A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

In the beginning

bere'shith bara' E'lohim hashshamayim ve'et ha'arets

I shamelessly steal the concept of "First Lines" from my bbff (best blogging friend forever) John Doyle, wherein one analyzes the first lines of profound literary works.

Is there a more profound first line than that found in Scripture? The first lines of Genesis?

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

I say "profound" in the sense that few first lines have stirred such zeal, passion, and controversy. In America we have had great battles in our educational systems of what it means that God created - or even whether God needed to create.

That God "created" raises the what and how questions: What did God created and how did he do it? Did God create a finished product (chicken) or did he set in motion the forces of the earth (egg)? Did God create the world, or just snap his fingers ala the big bang?

And so we dance.

What is the relationship between faith and science? Do we believe the Good Book or the godless scientist? And who will teach our children? Who will influence their young minds??? Young earth, old earth, big bang, Evolutionist, Creationist.....

Yes, and so we dance....

God got the ball rolling. That much is clear from our first line. All things start with God as author. The text introduces us to the main player, the Cosmic Father Figure. The one, who, for better or worse, we must all reckon with in some way. God says, "Let there be" and there is. Now let's see where this thing goes.

So, God creates a text - or a script. But this is a living script. We see it played out. The Calvinists tell us that the script is already written. Is it? Others tell us that the script is unwritten, and as we act we write our own script. Mr. Rose from The Cider House Rules turns to Homer and says, gruffly, "We live here. We write our own rules."

But we put this issue aside and leave it to the theologians and we move along to the more pressing issue. For the more important issue, I believe, is that of interpretation. How do we interpret the script? Once an author creates a text s/he must release it and set it free for better or worse into the world of interpreters. Some will "get it" and others will not. And yet others might "get it" even better than the author. The author even learning more about the script after sending it out into the cold, cruel world. But the point is that the text is written and then gifted to others for their interpretation.

The interpretation question is the why question.

In a similar way, God gifts the creation to interpretors. Interpreters, well, like me. Like you. We read the script. We watch the play. And we interpret. The theological question of interpretation is more basic, I suggest, than is our freedom of the will. Debates between free will and God's sovereignty are endless and ultimately circular. But we all interpret. We all assign meaning to the stories we see. We look at the creation that God has made and it impacts us. What do we think of this cosmic drama? How does it hit us? What conclusions do we draw? What conclusions do we not draw?

And what of the author? What of the creator? This is interpretation, as well.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth

Do we judge the Creator based upon his creation? What is the connection? Augustine said, "You have created us for yourself and our hearts are restless until we find our rest in you." Were we created in the "image" of God? And what does this mean? Do we have a built-in connection with our Creator? Again, this is interpretation.[1]

We all take that step of determining what it all means. For some God is to be hated for his creation. Others are indifferent - he created and I live it out. Still others pursue the Creator, like Augustine, with reckless abandon. And then there are many, perhaps most, who find the Creator useful - God is useful as the symbolic representation of the religious institution of their choice. God is the gold that gives currency to the institution of church or state. He is stability.

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth....but you and I have the divine prerogative of giving it meaning. We are the meaning-givers. The meaning-creators. This is our nature. This is our gift.

44 comments:

Jason Hesiak said...

The theological question of interpretation is more basic, I suggest, than is our freedom of the will.

Is there a basis to this statement. Or is it just a matter of how you view who we are as human beings? I mean...how does this statement work out in terms of all the implications?

Example...if interpretation is more basic than free will...is our choice to interpret something one way or another not an act of free will? Or...are you saying that an act of will is really an act of interpretation. God spoke and thus by extension "made" us...not as creatures of free will...but of interpretation of His speech?

And further implications...what does this say about our own speech? We don't participate in the active will or speech of God with our own will or speech? Does this mean that we participate in God's "interpreting" of Himself when we interpret? I would assume not. So...how does that work? Does our fundamental "makeup" as interpreters distance us from God...from the very beginnings going back to how God set everything up...in such a way that we are always at a distance from Him...interpreting His speech rather than participating in His re-creative and active will? If your answer to this is "yes"...then is your position that we are "fundamentally" interpreters in all actuality an extension of your Calvanism, in that everything is pre-set anyway and we aren't really "participating" in anything (sort of)?

samlcarr said...

Jason,
i see the drive to interpret as an essential part of making anything a part of me. I take something in automatically means that 'I' have had to interpret it.

It does not need to signify distancing oneself tho that too sometimes has to be an initial part of the process

Jason Hesiak said...

Hey Sam,

It does seem like interpretation itself is a kind of poesis sometimes. First of all though, only sometimes. But even still if we go that route what is being "made"...or the message being "carried"...is not God's but our own. Obviously thats pretty much always the case somewhat. But you often see where Paul makes the distinction. "I, Paul say"..."God says"... If man is most fundamentally an interpreter than "God says" is impossible.

And you could easily end up with the problems that Erdman was dealing with in his recent post "The Body" too...

I mean...also...Sam, hearing you say that makes me think of something else. I had asked previously: Is there a basis to this statement [The theological question of interpretation is more basic, I suggest, than is our freedom of the will.]? It sounds like the "basis" of the statement is deconstruction (odd statement, that deconstruction is the basis of the statement, lol)? Is that correct? If that is the case...well...at least we got that much out of the way...??

...??

Jason

samlcarr said...

"God says" can still happen. For example, here, Sam says : "x,y,z" and this then is what you hear or read, but then if you want to understand me, you have to come meet what i have said and then you internalise it and is not that itself going to be somewhat interpretive? You probably still 'hold' what i actually said also as a 'quote', but that is now somthing slightly different from what i meant and now what it means to you.

The meaning (to you) may or may not be the same as what i originally intended it to mean, and how would we then find out how same or how different?

Getting to Paul, here the matter is slightly different, I think.

Paul was certainly an expert in the traditions of Jesus and these traditions are a central part of his teaching and preaching, not to mention modeling-discipleship, whenever he founds fellowships.

I think that he's just saying that on this particular question he has no direct quote (the implication is that on much else he does have the actual commands of Jesus to clarify with) and so he is offering his own best guess on what one should do.

But my readings on this issue are quite idiosyncratic...

Jason Hesiak said...

Yeah but from what I can figure at least some of those places where Paul says "God says" are not quotes from the O.T. but are Paul's actually saying that God says...?? And it seems like some of these are in contextual situations too, where Paul is dealing with the context of a particular church and its particular problems.

samlcarr said...

It could be that you are right.

Deconstruction is something that i think i tend to do somewhat automatically (in the rough) but more often it's a separate 'activity' where I sit and try to analyse the parts of something and how it's put together and what is said and what is not said (perhaps deliberately). So, this need not be a part of what happens in that initial encounter.

Jason Hesiak said...

In The Erdmanian Tornado's paper on Ecclesiastes he argues that deconstruction is woven into the very fabric of the universe. I find that itneresting...but of course it also seems like it is or can be an activity that people "do"...to deconstruct a text.

Jason Hesiak said...

I think I could actually go with the idea of deconstruction being woven into the very fabric of the universe...maybe...but I just think that there are other strands woven in that are more "arche"...more primal...and that are woven into all texts...but appear differently in accordance with the differences in context.

samlcarr said...

The Erdman could be right. So many things are going on simultaneously as i try to understand something or during conversations that i am scarcely conscious of the processing of most of it.

Jonathan Erdman said...

those places where Paul says "God says" are not quotes from the O.T. but are Paul's actually saying that God says...?? And it seems like some of these are in contextual situations too, where Paul is dealing with the context of a particular church and its particular problems.

Yes. I think it is still possible that my interpretation is God's interpretation. The key factor is if I am one with God. Thus Paul says, "It is not I but Christ within me." (Sorry, can't think of the reference right now, but also crf. 2 Cor. 13) The general idea is that if there is a unity with God or with the Son, then there is reason to think that my interpretations could be interpretations that are so-to-speak "God ordained." This is certainly true of the interpretation of the biblical texts. In Hebrews the author recontextualizes the Old Testament and sometimes makes very fluid recontextualizations, loosening the text from the past so that it can speak even more clearly and directly to the present context. The Word is "living and active" (chpt. 4)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason:
if interpretation is more basic than free will...is our choice to interpret something one way or another not an act of free will? Or...are you saying that an act of will is really an act of interpretation. God spoke and thus by extension "made" us...not as creatures of free will...but of interpretation of His speech?

The question of "free will" involves many other complex philosophical questions. For example, is an act free if and only if it is not predetermined? But this is a loaded (and I believe circular) question. Yet it is necessary to answer if we want to know what "free will" means. But what if we sidestepped those pesky questions and went to the more basic question of interpretation. Thus, regardless of whether our act of interpretation is an act of "free will" does not matter. What matters is that there is an I and I interact with the world and interpret it in various ways, and in unique ways. No one else is going to see the world in quite the same way as I see it. Some may have very similar perspectives, but ultimately I assert my self by the fact that I am a meaning-giver. Is this starting to sound Heideggerian???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason:
Does our fundamental "makeup" as interpreters distance us from God...from the very beginnings going back to how God set everything up...in such a way that we are always at a distance from Him...interpreting His speech rather than participating in His re-creative and active will? If your answer to this is "yes"...then is your position that we are "fundamentally" interpreters in all actuality an extension of your Calvanism, in that everything is pre-set anyway and we aren't really "participating" in anything (sort of)?

These are good questions. My first instinct was to say that it does not distance us....but actually I think that it does distance us in the same way that my interpretation of the world makes me unique and different from you (Jason). There is a sense, then, that everyone (including God) is Other to me b/c no one shares my interpretation perfectly.

But I don't believe that this necessarily entails Calvinism. I think it is a theological question more basic than the Calvinism debate.

Yet b/c God is Other does not entail that I cannot "participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires." (2 Peter 1:4) For example, a man can become one with his wife and yet she still remains Other (in the sense that she will never completely share his perspective/interpretation of world).

And, of course, there seems to be a sense in which God remains both completely transcendent and completely immanent at the same time. More paradox!

ktismatics said...

I wonder what happens if you consider secular texts when you pose these issues about interpretation. Consider this first line: "I owe it all to George Bailey." For those of us immersed in the history of American cinema, and for that matter in the American culture, this first line conjures up all sorts of images. Is it the "I" who's most important here, or George Bailey? "I owe it all" -- does this sentence speak for itself as a well-known American idiom connoting heartfelt gratitude? Or should we take it literally -- George Bailey is, after all, the president of a home mortgage company. Are these real people or imaginary ones? And so on. What freedoms do you allow yourself, and what constraints do you subject yourself to, when you interpret any text? Genesis 1:1 is so overlaid with interpretations that the text itself almost disappears.

Jason Hesiak said...

Well Erdman I'm no fan of theological bickering myself...but my question is...if we go down this interpretation route...where does that really lead us. You've been talking a lot about localized embodied community...although I don't think you've used the word "embodied". Check this out:

from:
http://www.reclaimingthemission.com/2007/09/emerging-churchs-response-to.html

I would say that the strength and the weakness of the emerging response to evangelicalism' judgementalism has been the wide embrace of descontructive theology. For deconstructive philosophy/theology certainly gives us the skills to diagnose our narrow mindedness, the lost voices we have shut out, our contextualized imprisonment, the ways we have imprisoned God in the rationalized controlling structures of certain Reformed Western rationalities. Yet it fails to deliver for the truth is always "yet to come." It inevitably leaves the gospel disembodied. As I have argued elsewhere, there are resourses in McIntyre, Yoder, Hauerwas to be embodied communities, communities of hospitality, open communities of witness..

Then my question in the comment box:

I find this interesting. I've heard so much about Derrida and read so much about him...but haven't really his stuff directly...or at least not very much. So one thing I wonder about in relation to Derrida is what he takes to be the relation between the body and the context or medum. I don't really get it. When I first heard about Derrida, he struck me as all head. From what I can gather, his "medium" is a disembodied and substanceless one (other than the fact that it has something to do with location...but I get the feeling that even "location" is a bit disembodied for him?). Is that actually the case?

My point is...I guess...I'm afraid that...unless deconstruction is approached theologically (such as maybe like in Radical Orthodoxy...or "substance")...then it digs its own hole...and the very questions or concerns one ends up having or asking become stagnant voids of "existential angst", i.e. Erdman's depression.

I mean...I guess it seems here that deconstruction is deconstructable...and that's why you have to approach it with something more fundamental rather than treating it as sovereign. That's why I like Rene Girand, for example.

Jonathan Erdman said...

I'll have to get back later on - my whole lunch break consumed with Melody's comment over at "The Body"!

But this just has to be restated, immediately:

Ktismatics: Genesis 1:1 is so overlaid with interpretations that the text itself almost disappears.

This is so true. And it goes to Derrida's point, I think, about endless traces....also to Barthes' point about the death of the author. In this case, even those who claim to care the most about the author really only care about the issues that surround the text (Creationism v. Evolution, Inerrancy, Inspiration, et al) and they let the text disappear.

Nice.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
What freedoms do you allow yourself, and what constraints do you subject yourself to, when you interpret any text?

At this point I would say that it depends upon which "text" you are interpreting.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason:
My point is...I guess...I'm afraid that...unless deconstruction is approached theologically (such as maybe like in Radical Orthodoxy...or "substance")...then it digs its own hole...and the very questions or concerns one ends up having or asking become stagnant voids of "existential angst", i.e. Erdman's depression.

First of all, what's wrong with the voids of Erdman's existential angst? I happen to enjoy it, thank you very much!

Secondly, I think that you (and some of the others you reference) are trying to pin down deconstruction as something when in reality it is nothing. Deconstruction, on my view, is not a philosophical system, nor is it a perspective, nor is it (heaven forbid!) a methodology that one implements. As I see it, it is written into the fabric of being - and as such it emerges through living life. It is nothing we impose upon life, it is what life imposes upon us. That is why Qohelet, in my opinion, is a good parallel with deconstruction. He basically shines light into the darkness and exposes the irony, inconsistencies and contradictions that he finds in life, particularly in the Wisdom Tradition.

Jason:
I mean...I guess it seems here that deconstruction is deconstructable...and that's why you have to approach it with something more fundamental rather than treating it as sovereign. That's why I like Rene Girand, for example.

Following my above comments I tend to disagree. Deconstruction could be deconstructed only if it were a thing. Non-things cannot be deconstructed. Derrida states this as well, and he also talks about other non-things that cannot be deconstructed, i.e. the gift. Strictly speaking, the gift cannot be deconstructed b/c the gift does not exist: There is no such thing as a pure gift (just as there is not such thing as pure forgiveness).

I'm not quite sure where I stand on all this yet, but I'm glad you are probing deeper on it.

Jason Hesiak said...

This is neat...I am going to have to come back to this later...

Quickly, though...if deconstruction is woven into the very fabric of being...is God Being? And if not (OK...Dionysius the Aeriopigate)...then...is God deconstruction? And if God is deconstruction, then is deconstruction God?

:)

Jason Hesiak said...

I mean...in GOD...is there pure forgiveness...or pure grace/gift, for that matter?

Jason Hesiak said...

First of all, what's wrong with the voids of Erdman's existential angst? I happen to enjoy it, thank you very much!

Yeah, right. To be clear...btw...I'm not saying that you shouldn't face it honestly or that you should hide or stuff it.

Secondly, I think that you (and some of the others you reference) are trying to pin down deconstruction as something when in reality it is nothing. Deconstruction, on my view, is not a philosophical system, nor is it a perspective, nor is it (heaven forbid!) a methodology that one implements.

Who? And in what way? Fitch? Hauerwas? Yoder? And if Fitch...and if in fact deconstruction is "nothing", then does it matter?

You still end up with a "philosophy"...or at least an interpretation of the very nature of being...that leads to a disembodied gospel...and depression over the lack of embodied community expressed by said disembodied gosepl! That's what I meant by saying that deconstruction is deconstructible. Its problem...in our context...lies in the core of its very self (it is "notihng" - "disembodied")...or however you described desconstruction much more clearly than that in your paper.

If deconstruction is prime, then you have disembodiment...and complaints about it. If something else is prime..."presence" maybe...then, well...you have the resurrection as a "sign" of what is to come embodied in a community.

As I see it, it is written into the fabric of being - and as such it emerges through living life. It is nothing we impose upon life, it is what life imposes upon us. That is why Qohelet, in my opinion, is a good parallel with deconstruction.

I already addressed this. Another thought I have is that...especially if we are going to think in terms of deconstruction...deconstruction itself is an interetation...and along the lines of what you are saying about the fabric of being...interpretation itself is a being...or a way of being...or an act of weaving of the fabric of being...or something of the sort.

He basically shines light into the darkness and...

I think this statement might be going a bit overboard. I would agree insofar as deconstruction "exposes" the truth of "new we see as if in an enigma by means of a mirror..."...but that's not, I don't think, what John meant by Jesus' being "a light in the darkness." I take that to be a statement both of LIFE and LOVE...as well as a statement of their primacy.

Additionally...to say that the gift or existence do not exist could easily be interpreted as a way of placing ourselves in the modern cosmological frameowrk of machine and vacume...immaterial things that are "behind" what appears do not themselves exist substantially. What of angels, for example? I think you can have a cosmological formwork that allows for what I might call the "existence" of those things that stand behind what appears and not necessarily have the metaphysical idealism against which Heidegger was reacting...I think most ancient mythology is exemplary here.

I also think that this referenced substanceless-ness of what is behind what appears in the world contributes to the "existential angst" of the void as well as to the disembodiment of the gospel.

I'm not quite sure where I stand on all this yet, but I'm glad you are probing deeper on it.

I too am really gald we're having this conversation. I think its helping me understand much better both where you and I stand. And what on earth deconstruction is...to go back to my question to Fitch on the disembodiment of the gosepl (where I said that deconstruction strikes me as all head).

Jason Hesiak said...

Deconstruction, on my view, is not a philosophical system, nor is it a perspective, nor is it (heaven forbid!) a methodology that one implements.

I figured I should clarify something. I had referred to the idea of "thinking in terms of decsonstruction." What I mean by that is that there are other "philosophical systems" available that have been handed down through history that provide other ways of thinking that are quite different from how you would in the end end up thinking if you think in the terms given to us by deconstruction. So, yeah, I think I see what you mean by its not being a "philosophical system"...but I am only thinking of it as such insofar as it provides a frameowrk for how we might think (if we use that framework). A NeoPlatonist proponent of Radical Orthodoxy probably wouldn't really think of Neoplatonism as a "philosophical system" either.

ktismatics said...

"What matters is that there is an I and I interact with the world and interpret it in various ways, and in unique ways. No one else is going to see the world in quite the same way as I see it. Some may have very similar perspectives, but ultimately I assert my self by the fact that I am a meaning-giver. Is this starting to sound Heideggerian???"

Yes, and also existentialist, but not structuralist and perhaps not premodern either.

"Deconstruction could be deconstructed only if it were a thing. Non-things cannot be deconstructed. Derrida states this as well."

I'm not sure this is true. Deconstruction works at the level of structure, the ways in which things and ideas are linked together, rather than with the things and ideas themselves. Derrida shows that the same set of things can be restructured in some other way, maybe even in exactly the opposite way, and this restructuring bestows entirely different meanings on the things themselves. The point being that meaning is imposed on things rather than being inherent in the things themselves.

Jonathan Erdman said...

John:
Deconstruction works at the level of structure, the ways in which things and ideas are linked together, rather than with the things and ideas themselves.

I agree....but then how does Derrida expand this into ideas and things like "forgiveness" and/or "justice" and/or "the gift." Wouldn't you say that these are things or ideas? Or not? As I understand Derrida held that true justice is impossible, hence pure justice could not be deconstructed b/c it was not a "thing" that could be deconstructed. Only "things" (particularly institutions, etc.) could be deconstructed. But there did exist the undeconstructable. At least, on my readings....

Are you also referencing the fact that Derrida broke out of Structuralism (capital "S")? Or are you using "structure" in an entirely different sense.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hesiak:
I mean...in GOD...is there pure forgiveness...or pure grace/gift, for that matter?

Good, good question.

Let me borrow some of my own verbiage from a prior post:

The only time that forgiveness is “pure” forgiveness is the time when we are so deeply offended and so intimately violated that the crime is “unforgivable.” Only at the moment that we run up against an offense so deep that we cannot forgive it – only then do we have the opportunity to grant “pure” forgiveness.

Derrida also distinguishes between "reconciliation" and "forgiveness." Reconciliation usually has some goal in mind: That we can be happy together, or stop killing each other in wars, or experience some positive emotional/therapeutic effect, etc. Reconciliation involves some sort of calculation. Reconciliation is a very good thing, but for Derrida reconciliation does not equal "pure forgiveness."

So, what do you think Hesiak? Firstly, do you agree with the fact that "pure" forgiveness can only occur if one has been wounded so deeply that the deed is unforgivable? (Or do you agree with Melody's response to the above...he, he....)

Secondly, if one accepts that "pure" forgivenss is impossible, then perhaps what God was doing at the cross was reconciliation rather than forgiveness (strictly speaking). This would make us start to sound very Pauline:
Rom 5:10
2 Cor 5:18
2 Cor 5:20

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason:
You still end up with a "philosophy"...or at least an interpretation of the very nature of being...that leads to a disembodied gospel...and depression over the lack of embodied community expressed by said disembodied gosepl!

Jason - I'm not sure how this works. How would deconstruction leave us with a "disembodied gospel"?

ktismatics said...

"As I understand Derrida held that true justice is impossible, hence pure justice could not be deconstructed b/c it was not a "thing" that could be deconstructed. Only "things" (particularly institutions, etc.) could be deconstructed."

Do you have a source for this assertion that I could consult and perhaps that we could discuss? In The Gift of Death Derrida talks about the impossibility of building an ethical system around the gift. This I see as consistent with Derrida's deconstructive strategy, where the central element of a structure turns out either not to exist or not to be containable within the structure itself. I read him as saying that the gift, if it exists, occupies a realm outside of reason, of morality, of the self, of life, in a realm of the wholly other that the self can never understand -- even if the other is in you. The book is a set of complicated essays, so I might have misconstrued or missed something. Maybe there's another Derrida source, or a different reading of this book, that supports the idea you attribute to Derrida here?

ktismatics said...

"Are you also referencing the fact that Derrida broke out of Structuralism (capital "S")? Or are you using "structure" in an entirely different sense."

Structuralism is about the primacy of structure over things, of systems of signifiers over the things they signify. Deconstruction undermines structuralism from within, showing that the structures are unstable, decentered, reconfigurable. And then there are things like the gift or God, central to structures built around them but themselves absent from or unrestricted by the structure. See my "Anxieties of Free Play" post on Derrida here.

ktismatics said...

Ha! I tricked Blogger's html bug on that last link. I typed the "bracket a href=..." clause and ended it with "here" as the link, just like you're supposed to. However, in prior experience Blogger deletes the linkable word, but then turns the rest of the text into the link. So after closing with the "bracket /a bracket" I retyped the word "here." Sure enough, instead of showing "here" twice, Blogger deleted the first "here" and moved the link to the second "here," which is the last word in the comment. Does this makes sense? Does anyone care?

ktismatics said...

However, I see that the date and time stamp is still a link, which Blogger must regard as part of the comment. Still...

Jonathan Erdman said...

K:
I've got plenty of Blogger Sucks type stories, but I've never had problems with the hyperlinks or anything you are describing......Are you sure it is not user error!

ktismatics said...

I experience this problem consistently on your blog, and have encountered it once or twice elsewhere. The link functions properly in preview, but when I publish it the thing messes up.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
Do you have a source for this assertion that I could consult and perhaps that we could discuss? In The Gift of Death Derrida talks about the impossibility of building an ethical system around the gift. This I see as consistent with Derrida's deconstructive strategy, where the central element of a structure turns out either not to exist or not to be containable within the structure itself. I read him as saying that the gift, if it exists, occupies a realm outside of reason, of morality, of the self, of life, in a realm of the wholly other that the self can never understand -- even if the other is in you.

My source is a jumble of info. in my head....however, I believe that this point is made in Deconstruction in a Nutshell - probably not the best source, however, I think that what I am saying is consistent with your viewpoint. It seems you are simply more nuanced (i.e. refined and erudite) in your expression of it.

When I have thought about this particular aspect of deconstruction, I have always wondered how it relates to the traditional Christian dogmatic paradox of the Transcendent/Immanent God. God is wholly Other, and yet "in him we live and move and have our being."

Is it possible that rather than debate the issue of the existence of God we say, in deconstructive fashion, the God who may exist? Perhaps we say this because if we seek to exhaustively define God, then he can only exist in our minds as a paradox. I.e. we can conceive of God as close to us, or we can conceive of God as far away; but our minds cannot conceive of God as simultaneously far away and near.

What I am wondering is whether our theological formulations of paradox allow us to make a positive affirmation of God's existence in a logical/propositional sense. That God exists in an experiential sense is entirely another matter, of course....or is it????

ktismatics said...

You'll have to carry on without me for now -- I got a couple fish in the sautee pan at Open Source Theology.

samlcarr said...

Trying to keep up with you philosophical types is giving me a HEADACHE!

meaning is imposed on things rather than being inherent in the things themselves.

is that a reference to the thing apart from its signifiers or is this some'thing' else entirely?

Jason Hesiak said...

The only time that forgiveness is “pure” forgiveness is the time when we are so deeply offended and so intimately violated that the crime is “unforgivable.” Only at the moment that we run up against an offense so deep that we cannot forgive it – only then do we have the opportunity to grant “pure” forgiveness.

See, as per my recent comment at "The Body"...this interpretation of forgiveness relies on a "forgiveness" that only exists on ones act of forgiving. Now...forgiveness isn't the best example...its not like "love" where I could say that "love" has a "substance" "behind the veil"...but at the same time there is aothere way to understand forgiveness, which I think exposes what I am taking to be the problem here. You could also simply say that person (B) has wronged person (A)...and that person (A) say's...and "fully means"..."I forgive you." Here its not so much an issue of whether there is some Forgiveness or whatever...but whether or not what is agreeably recognizable as "forgiveness" has taken place...and it has. Pure forgiveness can be assumed to exist or not...buy whose to know if person (A) has really and truly forgiven person (B) fully. Person (A) probably doesn't even know. But to say that the ACT MUST be deemed unforgiveable in order for there to be "pure forgiveness" implies that forgiveness ONLY EXISTS in our actions...on "this side of the veil." Where it might be said to exist "on the other side of the veil" in this particular case might be said to be in our "will", I suppose...but that leads us back to GOD and not to US and OUR actions...I think. "You will know as you are known."

So, what do you think Hesiak? Firstly, do you agree with the fact that "pure" forgiveness can only occur if one has been wounded so deeply that the deed is unforgivable? (Or do you agree with Melody's response to the above...he, he....)

I don't remember Melody's resonse. I haven't yet gone to re-check that post. Maybe I'll do that in a bit...(I'll certaily let you know if I agree with Melody, lol)...

And I guess I'd say that that would be one standard of "pure forgiveness"...but its the standard of forgiveness only within a certain interpretive framework :) In terms of what I was saying above...its an act of the will...which I don't think can really be said to be a "thing" anyway...

Jason - I'm not sure how this works. How would deconstruction leave us with a "disembodied gospel"?

Well, that's precisely what I've been trying to explain here and over at "The Body"! Lol. Like I was saying...it relies on the wizard of oz notion that behind the curtain is just some fat old smelly man. Carrying with it the message that there is only no-thing behind the curtain. On top of that the interpretive act is itself an act of the will and/or intellect...which means that the interpretive act occurs in a no-lace and is itself really a no-thing (like you said - deconstruction is nothing). If deconstruction is taken to be what lies at the heart of the fabric of being...if it is taken to be prime...then the gospel is interpreted through it too...and you of course then inevitably have a disembodied gospel. This is why I brought up the presence/absence issue. The Incarnation is about presence. Trace...nothing...is about absence. All of this, btw...is why I think the whole atheism debate is pretty much a waste of time and ignores what is really the issue.

And part of why I keep bringing up this presence/absence thing too is the "substance" thing that I keep bringing up.

What I am wondering is whether our theological formulations of paradox allow us to make a positive affirmation of God's existence in a logical/propositional sense. That God exists in an experiential sense is entirely another matter, of course....or is it????

As you know I'm not proponent of propositional logic thinking...but I think that part of the agrument FOR such thinking stands on the SUBSTANCE of what is not seen...of what is thought. So then I think maybe when I bring up this "presence" and "substance" stuff there is an association made with propositional truth/ect. But they don't necessarily go together. Scholasticism started a tradition that crafted a way of thinking in which they did happen to go together...but they don't necessarily have to go together. I think you can have a metaphysics of presence...and thus not this "exisistential angst"...and not be Jerry Fallwell :)

Jason Hesiak said...

is that a reference to the thing apart from its signifiers or is this some'thing' else entirely?

Sam I could be mistaken on what you're actually asking...but I think that's the grand question here! Why I keep bringing up presence/absence/substance/"existence"...

:)

ktismatics said...

I haven't seen Deconstruction in a Nutshell, but it might be a fine source. Maybe you should post something from the book about deconstruction.

In that post on Ktismatics I linked you to, Derrida isn't arguing that God doesn't exist; he's talking about human systems that substitute for God an abstract psychological placeholder for stability. If there is a God, then he's probably not containable in such a system, and the system retains its stability while God is off doing something else. At least that's one implication of that Derrida text -- I put the link to it on my post.

"is that a reference to the thing apart from its signifiers?"

Yes. A thing has no intrinsic meaning apart from the signifiers that point to it and assign it meaning according to its place in the larger system of signifiers. Because there are many systems of signifiers that point to the same thing, that thing can have many different meanings. E.g., a rock can be a feature of the landscape, a representative of a particular geologic category, a weapon, a metaphor for stability, etc. But a rock without the signifiers is just a rock. Heck, it isn't even a rock, because "rock" is a signifier. I suppose if you're a Greek or a Thomist you might say that a rock intrinsically participates in God's rocklike nature, but I personally find that way of thinking quaint but bizarre.

Jason Hesiak said...

AAHHH...so "quaint but bizarre"...'tis me :)

I looked up "quaint"...two definitions are:

3. skillfully or cleverly made.
4. Obsolete. wise; skilled.


And interestingly (surprising to me a bit):
[Origin: 1175–1225; ME queinte < OF, var. of cointe clever, pleasing ≪ L cognitus known (ptp. of cognĊscere; see cognition)]

Another funny one:
Unfamiliar or unusual in character; strange.

Then funny in that it strikes me as the opposite from a rock's helping us to "know" God:
attractively old-fashioned (but not necessarily authentic); "houses with quaint thatched roofs"; "a vaulted roof supporting old-time chimney pots"

Jason Hesiak said...

Speaking of the connection between rocks and the Ground they sit on...

...he's just a character in a novel, brother of Sean Bateman, a narrator in Ellis' earlier novel, The Rules of Attraction, consequently possessing no reality other than that of pure language construct. In any case, we readers enter the text as his April Fool. As reality gives way to image, as the real gives way to the imaginary, this exhaustive recreation of the world, a repetitive list really, offers us no insight into the man's innermost psyche. The postmodern becomes a stream without consciousness (or unconsciousness either), impotent rage adift atop a frozen and hollowed out sea of signifiers, raging because reality has receded, impotent because it cannot do anything to bring that reality back. The true horror of American Psycho is not the murders, if they do in fact occur, rather it is the lack of inwardness that the postmodern novel represents in the psyche of Patrick Bateman and contemporary popular culture inaugurates in us.

from:
http://www.americanpopularculture.com/journal/articles/fall_2002/blazer.htm

:)

ktismatics said...

I knew I'd get you going with that quaint but bizarre remark, Jason (winky smiley).

Jason Hesiak said...

:)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ok, well, when you two are done winking at each other I will proceed with a few observations.

Ktismatics:
In that post on Ktismatics I linked you to, Derrida isn't arguing that God doesn't exist; he's talking about human systems that substitute for God an abstract psychological placeholder for stability. If there is a God, then he's probably not containable in such a system, and the system retains its stability while God is off doing something else. At least that's one implication of that Derrida text -- I put the link to it on my post.

As far as I can see guys like Calvin and Edwards affirmed things like the "mystery" of God, preferring to reserve the right to assert that at some point human intellect simply falls off and one must stand in wonder.

Dogma is established for sake of stability. After all, if one says "I know nothing about God," then this provides very little in terms of spiritual exploration. We must assert in order to explore.

Yet dogma inevitably leads to some sort of systemization, even if it is not the classification run amuck of Systematic Theology and the grand Modern vision to conquer the known rational universe.

I really like what you say here, John. I am not sure I quite agree with you, Jason, when you imply that deconstruction means the end of God. Deconstruction seems to simply act as a black light exposing all the stains on the sofa that everyone keeps saying is brand new. I don't know that with deconstruction God is out of the picture, but deconstruction seems to destabilize many of the notions we have about God that give us stability or that uphold and maintain institutions.

Personally, I find deconstruction at work to expose the fact that an institution sworn to uphold the ideals of Christ might actually only be working to uphold its own ideals and using the notion of "Christ" as a sign pointing to other signs, but ultimately never leading to Christ, the person.

I think Christ was an incredible deconstructionist. (Not quite as good as Qohelet, though!)

Jonathan Erdman said...

The postmodern becomes a stream without consciousness (or unconsciousness either), impotent rage adift atop a frozen and hollowed out sea of signifiers, raging because reality has receded, impotent because it cannot do anything to bring that reality back.

"A stream without consciousness"???

Sounds like the blogosphere!

Jason Hesiak said...

I am not sure I quite agree with you, Jason, when you imply that deconstruction means the end of God.

Erdmanian...I didn't mean to imply that deconstruction means the end of God. I guess I can see how you would think that. What I did mean to imply, though, was that deconstruction is built a foundation of the notion and/or assumption that spiritual things or realities are not substantial.

Deconstruction seems to simply act as a black light exposing all the stains on the sofa that everyone keeps saying is brand new. I don't know that with deconstruction God is out of the picture,

I wouldn't be bringing up the issue of the Being of God or the substance of spiritual things, again, if it wasn't for your existential angst. Nor would I be bringing it up if it wasn't for what I take to be the bigger issue of "the metaphysics of absence and presence." The metaphor of the black light exposing the stains on teh sofa does well to highlight my point there about metaphysics (and physics). As noted before, only things on this side of the veil are deconstructable...and they are on this side of the veil even though they are hidden to the consciousness of most people.

...but deconstruction seems to destabilize many of the notions we have about God that give us stability or that uphold and maintain institutions.

This is what I mean by the question of what is prime. There's no need to uphold institutions with the formwork of a metaphysics of absence...which, btw is quentessentially modern.

This is why you may have heard me a number of times tell the story of what lies at the center of an architectural space. If you look to important and influential buildings at right around the time in history when the physical world disappeared and we shifted from a metaphysics of presence to absence, then I think it will help illume what I mean.

At the center of Michelangelo's Campidoglio (late Rennaissance) is an equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor. Its semi-relevant what the statue is a statue of, but it is much more relevant that there is simply something in the center of the space:
http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Aegean/2507/images/italy/cap-1.jpg

It is also interesting that the emperor imaged is Marcus Aurelius the Stoic. That is relevant to the fact that the late Rennaissance stood right at the threshold between a metaphysics of presence and absence. One generation later the big story is St. Peter's Basillica. At the center of the space built at that time is an Egyptian funerary monument that rises and rises until it disappears up into the sky (into "heaven", "the unseen", "air"):

http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/37176.jpg

http://www.bluffton.edu/~sullivanm/stpeters/plaza2.jpg

Then like a generation or two after St. Peters came Descartes: end of story. A famous visiting speaker at VT once said that a space is not a modern space if you can't stand in the [empty] center of it and look around at everything. No presence, so no picture :)