Archive for May, 2010

Hauerwas on Sentimentality


When asked what is the biggest challenge facing the church today, Hauerwas responded saying,

“Sentimentality, the church is filled with sentimentality. I wish that we could produce interesting atheists, but we’re not strong enough believers to produce interesting atheists. Instead what we hear so often in sermons is sentimental drivel about love and how Christians are supposed to love each other and everyone, in a way that is just bullshit. There’s no reality to that”

Here’s the entire interview:

Derrida on the Animal as the Absolute Other


Tonight I began reading Derrida’s work The Animal That Therefore I Am. Like so much of Derrida it’s insightful and witty. This quote especially grabbed my attention.

“The animal is there before me, there next to me, there in front of me – I who am (following) after it. And also, therefore, since it is before me, it is behind me. It surrounds me. And from the vantage of this being-there-before-me it can allow itself to be looked at, no doubt, but also – something that philosophy perhaps forget, perhaps being this calculated forgetting itself – it can look at me. It has its point of view regarding me. The point of view of the absolute other, and nothing will have ever given me more food for thinking through the absolute alterity of the neighbor or of the next(-door) than these moments when I see myself seen naked under the gaze of a cat” (The Animal That Therefore I Am, 11).

The Body in Theology


The other day I was talking to a friend who attended a rather conservative seminary in Texas. I’m not sure how we got on the topic, but he mentioned that at the seminary they often spoke of a ‘material you’ and an ‘immaterial you’. This formulation of course reeked of dualism, and it made me think about more about the body and its relationships to theology. First off, the problem with this idea is that the ‘material you’ will of course be the neglected, degraded part. The ‘immaterial you’ (i.e. soul) is the eternal aspect or the self, whereas the ‘material you’ is simply the finite, fleshy, sinful part of you in which your soul is temporarily trapped. This sort of dualism only reinforces Christianity’s extreme hatred of the flesh. Christianity has always had anxiety about the body, and many a Christian heresy (e.g. Docetism) could not handle the radical news of the incarnation (i.e. enfleshment of Jesus). The body is hated, and the flesh is weak. This is not simply a Christian problem, as I recall quite humorously Muslim friends who used to feign being on their period to be able to skip out on daily prayers. Apparently, God could not handle their uncleanness. Who is it that’s uncomfortable with natural bodily processes, God or us? I think it’s fairly obvious that here man has projected his own discomfort with woman’s body, and thus shamed her by telling her that she is not welcomed in God’s presence.

Christians often evoke this idea that man was made in the image of God (imago Dei) to argue for man’s special relationship to God. Of course, when pressed on how exactly we are made in God’s image, people generally posit some eternal, immaterial element like the soul to establish the connection between God and man. Again, the body is demeaned as this wretched flesh that is certainly not god-like, and I would argue in fact is a sign of our fallenness. Fortunately, the gospels do not uphold such Christian hatred of the body. Jesus walks around dirty and sweating through Palestine touching and healing the broken, damaged, and bleeding bodies. His ministry is spent dining and feasting with others, to such an extent that he and his disciples were considered drunkards and gluttons. Christ might have had some ascetic tendencies, but he was no John the Baptist. We do not witness a man who wants to redeem the ‘immaterial you’ but the ‘material you’.

The body must be thought of as a site of redemption because theology is first and foremost about life because God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

The Process of the Subject in Foucault


Here is a great lecture by Agamben

Zizek on the Deleuzian Viritual


Starting Monday, AUFS is hosting a book event on Gabriel and Zizek’s work Mythology, Madness and Laughter. It’ll span a little over three weeks, and I’ll be contributing at the tail end of the event. I’m just about finished, and I have to say that the work is really solid and lucid, despite the rather difficult topic of subjectivity in German Idealism. Gabriel’s part of the book is especially impressive. Here’s a quote from Zizek that I liked about Deleuze’s concept of the virtual.

“The solution of this dilemma is precisely the notion of virtuality in the strict Deleuzian sense, as the actuality of the possible, as a paradoxical entity the very possibility of which already produces/has actual effects. One should oppose Deleuze’s notion of the virtual to the all-pervasive topic of virtual reality: what matters to Deleuze is not is not virtual reality, but the reality of the virtual (which in Lacanian terms, is the Real). Virtual reality in itself is a rather miserable idea: that of imitating reality, of reproducing its experience in an artificial medium. The reality of the virtual, on the other hand, stands for the reality of the virtual as such, for its real effects and consequences. Let us take an attractor in mathematics: all positive lines or points in its sphere of attraction only approach it endless fashion never reaching its form – the existence of the form is purely virtual, being nothing more than the shape towards which lines and points tend. However, precisely as such, the virtual is the Real of this field: the immovable focal point around which all elements circulate. Is the not the Virtual ultimately the Symbolic as such? Let us take symbolic authority, in order to function as an effective authority, it has to remain not-fully-actualized, an eternal threat” (Mythology, Madness and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism, 109).

Sin as OCD


In a similar vein, I’ve already touched on the relationship between catharsis, repetition compulsion, salvation, and sin here

Man is an animal of repetition. Habits are formed so quickly. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly after a new semester starts, people settle on a specific seat that they will not give up for the life of them. After these unspoken seating arrangements have been decided, it is a major social faux pas to change seats mid semester. It is so interesting how much man hates change. Man does not really want freedom he wants a master. Obsessional neurotics are especially known for their rigidity and strict adherence to schedules (i.e. their hatred of choice). Obsessional neurotics not only fear God, but they try and usurp God. They want to occupy God’s position and control everything, also that way they don’t have to fear God’s wrathful judgment (i.e. their harsh internalized super-ego). Obsessional neurotics are most well known for their ritualistic obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Common compulsions might be washing one’s hands excessively or constantly counting. These repeated behaviors are often done against the person’s will, but he cannot stop because of the excessive anxiety that is generated if the ritual is not completed. Doesn’t this sound all too Pauline?

Romans 7:14-17:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

Here I think we begin to come close to the relationship between OCD and the Chrisitan understanding of sin. Christ as liberator wanted to set people free. He enjoins us to not worry about tomorrow. His emphasis on radical freedom is the exact opposite of sin. Sin is that which enslaves us to death, evil, and the powers that govern this world. Sin is bondage, and the enemy of freedom. Sin is the No-saying to life. The OCD subject is here very close to the Pauline subject. The person is enslaved to patterns of behavior that they cannot help but repeat. They do not want to repeat them, but some inexorable urge compels them. These rituals are the ultimate No-saying to life as well.

How does one cure OCD? Interestingly enough, psychoanalysis is not a very good technique for ameliorating this condition. We could try and explore all day how the symptom developed and the cause behind the origin. Fortunately, it does not even matter for symptom relief. Research shows that using simple behavioral conditioning techniques are the quickest and most efficacious way to help relieve symptoms. Might we also be here given a hint as to how to re-think our relationship to sin? Isn’t it interesting that the Christian also looks so much like the person with OCD? A person with OCD often has the distressing idea that thoughts and behaviors are equivalent. For example, the idea of hurting someone makes him just as guilty as actually inflicting physical harm on that person. Christians are in a similar problematic position when they think that motivations are just as important as concrete behaviors (e.g. the way some Christians interpret the Sermon on the Mount). If the cure for symptoms of OCD is simple conditioning exercises, shouldn’t Christians also learn that the obsession with motives is really a big waste of time? If you want to no longer be enslaved to sin, stop worrying about motives and guilt and start learning how to implement pragmatic changes that will disallow this behavior. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck repeating the cycle forever. I guess I’m trying to say concerns with origins or motivations with regard to OCD or sin is really just an exercise in masturbation. And of course Lacan is right that masturbation is the jouissance of the idiot.

Barth’s Doctrine of Election


I’ve never been very interested in the doctrine of election, and this is probably due to the fact that I was exposed to rather appalling variants of predestination advanced by evangelical neo-Calvinists. However, reading Altizer convinced me that it was a doctrine that was foundational for all major theologians, not simply Calvin. It is also interesting to note that Barth’s doctrine of election is a joyous one, not an offensive truth that he felt compelled to propound. The major revision he makes is that God is simultaneously both the electing God and the elected man. He is both the rejecting God and the rejected man. This is not grounded in God’s incomprehensible, mysterious will but rather in Jesus Christ himself. Jesus Christ is the electing God and the elected man. Jesus Christ is the rejecting God and the rejected man. On Golgotha, Jesus’ rejection is completely on stage for all to witness. He is the God-forsaken man for us. He is the lamb slain before the foundation of the world so we are not subjected to God’s wrath.

There’s much less offensive in this doctrine, and the amount of work Barth does to argue for this position is impressive (~800 pages). Now, that I’m beginning to study III/1, which is really just an exegesis of Gen 1 & 2, looking back over the first two volumes of Church Dogmatics, II/2 is by far the most enjoyable part thus far. Of course, I’m still highly anticipating reading IV, but first I’ll have to make my way through III.

Here’s a two quotes that nicely represent this doctrine:

“Who is the Elect? He is always the one who “was dead and is alive again” who “was lost and is the found?” (Lk. 1524). That the elected man Jesus had to suffer and die means no more and no less than that in becoming man God makes Himself responsible for man who became His enemy, and that He takes upon Himself all the consequences of man’s action – his rejection and his death. This is what is involved in the self-giving of God. This is the radicalness of His grace. God must let righteousness reign, and He wills to do so. Against the aggression of the shadow-world of Satan which is negated by Him and which exists only in virtue of this negation, God must and will maintain the honour of His creation, the honour of man as created and ordained for Him, and His own honour. God cannot and will not acquiesce in the encroachment of this shadow-world upon the sphere of His positive will, an encroachment made with the fall of man. On the contrary, it must be His pleasure to see that Satan and all that has its source and origin in him are rejected. But this means that God must and will reject man as he is in himself. And He does so. But He does it in the person of the elected man Jesus. And in Him He loves man as he is in himself. He elects Jesus, then, as the head and in the place of all others. The wrath of God, the judgment and the penalty, fall, then, upon Him. And this means upon His own Son, upon Himself: upon Him, and not upon those whom He loves and elects “in Him;” upon Him, and not upon the disobedient. Why not upon the disobedient? Why this interposition of the just for the unjust by which in some incomprehensible manner the eternal Judge becomes Himself the judged? Because His justice is a merciful and for this reason a perfect justice. Because the sin of the disobedient is also their need, and even while it affronts Him it also moves Him to pity. Because He knows quite well the basis of Satan’s existence and the might and force with which sinners were overthrown and fell in the negative power of His own counsel and will. Because in this powerlessness of sinners against Satan He sees their guilt, but in their guilt He sees also their powerlessness. Because he knows quite well that those who had no strength to resist Satan are even less able to bear and suffer the rejection which those who hear Satan and obey him merit together with him. Because from all eternity He knows “whereof we are made” (Ps. 10314). That is why He intervened on our behalf in His Son. That is why He did no less. He did not owe it to us to do it. For it was not He but we ourselves in our culpable weakness who delivered us up to Satan and to divine wrath and rejection. And yet God does it because from all eternity He loves and elects us in His Son, because from all eternity he sees us in His Son as sinners to whom He is gracious. For all those, then, whom God elects in His Son, the essence of the free grace of God consists in the fact that in this same Jesus God who is the Judge takes the place of the judged, and they are fully acquitted, therefore, from sin and its guilt and penalty. Thus the wrath of God and the rejection of Satan and his kingdom no longer have any relevance for them. On the contrary, the wrath of God and the rejection of Satan, the free course of divine justice to which God Himself has subjected Himself on their behalf, has brought them to freedom. In the One in whom they are elected, that is to say, in the death which the Son of God has died for them, they themselves have died as sinners. And that means their radical sanctification, separation and purification for participation in a true creaturely independence, and more than that, for the divine sonship of the creature which the grace for which from all eternity they are elected in the election of the man Jesus” (CD II/2, 124-5)

“If the teachers of predestination were right when they spoke always of a duality, of election and reprobation, or predestination to salvation or perdition, the life or death, then we may say already that in the election of Jesus Christ which is the eternal will of God, God has ascribed to man the former, election, salvation and life; and to Himself He has ascribed the latter, reprobation, perdition, and death” (CD II/2, 162-3).