A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith: With "On My Religion"
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John Rawls never published anything about his own religious beliefs, but after his death two texts were discovered which shed extraordinary light on the subject. A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith is Rawls’s undergraduate senior thesis, submitted in December 1942, just before he entered the army. At that time Rawls was deeply religious; the thesis is a significant work of theological ethics, of interest both in itself and because of its relation to his mature writings. “On My Religion,” a short statement drafted in 1997, describes the history of his religious beliefs and attitudes toward religion, including his abandonment of orthodoxy during World War II.
The present volume includes these two texts, together with an Introduction by Joshua Cohen and Thomas Nagel, which discusses their relation to Rawls’s published work, and an essay by Robert Merrihew Adams, which places the thesis in its theological context.
The texts display the profound engagement with religion that forms the background of Rawls’s later views on the importance of separating religion and politics. Moreover, the moral and social convictions that the thesis expresses in religious form are related in illuminating ways to the central ideas of Rawls’s later writings. His notions of sin, faith, and community are simultaneously moral and theological, and prefigure the moral outlook found in Theory of Justice.
spiritual or personal one. It was created by God, who is as He has re- A General Prospectus vealed Himself, and among the creation are created persons. The world in its essence, is a community, a community of creator and created, and has as its source, God. 3. In passing we should make a few remarks about these assumptions. (i) They are not postulates in the sense in which the term is used in logic, and therefore we are not engaged in a deductive system. These statements are assumed
communal being and thereby possesses personality. The distinctive thing about man is not his reason, not his appreciation of beauty, not his various powers; no, man’s distinctiveness from other worldly creatures is that he was made for community and that he is a personality necessarily related to community. Man’s likeness to God consists in this ability to enter into community, since God Himself is community, being the Triune God. Because man is a communal being, he belongs to the spiritual order
perhaps the most “other-worldly” of all the great Fathers. In him, if anywhere, we should expect to find renunciation of the flesh. He came to Christianity from the background of neoPlatonism, and remained a neo-Platonist throughout his life. (This point, however, is debatable.) He was always inflamed with a typical 30. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, bk. I, ch. 27:1, A.N.F. vol. I, p. 353. 31. Tertullian, Against Marcion, bk. I, ch. 29, A.N.F. vol. III, p. 294. 32. Tertullian, On Resurrection of
opinions, we can use the dialogue to illustrate our point. It really makes no difference whether it was Plato who wrote the dialogue, or whether the conclusions are accepted only hypothetically. 3. Socrates begins the argument by asking Protagoras if virtue can be taught, and Protagoras assents, believing that it can. A number of questions are raised, which need not bother us, until Protagoras hesitates in identifying valor or courage with knowledge. He is willing to admit that the other virtues
conclusions, Socrates succeeds in convincing Protagoras that courage is, like the other virtues, a question of knowledge. 4. What is the importance of the above discussion for us? If we uncover two of the underlying presuppositions, the goal of our efforts will become clear. We maintain that Plato, in the above argument, has assumed two things: (a) that the good is an object, that is, that it exists as the “other” in what we have termed a natural relation; (b) that all men do in fact seek this