Clifford Goldstein: The Light and Fallen Humans
by Ervin Taylor
From his bully pulpit in the Adventist Review, my good friend Cliff Goldstein has again waxed philosophical in an article entitled, “The Room and the Light.”
Cliff says he visited the Hirschhorn Museum in Washington DC which stimulated him to recall the distinction the late 18th Century Enlightenment German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, made between phenomenon (the world as it appears to us) and the noumenon (the world as it actually is).
Cliff then proceeds to do a quick analysis of, and commentary on, the implications of the distinction between these two concepts. To quote Cliff, “the exhibit at the Hirshhorn showed how much of what’s out there comes to us interpreted by our mind, a fact that leads to the conundrum of trying to cross the divide between reality as it is filtered, distilled, modified, and maybe even polluted by our minds, and reality as it truly is, apart from our minds — what Kant call the Ding an Sich, the thing-in-itself (a concept that I’ve come to doubt is even feasible).”
At that point, Cliff introduces a favorite concept of Adventist conservatives and fundamentalists; ‘fallen humans.’ To quote Cliff: “As fallen humans seeking to understand reality, we have three strikes against us getting it right: 1) the limits that our minds place on how the world appears to us, 2) the subjectivity of how we interpret what does appear, and 3) the tiny slice of reality ever within our view” He earlier suggested, “Because we’re so limited in what we perceive, it’s silly to make grand assumptions about all that we don’t which is mostly everything, based on the little that we do.”
What is Cliff’s solution to this fundamental problem? We must, “live by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor 5:7), because sight is not only subjective, limited, and contingent — it’s temporal as well.”
What always amazes me about this approach is that those who use it never seem to apply the implications of the category of ‘fallen humans’ to themselves. I assume the reason for this is that unlike other ‘fallen humans,’ they (the ‘nonfallen humans’ or ‘exempted fallen humans’?) have acquired some special source of over-information and over-understanding not available to the rest of us ordinary fallen humans, which exempts them from the consequences of being fallen. They have what they call ‘special revelation’ that allows them to by-pass the limitations of the rest of us. What this point of view seems to ignore is they also are ‘fallen humans’ and their purported understanding of how the purported ‘special revelation’ works is also subjective and highly limited. Cliff says it’s, “silly to make grand assumptions,” and then proceeds to do that very thing in most of his writings which, among other things, sometimes turn into jihads against current mainstream science.
Next time I talk to Cliff, I think that I will suggest he should go back to major research university and get a Ph D., degree in philosophy. He would have no problem in such a program since he is a smart man. In a good graduate program, he might just learn something that will help him realize what the differences between his current theological phenomenon (classical Adventist theology) and a larger theological noumenon (theology informed by the real world). As a concluding aside, Cliff is always identified as the ‘Editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.’ I’ve always thought that truth in advertising would suggest that his title should be ‘Editor of the Institutionally-Sanctioned Official Adventist Theology Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.’