Sunday, July 29, 2012

Divine Fatherhood and True Family

You know, lately I cringe every time I see a blog post about the value of fatherhood. Which I see generally because I know too many Reformed folk—not that Lutherans are immune to making claims about male headship, just quieter about it on the whole.

But this morning's epistle, from Ephesians 3, begins with a passage that raises the question front and center. "For this reason," namely the charism of missionary responsibility, in spite of the troubles it brings, "I genuflect before the Father, from whom every family in the heavens and on the earth is so named ...". Which is a play on pater and patria, and which doesn't translate well into English because we lack the pun. It's much like the implication, now stated outright in the series, that civilizations everywhere get the word "doctor" from the Doctor.

So, following on my recent realizations about Barth's anthropology, I want to sketch out, in a Barthian vein, why the nature of family deriving from the Fatherhood of God is not in any way a claim about the value of the human male.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Human Nature as Purely External?

I've been reading through Webster's Barth's Moral Theology—I'd say "re-reading," except that's pretentious. It's one of those books that I've picked up before, but I'm only now paying proper attention to. God only knows why—it's very, very good, and deserves far more than the skimming I gave it the last time.

What strikes me most, as Webster writes about Barth's Ethics, is how much Barth manages to fight "orders" theology while at the same time insisting that our nature as creatures can be described in purely external terms, rather than in terms of our inwardness, our psychology, our mental and rational capabilities. Rather, especially, than our self-consciousness and moral awareness.

And that lines up markedly with the Augustinian analysis of sin as a disease of the will, but it also lines up with providence as a component of the doctrine of creation, and with Barth's account of Genesis 1 in III.1, under "Creation as the External Basis of the Covenant."

It also gives a bit of leverage, if the observation can be upheld through a close primary-source reading, as to why Barth screws up sex, gender, and sexuality in III.4 under his discussion of fellow-humanity. Because it's always seemed like a mistake to me that a man whose moral theory seems so grounded against natural moral orders should opt to bias human reality so that violation of the male-female pairing is not only sin against community tending toward the destruction of the fabric of society, but also idolatrous pursuit of self-relation rather than accountability to the existential Other.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Barth in Meta-ethical Terms, part VI: Euthyphro

In the last post in the series, we covered the basics of divine command theory (DCT), or theological voluntarism, reducing the discussion to just ethical systems that rely on the will of a deity (or more than one) to set moral values. DCT might also be taken to describe any religious moral system, justified by appeal to the will of its deity. This can be a difficult point, but the problem is basically this: How do we know what is God's will, and how do we distinguish it from the will of the religious establishment, which is merely human will?

This is a question Barth has an answer to, and it has to do with his understanding of the Word of God and divine self-revelation. Dogmatics is the task of correcting the human doctrinal and ethical understanding of the religious establishment so that it better corresponds to the divine will. And so Barth's theological voluntarism, rightly understood, is in no danger of standing sentry over a self-authenticating human religious system. In fact, the dogmatic context of Barth's ethics sets up theological voluntarism against religious ethics, and as the only proper posture for Christian ethics, because the church does not owe its existence or proper priorities to itself or its history—it owes them to the Word of God. That Word may be present in church proclamation and teaching, but that presence is never either certain or guaranteed. The Word appears in the witness of scripture, and so our primary and direct responsibility in proclamation is to the Word of God in scripture. Note that we are not here responsible to the Bible itself, but rather to the One to whom it bears witness, according to the styles of its witness to God. And so the third form, the most basic form of the Word of God, is also the most direct: the Word of God properly is divine self-revelation, and it is nowhere more complete than in Christ. It stands free and independent of us, just as God does, and speaks where we can only respond. And so Barth's question, in ethics as well as dogmatics, is how well and faithfully we have received and understood that Word as command here, now, today.

But while we're in divine command theory, and not yet practice, there's one absolutely mandatory, classic hurdle to clear in meta-ethics. And that hurdle goes by the name, "the Euthyphro dilemma." And really, all it is is one last check to make sure we really mean to make a god our moral standard. Socrates, the archetypal skeptical moral naturalist, is a tool that Plato (the classic moral non-naturalist) uses to force his students into honesty. If you believe that a god (or several gods, but any god will do) is a better moral standard than people, you must defend that position respectably. And in any case, you must also be able to defend your moral subjectivism, cognitive or not, against objective moral realism. Or you must become a moral realist.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sin and Free Will

Well, since last week's "tomorrow" isn't coming quickly enough with the Euthyphro dilemma and analysis, and we're sort of in the middle of a series on Barth and ethics, I'm reposting a piece of my own work built on Barth's ethics. There's much more to be said on Barth's ideas of evil and sin, but this is built as a basic reframe of the concept of sin itself built out of Barth's doctrine of providence and a lot of time spent reading Augustine. It doesn't come all the way through III.3, but it makes a good start. And at least to me, it seems to hold up—if it doesn't, I'd be glad to be shown how.

Taken as given: The root of sin is separation from God. The nature of sin is action in separation from God.

Barth speaks about sin as an impossibility, and in connection with his discussion of God as Creator and consequently Lord of creation, it occurs to me that this has radical implications for our talk about sin. In common usage, sin is disobedience to God. But disobedience is possible only to the one who does in fact hear God as Lord. It is the possibility exercised in Jonah. Such disobedience will eventually be reconciled, because the subject is precisely the hearing subject. The word of God follows upon the actions of God, constituting relationship and then faith in relationship. The actions and words of God build the relationship in which obedience is possible—the sine qua non of obedience.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Healing Faith

ἡ πίστις σου σέσωκέν σε. Your faith, your trust, has rescued you and made you well. Jesus says it to the woman with the hemorrhage. The woman who has just provoked an involuntary (on his part) exercise of divine power. The woman who had been, until that moment, afflicted for twelve years. And to bowdlerize the problem, all we have to do is translate it without the parallel to Leviticus 15:25, so we don't say out loud what the audience knows, which is that this is a reproductive health issue. Twelve years of abnormal genital bleeding. Twelve years of it, in a society where one avoids social contact with a healthy woman for the days each month when she's menstruating normally. And the medical apparatus of the time has done nothing but take her money and exacerbate the problem. But her faith will make her well? What can that mean?