Following on from yesterday’s post, and this has probably been said before, scepticism is an unstable methodological principle. I’m thinking specifically of the anti-metaphysical scepticism to which I subscribed in the previous post. If scepticism confronts all metaphysics, for confronting’s sake, then it is inconsistent if it does not return this confrontation to the basis from which it springs (whether there is a distinct “basis” or the scepticism itself is the basis). By making an implicit distinction between critical questioning and the propositions which are questioned, a sceptical methodology posits itself as somehow outside of or apart from those propositions. It decries the illegitimacy of the propositions but does not question the legitimacy of its own questions. “What is truth?” is legitimate to the extent that it also asks, “to what extent is ‘What is truth?’ legitimate?” This inevitably leads to an “infinite” string of questions, as the basis for the question of the question must also be questioned. In short, insofar as scepticism is made a central methodological principle it can only be undertaken ignorantly or ironically.
This post is an attempt to draw out some of my implicit beliefs on the nature of reality. My main sources are my experience of the world, which consists in an ever-developing and reveloping, exveloping and enveloping faith in the God of Jesus to whom the Bible attests; my piecemeal reading of Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and Buber, all of whom in their irreducibly individual ways helped me see the validity of individual experience as a scientific category and all sciences as experiential categories; and every blessed contribution, intentional or no, from the conversations I’ve participated in in person, on the Internet, or passively through reading Wikipedia articles and book reviews on Amazon. I have not read the relevant literature, something which is neither to be celebrated nor can it be avoided.
The nature of language and comprehension is often highlighted in discussing the limits of our ability to interpret the world around us. We might say that (A) I have my own thoughts, which (B) I write up in a blog post, and then (C) my audiences interpret according to their own categories. Effectively, everyone is perpetually misunderstood. Between A and B I need to translate my metarational, metalinguistic experience of an idea into the rational, linguistic vernacular. Already something of the idea is lost because it is translated into that which is not the idea. At the most basic level, A is related to B but not identical to it. The “same” happens between B and C. A static text is comprehended in different ways by different people according to their histories of experiencing various words, word combinations, genres, etc. No one comprehension of an “etc” is the same. They are all related in that we could say a similar comprehension is happening, wherever it happens, but everyone interprets their “etc”s in the context of their history of having read “etc”s and the various places in which those “etc”s have appeared. To comprehend an “etc” is to call to mind a whole history of comprehension in which other “etc”s have occurred.
This is simple and indisputable. But it is too simple. For example, A, B, and C do not exist as discrete stages, instances, etc. This is an interpretation of a common occurrence. But it does not take into account (1) what takes place before A and after C, (2) the further infinite divisions between A, B, and C, and (3) the connections, sameness, and basic unity of the instances A, B, and C. I have deliberately posited another three with which to engage to hint to the ultimate arbitrarity of isolating anything. 1 is patent. The origin of a text stretches infinitely before an author and continues infinitely after them. There is no need here for recourse to a deterministic understanding of cause and effect, nor even a linear one. Regardless of the truth of such understandings, here we can at least see that A-B-C, in whatever way, is fundamentally related to that which occurs, exists, etc, outside of A-B-C so that our identification of A-B-C is again arbitrary. 2 follows the same insight. If we can isolate A, B, and C, then we can isolate say Ai, Aii, and Aiii — maybe three discrete thoughts which contribute to an idea. We can also say that every moment, which again is just an interpretation and does not exist, destroys the unity of the thing so that a text is not the same in one moment as it is the next moment because it occurs in an infinitely different world. Nonetheless, this discretion is infinite. This leads easily to 3, which requires a clarification of infinity. 3 means not only that A-B-C take place in a wider, “infinite,” context, but that their basic discretion, and the discretion of “parts” within A, B, and C, threatens the truth that they constitute a single whole (within a whole). “Infinity” is thus invoked to underscore the paradoxical (?) nature of unity and distinction with reference to any thing. Everything is related to another thing. There is something common they share, which might be called being because they all be. They are thus finitely related. But because no thing which we identify is the same, all things take place in infinity ((in)finity?). That is, all difference is infinite difference.
Moreover, all difference manifests in identity and all identity manifests in difference. In light of the foregoing, this, to me, appears paradoxical. We might ask what the relationship between the categories of identity and difference is — what identity do they share? However, we would soon find that whatever identities these categories, and the infinite particularities and generalities which they represent, share, these identities are compromised by difference. The uncovered fossil in the dormancies of deep earth is infinitely different from the “same” fossil which it is three seconds later. It occurs in time, a time in which everything is constantly changing so that, despite the fossil’s basic sameness its relation to every around it, including that of which it is made up, consists in infinite difference. Conversely, we might ask what the distinction between the categories of identity and difference is. But we would soon find that there is too much the same between the fossil and itself, the fossil and itself a year ago, a century ago, centuries ago, its infinite past in the food it ate and the genes it shared, and its infinite future in the renewal of all being. Identity and difference thus become two opposed categories with which we need to make reference to understand the infinity of being.
At this point, this affirmation and denial must be transferred to human interpretation. Our interpretation of the world is an interpretation. Numbers do not exist. They arise from our wonder, fear, greed, and love for the world, among infinite other things. Other species probably have their own use of some kind of numbers or meta-numbers but that should be no surprise because we share a common origin with them and a common world. Yet, numbers and every interpretation exists. Everything is true in the sense that every interpretation of the world arises within the world, as a product of the world, and in response to the world. The world is such that it responds to itself. Even falsities must be affirmed as truths because they are true insofar as they are related to that which they falsely attest and perform particular functions in the world. To say that human beings are faster than cheetahs is to, while obviously untrue according to the whole, affirm the truth of the concept “human beings,” “faster than” and “cheetahs.” To say the opposite, while obviously true according to the whole, is to rely on the false concepts of “human beings,” “faster than,” and “cheetahs.” Which human beings, which cheetahs? Which measure of speed and which definition of speed does this rely on? Such a statement inevitably excludes the whole world in which they categories take place and open-endedness of all categories, however stubborn they may be. It is true then, but only in the sense that it functions in a particular context, a function it will never be able to fulfil “perfectly,” that is with complete, one-sided identity, because such perfection does not exist. Numbers are true in this sense, then, that they make reference to the world (i.e., themselves), in a particular way and fulfill a particular function in the world (again in relation to themselves), but are utterly false and depraved in the sense that they attempt to swallow all being in one humanistic, hubristic movement which purports to attest to the eternal unalterable “truths” of the world. Yet they are also completely true in that they arise in response to particularities in the world.
That’s all for now. I need to get back to study and this post is probably more for my own benefit than for others’. These are thoughts which are still developing and ones I would like to explore further when I have time.
I’ve from a few people heard something along the lines that the NIV can’t be trusted because it takes verses out of the Bible. Just letting you know that that’s rubbish :) It’s true that the NIV, along with other modern translations such as the ESV and NLT, does not publish some verses. But this is a necessary consequence of good biblical scholarship. You can be sure that while all modern Bible translations will have their respective problems, these problems are typically minor. There are hours of prayer, hard work, and critical discussion which go into modern translations. If you only ever had access to one then you would still be set.
First, on versification, the original manuscripts did not have chapter or verse numbers, let alone punctuation or spacing (the original Hebrew didn’t even contain vowels, which makes it even more difficult to read in some places). Jews and Christians went without these for centuries until different versification traditions developed and eventually enjoyed widespread adoption in the 16th (!) Century. I say this because some people might find it off-putting when they read verse 42 and it goes straight to 44. No worry, a verse that was thought to be authentic in the 16th Century is no longer thought to be so, which leads me to the next point.
Second, as new manuscripts are discovered, as new technologies for reading manuscripts are developed, and as biblical scholars hone their highly critical methods, we learn more about the original oral and written sources from which we derive our modern day Bible. We have access to no original manuscripts. Every one we do have is a copy, and often an incomplete copy. We need to consult hundreds (thousands, I think but not sure) of manuscripts to get a still incomplete picture of the biblical text. As these texts were copied, variations were introduced. There are many possible reasons for this. I will name a few. Sometimes scribes made errors like omitting letters, words, or sentences, accidentally altering words by recording the wrong letter, or even inserting words through, for example, seeing a word written earlier in a sentence and accidentally reproducing it again later in a sentence, or just trying to hold too much in their head at a time and then recording a slightly altered sentence, etc.
Sometimes scribes intentionally changed the manuscript. This happens a lot with manuscripts of the first three Gospels. Scribes see Matthew using one word in a parallel passage where Luke uses another word and choose one over the other in order to harmonise. This extends to “correcting” details in the accounts so that Matthew, Mark, and Luke all witness to a particular event or detail in exactly the same way. Another common intentional change is editing the manuscript to accord with a particular theological position. The doctrine of the Trinity proper arose in the 4th Century and there is no direct “proof” for it in the New Testament (though there are good reasons to develop such a doctrine on the basis of New Testament theology). Nonetheless, in the King James Version can be found the “comma johanneum,” 1 John 5:7-8. This blatant affirmation of the Trinity appears in no Greek manuscript, and no church father makes reference to it, which makes no sense if the verses are original. It would have been unquestionable proof of the biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. It is found in some Latin manuscripts, where it was likely added to derive biblical support for the doctrine of the Trinity. Two other examples of intentional changes are the two endings of Mark (16:8b and 16:9-20) and the beloved “pericope adulterae” (John 7:53-8:11). Manuscript variations (with Mark) and obvious language and theological differences between these passages and their respective Gospels indicate that they are not original. What is interesting with John’s, however, is that it would fit well in Luke’s Gospel, and some have said that it was an independent oral (or otherwise) tradition that was preserved and added into John at a later date. The basic point is that we have access to a lot of manuscripts and as we learn more about their original contexts then some verses will be removed from the Bible (or referred to in footnotes), and the translation of other verses or passages will change in subtle or major ways. This is to be celebrated.
Finally, a short theological reflection. I think the fearmongering around this (even some conspiracy speak of people “altering the Bible” – no, scholars will always have different opinions and we are better off for it) stems from an unhealthy understanding of the Bible’s role in the church. Jesus told his disciples, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20). Nonetheless, “now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Cor 13:12). Faith is not based on some flawless set of manuscripts but on the Christ to whom these point. The Bible is not an end in itself nor can it be. Throughout history it has been used and still is used not to point to Christ but to legitimate whatever ungodly thing the wielder has in mind, intentional or not. Strive to ask what it reveals about the person of Christ and how the person of Christ leads his church to read Scripture, ever fragmented and ever being made new.
I am full poetry
I am excess busting combustation
tainted love righteous lust and still going
seven of everything true and real
every ironic reclaimed feigned Americanism
every neostic neologism coinage
combs of honey-eyed
eagle eyes memories and memoires
notepadded notorities refluxing
fluctuating presently amamnesis in continuity
of the beautiful…
I am again full poetry
comforts miserable memorable melancholia
sucking inhaled swallowed sorrows at no
extra cost (to health body mind soul
spirit)! but pure joyful joyed elastic
sable ecstasy unstable regarding
consistency stable regarding
handling and the purity opposites reconciled
in history in some faux (logic!) line or
“reconciled” in pure maintenance of their own
I am full poetry
I never myself acted though am I
acted upon and thereby disembodied
disemsouled in the disinterested open
“freedom” of the plummeting it
disrupts ruptures the oesophageal Riccarton
as of yet not disembowelled Sumner
the Burwood the Halswell Quarry
dictating adulthood a dull thood
I am finally again will ever be full poetry
posing posies bless
you hallowed self and other other and self
shelved in the open All
surprised by some beautiful true Beyond
layer on layer on layer on blessed layer
in some eternal vineyard some anything of everything
propelled and completely present past
and completely to come
upon the restoration of all things!
upon the source – the literal Lamb!
onwards! and withwards – everything “good”!
there was no analogy no
precedent to prepare
just the thereness of her
purple pleasantness lightening and
ember amber and fright me quieten me she evokes
beneath my underscalp behind my backchest
scalpel sacred chapel laketown 3am cometskies within me
above me come at me dove (i.e., kōtuku) love
above me all manner of numerical
contradiction, “souls” and “minds,” contraband
fine sands the absolutely new outside
the dialectic inside the inconsequential the
“individual” divided heart divided undividables
we take exception to the only exception and she (!)
evokes a holy terror clearer cleaner terra firma! everything
which is not me is so intense
extensive even intending on extending inverting
my own all part piece of the whole and naming it
subtlety peace in “in” the new not the ever new
yet the “new” as disruption the path less
often taken always blatantly overgrown unkempt
confesses its own boredom etc conformity
and the like thus the new which is true truly new (?)
the authentic the real the conveniently finite
this is it
if only such sudden trembling could accompany
every sweet idolatry I do literally then
the irreducibly future though it encompasses already
every ready all it could come to terms
with her and her cosmological implications
but it is really nothing more
than glorified glowing resplendent nothingness in
both senses of the word that is according
to our origin and my own subtlety I become
finite inside fine night fire-honey sulphur-blizzard
rain (reign?) singe cinch my countless
spiritual intestines you already do are have done
thus the necessity of distance lol
star queen ocean mantis oak being
if anything were to eventuate we would both curdle
at each other’s weakness! (i.e., smallness)
One thing I’d really like to look at more is theology and sexuality. More evangelicals are becoming gay and lesbian affirming, at least in the sense that everything is all good within the bounds of a mutual, monogamous relationship, i.e., marriage. Now I’ve only read what’s come across my path here, not having done a lot of research on this specifically, but I am aware of the position(s) that “marriage equality” doesn’t mean a whole lot for equality or justice really at all. It’s gradualist in the sense that it allows those previously excluded from certain privileges to attain them in some sense, but it’s not radical because it doesn’t go past the basic framework that is already offered. It wants into marriage rather than reimagining relationships, sex, love, etc from the ground up, creating new alternatives. Moreover, same sex marriage focuses on including lesbians and gays into a historically heteronormative system, but it becomes more problematic when considering bisexuals, pansexuals, transgender persons… If that’s ambiguous it’s because I’m trying to generalise a whole lot of vaguely recollected reads which also each probably frame the issues differently.
Anyway, this is just one factor that has got me thinking about some questions to pursue around theology and sexuality, specifically marriage. Some other factors include the high numbers of evangelicals especially who have had pre-marital sex (yes this includes oral and manual), in relation to this evangelical purity culture, pornography, people getting married later, increased divorce rates, and an increasing amount of people (mostly outside the church as far as I know) exploring alternatives to monogamous relationships, such as various approaches to polyamory. I want to pose the question, what does this mean for our theology of marriage? I can think of three main approaches:
(A) A “traditionalist” approach which seeks to maintain traditional evangelical/Christian understandings of marriage (whatever they are!) while acknowledging the difficulties people have maintaining this as a reality, like in pre-marital sex and getting divorced, and supporting them accordingly, another kind of love-the-sinner-hate-the-sin-approach. With any approach there will be ongoing failures and exceptions which cannot be accounted for. However, these need to be addressed through understanding tradition as dynamic, creating new tradition, and remembering as good Protestants that our source is not first tradition but the person of Christ.
(B) This leads into a “retrieval” approach which would seek to draw on the sources of Scripture and tradition, engaging with both critiques of marriage from within and outside of the church, to attempt to restate what marriage has been and what it might be today. For example, I’ve been thinking a bit about Paul’s frequent use of porneia, usually translated as “sexual immorality” in the New Testament. While I’m sure that because Paul didn’t understand sexuality, gender, etc in the same way that we do he would have provided some very different answers to ours, it also needs to be asked what connection early Christians such as Paul saw between life in Christ and the Spirit and their sexual decisions and how this should relate to contemporary Christian practice. Nonetheless, this approach has not yet heeded what it might look like to imagine and affirm new relationships and sexualities outside of the concept of marriage altogether.
(C) The final would be a “liberation” approach which understands Christ as coming to liberate creation for a completely new order which is new creation. So, Jesus, “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven” (Matt 22:30; cf. 1 Cor 7:25-31). This also concerns undertaking theology not from the perspective of those who benefit from marriage (or benefit from promoting and defending it) but from those who are in different senses excluded from marriage, so LGBTQI persons, and in a different again yet still important sense the never-married-but-lived-as-in-a-relationship-which-in-many-ways-was-marital, the widowed, the divorced, the forever alone/never-got-married-but-wanted-to. Obviously such an approach would both need to engage critically with the married (though I’d like to think many who are happily married would provide some kind of support for this approach) but also acknowledge in what senses marriage has and continues to be a source of love, growth, support, healing, strength, etc, for so many people.
I began writing this post as I had until recently thought only in terms of B, though suddenly I found my self considering the value of C. This is all provisional and a sketch. Others will have given this more time and thus more thought and probably considered a lot more things than I have in this post.
If I were an Aristotelian, girl,
you would be my telos.
And if I were a Neo-Platonist,
you would be the One.
If I were a rationalist,
you would be my ergo and I
would be your subject.
If I were an idealist, well,
you’re already phenomenal.
If I were a Marxist,
you would be my utopia.
Life’s dialectic; let’s
work it out.
If I were an existentialist, girl,
you would be my nausea, my sickness
unto death. My negation would be willed
by you and I would despair you, affirm you, and die
And if I were a feminist, well,
clearly that’s necessary.
Yet I am but a poor Gentile idolater and we