Friday, September 30, 2005

What is Epoché ? The Greek Sceptics.

Arcesilaus was the sixth head of Plato's academy, who turned the academy in a skeptical direction. After Plato's death, the headship of the academy passed to a series of men who developed metaphysical and ethical systems inspired by the positive arguments contained in dialogues such as the Republic and the Phaedo. Arcesilaus, however, turned away from such system-building and instead spent his energies in attacking the arguments of others. According to Cicero, the aim of such attacks was to produce epoché, or suspension of judgment.

Epoché (ἐποχή) in Greek philosophy, means “suspension of judgment,” a principle originally espoused by non-dogmatic tradition of Skeptical philosophy at the ancient Greek Academy. Skeptics adopted an attitude where, by opposing appearances (objects of sense-perception) to judgments (objects of thought), they sought a moderate approach to the problem of knowledge which would allow them to obtain a life characterized by peace of mind. Against the dogmatists, philosophers who claimed to know the Truth (where even pure nihilism is a dogmatic position), skeptics held all truths gingerly. They believed the problem of knowledge to be insoluble, and thus renamed every "truth" a proposition and hypothesis. They arrived at this attitude by contemplating antitheses. Given a proposition, they would oppose an equal proposition. The resulting collision would serve to banish dogmatism and cultivate doubt. As Sextus Empiricus writes: "The main basic principle of the Skeptic system is that of opposing to every proposition an equal proposition; for we believe that as a consequence of this we end by ceasing to dogmatize."

Now the moment of opposition, the moment that, when controversy arises, all actions are suspended for the sake of contemplation, that moment they called epoché. In that moment, an attitude of noninvolvement should be adopted. There is suspension. Within the epoché, the skeptic avoids affirming or denying the truth of any statements about the actual nature of things. The epoché highlights the difficulty of passing judgment on the sense-impressions and ascertaining which of them are true and which false. One may be able to say what something appears to be, but cannot make any judgments about what actually is the case. In this sense, the epoché is a realization of existential freedom.

Freedom, then, is a healthy skepticism against every demand made upon personal judgment by the sensate world of appearances. Indeed, the skepticism which arises as a result of the epoché skeptics considered an enlightened state of being-in-the-world. By abandoning the desire of a "self" with selfish actions and motivations, paradoxically, one gains everything one thought was given up by abandoning the nurture of the "self" (love, money, happiness, etc.) in the pursuit of mere-appearances. (In this sense, the epoche is the realization of what modern existentialism would call the "being-in-the-world.") That is why the skeptics considered the epoché to be the proper state from which to judge the relationship between appearances in order to gain peace of mind for daily living. Indeed, the skepticism that comes upon the heels of the epoché, explained Sextus, is not to shrug one's shoulders in indecision regarding competing claims. To understand suspension this way is to see skepticism as a wholly negative position. There is an essentially constructive character of skeptical argument which requires a subtler understanding of suspension. To suspend judgment in this sense is to refuse to assent to a position, while refusing to assert its negation, since either assertion would commit one to a false or misleading metaphysical presupposition. To suspend judgment is hence to refuse to enter into a misguided discourse.

To refuse judgment is also to be free of illness. Sextus regarded skepticism not as a nihilistic attack on our cognitive life, but rather -- as he emphasizes in a variety of medical metaphors -- as a form of philosophical therapy, to cure us of the cognitive and emotional ills born of extreme metaphysical, moral, or epistemological positions. The skeptic wishes, from considerations of humanity, to do all he can with the arguments at his disposal to cure the self-conceit and rashness of the dogmatists. And so just as healers of bodily ailments keep remedies of various potency, and administer the powerful ones to those whose ailments are violent and the lighter ones to those with light complaints, in the same manner the Skeptic too propounds arguments capable of forcibly removing the condition of dogmatist self-conceit. Quoting Ludwig Wittgenstein: "The philosopher's treatment of a question is like the treatment of an illness" (Philosophical Investigations 255) Summed up by Sextus Empiricus:

Those who say that "the Skeptics abolish appearances," or phenomena, seem to me to be unacquainted with the statements of our School. For, as we said above, we do not overthrow the affective sense-impressions which induce our assent involuntarily; and these impressions are "the appearances." And when we question whether the underlying object is such as it appears, we grant the fact that it appears, and our doubt does not concern the appearance itself but the account given of the appearance,---and that is a different thing from questioning the appearance itself. For example, honey appears to us to be sweet (and this we grant, for we perceive sweetness through the senses), but whether it is also sweet in its essence is for us a matter of doubt, since this is not an appearance but a judgment regarding the appearance. And even if we do actually argue against the appearances, we do not propound such arguments with the intention of abolishing appearances, but by way of pointing out the rashness of the Dogmatists; for if reason is such a trickster as to all but snatch away the appearances from under our very eyes, surely we should view it with suspicion in the case of things non-evident so as not to display rashness by following it. (Outlines of Pyrrhoism Bk. 1: "Do the skeptics abolish appearances?")

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Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Coming to the edge of something

What happens when you discover that a significant portion of the religious real estate that made up your early devotional life, that still informs the language of your worship, that still speaks in your heart, can be collected together into a movement? A movement, not a Reformation, not a return ad fontes to the original sources of Scripture, but a movement of sometimes anti-intellectual piety, a movement whose philosophical basis is easily derived from the everyman pragmatism of the early-industrial West. It is like coming to the edge of some vast, familiar something and looking out into the unknown of the other side.

That said, the following are a list of persons associated with the nineteenth century Wesleyan-Revivalist movement known in America as the Holiness Movement, and in Europe and other parts of the English-speaking world as the Higher Life Movement. Other descriptive terms used by its members are "the Deeper Christian Life" and "the Victorious Christian Life." Some were not directly part of this movement, but have associated themselves with it. This revivalist movement took its roots from Wesleyan perfectionism and grew into the Pentecostal movement beginning in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Many of those listed were intimately connected via the Keswick /KES-sik/ Convention, (1875-present.)

D.L.Moody, F.B. Meyer, Amy Carmichael, Hannah Whitehall Smith (a Quaker), Watchman Nee, Andrew Murray, Hudson Taylor, R. A. Torrey, Charles Finney, A B Simpson, C. I. Scofield, A. W. Tozer, Lewis Sperry Chafer, Henry Drummond, Oswald Chambers, Moody Bible Institute, Foursquare and Open Bible/Gospel Lighthouse churches, the Assemblies of God.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Why phenomenology?

Why phenomenology? Three reasons. (1) A year or so ago, I came to the conclusion that a good argument could be made that psychology was the zenith of every development in philosophy since the Enlightenment. Now I see that what I was talking about wasn’t psychology as much as it was psychologism, and that phenomenology is a step beyond that. This would make phenomenology the best candidate for the philosophia perennis of which I am aware, and so I’m curious. (2) In a 2003 address, Dr. Burt Hopkins of Seattle University wrote, “Psychologism, empiricism, rationalism, historicism, naturalism and formalism, were all refuted by [Edmund Husserl]--and decisively so.” That kind of thinker, and his resultant philosophy, sounds worthwhile! (3) Husserl’s phenomenology forms the backdrop from which his most famous student, Martin Heidegger, springs. Simply put, Martin Heidegger is the most important philosopher of the twentieth century. If you would understand the twentieth century in all of its developments, including the hermeneutical turn, you must understand Heidegger.

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Revealed Truth: Is it Theology or Metaphysics?

What is the type of information to which "revealed truth" gives us access? Is it soteriology or is it metaphysics? Does the Bible give us a priori knowledge about the world as it is (en se) or is it chiefly concerned with outlining God’s salvation-plan for the creation, governance and future of the world? Let’s call the former position Christian metaphysics, or, simply, metaphysics, and the latter after the name this position has formally been known by: Heilsgeschichte.

Heilsgeschichte, a crasis of salvation (das Heil) and history (die Geschichte), is a term that has been applied in two very different ways. There is Heilsgeschichte as God’s historical economy of salvation, and there is Heilsgeschichte which studies history as the arena of salvation. The former has God’s salvation in the centre; the latter is a baptized historiography. The assertive difference between the two positions is handily codified in the difference between the two German words for history: Historie and Geschichte. Historie was reserved for a Heilsgeschichte interested in historical facts as they are empirically verifiable. Geschichte was used for Heilsgeschichte that is more interested in the significance of revelation for history. Of course, depending upon one’s presuppositions, Geschichte-events may have actually occurred, or it may just be mythology that has become historically-significant because it has effected history in some way. The division between Historie and Geschichte could very well make revelation merely a category of mental experience, unrelated to the world of things and extention. One could teach Jesus’s resurrection as Geschichte, as historically significant, without believing it ever happened, Historie. This is not my position.

My position is Heilsgeschichte as salvation history, as the plan or economy of God’s saving acts in history. Heilsgeschichte in this moderate sense does not make the Geschichte-Historie distinction. What it does do, however, is put the emphasis on the significance of God’s saving acts. In other words: the point is what it means salvifically. Revelation is fundamentally soteriological rather than metaphysical. This doesn’t say that religious faith is merely an internal affair without referent in the real world. What it does say is, in what way does revelation want to be valued? How does it wish to be interpreted?

Now I don’t really have a good name for the metaphysical position. (And it is too bad, too, because knowing the correct terms for things makes understanding so much clearer.) This position tends more toward Historie as outlined above than Geschichte. Revelation, here, supplies a priori truth. The importance is not the significance of the act but that the act is historical. The soteriological significance of God’s actions is made secondary to their mathematical certainty as scientifically verifiable events.

The original question asks about the type of information given to us by Biblical revelation. What kind of revelation does the Bible want to give us? Given that we should avoid eisegesis as much as possible, and attempt to remove personal bias in order to correctly listen to the text, I think it is important to ask this question. Which of these positions is more appropriate to the handling of revealed truth? Which could very well mishandle it in the pursuit of its own ends? Does the need to make Historie distort or even obscure one’s ablity to grasp the Geschichte significance? Does an attendence to the Geschichte ignore one’s responsibility to defend the faith as truth within a modern, scientific context? And again, which one interprets the text in a way which is faithful to the design of its authors?

A litmus test to discover where one stands on this is Genesis 1.1. If you understand Genesis 1.1 as a priori truth about the world as it is, then you understand revelation more along the lines of metaphysics. Preaching and teaching on Genesis 1.1 would tend toward claiming and defending scientific possibility. One would probably adopt young earth creationism.

Now I read Genesis 1.1 as a theological statement meant to explain to the post-Exodus, wilderness-walking Hebrews (and all who would come after them in the faith) who they were and what their purpose was in the world. I understand the content of revelation to be Heilsgeschichte. Genesis 1.1, then, is included in the canon because it explains something about salvation history. I arrive at a priori, then, only as the theology allows. The theology of Genesis 1.1 tells me that the world was created out of nothing, ex nihilo, and I can begin to see order and purpose the manner of its creation. These things about the world en se I affirm. But I do not see that Genesis 1.1 requires me to adopt young earth creationism.

To sum up, the effects of adopting one or the other position, the metaphysical or the Heilsgeschichte, are far-reaching. Indeed, the result of either position is not far from the other: both come down squarely in orthodoxy, but the foundation and praxis suggested by both are slightly different. For one, there is a slightly different hermeneutic involved whether one understands revelation as giving a priori fact or soteriological fact. There is a different relationship implied between church and world, and also between religion and science. I’m sure there are many more, but best to get it out and examine it, and that is the purpose of this badly-written post.

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Thursday, September 22, 2005

Academics divine divination

This is the most informative conference description I have ever read. It so clearly defines the practice of divination and the host of questions which attend it. See what you think.

SEEING WITH DIFFERENT EYES’A CONFERENCE ON COSMOLOGY & DIVINATION - University of Kent, CanterburyApril 28th-30th, 2006
Keynote speakers: Gregory Shaw (Stonehill College, Mass.), Peter Struck (University of Pennsylvania), Barbara Tedlock (SUNY, Buffalo)

This conference will explore the nature and implications of the visionary knowledge which arises through divinatory practices, the ‘inner sight’ which is evoked through the use of metaphor and symbol in a ritual or therapeutic context, or in everyday life. Questions of knowledge and realisation will be raised in relation to astrology and other forms of divination. Is divinatory insight best understood as a psychological process, an altered state of consciousness, or a spiritual connection with higher beings? Is it necessarily ‘esoteric’, comparable to the initiation rituals of the ancient mystery traditions, or is it available to anyone at any time? What is the role of training and expertise in divination? In the reading of an omen or interpretation of a symbol, how do imagination and technique work together to bring hidden knowledge to the surface? Does a symbolic perception artificially impose meaning on an otherwise meaningless world, or help to create a more coherent cosmos? Does divination allow a glimpse into deeper levels of existence, or simply distort our rational minds with delusion, projection and fantasy? In short, what can we learn from both historical sources and contemporary practice about the nature and ground of ‘truth’ in divination, its value and philosophical implications? What is being revealed, and through what agency? Papers on any aspect of these questions (30 mins) are invited from both researchers and practitioners in fields including (but not limited to) ancient history, anthropology, astrology, classics, divination, philosophy, psychology, religious studies and theology.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Two stones thrown against Dominion theology.

All people everywhere hold dearly to eschatological dreams. Jürgen Moltmann first made me aware of this, as he is very sensitive to the political ramifications and implications of doctrine. Through him, I started piecing through the political philosophy of Karl Marx, and discovered Marx’s frank admission that political hopes are but this-world treatments of religious ones. Secularists don’t talk about the Kingdom of God, they talk about utopias. (I’d always thought "Utopia" was just the title of a book without realizing that Sir Thomas More entitled his work _Utopia_ because it is one, it participates in the category of political dreaming about a better society. Also note Marx & Engel’s Socialism: Utopian and Scientific for a survey of utopias in political development from the middle ages to the 19th Century.)

Therefore, religious eschatology, rather than being the kabalistic science of radio preachers, is a powerful and important section of one’s personal and corporate theology which makes an impact in the everyday expression of life – and the same goes for those eschatologies which operate without God, or with many gods. Instead of ignoring and dismissing eschatology, which I’ve done for most of my life, now I sit up and pay attention! When someone starts talking about their eschatology, they are talking about their hopes and dreams, they are talking about their values and what is most meaningful to them. They are telling me about those things which are closest to them.

Second, I want to talk about the Kingdom of God as the rule of God and as a sacred rule. Again, over the last five years I’ve begun to understand the entire arc of the Bible as the story of the in-breaking Kingdom of God. This began when a professor pointed out to me that the substance and center of Jesus’s preaching is always the Kingdom. In other words, the central figure of the Bible makes the Kingdom of God the center of his public program. I read with great interest The Coming of the Kingdom, a rather thick book by the New Testament theologian Herman Ridderbos, and it changed my entire understanding of the New Testament and, with it, the Bible itself. The Kingdom of God, as it goes, is manifest wherever God’s rule is manifest; a complete product of the Spirit as it awakens human hearts to repentance and confession. But that isn’t the whole of it.

Just recently I read an article in this month’s Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (JETS). The first article, written by Dr. Greg Beale of Wheaton College, traced the exact same pattern as that traced by the now-familiar motif of the Kingdom of God. Yet, Beale never mentions the Kingdom. Rather, he talks again and again about the temple, ending his discussion with a treatment of the new creation as it is described in Revelation. That creation, he says, is a gigantic temple wholly inhabited and filled by God. [A later note: I wonder how Beale's temple-language mirrors N. T. Wright's theme of "the return of Yahweh to Zion"?]

The result over the last week has been a revision of this fundamental biblical theology encompassing both the inheritance, peace and rulership ideas of Kingdom with the sacred, priestly, life-giving categories of Temple. Doesn’t the Scripture say,” says my mind, “He has made you a kingdom of kings and priests.” Certainly, then, the United States or any other political power cannot by definition become the locus of Christian hope, for none is a temple.

That is where I have been going. If this priestly Kingdom is kept in mind, and thus informs a proper eschatology, I do not understand how anyone could fall for a theonomic utopia where, for example, justice is meted out according to stipulations in Numbers or Deuteronomy. It isn’t literal, but spiritual Israel which is being gathered in by the restorative missionary activity of the Spirit. It isn’t the United States which is the seat of the King of Glory, but the mountain of the Lord which cannot either be approached or established by human hands.

To miss this is to have fallen in with the utopia-makers, and to limit eschatological faith to political possibilities.

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Chipping out a personal project: no stone left unturned

I have been struggling to find a more authentic Christian confession for a good while now. I have been searching for it since childhood, really, but more in earnest since the time when I left the charismatic movement and took up searching both deeper into Church tradition and higher up in the discourses within that tradition. See, the Christianity I left was unacceptable.

For one, that Christianity could not answer the questions raised by real contact with a real world, nor did it desire to do so. Its unstated purpose was actually the creation and maintenance of a subculture cemented and ordered by religious enthusiasm and ideological sameness. The purpose of this can be positive in that it can sustain a kind of mini-narrative that orders human living and protects it from the tempestuous winds of chilly and chaotic – if not inhuman - modernity. Such social cohesion, however, can also provide an easy platform for the demonic megalomaniac expression of social control. I have many times witnessed the abuse of power enacted and enabled by such systems. Most of the time, the abuse is at the hands of those who, by their protestation of love and concern, claim to be servants of the church. Now if a man strides into a sheepfold with a whip and begins beating the sheep, most of them will not run out of the pen and into the night. There may be wolves! No, the majority will stay in the pen, even if staying means submitting to and enduring the lash. Answering real questions raised by real contact with a real world is not the aim of the sub-culture church. That is why it could never help me. As a matter of fact, it suspected me and often rejected me. It sought to control me and hush my questions, lest I make people nervous (and such control is always delivered with sweet, well-meaning, pleasant words.) This cannot be the church, I said. The church is not meant to provide a sub-culture over against the world, it is meant to stride out confidently into the world saying, “This is Jesus’ world now and we’re here on his authority to give notice!”

The Christianity I left was also unacceptable because it could not solve my inner problems. It could not address my sin. It could not assuage my guilt. Its method is always law, not grace. And its “grace” is just sympathy or therapy, not sola gratia. Further, this Christianity could not contain my joy. It could not receive my wonder. Enthusiasm is suspect, it upsets the social balance and threatens delicate power structures. Finally, this Christianity did not reflect my awe or understand rapture or transcendence. It had no mechanism to reflect these things, no liturgy, no reverence, and only the rudest treatment of the sacraments. It could not comprehend any aspect of meaning other than the political, and this despite the bald fact that all of this and more stood starkly present in the pages of any open Bible, the very Bible upon which this Christianity pledged allegiance. Some sleight-of-hand was suggested, and I suspected as much even from childhood. Yet, I could not bring myself to accept my suspicions. Perhaps I was afraid there might be wolves. If one leaves the pen – and “leaving the pen” is usually condemned as leaving the faith by those responsible to police the sub-culture – then were does one go? A wandering life is a difficult, homeless life, an alienated life. I was ignorant of my options.

Now lest one thinks I am picking on Southern fundamentalism, which is not wholly untrue, please understand that the charismatic movement was no better in my experience. Where Southern fundamentalism relies more on tradition and ideology – along with a good dose of patriarchy – to secure the borders of its community, charismatics rely on mutually shared enthusiasm and experience. The outcome is the same for both, though: the creation of sub-narrative templates or story-arcs for living and thinking, set up for protection against a narrative-less world. In the world of No-Narrative, one may have to do the hard work of cobbling together one’s own narrative, or, worse, one’s children may have to do it and may choose options which meet parental horror or disapproval. This is exactly the freedom from which most human beings spend their lives avoiding, as I have mentioned in other posts. And why not: it is existentially terrifying: the abyss, the Nothing! Of course, in the world of No-Narrative, there is also no hope or salvation, and this is the kernel of truth around which are built these protective Christianities. My beef with these is not that they offer narratives, but that their narratives do not exist for the correct purpose. Their narratives exist for protection and, perhaps, the projection of political will (which is warfare, a function of protection). This is not the agenda of the Kingdom.

The agenda of the Kingdom of God remembers the Other, whether in the person of the Poor or the Powerful, and suffers with both. This is the missionary work of the Son. The agenda of the Kingdom opens itself naked and unprotected to the gaze and mistreatment of the world. This is to be swept up in the new-world-creating flow of the Holy Spirit. And now, to narrow this discussion down quite a bit, I’m thinking more directly about the pattern of worship, and here’s a fragment of my thinking:

We have our spiritual lives only upon the invitation of Jesus to share in his spiritual life. His life is the template within which ours must exist. We do not have our own life. Indeed, we cannot, for our own lives, no matter how beautiful or powerful, are always idols. The cross is the death of our religious “I.” It puts down all self-instigated, satanic, spirituality.

We pray, then, only after Jesus’ prayers. We confess, then, only after Jesus’ confession. And this is not in a simplistic, WWJD sort of fashion where we fill in how we think Jesus would act given this or that unique situation. This is kind of a denial of Jesus' humanity. After all, Jesus’ spiritual life was wholly Jewish. He prayed and sang the Psalms. He participated in temple-worship and in the public enactment and celebration of Israel's feasts. He was born “under the law.” Where Christians differ from Jewish orthodoxy, we do so only upon the permission laid out according to the messianic / covenant changes Jesus instituted upon his authority. The Reformation principle of sola scriptura, then, is not a legislative assertion about the ruling authority of the canon, but a description of the Christian way. It is a declaration of intent: to walk obediently after the steps of Christ; to take on his Torah-keeping pattern and to turn aside from our own. In the words of N.T. Wright, “We bind ourselves to the agenda of [Jesus’] whole ministry.” In my loose paraphrase of the inaugural words of Jesus: “Cut away all your present allegiances and become permanent, law-abiding citizens of the in-breaking Kingdom of God!”

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Emile Cioran says: "Wake up, O sleeper!"

Psychologist Erich Fromm called it the flight from freedom. Philosopher Martin Heidegger called it inauthenticity, and a denial of the nothing. Philosopher Emile Cioran calls it the desire for lyricism and the desire for sleep. Whatever it is, it is the state in which one accepts a certain kind of determinism as the framework or guiding principle of one’s life. It is a terrified giving over of one’s subjectivity, with its accordant freedom, in exchange for a psychological protection from choice and for the illusion of certainty. But back to Emile Cioran.

Emile Cioran (1911-1995) did not sleep well. French by nationality, he was Romanian by birth, and spent a good deal of his youth struggling with insomnia. Many sleepless nights were passed wandering around the hollow streets of an obscure Romanian city. Cioran moved to Paris in 1937 and began writing aphorisms after the style of Friedrich Nietzsche. The aphoristic method, clumps of sentences separated from each other by the negative space of abyssal blanks, suited him perfectly. After all, sleeplessness is a kind of subjectivity, where subjectivity is the state of struggle of one who is alive within time; one is oneself forever and knows it. Sleeplessness is like the bare and violent introspection of the aphorism. "Three in the morning. I realize this second, then this one, then the next: I draw up the balance sheet for each minute.” This is the opposite of lyricism.

Emile Cioran, with Theodore Adorno, understood lyricism, the comfortable explanatory arc of the novel of plot of cadence, as a kind of sleep. The Volk of post-war Germany wanted sleep in a way similar to the worship of celebrity and the pageant in our own day. Lyricism denies subjectivity. It denies the raw experience of “three in the morning.” It wants to smile and turn over in its bed, blissful and unmolested. When one is caught up, asleep, in the plot, poem, or play, there is no awareness of uncertainty. Sleep is subdued in dreams. Awareness is undermined, making subterranean the living self. Sleep is what everyone wants, even as Erich Fromm said that people fear freedom. Yet, according to Cioran, even in the narrative parabola of the novel something is left out. It is that something to which he goes.

Emile Cioran is in opposition just a an aphorism demands opposition – the silent space demanding us to judge, to agree, to disagree, to oppose. The noisy facts of life narrated lyrically one after the other mask silence. Cioran points incessantly to the silence behind the noise, the silence of that white space between the clumps of sentences. Students study, reviewers review, writers write, and readers read in the hope of avoiding this, but Cioran does not want to avoid it. "Insomnia sheds a light on us which we do not desire but to which, unconsciously, we tend. We demand it in spite of ourselves, against ourselves."

What is needed is not the lyrical comfort of sleep, but the cold brace of the challenging aphorism. Novels have long lost the ability to mask the metaphysical poverty of the West. What is needed is waking up into lucidity and the intensity of lucid consciousness. "The ideally lucid, hence ideally normal, man should have no recourse beyond the nothing that is in him." What is needed is to go forward anyway, to walk maimed, to admit illness.

Cioran's use of the dualistic awareness which attends illness is quite interesting. He made a connection between the polarities of lyricism/aphorism & sleep/awake with that which exists between sickness and health. The healthy, he said, keep a certain distance from "contradictory and intense" states, while the sick realize their quarantine. They are tangibly aware of the separation between the hyper-active mind and the feeble abilities of the body, yet remain one in their person. They coincide with themselves, despite the inner contradiction. They brood and fuss over the contradiction, but in so doing become aware in the moment and choose vitality. Sickness increases self preservation, and this is exactly the way the West must go.

The West, and, for the purpose of this post, the human beings within it, must go sick into daily life. It must go lamed. It must go in opposition. It must go awake and aphoristic in the absence of any comfortable narrative arc. Naivete must dissolve into complexity, a complexity which does not extinguish joy (lyricism and aphorism can neither one be wholly accepted or abandoned) but makes it exist in irony, in tragedy, in, perhaps, wisdom. Cioran wrote: “Illusion begets and sustains the world; we do not destroy one without destroying the other. Which is what I do every day. An apparently ineffectual operation, since I must begin all over again the next day."

What Cioran does, then, along with many others, including those cited in the opening paragraph of this article, is point the way forward toward the nakedness of freedom. Unlike materialists, like Fromm, Heidegger, or Cioran, Christians trust a God of promise and providence. Yet, we cannot use faith as an excuse for sleeping. We, too, are called to be awake. We, too, are called to be maimed and sick. We, too, are called to be children of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, even as we begin to taste the firstfruits of the tree of life.
The above depends to an incredible degree on the following article: Stephen Mitchelmore, “To Infinity and BeyondSpike Magazine Accessed September 15, 2005. Other websites for Emile Cioran are Wikipedia's entry on Emile Cioran and Planet Cioran.

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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

On onto-Theology and its fate

John G. was asking me about onto-theology this afternoon. It seemed a perfect excuse to blog something. Simply put, onto-theology is theology built upon ontology. Ontotheology confesses a God built upon a Greek metaphysic of being (ousia), where the divine is the Being of beings and the rest of us find our place within a descending ladder or chain of being according to some characteristic or limitation or other. Onto-theologies' definition of the divine was created by the Greeks and largely taken over by apologistic, Greek speaking Christian theologians searching to make sense of the gospel in a certain metaphysical climate.

Onto-theology met its match with Descartes' -> Hume's -> and Kant's observation that there is no way of knowing anything at all about the being of beings. When theology begins with "the one God" and works out from there, it makes assertions based on...what? This begins the process of a turn to the subject, where knowledge begins with what people (subjects) can know, an epistemology which rules absolutely in our own day - even if not so securely as in the heady days of the early Enlightenment.

Now I haven't personally thrown off onto-theology completely. I'm loathe to put aside what has so informed the thinking about God for most of church (theological) history. I wonder if there isn't some Christian nuance about it that the philosophers may have missed. At the same time, the arguments against it are 100's of years old now, and have stood quite a good deal of scrutiny. Theology has long decided that it must abandon the old ontologies and learn how to survive in a turn-to-the-subject climate. Any theologian doing work in an onto-theological universe is either hopelessly out of date or innovative to the extreme of genius (and either unknown or - to put a conspiracy theory into it - or shunned by the academic community.) In short - for myself I'm still weighing the odds and trying to simply understand the argument, which is quite complex unless you want to choose sides ahead of time and take their word for it. Trinitarian-ontology seems to be the better way to go, whereby relation rather than absolute subject lies at the very bottom of things (and, if you remember, this is exactly what I argued for in my paper at Harvard a few years ago.) Trinitarian relation-ontology seems to keep the best of onto-theology, while allowing room for the Other. Also, the textured and layered presentation of God in the Old and New Testaments makes more sense apart from a God of the Absolute "I". Taking this route also provides a way around process, at least you don't have to go there as far as I can tell. The process-god of Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Hartshorn, and John Cobb Jr. is the new God of the Philosophers, the new God of the Spirit of the Age, as far as I understand it. A trinitarian/relation ontology means that one's epistemology will be hermeneutic: knowledge is absolutely and radically interpretative. The hermeneutical circle is how we know. This seems to jive well with what Christians mean by revelation and how we read, process, apply, worship, and preach. It makes everything alive, and opens up living spaces that were just slots with Aristotle.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Chipping out a personal project: the bare rock

Over the last year, I have begun to discern the faint outlines of my own, personal project. You watch yourself "drinking from dozens of straws" (Heidegger) and are not really sure why. And then, one day, you start noticing patterns behind it; similar questions approached by each and all.

As far as I can tell, discerning this pattern is a very important stage in any scholar's development. It moves them from undirected to directed reading, and from reviewing to proposing. It begins to suggest a way of getting into the game. I don't have much of it organized, or even understand yet some of the deeper structures between those points which are visible above the surface. Yet, here goes:

The commonalities seem to go as follows:

(1) The search for a well-understood, contemporary expression of the faith. This over-arching desire comes from negative and positive energies. Positively, it results from a desire to properly worship the God who calls me (who is coming to me). Negatively, it results from a thorough dislike of anything which denies God his proper glory, and nowhere is the offense more egregious than in those confessions that commit such acts even while they confess!

A discernment of the latter is what led me to place the roots of Southern fundamentalism, the religious culture of my birth, into question. I set upon a quest to discover a thicker, more honest Christianity. I feel in my deepest heart that it is there, just beyond the horizon. There is a valuation of honesty and freedom out there, a Christian confession, maturity. The quest to discover this honest and free confession has led me to make the following, and by no means the last, personal or ideaological moves, each for the purposes of advancement toward that thing which summons me, and in this there is a Nachfolge, a discipleship. In each, too, there is also an apologetic, namely the uncovering of a confession that cannot be simply dismissed on the basis of doctrines, positions, and emphases which, in reality, have nothing to do with it at all. (What is this if not a recovery of the Word preached!) At any rate, as to philosophical & theological moves, I can trace out the following rough pattern.

(2) Remapping everything in trinitarian rather than bi-nitarian dimensions. This includes understanding the conversations about the Trinity, and evaluating aspects of "new" ontologies, such as divine limitation, progress, and kenosis. As John G. has pointed out, this suggests that I have really made a decision about onto-theology and accepted, instead, some form of relational-ontology (and with it, a relational anthropology, for God-speak and Man-speak are two sides of the same coin.) More thinking about that is necessary. Included in this, too, are questions about the relationship between God and time. This sphere of questions naturally suggests the other two main emphases:

(3) "historicizing" my theology by making eschatology its primary setting. This plants me firmly in the tradition of the developing theology of hope, as well as in the middle of new gains begin made in Biblical Theology. Eschatology is the ground of theology, its basic, grammar. I need to make sure I speak it well.

(4) Un-privatizing the confession. Getting my theology & confession out of the Enlightenment's enforced privatization. I am trying to understand my confession outside of the "private cell" which my culture and tradition assign to it. That is the Greek tradition, whereby epistemological skepticism makes any enthusiasm, religious or otherwise, fine in the privacy of one's own home/heart. The Jewish tradition, however, is ethically, rather than ontologically, primary and simpy does not understand privatization since the Other is fundamentally necessary for the existence & working out of of one's theology. God places himself in the Other, and religious faith must, therefore, seek him there. I suppose, really, I'm talking about embracing a political theology. It goes hand-in-hand with the eschatological move, anyway. If one thinks eschatologically, one also thinks politically, since the eschaton effects everyone. Here's where all the Kingdom of God stuff goes.

Points that also are included in some developing schema in or coming out from the above:

  • The ethical understanding of the imago dei/law & gospel

  • Picking up Gordon-Conwell's emphasis on the Old Testament in the New (pro-Jewish)

  • The connection between theology & spirituality/ascesis/theosis

  • The humiliation of the Christ & the dignifiction of the World

  • Authority of Scripture

  • Antipathy toward psychologism

  • Overcoming Kant's "double line"/phenomenology/Hermeneutics

  • Understanding modernity

  • Religious education/catechism

  • Exploration of theologies of liberation (with all that is not-fundamentalism)

  • Desire for liturgy. Embodied faith. Aesthetic uplift.

  • Short-patience for the question of freedom & sovereignty (a question which arises in revivalist (enlightenment) theologies.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Merleau-Ponty on phenomenology's fundamental critique

Husserl’s first directive to phenomenology, in its early stages, to be a ‘descriptive psychology’, or to return to the ‘things in themselves’, is from the start a foreswearing of science. I am not the outcome or the meeting-point of numerous causal agencies which determine my bodily or psychological make-up. I cannot conceive myself as nothing but a bit of the world, a mere object of biological, psychological or sociological investigation. I cannot shut myself up within the realm of science. All my knowledge of the world, even my scientific knowledge, is gained from my own particular point of view, or from some experience of the world without which the symbols of science would be meaningless. The whole universe of science is built upon the world as directly experienced, and if we want to subject science itself to rigorous scrutiny and arrive at a precise assessment of its meaning and scope, we must begin by reawakening the basic experience of the world of which science is the second-order expression. Science has not and never will have, by its nature, the same significance qua form of being as the world which we perceive, for the simple reason that it is a rationale or explanation of that world. I am, not a ‘living creature’ nor even a ‘man’, nor again even ‘a conciousness’ endowed with all the characteristics which zoology, social anatomy or inductive psychology recognize in these various products of the natural or historical process – I am the absolute source, my existence does not stem from my antecedents, from my physical and social environment; instead it moves out towards them and sustains them, for I alone bring into being for myself (and therefore into being in the only sense that the word can have for me) the tradition which I elect to carry on, or the horizon whose distance from me would be abolished – since that distance is not one of its properties – if I were not there to scan it with my gaze. Scientific points of view, according to which my existence is a moment of the world’s, are always both naïve and at the same time dishonest, because they take for granted, without explicitly mentioning, it, the other point of view, namely that of consciousness, through which from the outset a world forms itself around me and begins to exist for me. To return to things themselves is to return to that world which precedes knowledge, of which knowledge always speaks, and in relation to which every scientific schematization is an abstract and derivative sign-language, as is geography in relation to the country-side in which we have learnt beforehand what a forest, a praire or a river is.
Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (New York, Routledge: 1958), ix-x. See also the Nordic Society of Philosophy's 2006 conference Phenomenolgy of Perception 60 Years Later

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Summing up Gaffin

A few months ago, I began a post which addressed John Calvin's understanding of the fourth commandment using Richard Gaffin's published dissertation, Calvin on the Sabbath. For want of time, I never completed a review of Grudem's critique . . . until now. The sabbath, Gaffin concludes, is thoroughly eschatological. Calvin simply does not understand this, and therefore is unable to do justice to the fourth commandment. His reasoning is as follows:

(1) Calvin’s generalization of the fourth commandment as rest nullifies its uniqueness

The heart of the fourth commandment, Calvin says repeatedly, is the injunction to practice spiritual rest. Spiritual rest, he makes clear, is perpetual cessation from sin so that God may perform his sanctifying work in us. This conclusion, however, isn’t just a portion of lawfulness but a summary of the whole law! Further, to attribute to any one of the ten commandments the comprehensive force that belongs to Christ’s summary of the law--to love God and neighbor--effectively deprives that particular commandment of its place in the decalogue so that a portion of the decalogue receives the meaning divinely intended for the whole. “He [Calvin] has overlooked its specific [unique] place in God’s law and consequently missed its true meaning” (146).

(2) Calvin does not devote serious attention to the Sabbath as an ordinance of creation

Calvin’s teaching addresses only a post-fall Sabbath and does not understand that the meaning of the Sabbath must be governed by the pre-fall, creation Sabbath. If the basic concern of the fourth commandment is, as Calvin says, resting from sin, then sin (as well as the entire ordo salutis) was required before the fall. “The meaning of the Sabbath institution prior to the fall seems not to have crossed his mind” (146).

(3) Calvin’s teaching on the Sabbath disparages the other six days of creation

If the message of the fourth commandment is: Stop Sinning!, then the other six days are the producers of the sin from which one is resting. Calvin saw no use or value in the six days of work. The six days are, for Calvin, days of the sins of the flesh, days which were supposed to be rested from on the Sabbath. The six days become an influence which must be resisted and bound up to make way for piety. That is why Calvin understood the Mosaic commands to cease from labor on the Sabbath as necessary in the face of “sinful human inability to practice daily public worship”(ibid). People need a command to make them cease from labor, otherwise worship would be precluded by the market. Indeed, Calvin enjoins a daily assembly for worship. "The mention of six days of labor is a recognition of sinful actions, not a command to engage in legitimate human callings or other cultural activity. . . . These two elements can only be related antithetically, or the days of work viewed, at best, concessively” (147). Thus, the meaning of the Sabbath is spiritualized and made wholly ecclesial.

(4) Calvin’s teaching on the Sabbath forbids positive interpretation.

Calvin equates the six days of labor with labors of the flesh. He spiritualizes work and rest as sin and the cessation from sin. It is true that the other commandments presuppose sin, but they also have a positive side; do not murder is also an injunction to protect and value other lives. There is no such postive interpretation available to Calvin for the fourth commandment. Should Calvin have understood it positively, where working as well as resting is in view, then sin would have become a requirement for God’s good governance of creation--a real dilemma!

Indeed, the interpretation Calvin gives to the fourth commandment is only meaningful in a world of sin & redemption. On the other, when Calvin states as its core teaching that the creature is to imitate the creator--a notion with relevance apart from redemption--the result summarizes the whole law and neuters its specific force [per the first point above]. Therefore, Gaffin concludes that Calvin is unable to do justice to the fourth commandment as a Creation ordinance, as a principle intended to govern human life before and after the fall and which, together with its neighbors, fits within the framework of Christ’s summary of the law.

(5) Calvin ignores the eschatological purpose of the seventh day

Gaffin is sympathetic to Calvin's reasons for spiritualizing work and rest; the law of types is replaced by the reality of Jesus’s work. But, he says, Calvin did not fully consider types existing in creation before the fall. The Sabbath is an eschatologically-oriented type. We look forward to its eschatological fulfilment. Eschatological light has shone upon the creation from the beginning, and a creation Sabbath has to include that. It is the Spirit who is “the source of (eschatological) life” (152). The pneumatological is always the christological, to be in the Spirit is to be “in Christ.” The realm of the Spirit is the eschatological realm.

The weekly Sabbath was a continual reminder to Adam that history is not a ceaseless repetition of days. Rather, at the beginning of each week he could look forward to the rest of that seventh day. That weekly cycle impressed on him that he, together with the created order as a whole, was moving toward a goal, a nothing less than eschatological culmination. (ibid.)

A weekly day of rest faithfully observed by the church is a concrete witness to a watching world that Christians are not enmeshed in the turmoil of an impersonal historical process but look with confidence to sharing in the consummation of God’s purposes for the creation. There does indeed remain an eschatological Sabbath-rest for the people of God. It is not a command, but a reminder of the better that is coming.

Thus, the fourth commandment makes the meaning of the seventh day interact with the meaning of the previous six. The day of rest gives meaning to, and in turn receives meaning from, the six days of labor. There is a philosophy of history here. The Sabbath’s enjoined rest from labor not a practical demand but an eschatological reminder: we are to meditate upon our six days in the light of the eschatological seventh. Quoting Geerhardus Vos (from what I assume is The Eschatology of the Old Testament (P & R Publishing, 2001)) Gaffin writes:

The Sabbath is not in the first place a means of advancing religion. It has its main significance apart from that, in pointing forward to the eternal issues of life and history . . . a day devoted to the remembrance of man’s eternal destiny cannot be properly observed without the positive cultivation of . . . religious concerns. . . . But, even where this is conceded, the fact remains that it is possible to crowd too much into the day that is merely subservient to religious propaganda, and to void it [of any spiritual good.]

Finally, the eschatological nature of the Sabbath makes Sabbath-keeping a present impossibility. After the fall, human beings cannot possibly fulfil the fourth commandment. Its rest points to the state where all has been perfected, and no more work is necessary. In this present age, work is always necessary. Human beings can't achieve a consummation from their own resources. They cannot bring the psychical creation to its eschatological fulfillment. Therefore, Sabbath-keeping requires and is fundamentally a pneumatological extension of grace, and a practice of hope (and suffering--see Moltmann Theology of Hope chapter 1).

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Friday, September 02, 2005

liturgical formation

Romeo Castellucci, a founder of Italy's radical theatre troupe Societas Raffaello Sanzio, has some things to say about the formative qualities of drama. In the May, 2004, edition of PAJ, she says:

A spiritual connection exists between us and the classics; through them it's possible to reconnect with the individual and with the universality of the individual, it is also possible to find the familiar as well as real solitude. . . . Work with the classics demands that we confront the traditional, but that is precisely why the work can surpass the traditional, but never in a literary way. Therefore one mustn't tackle these classical texts as a superstitious person who believes the classics to be safe; quite the opposite. One must make an effort to put them to the test of fire, in order to better determine their supportive structure, which leads exactly to the revelation that they speak to everyone, to the frail and private nature of every individual. And the book, as object, is no more. [Therefore, within the universal] it is possible to work, it's possible to live. In freedom.

The connection between the individual, the universal, bodily performance (she calls the body, "the most concise form of commnication possible and also the most disconcerting, the most pointed." Castellucci later calls the body, "the point of departure and probably also the point of arrival," and again later, "shape, weight, age, walk . . . they're all elements that create the truth of the person's body and that spill over willy nilly, into the dramatic fabric," and, finally, she says that drama can make a "rhetorical body.") and freedom says much about the powerful effect liturgy has on the religious formation of individuals.

The connectedness between performance and education applies directly to the way liturgy enacts the formation and education of the Christian. Churches must take their liturgical praxis seriously. They must take responsibility for what they say--and this applies to every church tradition. No one can dismiss liturgy as an accretion, or as a high church phenomenon. One cannot put it aside as wrote formula and ritual. Liturgy is etymologically "the work of the people." Every form of church polity, political assembly, or social interaction contains an element of liturgy. Call it socialization, but by walking the pre-determined steps, by saying the pre-determined words, and by inserting ourselves into the dramatic roles assigned to us by the innumerable valences of any culture, we become to a great-degree what we are. We learn by doing. Repetition does its work until the lessons go into the blood and tissue of muscle memory. And we do this to achieve the effortless freedom that comes when what is learned and who we are can no longer be separated. This is the function of liturgy.

So the question in the churches is not whether to have liturgy, but what effect our own accepted liturgy produces. What messages are we sending? What are we saying by the corporate body language of our assembly?

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Thursday, September 01, 2005

Batter my heart, you three-personned narrative!

One of my favorite theological stories occurred a few years ago during a conference in one of the lecture rooms at Harvard Divinity School. The occasion was headlined by Anglican New Testament scholar, N. T. Wright. Also in attendance was the late Baptist theologian Stanley Grenz, and this story concerns a remark by him. During the closing Q&A of the conference, one of the students present asked Grenz about something he had said during a talk earlier that morning. "Dr. Grenz," began the student, "earlier you said that one of the tasks that presently confronts the church is to learn to read the Bible as a Christian text. What did you mean by that?" Grenz responded by saying, "we must learn to read the Bible as trinitarians!" It is an epigrammatic statement, and it stuck with me. Yet, what did he mean? I think that Dr. Nicholas Wolterstorff may provide an answer.

In the article "Seeking Justice in Hope"[1], Nicholas Wolterstorff cites the influence colleague David Kelsey has had in explaining, basically, what Grenz was talking about (though Wolterstorff has not heard my story, nor was he at the conference that winter morning.) Wolterstorff writes:

As the results of working through a magnificent, but yet-unpublished, manuscript on theological anthropology by my colleague David Kelsey, I have come to see with far greater clarity than ever before that the story Christian Scripture tells of how the triune God relates to what is not God is a story that has three independent, though mutually involving, story lines: there is the story line of how God relates to all that is not God as creator and sustainer, there is the story line of how God relates to all that is not God as consummator, and there is the story line of how God relates to all that is not God as deliverer or redeemer. Christian theology, though it does not itself usually take the form of a narrative, is nonetheless unique among the theologies and philosophies of humankind in that it articulates this narrative--that is, it articulates the threefold way in which the three-person God relates to all that is not God.

I said that these three story lines, though certainly mutually involving, are nonetheless independent; none is a mere component or implication of another. To a person who has heard of God only as creator and sustainer, the news of consummation and of redemption comes as news -- good news. Consummation and redemption are not simply the outworking of the dynamics of creation. Likewise the story line of consummation does not imply that of redemption, nor vice versa. If God's creatures had acted as God wanted them to act, so that there was no need of the deliverance of which the One in the burning bush spoke nor for that which Zechariah now expected, nonetheless God might have promised and effected consummation. Conversely, God might have redeemed us from the sin that so strangely haunts creation without offering us that consummation which is a new creation. The consummation and redemption story lines do not even presuppose the creation story line. They do, of course, presuppose that there are beings who can be redeemed and whose existence can be consummated by a mode of existence that goes beyond what "the flesh" is capable of. But they do not, as such, presuppose that the totality of what is not God has been created by God, nor, if it has been created by God, that the creating and sustaining God is also the God who consummates and redeems.

Insofar as theology blurs the distinctiveness of these three story lines, thus far does theology depart from one of the deepest and most distinctive characteristics of the Christian scriptures' presentation of God's relation to all that is not God.
[1] "Seeking Justice in Hope" in The Future of Hope: Christian Tradition amid Modernity and Postmodernity, eds. Miroslav Volf and William Katerberg (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's 2004), 83-84.

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