Gert Scobel: Der Ausweg aus dem Fliegenglas (book review)

Just today I finished reading a big German book, Gert Scobel’s Der Ausweg aus dem Fliegenglas: Wie wir Glauben und Vernunft in Einklang bringen können (Frankfurt a.M.: S. Fischer Verlag 2010, 462 pp.). It’s a book that I can warmly recommend, at least for those who are able to read German (the newly released paperback edition is very cheap). I do hope though that an English publisher will be so wise as to translate the book into English…

A short book review…

A very interesting book by a German philosopher and tv-personality, that digs into the old debate concerning the relationship between religion and reason. The title – “Showing the way out of the fly-bottle” – is an allusion to Wittgenstein, and this philosopher plays a key role in the book, since Scobel believes that every answer to one of the big questions in life needs to show its merits in the practice of everyday life.

Scobel sees religion and science as being cultural practices that are rooted in “faith” (“Glaube”), which Scobel considers to be a general attitude of trust. Both religion and science are built on an attitude of trust. Reason or rationality (“Vernunft”) is, Scobel admits, very difficult to define. Often, rationality is considered to be a set of rules according to which one proceeds. Thus both science and religion are rational enterprises, but their respective rationalities differ in that both follow different rules. Science is about finding things out about the world, religion is about salvation.

Though Scobel is generally very critical about (systematic) theology, which he considers an “Ägyptizismus” (a concept Scobel borrows from Nietzsche and that denotes a practice that attempts to “mummify” a certain practice so that it loses its fluidity). Yet, he argues towards the end of the book that theology has a valuable role to play in keeping an open mind towards what is possible, and in this sense is a critical enterprise that can counter the cultural scientism that has become the fly-bottle that has entrapped our culture. Religion and theology thus can function as pointing towards the opening(s) of the fly-bottle. The book ends with a beautiful reflection on the role of wisdom (a topic the author has dealt with in an earlier book), religious practices, and religious pluralism.

Scobel’s discussion partners are Wittgenstein and Nietzsche, but one also finds discussion of the thought of Kant, Hegel, Adorno, Bultmann, Ebeling, Charles Taylor and buddhist thinkers. The style of the book is essayistic, which means that it is often difficult to figure out what exactly the point is that the author is trying to make. However, it is clear that Scobel has worked in the US for a while, since he also makes use of insights of analytic philosophers, which makes this book not quite as German as one would expect.

I actually hope that this book will in due time be translated into English. It is an interesting, multi-layered book that contributes to the debate concerning the interaction of science, rationality, and religion by bridging Continental and Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophical traditions. I do hope, however, that an English translator will read critically, because the German edition is marred by quite a few typos and mistakes in names of authors, Greek spelling, etc.

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