Monday, March 24, 2014

Things are Bigger on the Inside than the Out: Doctor-Who-Object-Oriented Ontology

We should be about enlarging rather than reducing.   We should be multiplying the names for things, not boiling them down to one.  We need a Doctor-Who-Object-Oriented Ontology (DWOOO).

I'm not much for reductionism, which usually means that appearances are not what they seem but that what is about religion, for instance, is really about self-delusion in all its cases.  This means that what may seem to be about God (God is love) is really about one's own trauma or wish-fulfillment.  (Of course there are many cases where something that is religious has nothing to do with religion -- a reductionist is consistent and thorough, not ad hoc and nimble to say:  this particular view of God is not God but instead a product of your own self-interest.) 

I think there can be reduction but not to an absolute bottom nor a final resting place.  I can understand that some want to work with objects, some with events, some with relations, and some with substances.  And I can respect the turn away from the priority of epistemology that Graham Harman and others advocate.

But things are bigger on the inside then they are on the out.  They are much bigger.  This is what the Doctor says of the TARDIS but I think it is about all things.  To put this in the terms of Thomas Aquinas' theology of the creature, creation is the depth of mystery.  I can take issue with lots things in Thomas' theology and philosophy but this is the most important that I've found.  If what a thing is is its relation to God, that is, its essence and existence alike (in Thomas' terms), then there is a kind of mystery appropriate to creatures.  Things may appear one way but there is a depth to them, an abyss that opens once one contemplates the most common chickadee and the most sublime natural scene.

No one can say what a thing is for sure -- not because what they are is simply too small to view (Locke) or because of a difficulty with our mental or sensory equipment -- but because we are dealing with a mystery that always remains in all things. Is God an event, a person, a being, a constellation of relations, a being-beyond-being?  The reductionist wants one of these, perhaps two.  God is that which makes things the mystery that they are.

The only way to get at things, though in this mystery, is not the positive depth that they disclose but the moment of injury.  We can't think that our efforts to reduce and squelch the mystery of things are so easily overcome.  Rather, it is the cross, the theologia crucis that opens up the way to disclose the truth of things.  When we try to get at things to name them one thing, to siphon off their mystery and freedom, that moment, that pain, is the pain of the cross and so the point at which we might discover the depth of all things.

You might say that this is all a new form of an old theology.  You'd be right.  It's the real name of that ancient writer hidden behind a psuedo-nym:  Dionysius the Areopagite.  And one more Doctor, whose theology is usually taken to be the opposite of that so-called Dionysius:  Martin Luther.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Church Without Any Place in a Post-Secular Age

I've got peregrenetic Christians on my mind.  Aragorn (who wanders but is not lost) in my dreams.

I've been teaching Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Tegel or Prison Theology to my undergraduates.  Teaching the Tegel material has some challenges to it since the old Harper edition that is well within a student budget lacks some material and the Fortress edition is hardback and priced completely out of reach.  But that aside, probably one of the most challenging parts of Bonhoeffer's theology is the third chapter of his book outline for religionless Christianity in his August 3, 1944 letter.  This chapter concerns Christian community.

The challenge comes from the theological necessity Bonhoeffer draws for Christians to abandon any church property, building, pastoral salary, and presumably any other ... what? After pages of reflection on spirituality, criticism of long-standing traditions of the concept of God's power, Bonhoeffer comes to some conclusions about the institutional shape of Christianity and urges them to abandon any form of place, whether a church building or even perhaps any kind of direct public presence whatsoever, which nowadays would include presence in any kind of public, whether spatial, virtual, or networked.

Many Christians accept most of Bonhoeffer's attempt to formulate a Christianity suitable to a post-secular age where religion has disappeared all together.  It is all very well to run with him on the theological concepts or his "nonreligious interpretation of biblical concepts," which is the bulk of his reflections.  But his final insistence that Christian community exist permanently in borrowed rooms is quite difficult to sign on the dotted line.  It's enough of a shock that this outline is usually dismissed as Bonhoeffer's fragmentary and inchoate thoughts that he did not have enough time to develop.

Actually, this church-without-place is part and parcel of any Christianity without religion.

Bonhoeffer's idea of a religionless age corresponds to many currents of thought in reflection on the secular and post-secular.  Instead of lamenting the increase of the "none's" or the decline of the cultural influence of Christianity, Bonhoeffer takes secularization as the key to Christians becoming a community for others, to truly become the body of Christ.

The basis of this idea is that of religion.  Though Bonhoeffer seems to rely on the critique of religion that comes from Karl Barth and others, for him religion is any social or cultural arrangement that pushes God to the gaps of life, to the periphery.  This means that a religious use of Christianity pushes God into a compartment -- a restricted sphere of life, whether it is the soul, whether it is a set of practices called discipleship, or some gap of human knowledge about how the mind works or how the universe came into being.  A world come of age, or a wholly secular and therefore post-secular world has no gaps in it.  There is no place for God to hide out.  Whether it is the person who is anxious over death or has lost a great deal, there is no need for God there.  There is a fully worldly explanation for this or that and so God is not in the picture at all.  This is the process known as differentiation according to theorists of secularization.

For Christians to obtain a separate sphere where they do their thing on their own is to perpetuate the God of the gaps.  It is to carve out a niche for God where none need be.  And, for Bonhoeffer, what this means most of all is that it betrays the claim of Christ on the whole of life, to use his idiom. Strangely, for God to be pushed out of the world is for God to be in the world.  This pattern seems to combine strange fabric:  God is with the world when God is without the world.  The pattern Bonhoeffer finds is the pattern of the crucified God.  And so for God to be God, the suffering God who alone can save the world, Christians must be public only in serving others.  Bonhoeffer perhaps betrays his liberal theological heritage here even as he fulfills it.  This "life for others" is the fulfillment of the arcana, the secrets that Christians hide from view: the Eucharist and Scripture.  To Bonhoeffer reading Scripture out loud profanes it because its use is only in bringing its hearers to live for others.  The Eucharist is hidden and never made visible since it is only seen in the life of the baptized.  Only the service, only the life for others is the publicity of the otherwise hidden church.

Only by being utterly secretive about Christian liturgy (Scripture, Eucharist, baptism) can Christians be public in a secular age.

It is as if Christians ought to take the guise of Strider, covered over and without place.
All that is gold does not glitter,
Not all those who wander are lost;
The old that is strong does not wither,
Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Baptismal Hospitality and The Eucharist: Preliminary Theses

1.  Baptism is the public face of Christian mission.

1.1.  Most properly, the baptized are properly the public face of Christian mission.  Their actions and identities are what the world sees.  "You are our letters." 2 Cor 3:2.

1.2.  Public reasoning progresses not from Christ but from the way that baptism liberates creation to be creation.  It does not advance specific Christian reasons, a kind of knowledge that is only available to the baptized but advances a kind of solidarity.

2.  Hospitality can only equally apply to the Eucharist if it does the same thing as baptism.

2.1.  Sacraments are not uniform.  They do not deliver the same "grace" or the same sort of thing and so they are related to one another and not just different delivery systems of the same goods.  The medium is the message.  Baptism does one thing, the Eucharist another.

2.2.1.  Baptism welcomes.

2.2.2.  The Eucharist reinvigorates, sustains, and holds forth the end of the baptismal journey.

2.2.  Hospitality concerns invitation to baptism.  Eucharist only follows after the welcome of baptism.

3.  The Eucharistic liturgy has remain largely unchanged despite drastic changes in the public and private, in Christendom and now, after Christendom.

4.  It would seem that the most hospitable act would be to welcome to the Eucharist without restriction but that would be to perpetuate the liturgy as warped by Christendom.

5.  Thus, contemporary efforts to hospitality should be driven by a welcome of baptism.