Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Stanley Fish on Liberalism's Inability to Be Fair to Religions that Don't Mirror Its Presuppositions

“Liberalism as a doctrine is incapable of accomodating strong religiosity and the reason is simple. Liberalism as both a philosophy and a theory of the state depends at bottom on the distinction between the public and private. That's how liberalism deals with the diversity of men and women in the society. Men and women in the society believe a great many things and those beliefs are important to them but if they are going to participate in the public sphere, says liberalism, they should participate as citizens, not as sectarians. They should in fact leave their strongest doctrinal concerns and affiliations at the door and only give arguments in the public sphere that will be recognized as arguments by everyone else, no matter what their religion, or even their absence of religion. Obviously, that kind of imperative- the imperative of liberalism, will not sit well with a form of religiosity that refuses to recognize the line between public and private and indeed believes that adhering to that line is an act of impiety and makes fun of it... And so I believe that I do want to make American liberals uncomfortable with the claim that they often make that they can be fair to religion. They can only be fair to a religion which mirrors the liberal distinction of the liberals sequestering a religion in private spaces. The moment a religion makes claims that cross that line liberals become extremely uncomfortable and start using terms like
'zealot', 'extremist' and even 'nut'.
” - Stanley Fish in an interview with Ken Myers on Mars Hill Audio, Volume 97.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Carlyle on Rousseau and the Consequences of Ideas

"Thomas Carlyle, the eminent Scottish essayist and sometime pphilosopher, was once scolded at a dinner party for endlessly chattering about books: 'Ideas, Mr. Carlyle, ideas, nothing but ideas!' To which he replied, 'There once was a man called Rousseau who wrote a book containing nothing but ideas! The second edition was bound in the skins of those who laughed at the first.'" -Benjamin Wiker, 10 Books That Screwed Up the World and 5 Others that Didn't Help, (2008), Regnery Publishing, p. 2.

[I do not think it right to give Rousseau too much credit for movements which may have had plenty of life without him, but I think it is good to recognize the vast consequences ideas can have].

Friday, August 07, 2009

Irenaeus: The Gnostics, Denial of the Virgin Birth, and Post Modern Pathologies

"A certain Cerinthus taught in Asia that the world was not made by the first God, but by some Power which was separated and distant from the Authority that is above all things. He proposes Jesus, not as having been born of a Virgin- for this seemed impossible to him- but as having been born the son of Joseph and Mary like all other men, and that he excelled over every other person in justice, prudence, and wisdom."
-Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book One, Chapter 26, 1 (p.90).

[It is interesting to read of this and consider its parallels with present times... Today as then there are those who deny the Virgin birth. What is the nature of their denial, the dynamic of it. Why do they deny this but accept say the resurrection and the creation of the world by God?

I can only remember talking to one person professing a kind of faith in Christ who denied the Virgin birth. Not that that means they don't abound. I really don't know. But the question I asked him was simply if he believed that God created the world on what basis did he not believe that God could bring about a Virgin birth or that even if He could, he did not? He had no answer. Perhaps others do?

Cerinthus thought he did. Obviously he went beyond what many today are comfortable with who might deny the Virgin birth. Their innovation is purely negative. They do not assert or posit multiple gods, including a flawed and wicked creator god.

The Virgin birth was one of the tenants rejected by Henry Emerson Fosdick. Gresham Machen and he had a famous debate in the 1920s in which Fosdick defended liberalism and Gresham defended orthodoxy. The time was very contentious. Machen's church defrocked him for his orthodoxy. Denial of the virgin birth and similar tenants have a long lineage in todays mainline churches.

There is an assertion of a kind of authority even in the mere denial of the doctrine. The implications are enormous for the nature of Christ, if one thinks about it. So those who do not think the denial of the virgin birth is important as a tenant of belief also, it would seem inescapably to follow, also are relinquishing a stance on the importance of Christ and Christology, or they are opening their Christology up to innovations such as the Gnostics felt at liberty to bring. It is absurd to say that denial of the virigin birth has no effect on Christology.

On the liberty of the Gnostics and their vieing for innovations, Irenaeus remarks a number of times. Here is an example:
"Already many offshoots of many heretical sects have been made from the ones we have mentioned, because many of these people, in fact all, wish to be teachers and to forsake the heresy in which they had been. They insist on teaching in a novel manner, composing from one teaching another tenet, and then another from that. They declare themselves inventors of any opinion which they may have patched together." -Irenaeus, Book 1, Chp, 28, 1 (p. 92-93).

Today the pathology (what the ancients called heresy) has not reached to that level in many of our circles, to be sure. Rather, at this stage, people want to be "nutured, not taught". People are feeling rather disaffected and disengaged from what is called "truth". They are not even sure she exists. It is only after refusal to love the truth repeatedly that strong delusion sets in. Churches are placating budding stages of pathological denial of the truth today and that is deadly.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Camus on Love and Frenetic Daftness

A beautiful section in the opening of Camus' The Plague:

"Certainly nothing is commoner nowadays than to see people working from morn till night and the proceeding to fritter-away at card-tables, in cafes and in small-talk what time is left for living. Nevertheless there still exists towns and countries where people have now and then an inkling off something different. In general it doesn't change their lives. Still, they have had an intimation, and that's so much to the good. Oran, however, seems to be a town without intimations; in other words, completely modern. Hence I see no need to dwell on the manner of loving in our town. The men and women consume one another rapidly in what is called 'the act of love,' or else settle down to a mild habit of conjugality. We seldom find a mean between these extremes. That, too, is not exceptional. At Oran, as elsewhere, for lack of time and thinking, people have to love one another without knowing much about it."
-The Plague, pages 4-5.

Camus's lines to me are peculiarly powerful. Resting a quote from them is like taking something from its natural seemless environment. There is a brimming whole vitality like the Mediterranean coast's.

The Gnostics and Anti-Semitism

Noticed in Irenaeus today several places where the Gnostic doctrine recounted implied anti-Semitism. For example, according to one sect Christ came to destroy the God of the Jews (Bk 1, Chp 24, 4-5). The prominent German "higher criticism" scholar Adolf von Harnack wrote Marcion; The Gospel of an Alien God, about the ancient heretic who reviled the Old Testament. The author looked very favorably on Marcion and apparently adopted much of his view, I have heard recounted, though I have no first hand knowledge of the book.

I have noticed the presence of German "higher criticism" in the Nazi "thought" and wonder about what degree of connection there was.

Here is Wikipedia on this subject:
"Theologian Adolf von Harnack - in agreement with the traditional account of Marcion as revisionist - discusses the reasons for his alterations to Luke. According to von Harnack, Marcion believed there could be only one true gospel, all others being fabrications by pro-Jewish elements, determined to sustain worship of Yahweh. Furthermore, he believed that the true gospel was given directly to Paul by Christ himself, but was later corrupted by those same elements, who also corrupted the Pauline epistles. He saw the attribution of this gospel to "Luke" as another fabrication. Marcion thus began what he saw as a restoration of the original gospel as given to Paul.[1]

Von Harnack writes that:

For this task he did not appeal to a divine revelation, any special instruction, nor to a pneumatic assistance [...] From this it immediately follows that for his purifications of the text - and this is usually overlooked - he neither could claim nor did claim absolute certainty. "

[My question is how much was the scholarship on Marcion friendly to the raging anti-Semitism in Germany at the time Von Harnack was writing?]

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Eternal Beauty and Fools Daily Despoiling It In Their Hearts, Driven By A Principle of this World

“But since these men differ among themselves both in doctrine and in tradition, and since those of them who are acknowledged as the more modern endeavor to excogitate [contrive, devise or invent by careful thought] something new every day and to produce something that no one has ever thought of, it is difficult to describe all of their opinions.” -Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk 1, Chp. 21, 20 (p. 80).

[There is of course a vacuity to a one-sided approach that seeks only the new. It is just as bankrupt, if not more so, as binding one's thoughts to old custom because it is old. There is at least a fairly reliable presumption for the later that if a custom is old it has been able to stand the test of time and has some substance to it. But both courses can be a substitute for the love of the truth. To those who always seek what is new I ask where is eternity in their hearts? Is it no longer there?

Irenaeus is describing some of the characteristic behaviors as well as painstakingly describing the different doctrines of the Gnostics of his day (Perhaps he would not use the term Gnostic). He is depicting their psychology to an extent. It is not a flattering depiction but though Irenaeus is depicting in order to criticize and he does not think that their error could be graver, it is marvelous to see the kind of spirit Irenaeus embodies, the equanimity, and even humor with which he deals with those he regards as apostates and heretics who are innovating on the doctrines of the faith in a folly that destroys in them and their listeners the sublimity of the God initiated religion.

“They really deserve our pity, these men who by means of the alphabet and numbers so coldly and violently tear to pieces so great a religion, the greatness of the truly unexpressable Power, and the so great Economies of God... Really more impious than every impiety are these people who claim that the Maker of heaven and earth, who alone is the all-powerful God, above whom there is no other God, was emitted from degeneracy, which in turn was emitted from another degeneracy, so that according to them he is the emission of a third degeneracy. Such a doctrine we must really exhale from ourselves and execrate. We must, moreover, flee far from such people. And the more they boldly affirm and rejoice in their fictions, so much the more should we realize that they are under the influence of the Ogdoad [he is here using their teaching on a Ogdoad of Aeons as part of their theology of the origins of everything- Ogdoad I believe means eight] of wicked spirits.” -Bk 1, Chp. 16, 10-18 (p. 70).

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Bejamin Paloff takes Pot Shot at Czeslaw Milosz

I am annoyed by apparent pot shots at the late, great Czeslaw Milosz in an article in the Nation entitled “Cures for the Common Cold War: Postwar Polish Poetry”.

“Yet Anders is not without serious competition from fellow Polish writers. The most imposing is the latter portion of The History of Polish Literature (1969) by Czeslaw Milosz, with its contentious opinions, occasional errors and imperious language. Milosz describes Wislawa Szymborska--who would receive the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1996, sixteen years after Milosz was awarded it--as a poet who "often leans toward preciosity" and who "is probably at her best where her woman's sensibility outweighs her existential brand of rationalism." Though the Polish language has no definite or indefinite articles, summary judgments like these leave no doubt that Milosz understood what it meant to crown his History with The instead of A. “

While I like both Milosz and Szymborska, I think Milosz may be right about Symborska and Paloff's resort to support from award of the Nobel prize to Symborska is hardly a thoughtful reply. More to the point, the quote Paloff supplies does not serve to support his judgment of Milosz's history as “contentious” and “imperious”. And that snide insinuation about the title of Milosz's history. I suspect Paloff is guided merely by his apparent bias for a postmodern sensibility rather than an actual knowledge of Milosz's demeanor. Couldn't that simply have been the choice of Milosz's editor following publishing conventions of the time?

Paloff cites Jaroslav Anders, whose book he is reviewing, as saying: "Poetry as a 'witness of history,'" Anders writes, "was a constant motif of Milosz's essays as well as of many of his poems. In many cases, this view of literature as mentor and consoler was certainly true. But in time it inevitably led to a one-sided, reductive reading of some of Poland's most complex writers."

Here is the clincher from Paloff: “For the "certain way of reading" to which these essays bid farewell may have had its time and place, but it ultimately proved too orthodox, too programmatic in its vision of good and evil, to survive in a postglobalization, postmodern and--no use avoiding it--post-Communist world.”

Postmodern sensibility should rule is the take away lesson. I'd rather read Milosz. Here for instance is a charming excerpt from him I came across the other day:

“We learned so much, this you know well:
how, gradually, what could not be taken away
is taken. People, countrysides.
And the heart does not die when one thinks it should,
we smile, there is tea and bread on the table.
And only remorse that we did not love the poor ashes in Sachsenhausen
with absolute love, beyond human power...”

-from “Elegy for N.N.” from New and Collected Poems, 1993-2001, p. 267. The poem was written at Berkeley in 1963.

[Sometimes the presumed knowingness of the postmodern strikes me as impoverished and thin, a pitiable delusion, especially beside some the deep seeing eye of one like Milosz. Is appears a knowingness like that of the ancient Gnostics and sophists, inflated with imagination and thin on content and the bold weathering of reality].

Notes on Irenaus's Against Heresies

“Hence, they claim, material substance took its beginning from ignorance and grief, fear and bewilderment.” -Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Bk. 1, Chp. 2, Pt. 3

The Gnostic reviling of creation.
In Irenaeus I am finding many unanticipated thing. He has a deep sense of the connection between doctrine and actions. Perspicuity in describing this system of doctrines, and a calm that is not associated with the use of the term “heresies”. Not only that, even a playfulness. He sees the imaginative nature of the manufacturing by the Gnostics of their doctrines and so he suggests tongue-in-cheek additions to their doctrines. He has a real sense of the wider community of Christians.

He describes some who teach that the spirit of the spiritual is incorruptable and that therefore they can do anything and it will not effect their eternal destiny. For instance, they even attend gladiatorial games and seduce other men's wives. This reminds me of Dostoevsky's remark that if there is no God than everything is permitted. Doctrines need not deny God to produce the same effect. Doctrines need not even be religiously rooted, to the average observer's eyes.

The speciousness of the treatments of Scripture...making it something that they merely attach their system to. An imperial system which is also deceptive. Imperial? Because it seeks to appropriate and convert to its own organization, merely giving lip service to the outward trappings of the religion that it is seeking to leech, to possess like a parasite on a host.