Wittgenstein: Paschal Meditation for Easter

“I believe that one of the things Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless. That you have to change your life. (Or the direction of your life.) It says that all wisdom is cold; and that you can no more use it for setting your life to rights that you can forge iron when it is cold. The point is that a sound doctrine need not take hold of you; you can follow it as you would a doctor’s prescription. — But here you need something to move you and turn you in a new direction. — (I.e. this is how I understand it.) Once you have been turned around, you must stay turned around. Wisdom is passionless. But faith by contrast is what Kierkegaard calls a passion.” (Culture and Value. Ludwig Wittgenstein)

Wittgenstein’s fideism (as well as Kierkegaard’s assumingly) has reached its excess in the claim that sound doctrines are all useless.  The relationship between sound doctrine and life are not among the polarized binaries like good and evil.  The danger is to adopt one to the exclusion of the other.  A life without sound doctrine is much like Tom Petty’s rebel without a clue.  The absence of sound doctrine does not leave one with no doctrine rather what one is left with is doctrine that is unsound.   The opposing distinction “sound doctrine” is articulated by Wittgenstein’s claim to passionless wisdom.  This is a turn from the facts of objective reality to the personalized experience of the subjective self.  But this does not necessarily capture the Christian condition.

Within Christianity there is an exchange between the two so that the Christian life is influenced by sound doctrine.  It is because of sound doctrine that the subjective does not drift into the great wide open.  Conversely it is the subjectivity which gives life to the objective content of sound doctrine.  Why will the subjective hearts of many believers be stirred tomorrow morning on Easter Sunday?  Because of something objective that Christ did 2000 years ago by taking their sin upon Himself and giving them His merited righteousness.  This is the relationship between sound doctrine and passion.

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