Friday, June 1, 2012

Moving Day...

I've been contemplating this for a while, but today I officially moved this blog to a new site.  Mosts of the posts have been transferred over, unfortunately most comments didn't make the move (but that's ok, we'll start afresh with some new discussion soon!).  This blog will stay here, but nothing new is going to be posted for a while.  To keep up with new posts, check out the new site here:



Creation Hymn From the Rig Veda

Have been reading a bit of Asian philosophy lately (mostly because I often hear it discussed but know little about it firsthand and suspect most of the characterizations I hear about it are really more caricatures than accurate descriptions).  Found this creation hymn from the Rig Veda particularly interesting and thought I would share:

There was neither non-existence nor existence then; there was neither the realm of space nor the sky which is beyond.  What stirred?  Where?  In whose protection?  Was there water, bottomlessly deep?

There was neither death nor immortality then.  There was no distinguishing sign of night nor of day.  That one breathed, windless, by its own impulse.  Other than that there was nothing beyond.

Darkness was hidden by darkness in the beginning; with no distinguishing sign, all this was water.  The life force that was covered with emptiness, that one arose through the power of heat.

Desire came upon that one in the beginning; that was the first seed of mind.  Poets seeking in their hearts with wisdom found the bond of existence in non-existence.

Their cord was extended across.  Was there below?  Was there above?  There were seed-placers; there were powers.  There was impulse beneath; there was giving-forth above.

Who really knows?  Who will here proclaim it?  Whence was it produced?  Whence is this creation?  The gods came afterwards, with the creation of this universe.  Who then knows whence it has arisen?

Whence this creation has arisen-- perhaps it formed itself, or perhaps it did not-- the one who looks down on it, in the highest heaven, only he knows-- or perhaps he does not know.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Thought Experiment: Carl Rogers and Post-Modernism

It has been a very busy semester for me here at Yale, and as a result I have been pretty inactive in the blogging world of late.  Have several partially completed posts in the line-up for the future, but as a first foray back to the blog, thought I'd throw up some stuff I've been reading lately and see what people think.  I am currently engaged in the final research and writing push for a paper on philosophy that I'm excited about because I think it will integrate a lot of things I am interested in the ares of hermeneutics, existentialism, and psychology.  A significant part of my research the last few days has been focused on one of the leading psychologists of the last century, a fellow by the name of Carl Rogers, one of the founding figures of a movement known as "humanistic psychology" which attempts to move psychology away from the supposed scientific rigor of behaviorism and reconnect with philosophy, especially the existentialist philosophers of Europe.  If most of that introduction was meaningless to you, that's fine.  I find this stuff very exciting, but I'm an odd duck, I know.

What I've posted below is a lengthy selection from an essay Rogers wrote in 1978 titled "Do We Need 'A' Reality?"  This is perhaps one of the most succinct and compelling presentations of what a "post-Modern" worldview might look like that I have read, and I want to do a little thought experiment with it.  Experiment might not be the right word, as I think about it, but work with me.  What I'm very interested in is how other people react to this passage.  I've included very briefly some of my own thoughts below the quote, but I'm mostly interested in your reactions.  What do you agree with?  What do you disagree with? Where is Rogers right on the money?  Where is he lost at sea?  Is his vision attainable or is he too idealistic?  Let me know what you think:

I, and many others, have come to a new realization.  It is this: The only reality I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it as this moment.  The only reality you can possibly know is the world as you perceive and experience it as this moment.  And the only certainty is that those perceived realities are different.  There are as many “real worlds” as there are people!  This creates a most burdensome dilemma, one never before experienced in history.  

Form time immemorial, the tribe or the community or the nation or the culture has agreed upon what constitutes the real world.  To be sure, different tribes or different cultures might have held sharply different world views, but at least there was a large, relatively unified group which felt assured in its knowledge of the world and the universe, and knew that this perception was true.  So the community frowned upon, condemned, persecuted, even killed those who did not agree, who perceived reality differently.  Copernicus, even though he kept his findings secret for many years, was eventually declared a heretic.  Galileo established proof of Copernicus’s views, but in his seventies he was forced to recant his teachings.  Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in 1600 for teaching that there were many worlds in our universe.  Individuals who deviated in their perception of religious reality were tortured and killed.  In the mid-1800’s, Ignaz Semmelweis, an intense young Hungarian physician-scientist, was driven insane by his persecutors because he made the then absurd claim that childbed fever, that dread scourge of the maternity room, was carried from one woman to another by invisible germs on the hands and instruments of the doctors.  Obvious nonsense, in the terms of the reality of his day.  In our American Colonies, those who were even suspected of having psychic powers were considered witches and were hanged or crushed under great stones.  History offers a continuing series of examples of the awful price paid by those who perceive a reality different from the agreed-upon real world.  Although society has often come around eventually to agree with its dissidents, as in the instances I have mentioned, there is no doubt that this insistence upon a known and certain universe has been part of the cement that holds a culture together.  

Today we face a different situation.  The ease and rapidity of worldwide communication means that every one of us is aware of a dozen “realities”; even though we may think some of them absurd (like reincarnation) or dangerous (like communism), we cannot help but be aware of them.  No longer can we exist in a secure cocoon, knowing that we all see the world in the same way.

Because of this change, I want to raise a very serious question:  Can we today afford the luxury of having “a” reality?  Can we still preserve the belief that there is a “real world” upon whose definition we all agree?  I am convinced that this is a luxury we cannot afford, a myth we dare not maintain.  Only once in recent history has this been fully and successfully achieved.  Millions of people were in complete agreement as to the nature of social and cultural reality-- agreement brought about by the mesmerizing influence of Hitler.  This agreement about reality nearly marked the destruction of Western culture.  I do not see it as something to be emulated.

In Western culture during this century-- especially in the United States-- there has also been an agreed-upon reality of values.  This gospel can be stated very briefly:  “More is better, bigger is better, faster is better, and modern technology will achieve all three of these eminently desirable goals.”  But now that credo is a crumbling disaster in which few believe.  It is dissolving in the smog of pollution, the famine of overpopulation, the Damocles’ sword of the nuclear bomb.  We have so successfully achieved the goal of “a bigger bang for a buck” that we are in danger of destroying all life on this planet.

Our attempts, then, to live in the “real world” which all perceive in the same way have, in my opinion, led us to the brink of annihilation as a species.  I will be so bold as to suggest an alternative.

It appears to me that the way of the future must be to base our lives and our education on the assumption that there are as many realities as there are persons, and that our highest priority is to accept that hypothesis and proceed from there.  Proceed where?  Proceed, each of us, to explore open-mindedly the many, many perceptions of reality that exist.  We would, I believe, enrich our own lives in the process.  We would also become more able to cope with the reality in which each one of us exists, because, we would be aware of many more options.  This might well be a life full of perplexity and difficult choices, demanding greater maturity, but it would be an exciting and adventurous life.

The question may well be raised, however, whether we could have a community or a society based on this hypothesis of multiple realities.  Might not such a community be a completely individualistic anarchy?  That is not my opinion.  Suppose my grudging tolerance of your separate world view became a full acceptance of you and your right to have such a view.  Suppose that instead of shutting out the realities of others as absurd or dangerous or heretical or stupid, I was willing to explore and learn about those realities?  Suppose you were willing to do the same.  What would be the social result?  I think that our society would be based not on a blind commitment to a cause or creed or view of reality, but on a common commitment to each other as rightfully separate persons, with separate realities.  The natural human tendency to care for another would no longer be “I care for you because you are the same as I,” but instead “I prize and treasure you because you are different from me.”

 If you have read much of this blog you will probably recognize from the first paragraph of this quote that I am very sympathetic to at least some of what Rogers is saying here.  Two criticisms that I have, however, are worth mentioning.  First, I think Rogers moves too quickly from epistemology to metaphysics.  I agree with his assessment of the human condition in so far as we are able to "know" reality, but I'm not sure this means what he takes it to mean concerning whether or not there "is" a reality.  Second, I think Rogers is too idealistic.  I share his desire for a world of peace and tolerance, but I'm not sure its attainable by the human means he outlines.

That's all the assessment I'm giving here.  Want to hear what others think.  Enjoy!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Faith, History, and Eschatology

Just finished reading The Myth of the Eternal Return by Mircea Eliade, thought I would share some sections of the book here.  This is not meant to be a summary of the book’s main argument, I’m intentionally focusing in on a few things that I found particularly interesting.
The book is dealing with ancient/ “primitive”/ “archaic” understandings of humanity’s relationship with metaphysical concepts like “reality” or “being” or “time.”  To give you a little background:
The metaphysical concepts of the archaic world were not always formulated in theoretical language; but the symbol, the myth, the rite, express, on different planes and through the means proper to them, a complex system of coherent affirmations about the ultimate reality of things, a system that can be regarded as constituting a metaphysics.  - 3
In other words, religious myths and religious actions were a major locus of how such concepts were understood in the ancient world.  
[On the] “primitive” ontological conception: an object or an act becomes real only insofar as it imitates or repeats an archetype.  Thus, reality is acquired solely through repetition or participation; everything which lacks an exemplary model is “meaningless,” i.e., it lacks reality...  Hence it could be said that this “primitive” ontology has a Platonic structure. - 34
Insofar as an act (or an object) acquires a certain reality through the repetition of certain paradigmatic gestures, and acquires it through that alone, there is an implicit abolition of profane time, of duration, of “history”; and he who reproduces the exemplary gesture thus finds himself transported into the mythical epoch in which its revelation took place. - 35
Essentially, Eliade argues that for the ancient world a kind of dualism pervaded their philosophy in which that which was truly real was that which could escape the changing flow of time.  This was enacted through the retelling of religious myths, which were timeless, and the participation in religious rituals, through which Eliade writes “[ancient man] repeats the gestures of another and, through this repetition, lives always in an atemporal present.” - 86
For contrast, take a modern view of time and history as exemplified by Hegel:
For Hegel, history is “free” and always “new,” it does not repeat itself; nevertheless, it conforms to the plans of providence; hence it has a model (ideal, but none the less a model) in the dialectic of spirit itself.  To this history which does not repeat itself, Hegel opposes nature, in which things are reproduced ad infinitum. - 90
And now for the really interesting bit, contrast both these models with Eliade’s interpretation of the relationship with time and reality in ancient Hebrew thought:
For the first time, we find affirmed, and increasingly accepted, the idea that historical events have a value in themselves, insofar as they are determined by the will of God.  This God of the Jewish people is no longer an Oriental divinity, creator of archetypal gestures, but a personality who ceaselessly intervenes in history, who reveals his will through events (invasions, sieges, battles, and so on)... It may, then, be said with truth that the Hebrews were the first to discover the meaning of history as the epiphany of God, and this conception, as we should expect, was taken up and amplified by Christianity.  We may even ask ourselves if monotheism, based upon the direct and personal revelation of the divinity, does not necessarily entail the “salvation” of time, its value within the frame of history. - 104
What makes this even more interesting is the way in which this conception of history takes on an eschatological dimension:
Under the “pressure of history” and supported by the prophetic and Messianic experience, a new interpretation of historical events dawns among the children of Israel.  Without finally renouncing the traditional concept of archetypes and repetitions, Israel attempts to “save” historical events by regarding them as active presences of Yahweh.  Whereas, for example, among Mesopotamian peoples individual or collective sufferings were tolerated insofar as they were caused by the conflict between divine and demonic forces, that is, formed a part of the cosmic drama, in the Israel of the Messianic prophets, historical events could be tolerated because, on the one hand, they were willed by Yahweh, and, on the other hand, because they were necessary to the final salvation of the chosen people.  - 106-07
Out of this eschatological dimension develops a new perception of God which makes possible faith (interesting to note that Eliade’s understanding of faith here is being influenced by Kierkegaard):
Abraham’s religious act [the sacrifice of Isaac] inaugurates a new religious dimension: God reveals himself as personal, as a “totally distinct” existence that ordains, bestows, demands, without any rational (i.e., general and foreseeable) justification, and for which all is possible.  This new religious dimension renders “faith” possible in the Judaeo-Christian sense.  - 110
In another gesture to Kierkegaard, Eliade then describes how this kind of faith, made possible in Judaism and Christianity, has struggled to catch on:
Neither in Christianity nor in Judaism does the discovery of this new dimension in religious experience, faith, produce a basic modification of traditional conceptions.  Faith is merely made possible for each individual Christian.  The great majority of so-called Christian populations continue, down to our day, to preserve themselves from history by ignoring it and by tolerating it rather than by giving it the meaning of a negative or positive theophany.  - 111
In other words, Eliade seems to be suggesting, for the majority of the Christian tradition the locus of religion is still found in ritual (which recalls the idea of participating in an eternal present) and not in “faith.”  I find this whole comparison very interesting for a few reasons.  First, it definitely seems to be a jab at Catholicism in the name of promoting a kind of Kierkegaardian, perhaps even evangelical, conception of “faith.”  It is also interesting because of the way in which “faith” in this sense is intertwined very closely with eschatology.  Any thoughts?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Critique of Universalism

This thought occurred to me one day last summer when I was working at camp, strolling through the woods carrying my guitar.  I jotted it down then but never came back to finish writing it.  Finally setting about that task...
The logic of this post is assuming a traditional “heaven-hell” schema of an afterlife (in which I would also include, for my Catholic brethren, a schema which included “purgatory”).  I take it as part of most such theologies that the afterlife is (at least theologically) considered more significant than this life because of its eternal nature (as opposed to the changing, temporal nature of this life).  Such assumptions may not hold in every version of universalism, so this critique is not meant to be definitive by any means.
The critique can be phrased in a question playing on an old saying:  If all roads lead to Rome, then what does it matter which road you take?  Now, to some extent this is exactly the point of universalism- it doesn’t matter which road we take!  But I want to press the logic of that a bit farther.  If it truly doesn’t matter which road we take, then we can attach no objective value to any particular road.  Which then leads to some particularly startling conclusions:  it is no better to be a child abuser than a devout monk, for instance, given this understanding of universalism.  At the end of the day, both will end up in the same place, sharing the same heavenly experience despite having lived radically different lives.
In one sense, this implies significant equality.  Death, which we must all experience, becomes the great equalizer, after which all of our experiences will become the same.  On the other hand, such great equality in effect negates the value of this life.  It turns into a weirdly fatalistic and potentially hedonistic kind of gnosticism which holds the “eternal” life as the most significant and this life as a mere stopping point whose meaning and significance is little to none (so we might as well get as much enjoyment out of it as we can in whatever way we see fit).
The resource to defend against this critique is to limit the scope of universalism, saying something like “all those who make an effort at moral living” or, slightly more narrowly, “all those who make an effort at religious faith” will end up in heaven.  This quasi-universalism (not truly universalism anymore, but something that might be considered an “inclusivism”) is no longer subject to the critique that I have raised, but it might be subject to other critiques.  In particular, it might be plagued by the problem of defining a “threshold”- what qualifies as a worthwhile effort at moral living?  What qualifies as an effort at religious faith?  Once we begin asking those questions we begin very quickly to end up back in the same kinds of arguments which motivated the movement to universalism to begin with- the desire to avoid seemingly arbitrary excluding boundaries.
All this to say, the issue of determining the bounds of salvation is a sticky one no matter what approach you take or position you hold.  

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nietzsche, God, and the Cross

Of all the challenges posed to Christianity in the modern age, I think the ones raised by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche are among the most serious.  While many debates center around the notion of the existence of God or of the historical Jesus, Nietzsche cuts to the very core of Christianity, to the very logic of the story itself, and attempts to show why the logic not only doesn’t work but is in fact, on his view, evil.  Now Nietzsche is a double-edged sword.  He makes very similar attacks on the philosophy and science of his day, and probably for that reason he has been relegated to the sidelines of philosophy, someone you talk about in the context of the existentialist movement but not someone you take seriously if you are doing philosophy or theology (especially not in an “analytic” context).
Yet, for all of this, I think Nietzsche deserves to have a more active place in our theological discussions.  Nietzsche’s attacks on both religion and philosophy are motivated in part by his concerns about objectivity, which is a popular theme in my own thinking.  Nietzsche is also concerned with what he sees as a hostile taking over of ethics by those who wish to confine humanity to live within certain docile “norms.”  Nietzsche in some respects might be said to want to “unleash the beast within,” and this is partly what happened with his thought when it was co-opted by Nazi Germany as philosophical justification for the atrocities of the holocaust.  While we must be careful to avoid such errors ourselves, perhaps a more favorable interpretation of Nietzsche might be this: Nietzsche believes that we are most human when we are most free to express ourselves in our unique, individuality.  Nietzsche wants us to be pure individuals not constrained by any other.  In this sense he actually has great respect for Jesus, it is more Jesus’ followers Nietzsche is upset with because he feels they have hoisted constraints onto humanity which have prevented true individuals from coming into existence.
Now with this overarching interpretation in mind, we can consider Nietzsche’s distinction between the Nobles and the Plebes in society.  The Nobles are those who are strong, successful, powerful and therefore free from constraints which might make them incapable of being a true individual.  They can shape their identity in whatever way they would like, they are not dominated by someone else.  The Plebes, on the other hand, are forced to see themselves in relation to the Nobles.  They can only exist at the pleasure of those higher up the food chain than they are.  They depend on them for their support, and they therefore resent them.  This distinction gives rise to two types of morality, in Nietzsche’s estimation.  The first type, associated with the Nobles, celebrates all that is strong and inherently good in itself.  It finds virtuous those who are able to enact their will without relying on others.  The second type, associated with the Plebes, is rooted in the notion of “revenge.”  Dominated as they are by others, the Plebes dream up an eschatological system of morality, one based on a “final judgment” which will bring down the “evil” Nobles (from the Plebes’ point of view) and exalt the humble Plebes.  It is easy to see from this description how Nietzsche goes about critiquing Christian morality and theology.
One other detail of Nietzsche’s thought will be useful to note here before launching into my own response to Nietzsche.  That is Nietzsche’s conception of how the two systems of morality he has sketched would make sense of an “enemy.”  On the common, Plebian notion of morality the enemy is one to be detested and hated and most importantly viewed as “evil.”  Not so with the Nobles.  When two Nobles view one another as enemies, they have a core of deep respect for the other’s individuality and strength.  Whatever rivalry they feel towards one other, whatever opposition, they still acknowledge one another as equals (at least in worth and dignity).  To use Nietzsche’s own words, “He tolerates no other enemy than one in whom nothing is to be despised and a great deal is worthy of respect!”  (First Essay, On the Genealogy of Morals).
There are several different ways of responding to Nietzsche, many of which I think miss the point of his arguments.  My own response to Nietzsche is not an attempt to rebuff his critiques of Christian ethics or theology (even if I do not agree with all of his characterizations of either) but instead to note a problem with his notion of individuality as it might exist in the real world.  Something later existentialist writers (such as Jean-Paul Sartre and Simon de Beauvoir) will emphasize which Nietzsche does not is that we are always existing in relation with other people.  As such, we are always subject to the influence of others, always defining ourselves at least to a certain extent in respect to others, etc.  Given the expansiveness of human relationships it seems as though it is impossible for “true individuals” in the sense meant by Nietzsche to exist in this world.  It is important to note that this move does not negate the force of Nietzsche’s arguments, but it may have the effect of saying that in some respect all of us are Plebes and there are no true Nobles.
This analysis opens up a very interesting possibility to me.  The truly unique individual is one who is entirely free of the constraints of other people, not in any way dependent on them for its own life and self-understanding.  We have suggested that such an individual cannot exist in this world because of the expansive and inter-connected nature of human relationships.  I want to go a step farther and suggest that such a description of “Nobility” could be applied to the notion of God.  Now I recognize that Nietzsche just turned over in his grave at my writing this, but I also think that such a notion of God would be radically different from the traditional conceptions of God that Nietzsche was reacting against.  God as the wholly unique, self-defining individual is not the eschatological God of much traditional Christian rhetoric. This is not the God who can be coaxed by human ritual and action into bringing about the kingdom of bliss for the underdogs.  This is not the God who can be made in our image to justify our own endeavors.  This is a fiercely unpredictable God, the God of Job who brings calamity on the faithful without explanation, the God of Noah who can destroy humanity if it is so pleases him.
As frightening as this image of God is, I think Nietzsche also provides a very intriguing way of conceptualizing what happens at the cross.  Remember that in Nietzsche’s conception of the Noble morality, an “enemy” is one who must command complete respect.  A true Noble will not look on the Plebes as his enemy because they are unworthy of the same respect as he has for himself or another Noble.  Seemingly this means that Nietzsche cannot conceive of the Christian notion of redemption because it implies a higher being condescending to care about lower beings.  Yet I think that endowed with the notion of “incarnation” the cross can take on a new and profound meaning in Nietzsche’s system.  The cross can be seen as a moment exemplifying the concept of an “enemy” in the Noble system of morality.  At the cross God the Father is put in opposition with God the Son, who because of his own divine nature can embody a being whom the Father must fully respect and see as a worthy equal, something which could never be accomplished by a human “plebe.”  In other words, at the heart of the Christian story is a moment in which God has become God’s own enemy on behalf of humanity.
Now I fully recognize that Nietzsche would be intensely dissatisfied with this interpretation of his own philosophy.  I’m also going to openly admit that I’m not certain I believe the theological interpretation I have just given (though I think this “Nietzschean theology” is a perspective that could be valuable to theological discussions).  I do think, however, that this is a very interesting way of thinking about both God and the cross drawn from within Nietzsche’s thought (even as he attempted to derail both the notion of God and the cross).  It is food for thought if nothing else, a way of conceptualizing Christian theology which also wrestles with some of the greatest challenges to Christian theology.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Political Commentary on the Day of the South Carolina Primary

At the moment it seems as though my prediction of Huntsman coming from behind to win the nomination isn’t going to happen (though I am still hoping for a last minute re-entrance into the race to steal the momentum of two self-destructing front-runners after Newt blows the race wide-open in South Carolina tonight).  So as we await the results from South Carolina, here are some thoughts on the political challenges America faces and my take on the rest of the political field.
The number one problem with our political system as it exist right now, I believe, is the equation of money with power.  Dollars matter more than votes because ultimately dollars buy you votes in the current system.  The result of that is that politicians are controlled by special interest lobbies because they are going to need money the next time they run for office, and this then results in policy that is either full of loopholes and thus toothless or clearly biased in the direction of a particular industry or special interest.  I think this kind of corruption is extraordinarily dangerous- I would argue it is the ultimate reason behind the market crash of 2008 and that it has played significant roles in our defense and foreign policy (including possibly the lead-up to the War in Iraq), resulting in massive amounts of government waste and abuse.
The number two problem facing our political system right now is, I believe, the changing landscape of the global political system.  We are still in the mindset of being the “only global superpower” (which, I will grant, is still true in some sense) but we are facing a world that is increasingly hostile to our leadership and one in which long taken for granted constants are rapidly changing.  China is becoming the next economic superpower (whether we like it or not), the politics of the Middle-East has drastically changed, Europe is on the verge of either morphing into a strong economic/political union or completely collapsing (and two world wars have taught us that situations like this can get nasty fast on that continent), Brazil is entering the world stage as a major economic powerhouse, and Cuba, of all places, is opening up to capitalism.  Just to name a few things that are changing.  Our government is going to need to be able to navigate seriously uncharted waters in terms of foreign policy in the near future.
The number three problem facing our nation right now is, I believe, the lack of an economic structure which promotes sustainable growth.  Our economy has become increasingly dependent on the financial sector.  That has proven a little bit unstable with pretty nasty consequences.  An economy built on what is effectively gambling is just not going to have sustainable growth.  Nor can it afford for the corporations doing the gambling to be “too-big-to-fail.”  Economic policy needs to encourage the financial sector to be a bit more reigned in and other sectors of the economy to be much more productive if we expect to maintain economic growth in the long run.
In my opinion, Huntsman was the candidate who had the most sensical views on how to handle all of these issues.  As of me writing this he has unfortunately not responded to my (and others) pleas to restart his campaign, forcing me to examine the other candidates still in the race:  Mitt Romney is, in my opinion, the epitome of the first and most serious problem in our political system.  That alone makes me unwilling to vote for the guy, but based on many of his statements I also think he is dangerously short-sighted in his outlook on foreign policy (our second major challenge), wanting to do things like start a trade war with China or prepare for a full-scale war with Iran right off the bat.  Also, his record as a venture capitalist has only contributed to the third issue, lack of a path for sustainable economic growth.  He has no experience or credentials that make me believe he will in any way better our national situation.  
Rick Santorum’s Iowa story seems to place him on the opposite end of the spectrum from Romney in terms of the relationship of money to politics in our system (having virtually no funds, comes from behind to win the Iowa Caucus), but his consistent pandering to the standards of particular special interest groups (see his many comparisons of his “voting report cards” with those of other candidates, for instance) makes me weary of him on this front as well.  His foreign policy statements seem somewhat reactionary, making me uncertain he could lead the US through a changing geo-political landscape.  He does, however, have some ideas regarding how to promote sustainable economic growth, particularly in the manufacturing sector of the US economy.  So he gets ranked above Romney as a desirable candidate in my book.  
Gingrich has some ideas about how to solve the money in politics problem, wanting to promote modernization in the department of defense (a project which involves cutting the influence of many lobbyists and putting pressure on contractors rather than letting them control the agenda), for instance, and trimming down the federal government in general.  However, his “consulting” work and ethics violation act as strikes against him.  Gingrich has a slightly more nuanced foreign outlook than most of the other candidates, though I think he is still far too driven by a simplistic view of the Middle-East and a desire to forcibly maintain America’s status as the world’s only super-power.  Finally, while I think Gingrich’s economic proposals would promote growth, I’m not certain his plan ends up promoting sustainable growth (in fact, I think it likely leads back to a pre-2008 financial service driven economy).  
Finally, there is Ron Paul.  Ron Paul is the most radical of the candidates in terms of how he intends to change the nature of the game in Washington.  While Paul will most definitely have an impact on the influence of money in Washington (it will have no influence because the federal government will do virtually nothing during a Paul presidency) and will drastically change America’s foreign policy (we will basically step back and let the world do its own thing), I’m fairly certain Paul’s strategy will be economically contractionary, pushing the US back into recession in the short term.  After the initial shock wears off (which could be years given the fragile state of global economy right now), some states will experience an economic recovery that might indeed be sustainable.  I worry, though, that other states (I’m thinking primarily of the predominantly agricultural states of the West) will be deeply damaged by Paul’s fiscal plans and may never experience a full economic recovery.  I am also fairly certain that the effective halt of all activity in Washington that might be expected during a Paul administration would result in a radical reaction against him.  Paul, I am fairly certain, would only be a one-term president and then there would a rush to return the country to “normalcy” meaning no long-term solution would be put in place regarding any of the issues we face.  
Ultimately, I think the four remaining Republican candidates all end up, in some form or another, promoting the status quo in Washington, delaying a true solution to any of the three main problems facing America another four years.  While Santorum may push for incremental moves in solving the third issue and Gingrich may make incremental moves in solving the first, no serious changes will be had under an administration led by any of these candidates.  In fact, I think under a Romney or Paul administration things might actually get worse (with Romney because of direct reinforcement of the problematic status quo and with Paul because of the likely backlash of reaction against him in the next general election).  Without Huntsman in the Republican field, I think any platform the party might take will be incredibly docile and quite frankly boring.
Lacking a Huntsman re-entrance into the race, the candidate I find most palatable on the Republican side is Gingrich, even though his character is less than savory and his personal baggage looms large.  That said, I think the Republican with the best shot of actually winning the White House if chosen as the party’s nominee is actually Ron Paul (I think Gingrich and Romney will both self-destruct and Santorum would simply not be able to sustain the support of independents).  However, assuming Huntsman does no re-enter the race, I am much more inclined to support Obama.  Granted that Obama has done little to nothing to address the first problem (money in politics) outside of his recent announcement concerning plans to shrink and streamline the federal government (generally the sort of thing that monied lobbyists would be terrified of, we’ll see how that turns out, but I think its safe to say its largely a political gesture), I think he has done a good job handling the changing foreign climate and has at least made attempts to promote sustainable economic growth (possibly also as political gestures, but he at least gets to take credit for trying and can accuse the Republicans of blocking him).  If he is reelected and able to pass a legislative agenda, I think Obama could possibly do real good regarding the second (changing foreign landscape) and third (sustainable economic growth) issues.  And if Ron Paul is able to significantly influence the Republican party’s platform (which is ultimately what I think his goal to be), then the next time around the Republicans may go after the first problem in a more sustainable way and with a candidate who is actually electable.  (Huntsman 2016?)

Monday, January 2, 2012

An Existentialist Reading of Genesis 1-3

In two previous posts we have surveyed some key components of existentialist thought, laying out a starting point for further discussion.  As a brief survey, existentialism begins with noting the epistemological limitations of our subjective perspectives which call objective, metaphysical knowledge claims into question.  Recognizing the inadequacy of such claims, existentialism then looks at how we might live with our subjectivity.  With this starting point in mind, I want to turn now toward applying existentialism to some theological questions.  To begin with, I want to look at the first three chapters of Genesis, an extremely important section of scripture theologically, and offer what might be an “existentialist reading” of this passage.
It of course needs to be noted that there can be no such thing as a single “existentialist reading” of this or any passage.  I am merely offering some suggestions about how some significant pieces of the first three chapters of Genesis might intersect with existentialist ideas.  So for instance, God’s creation of the world through speech and following particular patterns shows us something of the desire for order and meaning which drives much of humanity’s endeavors.  Much more interesting to me is the endowment of humanity with the “image of God” in 1:26.  The most prominent interpretation of this in the tradition that I am aware of has been that this refers to human rationality.  However, it seems to me that a more existentialist understanding of this might be the capacity for “willing” or having a will.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian who was clearly influenced by existentialist thinkers such as Kierkegaard and Nietzsche describes God as “absolute will,” the completely free and self-determining being.  Could it be, then, that the image of God is the human capacity to choose itself, to will itself and thereby direct its course of action?
To will oneself one must possess some sort of understanding.  Thus, coupled with the ability to will, but perhaps secondary to it, is the desire to understand and find meaning in the world.  When God brings the animals to Adam we see this happening.  Adam “names” them, in effect giving their existence some meaning in his own mind.  He is developing his own understanding of the world.  Into this understanding is placed the woman, who is “bone of [his] bones and flesh of [his] flesh.”  The statement has always seemed to me to imply fundamental equality of personhood between the two, supported by the fact that both have already been said to bear the image of God and that in the remainder of the story the woman will act (express her will) without the knowledge or consent of the man.  They both have a will and they both act out of an understanding of the world which they themselves are formulating.  We can see this formulation at work in the woman’s addition of “or even touch it” to God’s prohibition against eating from the tree.
The tree itself, and in particular the serpent’s statements about it, have some interesting intersections with existentialist thought, perhaps putting a particularly theological twist on such thinking.  As we have noted, existentialism is extremely skeptical of objective metaphysical claims.  Historically, such metaphysical systems have been the basis of systems of universal ethics-- universal ways of thinking about what constitutes right and wrong, good and evil.  When the serpent tells the woman that humans will become “like gods” when they eat of the fruit because they will know “good from evil” he is suggesting that human understanding will become the “objective” arbiter of good and evil, right and wrong.  In other words, individuals will exalt their own subjective understanding to the position of “objective truth.”  Once that has been done, disagreement is no longer a matter of two perspectives being different, something Bonhoeffer claims has always existed and always will exist, it is a matter of determining who is “right” and who is “wrong”-- a conflict which becomes divisive and often turns violent.  We see the effects of just such a conflict in the very next chapter when Cain and Abel’s disagreement regarding what constitutes proper sacrifice turns into the first homicide.
A final intersection occurs at the end of chapter three when Adam names the woman “Eve.”  The meaning Adam had given to the animals he is now applying to his wife.  Signaled here is the beginning of the dividing of human understanding between “I’s” and “Thou’s,” between “us” and “them.”  This kind of divide forms the basis both for social identity and for social conflict, a conflict especially pronounced in human history in the relationship between the sexes.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Officially Joining the BiblioBlog Library!

New Years Day 2012 is being marked in another way here on this blog!  We are officially joining the BiblioBlog library today!

Also, a couple days ago I discovered that an article I had written on the Church's response to the Occupy movement was posted on Relevant Magazine's website.  You can check it out here!

Happy New Year!!

Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and never brought to mind ?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot,
and auld lang syne ?
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stowp !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae run about the braes,
and pu’d the gowans fine ;
But we’ve wander’d mony a weary foot,
sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
We twa hae paidl’d i’ the burn,
frae morning sun till dine ;
But seas between us braid hae roar’d
sin auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere !
and gie’s a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll tak a right gude-willy waught,
for auld lang syne.
For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll tak a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

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