I am not an honest man.
It is the honest man who speaks
in frank and often shocking ways.
It is the honest man who speaks
the truth you’ve thought but haven’t
had the words to say.
It’s provocative and resonant.
He is both entertainer and prophet.
In the company of his words
it is indeed you who are thinking.
And you join the rally cry for that
ambiguous thing, change.
I have great respect for the honest man,
the honest woman.
I too hear their call and I too accept it.
I am not the honest man.
I don’t speak the truth, because
I’m confused at the fundamental level.
and it clouds my judgement.
I’m sad and I cannot offer
I keep company with Job and Qohelet,
the disciples on that lonely Saturday,
Christ, of course, on that godforsaken cross, with
faith as small as half a mustard seed.
Posts Tagged ‘truth’
I am not an honest man.
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.
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.
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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?
“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).
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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.
“I can tell you the license plate numbers of all six cars outside. I can tell you that our waitress is left-handed and the guy sitting up at the counter weighs two hundred fifteen pounds and knows how to handle himself. I know the best place to look for a gun is the cab or the gray truck outside, and at this altitude, I can run flat out for a half mile before my hands start shaking. Now why would I know that? How can I know that and not know who I am?” — Jason Bourne.
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Throughout the years in primary school we made our way through different text types. I remember haiku. My glasses are cool, my glasses are very cool, my glasses are dumb. I remember capitalising on exclamation marks in narrative writing. I remember a good friend’s poem that rhymed ‘number-twoer’ with ‘sooner’. One year we did diaries. I think it was every day we just had silent writing time to write about real life things in an almost real diary. It’s reality was compromised because if you wrote about girls that you liked then you’d have to accept sharing it with peers and the teacher. But you could write about other things.
As I grew older, the idea of a diary made perrenial returns in my personal life. In early high school I tried the whole write-about-the-girl thing and grew increasingly frustrated when I couldn’t find a nice sounding word to describe blonde hair. ‘Tussock’ regrettably sufficed. In my post high school years it was a kind of predecessor to this blog, a coming-to-terms with my new faith and the infinite possibilities and inconsistencies this brought to surface ex abstracto.
Throughout my limited experiments with the medium of diary/journal, I continually realised one limit, which I now have the language to express: Authenticity. Because the self is expressed in a foreign medium, it is necessarily distorted. Thus in high school, rather than providing the object of adolescent desire, true feeling was slaked through my lack of words. The medium of representation differs from that which is represented. So even in the most ideal situation, an external kind of machine which could read all your inner thoughts, desires, motivations, etc, and represent them objectively in a diary would fail. The diary would represent that person but it wouldn’t be that person. The perfect form of representation, then, is not representation at all but the person in its complete authentic selfhood.
Someone can write a book about Justin Bieber and earn some dosh. But Justin Bieber sees himself from the inside; no doubt he can write a better book. There are two Biebers here. There is the Bieber who sings, records and hangs out with Usher, and there is the Bieber who actually experiences himself doing these things. This latter Bieber writes a book. But Bieber ultimately fails even if he writes no book. In his internal monologue he fails: The Bieber who reflects is one and the same with the material Bieber. Thought is at once the medium for representation of the material self and a part of the material self.
In the case of Jason Bourne, his struggle for identity is especially interesting: Though the material, actual Bourne remains, the conscious-reflective Bourne has been displaced and replaced by an incomplete version of itself. This is a metaphor for the diary: The self that wants to know itself is already itself and somehow already knows itself. Something is lost in reflection. The same self which attempts to scrutinise its own motivations, “Why did I take up faith?”, is participating in a motivation as it writes, thus presupposing a zero-level impenetrable base which falsely enables it to represent its false self.
“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” — Niels Bohr
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Been thinking a little about how people respond to truth lately. Not that I know what truth is, but what follows is three ways an individual can respond to something that another holds true.
Assimilation or accommodation: We used these terms at uni to describe two opposite processes people go through when responding to cultures different from their own. Interestingly enough, the power relationship you have in relating to something that is at odds with you in some way will often have an effect on your response to it. The example used in my course was the culture shock experienced when you move into a country that differs from yours in many ways. If an individual is embarrassed by the customs and way of life they have come from and therefore feels the need to rid themselves of these, then it is called assimilation when they allow themselves to be swallowed up by the new dominant culture and take it on as their own. Alternatively, an individual may retain a lot of what they grew up and also take on board what they feel they need to from their new context to operate in that. This, then, is accommodation because they accommodate new values, practices, etc into their existing ones rather than vice versa.
Bored yet? This dynamic can be seen in churches also, when Christians are either shaped by or shape the world around them. We’re warned against the former, and, ironically, the measures we often take to avoid it also may prevent us fulfilling the latter.
Tension and balance: A beautiful way to make peace when discussing theological differences is to proffer the possibility of a ‘tension’. It’s bound to make an appearance in any conversation that (a) different Christians will have differing opinions of and (b) has practical implications. Look at the assimilation/accommodation example I just used: One concerned friend notes how, in an attempt to reach a certain people group, someone in their community is starting to backslide because they’ve been spending too much time among those of the world. Another contradicts the concern by noting that those of the world would never be reached without interaction. I’m oversimplifying here because I don’t want to write for ages. Finally, the peacemaker speaks. Their first move is to identify it: “Oh, it’s a tension.” There are audible ahhs of understanding, and the peacemaker expands, “It’s really important to balance the two. Find a mid-point.” Likewise, you can see this is in more abstract matters like inspiration of scripture (human vs divine input), morality (grace vs grace abuse), and God’s sovereignty (omnipotence vs the unfulfilled kingdom).
Paradox: At the risk of regressing in my own understanding of this and simultaneously confusing you, let’s give paradox a go. Really, I dislike it when people look at a word’s etymology to make an appeal to the real meaning of the word. Unless you’re doing Koine Greek or something to help readers understand the original context, why tell your acrobats that circus comes from the same root as circle so that you can maintain a circular performance area? No, language changes over time. However, I think the etymology or paradox is important. In the Greek, para- means beyond and dox, belief: Beyond belief. Ambrose Bierce’s ironic and delightfully cynical, The Devil’s Dictionary, provides a good example of paradox under the definition of Trinity:
In the multiplex theism of certain Christian churches, three entirely distinct deities consistent with only one. Subordinate deities of the polytheistic faith, such as devils and angels, are not dowered with the power of combination, and must urge individually their claims to adoration and propitiation. The Trinity is one of the most sublime mysteries of our holy religion. In rejecting it because it is incomprehensible, Unitarians betray their inadequate sense of theological fundamentals. In religion we believe only what we do not understand, except in the instance of an intelligible doctrine that contradicts an incomprehensible one. In that case we believe the former as a part of the latter.
Paradox transcends language because it is logically impossible. Instead of watering down two truths to find a mid-point, or saying that one end of the spectrum is true in some cases and the other in other cases, paradox defiantly holds both at the same time. Paradox pulls a moonie at truth. Paradox is the parody of truth. In some ways it can be seen as the option for those who are too intellectually weak to decide if one statement is more logical, empirically testable, or true than another statement, which Bierce takes a jab at in the above definition. And this is probably the greatest temptation, but au contraire, paradox shows not only the limits of truth as expressed in language, not only our own understanding, but our humanity.
It’s all in God’s hands, but we need to proclaim the Good News. You need to love others, but you also need to speak out against their injustices. Grace is completely free, but it will cost you everything. Accept this intellectually, at a glance. Look at that. Yes. Done already. But now try to live this. There is no mid-point. You cannot say that it’s a little bit of you and a little bit of the Holy Spirit. You cannot say that God does all the work, and you definitely cannot say you do all of it. Your only option is to continue the hard task of living it, to the limits of your humanity.