Postmodern Conservative

Wagering on an Ironic God

So, I’m asked, why don’t you get back to saying more stuff about books, movies, and TV? It’s obvious you don’t know anything about politics.

It’s time to get more ironic again! 

Well, as it happens, the last book I read that I really liked was Thomas Hibbs, Wagering on an Ironic God.  Don’t get too excited. You can’t read it for a few months.  I read it to blurb it. 

And the nice editor from Baylor responded to my meandering reflections with something like: You moron, don’t know you know that blurb is supposed to be a few lines at most?  I told her it could be shortened any way she pleased.

Fortunately, however, a bloated blurb is about the length of medium-sized post. So here is my reaction, with just a few words added for clarity:

Wagering on an Ironic God is the most profoundly relevant book I’ve read in years. Its topic is what we can know, who each of us and God is, and how should we live.

Those are the Socratic issues, which have been approached in the modern world in three fundamental ways. Hibbs, following Pascal, identifies each of them with a French thinker.

 Descartes wants to transform the pursuit of wisdom into wisdom itself, through the discovery of the correct method.

Montaigne is about recovering philosophy as coming to terms and living well with learned ignorance in the face of the questions that modern (and ancient) science can’t resolve.

Pascal finds a modern position between Montaigne’s “impotent passivity” and Descartes’s “dominating activity.” He refuses to abandon the Socratic quest that flows from the  truth that every “thinking reed” naturally desires to understand the cosmos and his place in it, just as every human heart is hungry for a restful happiness beyond all human experience.

The true goal of our seeking and searching is to discover enough evidence for the “hidden, ironic God” that it’s actually reasonable to risk everything on and for him.

It turns out that not only does modern science not undermine “the power and intelligibility of the Christian claim” for who God and each of us is. Its revelation of a cosmos marked by chance and contingency in which the human person seems invincibly lost in the infinite spaces actually strengthens it.

Everything depends on the searching and seeking that should constitute the undiverted life of every human creature. 

Hibbs, with a rigorous and meticulous marshaling all the available evidence, shows us how to live as if the truth and my particular life really matter. Irony and uncertainty remain invincible, but the good news also remains that we don’t know enough to know that the search is “necessarily futile,” and that no one with eyes to see can deny that “Christians astonish philosophers.”

The “Christian Socratism” of Hibbs and Pascal is the most wondrous and dialogic form of inquiry around these (and all) days, and we can hope that it saves many — including most professors of philosophy — from their dreary restlessness in the midst of prosperity, a dreariness that seems to give them every right to the anxiety and depression lurking just beneath their happy-talk pragmatism.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...


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