Archive for February, 2011

Harnack – What is Christianity? (Part 1)

02/28/2011

Note: I was not able to get my hands on a physical copy of this book, so I had to resort to my Kindle version; you will have to excuse my lack of direct citations.

Harnack’s lectures regarding the essence of Christianity are focused in his work: “What is Christianity?” In it he establishes the Christian religion as “something simple and sublime” and fundamentally rooted in two solely verifiable sources: the person of Jesus and the testament of the Gospel.

In all honesty, there weren’t many surprises for me in the first half of his lectures, but I wanted to note an item that I found compelling: The kingdom of God and its coming.

Harnack shows that while Jesus imported most of his eschatological message from the Jewish prophets (and surely no one should be surprised by this) he also set forth a revolutionary and distinct idea, that announcement that “it is in the midst of you.” The famous phrase, the kingdom of God is at hand, is the basis of Jesus’s eschatology. The tension, more so, between the incoming of the kingdom and the present world is ever real: “There can be no doubt about the fact that the idea of the two kingdoms, of God and of the devil, and their conflicts…” Regarding the tension, Harnack is not convinced that we are not tasked (nor capable) of resolving this tension. Instead, Harnack sees the incoming of the kingdom not as a social presence but something that takes hold of the soul of the individual: “True, the kingdom of God is the rule of God; but it is the rule of the holy God in the hearts of individuals; it is God Himself in His power…” This individual incoming is of course at tension itself with many contemporary social theologies of the Kingdom.

What I find compelling about Harnack’s theology of the kingdom is his emphasis on the social expression of the individual life: “The Gospel is a social message, solemn and overpowering in its force; it is the proclamation of solidarity and brotherliness, in favor of the poor. But the message is bound up with the recognition of the infinite value of the human soul, and is contained in what Jesus said about the kingdom of God.” Jesus’ preferential option for the poor is the driving point of his Gospel, the good news for the poor. The individual, once caught up in the dynamic energy of the kingdom, and its transformation of the inner life, naturally moves toward a disposition toward the poor and oppressed.

Hegel – Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Volume III (Part II)

02/21/2011

G.W.F. Hegel, probably more than for any particular aspect of his philosophy (even his simplified dialectic), is most famous for his abstruse and difficult – some would even say obscurantist – style of writing. These complaints of Hegel’s writings may be exaggerations (I am always suspect of people who judge someone by their style of writing), but there is no denying that Hegel is certainly one of the most difficult philosophers to read. Bertrand Russell, in his A History of Western Philosophy, argues, in fact, that Hegel is the single most difficult philosopher to understand.  I shall not presume to disagree.

The edition of Hegel’s Lectures that I read included his 1824 and 1827 lectures, as well as Hegel’s own lecture manuscript from his 1821 lectures. I will be focusing in this blog post on Hegel’s idea of the “Death of God.” (Indeed, it was Hegel, not Nietzsche, who first proclaimed the death of God in a systematic manner).

There is, Hegel notes, an old Lutheran hymn that “is a monstrous, [recall the Žižek / Milbank conversation] fearful picture, which brings before the imagination the deepest abyss of cleavage” (125).

O Great woe!

God himself lies dead.

On the cross he has died;

And thus he has gained for us

By love the kingdom of heaven.

– “O Traurigkeit, O Herzelied” by Johannes Rist (1641).

For Hegel, Christ is not some spiritual or ethical teacher who has brought a universal message of goodness or ethical efficacy, like perhaps a Socrates. In Jesus Christ the unity between God and man is made explicit in an actual historical personage – made explicit in Jesus Christ, the man who was God. In passing through to the particular, the universal spirit (God) has achieved concrete specificity in the person of Jesus Christ. When the spirit becomes united with finitude, it must experience finitude fully, and therefore must also experience the vicissitudes of suffering and death, which is the manifestation of human finitude. Jesus’ death is not to be interpreted as the death of a mere individual only, but rather that “God has died, that God himself is dead. God has died: this is negation, which is accordingly a moment of the divine nature, of God himself” (219).  Death is the proof of humanity finitude. Christ death on the cross – in all its abject humiliation – is the ultimate and decisive demonstration of Christ’s humanity. It is thus God, in the form of a man, who was most human. “In him [Christ], humanity was carried to its furthest point” (323). As Hegel continues, “this is the most frightful of all thought, that everything eternal and true is not, that negation itself is found in God” (323). This death is not a final eventuation; God maintains himself in this process. God’s death, then, is not only the death of the transcendental God of theism, but the very death of death. God becomes transfigured into the absolute spirit, and only thus comes to full historical actualization.

I could be idiosyncratic in my reading of his theology, but my reading of Hegel’s doctrine of of the incarnation is that Hegel evinces a theology that is thoroughly anti-docetic. Hegel emphasis the particularity of Christ and does not shy away from develop a thorough-going theology of the cross, if you like (I don’t mean that his theology is similar to Luther’s). For Hegel, God has died. Is this not monstrous?

Death to Apologetics

02/20/2011

An Open Letter to the Theo-blogosphere

It seems that every day a new post on the theo-blogosphere is written ridiculing the banality of the new atheists represented by Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. Please stop writing these posts. Nothing important is going on with these guys. The real atheistic critiques are worthy of respect, and the refutation of these recycled critiques of religion are pointless. It only leads to this reactionary, defensive apologetics that are simply useless. I suspect that this obsession with the new atheists is merely a symptom of a greater problem, namely theology’s marginalization and irrelevance in much of public discourse. Theologians are able to focus on this persecutory Other represented by Dawkins, Hitchens, etc. as opposed to address real social ills. The other day I listened to a lecture by Rowan Williams and Terry Eagleton ridiculing the new atheists. One respondent pointedly asked Williams why he had not addressed actual pressing social questions, e.g. the status of homosexuals in the Anglican Church.

One can observe a similar observation if one reads the religion section of the Huffington Post. Every day a new article emerges talking about the spirituality of science or why religion and science need each other. Dear God! Science does not need religion. Also, nothing of use comes from collapsing the difference between Christian fundamentalists and the new atheists who are likewise branded with the charge of dogmatism. Christian orthodoxy is not a third option between these two poles (agnosticism seems like a more likely candidate). Christian orthodoxy is still Christian. Although I do not address current events on this blog mostly because my knowledge of politics is limited (although I hope my political beliefs are revealed by the books I choose to review, especially my focus this year on queer and feminist liberation theology), I would encourage fellow theo-bloggers to follow the lead of the women at WIT or the guys at AUFS who actually use theology and philosophy to analyze socio-cultural issues along with discussing new scholarship.

A couple of months ago Ben over at F&T posted some review of a book on atheism and patience. According to the author atheists aren’t bad people they just lack patience. I want to repost my comment here:

“In this analysis, believers are patient, complex, and mature people who can hold out hope in the face of suffering. Whereas atheists are simple-minded, impatient, immature people who lack the strength to stay patient with God. Atheists are black and white thinkers who can’t live with doubt. What if atheists have in fact been patient with God and come out of the experience not believing? If the difference between believers and atheists is merely patience, isn’t it being assumed that if one endures through the doubt then faith surely results? What about the person who holds out hope in midst of doubt and never comes to have faith? That would seem to suggest that one no longer can have this idea of “patience” to help distinguish between believers and atheists. I just think this is another attempt for believers to congratulate themselves for being more patient and able to tolerate ambiguity as opposed to the simplistic, impatient atheist.”

Of course nobody at F&T actually addressed my comment. It appears that F&T has officially passed away into irrelevance. Now it’s merely a diary of Ben’s private writings (which are fun and entertaining), but it’s no longer a forum for discussing theology. This is has been frustrating me for a while. Why have a blog if one no longer engages in actual dialogue? Conversation is totally foreclosed or ignored.

In the end, as much as many theo-bloggers deride conservative Christians and the new atheists, I wonder how real the actual distance is that supposedly separates them from their conservative brethren. We are still treated to more sophisticated apologetics that end up in this defensive posture that seldom generates an interesting discussion because of the hallowed truths of Orthodoxy and the (tacit) belief in the superiority of Christianity.

Hegel – Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Volume III (Part I)

02/16/2011

First off, I want to apologize for this late posting. My busy schedule is partially to blame. I blame the rest on Hegel’s difficult style. Over the last couple of days I was able to finish reading Hegel’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion Volume III The Consummate Religion. Only after reading the three parts: Hegel’s Lecture Manuscripts prepared in 1821, the Lectures of 1824, and the Lectures of 1827, was I able to finally grasp his work. The three parts are all fairly similar, albeit slightly altered in certain places. I’ve been assigned to cover the first half of the Volume III, which extends halfway through the Lectures of 1824. I want to focus my discussion on the teachings of Christ found in all three parts.

In all three passages on the teachings of Christ Hegel discusses some of the more controversial passages found in the gospels concerning the family. First, he lists the saying in Matthew where Christ asks the disciples, “who is my mother and who are my brothers?” Next, he lists the passages in Matthew 10, “do not think I have come to bring peace on earth, but a sword. For I have come to set parents against son, son against parents, etc.”

In the Lecture Manuscripts Hegel writes, “In this sense, social groups and bodies will always arise among a people – among a people, a community, that [shuts] itself off, in the world too, in opposition to rational cohesion and existence – [sects that] take this distillation of the entire established over back into the simple heart, into simple love, “and behave outwardly in merely a forebearing, submissive manner, offering their necks [to the executioner]” (121).

In the Lectures of 1824, Hegel begins discussing the universal nature of Christ’s major teaching: the Kingdom of God. There are two aspects of Christ’s teaching, the universal and the particular/determinate. Again Hegel makes note of the “revolutionary doctrine that partly leaves all standing institutions aside and partly destroys and overthrows them. All earthly, worldly things fall away as valueless, and they are expressly declared to be so” (217). Ultimately, all social obligations are subordinated to the primary task of following Christ. The major task of the community is to love each other, but not in a general sense. Rather, this love will be a mutual love expressed within the community of believers. In the lectures of 1827 Hegel repeats many of his similar points that made in 1824.

What I find interesting is the emphasis Hegel places on mutual, concrete love in the community. Theologians always place such a strong emphasis on the love of God when interpreting these passages. God ends up turning into this insecure partner who wants all of humanity’s love. Basically, you can love your children, but make sure to love God just a bit more. In Hegel’s religious community the love of the neighbor turns out to be the ruling commandment. The love of God is totally dissolved into the love of the neighbor. People often talk about how much they love God, as if one can love God directly without mediation. The topic of the love of God and transference has been on my mind lately in my clinical work. In Freud’s seminal paper Observations on Transference-Love (1915) he hypothesizes that all love is transference (i.e. all relationships stem back from our internalized experiences with previous relationships, or object relations in psychoanalytic jargon), which raises an interesting question about the possibility of a non-transferential love. It is nothing new to say that we project all sorts of fantasies onto God. Perhaps Hegel’s view of the religious community helps us resist the narcissistic relationship believers are prone to have with God. The ultimate message of these difficult passages in the gospel is that the love of the neighbor is the goal of the religious community intent on building the Kingdom. Family and social relationships are completely subordinated to the role of following Christ. Ultimately, since the Holy Spirit dissolves herself into the community of believers, the love of God can be non-transferential because our love of God can only be expressed in the concrete service and mutual love of the neighbor.

Bohache – Christology from the Margins

02/13/2011

Bohache’s Christology from the Margins is an impressive work. It is divided into three parts: Traditional Christologies, Contextual Christologies, and Queering Christ. The first section is composed of three chapters, which focus on pre-Nicene Christology, the development of orthodox Christology (from Nicaea to 20th century modern theology) with a final section on historical Jesus studies. The first part will mostly be a review for students of theology. There is nothing especially new in Part I, although it serves as a nice introduction to orthodox Christology. Although the second part was simply a literature review of Christology from the perspective of liberation theology, I found this to be the most compelling section. Bohahce does fine job of summarizing the various contextual Christologies and presented them in a coherent manner. Chapter 4 focuses on Christology from the perspective of race and culture, with a primary emphasis on the discussion of black liberation theology (James Cone) and Asian liberation theology (CS Song). Next, he presents a discussion of Christology from Latin America (Segundo, Sobrino, Boff, etc). The sixth chapter presents Christology from the feminist perspective including a historical discussion about the rise of feminist theology. Again, the coverage is quite comprehensive, discussing everyone from Daly to Brock to Johnson. The final chapter of Part II focuses on Christology from women of color. He discusses the various Christological proposals from womanist theology along with a brief review of Christology from a mujerista perspective.

Part III is the heart of the work. Bohache spends the first chapter discussing not only the homophobia of Christians, but also the Christophobia of homosexuals. He remarks that many homosexuals have given up on Jesus Christ considering that he has been a source of terror in their lives. Chapter 9 focuses on “queer” as a social location along with a review of the gay and liberation theology. Although Bohache appreciates the work of Comstock and Clark, he criticizes them their anti-Christology. These gay theologians have discouraged an engagement with the person of Christ because of the damage Christ has had on queer communities. He is more receptive of the work of Robert Goss who famously published his queer theology in his famous Jesus ACTED UP. Bohache is encouraged by Goss’s work with his more positive focus on Jesus, especially his focus on the Reign of God. However, Bohache believes he does not properly develop a comprehensive Christology since his primary interest is to create a political queer liberation theology.

In the final two chapters Bohache develops his own queer Christology. He is unconcerned with question about Jesus’ own sexual activity and more interested in developing a queer Christ who “stir[s] things up and even perhaps spoils them, in order not to settle for the easy answers of the status quo. The queer Christ articulates a solidarity with the ‘fags’, ‘bitches’, and ‘niggers’ of his day and our day” (213). This chapter reviews four types of queer Christologies: 1) an anti-Christology, 2) a Christology of queer embodiment, 3) a radical Christology, and 4) a mystical Christology. I’ve already discussed the first type of queer Christology, and next he focuses on the body theology of Isherwood as representative of a queer incarnation Christology. He next reviews the radical Christology of Goss and Althaus-Reid. Bohache is quite critical of Althaus-Reid believing her Christology remains quite vague and cryptic. It appears that Bohache does not see the value of Althaus-Reid’s project of perverting and ‘indecenting’ theology “unless something constructive results” (223). Bohache claims that his discomfort with Althaus-Reid’s Bi/Christology does not result from being prudish but rather a desire to say something constructive for queer Christians in the church. Althaus-Reid is post-Christian in many respects, and unlike Bohache, does not give a damn about the institutional church. Hence, it is no surprise given Bohache has spent the majority of his career pasturing a queer-affirming church in New Jersey. Ultimately, Bohache charges Althaus-Reid for displaying the Christophobia and anti-Christology he finds to be common in early gay and lesbian theologies from the 80s.

In the final chapter Bohache develops his own Christology grounded in his reading of the Gospel of Matthew. Although he recognizes many liberation theologians (especially from Latin America) have used Luke to argue for God’s preferential option for the poor, Bohache prefers to focus on the notion of inclusion and welcoming of queer individuals in the Matthew’s Gospel. Bohache believes that “this Christ presence dwells in all people, that is innate to our being and our consciousness” (235). From his perspective, we are all on a journey to cosmic Christness. Bohache’s Christology is a queer appropriation of Schleiermacher’s idea of Christ’s perfect God-consciousness. Unlike Althaus-Reid who criticizes the annunciation (as rape of the Virgin Mary), Bohache elevates it to great significance for queer Christology. Bohache wants to emphasize the central affirmation he finds in the annunciation, namely, that God calls us to do great things. He then takes the reader through a queer journey through the Gospel of Matthew. He argues that baptism can signal the coming out process for queer individuals. Perhaps the most interesting move is to read the passion, death, and resurrection through the death of Matthew Shepard, a gay college student who “was beaten, tied to a fence and abandoned to die alone in the wilderness” (254). Bohache writes “I believe that Matthew Shepard is the most famous example of the crucifixions of gays and lesbians that have occurred for generations. His humiliation and suffering were meant, like the scarecrow, as a warning for queers and to ‘keep away’ from ‘decent’ people, and, like ancient crucifixions, as an example to queers of what might happen if they ‘flaunt’ themselves on heteropatriarchal territory” (254). Resurrection is queer because God stirred the pot by raising from the dead a political criminal. A queer resurrection would be God’s absolute NO to homophobia and heterosexism.

At end of the work Bohache writes “I have intentionally sought not to shock, although I may have inadvertently done so, for it has been my intent in creating this Christology to appeal to the so-called ‘middle-of-the-road’ gays and lesbians as well as the ‘cutting-edge’ queers” (261). In Elizabeth Stuart’s work Gay & Lesbian Theologies she notes that queer theology has tended to either borrow heavily from the methodology of liberal theology or liberation theology. I think here we see the tension in Bohache’s work. There’s a sense in which his queer theology is apologetic hoping to not offend liberal Christians. However, by trying to walk the fine line, I worry Bohache’s work ultimately suffers by trying so hard not to offend. His constructive chapter on Christology does not offer anything particularly new, and I suspect most liberal theologians would find nothing offensive or queer, despite his best intentions. I’d recommend Bohache’s work for the great literature review on the liberation theology’s Christology, but I worry his desire to appeal to his less radical queer Christians ultimately removed the offense of the gospel.

Schleiermacher – The Christian Faith (§120-172)

02/07/2011

Given my interest of all things ecclesial, as fate (or Providence, take your pick) would have it, I find myself posting on our closing section of Schleiermacher’s “The Christian Faith.” Sections 120-172 largely devote themselves to features (i.e. characteristics) of the Church in its relationship to Christ and to the world.

The world as it relates to Schleiermacher’s notion of redemption, is found in the institution of the Church (§113). Schleiermacher states that Church is, in itself, founded on three principles: its origin (by God’s election of individuals in faith), its distinction from the world (through its features), and its consummation with Christ (the prophetic doctrines, cf. §157-63). Regarding distinction, sanctification is ultimately an inward impulse among believers. Because individuals are affirmed in a common spirit (the Holy Spirit) they are driven inward toward each other, forming what Schleiermacher notates as the “inner fellowship.” The “outer fellowship” is comprised of concerned individuals who have yet to receive the transformative event of regeneration (the beginning of a new life in Christ, as told in Col. 3). While Schleiermacher dismisses this nutshell version of Church as “novel and merely confusing,” he nonetheless admits the inward nature of sanctification (stated above) as one of the constituting factors regarding the Church.

Schleiermacher’s role of the Holy Spirit is a unifying force for the Church, but I have been to many churches in my life and only few I could confidently claim to be spiritually led. (And surprisingly enough, those few would balk to use a word like ‘church’ to describe themselves.) Additionally, as a good Methodist, I can’t help but comment on Schleiermacher’s assessment of Sanctification as an inward impulse of the Spirit. While I agree with the basic conception of Sanctification as the continual regeneration through faith in the individual (presenting the image of Christlike-ness), it is the inward impulse (supplementarily: the inner/outer fellowship) with which I see as problematic. Sanctification, if it is to be the continual spurring on of the individual to be one with Christ, does not drive oneself inward, but instead should drive forward and outward the actions of Christ from within the individual! Sanctification is not an inward impulse, but is naturally one that forces the individual in faith towards his neighbor (not to himself).

In a similar vein, I would like to discuss Schleiermacher’s conception of the Lord’s Supper, or the Eucharist. At first, Schleiermacher affirms the inward impulse in sanctification as parallel to the Eucharist, for the taking of the elements is a confirmation of the already gathered fellowship. Schleiermacher notes that the supplementary action of the Church’s participation in the Eucharist is joined with the original action of Christ’s sacrifice (the cross) in relation to redemption. Thus the Church, in its partaking of the Eucharist, participates in a similar sacrifice (albeit symbolical). Again the purely symbolical nature of the Eucharist is lost to me; just as with sanctification, the partaking of the Eucharist is ultimately an outward action towards one’s neighbor.

Schleiermacher closes “The Christian Faith” with an affirmation of the Divine Trinity as essential to doctrine. Trinitarian theology is based on the being of God assumed in the being and work of Christ; if it cannot stand, then the whole of Christianity falls with it. In regards to what I have said above regarding the outward nature of Sanctification, not mentioned by Schleiermacher, is (as I see it) expressed well in his affirmation of the Trinity. For, if the “being of God assumed in the being of Christ” is essential to doctrine, and doctrine is essential to the Church, then the kenotic movement of godliness to humanity is referenced in the Church’s kenotic movement from itself to the world.