Saturday, October 15, 2016

MacIntyre Chapter Two: Moral Disagreement Today

Chapter Two: Moral Disagreement Today and the Claims of Emotivism

Summary in the First Part

“The hypothesis which I wish to advance,” begins Alasdair MacIntyre in his seminal work After Virtue, “is that in the actual world which we inhabit, the language of morality is in . . . a state of grave disorder” (2) Moral grammar still exists, he says, but in Disney-esque imitation. “The language and the appearances of morality persist even though the integral substance [has been] fragmented and . . . destroyed” (5). It is a profound claim, coming as it does after several hundred years of Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment moral thinking. And yet “we are in a state so disastrous that there are no large remedies for it” (Ibid). If he is correct, then no one alive today has lived within a moral system that isn’t an imitation. If he is correct, then the guideposts of our personal and political lives could easily be misaligned or wrong--or evil. MacIntyre has made a big claim, and the believing of it is going to require big proof. But where to begin? MacIntyre chooses to trace the source from its effects.

Modern political discourse--dialogue in the give-and-take of our public square--is difficult for any democracy. It should be difficult. But what we discover in the last half-century are habitual problems that never resolve. They fester like sores on the state. Many call them incurable, but MacIntyre disagrees. And he dissects them carefully as a geneticist would a virus.

What he discovers is that these habitual and seemingly interminable debates have three characteristics. First, the arguments are reasonable and legitimate, but their products are of different kinds. Everybody’s logic works, but one talks rights while another talks universality; one talks equality, another, liberty. Second, arguments claim to be impersonal and reasonable and are presented that way. He outlines a relationship here between two kinds of moral appeals: one that depends on the personal context of the appeal and one that is impersonal and a-contextual, and so applies to everyone. The former would be, for example, a request “Do this.” And the context of the request is that I’m your parent or your boss. There is a context that gives force to the request. These habitual arguments sever any connection between the address and the context of the one addressed. Their criteria of acceptance is impersonal. Third, every qualifying debate has a pedigree. Arguments come out of traditions woven from a complex history of dialogue. You can’t simply jettison history for the sake of a solution.
“All those various concepts which inform our moral discourse were originally at home in larger totalities of theory and practice in which they enjoyed a role and function supplied by contexts of which they have now been deprived.” (10)

Now these three characteristics do not quite mix. The first characteristic is already problematic. The conclusions to competing-yet-valid arguments differ in kind, so how do we judge a victor? Our society has no way of doing so. We are left in a no-man’s-land of unreason. There is only the “clash of antagonistic wills” in a forever screaming match that shouts in public and in the uncertainty of our hearts. The second characteristic of these arguments, when combined with the first, further complicates. The second always appeals to the impersonal and the reasonable. But we’ve just seen that the first has no impersonal and reasonable way of sorting it all out. Therefore, the impersonal thing is just a show, a masquerade of reasonability. MacIntyre wonders why.

“What is it about rational argument which is so important that it is the nearly universal appearance assumed by those who engage in moral conflict? Does not this suggest that the practice of moral argument in our culture expresses at least an aspiration to be or to become rational in this area of our lives?” (9,10)  

Finally, with the third characteristic, we confront pluralism. Pluralism is praised. But what do we mean by pluralism? Is it “an ordered dialogue of intersecting viewpoints” or “an unharmonious melange of ill-assorted fragments”? He suspects the latter.

And so, having parsed out the elements of the debates that fester our public and private lives, MacIntyre asks how this data squares up with his initial hypothesis and finds that it squares up well. The language of morality has changed. We should be able to map this change and examine some earlier and different moral milieu. It is not going to be easy. The academic curriculum has long divided philosophy from history and treated philosophers like a-historic specimens on a petri dish. We should beware lest we make the same mistake going forward. But can there be a forward?

“You can go no further,” comes a voice. “It is impossible. For moral arguments--all moral arguments--are and always must be irresolvable.” (Here, as best as I can understand, MacIntyre has summoned a foil, much as a speaker will address “some might say” arguments in a speech after an important point has been made.) For now and for all times, for here and for everywhere, moral disagreements have no resolution. There is no going forward. And the voice is right, there is no going forward--not until this objection is defeated. And MacIntyre knows the name of its champion: emotivism.

MacIntrye, After Virtue: Preface and Chapter One

MacIntye, After Virtue: Outline of Chapter Two

Friday, October 14, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary: Chapter 3b

Chapter 3: Images of man and experiments

D. The life of dialogue

In a world saturated with technology’s whirring activity, human beings and their problems and situations – love, suffering, death – leave technicians speechless.  Human beings, after all, are so awash with mass-sensations that they no longer experience life.  Thus they nurse a deep anxiety.

Historically, the Enlightenment labored to produce an ‘I’ fit to lord over the world of things.  For Descartes and others, freedom’s expression was a resounding ‘I.’  But the ‘I’ cannot exist on its own without loneliness. Feuerbach, addressing this very problem, wrote, “The nature of man is contained only in community in the unity of man – a unity which however rests upon the reality of the distinction of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’.” (80)  It was a move mirrored in new evaluations of language where life does not make language, but is rather made by it.  The ‘I-Thou’ of language is the basis of self-consciousness and community with others.  Thus, subjectivity is intersubjectivity.

Martin Buber’s work I and Thou brought further clarified the linguistic element of human relations.  Buber created a continuum of possible human relationships, with the I-Thou on one side and the I-It on the other.  The ‘I’ of the latter is a subject who perceives and acts.  The ‘I’ of the latter pair is an ‘I’ who hears and dialogues.  It is a useful continuum when considering humanity within the roaring power of technological life.

The I-it, which asks of human beings, “What?” is absolutely disjunctive to the I-Thou, which asks of human beings, “Who?”  Technological life, which treats human beings as consumers, or numbers, producers, or liabilities, cannot comprehend the human life which mediates the whole being in an encounter with actual living.  Furthermore, within the Thou one may come to themselves and, now whole speak wholly. The I, on the other hand, offers relentless experiential dissection.

Buber developed an entire philosophy of religion from his linguistic personalism.  “In the ultimate grounds of our linguistic and spiritual life, God is the true ‘Thou’ to the true and enduring ‘I’ of man. . . . And if anyone avoids the names for the unnameable, because they are all misused, and addresses with his whole being the ‘Thou’ of his life, it is God that he addresses.” (83)  As well, the Thou, he said, was accessible only in the Thou of one’s neighbor.  Community, then, is the new-and-forever after locus of divine visitation.

Moltmann, though enthusiastic about Buber’s insights, asks if perhaps the ‘It’ has not been misunderstood.  He asks about the community of work, the everyday community, the life with others that is more concrete than the small, oath-bound communities of Buber’s vision.  Community, he say, requires “a common material agency and reliable institutions” the “necessary and good incarnations of the human into real life.” (84)  Modern society, he says, cannot be humanized through personalization.

“It is not possible directly to repersonalize relationships which have been divided up for a rational purpose. . . . The ‘life of dialogue’ can easily lead to a romantic flight from the reality of scientific and technological civilization.  Then it loses its humanizing and healing powers and survives in a petty corner for the criticism of culture.” (85)

Furthermore, he says, industrialization, instead of depersonalizing life, has allowed it the freedom to dialogue.  Thus, in condemning the technopolis of the I-It, Buber’s personalistic protest cuts away at the floor beneath it.  What is good about the community of ‘I’ and ‘Thou’ is that it reminds human beings of their own humanity with one another.  That, he says, should inform social and political work in the modern world.  “Men will then take to themselves the sorrow of a reality which is constantly alienated and materializing, and see the future under the image of its alteration so that it can be characterized as a human society.” (86)

E. The irony of the "man without qualities"

Rootlessness characterizes the order of the day in an industrial society.  For many, there is no ultimate realization of a universal human society.  Yet, irony has become a way forward for some; the irony of the ‘man without qualities.’

Ralf Dahrendorf, in his essay "Homo Sociologicus," described a model of human expression, a sociological model.  In this model, human beings both describe themselves and are described by a matrix of social roles: parent, child, teacher, citizen, bird watcher, female.  Indeed, there is no other way of describing who someone is, whether someone else or yourself, outside of these relationships.  These do not have to do with who someone is, however, but only what they do.  They are societal descriptions in which someone lives, descriptions that are horizons of the possible, each one molding the subject to the shape of a different expectation; a German professor and a farm laborer live on disparate tracks. Social roles are the process of socialization, molding the man and introducing him to the society of his peers.

Social roles bring dangers with them.  Their role play separates the human person into personalities, inner and outer in a division which begs the question: “Is [one] identical with the echo which his personal life has made among other people?” (88)  There is the danger too of so becoming one’s role that there is no humanity left save what is proscribed.[1] Again, as relationships multiply one upon the other, the self becomes a juggling act which, in critical cases, could result in a split of the personality itself.  Each role, each expectation, brings with it different claims.  In a whirl of competing demands, can one even speak of an ‘I’ at peace with itself and the world?  Moltmann asks, “Where is he a man, and where is he free to be man?  Or does he just not appear as himself and as ‘man’ in the functional activity of this pluralistic society? (90)  So is there a subject at all?

There is hope for a subject if passive imagination is considered.  To the clingy aggregate of social roles there is always one untouched addition.  This one addition, this passive imagination, allows a detachment, an even laughable point of view by which to critique all the other demanding selves.  This one addition is the free possibility of being different.  “By means of self-irony man can look out from the reality of his life and reflect, keep his negative independence from everything and toy with the quite different possibilities that he has.” (93)  So free and open can this ironic man without qualities be that Moltmann draws a line between it and Marx’s total man.  Both, he says, look beyond constricting societal walls to bare hills of human possibility.

Yet, Moltmann also warns this passive ironic of romantic dangers.  She struggles to acquire greater possibilities, but knows she can never belong to any of the roles which she acquires.  She develops an experimental attitude toward life and “lives the delusion that the thousand possibilities … are worth more than the one reality.” (93)  The external world, the real world, slides away within the foggy disconnect.  “This fascination is paid for … by  an increasing inability to identify oneself and to become flesh in practical life, and to love.” (94)  With no real place to stand, the passive ironic ironically is swept along by the active forces, plans and expectations against which irony was chosen in the first place.

Moltmann sets another contextual warning.  This time against a form of Christian identity.  He describes this identity as such:

If radical contextualization is what it is to be human, then how can one live from and in God?  If a man is but the result of his social relationships, then how can we understand him when,

“the transcendent God calls him and he receives the call of the word of God and trusts it, he releases himself at the same time from the enclosedness of the world and becomes free of the powers and laws of the world.  He becomes free of the mirror of his social activities and can stand over against himself.  He is then no longer the result of his social circumstances, but becomes Son of God and Lord of the World (Gogarten).” (95)

The creature of God lives in a different world than Dahrendorf’s homo sociologicus.  Roles do not define, but become tools which may be owned without owning.  They are no longer laws from jealous gods but simply roles; they are secularized.  The real does not dominate.  At the same time, the inner self is made sacred because it receives itself from God.  There is a place to stand outside the roles, a place for possibility.  Freedom is granted to the inner self so that there is no longer the cacophonous demands of society but, instead, the silent place of one’s decision.  Chiding Bultmann’s free decision of faith, Moltmann retorts, “The freedom of faith is indeed always specific in decisions, but decisions do not turn into decisiveness.” (96)  The problem with this point of decision which stands between the cut made between God and the world (for in the solitary, sacred place before God one takes refuge from the social demands of the secular) is that nothing gets done by it.  There is no inner ability in its position to make decisive choices.  There is no human incarnation for the sake of others.  Social reality is not changed.  It is a “Utopia of the negative.”  “This form of belief is always in danger of changing into the romantic attitude of the beautiful soul, which like a butterfly moving from flower to flower dashes past reality from one decision to another, without really and effectively taking corporate reality seriously.” (96) The passive ironic, untouched because she is without qualities even as she lives in a world of qualities, is aesthetically attractive.  But, as Moltmann concludes the segment, it arises from the experience of social powerlessness.

F. The adventurous heart

One option in the face of life’s increasing complexity is raw and direct action.  Instead of the patient labor of maintaining community networks upon networks; instead of political decisions made more and more obscure as awareness of the layered contexts are understood; instead of these, Alexander’s sword of naked decision is drawn from its sheath (Scheide) and with it the clarity of action (Entscheidung).

“Critically Utopian thought builds upon the relationships of the present which have become opaque the objective counter-image of a liberated-harmonious society. . . . Self critical scepticism withdraws from an oppressive social reality into the inner secret of the man without qualities, to satisfy those possibilities in unreality.  There is yet a third way, from multiplicity to simplicity, the mover from the thousand possibilities to the one necessary reality, which is the naked decision.” (97)

It is not the purpose of acting but that one has acted that clarifies.  In the teeth of battle, decisions are elementary, friend and foe are clearly manifest.  Moltmann identifies “the struggle for the existence of the nation” – war –with this very desire.  On the level of nation state, political and social factions, melt away and unify under the banner of patriotism.  Such decisiveness, says Moltmann, explains why facism held such attraction, despite having no plan of its own other than to act.

The will to power grants unity to the individual as well.  In the commitment to arms, all the manifold demands, roles and divisions of the self stitch together.  Existence is one, a fulcrum between the scales of living and dying.  “Deliverance from the uncertainty in which one does not know what one is there fore, lies in total self-sacrifice.” (100)

The best preparation for a life of self-sacrifice is the destruction of humanistic education.  Contempt today for the ‘ivory tower’ universities, the desire of some to hitch the intellect to a certain powerful politic, or even the wholesale embrace of anarchy: all of these, he says, is a treason of intellect against intellect.

Politically, such a life is paved by abolishing parliamentary procedure and bureaucratic process.  The Utopia of the bourgeoisie “consists  in the hope that one could transmute the decisive battle into a continuous parliamentary debate, and put it off by delay.  The opposite to discussion is dictatorship…” (101)  In times of war, there is no need for congressional debates, but only kill or be-killed.  The dictatorship offers seductively a simple, naked decision.  Therefore, dictatorships thrive in existential politics.

Just as the longing for decision is met by secular categories of friend and enemy, that same longing is met by ideas of apocalypse in religious sects and churches.  In the looming shadow of the end, faith is the absolute decision made on the basis of an absolute call; both, notes Moltmann, beyond verification by any objective standard.  “One can only take an attitude to them without reference to reasons and proofs.” (103)  Faith is the ultimate risk, a leap without evidence.  “It is not the credibility of its object that is evidence for [faith], but one’s own decisive commitment, in which man comes to himself.” (103)  Yet, he asks, without a credible object, does one really have the Christian faith?

Brushing away complexity, responsibility and the political and social demands of responsible human living by means of violence and the act only brushes them away.  It does not balance the need for society.  Furthermore, the very thing that makes decisiveness so decisive is its context against the daily background of complexity.  Without needs, demands, and deadlines, there is no way of talking about decision.  The two are related in a negative circularity.

The same circularity appears in religious faith.  The existential leap, too, is only an antithesis against the thesis of the church of historic confession and liturgical and missiological praxis.  The existential leap has no real substance of its own; inexpressibility is no foundation.  “Christian faith is indissolubly linked with historical recollection of the Christ-event and with eschatological hope in the future of Christ, and so is itself a historical decision.” (104)  The call of the gospel does not bow him to crisis in a last day, but, rather, “opens to him new possibilities of altering himself and his circumstances.  It puts him in the time of love, which trusts in the possibility of conversion of the ‘enemy’, because it hopes in him, and therefore does not kill or damn him, but tries to help him to life.” (104)  Neither Modern society nor the Christian faith will find a solution in the naked friend-foe decision.  Rather, both should adhere to the better way, loving and rational dialogue with others.

[1] Heidegger’s Das-Man

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary: Chapter 3a

Chapter 3: Images of man and experiments

[Note: This chapter could be an examination and critique of high-profile concrete utopias for the anthropological models they represent.]

Having examined environmental factors that affect human anxieties and hopes, Moltmann now turns to ask about anthropological models that people employ to understand the self.  He notes, too, that models always contain a salvific program for wholeness and liberation.  Stretched over a Christian schema of creation, fall and restoration, modern anthropologies beget images of human identity, alienation and the restoration of true character.  Some, of course, dismiss such hope as childish fantasy and set themselves to making use only of the tools at hand.  Yet, these ignore the truth that human beings cobble their own futures, improving or condemning themselves.  To ignore this is to treat human persons like lab specimens and not like creatures who both interrogate themselves and live by the results of such interrogation.  Therefore, in studying anthropological models, care should be taken to realize that a kerygma always hides under the surface of so-called objectivity.

A. The Utopia of the total man

Karl Marx (1818-1883) was the first to ask of capitalist industrial society what sort of anthropology it made.  “What men are,” he reasoned, “coincides with what they produce and with how they produce.” (Marx) “There is no nature of man which precedes the existence of man; on the contrary man is what he makes of himself.  He is the producer and product of his work.”(48)  What does capitalism, then, mean when it makes of human beings consumers?  What does it say of human beings when their work is the narrowest of contributions upon an industrial or technological assembly line?  What does it mean for the nature of humanity when its labor is sold for the purposes of others?  “Man has lost his true nature and become alien to himself.”(49)  Thus, human beings must win back their identities.

Moltmann diagrams the threefold matrix of relationships from which Marx assembles his thoroughly secular doctrine of alienation.

(1) The product of work is an alien object which belongs to someone else.  This is a consequence of capitalism.

(2) The work itself is not determined by the worker but by those who own the means of production.  This is a consequence of industrial methods of production and is, essentially, the incarnation of a new class structure which calls one’s job title who one is.

(3) The new class structure created by (1) and (2) narrow the range of possibility capable of human beings to one thing: having.  “Private property has made us so stupid and partial that an object is only ours when we have it.” (Marx)

Having listed these, Moltmann attacks them with the same critique brought against all those who would deny any hope to anthropology.  He teases the kerygma of harmony and peace, the concept of totality, from underneath Marx’s industrial protestations.  Marx, he says, always ascribed to the romantic ideal of the total man.  If alienation is best revealed in the proletariat, then the liberation of the proletariat would begin a realization of the ideal of humanity.  Private ownership of the means of production allows the hitherto alienated to enjoy the production of their labor.  Specialization is removed through cross-training, so that each person has multiple abilities, “each can become accomplished in any branch [of activity] he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow.” (Marx)  With the overthrow of capitalist industrial models, the society of having will be replaced by a “free association of individuals”, “the [concrete] Utopia of a society of authentic human existence.” (53)

Though not endorsing Marxism, Moltmann goes on to say that some course of action must be taken to reduce misery and raise the humanity of society.  “It is therefore entirely to the point to examine the Utopia of the total man critically, without thereby claiming to be examining the whole of Marxism.” (54)  What he finds is that Marx’s program for the elimination of alienation is doomed to failure because it never addresses anything but bourgeois alienation.  It never addresses the existential alienation forever present in humanity itself.  Human programs, he concludes, can never achieve the messianic vision of the total man.  Human history cannot free itself from its own historicity.  The failure of attempts to do so is obvious when it is realized that human beings are never identical with themselves.  If they could be brought into such an identical relationship with themselves and with nature, he would be infinite (re: Moltmann’s criticism of “direct encounter” in the introduction to Chapter 1). This is not to condone alienation, but to say that Marx’s programmatic method cannot provide a satisfactory solution.  Marx’s atheism, together with Feuerbach, holds that human beings are their own highest being; there is no need for humble subordination before a divine power.  Except this usurpation, says Moltmann, merely places a human rump in the seat of power, it does not abolish power altogether.  “That which previously had an authoritarian effect by the authority of the absolute will now become totalitarian in the claim to totality of the total society and of its total man.” (56)  The Party is God.  The Party is now the context of all meaning.  Everyone involved knows this to be a lie, “Man is … not a being in a species, like the animal.” (57)  History, rather, open and uncompleted with its possibilities for humanization and freedom, is the species to which human beings belong.

“The hope for the future which the Christian faith holds is not the ‘solution of the riddle of history’ in a unity of being of man, nature, and God, but a new creation of man in his world, in which the contradictions of the present are raised to a new and lasting response to God. . . . Christian hope is directed not toward the ‘total man’, but towards the ‘new man’.”(57)

Furthermore, “It is not as the authority of authorities that God’s reality is experienced, but as the power of the release of the bound and the power of the future for the hopeless.” (57)  Faith in the crucified Lord brings this-worldly solidarity with the alienated, but it never forgets the future of God, and so is always able to hope, and even in darkness.  The missionary call of God’s future enervates those tempted to a religious contentment with the present, yet the grace of God’s identification does not thus deny concrete circumstances.  Christianity challenges Marxism with the narrow limits of its anthropological definition.  Where is the humanity?  Marx’s challenge to Christians, says Moltmann, is whether they do, in fact, forget the social and political consequences of their confession.  Do you, too, forget your fellows?  Christianity and Marxism, he suggests, each profit from the question of the other.

“The criticism of the ‘Utopia of the total man’ which we have set out here is not intended to assist in a rejection of Marxism, but to forward its release to be itself, and to achieve the humanity which is contained in its humanistic traditions, but is also concealed by these." (59)

B. The Revolution from the Right

The world of the bourgeoisie was an idyllic dream.  Its apex position in the universe, gained through increasing industrialization, is now threatened by conflicts resulting from that same industrial process.  The economic power of the middle classes has grown inversely with their political power.  Thus, they are insecure and, even while hating themselves for doing it, purchase security at the cost of their own social position.  The bourgeois embraces its own protest.

“While the bourgeois world was originally committed to a universal society of the citizens of the world … the reaction against the international involvement and responsibilities of the modern world leads men to creep back into the nest which is called in Germany ‘holy fatherland’ or in America ‘God and my country.” (65)

The sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies gave such desire a voice in his book, Community and Society (1887).

In Community and Society, Tönnies outlines two basic possibilities human social life: community and society.  The former is a living thing, a lasting thing, bound together by natural processes: marriage, family, nation.  The latter, society, is a mechanical aggregate bound ideologically but not naturally together.  Societies unite for a purpose, for some practical advantage in which investment yields return.  They are limited constructions, and require from their members only what is needed.  Tönnies’ prejudice against the latter is no secret.  His dialectic can be forced onto society from any vantage point, and always the original community of genuineness begets a society of organization; culture over and against civilization.  What is needed, then, is a restoration of community the rootless, uncreative alienation of society.  Ironically, “A ‘restored’ community is a man-made community, and lacks all that which is praised as constituting its natural growth” (62)

Moltmann then traces the “community” idea of “people, nation and fatherland” in the political transitions of Germany, from the First World War, through the period of the Weimar democracy and into Hitler’s Reich.  In all of these, he identifies a “folk community” of the radical right, including the Evangelical church, which understood itself to be the protector of true community.  “’The People” in opposition to all industrialization:  Community vs. Society.  History is on the side of the right, this Revolution from the Right, “unfulfilled history is stores up in the village against the big city.” (64)  The state is the battleground, and, once in power, the Right will use the state to bring freedom.  The middle-class declaration that faith is a private matter now declares a new and altogether patriotic religion, a “hallowing of the national character by God” becoming a “substitution for God of the idol of the nation, to which the pious due of patriotism was owed." (66). Minorities and outcasts need not convert.

“What,” asks Moltmann, “does the Crucified Jesus to do with the gods of the fatherland?” (67)  He makes it plain that Christianity names no national religion, nor can it without denying its own nature.  Thus:

“Christians who find the identity of their Christian faith in the crucified Jesus are bound to be aware that they form strangers in their own nation and in their own people.  This is the price of their freedom.  Having this freedom they will not despise their own country, but support the institutions and movements which lead to greater democratic and social freedom. . . . The religion of anxiety can only be effectively overcome by the religion of freedom.” (67)

C. The law of the ideal man

Moltmann, having examined the concrete utopias arising from class and tradition, turns to examine another ideology existing within the legal system of nations: the lawful Citizen (Moltmann uses just ‘man’, but ‘Citizen’ is preferred for the purpose of this summary).  The Citizen, as a projection of the communal humanity of a people, is the yard stick of fairness and justice.  It is flexible in definition, its justice changing only so quickly as migrating demographics will allow.  No one person enjoys a private ideal.  The Citizen is an amalgam of all.  “Even the modern ‘pluralistic’ society exists only on the basis of a conformity attained through agreement on what is in common.” (68)  Yet, asks Moltmann, when each nation’s ideal Citizen is considered alone, does it withstand the test of humanity?  Is each paragon of legal justice just?  Is a truly valid legal ordinance even possible?

“Is there a higher court of appeal, before which the law in force must be justified, or can anything count as law which has been established by agreement?  Can men come to agree on just any image of man they like, or is there (at least in theory) a humanity on which these images of man must be patterned in different societies?  And if anything like this higher court of appeal exists, who is responsible for this court of higher responsibility, and who is authorized to put what it says into words?” (69)

Moltmann then lists a few legal examples taken from German reforms in the early 1970s.  These include statements on marital monogamy, legal protections for human life vs. any individual’s decision to die and the proscription of general lawfulness.  His purpose in listing these reforms is to demonstrate that underneath such legal categories exists a central standard of moral self-determination, a standard which rests in pure anthropology and not legal definition.  “Moral self-determination is asserted to be an elementary part of the constitution of man.” (70)  Aha!  An a priori kernel of free and responsible decision making constituting an idealized (legalized) image of man.

Yet, what of the social human being?  Can we really isolate out the “I”, cut away all interconnections, and hang justice upon the remainder?  Such abstraction, Moltmann maintains, is the assumption behind verdicts which emphasize punishment-for-retribution rather than, he says, punishment-for-resocialization.  (How far, I wonder, does this criticism parallel Moltmann’s construction of a purely social model of the Trinity in protest against the authoritarian (monotheistic) Trinity of the ‘Wholly Other’ postulated by Karl Barth?)

And what about objective moral law?  Didn’t the Third Reich exploit the changing ideology of the Citizen in order to subject justice itself to the sovereign control of their Führer?  “Is there … a ‘nature of man’ which can be used as a criterion of the rights of citizens in all societies? … Who decides what belongs to it and what does not?” (72)  Moltmann begins tracing the historical basis of natural law.

His search ends with the Stoic understanding of the one-to-one relationship between the laws of the State and the logos of God.  The divine order of being is the measure of the moral order.  “Not everything is right therefore which is decided upon by the agreement of the citizens, but only that which corresponds to the nature of man, and to the divine order of being.” (73) 

Moltmann’s judgment is that both the legislative ideas of human nature and of a divinely sanctioned moral law are pleasant ideals with no real connection to the historic existence of human beings.  Natural law, or other labels for sole and authoritative legal principles, can be interpreted to any end for the advantage of the powerful.  Human beings are constantly messing with what is biological about themselves; human biology is not a mirror for essence.  Furthermore, natural law itself can be shown by research to have changed over time.  Unfortunately, the cry for proper governance cannot be shirked.  Some agreed-upon definition of the lawful Citizen is required for legal systems to exist.

Moltmann attempts to find a solution through invocation of a future hope for humanity.  “The contents [of the agreed definition of moral law and human nature] may be historically conditioned and changeable, but the intention which is contained in it is unconditioned and invariable.” (74)  The future is a powerful idea in the moral purposes of any civilization.  Human beings do aim at ‘future rights’ as they anticipate the development of their common life.  It is the “unavoidable task of altering the world, of healing it, of bettering it, of making it more worthy of man and more worth living in, that can be regarded as the norm of justice.” (75)  Approaching questions of justice from this perspective, he says, removes ideological fantasy and replaces it with a “concrete Utopia of the rights of man and to a legal system which is intended for citizens of the world.” (75)

Christian churches are partly to blame for clinging to the ideology of the lawful Citizen.  They have baptized legal systems with categories of divine law and the God of law.  Such a God, however, is a punishing, authoritarian judge handing down punishment upon sinners and the guilty of the world.  That is why, he says, the religious typically support the death penalty.  It is not a leap made necessary by the Bible.

The God of the Bible, says Moltmann, is a God of freedom.  “Righteousness in respect of the covenant is founded on the free self-determination of God and on his promise of fidelity, in which he gives sureties for the future of his people.” (76)  (If developments from Moltmann’s Crucified God can be brought to bear, his meaning becomes a little clearer.  God himself suffered his own punishment in the surrender to death of the Son and in the giving over of the Son to death by the Father.  There is simply no judgment left, but only the life-giving benefits of the resurrection through the Spirit of the Crucified.  This is why Moltmann can say, “It [God’s righteous law] demands nothing therefore that it has not itself previously given.” (76) which can only be an allusion to Augustine’s glorious aphorism: “Command what you will, Lord, and then give what you command.”)

Christians should then cease equating national law with divine retribution, and should, instead, attempt to encode love into the fabric of their national legal character.  Love, he writes, is found in seeking the rights of one’s neighbor. “Love, as a category of law, does not give any man up, but has regard for his possibilities, including the as yet unrealized possibilities God has for him.” (77)  what is needed, he continues, is an understanding of legal punishment which, rather than further institutionalizing a lex talionis, seeks to meet evil with good and thus usher in a better world.

“The ‘law of the ideal man’ can easily change into inhuman demands.  It seems to make more sense to give practical expression to hope for really human men by means of love for other men, and especially by love for guilty man.” (78)

(This reviewer has to wonder if there is not the hint of a post-millennial eschatology of the Kingdom of God in Moltmann’s enthusiasm for love as a national category of law.  For, after all, Moltmann himself has said that one’s eschatology is one’s politics and vice versa.) 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

MacIntyre Chapter Two: The Outline

The summary of MacIntyre's second chapter has been a beast. I keep reading and re-reading it. But I have finally made some progress. The result is too long to post in one entry. So here is my outline. I will post the first and second parts of the summary of chapter two later.
My Outline

The Nature of Moral Disagreement

I. Present public debates about moral issues seem interminable.
     A. Qualifying debates display three characteristics:
          1. Every argument is valid--but in different ways.
          2. Every argument purports to be an impersonal, rational argument.
               a. Assent is won by two moves:
                    1. The context of the argument supplies the reason for agreement.
                    2. The reason is a-contextual, and so assumes third-party grounds for assent.
          3. Every argument derives from various historical origins
              a. The two if-then statements
               1. IF the language of morality has passed from order to disorder,
                   THEN the meaning of it technical terms will have demonstrably changed.
               2. IF the characteristics of our moral discourse are symptoms of a moral disorder,
                   THEN we should be able to construct a timeline to examine moral arguments
                    at an earlier stage.

The Claims of Emotivism

II. It is always and everywhere the case: moral arguments by nature cannot be resolved.
     A. Emotivism is the current, philosophical representative of this view
          Emotivism is "nothing but" thinking that says agreement on moral questions cannot be secured by any rational method.
          1. It fails because
               a. It cannot define its own variables (in this case "the good") or escape circularity
               b. It is an oversimplification, combining two kinds of expression which define themselves by the way they contrast.
                    1. Expressions of personal preference; meaning is dependent on context.
                    2. Evaluative expressions (which include morals ones); meaning doesn't depend on context.
               c. It is unclear about whether it defines meaning or use.
     B. Intuitionism was the origin of Emotivism
          1. G E. Moore's Principia Ethica claimed that
               a. "Good" is an property instantly identifiable by the intuition and impervious to proof or disproof
               b. A "right" action is one that produces the most good
               c. Friendship and contemplation of the beautiful is the sole justification of human action
          2. Criticisms of Intuitionism
               a. It's three points are inconsistent with and do not require each other
               b. All three are defective

"Moore's followers had behaved as though their disagreements over what is good were being settled by an appeal to an objective and impersonal criterion; but in fact, the stronger and psychologically more adroit will was prevailing" (17).

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary: Chapter 2

Chapter 2: Humanism in an industrial society

(Read Chapter One)

A. ‘He who rides on the tiger can no longer get off it’

In the last chapter, Moltmann asked where the question of “Who am I?” arose in the context of the exterior world. Now, however, that world has changed. “We now come,” he writes, “to the specific social and political problems of humanity in present-day industrial society” (22).  In this context, it is no longer the naturally given circumstances of human life which have been true in every age, but the surrounding self-made environment, new to this age, in which the question is asked. In this new world it is not as if nature’s domination has been thrown off and freedom attained by industrialization. Rather, “technologies and bureaucracies arise which have a similar anonymously concealed power to make mankind dependent and powerless”(23).  It is not as if people who before did not belong to any environment now do. Rather, even though the environment is a human construct, it is no more human than before. Human beings are aliens in a world of their own making. From this situation two problems arise:

(a) a pan-human technological consciousness unique to history;
(b) a growing suspicion about the absolute goodness of the unrestrained growth of technological power.

In the first case, the material of technology has become so fused with human awareness that it is hard to know where one ends or begins. Still, the resulting cyborg race is not wholly unfamiliar. “Man is conscious of being a part of a larger unity. But this interplay between the ‘I’ and the larger context has not yet produced a human form”(24).  We are aware of all people as a whole, the world is our community, yet the immensity of human need overwhelms individual compassion. “Everyone is aware of more misery than he can alter, for the chances of active intervention are limited”(Ibid).  Psychoses of guilt and powerlessness are the result.

Then, of course, there is the Enlightenment holdover of belief in the essential goodness of expanding technological achievement and power. What, however, is the point? Now that we can satisfy every need and desire, what is the basis for this continued sophistication which looks more and more like fanatical fatalism every day? Has the myth of progress eclipsed the concrete needs of human life? Do we even have the legislative sophistication or the collective ability to stop the works and consider our options? “The God of the machine, who promised everything to everyone, seems now like an evil spirit, who draws everything toward destruction”(26).

What then, given the changes of human definition and the inertia of industry, can be done to humanize the whole and remove the danger of self-destruction that is everywhere a possibility?

B. The ‘spectre of industrial society’ and the longing for the ‘whole life’

In light of the above situation, humanity divides into two ghostly armies: the spectre of the industrial employee and the spectre of the luddite exorcist. In one exists the religion of emancipation, in the other the religious desire for security. The former Moltmann calls “capitalist society”, “bourgeois society” or “technocracy.”[1] The latter he names, “nationalism,” “fascism,” “anarchism” or “left-wing radicalism.” Such multiplication of labels illustrates an inability to see the whole context. “The unlimited possibilities of technical society have from the beginning evoked in the human consciousness optimistic enthusiasm as well as images of apocalyptic terror.” Moltmann intends to discuss them in that order: industrial hope and desperate anxiety; and to end with “individual elements in the longing for the whole life” (28).

C. The everlasting kingdom of peace

Industrialization has seized upon the ancient expectation of a Messianic kingdom of peace and made it its own. The economic state, coming on the heels of states religious and political, is a final stage of political and social peace and communal blessing. Permanent technological expansion releases humanity from the bonds of tradition and the need for transcendence. The secular city is the fulfillment of Christian hope.

“The secular city, in which the knowledge of skills of mankind are concentrated today, and in which the new urban life is lived, is a foreshadowing of the City of God in heaven. As the heavenly City of God, according to the old prophecy, has no temple, so the modern megalopolis is already religionless and is inhabited by men come of age.”(30)

D. The shelter in the end of the world

Industrialization means thus: nature becomes a raw material; “Men live without experiencing life, and so feelings of coldness and poverty of experience become mass phenomena.”(31) “Instead of putting the stamp of humanity upon his own nature, he becomes nothing more than the imprint of his occupation or of his specialized knowledge” (32).  Needless to say, not everyone greets secularism with open arms. And, in the face of it, kill or be killed, the creative maelstrom of chaos becomes a legitimate option of protest. “If this world is torn down, the new birth will be forced on” (34).[2]

Interestingly enough, the destructive, apocalyptic protest against industrialization comes not from the lower classes but from the middle-class bourgeoisie. Moltmann asks why this is so, and finds the answer not in economics but in morals. The pantheism of the secular city which identifies God and the world removes, he says, surprise and freedom. The “rationalized cosmos of connections, relationships and dependencies” which is the secular city has no room for human variety. No one may truly have themselves; each individual is too necessary within the infinite dependencies which make up the modern industrial machine.[3] Homogeneous humanity is needed for continued industrial process.

“Because men have clearly demanded too much of this modern industrial world, and expected from it a heaven of self-realization, the disappointment hinted at, which has already often been experienced, changes into an experience of this world as a hell of self-alienation.”(36)

Moltmann concludes his diagnosis by recommending that work be denied its divinity and that human beings decry further idolatry. The present situation must be bluntly accepted. This world is what it is, a tug-of-war between humanity and inhumanity. What is needed, he says, is “a transcendental support for hope … as a basis for a ‘hope against hope’, and a hope against the disappointments of life on earth” (36).  This support, or basis for hope, “is the critical ‘yes’ response of love, which goes beyond the absolute ‘yes’ of shallow enthusiasm.” It is the basis for real cultural criticism and change, because it arises from suffering, from the disconnect between what is and what could be, from the awareness of a larger possibility beyond the borderlands of actual human relationships.[4] This sort of disconnect occurs historically in three types, from which Moltmann claims human rights are born within industrial society. These are: social romanticism, ‘inward emigration’, and Utopian consciousness. What follows is a treatment of each.

E. Social romanticism

Social romanticism is the memory of the good ole’ days. Times change so fast that people can no longer understand them. New situations are resisted without resistance. “[Social romanticism] just sanctions them by its powerless dreams of yesterday” (37).  Underneath its posture, however, is a romantic belief in the secret of origin and the existence of an organic world of historical dimension. Moltmann correlates social and political Romanticism. Both appear in times of crisis, but provide only emotional answers for rational needs. God, he writes, does not sanction mythologies of family and fatherland, but offers, instead, the crucified Christ.

F. Inward emigration

“By inward emigration we understand a retreat of the educated intellect from circumstances which are deplored as being mindless” (39).[5] Outer society is abandoned for a secret region of inner peace. Politics and economics are unclean and subordinate to the holy pursuits of inner, true humanity. Moltmann brings two criticisms to bear upon this attitude. First, addressing the émigré love of high culture, Moltmann observes that such an attitude parasitically feeds upon the very world process and politic which it despises. Second, measuring the distance traced between the inward émigré and everyday life, he finds a vacuum of power. The criticisms of the hearth never effect the institutions of the street, thus denying society the very minds and ideas that could ultimately humanize it. “But should not authentic Christian belief prepare rather for the incarnation of the human in inhuman circumstances, even if this means denying oneself and taking up one’s cross?”(41)

G. The Utopian consciousness

Moltmann does not use “utopia” pejoratively. What he does is describe two types of utopianism: social utopias and concrete utopias, a method borrowed from neo-Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch. The difference between these utopias manifests in their relationship to the real. Social utopias do not relate to society past or present, but “to a future life of society which is not yet there” (42).  On the other hand, concrete utopias address objectively real possibilities. Consequently, the latter, “offer to the present the future it desires as a real possibility. They do not totally embody the present ‘system’, but rather uncover the future with which this present is already pregnant” (Ibid).  Humanity needs the real criticism made available by concrete utopias, even if larger world evils can be addressed only one problem at a time. What Moltmann likes most of all about concrete utopias, however, is the open definition of society within their suppositions.

“The freedom of man, if it is understood as creative freedom, has its area always in the realm of the possible, and in the future which the present opens up ahead. Where one of these elements, freedom, possibility or future, is given up, the others too fall away. Concrete Utopian thinking is therefore indispensable for the freedom and humanity of mankind.” (43)

A concrete utopia casts out beyond present limitations. It critiques the way things are, draws human hopes and drives human beings forward into the unknown and unreal. Concrete Utopias mediate between reality and otherworldliness.

Moltmann finds in the parallelism of otherworldly and concrete exemplified by the strategy of Concrete Utopianism a suitable place for beginning discussion of the kingdom of God. “The basis of Christian hope,” he writes, “lies in faith in the crucified Son of Man. It is in him that the wholly other kingdom of God has set foot on earth.” Consequently, it exhibits in the person of Jesus Christ the before-mentioned parallelism. It is both “hidden under the cross” (Luther), becoming visible only in times of crisis, temptation and struggle, and incarnates itself as love “in those possibilities which one has or finds.”(44) He then ends his chapter with a display of rhetorical dialectic upon the theme:

“This love grips this life as if it were everything, and yet at the same time knows that that which is not all there is. It denies itself as passionately as if with death everything were over, and yet it hopes in the resurrection of the dead. It finds God in the concrete, and yet it knows that everything concrete is transcended by God.”(45)


[1] “Technopolis [signifies] the fusion of technological and religious components into the base on which a new cultural style has appeared. . . . Technopolis represents a new species of human community.” Harvey Cox. The Secular City. (New York: MacMillan, 1965): 5-6.

[2] In the article, “Apocalyptic Terrorism and the New World Order”, Moltmann argues that Sept. 11, 2001 represented a collision of eschatological ideas. “This was the attack of the terrorist ending of the world on the [Western] global perfection of world history.” Moltmann lists three essential conditions for modernization developed in the West: (1) separation of religious community and civil society; (2) recognition of freedom of worship; (3) recognition of the human rights of women. He therefore believes that Islamic fundamentalism forms the most serious threat to the world today because it protests against all three conditions, unifying as it does church and state, religion and culture, and religion and economy.

[3] One of the bases of human insecurity in society today, says Moltmann, is a crisis of hope. The social roles of society leave youth no room for “finding oneself or one’s identity in them....Instead of finding himself, man becomes a representative for something else – a company, an administration, or a corporation.” Human Identity in Christian Faith Raymond Fred West Memorial Lectures on Immortality (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974): 3..

[4] God’s call, which creates suffering, is then a transcendental: “We too are unfinished women and men, poised to become what we are. Our restless self-questioning is not derived from some innate human property, an inherent cor inquietum or an immanental “openness to the world” within us, but instead arises from the charge and commission of God, the promissio inquieta, the eschatological “openness to the world ahead of us” which then beckons and disturbs the human consciousness.” G. Clarke Chapman, “On Being Human: Moltmann’s Anthropology of Hope” Asbury Theological Journal Vol. 55 No. 1 (Spring, 2000): 71.

[5] Cf. Jürgen Moltmann, God for a Secular Society (Fortress, 1999): 41-42.

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Note from Class: Sing, O Creation, to the Lord!

Everything begins with the Greeks. The Greeks thought about everything worth thinking about. They invented theater, democracy, philosophy, and the Olympic games. They wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey. So it is no surprise that they thought about music.

The story is told that one morning, Pythagoras, a Greek mathematician and philosopher, was walking by a blacksmith's shop. Inside, the blacksmiths were beating glowing iron into shapes with hammers. Their ringing blows could be heard from the street. And Pythagoras noticed that the sound was different when they used a larger or smaller hammer. He was intrigued.

Pythagoras believed that all things could be described mathematically. Mathematics is, he said, a hidden and divine language. And so, he worked out the mathematical relationships (called intervals) between musical sounds.

Pythagoras also taught that each planet makes a sound in its orbit, a sound so beautiful that human beings cannot hear it. These sounds in harmony govern all nature, he said. He called it the musica mundana, the "music of the spheres". And thanks to his discovery of the math behind the music, people could now hear these sounds and write songs based on its perfect ratios.

Finally, Pythagoras claimed the planetary harmonies could cure mental and physical illness. Music affects your health, he said. He encouraged his students to purify their souls by listening to stringed music. (He loved the stringed lyre. And did I mention that he ran a school?) And he warned them not to defile their ears with flutes or cymbals. At his school, certain songs began and ended each day. Morning music chased away sleepiness and inspired action. Evening music was soothing and relaxing.

I do not know how it happened. Perhaps Pythagoras's musical theory was so influential that it just survived over nearly a thousand years. But, somehow, in the sixth century AD, we find Pythagoras's ratios alive and well in a new kind of song called plainchant (also called Gregorian chant, after Pope St. Gregory the Great).

The origins of plainchant are practical. Monks and nuns who chanted the psalms and other religious verses together each day eventually sang their way along. Singing makes it easier to stay together in a group, and singing pours the sacred in. Human beings are singing creatures.

Plainchant used Pythagoras's intervals. As singers opened their mouths in praise, they sang the music of the spheres. They sang, if you will, on behalf of and using the language of all creation. They sang to their creator. And they would have believed, with Pythagoras, that music heals its hearers. And so they sang for the healing of the nations as well. They sang as priests before God for the world. They sang for love of God and of neighbor.

I'm fascinated by this. And what fascinates me is not wholly the music of it or the theology of it. I am also fascinated by the model it demonstrates of how the best science of the day--Pythagoras's mathematical ratios--was picked up and made a part of the living work of the church. These monks and nuns took everything they had, including the best model of music that they knew, and made it into a beautiful sacrifice of praise.

In so doing, they invented the Western musical tradition we enjoy today. They were the first to write down musical pitches onto a staff, for example. Their monophonic chant paved the way for the firework explosion of polyphony that was to come. And they trained the ears of the culture for ever-more-beautiful, subtle, and expressive sounds.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Jürgen Moltmann's Man: Summary : Author's Preface & Chapter 1

Author's Preface

Moltmann begins his book Man with a statement of intent. He means to "portray what it is to be human." But what is man? "Nothing less is meant by the key-word `man'," he writes, "than the public history of men's questioning and seeking, of their failures and humiliations."

But when do we start asking such questions? Where are the answers found, and how can they be evaluated? How can he hope to even begin such a task, especially since there is not place of objectivity since he himself is a man? Such presumption, he continues, is worth it because he, "sees in God the worth of the question-able being which we all are, and therefore sees theology as providing the theme for anthropology."[1]

Moltmann says that it is important to "explore ways for man to become man," because humanity itself is changed by its coming into self-knowledge. [2] There is a value, he says, in the questioning; this against temptations to skepticism. The questioning relationship between God and man, a relationship of such closeness that, "a book about `Man' will inevitably slip into being a book about God," means skeptical limitations are undone. It "makes much open to question which we regard as unquestionable and obvious, and much else again full of hope which we regard as hopeless.[3]

Chapter 1: What is man?

Who are we? Where do I stand myself?

The question “Who am I?” arises from every encounter a human being has with the exterior world, and indeed, from even his own consciousness. He must ask the question, for he must live, yet there is no ‘getting behind’ the self for proper observation. The answer dwells, then, in hypothetical infinity. Yet, if it wasn’t so, then the self would die, for “as we experience being human, we experience it as a question, as freedom and as openness.” Being human, then, “is an experiment in which we ourselves are taking part and are at risk”(2).  Observation will give no answer. At the same time, there can be no direct encounter. The solution cannot be sought through a total unveiling of the mystery of who we are. Rather, it exists upon a balance between mystery and revelation; “between the fundamental self-questioning of man and the answer by means of which he takes control of himself”(3).  The self is a limit and an openness, both of which must be respected.

This is true socially, politically, historically as well as individually.[4] Historical answers, especially when they are temporally successful, offer both a useful basis for social life and openness toward future fulfillment. Even in this context, however, no real answer to the question “Who am I?” can find a solution. Yet, there is an avenue available through comparison with others.

A. The question arises from the comparison of man with the animals

Biological anthropology begins when the question “Who am I?” is sought by comparison of human beings with animal life. Such a comparison leads to one certain result: human beings are strangers in the world.[5] Unlike the environmental and instinctive ‘fit’ animals display, human beings are a species displaced upon the globe. “His task,” writes Moltmann, “is to find what his nature is”(5). Education is how human beings live in their environment, and that is the source of imagination, creativity, culture and, above all, language. “He is in a very real sense both a creator and the creation of his language. He catches in the net of language a world which is open to him and overflowing with stimuli”(7).[6] Through reason, and through action, human beings set themselves apart from the animal world for freedom.[7] Still, the question is not exhausted, but moves on to other comparisons.

B. The question arises from the comparison of men with other men

Cultural anthropology begins when the question “Who am I?” is sought by comparison of human beings with one another in the context of families, tribes, and nations.  Moltmann contrasts two historical strategies in which human beings have sought to live together.

The first strategy is derived from the belief in common innate ideas of the reason.  This idea, this humanitas - the likeness and unity of all people on the basis of a common nature – contrasts with an anxious ethnocentrism that pits one against another.  Unfortunately, humanitas came to divide people into the educated citizen and the unrefined barbarian; the pantheist and the polytheist.[8]

The second arises from the Judeo-Christian belief in one God, maker and judge of all people.  “The expectation of the coming kingdom of God unites all the individual destinies of men and the histories of the nations into a common world history.”(9)  Though it has taken many centuries to see anything approaching a common history, this strategy for unity has always had one significant advantage: the inclusion of difference underneath the umbrella of future history.  Not homogenous but pluralistic community.

Enlightenment anthropology combined these two strategies and produced the constitutions of modern states.  Such constitutions described human beings not as they were, but, instead presented, “a challenge, and a concrete expression of Utopia.”(10) Their visions of hope and freedom have charmed the whole world, and become dreams not easily forgotten.[9]

There is no doubt that cultures are different and historically conditioned.  Cultural anthropology studies them, then, in the discipline of ethnology.  It can also, however, attempt to advance, to humanize human kind.  This desire, humanitas, is a messianic hope for the fulfillment of humanity’s humanity.  Taken together, “it belongs fundamentally to man’s nature that he both is man [ethnology] and has to be man [humanitas]”(11).[10]

Cultural anthropology’s answer to the question “What is Man?” is culture, defined as the soul’s attempts to understand itself.  Through transitory cultural images which arise from out of an inner, amorphous, “creative germ-cell” and vary across history and geography, humanity “attempts constantly to complete itself.”  This desire, culture, attempts to close up (limit) the openness of biological incompleteness.  To the origin of this openness, this incompleteness, cultural anthropology cannot speak.  The question is not exhausted, but moves on to other comparisons.

C. The question arises from the comparison of man with the divine

Religious anthropologies such as those found in theology, metaphysics and poetry arise from religious statements about the fate and destiny of humanity.  “In the presence of the gods man recognizes his own non-divinity, his lowliness, and his earthiness”(12).  Here, however, the question, “What is man?” takes on a new context.  Here it is understood as a question asked of human beings by God.  It is not a question human beings ask, but one that is posed by the experience of suffering.  People are put into question here like they are in no other sphere.  “Here the question ‘What is man?’ can no longer be answered objectively with reference to his soul, his deficiencies, or his creative power.  It becomes concentrated into the person question, ‘Who am I, my God, before you?’”(14)  Against such mystery, humanity hopes for revelation which is a hope for the answer of the self.  “It is only in the coming of God himself, who endlessly puts this life in question, that the revelation of the secret of man can be hoped for”(15).[11]  It is the depth of the heart, with its subsequent existential crisis, that begets religious anthropology.  Still, religious anthropology is not specific to Christianity.  To ask about Christian anthropology is to go still further.  For the Christian, the question is still not exhausted.

D. Ecce Homo! Behold the man!

For the Christian, the question, “What is man?  Who am I?” arises not from a comparison with animals, with other men, or even with the numinous, but out of a call, “at the point at which man in his life is charged with something impossible by the call of God.”  “The divine calls, which demands of him a new being, places him at an insuperable distance from himself, and involves him in a change of identity.”(16)  In short, the Bible does not answer the existential question, but gives meaning to existence by opening up the future through the promise of a God who goes with and before.  People ask about limitations, God’s presence offers infinite possibilities.  Jesus Christ is the figure of this new way forward.  Christ is true God and true man, into his future goes all human questioning.  Jesus’ identification with the outcast, with the non-human, makes them human.  His is a humanization of all people.  “In this crucified Jesus men have again and again been able to see themselves in the course of history”(19).  The crucified Christ unifies all people, because all are the same under the knife-edge of suffering.  “God became man in order out of proud and unfortunate gods to make real men.” (Luther)  “Christian anthropology is an anthropology of the crucified Lord”(20).  It does not overcome other forms of anthropology, nor is overcome.  It is the challenge for liberation cast up against all form of safe pretence, deceit and deception.  It is the rescue of humanity from man.

Go to to chapter two.

[1] Moltmann, then, is not an empiricist. He agrees with Heidegger’s criticism of objectivity. The escape from the solipsistic tradition of radical doubt and skepticism began when Descartes attempted to remove all a priori and replace them with the cogito and ended in Meditation 3 when he made God (logos) foundational for knowledge again. Kant had the same problem, albeit in a far more sophisticated manner. After brilliantly codifying his categories, he could never answer the question of how it is possible for one who is subject to the categories to step outside them, to transcend them, in order to describe them? Heidegger, following Husserl’s phenomenological lead, brushes aside the attempt and regains Plato’s original insight: the philosopher is one who contemplates the relations of the higher forms. Except, for Heidegger, there is no world of the forms. Instead, he sets about exploring the existential structures of Da-Sein, which is not the absolute ego vs. the world, I-It, but the transitive self in a field of relatedness. Furthermore, from the perspective of human beings “thrown” into the world, God is the only non-subjective point, I-Thou.

[2] How is humanity changed?

[3] [Thom] I couldn't help but contrast this with Calvin's Institutes 1.1, in which Calvin says that wisdom consists entirely of two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves. I wonder, though, at Calvin’s sentence, "it is perfectly obvious, that the endowments which we [human beings] possess cannot possibly be from ourselves; nay, that our very being is nothing else than subsistence in God alone." Moltmann does not reflect such a metaphysic. When Moltmann treats of human being-ness it is examined upon its own bottom and not against the negative spaces of God. Yet, both men come to the same, hopeful end (God the Creator), as Calvin writes, “Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him.” (1.1.1) A final question: Does Moltmann interrogate anthropology to discover God or to discover the quality of life before God? Hopefully, the answers should present themselves as the theologian begins to answer the question, "Why do human beings question their own humanity?"

[Alan] It does seem that his anthropology starts from below rather than, like Calvin's, from above. But I do wonder if he is fully consistent with his premises. Moltmann makes the crucified Lord the critical criterion for his theology, but it seems in Man the cross is at best a challenge rather than determinative of his conclusions. (Am I correct in assuming that his chapter on the anthropology of the crucified Lord comes last?) [Furthermore, there is a strong resemblance to] Karl Rahner's theological anthropology. For instance, Rahner writes the following about the transcendent structure of knowledge:

"In spite of the finiteness of his system man is always present to himself in his entirety. He can place everything in question. In his openness to everything and anything, whatever can come to expression can be at least a question to him. In the fact that he affirms the possibility of a merely finite horizon of questioning, this possibility is already surpassed, and man shows himself to be a being with an infinite horizon. In the fact that he experiences his finiteness radically, he reaches beyond this finiteness and experiences himself as a transcendent being, as spirit. The infinite horizon of human questioning is experienced as a horizon which recedes further and further the more answers man can discover.” (Foundations, pp 31-32)

[As in Moltmann, t]here is limited openness to everything (the infinite) in how humans constantly question reality to grow in knowledge. Rahner later will assert that the infinite horizon is God, that the structure of transcendental experiences masks the natural revelation of God (p 170) and that philosophical proofs for the existence of God are merely secondary thematizations of a more basic transcendental experience (pp 68-71). I wonder how much of Rahner does Moltmann explicitly cite? And perhaps more interesting is how much of Rahner is hidden in Moltmann's thought?

[4] Cf. JM member Mike Gibson, “The church, then, corresponds to the reality of Christ’s resurrection, whereby the resurrection as the reality of the future, and as the beginning of the resurrection and new creation, means that the church herself is an echo of the resurrection, a community of those living in the beginning of the resurrection of the dead.” draft chapter. “The Redemption of Time in the Church of the Risen Christ” pp. 12ff. available in the /Files section by permission of the author.

[5] Existentialist ideas of “Alienation.”

[6] Culture in general and language in particular are tools used to further the quest for self-realization.

[7] Karl Rahner understands freedom as fundamental power to decide about and actualize the self.

[8] Moltmann describes the Western humanitas tradition as a category of law in the lecture “Who is Man?” In this lecture, he says that the adoption of the idealism of humanitas has led to “humanitistic suicide caused by despair resulting from man’s impossible dream. And since the bourgeoisie has been the bearer of that ideal humanism for 200 years, we may also talk then of a self-destruction of the bourgeoisie.” Human Identity in Christian Faith Raymond Fred West Memorial Lectures on Immortality (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1974): 2, 5. The two positions, humanitas as gospel-openness and humanitas as law seem at odds, and, as of this note, I’m not sure how to reconcile them. Some investigation as to whether he treats humanitas in God for a Secular Society would be helpful.

[9] “Bloch's practice of ideological criticism discerns emancipatory utopian dimensions even in ideological products, ferreting out those aspects that might be useful for radical theory and practice.” Douglas Kellner, “Ernst Bloch, Utopia and Ideology Critique,” Illusions [e-zine] accessed February 9, 2004. cf. Kellner and Harry O’Hara, “Utopia and Marxism in Ernst Bloch,” New German Critique 9 (Fall 1976). Ernst Bloch. The Spirit of Utopia. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2000. “Since Christian ideology .. always defined what was best in the human social structure, as the embodiment of what the concept of utopia means as the "Kingdom of God" on earth, a recapturing and re-creation of Eden itself as social form, any political ideology that advocates motion toward the "best" necessarily can be, even must be, defined as Christian at some level of its articulation. The classless state of pure democracy in Marxian ideology cannot be distinguished effectively from what anyone else would call the re-creation of the Garden of Eden in purely political and social forms.” Frederick Martin, “Ernst Bloch: ‘The Spirit of Utopia’,” [article on-line] accessed February 9, 2004.

[10] Ethnology as limit; humanitas as openness.

[11] Rahner’s “self-transcending being.”

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

A Note from Class: Getting Past Hard Listening

Several hundred years ago in the West, human beings decided to start over. Some say Nicolaus Copernicus is to blame. Copernicus was the sixteenth-century Polish astronomer who discovered that the earth swings around the sun. When he published his ideas in De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres), people were shocked! Everything they'd assumed to be fixed and solid now moved--everything. It blew people's minds. It terrified them. But it excited them too. "What else are we mistaken about?" they asked. And they decided to find out.

They thought a lot about how we know things, and they came up with a rule for knowledge: What we know, they said, we know through the senses and the mind.

So what you know comes from your senses: taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing. (So the next time you're nose is stuffy with a cold, what you're really having is a knowledge problem.) Your senses act as collectors. Your mind picks through what they collect and remembers or discards. Together, they assemble the experiences and facts that live inside your head.

From this, let's say two things:
  1. Their rule for knowledge is handy for most things, yet flawed in a small-but-wildly-unfortunate manner that maybe we'll get into later.
  2. There is far more information constantly sliding by than our senses can ever collect or our minds notice (just ask Harold Edgerton).
So, what would happen if we focused in on one of our senses, say, hearing? And that is exactly where the trouble begins.

Our culture favors speech and action. It can even find listening a waste of time. And so we have never been taught to listen; we don't know how. When was the last time you truly listened to anything--listened until something was deeply asked of you?

Compounding the problem, new things are uncomfortable. We won't know what to do with what we hear. We may feel shut out, if we feel anything at all. Everyone is talking in another language (sometimes quite literally), and we feel excluded. It is uncomfortable.

Here are a few thoughts about uncomfortable listening.

Principle One: Expect Revulsion, but Press On.

Your ear has an age. It can be naive, and it can mature. And people tend to like music that matches the maturity of their ears. Children only eat a few things at a little table; adults enjoy many different dishes on a wider table. Yet, growth is uncomfortable. So expect to feel disoriented and maybe even bored the first time you hear a piece of music that isn't what you're used to. It has happened to me that what I once hated I grew to love. So press on, and don't believe your first impressions.

Principle Two: Passive Exposure

It is a funny thing about the mind, it is so curious that it will listen even when we aren't listening. Use this to your advantage. Play some new music in the background, but pay no attention to it. Let it exist almost out of hearing. And slowly, ever so slowly, it will slip into your mind. You will discover it in your dreams. You will catch yourself humming it. The mind can't ignore it, you see. Your ear will mature into it, and you may have enriched the rest of your life. (This principle works well when learning a new language, by the way.) It takes time, but it works.

Principle Three: Choose Quality Cuts

Let's say you want to know more about jazz. You've heard about it but don't know where to begin. Use that fabulous tool called the Internet, pull up a list of the "ten best" or "five most important." Use those to train your uneducated ear on the best diet that you can find. Don't waste your time randomly listening. The best sets you up for the rest.

Principle Four: Fill in the Blanks

Thanks to the Internet, we can look up information about performers, composers, and individual songs or pieces of music. We can translate foreign words. We can fill in the blanks as we learn something new. Make sure to fill in the blanks.

Principle Five: Music is Always Better Live

If at all possible, expose yourself to live music. Every kind of music--even music that you don't like--is toe-tapping fantastic when performed live by living people. Live music makes for a rich life. Make time for it.

And here is what this is about: this year, aside from our usual (and frankly more important) discussions about the Bible, we are going to listen. Together and privately, we are going to listen to music--to sacred music. And by this I mean music that is connected in some way to the Bible.

Exactly what this means is something I'll explain on Sunday morning. I look forward to seeing you there.