Archive for the ‘Bible’ Category

Isasi-Diaz’s Mujerista Thelogy

11/22/2010

I just finished Isasi-Diaz’s work of liberation theology from a Latina perspective. I found the text to be fairly solid, and I wanted to highlight some important ideas I learned from her work.

First, in her work she refers to the Kingdom of God as the Kin-dom of God. She makes this move for two reasons:

A) Kin-dom doesn’t imply the patriarchy inherent in kingdoms
B) She doesn’t believe that emphasizing the reign of God gets us out of the problem because it still implies an order that is hierarchical and elitist.

She believes an emphasis on the Kin-dom obviates these issues by stressing the daily reality of us as equal brothers and sisters in Christ. This certainly aligns with Jesus’ pronouncement in John’s Gospel that his disciples are now his friends.

Second, I really appreciated her usage of the term la lucha (the struggle) for a constructive mujerista anthropology. This emphasis on la lucha resits the temptation to “encourage a certain masochism” (132). She writes that she found Latinas ability to “deal with suffering without being determined by it” (129), encourages Latinas to resist the church’s abusive and harmful glorification of suffering. Finally, she argues that she cannot worship a God who condemns Jesus of Nazareth to suffer.

Finally, regarding mujerista hermeneutics Isasi-Diaz writes:

“For Hispanic women the palabra de Dios is not necessarily what is written in the Bible, but refers to the unflinching belief that God is with us in our daily struggles” (158).

Also, she argues that “Hispanic women’s experience and struggle for survival, not the Bible, are the source of our theology and the starting point for how we should interpret, appropriate, and use the Bible” (149).

Both of these points remind me of Cone’s argument in his early works that a God who is not completely in solidarity with the needs of the black community ought to be killed. Many white Christians often find this to be very selective and convenient approach to the Bible. We white Christians read the Bible for what it is without misconstruing it for our own ideological needs. But doesn’t the fact that so many Christians live in the world without being challenged by the demands of Christian discipleship, in fact, suggest that we too want a God that is absolutely identified with the needs of white middle-class Americans. At this point, some might say: both communities use religion for ideological purposes so how can we say which group’s hermeneutical approach is right. The obvious problem with this idea is that the God of covenant with Israel and Jesus of Nazareth was unequivocally on the side of the disempowered, the despised. So African American and mujerista theologians are completely in the right to argue that they ought to ignore or even slay a God who has not given herself to be in absolute solidarity with these respective communities.

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Church Dogmatics and Scripture

09/21/2010

As I’m trying to finish up CD IV/I this week, something crossed my mind. I’m wondering what verse of Scripture Barth quotes most frequently throughout his Dogmatics. I’d try and do some research myself, but I’ve been checking out the Dogmatics from my local university. I’d wager that he either quotes 2 Cor 5:19 (God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself) or Mk 15:34 (my God, my God why hast thou Forsaken me?). The latter verse is referenced over 10 times alone in CD IV/I. Anyway, it’s just a hypothesis but I’ve noticed Barth seems especially fond of both of those verses.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to post some thoughts on CD IV/I at the end of the week. Section §59 entitled the Obedience of the Son of God has to be one of the greatest portions of the Dogmatics.

Some Calvinist Reflections

08/29/2010

Over the past week I read two books on Calvin’s Institutes and listened to a course taught by Christopher Morse on the Institutes at Union. Charles Partee’s The Theology of John Calvin was excellent. He reads the Institutes and pays special attention to an idea he finds central to Calvin: union with Christ. The other book by Parker was less more just a straightforward exposition of Calvin’s Institutes. The class was an amazing resource led by Morse and other seminarians. I especially appreciated the approach Morse took in leading the seminar. The primary objective was to let Calvin speak for himself. We all know what Calvinists in America believe Calvin to have taught, but many of us have not read Calvin himself. I want to address a couple of salient points.

Biblical Inerrancy – Partee surveys the wide range of opinions amongst Calvin interpreters on his view of scripture. In the Institutes Calvin has little to say on the doctrine of Scripture but interprets it rather straightforwardly. Although many are quick to assume Calvin was an inerrantist, Partee does note some challenges to this view. For one, in Calvin’s commentaries on the Psalms, he points out that David did not write some of the Psalms. Likewise, Calvin remains unconvinced that Paul wrote 2 Peter. Of course, on a practical level Calvin did treat the Bible as holy writ, although to be fair, he always emphasized the need to not divorce the Word of God from the Spirit of God. Hence, from Calvin’s perspective it would be inappropriate to treat the Bible as an encyclopedia without likewise attending to the Spirit’s involvement when interpreting.

Fall of the Devil – Calvin like Barth refused to try and interpret the fall of Lucifer and the fellow angels from Heaven in a systematic manner. Much like Barth, he recognized the scriptural foundation for such a narrative was too scant to justify any developed doctrine.

Providence and Predestination – Partee argues that for Calvin “providence is the doctrine of predestination applied universally to the world, and predestination is the doctrine of particular providence applied directly to individuals” (The Theology of John Calvin, 116). As distressing as Calvin’s view of double predestination might be, I found myself more frustrated with the doctrine of providence. During the course on Calvin, Morse said his teaching on the problem of evil often disappoints his students in his systematic theology class. Essentially, he believes that the problem is insoluble. This was perhaps my greatest frustration with Calvin. The doctrine of providence simply offers no hope to those in suffering other than to the chalk it up to the mystery of God’s will. Those under the enchantment of Calvin’s doctrine of providence are unable to protest against suffering. That possibility has been foreclosed because they are forced to accept that everything happens according to God’s inscrutable good will. Another thing about Calvin’s doctrine of predestination that struck me as odd was its placement in the Institutes. Unlike Barth, who put election at the center of his Doctrine of God, Calvin relegates predestination to the end of Book III of the Institutes. It is almost as if he was embarrassed by the horrible nature of it and tried to hide it away at the end of his Institutes. It does raise the question why have people so often associated Calvin with his view of predestination when it appears to simply be a repetition of Augustine’s view. In fact, considering Calvin does not place it front and center in his dogmatics seems to suggest that he did not think it was central or by any means foundational to his theology. In fact, God’s revelation in Christ was central not this doctrine of election.

Total Depravity – Many of Calvin’s critics often fault him for emphasizing the wretchedness of man. However, as Morse continued to emphasize in the course, God’s No to creation is always overwhelmed by his Yes to creation in form of God’s self-revelation through Jesus Christ (God for us).

Atonement – Many theologians often attribute to Calvin the penal substitution view of atonement. In fact, many Reformed evangelicals believe that this specific reading of Christ’s atoning death is an indispensable doctrine (despite the fact that the church fathers never settled on a single interpretation of the atonement theory). Contra those who believe Calvin’s view of the atonement was strictly forensic and objective in character, Partee points out that Calvin “does not have a single, unified doctrine or theory of atonement” (159). Partee argues that if the union of Christ is foundational for Calvin than the charge that his idea of the atonement is too objective “is called into serious question” (161). Emil Brunner emphasizes that there are different pictures of the atonement but not a unified theory. According to Partee “Calvin is clear that salvation is found in Christ, emphasized in the blood of atonement and the flesh of Eucharist. But this is finally a confession, not an explanation” (188).

OK now it’s time to go back to some good old heterodox queer theology.

Barth on Eschatology in the New Testament

06/28/2010

In CD III/2 Barth addresses eschatology and time in the New Testament. He has two major opponents he wishes to attack. First, we have those whose views underestimate “the majesty of Jesus in this intervening time in consequence of an underestimation of the origin of the community in His resurrection” (CD III/2 509) by advancing the idea that the early apocalyptic hope of the first church quickly faded away. That is to say many scholars believe that Jesus and Paul were apocalypticists preaching God’s imminent arrival on earth to establish his Kingdom but soon the early church recognized the inaccuracy of such opinions. In fact, this generation would not pass away before all these signs would come true. Unfortunately, that generation did start dying out and second return was in sight. Hence, this “view is thus adopted that early hopes quickly gave way to disappointment and disillusion; that a lofty but impractical expectation was replaced by a clever adaption to realities” (CD III/2, 509). According to Barth, this view is mistaken because it “fails to take account of the Holy Spirit as the driving force behind the community in the time between the resurrection and the parousia” (CD III/2, 509). Barth goes on to admit that the expectation of the parousia is undoubtedly part of the early church, but he denies that there was any such anxiety for the early believers worrying when Christ would return. He argues against this view and ultimately asserts that to find this view, the theory must be read back into the New Testament to substantiate the position. If we let the New Testament speak for itself we find this view is directly challenged again and again (although, I think the evidence he advances is somewhat weak, e.g. 2 Peter 3:8 – with the Lord a day is like a thousand years).

Barth is even more critical of the second position that argues for a realized eschatology. From this position, there is a “failure to recognize the criticism of the Holy Spirit, whose work keeps the community towards its Lord in dissatisfaction with its present condition, preventing it from regarding its conditions as absolute” (CD III/2, 510). This strong ecclesiology fails to recognize the Christian hope for the parousia by setting up an institution that continually asserts itself as the true, sole witness to Jesus, “instead of bearing witness to the authority of Jesus, it invests itself with His authority” (510). From Barth’s perspective, “there can be no place for a Judge who will control the Church itself in sovereignty and whom it is bound to fear” (511). Since the church is such a self-satisfied, well-run organization does it really even need Jesus’ return? Wouldn’t it be better off continuing business as usual without an expectation of the Son of Man returning to judge the living and the dead? (I wanted to make a quick side note. He spends the majority of this section ridiculing the Roman Catholic Church, although he makes the concession that it can also be found in some Protestants and Anglicans. His critique reminded me of the Grand Inquisitor)

At the end, the first view is problematical because Christ “is absent because there is no recognition of the consoling power of His resurrection for the present life of the community” (CD III/2, 511). The realized eschatology position falters because Christ “is absent because no serious account is taken of His future and its critical power for the present life of the community” (CD III/2, 511). The first view errs insofar as Christ’s presence is denied in the community whereas the second view fails to take seriously the future of Christ and its effect on the community. To stay true to the witness of the New Testament, Barth believes we must resist both tempting errors.

The Body in Theology

05/10/2010

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.

Barth on Judas

04/26/2010

“He is not opposed to the surrender of Mary’s costly ointment. But he wants something for it – namely 300 denarii – not for himself, as he explains but to give to the poor. He is not willing that the complete devotion, which by her deed Mary had in a sense given the apostles as a pattern for their own life, should be an absolute offering to Jesus…It is to be for the benefit of the poor, of those who are injured or needy, to help improve their lot and that of others, and in that way it will be a meaningful devotion. This view, this attitude of Judas, is what makes him unclean. It finds relatively innocuous expression. It is not really evil. To correct it would be comparatively easy. But it was because of it that Judas “handed over” Jesus. If a man does not devote himself prodigally to Jesus, if he considers something too good to be offered to Him, if he thinks another purpose more important than the glorifying of His condescension, of His death, that man is as such unclean and opposes his election. He makes himself impossible as an apostle. He must and will hand Jesus over – hand Him over to men, to be crucified. He has virtually done so already in and with this attitude towards Jesus. Already, by this attitude, he has acted as one of the men at whose hands Jesus can only be slain” (CD, II/2, 462).

I’ve always found this passage in John to be particularly interesting, mostly because it differs from the Synoptics in singling out Judas as being the only apostle who was against Mary’s extravagant present.

John 12:5-6, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.”

Barth does not take that bait, but rather criticizes Judas for prioritizing something over his obedience to Jesus, namely giving money to the poor. This passage has always confused me. I mean it seems in this passage Judas is truer to the Kingdom than Jesus is. Wasn’t this the same teacher who instructed his disciples to sell all that they have and give their money to the poor? Does Barth go too far here? Doesn’t Jesus tell his disciples in Matthew 25 that their devotion to him will only be measured by their treatment of the least of these? However, we must remember that in Matthew 26:11, Jesus tells his disciples this, “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me.” This is another passage that I’ve always struggled with. Is Jesus challenging his disciples here? Is he saying until you truly take up your cross and truly die, the poor will still be among you?

“But it is a part of the New Testament Gospel of Jesus Christ that before His death Jesus had an apostle beside Him as a witness to the divine rejection of men which He bore and bore away, just as after His resurrection He had an apostle beside Him as a witness to the divine election for men which was bestowed upon Him and which he Himself fulfilled. The fact that Judas had the former function, as Paul subsequently had the latter, is something which remains to Judas, whatever else may be involved in his determination…Between them both, between Judas and Paul, stands Jesus Christ – as, according to Lk. 233, He hung on the cross between the two malefactors who were crucified with Him; and the rejection of Judas is the rejection which Jesus Christ has borne, just as the election of Paul is in the first His election. Apart from Him Judas would not be Judas, just as apart from Him, Paul would not be Paul” (CD II/2, 480).

Interesting passage. I’ll be posting more on Barth’s doctrine of election later on this week.

The Brother Karamazov and Gospel Parallels

03/30/2010

So currently I’m listening to The Brothers Karamazov online at work. It’s been great so far. Today I just finished the section on the Grand Inquisitor. The Grand Inquisitor’s response to Jesus’ unwelcomed return reminded strongly of Paul’s reaction to Jesus in the Last Temptation of Christ. In the The Brother Karamazov, the Grand Inquisitor attacks Jesus for coming back by telling him that the church no longer needs him to function. The freedom Jesus offers man is too great for man to bear. Instead, the church gives man the proper amount of authority and mystery to keep man happy in his obedience even if it is a falsehood. Similarly, when Jesus encounters Paul in the Last Temptation he tries to tell Paul about his not going to the cross. Of course, Paul resists this and tells him he will proclaim his gospel regardless of what Jesus did or did not do.

Also, it particularly struck me when Ivan Karamazov said he refused his ticket and would gladly hand it back because he could not accept God if that meant one child had to suffer needlessly. “It is not God I do not accept, Aloyosha. I merely most respectfully return him the ticket. I accept God, understand that, but I cannot accept the world he has made” (The Brothers Karamazov, 258). This got me thinking. In the same way that Ivan refuses the ticket, might we not also say that Judas himself refuses the ticket? Judas cannot bear to go along with God’s plan to kill an innocent man for the redemption of the world. Judas cannot bear to watch his friend’s blood be shed to appease the one true God. If this God demands the blood of an innocent man, then Judas would rather not live in a world created by such a God. Judas cannot bear to hear the cry of dereliction. What kind of Father would do this to his son? Perhaps, then Judas catches a glimpse of this dark God that he cannot stomach. He had no choice but to commit suicide. This could help further explain his actions in the Garden. Perhaps he was trying to force Jesus’ hands to lead a rebellion, but Jesus refused because of his submission to Father’s immutable will. Judas tried to protect his friend from his damned mission. After this, Judas could do nothing but return the ticket because in a world ruled by such a God, Judas would rather not live.

The Problem of Evil

03/28/2010

“We may, of course, raise the basic charge against God: why is not His will for creation wholly and utterly a voluntas efficiens, and a good will only in this form? Why does this refraining, this not preventing and not excluding exist only in this utterly terrifying power which is proper to it as the divine will, and seems so fatefully to conceal the goodness of His will? To this our only answer is that God’s supreme and truest good for creation, and therefore the good determined for and promised to creation, is revealed in its full splendour only when its obedience and blessedness are not simply its nature, the self-evident fulfillment of its existence, its inevitable course, but when they are salvation from the edge of an abyss, when in its obedience and blessedness creation is constantly reminded of its creation out of nothing and its preservation from nothingness by the menacing proximity of the kingdom of darkness, when its obedience and blessedness are therefore grace and salvation…If God is greater in the very fact that He is the God who forgives sins and saves from death, we have no right to complain but must praise Him that His will also includes a permitting of sin and death, God is not less but greater – He does not come under suspicion, but shows Himself to be holy and righteous, in fact the He not only efficit, but also permittit. For in this way His will appears as the will of the gracious God who in His grace is the glorious God (CD II/1, 595).

The problem of evil is easily the best reason to reject God. The many other objections albeit scientific, rationalistic, Freudian, Feuerbachian while legitimate, are not the ones that keep me up at night. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, so why do people suffer needlessly? Augustine understood evil as the privation of goodness. Hence, evil has no real substance and is non-being rather than being. Thus God is not to blame for all the suffering in the world. I want to reject this ontological move made by Augustine because I have a hard time reconciling this account of evil with scriptures. In fact, I have never seen any description of evil in the Bible that defines evil as the privation of good.

Process theologians often simply deny God’s omnipotence and omniscience and so completely exonerate God of any of the blame. Caputo’s recent work has pursued a thinking of a weak God, and although I like Caputo’s theology it’s painful to see just how much of the tradition must be rejected to situate this weak God within a Christian framework.

Let’s move onto Calvinism. Zizek raises three objections to different explanations of the sovereign God. The first answer to be rejected is that suffering is accounted for by your sin, an explanation Jesus himself pretty clearly rejects. Two, suffering is a test of faith and if you can endure, God will reward you for your faithfulness. However, if it turns out like Job, you’re probably going to lose all your sons and daughters. Humans are irreplaceable singularities, so this sort of compensation God offers Job is clearly unfit. Three, God’s mysterious will is responsible, but this will is something we cannot know and should not question. Again, God swoops down and asks Job if he was there for the creation of the world. Of course Job was not so he is in no position to question God. Zizek suggests following Hegel, that God’s mystery is a mystery unto God himself.

Some people say, “I know it might not seem now that the starvation of millions has meaning, but that’s because we only have a myopic view of history. In the end, everything works to a higher purpose”. This explanation reminds me of the trite solace offered by some to those who are suffering: everything happens for a reason. Of course, the one suffering subject should reply, “What reason is that?” “Well, um, God has a purpose”, “Do you know his purpose?”, “Well, no”, “Oh, so everything happens and you don’t know either, thanks”. This is ideology at its purest.

Not only is this view of God often ethically despicable but also quite frankly creates a view of this perverse, Satanic God. Here is Hart’s critique of Calvin, “Frankly, any understanding of divine sovereignty so unsubtle that it requires the theologian to assert (as Calvin did) that God foreordained the fall of humanity so that his glory might be revealed in the predestined damnation of the derelict is obviously problematic, and probably far more blasphemous than anything represented by the heresies that the ancient ecumenical councils confronted.” God ends up looking like some ridiculous, clownish puppeteer putting on a show for his own amusement while completely indifferent to human suffering.

Barth seems to be hung up on this notion that God both wills and permits. This sort of distinction seems exceptionally fuzzy and introduces a rather arbitrary element into creation. I think I’ll bless person X but not Y. Why? Well, because it makes me that much more awesome. This move strikes me as a weak one that is ultimately unsatisfactory. Why does God permit some things and not others, because it only serves to enhance his glory? Why does it enhance his glory? Don’t question God. Eventually if you ask enough questions the entire argument will unravel. The same thing happens when wants tries to explain the origin of evil. Who’s responsible? Satan or perhaps Adam and Eve are culpable. Unfortunately, God gave them free will to rebel. Without this free will God could gain no satisfaction from our voluntary love of Him and each other. Hence, it’s ultimately God’s fault. The only question remaining to be asked after this is why did God even bother creating the world? Non-existence seems infinitely preferable over the suffering a single individual human.

One argument that I’ve been quite fond of over the years has come from Bonhoeffer’s prophetic writings in the Letters and Papers from Prison. In those letters he writes that only the suffering God cans help us. Schelling also puts it quite nicely, “God is a life, not merely a being. But all life has a fate and is subject to suffering and becoming…Without the concept of a humanly suffering God…all of history remains incomprehensible” (Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom, 274). According to this perspective, when people suffer there is no question where God stands. He is not outside looking downward observing the suffering. Rather, he is alongside co-suffering with them. We know God can sympathize with our pain because He Himself through Jesus was completely forsaken by all and died utterly alone. He knows suffering. The cross shatters any notion concerning God’s position with respect to pain; He is standing alongside dying with us. I’m reminded of the time I went to visit a Quaker service for my psychology of religion course. During the meeting, only two people spoke. The first one lamented the fact that innocent children suffer for no reason, and the man asked sincerely why God does not intervene since he was quite convinced God loved children above all. Twenty minutes of silence passed. Another member said simply this, “The face of Christ is on all those who suffer”. The meeting adjourned. I want to affirm this. Of all the explanations it is the only one that is not morally reprehensible or simply unbelievable.

But, over the last couple of months I’ve had my doubts. Certainly this is the paradigm through which I understand the crucifixion, but what about salvation? What about damnation? What about election? Surely the suffering God is very helpful when it comes to thinking of atonement, but what about hell? Unless one wants to embrace some sort of universalism, it seems difficult to reconcile the difficulties the existence of hell poses for any notion of an all-loving God. I believe that it is perhaps too theologically hasty to completely dismiss these conversations as if they never happened. Again, the only question that needs to be asked is why does God bother making the world at all? Why didn’t He rather just not make the world and spare the eternal damnation of so many? Can the suffering God really be of any use in understanding the Hebrew Bible? Do we not end up with some sort of Marcionism? All the great theologians have thought election. Altizer’s work has what spurred me on to think more precisely about damnation and salvation. As I prepare to read Doctrine of God part 2 on the election of God I’m excited to see more fully how Barth develops his notion of double election. Damnation is also something central to the gospels and the Hebrew Bible as well. Jesus commits himself to declaring that those around him repent or else they will be consumed in the apocalyptic fire. The Baptizer says that God will lay an axe to the root. Likewise, does not God’s election of Israel simultaneously imply an exclusion of the all those of the non-elect (i.e. Gentiles)? So, even if God is a suffering God, what does that say about after death? Once, your eternal fate is decided it seems rather obvious that God is no longer a suffering God, but a God of wrath and judgment. A God who sends those to hell based on his infinite righteousness.

Maybe we should come to admit that none of these explanations can avoid many problems (ethical, theological, biblical). However, there is one other possibility that most dare not consider, namely that evil is not utterly alien from God. I plan on reading Altizer’s Godhead and the Nothing in the near future to speak more about this idea. Here are a couple of quotes by Altizer about this work:

“Only in the course of many years of theological struggle was I able to open myself to the possibility of the absolute transfiguration of the Godhead, for this is only possible if the negative pole or polarity of the Godhead is absolutely real, that could only mean that Godhead itself is absolutely “evil” even as it is absolutely “good,” only the deep darkness and abyss of the Godhead makes possible an absolute transfiguration, and not only is that abyss transfigured in this transfiguration, but it can even be understood that the final expression of this process could only be actually manifest in its most abysmal or negative mode. Thereby we can understand how both ancient and modern apocalypticism can know a totality of darkness, a darkness inseparable from a full and actual apocalyptic dawning, or inseparable from apocalypse itself.”

“One of the deeper motifs of Godhead and the Nothing is the transfiguration of evil, and a transfiguration of evil which is finally the “Self-Saving” of Godhead itself, a self-saving which is an absolute transfiguration, and an absolute transfiguration of an absolute horror. If our clearest vision of that horror is Moby Dick, this is a genuine vision of a uniquely modern epiphany of God, one going far beyond its ancient Gnostic counterparts, and beyond them as an actualization of absolute evil, but an evil absolutely essential to a genuine apocalypse, and to a truly apocalyptic transfiguration.”

The Apocalyptic Jesus and Anti-Judaism in the Gospels

03/12/2010

So over the last two days I’ve been listening to Ehrman’s course from the Teaching Company on the Historical Jesus. This is a really excellent course that seems to closely follow his book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. It was a nice refresher and reminded me even more why I support the apocalyptic Jesus over the Jesus Seminar’s de-eschatologized Jesus. While I can’t rehearse the many arguments he makes to support his position, I did want to highlight a couple of points. From Ehrman’s perspective, it is absolutely crucial to understand the Son of Man that Jesus both refers to and identifies with in the Gospels. For instance, consider Mark 13:26-27

“At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.”

Notice Jesus does not identify as the Son of Man. Rather, he makes an allusion to the cosmic figure mentioned in Daniel who will come riding on the clouds to establish a new Kingdom in which the proud are humbled and humbled are exalted. However, it seems clear that Jesus is predicting in this apocalyptic passage that his followers should be preparing for the Son of Man’s coming.

In fact, much of Jesus’ ministry was an attempt to enact this Kingdom on earth by spending time those who would be exalted in the age to come (i.e. prostitutes, sinners, tax collectors). Another thing that Ehrman highlighted was that apocalyptic thinkers believed that evil forces (power and principalities) ruled the world. Hence, Jesus identified with the down and out in society because he believed that the coming Son of Man and the imminent apocalypse would be a complete reversal of the current world order where the ‘least of these’ would have power.

The ethics and actions of Jesus are so much easier to understand when one situates them within this apocalyptic framework.

One of Ehrman’s most convincing argument for the apocalyptic Jesus is this. If Jesus is baptized by an apocalyptic prophet (hence suggesting Jesus’ support of John) and his leaders form apocalyptic sects (read 1 Cor 15 and 1 Thes 4), then isn’t it fair to assume that Jesus was likewise an apocalyptic prophet? Some will try and argue that Jesus argued for a realized eschatology (Crossan, think the verse in Luke the Kingdom is amongst you), but they are forced to make the assumption that the followers of Jesus betrayed him and returned to John the Bapitzer’s apocalyptic message. This seems unrealistic. Basically, reading from the earlier material Q, Mark, Paul’s epistles to Luke and Matthew and finally to John one can easily trace the gradual de-eschatologizing of the gospel. John’s Jesus is utterly stripped of any apocalyptic fervor.

Finally, I’ve read some on the many anti-Semitic elements in the Greek Bible, but Ehrman made the interesting observation that the changes in Pilate’s involvement in the crucifixion is especially telling of the early Christians’ resentments towards the Jews. First off, let me say that Pilate was a horrible person. So, any idea that Pilate was some contemplative, sensitive man is absolutely absurd. Anyway, let’s start the analysis with Mark. Notice, that in this story Pilate offers the Jews the choice between Barabbas and Jesus. In, Mark 15:15

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.”

In Luke’s gospels, on three separate occasions Pilate tries to release Jesus because he finds him innocent, but the Jews demand his crucifixion. Again, it is obvious that the gospel writers want to place the blame on the Jews. In Matthew 27 we not only have Pilate’s wife’s dreams, but we also have these two extra verses between the crowd’s demand and Pilate’s acquiescence. Matthew 27:24-25

“When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!””

Yeah, so things are evolving quickly. Not only is Pilate apparently worried to have innocent blood on his hands, apparently the Jews are wishing curses on themselves and their children. In all reality, this was likely just one thing on Pilate’s agenda that morning. Remember he also signed off on (at least) two more executions that very morning. It’s doubtful he would’ve given a damn, but it is telling to see how the Jews are becoming more culpable over time.

John’s gospel is by far the least believable account, but probably the most interesting. Pilate asks Jesus, ‘what is truth?’, and Jesus makes the (in)famous statement ‘My Kingdom is not of this world’. Again, Pilate attempts to free Jesus three times, but the crowds stubbornly refuse. Eventually, the Jews threaten Pilate by saying that you are not a friend of Caesar if you release this supposed King. Even more interesting, Ehrman claims that in the Greek it says that Pilate handed Jesus over to the Jews to execute him. Usually this is left out of the English translations because it doesn’t make any damn sense. But again, we can see just how innocent Pilate appears in John’s gospel. This also helps confirm in my mind, the many ways in which John’s gospel is written as a apology for why Christianity is not an enemy of Rome. Not only are the Romans not blamed for Jesus’ death, but also we have a de-politicization of Jesus’ teachings along with the statement about the otherworldly Kingdom.

Finally, in the non-canonical Gospel of Peter, it is in fact Herod, the Jewish ruler, who orders Jesus’ execution. Ehrman makes the observations that Pilate was actually canonized as a Christian saint in the early Ethiopian church. Quite absurd.

One other thing I’ll touch on briefly is the obvious anti-Semitism in the gospels revolves around the descriptions of the scribes and the Pharisees. From what I understand, the Pharisees were religiously devout Jews who dedicated their life to scrupulously following the Torah. Sure, some might have been hypocritical, but they were certainly the exception. The way in which the New Testaments presents them would be analogous to the way the new atheists describes theists. Sure their critiques describe some believers, but it’s mostly a gross caricature. This is why it’s ultimately wrong to play this game that Jesus was against the law in favor of love while the Pharisees blindly adhered to the law. That’s just unhistorical, anti-Semitic nonsense.

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 4

02/20/2010

The Crucifixion of God

[Disclaimer, this chapter was dense and central to understanding Altizer’s atonement. If further clarification is needed, feel free to ask]

The Kingdom of God can be understood as the transcendence of God, but transcendence always remains mysterious. Altizer argues that the disappearance of the proclamation of apocalyptic Kingdom to be the greatest reversal in Christianity. This calling for the Kingdom could only ever be resuscitated by heretical movements that radically attacked orthodoxy and the state. Tracking the historical movement of the symbol of the cross, Altizer thinks that the Christ of glory is unthinkable within modern Christianity. Western philosophy has also had such a paradoxical transformation instigated by Augustine’s reflection on consciousness “as the sole ground for a universal horizon and world” (69). The Cartesian subject was metaphysically groundless, and not until Hegel’s philosophy do we witness a re-thinking of totality, and hence the unity between Hegel and Augustine’s understanding of self-consciousness. Hegel integrated the death of God into this thinking whereby “self-consciousness passes through the death of God, and it only thereby and therein that it realizes itself as the pure subject of consciousness” (69). This self-consciousness is absolutely new because it recognizes the alien otherness within consciousness that must be negated to truly understand itself. Similarly, in Paul the “I” interiorized guilt thus making consciousness alien to itself. Altizer provocatively claims that this otherness is an internalization of the crucifixion that is resurrection. This repetition of the crucifixion is “a self-negation, and a self-negation which is an interior actualization of an otherness that is the otherness of itself” (70).

If the crucifixion is resurrection then the crucifixion is the negation of negation. Altizer notices that in the Fourth Gospel Jesus can claim “It is I”, hence we are presented with a Jesus void of interior subject, a Jesus in which there is no difference between the resurrected and crucified Christ. This is demonstrated by the elusive “I am” statements in John’s Gospel. Altizer goes on to analyze the common parabolic language of Jesus in the synoptics. He notes the paradox that although everyone who heard could understand what Jesus was communicating, when these parables are repeated they can only seem wholly mysterious to the hearer. The utter uniqueness of Jesus’ language was that although it was universally understood, and yet it resulted in the “ultimate transformation of in the common language of everyone” (73). Jesus’ apocalyptic and parabolic language has been quickly forgotten by the entire world, and it was not until attacks upon Christendom that we witness a “reversal of reversals of Jesus, and therefore as assaults which recover an eschatological reversal, and an eschatological reversal that is actual in Jesus’ proclamation of the dawning of the Kingdom of God” (74). Jesus’ parabolic language reveals our unknowing because it confounds everyone’s conception of God.

“Thus parabolic language is itself a parable of the Kingdom of God, a parable embodying that Kingdom in the immediate and the everyday; then it is understood by everyone and everybody, but understood by no one when it is understood as a parable of “God”. Here, that God disappears, and disappears in the very advent of the Kingdom of God, an advent which is the ending of God…That ending can be named as crucifixion” (75).

The cross God’s self-negation, and hence if modernity is the historical realization of the death of God then the crucifixion should be understood as being central to modern self-consciousness. Modern self-consciousness leads to a self-realization, a self-realization of the self-negation of God, or what Blake named self-annihilation, which “is the self-negation or self-emptying of Jesus of the crucified God” (76). In 1st Corinthians Paul ends his letter by saying that Son will be subjected to God. Altizer thinks Paul has betrayed the crucified God by saying that ultimately the Son glorifies the Creator. Interestingly enough, Altizer realizes that the voice from the whirlwind in Job in which is identical to the Creator God as God is wholly unaffected by the crucifixion and resurrection. For Altizer, God’s glory is absolutely realized in God’s kenotic self-negation on the cross. God’s ultimate act of Love then is the sacrifice of his Son, a sacrifice that is absolute self-emptying. Following Paul, we must remember that it is not I who live, but Christ in me.

“Thus “I” am dead and buried with Christ, and if that death is resurrection or redemption, it is nevertheless a real and actual death, and a once and for all and irreversible death, and consequently not a death that is a reversed in resurrection, but far rather a death that is fully and finally actual in resurrection” (78).

Contra Gnosticism, Altizer reminds us that this resurrection is one into life, not into an eternal life of glory. Altizer believes that when Christians celebrate the glory of God they cannot celebrate the crucified Christ. For we can only have life as long as we are crucified with Christ.

“Thus the Christ who is present in Christian life is not the Christ of glory but the Christ of passion, the Christ who is the crucified God, or the Christ who is the full and actual embodiment of the self-negation and self-emptying of God. For the Son of God is the God who is love, a love which is enacted in an ultimate sacrifice, and an ultimate sacrifice of death. That is the death which Christianity knows as life” (79).