Friday, November 21, 2008

An Ethical Universe

One's first attempt at theology is always one's best and one's worst. Best because every subsequent act of theology will function as an act of reflection on that moment. Worst because every subsequent act of theology will hopefully improve upon reflection. Well, or so we think. Hopefully, one of the things I will lay out as this blog experiment progresses is an argument against natural progress. But I get ahead of myself. :)

So where should I start this theological experiment but my foundation. Ethics. I can already sense some of my more "theistic" friends objecting that my foundation is not God. Hold on just a moment. What excludes ethics and God from being synthetic? Regardless, the foundation I will lay out will not be nearly as firm as any traditional view of God. I actually view that as a benefit. I can also sense some of my more "atheistic" friends objecting that such a foundation is going to be pretty shoddy. After all, isn't ethics just another subjective entity like God? If we are to build a foundation, why not build it on something sturdy and objective like science? Science will have a part in my system, but in the end, objectivity will reveal itself to be an illusion. Stories are always trying to reach at becoming extended (i.e. to move beyond our subjective perspective). However, objective claims are attempts to circumvent this "reaching" in an attempt to assert the universality of one's subjectivity. This can cause some serious problems... the self, oddly enough, is not universal.

So why ethics? Why something so subjective... something so relative... something so weak? Well, for starters, I think that upon reflection it becomes pretty obvious that "ethics" functions as a foundation for most people. I am presenting as an image for "ethics" that which we value, that which we believe to be "right" and "wrong," the "push" by the potential we visualize in the world. Perhaps this is a broad stroke, but it will serve here. As much as the Western world preaches subservience to a scientific objective world, even we are servants to our ethical values.

To make my point, imagine a possible world where "metaphysical" knowledge (knowledge about the world) would result in those "knowing" human beings being more likely to function in unethical ways (whatever those might be). Such a possible world might sound odd, but it wouldn't be too tough to envision a world where an evil god created such to be true. Perhaps as we learned more about the world around us, such knowledge would encourage us to care more for our self than our companions. Specifics are not necessary. Now imagine we live in such a world. How many people would seek objective, "metaphysical" knowledge if they were aware of such a curse to it? In fact, today we pursue "metaphysical" knowledge because we believe it to be ethical, we don't pursue ethics because we believe in to be "metaphysical." Hmm... perhaps metaphysics should be a part of ethics and not the other way around. But I digress.

For the record, I don't actually believe that we live in a world where a majority of "metaphysical" knowledge (if there is such a thing) actually causes us humans to be more likely to act unethically. However, my thought experiment is merely an attempt to show that human beings value ethics over other considerations. Of course, we instantly run into a problem...

The modern escape from subjective concerns was largely a reaction against nihilism and purposeless. After all, subjective questions appear to be unresolvable. Is it right for the government to pay for the food and health care of those who choose willingly not to work? For all the claims of Randianism, we cannot make something objective simply by declaring it so. If the history of ethics (and other subjective concerns) has shown us humans anything, it is that we will utterly fail if we attempt to establish an objective foundation for our ethics. Ultimately, following Camus, as we reflect, we'll realize that all our concerns, beliefs and values are ultimately absurd. We have confronted the infamous existential void. Can we survive it?

So ultimately, our foundation (ethics) is absurd? I hope Camus would forgive me for breaking from his favorite word, but perhaps "unstable" is a better word here. Our ultimate foundation (ethics) is unstable at its very heart. Can we live on uncertain, unstable ground? Is a ghost of ethics enough? Perhaps... perhaps not. But, ultimately, it is all we have. Whether we like it or not, unstable values make up the ground we stand on. As Canada Bill would say, it is the only game in town. Aware of our shaky foundations, let us make the gesture anyway. Let us affirm meaning and ethics in the moment, even as we are aware that we stand on sinking sands. After all, there is too much suffering in the world to simply let us all sink without a fight. Whether it is enough to save us or not, I do not know. But let us try to stand anyway. Let us stand on unstable ground.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Poetic Moment

My brother predicted one day that I would have a blog, and unfortunately for the world, he was right. I have increasingly been having the urge to write my thoughts out in text, and a blog seemed the most appropriate for such an urge.

As the weeks, months and years go on, this blog will be a genealogy of my (slowly) developing thoughts, some more developed than others. Many know me for my Socratic method while functioning as the Devil's Advocate. It is my hope here that I will build a positive worldview for others to critique.

My hope in this blog is to generally focus on an interconnection of three nexuses that my thought circles around. A trinity, if you will. The first if the "theo" part. As Derrida once said of himself, I am probably "rightly described as an atheist." And yet, I am a self-affirmed (if there is such a thing) theist. My views of God will hopefully come clear as this blog progresses, but without a doubt God and theological/religious/philosophical questions will be a constant theme.

Second, and possibly the largest stretch for me is the "poetics" part of this blog. Some may be familiar with the term "theopoetics" popularized by Catherine Keller (although not coined by her) which affirms the creative spark within our (re)action to God. This is in contrast to traditional systematic theology which is typically logical, formal and often incredibly boring and unhelpful. If you are going to tell a myth, make it an interesting one, right? I actually have no problem with theo-logy (a theology of the word) but general modern theology as practiced has some serious problems (as I will try to lay out in later posts). I am actually no poet, but I aspire to the creative spark, and my theo-poetical worldview will draw upon literature as much as it draws upon traditional theological texts. Actually, anthropology, economics, psychology, philosophy, literature, literary criticism, religious studies, theology, physics, sociology, political science and history. I probably forgot some fields too... I feel like I'm writing a dedication page for a book now and the unmentioned discipline will feel ignored. Oops!

Third, the notion of the moment. Not only will my theopoetics be expressed as this blog progresses, but my own views will change as well (of that I have no doubt). I'll have no problem taking back what I previously said, admitting I am wrong, or altering a previous thought. Not for the nature of progress, but rather for the demands of the moment. Truly, every theopoetics (and theology) is momentary. We must remain open to the event (God?).

I hope to be fairly regular in my updates to this blog as I have a lot of initial catch-up to do. Please feel free to comment, express your thoughts and even give arguments against claims that are presented here. Dialogue is a crucial part of theopoetics. Please be a part of that dialogue. :)

Until the next moment,