Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Bad Positivism

So I have two projects this term: Augustine, and the dialectic process from Adorno and Benjamin to Agamben. This post isn't about Gus.

I've been reading through Adorno's lectures on Negative Dialectics -- knowing full well that the book of the same title won't make as much sense until I do -- and it's remarkably enlightening stuff. The key, so far, turns on Hegel's synthetic ideal, that a negation of a negation is a positive. Which is synthesis: the negation of the antithesis by incorporation into the thesis. This is the root of the whole upward progress of history, that ideas grow and advance by incorporating their critiques. The modern ideal of correctibility, which was a Renaissance ideal as well. It is what Hegel means by sublation: the elevation of an idea through the means of its opposition. From positions to positions by means of ultimately temporary negations.

But I do mean that negative dialectics turns on the synthetic ideal -- and turns on it aggressively! "The negation of a negation is a bad positivism." And it does so through what I have to see as deeply connected to the linguistic turn. Saussurean arbitrary signification, even though it nowhere appears -- he gets it through Heidegger and phenomenology. The actual is not rational -- by which we mean that reality does not carry internal meanings. The concept is the negation of the thing -- by which we mean that once we have created a signification, the signifier can no longer be seen for itself. We have given it a meaning. And in so doing we have forgotten that even the thesis, as a posit, is a negation. The rational is not real; the rational supplants the real.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Pride, Sensuality -- and Faith

I'm very struck by something I heard in the lecture yesterday, on Reinhold Niebuhr and Augustine on sin. But mostly on Reinie. I had the concept of sin as pride and sin as sensuality from the last time I did deep Niebuhrian study, but I missed the basic "constitutional anxiety" angle. The fact that Niebuhr takes that into the appropriate, as well as the inappropriate, responses to our existential anxiety. The inappropriate enhancement of the self, the inappropriate negation of the self -- and the appropriate respect for the self as creature among creation, before the Creator who is God providing for us and all life. I had not received the positive angle, that constitutional anxiety can lead into creativity and freedom.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

On Distinction Between and Privation of Goods

So I was assigned Augustine's The City of God against the Pagans, and I'm realizing how true that full title is. Augustine is clearly a Platonist against Platonists. That is to say, he uses the method and metaphysics of classical Greek thought, but rejects its content assertions. Because his physics are certainly not basically different -- he simply adapts them to what he knows as Christian content. I suppose this is little different from Reinhold Niebuhr, who becomes a Liberal against the Liberals. It is sublation, Aufhebung, neutralization by elevation.

And yet the Fathers are our best defense against this fault in ourselves -- and the scriptures, our best defense against its existence in the Fathers.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

As Though It Were Not -- Because God Is

My job on September 11 of any year is not materially or formally different than my job on any other day of the year -- and neither is yours. Our job is to live and preach the gospel. It, and not world-historical events, dictates reality.

I am not called to follow the Johannine reaction -- to say that world-historical events usher in a new age of the gospel, and even to say that this new age of the gospel is the only true age, and that we are only now fulfilling it. I understand this reaction -- as though their destruction and our survival meant something in the long run. As though massive, world-changing events happened for a reason. But world history has no eschatological significance. We are in it; it happens to us; but it does not constitute any eternal judgment of God, even when it is the terrible consequences of our actions "coming home to roost." It is penultimately real, but ultimately unreal. Even if they are punishments, God walks with us through them. God never leaves. The quintessential attribute of God is fidelity in relationship. Every other attribute, every other name of God, serves this one. Only in this way is God worthy of our proclamation -- because only in this way is God worthy of our trust.

And so my job on this day is to preach first as though this day were not. To do theology first on the presupposition that it is not, and the gospel is. Only then to proceed to speak the gospel to this day, because today simply happens to be as it is. And it certainly is, in all the hominum confusione into which the provision of God always arrives. Because today is a day full of sin, from a history of days full of sin -- like every other day has been, and will be, on the earth. But that is not the truth! The truth is that today is a day full of the glory and justice of God shown in grace, set within a grand history of days full of the gracious glory of God -- like every other day has been, and will be, on the earth.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Eating and drinking judgment

In the title link, a well-considered piece of Yoder-Hauerwas active pacifism, Stanley says,
Constituted by the body and blood of Christ we participate in God's Kingdom so that the world may know that we, the church of Jesus Christ, are the end of sacrifice.

This is why, if Christians leave the Eucharistic table ready to kill one another, we not only eat and drink judgment on ourselves, but we rob the world of the witness necessary for the world to know there is an alternative to the sacrifices of war.
This may be the finest interpretation of 1 Corinthians 11:29 I've seen, at least lately. It certainly doesn't serve the immediate context of 1 Cor. 11, but I think it strikes at the heart.

For the sake of having the text in front of us, 1 Corinthians 11:16-34:

Monday, September 5, 2011

More Koine Pedagogy

All right, I'm teaching my way through the nominative case still, on the adjective-first trajectory. Which I like, because it lets me teach the 2-1-2 forms, and just say "this is normal masculine, feminine, and neutral declension," all at once, even with the eta/alpha differences. And it lets me break up the "consonant declension" grab-bag into more commonly-used pieces, like the -us/-eia/-u adjective paradigm. I think I'm going to teach the true consonant declensions with their consonant groups, and perhaps introduce more verb cases that way.

So the sequence so far looks like this:

Friday, September 2, 2011

Loving in the Forgiveness of God

We seem to be under the misapprehension that Ezekiel's job is a common one. That it is a weight laid upon our shoulders. That when God says "If I tell you, and you don't tell them, and they die, it's your fault," God has in fact already told us using the words of the Bible. And so we come to believe that forgiveness is conditioned on repentance, and repentance is conditioned on doing what the Bible says. How else could we understand the contemporary Christian reaction that confuses conformity to the gospel with heterosexuality and a particular view of marriage? And that's just one example, even if it is awfully popular today. We have become sentinels, yes -- but sentinels against our own people. Sentinels against one another. We have ceased to be a people. Instead, we have become sentinels gathering together to condemn the remnant of Israel, whom we have left, thinking that we can take the name and blessing of Israel with us. And we leave under the assumption that we have been faithful, and that if the faithful separate themselves from impurity, we will be saved. That if we have given the warning, we have no other obligations to our own brothers and sisters. That if we at least tried, we can be done now.

Ah, but we have misunderstood three things here: repentance, prophecy, and the people of God. How? We have forgotten that all three stand under the umbrella of God's forgiveness.