Archive for February, 2010

Looking Back on a Month of Radical Theology


This has been a busy month. I’ve been swamped with working 35 hours a week plus school plus maintaining a blog. However, I must admit that as February winds down I reflect back on this month of blogging with marked ambivalence. This month of blogging has made me rethink the purpose of blogging. While this was undoubtedly the most time and energy I’ve ever invested in my blog, it was an investment that I began to question as the discussion it engendered was few and far between. This is partially my fault because I did not keep my summaries condensed, and I did not offer possible discussion questions. However, I ultimately decided that blogging is for my enjoyment alone. Hence, even if my reviews of both Crockett’s and Altizer’s book did not generate the discussion I had hoped for, I am still content that I profiled two books of radical theology that truly transformed the very way I approach theology. Not only had they been highly influential in my past, I also know that delving into these texts over the last month stretched me intellectually. I struggled so much with Crockett’s work, but upon completion I remembered what I admired so much about it: its honesty. I think one way to test the influence of a text is the degree to which that work never leaves you. I feel as if Crockett’s Interstices is one of those works that will forever haunt my theological thinking. Of course one can always choose to ignore those insights, but if theology is to remain ethical then it must attend to the very things that terrify it. I also hope that reviewing Altizer’s work offers a tiny glimpse into the true sophistication of his theology. It’s always tempting reduce someone’s theology to a couple of talking points, but it’s obvious that Altizer’s theology is far more profound that his opponents every gave him credit for. There’s also an aspect of Altizer’s theology that strikes me as incredibly honest, namely his attention to historical research and Biblical criticism. While there are numerous ways for theologians to avoid the messiness of historical scholarship, Altizer dives right in headfirst because as he claims at the beginning of his text, for theology to be theology it must be historical.

I also find Altizer’s theological vision admirable. Is there any other modern theologian who remains so consistent throughout his career completely possessed by a desire for a new theological thinking? His sincere theological voyage is one that has been utterly solitary, and perhaps Barth is right in saying that the theologian must always remain on the outskirts of society to properly fulfill his task. As Crockett would also remind us, theologians who theologize without any assurance of the truth of their claims, may actually be mad. Radical theologizing is always somewhat pathological. It can be a sickness (unto death?) that comes over us, forever disturbing our existence. I’ve come to terms with this, and I hope to enjoy my symptom. If William James could identify some religious believers as being sick-souled, then perhaps all genuine theologians are the ones who must suffer to truly rethink theology in our modern world. As Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (John 12:24).

I just found this quote from Altizer about theology and sickness.

“[T]he God who we can actually know is too terrible to contemplate, so that in this perspective, there is no more dangerous or more pathological vocation than theology, a discipline that truly is a sickness unto death. Why then choose theology? Why accept such a loathsome and pathological calling? Can one here be at most simply a scapegoat? Would it not be far wiser simply to end such a calling?” (Living The Death of God, 105)


Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 12


[Under the pages section I’ve compiled this book review in one location]


Altizer sees our world as being severely troubled. While this last century was unique in experiencing an absolute totalitarianism, a new totalitarianism is being released on society in which all boundaries between public/private, conscious/unconscious are dissolving. Even the interior realm is no longer only interior but rather absorbed into this new world. “That ending is the advent of a new nothingness, a nothingness that is not beyond our horizon but rather is our horizon, and is our horizon because horizon has disappeared” (177). Another crisis we face is that that our world can no longer be celebrated with a Yes that is solely Yes. The Yes and Amen with which Nietzsche welcomed the eternal recurrence and the Yes to coming of the Here Comes Everybody for Joyce is no longer possible in the world we inhabit. The inability to name Satan is likewise an inability to name Christ any longer. The name Christ is no longer speakable in our world precisely because the absolute distinction between Christ and world can no longer be maintained. The inability to name Christ also suggests that “a truly and unique interior and individual presence have ever more comprehensively disappeared” (180), in our anonymous world. Our world is now totally and absolutely an abyss. Altizer raises the question that if are inability to name Christ in our abyssal world might indicate that this “very incapacity to could be a decisive sign of the full presence of an apocalypse” (183).

Perhaps if we can think of the abyss as a consequence of grace, a grace that shatters our previous notions of grace, then maybe this “grace must perish before grace itself can be all in all, just as Christ must perish before Christ can be all in all, and just as God has perished so that God can be all in all” (183). If our modern emptiness is total and full then this must be because of the present apocalypse “which is being enacted even now” (187).

Altizer concludes Genesis and Apocalypse with these words:

“When we recall that it was an original apocalypticism that called forth the dark emptiness of the impotent will, we can be prepared for a darkness that is inseparable from light, and a light that can only appear in the heart of darkness, for only in the transfiguration of that darkness is an apocalyptic transfiguration. Then even if we cannot say Yes and only Yes, we can say a No that inseparable from Yes, and while that No for us can never be a pure No-saying, it is precisely that absence which evokes a Yes, and evokes a Yes in the very center of darkness” (187).

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chater 11


Christ and Satan

Altizer argues that Christianity is utterly singular in understanding an absolute dichotomy between the Spirit and the flesh and between Christ and Satan. Satan is a figure that only officially enters the Bible in the New Testament. Jesus’ ministry was an attack against Satan, which is why so many of the church fathers could understand the atonement as the ultimate triumph of Christ over Satan. It was not until Milton’s Paradise Lost that man could know Satan as the “full and actual opposite of Christ” (162). Milton’s Christ differs from Dante’s Christ in Paradisio because Milton can only make use of the Christ of passion not Dante’s Christ of glory. While Milton’s Satan was truly unique as an embodiment of the negative, Blake went further with his “realization of a coincidentia oppositorum between Christ and Satan” (164). Christ’s sacrifice and kenotic redemption can only be fully actualized if Satan is truly sovereign over a world of death. We must remember that original Fall was not Adam’s fall into sin or Christ’s humiliation on earth but rather Lucifer’s angelic rebellion in heaven.

Milton’s dialectical relationship between Christ and Satan is more fully expressed when one considers Satan’s rebellion and Christ’s humiliation. While Satan initially rebelled against the worshiping of the Christ so Christ only realized his mission by suffering at the hands of Satan’s sovereignty over earth. “Satan’s monarchic sovereignty in Hell is inverted in the Son’s free and acceptance of incarnation and crucifixion, an incarnation and crucifixion which is a full and total reversal of the Son’s rule and glory in Heaven” (167). Following Luther, he understood the finality of Christ’s death, a death that would make him a Son of God that could never partake in the fullness of the Godhead. Milton’s radical theology comes to its fullest expression because his commitment to divine impassibility led him to assert that Christ and God do not share the same essence because of Christ’s absolute death. Blake would take things further than Milton by recognizing that the entirety of the Godhead was affected by the crucifixion. Altizer believes that Blake was our primary epic poet of the death of God because his poetry witnessed this death enacted in both the French and American revolutions. For Blake, the Creator who is utterly “isolated apart from that sacrificial passion is finally and only Satan” (169). Hence, in Blake, “Satan is that Godhead which dies or is “Self-Annihilated” in Christ” (169). Thus Satan’s annihilation is the negation of the negation, which is likewise the negation of the absolute detached and self-alienated God. Altizer wagers that Milton could not know the Godhead of Christ because he could not identify Satan as the “self-estrangement of God” (170). Thus the dialectical identity of Christ and Satan is made possible by God’s self-emptying in Christ that could finally lead to the full and actual death of the wholly other, oppressive God and Satan in Christ’s passion.

Derrida Lecture on Psychoanalysis and Deleuze


This is great stuff:

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 10


The Apocalyptic Christ

Altizer believes that Barth’s Church Dogmatics is a response to the death of God and Nietzsche’s vision of eternal recurrence. What Altizer most appreciates in Barth’s theological system is his doctrine of election. For Barth, Christ is the “Elector and Elect, and again the one Rejector and Rejected” (149). Barth’s doctrine of election is one in which Christ Himself is damned by God. He is forsaken and suffers, Christ becomes a curse for us. This is radical because now “Christ is the only one rejected, the only one who has suffered the damnation of Hell” (151). However, this damnation of Christ is the very ground of our redemption. If “it was Nietzsche who must fully proclaimed the death of God in the modern world, it was Barth who most fully proclaimed that death as the very essence of the gospel, for that death is the actualization of an eternal election, and thus for Nietzsche and Barth alike the death of God is an absolute Yes and Amen” (151). While Barth’s theology was relentlessly Christocentric so Nietzsche’s philosophy was entirely grounded on the death of God. Again we see that Nietzsche’s Yes-saying to eternal recurrence is repeated in Barth’s celebration of God’s gracious double predestination. Although Altizer realizes that Barth opposed apocalyptic theology, he believes Barth’s Christology is unique and radical. It is radical and apocalyptic because the No-saying of Christ in inextricably linked to the Yes-saying, a Yes-saying that is finally apocalyptic because it affirms the absolute end of damnation itself.

Damnation is unique to Christianity. This is manifest because damnation is wholly absent from the Hebrew Bible but absolutely pervasive in the Greek Bible. Damnation of the crucified would become interiorized in Augustine’s negative will and in Nietzsche’s ressentiment. This damnation in Christianity is the forsakenness of God the Son by the God the Father. “This is the gospel or good news of Jesus Christ, a gospel in which the damnation of one is the salvation of all” (156). Barth recognized that we can only know God by knowing His absolute grace, that “grace is the rejection of damnation of God by Himself’ (156).

The “sacrifice of God by God and a sacrifice of God to God, a sacrifice which Christianity in its very beginnings knew as atonement, an atonement occurring through the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God” (158). Christ must bear the weight of sin and suffer the wrath of God alone. This damnation is our salvation, and “[g]uilt becomes grace when it is the guilt of God, or the guilt which God ascribes to Himself in Christ” (159).

“Accordingly, an apocalyptic condemnation is absolutely No-saying and absolute Yes-saying at once, and if it can be known interiorly and individually only as No-saying or guilt, it is known or realized universally only as the Yes-saying of grace, a grace that is an apocalyptic grace, and is an apocalyptic grace because it is all in all. But is all in all only by being the damnation of God in Christ, a damnation which is an apocalyptic damnation, and is an apocalyptic damnation because it and it alone actualizes the election of all…the apocalypse of Christ, an apocalypse in which guilt has wholly passed into grace, and in which the Almighty has wholly passed into Christ” (159-160).

[After reading this chapter I’m really looking forward to reading more of CD, especially Volume II. I’m dragging my feet at the end of CD I/2. Fortunately, I’m still on pace, and I’ll be beginning Volume II starting next week]

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 9


Predestination as Eternal Recurrence

Altizer thinks that Nietzsche is our most Augustinian thinker, and Nietzsche brings to end the Christian historical world that Augustine inaugurated. Both thinkers are perhaps are most God-obsessed thinkers, and both “know God by knowing guilt” (134). While Augustine could know our negative will as one captivated by guilt, Nietzsche would name this negative, impotent will ressentiment. Nietzsche identified ressentiment as a slave morality that was a byproduct of a prophetic revolution in Israel. Furthermore, just as Augustine thought the fall more than rigorously than any other thinker so could Nietzsche identify “the origin of ressentiment as an original fall, a fall which is the origin of a bad conscience” (137). For Nietzsche, the beginning of history entailed that man repress his instincts and drives and devalue them as weak and vulgar. Bad conscience was engendered by these repressed drives turning against the self. While Augustine could affirm the totality of events as being a manifestation of total grace so Nietzsche, likewise, could affirm infinitely willing the eternal recurrence of the same. Nietzsche stands at the end of Christianity and the end of history itself, and the eternal recurrence is truly post-Christian. Eternal recurrence is “a vision of total grace, and an eternal grace which is an eternal consumption of evil or sin, each is a vision of, each is a vision of a real and actual transfiguration of evil” (139). Augustine first broke with the archaic world by thinking an utterly individual, interior will. Nietzsche’s will to power is a reversal of the individual will because the will is “without an actual direction, purpose or goal…[it] breaks and dissolves the individual will” (139. So Nietzsche’s will to power is a conversion of the individual will that reverses that will and depersonalizes it in our post-Christian world.

Both Hegel and Nietzsche are our two prophets of the death of God in modernity. Hegel understood the death of God as the resurrection of God that ultimately led to “the return of the Godhead of God as the center and ground of self-consciousness and history” (140). However, Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence conceived of events as ultimate and absolute thus not permitting any resurrection of God. The death of God for Nietzsche is an absolute and final death, a death unleashing a transcendent ground that now grounds a pure and absolute immanence. “Augustine knows the will of God as a totally transcendent and totally immanent will, Nietzsche knows the Will to Power only as a totally immanent will which is a total and absolute will, but a will which can be realized as such only by knowing the finality of the death of God” (141). Altizer notices that Augustine’s conception of the will of God is transformed into Nietzsche’s philosophy as the will to power, which wills everything absolutely and infinitely. The absolute immanent eternal recurrence is just as total as predestination, and it is likewise an act of creation ex nihilo. This nothing that served as the ground of eternal recurrence is the bad conscience that Nietzsche understood as an “interior act of No-saying, but a No-saying which becomes Yes-saying in the willing of eternal recurrence” (144). Both predestination and its post-Christian version, eternal recurrence, are celebrations of the totality of history and events.

With regards to theodicy, Nietzsche went further than Augustine ever could. Nietzsche understood the celebration of eternal recurrence as a grace that is also an affirmation of evil. Altizer recognizes that this absolute joy and affirmation is also found in the Christian’s affirmation of double predestination. However, this celebration of salvation and grace can only be full insofar as it likewise affirms that absolute nature of damnation.

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 8


The Genesis of the Will

The individual will is manifested in the I, an I that was totally alien to history until the epistles of Paul. Paul knew better than all of the impotence of the will, a will that he admits being wholly ensnared by in Romans (“I do the very things I do not desire to do”). This negative will is in absolute opposition to the I that consciously wills. Augustine, following Paul, philosophically developed the concept of the will. For Augustine, the I is both free and enslaved simultaneously. We forever are beings torn apart by the two wills battling inside us: the carnal will and the spiritual will. This is why Augustine recognizes that a true conversion must come from outside of us (i.e. grace of God) because we are forever divided. “So it is that the new will is a will of grace, and a will that can only actually enact itself through the breakage or negation of the fallen will, a negation which is a self-negation” (124). This fallen will can thus be understood as an empty will, and we here see the parallel with Augustine’s definition of evil as the privation of being. The guilt that Paul and Augustine knew better than all was actually evidence of the grace of God because the grace of God breaks the fallen will thus leading to the internalization of guilt. This guilt opens up the possibility for real freedom because “that guilty will is a will that is only our own, it necessarily embodies a responsibility that is fully our own, and that responsibility is the very freedom of the will” (126).

Altizer makes an interesting claim that the doctrine or predestination only emerges in the most powerful epochs of history. Clearly, the Reformation re-invigorated the doctrine at the beginning moment of modernity, also Altizer believes that Marxism is our most revolutionary politics that is predicated on realizing the absolute necessity of a (predestined) history.

Nietzsche’s will to power is “a will which is an absolute will, and a will wholly transcending everything which is manifest as mind and consciousness, for the will of will is absolute power, and that power is only manifest and real to the interiority of consciousness as an absolutely negative power” (128). Just as Augustine understood the relationship between the will and predestination, so Nietzsche maps out the relationship between the will to power and eternal recurrence. Here Altizer conceives of Nietzsche’s doctrine of eternal recurrence as the absolute ending of the archaic visions of eternal return. Eternal recurrence ends eternal return because it begins with the dissolution of transcendence (i.e. death of God), and hence it leads to “a total immanence, a pure immanence which is absolute reversal of every moment which is open to transcendence, and therefore a reversal of an eternal return which is a return of a primordial and eternal moment of time” (128).

Augustine’s doctrine of predestination is the true source of evil. God’s will is the ground of everything. His battle against Manicheanism is ultimately an attack against those Christians so disinclined to admit that God is the source of evil (i.e. a refusal of God’s sovereignty). Augustine knew evil most intimately because his struggles with his rebellious will was evidence of the sheer power of the negative. His belief in the justice of God led him to conclude that God must extinguish evil in the fires of hell. “Predestination is the eternal act of God, and that act is an embodiment of the eternal will of God, a will which is an absolute love and grace but a will which can only be known to the fallen will as absolute judgment, a judgment which is damnation” (131). Altizer recognizes that predestination is both damnation and salvation, but he wagers that the absolute grace of God can only be experienced by those who are completely unworthy of receiving it.

“Augustine is our greatest theologian of grace only by being our greatest theologian of sin. Here sin itself can be known as a consequence of grace, and the origin of sin or original sin can full be known as having its source in God, and its source in the will of God, a will which is carried in an eternal predestination” (133).

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 7


Incarnation and Apocalypse

The God who is pure actuality originally actualizes Himself by negating a primordial plenitude. Actualization is in absolute opposition to itself, which leads Altizer to say that the source of I AM’s absolute otherness is the fact that I AM is simultaneously I AM NOT. This is opposition is not some harmonious polarity because the actualization of I AM self-negated an original quiescence in the violent genesis of creation. This self-negation was the necessary condition for absolute otherness (i.e. difference) to emerge because in this primordial plentitude there was no differentiation. The original sacrifice (self-negation of) of I AM that shattered creation is likewise “the sacrifice which is evoked by the Christian affirmation that God is love, for the love of God is the self-sacrifice or the self-negation or the self-emptying of God, a sacrifice which is the very center and ground of I AM” (110). The irreversible incarnation’s fulfillment is apocalypse itself, and incarnation is not simply the Word enfleshed but also the “Word or Godhead realizing itself, and realizing itself as the full and final opposite or otherness of itself, an otherness which is its ownmost otherness” (111). The absolute forward-movement of history itself is realized by the self-negation of I AM which is contingent on the negative pole of the Godhead, a pole that cannot absolutely differentiated from its positive pole.

Altizer sees the ascension and assumption as pagan reversals of the incarnation in which the apocalyptic faith of early Christianity is negated in favor of a regression into the cycle of eternal return. “So it is that resurrection is here known as ascension, and as an ascension which reverses the movement of incarnation, and reverses it so that Christ can return to the glory of heaven” (116). Ultimately, Altizer believes that the incarnation of I AM is the forward movement of history in which God’s self-negation leads from transcendence into immanence and eternity into time. We must be careful to recognize that incarnation is a repetition of creation because it results from the absolute negation of the Godhead, just as creation begins by an absolute self-emptying of an original plenitude. However, this suggests that the regression into the transcendent sovereign Lord, or into the Christ of glory sitting at the right hand of God in heaven can only be a negation of the incarnation. But, if incarnation is the irreversible absolute motor of history itself then nothing could reverse the event of the Word becoming flesh. All the negations built into Christian doctrine that attempt to control the radical nature of incarnation only attempt to reverse it, but Altizer contends that the effects of the incarnation of the kenotic Christ of the passion cannot be understood if we remain captivated by the ruling Christ of glory.

Psychodynamic Psychotherapy Brings Lasting Benefits through Self-Knowledge


Here’s a great new article that validates the incredible use and efficacy of psychodynamic (psychoanalytic) psychotherapy published by the American Psychological Association

Quick Update


I just wanted to say I’ll try and return to the review of Altizer’s Genesis and Apocalypse on Thursday. I plan on finishing up the review by this weekend. Sorry for the delay.