Robinson on Edwards

A fantastic essay, if you haven’t read it yet:

When I was in college, and even earlier because my older brother introduced me to Modern Thought as he was introduced to it, I felt gloomily captive to the determinisms of Positivism, Behaviorism, Freudianism, Marxism, and the rest. I was troubled by all this for years. Then I was assigned by a philosophy professor to read Jonathan Edwards’s treatiseThe Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended, Part Four, Chapter III. I found in it a glorious footnote on moonlight, and was liberated.

I know this sounds improbable on its face. We are told that it is modernity that liberates, and Puritanism, with its famous defense of predestination and its all-devouring work ethic, that we ought to be, and perhaps never are, liberated from. I have always been unperturbed by these criticisms. First, despite its many difficulties, the doctrine of predestination, which is nearly universal among Christian theologies, though used polemically against Puritans, at least holds the line against the notion that we get what we deserve, which is conceptually even cruder, and an invitation to self-righteousness and judgmentalism that flies in the face of central teachings of Christ. Second, the satisfactions of work may reinforce an ethic, but they are more than sufficient as reward all by themselves. More generally, no major conceptual system has ever dealt satisfactorily with every problem it raises. Theology, like cosmology, pushes at the limits of the knowable and the articulable. Dogmatism and hostile criticism alike can make the difficulties that arise in thinking at this scale seem to be its whole meaning and substance. So we learn how not to read a great literature for its actual value.