and scholarship.
This book is targetted at a working philosopher rather than a mere layperson. I don't even really mind the constant undertone that no one (but the author?) is capable of reading or understanding any of the great philosophers -- it is somewhat amusing and endearing almost -- but he doesn't even seem to realise that (in my mind, at least) it raises the question of the value of their alleged insights if hundreds of years of commentary can't figure out WTF they meant. He has a serious man-crush on Socrates.) I gave up on the book in part because of its abstruseness but mostly because I just had no clue what point he was trying to make.
He concludes by examining ways to read sacred scriptures, followed by a look at the age-old tussle between logic and emotions, and its playout in religion and philosophy. (Read my review of In Gods We Trust : The Evolutionary Landscape of Religion (Evolution and Cognition Series) by Scott Atran, to see just what is out there now.) Caveat 2: By not looking at Islam, Hinduism or tribal religions and their comments on religious truth, Kaufmann somewhat constricted his view.
The best book in Kaufmann's pseduo-trilogy (w/ 'Tragedy & Philosophy' and 'From Shakespeare to Existentialism').
I suspect that one legacy of his teaching history is a loss of patience with the endless recurrence of poor arguments. If there is an agenda to this voyage, beyond disinterested exploration, it is not by any means an attack on religion as such, but it is rather an attack on weak arguments and foolish opinions which have been expressed over time by highly respected commentators, whether those who favour or those who oppose religious belief. He returns repeatedly to complain about the failings of William James, not so much (though partly) his Varieties of Religious Experience as his very unsatisfactory essay "The Will to Believe." I have given James a lot of weight in the past precisely because I have wanted a way to be more respectful to religions I do not share, but maybe I need to qualify my opinions here. For other religions, he makes some good comparative observations, especially regarding Judaism and the Old Testament, also referring to Buddhist teaching, but the primary focus is Christian and European. (Which side of this divide Jesus belongs is a moot point indeed.) "Of the spirit of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, many theologians have felt no breath, but they play games parting his garments among them and casting lots for them" Kaufmann does offer a personal opinion about the value and function of religion at the end but he spares us the embarrassment of saying too much about it. I stick with my impression that the value of this book is to guide readers through so many different types of debate about religious belief in a way that is informative, critical, and above all readable.
To understand why some books elicit so many interpretations, one must consider not only the books but also those who interpret them.
He also wrote a 1965 book on Hegel, and a translation of most of Goethe's Faust.