Sunday, January 5, 2014

Boghossifying the Pope: Lux de simulans scire

Here is the source page for attempts to "Boghossify" Pope Francis's June 2013 Encyclical Letter "Lumen Fidei," which is to say to clarify it via Peter Boghossian's analysis of the term "faith" given in A Manual for Creating Atheists (2013).

I will Boghossify Part 1, of Francis's sixty parts, to get things started. For instructions on how to participate, see here. If you Boghossify part of this document on your blog, clearly indicate which section(s) you Boghossified and send me the link, and I'll include a link to it at the bottom of this post. Alternatively, leave your work in the comments, and I'll provide a direct link to the relevant comment.

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1. The light of Pretending to Know (What We Do Not): this is what is meant by the Church’s tradition that speaks of the great gift brought by Jesus. In John’s Gospel, we pretend to know that Christ says of himself: "I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness" (Jn 12:46). Saint Paul uses the same image: "God who said ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts" (2 Cor 4:6). The pagan world, which hungered for light, had seen the growth of the cult of the sun god, Sol Invictus, invoked each day at sunrise. Yet though the sun was born anew each morning, it was clearly incapable of casting its light on all of human existence. The sun does not illumine all reality; its rays cannot penetrate to the shadow of death, the place where men’s eyes are closed to its light. "No one — Saint Justin Martyr writes — has ever been ready to die for pretending to know that there is a sun". Conscious of the immense horizon which pretending to know things they do not know opened before them, Christians invoked Jesus as the true sun "whose rays bestow life". To Martha, weeping for the death of her brother Lazarus, we pretend Jesus said: "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" (Jn 11:40). Those who believe in what they pretend to know but do not, pretend to see; they pretend to see with a light that illumines their entire journey, for they pretend it comes from the risen Christ, the morning star which never sets. 

Links to further parts (updated as they become available):
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11 
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14
Part 15
Part 16
Part 17
Part 18
Part 19
Part 20
Part 21
Part 22
Part 26
Part 27
Part 28
Part 29
Part 30
Part 31
Part 32
Part 33
Part 34
Part 35
Part 36
Part 37
Part 38
Part 39
Part 40 (at
Part 41
Part 42
Part 43
Part 44
Part 45
Part 46
Part 47
Part 48
Part 49
Part 50
Part 51
Part 52
Part 53 (video)
Part 54
Part 55
Part 56
Part 57
Part 58
Part 59
Part 60

This effort is protected under the "parody" clause of Fair Use under copyright law.

Thanks to Peter Boghossian for the idea and the means, and to Miranda Celeste Hale for sharing the letter and the Latin title.


  1. 2. Yet in speaking of the light of pretending to know something we don’t know, we can almost hear the objections of many of our contemporaries. In modernity, that light might have been considered sufficient for societies of old, but was felt to be of no use for new times, for a humanity come of age, proud of its rationality and anxious to explore the future in novel ways. Pretending to know something one doesn’t know thus appeared to some as an illusory light, preventing mankind from boldly setting out in quest of knowledge. The young Nietzsche encouraged his sister Elisabeth to take risks, to tread "new paths… with all the uncertainty of one who must find his own way", adding that "this is where humanity’s paths part: if you want peace of soul and happiness, then believe, but if you want to be a follower of truth, then seek". Belief would be incompatible with seeking. From this starting point Nietzsche was to develop his critique of Christianity for diminishing the full meaning of human existence and stripping life of novelty and adventure. Pretending to know something one doesn't know would thus be the illusion of light, an illusion which blocks the path of a liberated humanity to its future.

    1. I might address "belief", too, where it entails an unjustified knowledge claim: "… if you want peace of soul and happiness, then pretend to know things you don't know, but if you want to be a follower of truth, then seek". Pretending to know things you don't know would be incompatible with seeking.

  2. 3. In the process, pretending to know something one doesn't know came to be associated with darkness. There were those who tried to save pretending to know something one doesn't know by making room for it alongside the light of reason. Such room would open up wherever the light of reason could not penetrate, wherever certainty was no longer possible. Pretending to know something one doesn't know was thus understood either as a leap in the dark, to be taken in the absence of light, driven by blind emotion, or as a subjective light, capable perhaps of warming the heart and bringing personal consolation, but not something which could be proposed to others as an objective and shared light which points the way. Slowly but surely, however, it would become evident that the light of autonomous reason is not enough to illumine the future; ultimately the future remains shadowy and fraught with fear of the unknown. As a result, humanity renounced the search for a great light, Truth itself, in order to be content with smaller lights which illumine the fleeting moment yet prove incapable of showing the way. Yet in the absence of light everything becomes confused; it is impossible to tell good from evil, or the road to our destination from other roads which take us in endless circles, going nowhere.

    1. This works too, actually. I'll link to the comments. Thanks!

    2. Cool! Sorry for the deluge, but I'm bored tonight...and Peter is a friend. :)

    3. No need to be sorry. It's rather fun and, at least to me, educational on his main point about the use of the word faith.

  3. 4. There is an urgent need, then, to see once again that pretending to know something one doesn't know is a light, for once the flame of pretending to know something one doesn't know dies out, all other lights begin to dim. The light of pretending to know something one doesn't know is unique, since it is capable of illuminating every aspect of human existence. A light this powerful cannot come from ourselves but from a more primordial source: in a word, it must come from God. Pretending to know something one doesn't know is born of an encounter with the living God who calls us and reveals his love, a love which precedes us and upon which we can lean for security and for building our lives. Transformed by this love, we gain fresh vision, new eyes to see; we realize that it contains a great promise of fulfillment, and that a vision of the future opens up before us. Pretending to know something one doesn't know, received from God as a supernatural gift, becomes a light for our way, guiding our journey through time. On the one hand, it is a light coming from the past, the light of the foundational memory of the life of Jesus which revealed his perfectly trustworthy love, a love capable of triumphing over death. Yet since Christ has risen and draws us beyond death, pretending to know something one doesn't know is also a light coming from the future and opening before us vast horizons which guide us beyond our isolated selves towards the breadth of communion. We come to see that pretending to know something we don't know does not dwell in shadow and gloom; it is a light for our darkness. Dante, in the Divine Comedy, after professing his pretending to know something he doesn't know to Saint Peter, describes that light as a "spark, which then becomes a burning flame and like a heavenly star within me glimmers". It is this light of pretending to know something one doesn't know that I would now like to consider, so that it can grow and enlighten the present, becoming a star to brighten the horizon of our journey at a time when mankind is particularly in need of light.

    1. This "foundational" memory reminds me of Daniel Dennett's "surely" alarm. It's not just memory, it's foundational – surely we can all remember that!

  4. 5. Christ, on the eve of his passion, assured Peter: "I have prayed for you that your pretending to know something you don’t know may not fail" (Lk 22:32). He then told him to strengthen his brothers and sisters in that same pretending to know something they don’t know. Conscious of the duty entrusted to the Successor of Peter, Benedict XVI proclaimed the present Year of Pretending to Know Something You Don’t Know, a time of grace which is helping us to sense the great joy of believing and to renew our wonder at the vast horizons which pretending to know something one doesn’t know opens up, so as then to profess that pretending to know something one doesn’t know in its unity and integrity, faithful to the memory of the Lord and sustained by his presence and by the working of the Holy Spirit. The conviction born of pretending to know something one doesn’t know, which brings grandeur and fulfillment to life, a pretending to know something one doesn’t know centred on Christ and on the power of his grace, inspired the mission of the first Christians. In the acts of the martyrs, we read the following dialogue between the Roman prefect Rusticus and a Christian named Hierax: "‘Where are your parents?’, the judge asked the martyr. He replied: ‘Our true father is Christ, and our mother is pretending to know something we don’t know about him’". For those early Christians, pretending to know something they didn’t know, as an encounter with the living God revealed in Christ, was indeed a "mother", for it had brought them to the light and given birth within them to divine life, a new experience and a luminous vision of existence for which they were prepared to bear public witness to the end.

    1. This one's my favorite so far: The Year of Pretending to Know Something You Don’t Know! LMAO!

    2. Totally. This is exactly the kind of perspective that I think Boghossian is rightly after. When we see the word "faith" there, it's kind of a meh/cringe moment. When we see it spelled out in its contextual meaning, it's somewhere between hilarious and abysmally pitiful.

    3. Fantastic stuff, I'm enjoying this. A minor tweak, I would replace "faithful to" with "true to" here.

    4. This is something I'm excited to see--really careful engagement with the words and fruitful discussion ensuing from that. One of the goals is seeking clarity in what is meant, at least from the perspective where these beliefs don't have sufficient justification to be maintained, and that entails a recognition that many of the terms surrounding the beliefs are being used in a way that demands clarification. Very nice!

  5. 6. The Year of pretending to know something you don't know was inaugurated on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. This is itself a clear indication that Vatican II was a Council on pretending to know things you don't know,[6] inasmuch as it asked us to restore the primacy of God in Christ to the centre of our lives, both as a Church and as individuals. The Church never takes the pretension to know things you don't know for granted, but knows that this gift of God needs to be nourished and reinforced so that it can continue to guide her pilgrim way. The Second Vatican Council enabled the light of Pretending to Know (What We Do Not) to illumine our human experience from within, accompanying the men and women of our time on their journey. It clearly showed how pretending to know things you don't know enriches life in all its dimensions.

  6. 7. These considerations on pretending to know things you don't know — in continuity with all that the Church’s magisterium has pronounced on this theological virtue[7] — are meant to supplement what Benedict XVI had written in his encyclical letters on charity and hope. He himself had almost completed a first draft of an encyclical on pretending to know things you don't know. For this I am deeply grateful to him, and as his brother in Christ I have taken up his fine work and added a few contributions of my own. The Successor of Peter, yesterday, today and tomorrow, is always called to strengthen his brothers and sisters in the priceless treasure of that pretending to know things you don't know which God has given as a light for humanity’s path.

  7. 8. Pretending to know things we don't know opens the way before us and accompanies our steps through time. Hence, if we want to understand what it is to pretend to know things we don't know, we need to follow the route it has taken, the path trodden by believers, as witnessed first in the Old Testament. Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in pretending to know things we don't know. Something disturbing takes place in his life: God speaks to him; he reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name. Pretending to know things we don't know is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears his voice. Pretending to know things we don't know thus takes on a personal aspect. God is not the god of a particular place, or a deity linked to specific sacred time, but the God of a person, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, capable of interacting with man and establishing a covenant with him. Pretending to know things we don't know is our response to a word which engages us personally, to a "Thou" who calls us by name.

    1. I feel like "our father in pretending" would work, too. Thoughts?

    2. Somewhat interchangeable, but keeping the focus on "to know things we do not know" keeps it about epistemology, which is rather important here most of the time. It would be a good substitute if it got repetitive to keep using that cumbersome phrase.

      This particular section is an important one since many of the defenses of the term "faith" against Boghossification go back to Abraham's alleged experience. Maybe I can suggest a little modification?

      "Here a unique place belongs to Abraham, our father in pretending to know things we don't know. Something disturbing takes place in his life: he pretends without being able to know it that God speaks to him; he pretends without knowing it that He reveals himself as a God who speaks and calls his name. Pretending to know things we don't know is linked to hearing. Abraham does not see God, but hears a voice he pretends is his."

      Of course, this is sticky. My real guess about the Abraham tradition is that it's mostly literary invention, but if it carries with it scraps of legitimate truth about real events, Abraham may have been insane, actually hearing voices in his head. Every time I contemplate that possibility--which I suspect is a very real one for some or many prophets--it makes me realize just how important understanding mental health is. Such a voice could (and often does) say just about anything, often really horrible anythings (like gutting one's own kid).

    3. Yeah, I was conflicted between wanting to change as little as possible so as not to completely changing the meaning but also making the sentences less unwieldy.

      Ultimately, I like your modification better. Roll with it, sir. And I'm planning on getting your book as soon as possible. Thanks!

    4. The funny thing is that the more involved in this exercise I get, the more I think I reap from it. It's not simply a word processor "find and replace" effort when you really start looking at it. They're using the word "faith" in a lot of different ways, some differences being subtle and some huge, and getting a "Boghossification" of it right really takes rooting out the real meanings of those words in each context. It's superficially pretty silly, but it goes a long way toward understanding what they're really trying to say with it all (their own language being impenetrable, probably even to themselves, on purpose).

    5. James, I think I prefer ThatNateGuy's version, for this reason: if Abraham did hallucinate seeing something in the burning bush, or hearing a voice, then he actually did see and hear those things. It speaks to the fallibility of our senses, and I think that, in context, it drives home the point that even if I hear and see something myself, it's not sufficient grounds for believing extraordinary things.

      Or, if we take Abraham's revelation as more like that of Joseph Smith, then still most faithful have experienced hearing God talk to them; so that point is still good to make.

    6. This is a good point. It's a difficult thing to speak for historical (or perhaps literary) characters in terms of what they experienced. Of course, the pretending that is most important here is that people are pretending the stories represent an accurate account of history, which they do not know.

      In the case where we might speak for Abraham's experiences, his pretending to know happens when he pretends to know those voices/visions are veridical messages from God. Of course, if you're in a position where you're having voices and visions of that magnitude, it's entirely plausible that you're not in a good position to sort that out.

      As a point of pedantry, it was Moses (another likely literary creation in the OT) who talked to the burning bush. I don't know if Abraham had such an experience of not, but I don't recall it.

    7. This also makes a good place to point out what I've called "the Believers' Triangle": believers are some combination of deceived, dishonest, and deluded about their beliefs. I don't think it's particularly fruitful to put much effort into picking apart which is which or when each is applied.

      As I use them, if they really had the experiences and can't sort out if they're veridical, then they're deluded. If they're making it up to a purpose (like Joseph Smith), they're dishonest. If their pastor and/or culture convinced them of it, perhaps on Mama's Knee, they're deceived. I think we almost always face some combination of these going on at once, and since we do not have access to their minds or the totality of their experiences, we are often rather at a loss to pick it apart--and for what? Sometimes it's useful, I suppose, to do some degree of it, say to expose an outright fraud or perhaps to diagnose a mental illness. It probably gets pressed too hard with the average believer and is, in those cases, profoundly offensive, which shuts down dialogue.

  8. Here is part 40 for you. Hope it's okay.

  9. Pretending to know things you don't know, and truth

    23. Unless you pretend to know things you don't know, you will not understand (cf. Is 7:9). The Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the Septuagint translation produced in Alexandria, gives the above rendering of the words spoken by the prophet Isaiah to King Ahaz. In this way, the issue of the knowledge of truth became central to pretending to know things you don't know. The Hebrew text, though, reads differently; the prophet says to the king: "If you will not pretend to know things you don't know, you shall not be established". Here there is a play on words, based on two forms of the verb ’amān: "you will pretend to know things you don't know" (ta’amînû) and "you shall be established" (tē’āmēnû). Terrified by the might of his enemies, the king seeks the security that an alliance with the great Assyrian empire can offer. The prophet tells him instead to pretend to be completely sure that the God of Israel is a solid and steadfast rock, without knowing that to be the case. Asserting that God is trustworthy, it is reasonable to pretend to know things about him that you don't know, to stand fast on what you pretend is his word, without knowing it to be. He is the same God that Isaiah will later call, twice in one verse, the God who is Amen, "the God of truth" (cf. Is 65:16), the enduring foundation of covenant fidelity. It might seem that the Greek version of the Bible, by translating "be established" as "understand", profoundly altered the meaning of the text by moving away from the biblical notion of pretending to know that God is trustworthy without knowing it, towards a Greek notion of intellectual understanding. Yet this translation, while certainly reflecting a dialogue with Hellenistic culture, is not alien to the underlying spirit of the Hebrew text. The firm foundation that Isaiah promises to the king is indeed grounded in pretending to know God’s activity, and pretending to know his role in the unity of human life and the history of his people, without knowing either. The prophet challenges the king, and us, to pretend to know the Lord’s ways, pretending to know that God has been reliable, thence inferring a wise plan which governs the ages. Saint Augustine took up this synthesis of the ideas of "understanding" and "being established" in his Confessions when he spoke of the truth on which one may rely in order to stand fast: "Then I shall adamantly pretend to know your truth, without knowing it".[17] From the context we know that Augustine was concerned to show that this truth of God which he pretends adamantly to know is, as the Bible clearly asserts, his own reliable presence throughout history, his ability to hold together times and ages, and to gather into one the scattered strands of our lives.[18]

  10. 24. Read in this light, the prophetic text leads to one conclusion: we need knowledge, we need truth, because without these we cannot stand firm, we cannot move forward. Pretending to know things you don't know, without truth, does not save, it does not provide a sure footing. It remains a beautiful story, the projection of our deep yearning for happiness, something capable of satisfying us to the extent that we are willing to deceive ourselves. Either that, or it is reduced to a lofty sentiment which brings consolation and cheer, yet remains prey to the vagaries of our spirit and the changing seasons, incapable of sustaining a steady journey through life. If such were pretending to know things you don't know, King Ahaz would be right not to stake his life and the security of his kingdom on a feeling. But precisely because of its intrinsic link to truth, pretending to know things you don't know is instead able to offer a new light, superior to the king’s calculations, for it pretends to see further into the distance and pretends to know the hand of God, who remains committed to his covenant and his promises, without knowing either.

    25. Today more than ever, we need to be reminded of this bond between pretending to know things we don't know and truth, given the crisis of truth in our age. In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be that of technology: truth is what we succeed in building and measuring by our scientific know-how, truth is what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable. Nowadays this appears as the only truth that is certain, the only truth that can be shared, the only truth that can serve as a basis for discussion or for common undertakings. Yet at the other end of the scale we are willing to allow for subjective truths of the individual, which consist in fidelity to his or her deepest convictions, yet these are truths valid only for that individual and not capable of being proposed to others in an effort to serve the common good. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion. Surely this kind of truth — we hear it said — is what was claimed by the great totalitarian movements of the last century, a truth that imposed its own world view in order to crush the actual lives of individuals. In the end, what we are left with is relativism, in which the question of universal truth — and ultimately this means the question of God — is no longer relevant. It would be logical, from this point of view, to attempt to sever the bond between religion and truth, because it seems to lie at the root of fanaticism, which proves oppressive for anyone who does not share the same beliefs. In this regard, though, we can speak of a massive amnesia in our contemporary world. The question of truth is really a question of memory, pretending to remember things we don't remember, for it deals with something prior to ourselves and can succeed in uniting us in a way that transcends our petty and limited individual consciousness. It is a question about the origin of all that is, in whose light we can pretend to see the goal and thus the meaning of our common path, even though that origin is unknown.

    1. These two were pretty easy – I agree with almost all of it!

      At the end of 25 I took liberties with the phrase "deep memory", which seems in context to imply something beyond actual memories. It feels like a knowledge claim of some kind, so I chose to address it.

    2. These are exactly the kinds of engagements I'm looking for, so I'm thrilled to see you digging in so carefully. Great!