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Posts Tagged ‘reason’

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
authentically.

And if I were a feminist, well,
clearly that’s necessary.

Yet I am but a poor Gentile idolater and we
are dust.

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So, I totally found out a week ago today that I was supposed to start a dissertation already this semester (I had thought I was starting next semester, which seems silly now that I think of it, producing 17,000 words alongside another course in less than half a year!). In a flurry of flux I flicked together a proposal for the flesis: [Something like:] Divine freedom in the Trinitarian theologies of Barth and Moltmann. Hey, I have to start somewhere and I thought this would give me a somewhat introduction to important topics like the Trinity, divine freedom, Barth, and Moltmann!

In logically-consequential news, I enjoyed the company of Robert Letham’s The Holy Trinity: In Scripture, History, Theology, and Worship on a six hour bus ride today. You know you’re onto something good when that Oxford comma graces the subtitle. Letham approaches the history of Trinitarian theology from a Reformed perspective before addressing “Critical Issues”: Incarnation, worship and prayer, creation and missions, and persons. I made some notes of Athanasius, the Cappadocians, Augustine, and Barth regarding the Trinity. Yay! Hopefully that’s a helpful place to start. Anyway, I think my favourite was Gregory Nazianzen (along with the Apostle John, the only writer in the Eastern church to be honoured with the title “the Theologian”). This is beautiful:

No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illumined by the splendour of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.

(Orations 40.41; cited in Letham, 164).

It reminds me of a quote by Thomas Jefferson, in a kind of I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I way: “The metaphysical insanities of Athanasius, of Loyola, and of Calvin, are to my understanding, mere relapses into polytheism, differing in paganism only by being more unintelligible” (source).

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Here’s one of my favourite passages from Kierkegaard, Anti-Climacus on defending Christianity in The Sickness unto Death:

Now we see how extraordinarily stupid … it is to defend Christianity, how little knowledge of human nature it manifests, how it connives even if unconsciously, with offense that in the end has to be rescued by a champion … To defend something is always to disparage it. Suppose that someone has a warehouse full of gold, and suppose he is willing to give every ducat to the poor–but in addition, suppose he is stupid enough to begin this charitable enterprise of his with a defense in which he justifies it on three grounds: people will almost come to doubt that he is doing any good.¹

He writes later in the book:

A pastor certainly ought to be a believer. A believer! And a believer, after all, is a lover; as a matter of fact, when it comes to enthusiasm, the most rapturous lover of all lovers is but a stripling compared with a believer. Imagine a lover. Is it not true that he would be capable of speaking about his beloved all day long and all night, too, day in and day out? But do you believe it could ever be possible for him, do you not think he would find it loathsome to speak in such a manner that he would try to demonstrate by means of three reasons that there is something to being love … Is it not obvious that the person who is really in love would never dream of wanting to prove it by three reasons or to defend it, for he is something that is more than all reasons and any defense: he is in love.²

Of course, it’s important to read Kierkegaard in context. Anti-Climacus is ironically making a defence against a primarily rational Christianity which has lost sight of its core. I wonder how possible it is to read this then as a denouncement of all defences or if Anti-Climacus is more so pointing out that defence does not add anything to the love between a believer and God. Love is completely affirmed internally so that to confer dependence onto the external is to undermine this internal logic. To focus completely on justifying faith to others subverts the argument by robbing faith of its extra-rational totality.

* * *

¹Søren Kierkegaard, The Sickness unto Death: A Christian Psychological Exposition for Upbuilding and Awakening (1849), translated by Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1980), 87.

²Ibid., 103-4.

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Hey friends, it’s nice returning to WordPress after being ‘away’ for a short while. In this away time I managed to have a little holiday, arrive back in Aotearoa, write a third of a novel (which is indefinitely stowed away somewhere on my personal internets for future completion), apply for bible college in March, read some more and then spend this last week playing far too many games. On a ‘more personal note’, I’m still recovering from a decisive dip in faith some readers will have picked up in the posts last year, a kind of Nietzschean ressentiment, creating truths to revenge myself against existence. Many of my thoughts still stand; I just hope now to express them with more grace and humility, not so much to tear things down, which is the easy and boring thing to do, but to focus on upbuilding, on actually say something. The purpose of this post is a kind of preparatory for my course this year. Ideally it would be beautifully referenced, demonstrating my wide reading on the subject and attempt to answer all the appropriate questions and reservations. Yet this is not so. See it as a kind of journal, something intended for self-reflection, but in this case happenchanced upon by others.

* * *

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

(1 Corinthians 1:20-25 NRSV).

Theology is the study of God. If you want to narrow that down then you can have a g/God, or the point of access to God, like good Christians will tell you that Jesus is the starting point for theology. Alternatively, you can have a specific focus, ecclesiology, the study of the Church, which is rooted in theology, etc. You could also give theology a wider application by saying something like the study metaphysics, that which is beyond the ‘physical’¹. That’s theology, or at least my sloppy definition of it. What, then, does it look like?

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“If anyone could prove to me that Christ is outside the truth, and if the truth really did exclude Christ, I should prefer to stay with Christ and not with truth.” — Dostoevsky

Some time ago on a jaunt through Wikiquote I discovered this awesome statement. It raises many questions. Why would you want something other than the truth? Does a good Christian not accept Christ as truth anyway? What does Christ have above the truth? Some beautiful deception? Having not read the context in which this quote appears, the best thing I can do is to possibly misunderstand Dostoevsky by taking his word for it. So what does ‘his word’ mean to me? Here truth operates within the circle of reason and language; Christ operates in a circle beside that. Language, composed of words, structures and myriad other complex nuances, signifies reality/experience and all that is contained within it (this includes what is only contained in it as a possibility, like absolute zero).  Reason can be the manipulation of ideas expressed in language (although there also exists a pre-linguistic reason, coming to conclusions without reference to language, not even an internal one²). The problem then with reason and its position in language is that it signifies; it is not identical to the reality it expresses.

Be careful not to misunderstand me. This is not traditional apophatic theology: our corrupted reason cannot express or think God (although I accept this in another time and place). Nor is this philosophy’s equivalent: How do we know that what we know is true? This is only to assign reason and language to their proper places within experience. It is a redistribution of wealth. As Heidegger says of Descartes, the doubting subject is not the centre of epistemology (method of knowledge), yet it is not absent from it. The doubting subject is not the source of epistemology but only a mode of it. We are thrown into the world before we make sense of it. This is the next point: although language is not identical to that which it expresses, it still expresses it. There is definitely some identificating going on. This, then, is the correct place of language and reason: A part of the whole, one site in reality where the rest of experience can be conveniently bottlenecked.

Note that this applies also to my description of language and reason. A mutiny is occurring at this moment. I cannot assume some metalanguage with which I deal with language, etc. What I can do though is to point somewhere with this contradiction in an attempt to distract the reader. Imagine a politician speaking to a large crowd and attempting to convince them of a certain ideology. Just when the speaker is reaching the crux of their argument, the crowd, as one, suddenly turns and leaves. There is no one left. The speaker may continue but their words will not be received. Or consider rehearsing words in your head for an upcoming job interview, but a Taylor Swift song comes on the radio and you can’t ignore it. The rehearsal sinks out of sight. This is the critique of reason, not with reason itself, but a force from the outside. I will acknowledge that my examples full short because they only exist in the language I am using here rather as actualities. This gap will always be present when speaking of such examples. All I can say is that if you want to take me up on this one I can just disable commenting on the post.

Language is one mode of epistemology. There are infinite others³, such as joy. I ‘know’ something about reality through the extent, variety, etc of joy I experience. Joy as a mode and the knowledge gained from it both exist pre-linguistically. If I am joyful semi-regularly then I experience the world with joy before I can translate that it into words and ideas. Maybe my experience is accompanied by words and ideas. This does not negate pre-linguistic joy as a mode of knowing but only shows it occurs beside our most linguistically recognisable mode, language.

If you’ve still energy after that little excursion then follow me back to the issue at hand, Jesus, who is theology. Jesus is intermodal. I want to avoid saying he is a particular mode because he appears in many modes (you could possibly say the same about joy and language). He is not confined to reason and therefore cannot be ‘reached’ through reason alone. He could possibly be reached without reason, but this would require a strict definition of reason and exceptional circumstances which I have no mind to express. Saying this is akin to saying it’ useless waiting for snow in the middle of Australia but it is possible we could still reach snow if we were somewhere else. Enter Dostoevsky’s Christ. This is the elusive ‘If’ with which Dostoevsky introduces the statement. Now reason is not an end, nor a meaningful end to an end. Reason can only be contributory, the ‘If not’. If Christ is not outside truth then I can reasonably say that this blog post can contribute to myself and others ‘reaching’ Jesus (or, as a good Christian would say, contribute to a medium for Jesus reaching us). As Peter Rollins writes,

a person may “believe” that they are utterly safe in a roller coaster and yet be too terrified to ever step onto one. The point is that the conscious claim (I am rational and know that this is safe) is a mere story that covers over the operative belief (I will not be safe). — Still my favourite, accessed here.

Jesus appears in our beliefs only if they have operative value. A person who practises prayer but often doubts its value believes in it more than a person who merely affirms it intellectually. Or Kierkegaard, “Even if one were able to render the whole content of faith into conceptual form, it would not follow that one had grasped faith”. That appears on banner of my blog. For me it sums up not only Kierkegaard but theology. A cute argument is not the site of God. Jesus exists not in saying “The watch must have a watchmaker”. He was a carpenter. Sound theology will always exist not in the abstract, the beautiful sermon or the journal article of intellectual depth alone, but in the lives of those who practise it. If I am to do theology it be in the open air, rather than in a vacuum. Theology encompasses more than the use of reason and language. A true theologian conforms to the character of Christ and takes part in the Kingdom of God4.

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sisterin need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

(1John 3:16-18 NRSV).

* * *

¹Physical literally meaning soul-like. Is the irony intended? That metaphysics is defined as that beyond the metaphysical? Maybe metamaterial (metasomatic?) would be better, but perhaps I’m missing the history involved in this coinage.

²This, of course, is a very lazy definition of reason. Linguistic and pre-linguistic reason are only relatively, not absolutely, distinct: The latter will make use of some non-linguistic signification as it needs to signify reality in some way in order to operate within, which therefore makes it linguistic, as language signifies. Linguistic signification must also depend on the non-linguistic for it to make sense to the subject, ie. we are distinct from the language we use. Therefore when I speak of two kinds of reason, I speak as a good relativist, of two different poles.

³’Language’ is a convenient way of naming a mode but in reality it will be composed of infinite infinitesimal parts which are also modes, the same going for any other examples I give.

4I must also anticipate here any Pentecostal ‘amen’. Reason, thinking, theology as mental education, writing books for Jesus, etc — these are not bad. They just need to be situated in their appropriate context.

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