You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Philosophy’ category.
Sometimes it’s important to remember that theology needs to be “for and against” Hegel, especially when one comes across a beautiful passage like this.
We can tell those who assert the truth and certainty of the reality of sense-objects that they should go back to the most elementary school of wisdom, viz. the ancient Eleusinian Mysteries of Ceres and Bacchus, and that they have still to learn the secret meaning of the eating of bread and the drinking of wine. For he who is initiated into these Mysteries not only comes to doubt the being of sensuous things, but to despair of it; in part he brings about the nothingness of such things himself in his dealings with them, and in part he sees them reduce themselves to nothingness. Even the animals are not shut out from this wisdom but, on the contrary, show themselves to be most profoundly initiated into it; for they do not just stand idly in front of sensuous things as if these possessed intrinsic being, but, despairing of their reality, and completely assured of their nothingness, they fall to without ceremony and eat them up. And all Nature, like the animals, celebrates these open Mysteries which teach the truth about sensuous things.
~ The Phenomenology of Spirit, 109.
At the The Church and Postmodern Culture site, Carl Raschke presents an insightful review of Zizek’s and Gunjevic’s God in Pain: Inversions of Apocalypse. Despite the fact that the book “seems almost unreviewable,” it’s clear enough for Raschke that the text assumes the end of postmodern theology.
This is not to say that Raschke agrees with Zizek and Gunjevic. Indeed, his critique is a subtle riposte to Zizek’s theorizing and denouncement of Derridan a/theologies. Raschke rightly finds in Zizek’s corpus traces of pietism culminating in themes of “abjection and the painfulness of singular subjectivity.” In offering his critique of Zizek, I wonder if Raschke realizes that he is essentially in agreement with Milbank’s assessment: Zizek is not so much an atheist as much as he is a Protestant.
Whereas Zizek is too focused on Lacanian subjectivity, Gunjevic, according to Raschke, is too focused on forms of clericalism and institutionalism. In the face of apocalypse, Gunjevic’s stance is,
Not unlike living out some highly sophisticated fantasy of nineteenth century Gothic Romanticism. British academics singing matins and expatiating on the relevance of Scotus to sociology, while the guys in bearskins ransack the administration building at Oxford, strikes me more, however, as the gag for a Capital One commercial than a serious proposal for persevering through the dark times.
In the place of Zizek and Gunjevic, Raschke posits his own familiar view of postmodern theology, what he calls a “cosmological exceptionalism”. In the face of apocalyptic doom, “it’s not simply about living resolutely and authentically – that is to mistake Christianity for Heideggerianity. It’s about God vindicating those who don’t fit into the global or religious norms of the day at all, those whose only virtue was not so much how they lived, but their ‘faithfulness’ to the end.”
However wonderful this statement, Raschke quickly undermines this somewhat reasonable plea by slipping back into pietism and the Hedieggerian authenticity he previously derided. Raschke claims that New Testament apocalyptic means that Christ is “looking for one thing, and one thing only, when he arrives – faith.” It seems we have again returned to Protestant notions of sola fide, albeit with a postmodern veneer. God, we are told, is looking for an individual peering across the Kantian abyss.
Still, we can appreciate Rashke’s curious definition of apokalypsis: “it is about being Christs in the most Christ-like way to each other, as Luther once said.” Curious, because this quip highlighted by Raschke is essentially Gunjevic’s position. But Raschke doesn’t quite pick this up, and appears somewhat tone deaf when it comes to reading Gunjevic so that all he perceives are “new and improved version of academic ecclesio-theology.” But for Gunjevic, the virtues or ecclesial practices – the “technologies of the self” – are the virtues of the working class or “the mystagogy of revolution.” Gunjevic’s ecclesial practices are therefore far from the halls of Oxford and much more at home in the Balkans or a local union meeting.
Cast in this light, Gunjevic’s assessment of the revolutionary project is a rather modest philosophical proposal, firmly rooted in the Christian Socialist tradition. States Gunjevic,
Every revolution is doomed to fail if it lacks virtue, if it has no ad hoc participative asceticism which would assume a transcending dimension, no built-in dimension of spiritual exercise, or what Michael Foucault calls ‘technologies of the self.’ Revolution without virtue is necessarily caught between a violent orgiastic lunacy and a bureaucratized statist autism (13).
Dorothy Day once said something similar: “if we do not keep indoctrinating, we lose the vision. And if we lose the vision, we become merely philanthropists, doling out palliatives.”
According to Gunjevic, the ecclesial community, “has as its goal beyond goal the generation of new relationships, which themselves situate and define new individuals” (92). All of this for Gunjevic is to bring “Augustine to Spinoza and Spinoza to Augustine,” and to again bind together immanence and transcendence. In practical terms, this means that “ascetic exercise in ecclesial practice is a deliberately embraced discipline in terms of a goal that surpasses us, yet is also a vehicle” (101). We could do worse than to call this a politics of the good.
Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the λόγος”… Logos means both reason and word – a reason which is creative and capable of self-communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (cf. Acts 16:6-10) – this vision can be interpreted as a “distillation” of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.
Benedict’s thought echoes the opening words to Jaroslav Pelikan’s, Christianity and Classical Culture. Summarizing the linguistic and, in some sense, material appropriation of this historical confluence, Pelikan writes, “It remains one of the most momentous linguistic convergences in the entire history of the human mind and spirit that the New Testament happens to have been written in Greek” (3).
If Benedict and Pelikan are correct, where does this leave theology and the question of metaphysics? At the very lest, shouldn’t we be over and done with a facile rejection of metaphysics?
In Darwin’s Pious Idea, Conor Cunningham highlights the Cartesian dualism underlining the thought of Dawkins and Co. Frankly, I find it fascinating to believe that there are still people out there, apparently even scientists, who assume a mind/body distinction, and the existence of something as vacuous and elusive as “matter” or a soul locked inside a body. It seems that there are still many who have yet to consider Wittgenstein’s quip: ”The human body is the best picture of the human soul.”
So where does this mistaken belief come from? Cunningham writes about the genealogy of this assumption:
We can better understand this if we begin to realize that the notion of mere matter – that something is nothing but an aggregation of the Darwinina ‘swamp’ of pure becoming (our ever-contemporary origin, as it were) – is itself a product of a ‘Cartesian presumption,’ namely the dualism of res extensa/res cogitans (matter and mind). In this way Dawkins and his followers reproduce a quasi-Cartesianism in their strict division between genotype (res extensa) and phenotype (res cogitans). Therefore the materialist, operating in quasi-Cartesian terms, generate what can be called a homunculus fundamentalism: they presume that the soul is like a little person inside the human, but when they don’t find such an entity, they deny the soul existence…the smirk of the ultra-Darwinist (or eliminative materialist) is fueled and held captive by the picture of a mind inside the brain, or a soul inside or outside the body. Ultra-Darwinist keep pulling up our skirts, raising the curtains to reveal an absence – the missing homunculus. But if we take a closer look, we notice that there is something decidedly old-fashioned about this approach (65).
Cunningham goes on to argue that underpinning this outdated mode of Cartesian dualism is yet another philosophical assumption; namely, Zwinglian metaphysics. More on this later.
Real history is composed of human lives; and human life is metaphysics in act. To claim to constitute the science of history without any speculative preoccupation, or even to suppose that the humblest detail of history could be, in the strict sense of the word, a simple matter of observation, is to be influenced by prejudices on the pretext of attaining to an impossible neutrality.
~ Maurice Blondel, The Letter on Apologetics and History and Dogma, 237.
Rather than erecting a dualism between God and the world, or to say that God is “wholly other,” Desmond posits the “inseparability of God and the world,” taking his cue from St. Paul and the mystery of creation’s groaning (Rom. 8).
God may be the absolute other, but the absolute other is not absolutely other. This other is absolute, but just as absolute it is for the other of itself, and hence not absolute, in the sense of being purely for itself alone. This is the agapeic ecstasis of transcendence itself… Creation itself is…the very happening of the between. We cannot elevate the absolute other into an otherness that is just the absolutization of opposition. Were this the last word, we would have to pack our bags and shut up. I agree, a reverent silence may be needful, but we can only speak of the absolutely other, even as absolutely other, because in some mysterious sense that other is communicated. The real question is the character of the communication.
~ William Desmond, God and the Between, 103
“Marx’s key insight remains as pertinent today as it ever was: the question of freedom should not be located primarily in the political sphere – i.e. in such things as free elections, an independent judiciary, a free press, respect for human rights. Real freedom resides in the ‘apolitical’ network of social relations, from the market to the family, where the change needed in order to make improvements is not political reform, but a change in the social relations of production. We do not vote concerning who owns what, or about the relations between workers in a factory. Such things are left to processes outside the sphere of the political, and it is an illusion that one can change them by ‘extending’ democracy: say, by setting up ‘democratic’ banks under the people’s control. Radical changes in this domain should be made outside the sphere of such democratic devices as legal rights etc. They have a positive role to play, of course, but it must be borne in mind that democratic mechanisms are part of a bourgeois-state apparatus that is designed to ensure the undisturbed functioning of capitalist reproduction.”
Zizek questioning of the “bourgeois-state apparatus” in favor of something else sounds a lot like Illich’s argument for a “network of ever different relations of agape” (cf. Taylor’s, A Secular Age). That is, a mode of thinking and acting that escapes “bureaucratic control… [and] that we want to defend from measurement or manipulation” (The Rivers North of the Future, 21).
I’m retracing a couple of key chapters from Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age and came across this little gem.
Official Christianity has gone through what we can call an “excarnation”, a transfer out of embodied, “enfleshed” forms of religious life, to those which are more ‘in the head’. In this it follows in parallel with “Enlightenment”, and modern unbelieving culture in general. The issue here is not how many positive invocations of the body we hear; these abound in many forms of atheist materialism, as also in more Liberal Christianity. The issue is whether our relation to the highest – God for believers, generally morality for unbelieving Aufklarer – is mediated in embodied form (italics mine), as was plainly the case for parishioners “creeping to the Cross” on Good Friday in pre-Reformation England. Or looking to what moves us towards the highest, the issue is to what degree our highest desires, those which allow us to discern the highest, are embodied, as the pity captured in the New Testament verb ‘splangnizesthai’ plainly is
What I love about this is that Taylor is not interested in discussing disembodied religion in a facile sense, evidence by his remarks concerning materialism and Liberal strands of Christianity. There’s plenty of “embodiedness” to go around. Rather, and more importantly, the issue has to do with how the divine is mediated – what form it takes, how one truly receives it and to see it in light of the whole.
But there’s more to the story. Again, the issue is not about the multiple options or appeals to the body in relation to politics, religion, sexuality, or the lack thereof, but that the question of embodiment itself has become a subjective issue (613ff.). And once the issue of form becomes secondary, it’s not long before it’s considered superfluous and in the name of economy, cast off as something extra. I think this represents just one example of Taylor’s unique philosophical insights and overall knack for tracing the entire range of “human linguistic-communicative activity” (615).
~ Henri de Lubac, The Mystery of the Supernatural
I finally picked up Marcus Pound’s book on Zizek today and already I’m hooked. Pound has an extremely interesting take on how the nouvelle theologians relate to Lacan. He notes, for example, that de Certeau, one of de Lubac’s pupils, was in Lacan’s inner circle, and there must be something to Lacan’s comment that Catholicism represents “the true religion.”
What really stood out to me though is the narrative Pound traces in the brief section, “Socialism and Scholasticism.” Pound writes:
“Zizek’s problem, however, arises because, despite the theological influence, he remains implicitly wedded to the neo-scholastic framework, giving credence to a supposed realm of ‘pure nature,’ because only an extrinsic theology of grace could sustain a theology of tragic abandonment. In other words, tragic abandonment makes sense only when the world is already presupposed to exist in absolute distinction from any supernatural appendage” (91).
As such, Zizek can only myopically perceive Christianity through Protestant eyes. Zizek’s influences, stemming from Böhme, Schelling, Hegel and Kierkegaard, all reinforce rather than question a presupposed logic:
“What all these writers share is a deeply Protestant theology of sin and grace, not unlike that found in the early Karl Barth. This can be identified in terms of the overtly oppositional logic of the terms. In the case of Barth, culture is so steeped in sin and the absolute brokenness of the world that any sense of hope can arrive only through a complete overturning of the world: grace. Such a viewpoint sits well with a theology of pure nature by presupposing the gulf between nature and grace. Yet a recovery of the medieval viewpoint suggest an alternative, albeit oppositional, logic, a weak dialectic, such that one pole is not required to overcome or, in Zizek’s case, obliterate the other precisely because divine presence inhabits and permeates all material nature, rendering nature in its entirety as a holy sacrament. On this view, each dialectical pole remains to an extant a continual component of the other such that they perform a mutually critical correction of each other; a more relational as opposed to oppositional dialectic” (92).
In other words, Milbank is right; Zizek isn’t so much of an atheist as much as he’s a Protestant. If you simply don’t buy into the vision of natura pura, then Zizek’s Christology ends up being rather bland. It might be helpful in terms of dethroning the idea of God as the Big Other, but surely there are better places to turn – the work of Terry Eagleton, as one example, comes to mind.
What happens when belief is sundered from content, when conviction no longer attends to its material conditions? Adorno attempts to answer this question in The Jargon of Authenticy. The Jargon is a direct assault on the Existentialist movement; particularly it’s German variants (Hediegger, Jaspers, Buber, et. al.). According to Adorno, all talk about the authentic self is fodder for the culture industry. Conviction-as-more-important-than-content is commodified belief. So much is this the case for Adorno that the entire diction of the newly formed authentic self is the language of the advertising industry – the language of “the representatives of business and administration” (6).
The following are a few brief quotations:
The Aura of the Jargon:
“The fact that the words of the jargon sound as if they said something higher than what they mean suggests the term ‘aura.’ It is hardly an accident that Benjamin introduced the term at the same moment when, according to his own theory, what he understood by ‘aura’ became the impossible to experience. As words that are sacred without sacred content, as frozen emanations, the terms of the jargon of authenticity are products of the disintegration of the aura. The latter pairs itself with an attitude of not being bound and thus becomes available in the midst of the demythified world; or, as it might be put in paramilitary modern German, it become einsatzbereit, mobilized. The perpetual charge against reification, a charge which the jargon represents, is itself reified… Those who have run out of holy spirit speak with mechanical tongues” (10).
“The stereotypes of the jargon support and reassure subjective movement. They seem to guarantee that one is not doing what in fact he is doing – bleating with the crowd – simply by virtue of his using those stereotypes to guarantee that one has achieved it all himself, as an unmistakably free person. The formal gesture of autonomy replaces the content of autonomy” (18).
The authentic self as a broken dialectic:
“The jargon takes over this transcendence destructively and cosigns it to its own chatter. Whatever more of meaning there is in words than what they say has been secured for them once and for all as expression. The dialectic has been broken off: the dialectic between word and thing as well as the dialectic within language, between individual worlds and their relations. Without judgment, without having been thought, the word is to leave its meaning behind” (12).
The Jargon is secularized Christianity:
“Ever since Martin Buber split off Kierkegaard’s Christology, and dressed it up as a universal posture, there has been a dominant inclination to conceive of metaphysical content as bound to the so-called relation of I and thou. This content is referred to the immediacy of life. Theology is tied to the determinations of immanence” (16).
I don’t know what to do with this section, but I think I love it:
“In the man-to-man relationship there can be no eternity now and here, and certainly not in the relationship of man to God, a relationship that seems to pat him on the shoulder. Buber’s style of existentialism draws it transcendence, in a reversed analogia entis, out of the fact that spontaneous relationships among persons cannot be reduced to objective poles. This existentialism remains the Lebensphilosophie out of which it came, in philosophical history, and which it abnegated: it overelevates the dynamism of morality into the sphere of immortality (16-7).
Ultimately, the jargon occludes material being:
“The jargon likewise supplies men with patterns for being human, patterns which have been driven out of them by unfree labor, if ever in fact traces of free labor did exist” (17).
“The jargon guides the petit bourgeois to a positive attitude toward life. It fastidiously prolongs the innumerable events which are to make attractive to men a life by which they otherwise would be disgusted – and which they would some come to consider unbearable. That religion has shifted into the subject, has become religiosity, follows the trend of history. Dead cells of religiosity in the midst of the secular, however, become poisonous” (22).
‘Living the questions,’ so favored by the jargonsit, is anything but radical. In response to keeping the door open with no conclusion, Adorno sarcastically writes,
“A concerned tone is ominously struck up: no answer would be serious enough; every answer no matter of what content, would be dismissed as a limiting concretization. But the effect of this remorseless intransigence is friendly; the man never pins himself down: the world is all too dynamic (28).
Heidegger’s talk of sheltering space is anything but an actual shelter:
“However, that which announces itself, in the game about the need for residences, is more serious than the pose of existential seriousness. It is the fear of unemployment, lurking in all citizens of countries of high capitalism. This is a fear which is administratively fought off, and therefore nailed to the platonic firmament of stars, a fear that remains even in the glorisou time of full employment. Everyone knows that he could become expendable as technology develops, as long as production is only carried on for production’s sake; so everyone senses that his job is a disguised unemployment” (34).