Why Anti‐Realism Breaks up Relationships

Heythrop Journal 43 (1):20–33 (2002)


Some theologians are inclined to regard realism with hostility or indifference. I do not present an argument for realism, but for why realism matters, and what is at stake.First of all, I separate the heart of realism from gratuitous doctrines which are too often associated with it. Religious realism is the claim that truth is independent of our beliefs about truth, and that we can in principle hope to have true beliefs about God. Realism is not intrinsically concerned with the existence of ‘objects’, with natural theology or rational justification.I then show that even thinkers who are hostile or indifferent to religious realism so defined, usually make an implicit appeal to a similar realism in the sphere of ethics.To establish that realism matters in religion as well as ethics I draw an analogy with realism/anti‐realism about persons, to show that anti‐realism makes mutually risk‐taking and courageous relationships impossible. I go on to argue that far from it being a realist who is obsessed with rational certainty, this is one of the worst vices of the anti‐realist, who cannot bear there to be a gap between her beliefs and reality.I conclude that the most vital feature of religious realism is not certainty of belief, but the opposite – the acknowledged risk that all our hope could be in vain. In closing the possibility on this risk, the anti‐realist demonstrates an unfaithful and uncourageous movement of thought

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