Archive for the ‘Paul’ Category

Sin as OCD

05/08/2010

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.

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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.

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 8

02/25/2010

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 5

02/21/2010

The Resurrection of God

Resurrection is the fulfillment of crucifixion, but this is not a resurrection into Heaven which would be an absolute reversal of the self-emptying of the I AM. Gnostic resurrection is one into eternal life, but Altizer believes that is a true reversal of crucifixion because the crucifixion is an irreversible, historical event not merely a spiritual reality. Gnosticism is unique to Christianity, and even Buddhism is the antithesis of Gnosticism because it celebrates the dissolution of the self that results in a “soullessness”. Gnosticism focuses on a glorification that is the true reversal of the actuality of crucifixion. Paul’s attack against the Gnostics in Corinth centered on their desire to wholly transcend to bondage of the will that Paul and Augustine knew all too well. But this bondage of the will was “simultaneously a realization of the freedom of the will” (83). Gnostic dualism was the inevitable result of the Gnostic “I” striving after a spiritual “I” that would attempt to bypass the otherness of guilt embedded in self-consciousness. Altizer celebrates the crucifixion as resurrection and thinks this shatter this dualism precisely “Christian resurrection is the resurrection of death itself, and a resurrection of that ultimate final death which occurs in the crucifixion” (85). Apocalypse is the act of God that fully realizes itself in the resurrection, and this apocalypse is a historical one that leads to a new life that is the death of death itself. “That is the apocalypse which is the center of Christianity, a center which is the one event of crucifixion and resurrection, and if that event is the center of history, it is the center of an apocalyptic history. So it is that a Christian apocalypse is not a heavenly apocalypse, it is a historical apocalypse” (86).

History is a forward movement that is realized only in the negation of the past, which leads to actual events. History begins with the self-naming of the I AM that is the end of eternal recurrence. For Altizer, resurrection is the hearing of that otherness itself that Jesus first heard in the total advent of the Kingdom of God. “That is the apocalyptic triumph of a final self-emptying and self-negation, a kenosis which is the kenosis of the pleroma of the Godhead of God, and thus a kenosis which is the fullness in emptiness of the Kingdom of God” (87).

Altizer believes that the apocalyptic faith that undergirds different political revolutions is a historical manifestation of an original Christian apocalypticism. This apocalyptic thinking is truly universal leading to a cosmic history that Altizer believes we also witness in the advent of Mahayana Buddhism and Islam. Islam was motivated by an apocalyptic faith that led to a universal, egalitarian community. A new consciousness also emerged in Mahayana Buddhism that was utterly dissolved in an original self-emptying that no longer knew the otherness within consciousness itself (that is so central to Western consciousness). History moves by a kenotic pleroma that can only be actualized in concrete history. An active process of self-negation drives history into an absolute forward movement. Christians must celebrate the resurrection of the advent of the Kingdom of God, which is realizing itself as a movement that culminates “in a kenotic pleroma, a pleroma which itself is the fullness of historical actuality” (90).

Altizer believes that resurrection is the negation of the negation, the death of death, and hence the end of absolute otherness that was originally negated in the fall. This negation is not a return to the eternal return, but rather a final repetition of negation that was first actualized in the self-naming of the I AM.

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).

Genesis and Apocalypse – Chapter 3

02/19/2010

The Birth of History

The beginning of history is a consequence of the end of eternal return. Once history begins, events are unrepeatable. Hence, every moment is both precarious and ultimately groundless because this moment is passing away forever never again to be actualized. The past that is forever gone is a profound loss but it also opens up the possibility for an actual future. History opens up man to the absolute groundlessness of the present, which brings to man’s attention the utterly contingent nature of events. This groundlessness of history brings about a consciousness alienated from all possible grounds or horizons. This fall into alienation begins with the self-naming of the I AM. This self-naming of I AM is the death of eternal return and the inauguration of irreversible and unrepeatable events. Israel is unique because it is “the site of the dawning realization of the forward or evolutionary movement of history” (57). Israel’s prophetic revolution revolves around the hearing of the revolution of the words of I AM. Altizer recognizes that Nietzsche recognized this better than most. For Nietzsche, Israel is THE revolutionary event, which resulted in a complete reversal of the morality of the will to power. This slave morality led to the blessing of the weak and humble in the prophetic literature. According to Altizer, the birth of a new consciousness, which led to the individualization of a personal faith in relation to the I AM. Altizer writes, “[t]hat actuality is the judgment of I AM, a judgment occurring the immediate future, and a judgment that will be not the epiphany but the enactment of I AM” (58). This future judgment of I AM judges both the past and present, and opens up the actuality of the future that is predicated on the absolute perishing of the past. This “future whose very sounding transforms the past into total abyss, an abyss that now passes into hearing itself, as hearing now realizes itself as self-judgment, a self-judgment which is an interior actualization of abyss” (59).

Altizer believes that apocalypse is most manifest in the Hebrew Bible in Second Isaiah. This apocalypse is simultaneously creation that that will reconcile Yahweh to his people. However, this reconciliation requires the suffering servant be cursed and damned by bearing out sins away. This suffering is inflicted by Yahweh, but it “an apocalyptic act of Yahweh, for it is a fulfillment of the once and for all event of beginning, and a fulfillment of the self-emptying of the beginning” (60). The parallel to Job becomes clear as Yahweh also crushed Job, and Job’s “innocence seemingly calls forth the total judgment of Yahweh” (61). The Christological parallels become evident, as God’s Son also bore away our sins to the cross by suffering, a suffering that was truly historical. Ultimately, the crucifixion is the self-negation of the I AM, a negation occurring in the actuality of history. The crucifixion is consummation of the self-negation of I AM for two reasons: because it occurs in history, and within history events are unrepeatable and irreversible. Altizer follows St Paul in recognizing the absolute identity of crucifixion and resurrection. He also astutely understands that because the crucifixion happened in history it cannot simply be undone by the resurrection. The self-naming of the I AM was the beginning of history and the end of eternal return. We fall prey to renewing the movement of eternal return by thinking that resurrection disrupts the irreversible historical death of Jesus at the crucifixion. “Hence the acts of God are kenotic acts, or acts of self-emptying, and real and actual acts of self-emptying, for they not only occur in the actuality of history, but they occur in and as irreversible acts” (62).

Altizer realizes the uniqueness of Christianity is its history of salvation. The revelations of I AM are utterly historical, hence irreversible. This history of salvation involves the loss of a primordial, eternal transcendence because “that could never speak or act, and hence the loss of an original eternity that is eternally and only itself” (63). Jesus’ proclamation of the apocalyptic Kingdom of God stands for an attack against the past and present. The actuality of the future is finally enacted in the present by Jesus’ apocalyptic speech. This proclamation signaled the forward movement of history, which only realizes itself in totality at the dawning of the end of history. If this totality can only come emerge fully at this dawning at the end of history, then this dawning must be the advent of a total apocalypse. While Christianity at its roots is apocalyptic, its radically reverse its original ground by negating this core element. However, modern apocalyptic negated this negation, leading to a unique, universal apocalypticism.

“Now alpha is omega, or genesis is apocalypse, but it is so only as an absolutely new actuality, and an absolutely new actuality realizing itself in the history or world, and thereby realizing itself in absolute perishing or death, a perishing which is the final realization of the self-naming of I AM, and therefore the final realization of the self-emptying of an original eternity” (66).

Catharsis and Salvation

01/20/2010

This semester I’m taking Social Psychology, Assessment II (focused on the Rorschach), and Group Psychotherapy. Today in my Group Psychotherapy class, we talked about how empirical research has demonstrated that catharsis is a necessary but not sufficient condition as a curative factor in group therapy. Of course, this is something Freud had discovered over a century ago when he found that re-experiencing repressed memories in and of itself would not facilitate change for his patients. My professor asked us to define catharsis. I started thinking about it, and the best definition I was able to come up with was that catharsis is a repetition with a difference. Catharsis is all about re-experiencing an affect-laden memory. It is a highly emotional experience. Its etymology indicates that it derived from the Greek words for pure and cleanse.

In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud began to rethink his metapsychology because of the problem repetition compulsion posed to his system. Essentially he ran into this problem: why do people continue to re-experience painful memories if man’s desire is to seek pleasure? Here Freud posits the death drive. I’ll hopefully return to Lacan’s revision of the death drive in a later post.

I think we begin to approach the relationship between the freedom of the psychoanalytic cure and Christian salvation. Catharsis is a repetition with a difference insofar as the subject revisits the traumatic event, but this time with a difference. This time the subject rewrite this event with the help of the analyst, and through this process the subject learns to confront and integrate the trauma. This inevitably leads to a subjective cleansing; the subject has been released from the compulsion to repeat the trauma. Here we see the psychoanalysis can help the subject re-experience the trauma, but this repetition is creative because it leads to a purging of the trauma.

St. Paul writes in Romans 6:2-6, “How can we who died to sin yet live in it? Or are you unaware that we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were indeed buried with him through baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might live in newness of life. For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection. We know that our old self was crucified with him, so that our sinful body might be done away with, that we might no longer be in slavery to sin.”

Obviously, here original sin should be understood as the traumatic event that the subject cannot integrate. All Christians have been baptized into Jesus’ death. This event allows Christians to experience a new life, a life that is freed from the chains of sin. As Jesus tells Nicodemus, we must all be born again. However, this birth is simply not a repetition of the same, but a repetition with a difference. We are reborn in Christ’ death except this time we are no longer enslaved to oppression of sin and the desire to repeat. We undergo a subjective purification through the salvation offered by Jesus. However, here we must keep sight of the differences that separate Christianity and psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis lacks the eschatological dimension of Christianity. Although we are baptized in death with Christ and released from the powers of sin, we are yet to be resurrected in Christ at the end of time. This explains why although Christians might be free of sin, many still find choose to re-enslave themselves to sin. Bonhoeffer could only understand this subjective position as one of cheap grace. Obviously, psychoanalysis cannot make such promises.

On the Perversity of Evangelicals and Premarital Sex

12/01/2009

Writing my previous post about homosexuality and conservatism got me thinking more about my sexual development raised in an evangelical household. I’ll spare you the details, but I would like to focus on the absurdity of premarital sexual behavior and evangelicalism. Evangelical high schoolers have hormones like everyone else. However, the difficulty lies in trying to maximize sexual pleasure while minimizing superegoic guilt. This is a very subtle task. I remember when I was younger my parents had a book on teenage dating and Christianity. I recall a page with a table that had a line drawn down the middle to divide acceptable and unacceptable sexual behaviors. I believe the only sexual acts that were tolerable were hugging and tongue-free kissing. Sorry kids, God hates when you make out. It’s in the Bible, English Standard Version only. I also recall having a Sunday school teacher map out the geography of a woman’s body to inform us what body parts were off-limits. Surprisingly, the ears were prohibited.

Anyway, I mostly want to explore the relationship between pleasure and guilt that every good evangelical must come to terms with. How do I release all of my suppressed sexual tension while ensuring God will still love me? Honestly, these are perverse questions! Can I go under the bra? Does oral sex count? Anal sex? I remember the classic divide back in the day was no fondling of the genitals or breasts. If you were especially licentious you might go under the bra. The calculus is so strange. I remember being in accountability groups back in high school dedicated to talking about sexuality and purity. I wish we would have kept each other accountable on being good people, you know like loving our neighbor.

Of course, all of the discourse and obsession about sex was the very thing that only served to heighten the temptation. Paul knew that the Law generates its own transgression. I’ve mostly gotten past these questions intellectually, but what bothers me most is that I still feel as if God’s obsessed with my sexuality. The God I claim to believe in is not the God I experience subjectively. This God is a puritanical, authoritarian, voyeuristic freak who hates me. It’s sad that I still unconsciously measure my spiritual development based on amount of sexual temptation I engage in. How do I get out of this bind? I cannot even begin to count the number of false resolutions and promises I’ve made to God to control my sexuality. It never worked. I’m tired of the guilt, shame, and anger. Why do you care so much, God? Am I even talking to you God? Is that your name?

I’ll let the great Thomas Altizer have the last word, “Already we have seen that faith can name this movement as the metamorphosis of God into Satan, as God empties himself of his original power and glory and progressively becomes manifest as an alien but oppressive nothingness. We must understand this whole movement as an atoning process, a forward-moving process wherein a vacuous and nameless power of evil becomes increasingly manifest as the dead body of God or Satan; but it is precisely this epiphany of God as Satan which numbs the power of evil, and unveils every alien and oppressive other as a backward-moving regression into the now lifeless and hence ultimately powerless emptiness of the primordial sacrality of God” (Gospel of Christian Atheism).

Tillich, Pornography, and the Law

11/15/2009

For my psychodynamic psychopathology class we are reading an excellent text by Nancy McWilliams entitled Psychoanalytic Diagnosis. In a section on Obsessive and Compulsive personality structures she discusses how obsessives tend to employ the defense of reaction formation. This is illustrated by the young child who is jealous of his newborn baby sister and acts opposite to those feelings by being excessively doting and protective. Another favorite example of mine is the hyper-masculinity and anti-homosexual attitudes characteristic of many a male who unconsciously harbors homoerotic feelings.

In this text, McWilliams writes, “Every compulsively organized person seems to have one messy drawer. Paragons of virtue may have a paradoxical island of corruption: The eminent theologian Paul Tillich had an extensive pornography collection” (286).

Another text that discussed Tillich’s sexual side is Rollo May’s book Paulus: Tillich as Spiritual Teacher. He reminisces that at age 80 Tillich was still a very attractive man who commanded every women’s attention when he walked in the room. He even recalls a story where Tillich spent an afternoon with May’s future wife, and describes how Tillich and her explored a fantasy world (reminded me of something akin to Lord of the Rings). To make a long story short, at the end of the imagined adventure Tillich and May’s future wife fantasized together about the love they would make to bring the adventure to a close. May recounts not feeling jealousy but admiration for Tillich’s fantastical, whimsical nature (perhaps another example of reaction formation).

Obviously, McWilliams’ assessment of Tillich as a hypocrite because of his pornographic stash seems to completely misunderstand Tillich. In an interview posted on youtube. Tillich explains his dislike of moralistic piety. He prefers to have an ethic of love as opposed to one of Law.

Zizek explores a similar connection between the pastor who lambastes the sinfulness of pornography, but who is secretly involved with prostitutes. Zizek believes that to reduce the pastor to some pathetic hypocrite misses the point when it comes to the subject’s relationship to the Law. Paul, of course understood the subject’s relationship to the Law quite well, especially his understanding how an understanding of the Law is what initially makes one conscious of sin and guilt. A helpful example can be taken from the beginning of the spread of Islam. Certain ascetics would intentionally violate crucial laws: not fasting on Ramadan, not attending daily prayers, and not adhering to ablution rituals so as to make the mercy of Allah all the more apparent. Of course, this position is completely perverse and the exact position Paul’s enemies held (should we sin all the more to make God’s grace more abundant, no!). Again if we take Paul’s understanding of the Law as inviting the subject’s transgression we can better understand the televangelist’s seemingly paradoxical behavior. The pastor who preaches against the sinfulness of sexuality does not do so merely in bad faith, but rather his rallying cry against sexuality is the very thing that enjoins him to sin.

For me, then the problem with Tillich is not the ethic of love or pornography stash (I’ll save those thoughts for another day), but rather the naive way in which he gets there to ostensibly justify it. Being the good existentialist he was, radical freedom demanded that no laws could be passed down from generation because that would limit man’s free subjectivity. Hence, no laws are eternal, all we need to follow is an ethic of love. An extension of this manifests itself in his rather amorphous Christology of “new being”. I think a case could be made that Badiou’s reading of St Paul with his emphasis on grace, universality, and the resurrection parallels quite well with Tillich’s overall conception of Christianity. In fact, I would argue that Tillich’s engagement with theology in general need not even be considered Christian (I feel the same way about process theology). His “God beyond God” does not really require the Trinity nor does his concept of the “new being” demand Jesus of Nazareth’s concrete, historical existence (this helps explain why Tillich believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same God as the God of the philosophers). Ultimately, both Tillich and Badiou falter because they cannot account for the Cross and sin (I’m no Tillichian, but does anyone know where he comments on the crucifixion?). They short-circuit the system by jumping straight to grace and the “new being”. The lack of negativity in both thinker’s system is also what makes both of their engagements with Christianity naive and idealistic. Finally, if we do not understand how the subject can readjust her relation to the Law then this might serve to encourages the perverse relation to the Law that needs to be avoided. One cannot merely jump to grace and freedom from sin without first accounting for how the subject can reorient his relationship to sin and the Law. Here, this is why it is especially important to remember Jesus was not against the Law in its entirety (a common anti-Jewish, Johannine influenced reading), but rather believed he had come to fulfill the Law.

Liberation Theology Part II

08/13/2009

Feminist Theology has offered some of the most devastating critiques of the patriarchal legacy of theology from Augustine to Barth. Before I explore some questions about God and gendered language, I’d like to address two possible responses more progressive Christians often have when their religion is accused of misogyny. The scholarly Christian might say, “Oh well, yes there are certain verses in the Greek Bible that paint women in a negative light, but those weren’t actually written by Paul.” Mary Daly’s response was that even If it was not written by Paul, that doesn’t alter the fact that it’s been appropriated for years by men in the church to subjugate and oppress women. Another typical response is, “Yes, yes good point feminists” we’ll start using the words “her” and “she” more often for God. In fact, we might even consider praying, “Out Mother who art in Heaven if we’re really feeling dangerous”. What bothers me is that while we change the immediate content, the existing structure does not change. That is to say, although we might recognize the church’s mistreatment of women, we’ll still maintain a structure and church where the vast majority of leaders and pastors are males. It’s akin to where Zizek argues that every sensitive liberal male prof at your local university will always make the concession at the beginning of his course, “this semester we’ll be studying the history of western philosophy, which unfortunately has been written by white males because of sexism”. Of course his acknowledgment fails to change the fact that the legacy is being continued. So yes even though male theologians recognize the sexism of the church, that doesn’t mean they’ll actually have to forfeit their jobs to aid in the struggle.

My question is this: to what extent does changing our language about God serve to maintain the status quo when it comes to the interface of theology and gender? God doesn’t have a penis even as much as Mark Driscoll would like him to (probably a large one at that), but nor does he possess a vagina.  My friend at Duke seminary told me that they had to use the s/he fifty-fifty for God so as to keep the peace. Again this does not change a damn thing in my opinion. The main issue I have with God being colored in masculine light is that it often associates characteristics with God that I find to be unsupported by the  God’s self-revelation in Jesus of Nazareth. The male god might be vengeful, violent, sovereign, and omnipotent. The female god might be nurturing, creative, loving, and intimate. How about as opposed to merely changing pronouns we actually rediscover feminine imagery and descriptions of God and challenge violent masculine imagery?

Another issue (especially with Protestantism) is its lack of feminine role models. Considering Mary’s diminished status in Protestantism and Eve’s colossal fuckup, it’s clear younger girls often have difficult identifying with any of the religious figures. Now, if we could re-articulate the intimate interactions of a relational Trinity, and a Christian doctrine of creation that was true to the Genesis story and not the fabricated creation ex nihilo, then maybe we could begin to rediscover important and often repressed aspects of God. This of course returns to my discussions on atonement, and why I believe an updated Christus Victor theory is the most promising alternative, not the ‘divine child-abuse’ theory.

Secondly, I’d also encourage anyone who cares for women’s rights to rebel against any institutional church that fails to recognize the equal status of men and women. Unless Paul was lying when he said, “In Christ there is no longer male nor female” it seems obvious to me that the Spirit of God doesn’t discriminate based on genitalia, so neither should we. The critique Jesus offers strongly against the family should lead us to the conclusion that gender roles likewise will dissolve in the Kingdom. Ultimately, talking about God won’t change the systemic injustice in the church. We will not realize the evils of gender discrimination until we begin to recognize the destabilizing effects of the in-breaking Kingdom. While becoming increasingly conscious of the issue of gendered theological language is a step in the right direction, it’s likely worthless and perhaps detrimental if we think that merely reforming our pronouns for the divine will effect change. We need to protest strongly and loudly unless we are going to allow this violence against women in the church and homes continue. Of course the God of oppressed is on our side, as Jesus said to the women oppressed and immobilized in the sins of her patriarchal society, “Go and sin no more”. That is be free of the shackles of misogyny and live your life abundantly!

[Aside, read Ruether’s Sexism and God-Talk]