Monday, September 14, 2009

A Haunted Age

I am often asked about the age we live in. What is it that defines our age? The modern age is fading into the distance, and postmodernity seems incomplete as a description. The modern human spirit yearns for a distinct linearity to its history. One age to another. Progression. Or Regression. In the end, they serve the same purpose.

Much is written about the modern age. Whether it began with the rise of Renaissance individualism, Enlightenment rationalism, or Industrial capitalism seems inconsequential. Ultimately, the modern age was a merging of multiple threads. I have written before about some of the characteristics of the modern age. Perhaps what interests me most about the modern age is the emergent need for rational justification. There were no longer any givens. Every claim, every value, every story needed a justification. (Un)fortunately, the appetite of of justification is insatiable. The Enlightenment hunger for knowledge created its worst nightmare - skepticism.

Even God was devoured. As such, God did not just die on the cross. As every proof regressed into infinity, God died on the as well. All rational justification could place after the therefore sign was empty space. Where God once was, only the space of loss was left.

However, we should resist the urge to claim that the modern age was simply defined by epistemological trends. The blending threads of nationalism, individualism, capitalism and rationalism led to a singularity - triumphalism. Progress was inevitable. The juggernaut of progress would crush any dissent. Progress is only possible with one goal in mind. Every other potential is left a corpse on the ascent. Triumphalism tells us that we can climb only upon the dead. Unfortunately, upon our ascent, with millions of skeletons beneath us, we found nothing in the clouds. The heavens were empty, God was not there. God was among the corpses beneath us. For in the end, the only goal progress has in mind is nihilism.

As such, the modern age was not simply structured around justification. To some extent, philosophers and theologians have been aware of the problem of evil for a long time. However, never before had the problem of evil been so present. Suffering, loss and tragedy, like a flood, threatened to overflow and overwhelm the modern myth of progress. We could no longer be so callous to so much loss. As our understanding of progress crumbled, as we looked down at the corpses beneath us, we became overwhelmed by nausea and vertigo. Meaning itself was threatened.

Depending on who you talk to, postmodernity began at various points in the 20th century. The term itself began in architecture. Postmodernity as a term has been incredibly amorphous. To some it means reaching into the past to find solutions to present dilemmas. To others it means the death of the metanarrative and the loss of illusionary unity. It can also indicate the strange mix-match of contradictory stories, fashions, and tastes (pluralism) even within individuals. Most postmodern theorists agree that the thread that holds the views together is the claim that modernism is inadequate and/or harmful to our current lives.

Many critics of postmodernism claim that its greatest weakness is betrayed in its very name. The term post-modernism seems to indicate an incomplete dependency on modernism, that postmodernism is anemic and cannot stand on its own. In other words, the critics say, postmodernism is not an independent age.

Nor should it be. We should immediately be skeptical of such criticism. After all, it utilizes (problematic) modern categories to judge postmodernism. To modernism, dependence and relationality are faults. To modernism, history travels by singular, linear ages. To modernism, complexity indicates deception.

We should (rightly) discard such criticism as ethically damaging. We are relational, complex creatures that live in a relational, complex world. History is not a singular thread, but rather a complex, patchwork quilt. However, perhaps what is of most interest here is not the criticism itself, per se, but rather the weight such criticism holds with (post)modern audiences. Modern appeals still function in our age. Modern appeals function in a complex relationship with postmodern appeals. The two are mutually dependent on each other. Modernism is not dead. Instead, we live in a multinarrative tapestry. A tapestry still in the process of being woven.

We have not escaped modernism. As we stood in the clouds, rotting corpses beneath us, we still had the urge to climb further. Perhaps we would find salvation one cloud higher. After all, the myth of a linear progression of ages is a modern concept. We cannot state that we have progressed from the modern age to the postmodern age without remaining in the modern age. The ghosts of modernism still haunt us.

(As an aside to my Christian friends, before we are tempted to decry the rise of secularism, religious pluralism and the demise of Christian prominence, we would do well to remember that Christianity still is the dominant thread in the Western (even the world) tapestry. Like modernism, we may pretend that Christianity has faded into the past, but ultimately, Christianity is still dominant. For example, in order to be a successful politician in the United States today, one, effectively, must be a Christian. Or, consider all the (ridiculous) fear that Obama is a Muslim. So what if he was? Political/Cultural/Religious power are all intertwined. As Christians, we are still privileged. The ghosts of Christianity, too, still haunt us).

Perhaps this is the limit of the term 'postmodern.' The term is useful, and while I happily describe myself as a postmodern, the term summons little but the pragmatic. If we are to properly listen to the ghosts of our age, we need new eikons, new images to conjure up our ghosts, to give voices to our (silent) haunting. Modern triumphalism might have the power to kill, but it does not have the power to exorcise the ghosts behind and beneath us. We can take hope in that. We have much to listen to.

Our hauntings are always modal - our ghosts always speak of what could be and what could have been. While modern notions of progress desire to separate possibility from loss, our ghosts speak to their connection. There is always a fine line between what could be and what wasn't. Possibility and loss are intimately connected; both push us further onward, not in the name of progress, but rather in the name of justice. Justice for our ghosts.

It has been pointed out to me that my written work has taken on a distinct hauntotheological tone in recent posts. I have to admit that I am intrigued by the image and gesture of the eikon "ghost." However, we should resist a notion of progress even here. I imagine if we looked back through my earlier work, ghosts would be present (in haunting absence) even there. I would also imagine that ghosts are not unique to our age; tragedy is basically human. All we can do is find the voice of our ghosts.

A haunted age is a potential age. We live within both. The ghosts of God(s) and tragedy are beneath us, before us, behind us, above us, within us. Never purely present, our ghosts haunt us by what we have lost, and push us forward. We cannot simply remain within our haunting, and yet we will always be haunted. Our (silent) ghosts speak, and we not only hear loss but a need for justice. The form of justice depends on the particular ghost. The justice of God's ghost will always be just beyond our grasps, and yet we will (we must) continue to grasp anyway. For our haunted age is both what we have lost and what might be. The promise of justice is potential. And in a world immersed within the pure presence of (post)modernism, within what is, within pure being, we feel incomplete. Our ghosts continue to speak. We continue to hear what wasn't and what could be. And ultimately, that is the age we live in. A haunted age. An age that wasn't and simply could be.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Literal Trick

It has been quite some time since I sat down to write a blog post. As I settle into Claremont, my hope is that I will find the combination of time and inspiration to write/finish several posts on the brink of my mind. Meanwhile, I have a more minor project to work on (although still important). Like most (all?) philosophers before me, within my philosophical endeavors, I create a web of new vocabulary. Obviously, there is a risk in any novel vocabulary - philosophical vocabulary can easily slip into cryptic academic jargon. Margaret is quite good at challenging me on those grounds; she constantly requests more concrete images and asks "yes, but, what does that mean?" And, truly, meaning is at the heart of it all.

As a Derridean, I often find myself caught between ambiguity and clarity. I've been told before that I revel in ambiguity. That isn't exactly true. Ambiguity is not something to revel in. Instead, it is a reality we cannot escape. Every word is a metaphor. Every phrase is a diamond that refracts light in multiple directions. The modern quest for clarity is a noble one, but it is doomed to failure. After all, even the air we breathe refracts and bends light.

On the other hand, ambiguity may be the beginning of every word, but it is not the ending. Somehow, we etch our glittery, rocky words to refract in a certain direction, with a certain intentionality. Lights (words) scatter but illumine before us. Ultimately, we have to be conscious of where we raise our lanterns. We are responsible for our images, our eikons. And yet, words are not simple, pointed lasers. Perhaps we should be happy they are not - lasers are not particularly useful for radiating a space full of twilight.

The philosophical project (like every project) consists of holding our lanterns, of writing and speaking, responsibly. One of those conscious responsibilities is embracing the diffusion of words. We never say simply what we intend to say. Rather than live in an illusion that we can perfectly convey intended meaning, rather than pretend the room we stand in is already bright, in no need of illumination, we should acknowledge and live within our different wor(l)ds of diffusion. There are no singularities, no singular meanings. Clarity is a shattered goal. A shattered goal that never shattered.

As we grope around in the dark, we simply wish we could focus. One image in view. Light obscures the images we wish to see. Potential overload. The multitude of images break us apart. Safety and security are always beyond our sight. And so we pretend. Clarity is pretension. Our desires deceive our eyes, our imag-ination. We live within our literal tricks.

A literal trick can be self-deception or other-deception (and generally it is both). Truly, when we attempt to deceive others, we are also attempting to deceive ourselves. Deception is relational. Scenarios are easy to imagine. One Christian argues with another Christian. "But you aren't being literal in your interpretation," he might say. "The Bible is the literal truth of God, and you are twisting words and ignoring verses." Every singularity is a weapon. Grasping at authority. Poetry is dangerous, it must be eliminated. The deception must continue.

Or, as another example, one individual argues with another. "But you aren't being scientific. Those stories are (ph)/fantasie! They are not real. They are not literally true." In our age, literal truth and truth have become synonymous. Every literal trick is a weapon, a hammer to be wielded. Literal tricks are designed to shatter our different wor(l)ds of diffusion. If all we have is metaphors, then we will have nothing. All or nothing. Unfortunately for the wielders of the literal trick, we already live in a world of ghosts. Ghosts slain/created by literal tricks. All and nothing are derivative. The truth is that truth, itself, alone, is useless.

At the heart of the literal trick is fear. Rather than engage the plurality of images before us, the multiplicity of meaning, we cower from our phantasie, from our phantoms. We create false foundations to stand upon. "Science is all that is real." "The Bible's words are literally true." False limits. This is not a debate between naturalism and super-naturalism. This is about a conflict between stories. Rather than engage other stories, other images, we pretend one singular story is all that contains meaning. Any meaning exterior, any meaning different, is automatically false. What we do not realize is that no light, no meaning escapes a singularity.

The literal trick is hard to avoid. As we hide in the dark, afraid of what we behold from the light of our lanterns, we feel threatened. Potential overload. In our fear and deception, in our pretension, we put out the light of our lantern, and prepare to use the cold, hard metal to bash every lantern (and every lantern-bearer) that approaches. All or nothing. The literal trick strives for the all and chooses nothing. Every shadow, every ghost needs darkness and light to survive. Ambiguity is not a veil to hide behind; it is a ghost that haunts us, a ghost before our vision. With ghostly visions, flickering in the light, we are afraid. However, it is not our ghosts that should frighten us. Instead, before we prepare ourselves to wield the literal trick, we should ask ourselves a question - "What would we have without our ghosts?"

Friday, July 17, 2009

Holistic Heterodoxy

I’m in the process of finishing two posts (The Myth of Cassandra/Paradise and the Road to Hell), but in the meantime, since I have not posted in a while, I wanted to make a shorter, more informal post. The spark for the post concerns something that recently occurred - the Episcopal church voted this week to end the moratorium on gay clergy/bishops. It was heartening to see decisive and compassionate action from the church. While many injustices remain (the Episcopal church is only one of few churches that accept gay clergy, and even beyond that, I have to confess that theoretical acceptance does not always imply practical, local acceptance), hope lives on in decisions like this. With this vote in mind, I wanted to reflect a little on the church itself.

One of the popular buzz-words in church theology these days is “orthodoxy” which is commonly attached to all sorts of suffixes and prefixes. In a time where we become increasingly aware of our global differences, identity has become an increasing concern. The question of orthodoxy, at first glance, is the question of who we are. What are the positive qualities that bring us together? What can we unite toward? Even within the tradition, with thousands of denominations, Christianity is having an identity crisis. What does it mean to be Christian? For those of us that identify as Christian, personal identity and Christian identity are similar - we cannot answer the question “Who am I?” without answering “What does it mean to be Christian?” as well.

Of course, as I have written about before, identity is really a matter of values - “What do you want?” and “Who are you?” are equivalent questions. As such, questions of Christian identity really concern values - “What should a Christian value?” Answers to that question are diverse, to say the least, and no matter how much we may like to pretend, hold little coherence or unity. Christianity is just as diverse and contradictory as most individuals are.

That dissimilarity within the tradition(s) of Christianity have created a problem - desires for safety and peace typically do not coexist well with identity crises. One of the things we are always searching for is stability. Ground to stand upon, so to speak. Differences in other self-proclaimed Christians undermine our footing - our constructed identity becomes unstable. We often perceive other, different Christians as threats to what we value. In other words, consider the claim that person x values y because she believes Christians should value y. If x encounters a Christian that does not value y, their justification for y is undermined. And so the disagreements over Christian identity begin.

One might claim that tolerance solves the identity problem. Perhaps one can have a stable position on one’s Christianity, and still “tolerate” other viewpoints within the tradition. While this might soften the disagreement, the crisis of Christian identity remains. Consider the debates within the church over homosexuality. I know of several individuals that claim they “tolerate” homosexuality without approving of it. Tolerance holds no warmth. Gatherings are warm affairs. Typically, identity can allow for no difference - one identifies by noting similarities. Tolerance is an improvement over active hate, but in the end, tolerance does not solve our search for identity. Differences remains and our shields of tolerance cannot protect us from reality. If identity concerns gathering, tolerance does not allow for different individuals to join in the gathering. Rather it merely provides the (disingenuous) “invitation” for the different others to create their own gathering, their own fire. Tolerance is still a matter of exclusion.

One of the several problems that post-liberal, neo-orthodox and neo-Calvinist theologies suffer from is that they accept the postmodern crisis of identity and isolation and yet step beyond it without truly solving it. Difference exists. Searching for all those that can gather under the same banner (generally a rather colorless, bland banner at that), does not remove those excluded from existence. Drawing harsher and sharper identity border lines over and over again only serves to isolate and exclude further. If such a thing as Christian identity can exist, it is not a matter of self-illusion, self-delusion. We cannot escape our crisis of isolation. Instead, we must discover how to live within it. Together. With our differences.

The question remains - can we speak meaningfully of Christian identity without exclusion? For starters, we would do well to realize that the search for Christian orthodoxy is not simply a post/modern quest. Christianity has always been about difference not just similarity, has always been traditions not just tradition, has always been plurality not just monolithic orthodoxy. The choice has always been there - one can paint a symbol and call it Christianity even meanwhile ignoring/excluding the landscape, or rather, one can embrace the landscape for what it is. The history of Christianity is holistic heterodoxy - unity in difference. The “unity” has been affirmed again and again. The different have been trampled under that unity again and again. And yet, difference remains. We cannot fully exorcise our ghosts. And if anything, Christianity has always been haunted traditions, traditions of the ghost(s). We praise our ghosts as holy. And our ghosts lead us on. With our differences.

Christianity is always before us. Christ is always to come. Christ once asked his disciples to treat the oppressed, to treat the other, to treat the different as though they were Christ. Orthodoxy, in a shallow, illusionary gathering, will leave us closed to Christ’s kiss. We will not hear our silent ghosts. The other will be excluded. Instead, Christian identity must be self-emptying - to become Christian is to live with open arms, open ears, open lips. We become Christian by giving up the quest to be Christian. Christianity is not a matter of gathering and line-drawing. We already live, already hope, already suffer together. To be Christian is to give up “being Christian.” With our ghost(s) behind us and Christ before us. Or, with Christ behind us and our ghost(s) before us. That is how we become Christian.

Friday, June 19, 2009

A Relational Ethic

The father of modern atheism, Ludwig Feuerbach, is relatively unknown today. He wrote a book once considered the "Bible" of atheism (The Essence of Christianity). He was also seen as the heir to Hegelianism. His claim that all religion was a projection of human values deeply influenced Freud and the future of psychology of religion. By the end of his life, however, his popularity had slipped. His drop in popularity was not because of a resurgence of orthodox Christianity. Hegelianism, too, was still popular in the form of Marx. No, rather, Feuerbach lost popularity, as Max Stirner put it, because Feuerbach was "too religious." The question remains: how could an atheist be too religious?

I recall my first impression as I read The Essence of Christianity. Feuerbach sounded haunted. One could tell that he spent his life in the archives, leaving no book unread. In fact, Feuerbach was the premier Luther scholar of his day. In Essence, he quotes Luther more than anyone. Feuerbach was driven, was on a quest. Feuerbach was on a quest to exorcise the ghost of God. And so, as I read Feuerbach, more than anything, I felt the presence of specters.

Feuerbach's primary argument against the existence of God is a simple one. Feuerbach claimed that it was fairly evident that we ascribed our highest values to God. For example, if an individual valued intelligence, their god would be perfectly intelligent. The same would be true of strength, love, etc. Feuerbach claims that the culture, age, sex and race of god for a believer is typically simply a reflecting pool. Rather than ascribe existence to a reflection, it would be best to recognize that the ideals exist in the viewer. Perfection lies in humanity. For Feuerbach, our religious beliefs are mirrors before beholders. We are our own paragon.

This is what caused Barth to condemn Feuerbach. But his words were not a simple condemnation of Feuerbach. Barth wrote that modern theology was corrupt with high views of humanity, triumphalist views of human kind. Barth claimed that these views conflicted with revelation, where humans are depraved creatures. Writing during and after the world wars, it is hard to blame Barth for his views. One can see some irony in Barth's claims about Feuerbach, however. Barth's words are not a simple condemnation of Feuerbach, but rather they wield Feuerbach as a weapon. A dualism is created. The Gospel or Feuerbach's false triumphalism. Revelation or false idealism. Truth or lies.

The irony runs deeper than this, however. There are specters beneath Feuerbach the weapon, beneath Barth's shallow reading. One of Feuerbach's favorite words is "Phantasie." For Feuerbach, religion is pure phantasie. Phantasie is an insult. There is what is real, and there is "pure phantasie." Revelation or realism. Truth or lies.

Or perhaps not. Feuerbach's theory of projection is fairly complicated. After all, Feuerbach cannot simply claim that religion is the projection of values. Feuerbach must explain where those values arise from. Whence come values?

Values arise from our experiences of humanity. Or more simply put, we value what we value because of our experiences with others. Value is a matter of relationship. And in the end, we are what we value. We are our relationships. We are a nexus of value-imbedded relationships.

Those values are not simply a beginning, however. Feuerbach claims that we project our values on others, even while they arise out of our experiences with others. Our ideals become part of our relationship. Our values become part of the other. Values are both our beginning and ending. And yet, our values do not exist. Values pull, values push, but they are not a matter of being. Values are not presence. Values haunt. "Ghosts blow where they choose, and you hear the sound of them, but you do not know where they come from or where they go."

Truly, Feuerbach was more clever than Barth led modern theologians to believe. Religion is "phantasie." This does not mean religion is false. Rather, religion is a haunting, a matter of phantoms. Feuerbach was cognizant of the fact that it is difficult, nearly impossible, to live with our ghosts. So, Feuerbach attempted to exorcise our specters. Feuerbach recognized that our values do not exist, and yet they still hold great power (the only power) over us. All we can do is follow our ghosts. This is why Feuerbach was condemned for being "too religious." Within Feuerbach's failed exorcism, Feuerbach more subtly acknowledged his own haunting. Materialists have no place for ghosts.

While it is unclear whether Feuerbach recognized this or not (my guess is that he did), the practice of exorcism is not exactly possible. Feuerbach claimed that once one recognized that religion was all projection of one's own values, one should internalize those values and remove the projection. We will have power over our ghosts if we bring them within ourselves. Our values can no longer be a matter of relationship. Rather, values must be, strictly put, selfish. We must remove the power of our ghosts. We must transform the persuasive, pleading power of our ghosts to the coercive power within ourselves.

(At this point it is important to point out that Feuerbach was a humanist in the strongest sense of the word. Feuerbach did not believe that values could arise out of experiences with non-human others, nor did he have a particularly helpful view of nature. However, it seems possible to extend Feuerbach's philosophy beyond the human-other. It is not a leap to consider the animal as other, or even nature as other. We would be wise to consider that we have many ecological ghosts - ghosts we should bear witness to).

However, no matter how hard we try, we cannot internalize our ghosts. For our specters are always external and internal - ghosts live within our act (of value) itself. As Derrida recognized, the other is a ghost of a sort as well, a ghost beyond our presence. The stranger as specter. And as Feuerbach recognized, values arise and blend with our experiences of others. Values live within relationships - there are no purely internal values. Once we value, those values have become part of our relationships. The only way to internalize our values would be to destroy our relationships. The end of our relationships would end our values. The only internal values are non-existent values. The only escape from ghosts is death. Even then, one more ghost is born.

This is why Feuerbach lost his popularity. Our desire for peace and tranquility pleads that Feuerbach's enterprise succeed. We pray that Feuerbach succeed in exorcising ghosts. Instead, within his failure, we are simply reminded of the haunting we so desperately wish to escape. Feuerbach becomes one more ghost, one more specter, haunting us to our limits. We cannot escape our ghosts.

So, then, Feuerbach discovered a dilemma without discovering a solution. Or, perhaps, there is no solution to be dis-covered. Perhaps the solution is in plain sight. Perhaps our ghosts are visible. The solution does not lie within Barth's unwieldy weapon. The solution does not lie within an act of impossible internalization. We cannot internalize what is already part of us. Remember, we are our relationships. Our values, our ghosts, already are who we are. If we are to live, we agree to be haunted. Life is value. And within that life, we agree to live with ghosts.

Practically, what does this all mean? A while ago, I asked if momentary theopoetics would create a completely arbitrary ethic. Can we discern any semblance of right and wrong? Is preference anything more than preference? Should we hold some values as opposed to other values? Is life completely arbitrary? Is life completely relative?

Feuerbach's in/out-sight was that there is a difference between the two last questions. Feuerbach (and I) would answer the first question with a negative - life is not arbitrary. However, Feuerbach (and I) would answer the second question with an affirmative - life is relative. One of the modern problems has been equating the two. Relativism has received a bad name. At its roots, though, relativism is not absolute arbitrariness. In fact, relativism, at its heart, resists absolutes. Relativism is the insight that ethics is a matter of relati-onship. Ethics is relati-onal. Ethics is consideration of values. Values are relationships. By living, by valuing, we are within relationships - we are our relationships. Ethics is not a matter of objects or subjects, of static entities (self/other). Ethics is not the consideration of how we should treat ourselves or others, as such. Instead, ethics is the art of considering the direction of our relationships. Ethics is the consideration of how we should live within relationships. Relationships are primary.

Relativism has been slandered. However, we should not give up on the power of words. I am a relativist. I am not a nihilist, nor am I an arbitrary-st. As we consider ethical dilemmas (what values should we hold? how should we follow our values? how should we resolve conflicts between our values?), we should be honest with ourselves. Every ethical dilemma is born from our values - what our relationships are at that moment. That is the entire point behind the gesture of momentary theopoetics - every decision, every act, every event is momentary. Every moment is a locality of relationships. To remove ourselves from the moment is to separate ourselves from our locality, is to sever our relationships. In the end, we cannot exorcise our ghosts. But we can kill them. We can kill them with our own death. Suicide. We would do best to remember, however - justice never rests in the grave.

Even the choice of life and death is driven by values. When we confront the void, we face a decision. At that moment, with the temptation of isolation before us, even then we are not alone. Our ghosts (values, others, god?) are always with us. And, at that moment, we will consider several questions. Or, perhaps, we will hear the almost silent whispers of ghosts. Will we live with our values? Will we live within our relationships? Will we live in a world of phantasie?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Camusian Haunting

As promised, below is another recent work of mine. This time, it is an essay I wrote for a recent class I took on Camus. While some familiarity with Camus' works will help with understanding the essay, the gist (and point) of the essay should convey just fine to everyone. There are actually two essays below (two prompt questions), and the essays were written in class on a time limit. As such, the essays are a bit rough. I really enjoyed writing them however, and I think they have some worthwhile things to say. It'll be pretty obvious how this connects up with my thoughts in this blog. Enjoy!

A Camusian Haunting

Everything in the philosophy of Camus is a matter of relationship. The relationship between humankind and the world gives birth to the absurd. The relationship between a desire for happiness and a lack of hope gives birth to consciousness. In the relationship between a witness and oppression, duty is born. Relationships are fundamental. For Camus, however, perhaps the most relational term, love, is a term that resists pregnancy, resists giving birth to anything. Or, perhaps more properly put, Camus resists love - love (like God) is a ghost that haunts Camus. An entire list of specters could be conjured up within Camus' works - love, women, God, etc. However, these ghosts, and love specifically, are not challenged apart from any relation. Rather thematically speaking, these ghosts support Camus' philosophy from beneath - below Camus' ontology is a hauntology. It is Camus' relationship with his ghosts (namely love) that gives to Camus' philosophy. As such, it is a given that Camus' characters, as aspects of Camus, will be haunted by love as well. It is the claim of this essay that love is made difficult in Camus' works because within the willful interplay between subjects (love), Camus' entire philosophy is born.

A shallow reading of Camus might lead one to believe that Camus' goal throughout his work is to exorcise his ghosts - women, God and love (we are never haunted by just one ghost). However, an interesting passage in The Plague reveals that Camus recognized he was haunted and did not desire for the haunting to end. In Rieux's conversation with Tarrou about God, Rieux states that it is best to act out of duty, even while a silent God watches the tragedy of the world. Camus does not desire to kill God, for God is already dead. Rather, it is the silent, haunting ghost of God, the God that is love (1 John), that Camus recognizes and lives with. It is no surprise, however, that love and God play a similar role in Camus' hauntology. The difference, of course, is that women, typically, can speak, and as the embodiment of love for Camus, love too can speak. God remains silent.

Consider another instance from The Plague, a fascinating case because the speaking woman is a ghost from the past. Grand's desire and constant failure to write the perfect sentence, to hit the mark with the right "marks," is given born from his past tragedy, by his wife leaving, by Jeanne walking out and leaving Grand with a ghost to write upon (perhaps not unlike how Camus wrote). The few words the ghost Jeanne utters are telling - "saying how happy she was." Happiness and love are often not far from each other in Camus' works (although they should not be equated). Love is the ghost's "voice," the nostalgic "voice" that gives the ghost power, that gives the ghost the power to hold up Camus' philosophy. This is because, like God, love is dead (or dying) - and yet love still speaks from beyond the grave, as it does to Grand staring through the shop-window. That is where he hears Jeanne's voice. It is this tension, this tragedy (that we do not have freedom from our ghosts) that gives us the pain that we suffer from. And yet, it is this "loveless world" (that once had love), a "dead world," that "duty" is born from, that the absurd is born from, that consciousness is born from. It is the "crav[ing] for... a loved face... a loving heart," that is the ground for Camus' philosophy. Love is challenged, properly speaking, because we cannot resurrect out ghosts - the rebel's path is endless (Sisyphus). But on the other hand, it is the fact that that challenge has voice - a non-present, non-ontological voice - that the duty so present in The Plague is born.

We might also consider the case of A Happy Death, where Mersault cannot utter the word "love" to his wife (as Meursault in The Stranger cannot to Marie), cannot give voice to his ghosts. However, the ghosts still have voice, even if it cannot be given. For love is born from the interplay between subjects. To some degree, one might say that a ghost of love exists between Mersault and Catherine as well (a ghost Camus could not fully exorcise from his work, as it was part of an earlier draft). However, there is definitely love between Mersault and the sea (another subject), particularly within their act of lovemaking toward the end of the novel. This is the climax of the novel, Mersault's peak moment of consciousness, and yet it is conceived from an act of lovemaking between subjects. But even there, "harmony" is lost, a "ice current" disrupts the act of love. Love cannot persist fully in the present - it is a ghost born between subjects. And, to modify a Derridean phrase, "The sea is every bit other." That otherness of the ghost of the sea simultaneously conceives love (and Camus' philosophy built upon it) and provides the terms such that the moment it is conceived it dies and becomes a ghost. Love is difficult in Camus' works because it must be. - it must be a ghost for Camus' philosophy to live. Love is aborted.

Finally, one can consider another interplay between Camusian ghosts - this time between women and love. In State of Siege, the climax of the play finds Diego embodying duty and Victoria embodying love. Fascinatingly, a twist occurs - Diego dies and Victoria lives. However, duty lives on with the consciousness of the fisherman, where as love dies with the death of Diego (hence Victoria's pain) - for love is a matter of relationship. And as Diego states, Victoria has something to teach - she (women) are integral to consciousness. In order to teach, one must have a voice. But this voice is a ghost. For the relationship is dead, and so love becomes an un-exorcisable ghost. But we should be glad that Camus "failed" in exorcising love from his works (if that was ever his intent at all). For that failure gave voice to ghosts. And it is within that difficult haunting that Camus' philosophy is born.

* * *

Pain is a tragic thing to build a work upon. Still, we build from what we have - from the one truth we know (Camus on the Absurd in The Myth of Sisyphus). While one might be tempted to pinpoint Camus' work on comforting terms such as the sea or the mother, that comfort becomes what it is, becomes necessary, because of pain and suffering. In other words, for Camus, suffering is fundamental. But rather than suffering being fundamentally ontological, it is fundamentally hauntological. Ghosts hold up Camus' works, and it is pain (and loss) that are at the heart of ghosts - ghosts haunt because of past tragedy (consider the case of Hamlet). In a survey of Camus' works, pain is critical, and a study of this pain reveals "haunting" is also fundamental to Camus' work.

While the term itself "pain" is critical to all of Camus' works, it is particularly present in Caligula, The Plague, and The Rebel. In Caligula, while Caligula denies it, we constantly find the characters stating that Caligula's irregularities are from the loss of his sister - and Caligula flees upon her death (and cries later in the play). Whatever the relationship, it is this loss that is the trigger for Caligula's consciousness, this pain that gives birth to Caligula's revolt. In turn, Caligula inflicts heavy suffering on others; more pain, more ghosts, more consciousness. In the case of The Plague, it is the plague itself that embodies pain, particularly unjustifiable pain (in the case of the death of the innocent Magistrate's son). From pain, from the plague, duty is born. Rieux begins to rebel, even if in the end he only writes death certificates. In the case of The Rebel, we find the theoretical support for pain being fundamental. The rebel is born from a slave's desire to gain what is basic - what is just - in an act of rebellion. That is his/her protest - and that protest is born from pain. For in order to gain, one must have lost (even if not historically) what one is due. And in the end, loss and pain are the same. Pain is the loss of presence - of the ontological becoming hauntological - presence becoming absence - and it is from this absence that revolt is born. This is why pain must be evaluated in Camus' works, because pain leads to ghosts, and ghosts lead to revolt. And for Camus, revolt is everything.

While the fundamental nature of pain changes little in Camus' works (loss can be seen vividly in A Happy Death and The Plague), what ghosts the pain leads to does "evolve" from work to work, since the pain changes. Within A Happy Death, pain leads to happiness. Within The Plague, pain leads to revolt. In The Stranger, the simple pain of being under the hot oppressive sun eventually leads to consciousness. Of course, all of these terms are critical to Camus' philosophy, and all of them are related. Regardless, the emphasis is different because the pain is different for each character - every ghost is unique.

Which brings us to a new word for Camus - Camus hardly ever speaks of ghosts explicitly. However, when one considers the fundamental nature of pain in Camus' works, and the philosophy of the Absurd that arises from that pain, a relationship between pain and Camus' revolt can be seen - and that relationship is a haunting. Camus is haunted by God (through the existence of pain). Camus is haunted by women (through loss and the subject as other). Camus is haunted by love (through pain). These ghosts drive Camus' philosophy of the absurd - drive Camus' philosophy of futile revolt, of Sisyphus' futile stone-pushing. For our ghosts (of pain) drive us on. We hear their voices - even in their silence. Even God is present in absence, has voice in silence for Camus. We cannot escape our ghosts. Nor should we try. Rather, we should let our silent pain (ghosts) speak. We should live with the Absurd, live within revolt. We should live within our haunting.

Monday, June 8, 2009


After my last few posts, I recalled a poem I had written that connected well with the topics I have been considering. I had originally posted the poem on facebook, but after a few edits, I feel like it is much more presentable now. As I mentioned in my first post, I am not a poet, but I enjoyed working on this poem, and the themes expressed in the poem follow up my last post well. I also have a few old essays I'm hoping to post at some point as well. For now, enjoy the poem!


Chronos devoured real by
Zeus, stone, shards
The spoil of war,
Death washes anew and
Fire baptizes
Rising the chariot falls
Scattered through the stars
Broken phoenix
Fractured by Apollo's hand
Flash, no more eternity, photons
Follow, no more moon
The surface rough
Eidos defaced
The ends of man.

Envision nothing to see
Nothing not no thing
As a prism
crushed - light ended
Runs through the streets
An imagination deranged
"Dreams are dead
God lives

Tau, dying
God haunts
Rustling, trees lined by roads
And life
ink spread out on ice
blood collecting on our windowsill
Dry - skin left, by tears, laughter
Can we look into a void we live in?

The father died
Three days ago
If only time had

Friday, June 5, 2009

Haunted by God

Let me begin this post by telling a story told in Mark Yaconelli's book "Contemplative Youth Ministry," (page 188). At one point, Mark was a youth pastor in Portland, Oregon, and befriended several girls who would regularly cut school to smoke on a downtown corner. Most of the girls had been abused and abandoned. They were also open about how they didn't believe in God. One day, Mark asked them to try an experiment - reflect, take in the sights of the street corner, and just for a moment suspend disbelief and believe in God. He asked them, where would God be in this moment?

One said that God would be in the sleeping drunk across the street, waiting for a place to sleep. Another mentioned the birds singing, unnoticed by the busy pedestrians. The last one Mark mentions is also the most powerful. The girl said "If God exists, he would be in the seeds of the grass that are still waiting for the sunlight, waiting to grow, underneath the pavement and cement," (189).

I remember reading this passage for the first time and stopping dead in my tracks. The story still stops me every time I consider it. God is within tragedy. God is not redemption of suffering, the sanctification of tragedy, nor even the salvation from our pain. God is impossible possibilities, the fragile (in)actualizable potential before us, the grass trapped beneath cold cement. "Waiting to grow..." Beauty on the brink. Tragedy for what is lost. God is a ghost.

I've spent a lot of time storytelling about potential. Potential is not being or non-being. Potential doesn't exist-as-such, nor does it not-exist. Potential is in relationship with existence and non-existence, is dependent on our locality, but it is not our locality. Potential is a ghost.

I have also mentioned several times the possibilities of overlap between potential-language and god-language. Within the Judeo-Christian tradition, God is to come, God is messianic, God is before us. God does not exist for us, in the moment, as an "entity," as other "objects" like chairs, tables, etc. God is potential. God is a dream. God is a ghost.

Allow me to tell another story. Once upon a time, within our culture, God existed. Meaning and Value had grounds. Our paradigm of knowledge was different. Givens were allowable. And one given was God. But then came a paradigm shift. The Enlightenment.

Givens were no longer allowable. Justification was necessary. So, starting with Descartes, the (in)famous tradition of foundational justifications began. Can we start with nothing and prove our foundations? Can we discover ground beneath our feet? God had no grounds, so the existence of God flickered out. God could not fit within our scientific paradigm. So, as Nietzsche infamously put it, God died. And contra normal-belief, Nietzsche was in a state of mourning about that fact.

Of course, the story becomes more complicated. Because the Enlightenment was a wolf with an insatiable appetite, a wolf that began to devour itself. Even science had groundless foundations. And so, the wolf devoured itself.

However, while the ground might have been revealed to be no ground at all, the buildings were already built upon it. The structures already had form. And so, without support, the structures were in free-fall.

The problem, of course, is quite insidious. For any attempt to build a new foundation is doomed to fail from the outset in our paradigm. After all, if you are in a structure in free-fall, building downwards isn't going to help. Structurally, the building was built with God beneath it. And now, God is dead. We cannot escape our foundationless structures.

But the signs of God are drawn all over the structures. For the structures were built upon God. And, by that, I don't mean that God built the structure. Rather, I mean we built it upon God. God's writing is all over the world because we put it there.

We cannot build a new foundation because we remain haunted by God. For while God is dead, we have failed time and time again to exorcise the ghost of God. We have failed to exorcise the ghost of God, because the ghost is a ghost of the house, of our house in free-fall. Remember, God's writing is all over the house. And tragedy is omnipresent. The only way to exorcise God would be to destroy the building (and the builders, i.e. ourselves). The only way to exorcise God is to step into the void. Otherwise, God will continue to haunt us. The world is full of potential whether we like it or not.

This is a dangerous story. It is precariously close to a myth of disintegration. The difference, is that unlike a myth of disintegration, this story does not pretend that the past is a guide to our future, at least in the traditional sense. The past is a context, is a provider of our locality, but it is not a solution, the past is not potential. This is where I break with the many traditionalists in our world today. We live in a predicament of our own making, of our own moment. The past will not save us.

That said, I do not present this story as a history, but rather, as a story of our moment. I don't pretend to claim that certainty was a thing of the past. I wouldn't be surprised to discover that God, too, was a ghost for the ghosts of the past. The point of this story is not to say something about what happened in the past. The point of this story is to say something about God. God is dead. But there is hope. For God is also a ghost.

Many would have us believe that there are only two sides to the debate about God. On one hand, there are those that are convinced that God is dead. The tomb of God is undisturbed. God cannot haunt us, because God is not even before us, as our dreams, as our potential. Death of God theology (Altizer) was famous (briefly) in the 60s and 70s for claiming that theology was possible in the wake of the death of God. I agree. Altizer was wrong, however, in his belief that God was dead for good. God is to come as a ghost. We live in a haunted age.

On other hand, there are theologians who are convinced that the death of God has corrupted everything. One of my theologian friends, Dan Peterson, told me once that nearly every recent theology is merely an expression of Death of God theology. I took Dan to mean this as an insult. Dan decries that God is contingent today, that the transcendence of God has been lost. I won't disagree. God is dead. But resurrecting God is not in our ability. The foundation is lost. We can no longer build downwards. We cannot make God an entity once again. We can and should mourn. But we cannot walk backwards. Instead, we should be open to our haunting. We should let our silent ghost, our God(s), speak. With the help of ghost(s) we can still create, we can still build, even upon our foundationless home in free-fall.

There was a heresy that was condemned in the ancient church called Patripassionism. The heresy was the belief that God (the Father) died on the cross. For three days, the world was without God. For three days, there was no resurrection. There was no atonement. No redemption. Just God, dead, on a cross. We are in those three days. We cannot escape them. Can we live in the wake of the cross? With tragedy before and behind us, embodied on the cross, God is a ghost. Can we live within the haunting?

God is "in the seeds of the grass that are still waiting for the sunlight, waiting to grow, underneath the pavement and cement." God is a ghost, the potential that speaks of what could be in a silent voice, a voice under concrete. Such fragile potential. Within that fragility is tragedy. Mark continues his story. Years later, he inquired about the girl who spoke of God as the seeds of grass under concrete. He found out she had become addicted to heroin, contracted AIDS, and disappeared. The girl became a ghost. There is no redemption in such loss. But perhaps we can find the strength to live within our haunting. Perhaps we can listen to ghosts. And perhaps, we can start pulling up pavement.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The Cry of Freedom

A couple recent artistic encounters have led me to ponder the nature of freedom (although I'll confess it is a favorite topic of mine to consider). The first was Angels in America, a HBO miniseries from a few years ago, based off two plays by Tony Kushner, that had been recommended to me. The miniseries constantly plays with the interchange between duty and freedom, and the ambiguous part love plays in both. If you haven't seen it, I heartily recommend it.

The second was the graphic novel series Lucifer, by Mike Carey, recommended to me by my brother and sister-in-law. Seeing as Lucifer's sin is depicted commonly as a desire for freedom from God's constraints, one can imagine that freedom (and duty) were also considered heavily in the series. The series is also quite good, and I also heartily recommend it.

The two stories converged within my thoughts in odd places. After all, Angels in America is set during the 1980s during the advent of AIDS and is very earthy and depressingly real. Lucifer, on the other hand, is a myth of myths, a story of an (in)famous character. However, the two share a similar perspective - both Angels in America and Lucifer are absolutely fantastical, but the fantasy is always grounded in reality. For those not familiar with the universe of Sandman (which Lucifer is a spin-off from), fantasies and gods are made real by belief. Faith act(ualize)s. Gods are made real by stories. However, it is not a one-way relationship. These actualized gods and fantasies can, in turn, change the world for better or worse, and in turn change the circumstances for the believers. An endless chain of beliefs and believers. If I didn't know better, I might say that the similarities between such and my claims about the interplay between potential and localities were beyond belief. But I digress...

Angels in America takes a similar approach. Despite the grit (in fact, I would argue, partly because of it), the dreams of the characters take form, in angels, companions and fantasies. Those fantasies in turn change how the characters perceive themselves and (re)act. Another circle.

Both consider the interaction between human desire, fantasy and reality (Lucifer actually begins there). What is possible? What are we free to do?

Today, freedom is quite the banner. One should fight for freedom. One might even have to kill for freedom. One has a duty to protect freedom. The funny thing about freedom, however, is it is a bannerless banner. For freedom is always about something; one always stands for the freedom to do something. Freedom is always a banner that hides another cause, a fancy disguise for another value. It is impossible to value pure freedom. Which is not such a terrible thing. Absolute freedom would be a monster.

Consider the cases of freedom-banner waving today. Freedom to vote (democracy campaigns), freedom for women (feminism), freedom to buy and sell unimpeded (free market). Some causes might have more justification than others. However, the difference between freedom for women and the freedom to kill is a value difference - it the value itself which makes the specific banner of freedom bearable or unbearable. A banner we might be able to lift, or a banner that will be left on the ground.

The banner of freedom is always waved for an unactualized ideal, a potential. As Lucifer states, the difference between freedom and greed is that the latter is a desire for what one can already have. Or to quote Angels in America "The white cracker who wrote the national anthem knew what he was doing when he set the word 'free' to a note so high nobody could reach it - that was deliberate. Nothing on earth sounds less like freedom to me." Here, at first, an apparent contrast is born. That is what makes freedom so complicated - freedom is both an ideal and an actuality. Freedom is present before an act and after, is present in the locality and in the act(ualization), in the potential. Freedom can both be present and before us at the same time. Freedom is not just in our act. Freedom can be before us. Pleading for us to act(ualize). Pleading for us to reach the unreachable. For freedom is impossible.

Freedom is impossible because duty is inescapable. In fact, freedom and responsibility are two sides of the same coin. This is the whole point Derrida wants to make with undecidability - because decisions are undecidable, ethics is born - we are responsible. And, just as freedom has a predicate, so to, duty is never alone. 'You ought' is an incomplete sentence. Ought, should and 'am free' are all transitive verbs. Which, is why, of course, freedom and responsibility are a single coin. They are both created by our values. Values lie beneath. Our cries of freedom always come from our values. Our cries of duty always come from our values. But it is freedom and duty that give voice to our cries. Otherwise, our values would be silent. We would cry silently.

The inseperability of freedom from duty ought to be remembered (an undecidable responsibility). Our postmodern culture today treasures freedom as a concept above all else. In fact, freedom has become the stable ground many attempt to stand upon. Freedom is uncompromisable - striving for freedom is always good. As much as I respect Liberation Theology, for example, whenever I encounter Liberation theology of any sort (feminist, poverty, black, etc.) I want to ask "freedom for what?" Freedom cannot simply be the only end. Which is not, of course, to say Liberation theology's causes are bad. But let us be honest. Freedom is not an end to itself. What are we free to do? If we are reaching for an impossibility, the question remains - what should we desire?

One of the interesting themes in Angels in America is the interaction between love, freedom and responsibility. One might, at first, think that love only gives birth to duty - love (as a value) tells us what is right, how to act - it binds us to who we love. But, it is not that simple. Bitterly, love often pushes us to taste freedom as well. A character leaves his love because he cannot watch him die. Whether he remained or left, his value (love) would be driven either by responsibility or freedom. The act(ualization), the expression of love is different either way. And in the end, the character realizes that the desire for freedom from personal suffering, freedom from love, was wrong, was irresponsible. But, ultimately, he ran because of love. His freedom was a desire from love. Or rather, a desire to lose it. For we must admit, for as much as freedom is truly a just cause, freedom is often also a desire to avoid suffering. The difficulty remains in discerning what we must bear and what we must let go. When should we be Atlas, when should we bear the weight of our world? Even within the decision to hold up the world, the interplay between freedom, duty and our values remain. Sometimes we can live into the decision joyfully. Sometimes, the decision is pure tragedy. Either way, the act of taking on or shrugging the role of Atlas should never be taken lightly.

At times, cries of freedom become even more dangerous than personal suffering. While I'll confess I'm made uncomfortable by Liberation theologians staging violent revolutions in defense of the poor, I can at least respect such acts. If freedom as a banner is to empower, let it at least empower the unempowered. Instead, today, the country of "freedom," the country that waves the banner of freedom more than any other, is a juggernaut, a country of greed as opposed to freedom - we want what is within our grasp (not the impossible). We want a neo-colonial world, a world that values what we do. Freedom hides our real causes. The bombs, however, are not so hidden.

I'll confess, globalization is inevitable. But let us be honest. Let us admit that freedom is often a codeword for capitalism. Freedom a codeword for rule by majority. Freedom a codeword for a loss of duty. And, the last codeword, a loss of duty, is least surprising. In our shifting world, where nothing is stable, with ghosts haunting us, we have no ground to stand upon. Our values are groundless. It is painful, a struggle, an act(ualization) upon itself, to maintain our values in the face of their groundlessness. So why not give up the struggle, give up on values, and duty? Can't we all stand for freedom? Can't we stand for the ability for everyone to be free to construct their own story? Or, so the story goes.

Unfortunately, freedom is always about something. The banner of freedom is always painted by our values. And so, freedom too, is groundless. Beyond this, however, while we live upon groundless ground, we do not live within a vacuum. One person's freedom is another's restriction. One person's freedom to kill is another's restriction from living. One person's freedom to live within a free market is another person's restriction (to starve to death). We live in a relational world. And, as Camus might say, there are limits. There are boundaries. Within every freedom is duty. Within every locality is potential. To act(ualize), we need both freedom and duty. An aporia. And so, we continue to reach for potential. We continue to reach for the impossible. With freedom and responsibility just barely beyond our grasps.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Process, not Progress: the Myth of Disintegration

In the world we live in, persistence and progress are everything. If the world cannot become a better place, life is meaningless. If that better world does not persist, life is meaningless. We cling to persistence and progress out of desperation. We cannot let our world crumble. Or rather, we strive to put it back together, after we believe it to have fallen apart. We live within the myth of disintegration.

It is fascinating how the myth of disintegration can take a myriad of forms. On one hand, the Garden of Eden comes to mind. Once upon a time, the world was ideal, our locality was a utopia. Evil was non-existent. Then everything fell apart. An act of disobedience occurred. The ideal shattered. The story of that ideal was passed on. Even as the world fell apart, the story makes us yearn for that ideal. If our utopia disintegrated, it is our responsibility to put the world back together. The puzzle may have fallen apart, but we have the exact plan necessary to put it back together. We appeal to what the world once was as an authority. The myth of disintegration becomes a blueprint for integration. For one thing, according to the traditional myth of Eden, there was once a time when women were subservient. The ideal has disintegrated. Humanity has fallen into sin. It is up to the myth's listener (or teller) to reintegrate the world. The sins of the present must be stopped by the ideals of the past.

Before any secularists nod their heads, however, they should consider that the myth of disintegration has persisted beyond Christianity. While the traditional myth of disintegration in the west (the Garden of Eden) had a very low theological anthropology (i.e. humans are sinful beings now), the modern rendition of the tale has a very high theological anthropology (i.e. humans are basically good). I've been told that the pieces for the modern rendition began in the Renaissance, but I'll confess I'm more familiar with its incarnation in the modern era. Beginning with figures such as Locke, Smith and Rousseau, a philosophy of progress had found breath. Hegel's later philosophy of progress was simply an extension of what had come before him. For all four, humans were naturally good until corrupted by entering restrictive society. For the Garden of Eden, freedom was the sin. For modern philosophers, restriction was the sin. Regardless, we had fallen from our former freedom, and only by embracing innate human goodness could we return to that freedom. Freedom was before us, just as for Eden, it was behind us.

An interesting byproduct of the myth of disintegration on modern thought is the way historical arguments function. It is a common event in modern historical studies to search back through the archives for more earlier actualizations of values we have today. The question of primacy (what came first?) only makes sense within a myth of disintegration - whatever came first is the ideal, the utopia. Consider a modern historical claim such as "hunter-gatherer communities were equal, before the advent of agriculture" and it will become clear that an ideal is being expressed within the historical claim. It is also important to note that outside a myth of disintegration, issues of primacy hold no weight. Within the moment, why should it matter what came first?

One might claim that because of the freedom/restriction dualism, the modern myth is quite different from the traditional myth. If one searches further however, chilling parallels reveal themselves. The absolute past is an ideal. The more immediate past is a state of disintegration. One way or another, progress must be made. The utopia of a past world must become a present reality. Moderns are open about the ability for humans, out of their goodness, to re-present a past ideal. Progress from our state of disintegration can occur. Christian Disintegrationists are more subtle about their claims for progress. After all, to Christian Disintegrationists, humans are sinful. We cannot make progress alone. But we still have a myth; we still have an ideal. As a Christian Disintegrationist might utter, with God's help, we can still find that ideal. Heaven is before us.

After all, isn't heaven the ultimate utopia, the ultimate fruit of progress? Heaven is a place where evil no longer exists (and for some, freedom no longer exists). Heaven is not instantaneous. Heaven persists for eternity. The myth of disintegration has come full circle. The ideal of the absolute past has become the ideal of the absolute future. Disintegration can be reintegrated. An ideal afterlife is before us (at least those that live into God's progress). Once the myth of disintegration has been fulfilled, once our ideals have been actualized, that they would persist is natural. And in our modern world, isn't the individual valued above all else, above freedom, above money, above one's country? We yearn so much for our own persistence.

The myth meets tragedy. The moment is born. On one hand, the sharer of the myth of disintegration would have us believe that the myth began with tragedy - began with an act of disintegration, of a locality ceasing to exist. On the other hand, tragedy itself is a myth. Tragedy did not pre-exist the story; tragedy is the story. That tragedy begins with our unfulfilled ideals. That tragedy begins with the fact that we, as individuals, die every moment. Nothing persists. There is nothing deeper than our ephemeral world, our locality of vicissitudes. There is nothing more tragic than the fact that our ideals are not absolute - no matter what chronology we place them on, past or future, our ideals have yet to remain actualized. They are potential and nothing more.

The irony of calling heaven a utopia is the double-entendre behind the word. On one hand, eu-topia can mean good-place, a good locality. On the other, u-topia can mean no-place, or a non-existent locality. Heaven is always before us. We cannot reach back to our absolute past for justification. We must not yearn for an absolute future. Progress is never made. All victories are momentary. The myth of disintegration provides a chronology. For the momentary potentialist, chronology itself has disintegrated. Persistence is an illusion. Our ideals are fragile, dreams we can be awoken from. Dreams that can change localities in an instant. Dreams that can become nightmares. Dreams that haunt us.

I have placed my cards on the table. Here is one place where I break with traditional Christianity. The only heaven, the only afterlife, is a no-place, a flickering potential. Here is one place where I break with process theology. The Hegelian underside of process theology, namely its metaphysics of progress, I can have no part of, no matter how much I wish to. Here is one place where I break with modern liberalism. No matter how much we wish it otherwise, our envisioned potentials are momentary. We cannot improve the world (which is not to say we shouldn't try). This is the place I stand within, the topia that gives birth to u-topia, the locality that gives birth to potential. This is the place I dream, the place I am haunted.

We live in a broken world that was never broken, a disintegrated world that never disintegrated. There never was an event of disintegration. The future will remain disintegrated. There was no absolute fall, nor will there be absolute salvation. We are haunted by these tragedies. Ghosts live within the moment. But let us not exorcise these ghosts by absolutizing them. Specters do not haunt the past, nor can we escape those specters before us. The myth of disintegration is an exorcism, a removal of the tragedy of the moment, of the ghostly potential envisioned. Our state of process is not about whether humans are good or bad. Process is not about absolute freedom or absolute restriction. Process is not progress. Process is the moment. And the moment is about letting ghosts speak. Let silent ghosts speak.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Pregnant with Potential

My apologies for it being such a long time since my last post. Lent has been more a season of reflection than production for me; hopefully that reflection will bare fruit. I have a number of posts planned for the upcoming month or so. First, however, is my overdue, promised post on beginnings.

I have been in a conversation with my cousin Joy (an English prof) over Facebook for some time now, with our conversation mostly circling around christian theology. In her most recent response, she brought up Mary and mentioned something I hadn't considered before - "Mary is... the moment of possibility into which that awareness can come... the mother-potential." For those of you familiar with my terminology below, you'll notice that my notion of a "locality" is similar to how Joy is understanding Mary by way of metaphor. I had considered using the metaphor of a womb with my concept of a "locality" before, but had never specifically considered Mary. I was particularly excited by this since I hadn't discussed with Joy anything about my momentary/potentialist approach. Apparently Momentary Theology need not be such the singular oasis I had originally perceived it to be!

In the context of my post on Christmas about Christ's death, and my promise to post on the birth of Christ on Easter, I had hoped to tie narrative beginnings to narrative endings. A story is contained within every moment, every moment of a cross, every moment of a birth. In my Christmas day post, I wrote about the tragedy of the cross, the unresolved tragedy of a broken world, a broken humanity. I also wrote that in the face of such tragedy, we must refuse to give up. One might wonder: why must we confront tragedy?

Before hearing from Joy, I had considered writing on Mary's Magnificat. The hope of Christ is contained within a "promise," a promised birth. Much is often made of Mary's faith in the face of possible crisis. A stranger comes to her door. She is told that she is pregnant out of wedlock. And yet, she still praises God. Mary blindly trusts God's mysterious ways, or so the story goes.

The story I wish to tell here is not nearly so simple. Mary is not so blind as to be ignorant of the potential before her. For Mary, God's ways are not so mysterious. The Maginificat, after all, is not simply an expression of praise for God; it is a recognition of potentiality. In Mary's own words: "He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty," (Luke 1:51-53). God's promise is one of upheaval. The potential before Mary is the birth of justice within a world of tragedy. God stands for the oppressed.

Keep in mind that the Magnificat is in the perfect tense - God's promise is not a past, present, nor future event. Potential is truly momentary. The (event of the) birth of Christ is omnipresent as long as Mary is mother-potential, as long as, in the face of tragedy and oppression, we take a stand. As long as we sing potentialities with Mary.

One cannot justify such a song in the fact of our lack of stability. Just like the confrontation with nihilism, the Magnificat, the song of reversals has no grounds. Out of this undecidability is born responsibility, and out of that responsibility is born potential. Christ has been born. To this extent, Mary's words are an act of faith - but not blind faith. Mary sees just perfectly. And that is why Mary speaks. That is why Mary sings. Potential comes with a soundtrack. Or, every beginning begins with music.

Ultimately, this is no theology of essentialized powerlessness. The powerless do not need to remain powerless in order to remain on the side of justice. After all, every act of potential is an act of transformation. Every song is a promise. The potentiality for justice must become the act(ualization) of justice. Not because it will succeed. Often times our acts will fail to become actualizations. Tragedy is inescapable. Rather, we act because it gives music to our words.

The mystery of God is, in the end, retained in the story. Or, perhaps, I should say in the beginning. We are told that Mary is greeted by the angel Gabriel. Mary does not recognize Gabriel; he is a stranger. Regardless, scandolously, she lets a male into her house at night. She receives him with open arms. Mary is open to the other, to God as stranger (Gabriel is just the messenger, a stranger for a stranger). It is only because of this openness that the potential before Mary's eyes is born. Christ has been conceived within a moment. The impossible has become possible. The impossible has always been the art of the stranger.

Somewhat ironically, Gabriel has become the modern icon for law-driven justiciars. When we read the story of Mary carefully, the stranger before Mary is a very different figure. Gabriel's last words to Mary before he departs are: "For nothing will be impossible with God." Gabriel is not the angel of law. Gabriel is the angel of hope. Hope amidst the tragedy of the world. An impossible event that breaks in upon our fragile visions.

So, our story brings us back to the beginning. The rest of the story has yet to come, shepherds, magi, tale of ancestry. The end told, we still remain in the beginning. In the beginning we find a stranger and Mary. In the beginning we find the other, a promise and a determined mother. With tragedy before her, tragedy behind her, Mary sings. The mother-potential opens herself to the impossible becoming possible. Or perhaps, I should say that on this Easter day, in the end, we do have our songs. And there our potential lies.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Music and Separation

I remember Margaret asking me a question once: "What would it be like if our lives had soundtracks?"

More and more lately, I have seen Gen Y criticized as being overly optimistic and idealistic, even while being disengaged from the surrounding community. The symbol held up to berate these "failings" is the iPod, often called the me-Pod, the individual cut off in a pod. I remember hearing this metaphor the first time during my time at Trinity Lutheran Church.

While this is a bit of a break from my heavier philosophical/theological posts, I felt that this symbolized criticism demanded at least a few thoughts. Is the use of the iPod as a symbol for our generation fair? Is asking that question even fair?

I actually do believe that the iPod as a possible symbol for our generation might be redeemable. However, I object to what many think it symbolizes. As such, the question is not "is the use of the iPod fair as a symbol for our generation" but rather "what does the iPod symbolize for us as a generation?"

I will grant that on one hand Gen Y is very idealistic and hopeful. We want more than is promised by the moment we live in. We believe that hope can be actualized. However, we are not that simple. Within that idealism I often discover a bitter skepticism in myself and others. Institutions have failed us. Individuals have failed us. We have failed ourselves. There is an apparent grand disconnect between our hope and our locality.

Many have claimed that this disconnect carries over to a disconnect between ourselves and the reality that surrounds us. We hide in our "me-pod." We cannot bear reality. So we hide in our shield of individualism.

I think there is some truth in these claims, but not where the claimants believe it lies. I agree that we cannot bear reality. We cannot bear the tragedy of the world. How unstable our world is. The pluralism that surrounds us. The lack of a singular meaning. The thousands of roles we play. The lack of a common thread. The lack of values we can stand up. We cannot bear the a-thematic nature of the reality before us.

As such, the iPod does not designate our separation from reality, but rather designates the tragedy of living in our reality. If we were separate from reality, from the absurdity of existence, we would be able to live without angst, without skepticism, without the nihilistic, a-thematic void that constantly threatens to devour our hope. Our hope does not arise because we are disconnected from the world. Our hope and tragedy paradoxically exist because of our reality - because we refuse to separate ourselves from our a-thematic realities. We hope because we must.

Which brings us back to Margaret's question. iPods are not emblematic of our separation from the world, a hiding in a false shell. Rather, iPods are emblematic of our desperate attempts to give our lives themes, structure and meaning. Music allows us to construct those themes, structure and meaning. We live in a world of creation. Music allows us to hope. My answer to Margaret's question is another question: "What would it be like if our lives did not have soundtracks?"

I cannot speak for an entire generation. But I can speak for myself. I do not listen to my iPod to escape. I listen to music so I can continue to hope. I listen to music so I can continue to live in our tragic world. I listen to music to continue to live within the paradox of tragic hope. Creation, music, art all allow us to engage. Praxis (faith-based action) follows the soundtracks we listen to. Our acts gain meaning in a world of music. So, what are you listening to?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Veil Is Thin (Individuals/Communities)

Relatively short post today; I mostly wanted to set out something briefly that will end up being crucial later on. Rather than delay such a topic until later, I decided it would make the most sense to present it now. It will also allow us to test my momentary theopoetic up to this point.

Who are we? Earlier, I explored this topic somewhat, and presented a few images. Let us consider those images once again. What does it mean to be conscious?

We are our values. If we are anything at all, we are the values, the ghosts that pull us forward. We are the potential we see in the world. But not just that...

We are walking values. We are values in movement, values in flux. Our values one moment are not our values the next. We are never haunted by the same ghosts; we are never the same ghosts.

We are local, walking values. We are values in motion. We are never apart from our locality, from our incarnation. Our values are inseparable from our time, our being, our non-being. Potential is born of the moment. We are momentary ghosts.

We are unstable, local, walking values. Despite the fact that our values are local, they have no firm ground, no structural support. Our values are unstable. Our values hold no justification. There is no such thing as a meta-value. We have no mathematical formula to follow to resolve which values we should live into. We walk on unstable ground.

We are contradictory, unstable, local, walking values. There is no unity to our ghosts, no thread that holds us together. Our values pull us in multiple, contradictory directions. We must choose. We can only act(ualize) once. The potential we envision is not whole, not singular, not one. We are pulled apart. We are not a synthesis. We are just thesis and antithesis. Our contradictions lead to our responsibility.

No doubt the images could continue. We are also tragic, hopeful values. There is much contained within our hearts. However, at this point, before we continue painting the picture, let us pull the brush back and study our painting.

It can probably be assumed that I am describing, painting individuals here. But am I? Do tragic, hopeful, contradictory, unstable, local, walking values describe just individuals, just the self? Perhaps our brush has painted communities as well...

Consider it - communities consist of contradictory values. The values of a community constantly shift, ebb and flow, are always in movement. Communities are defined by tragedy and hope. Communities are unstable and groundless, just as unjustified as the individual, as the ghosts that haunt them both. Communities too are local, as they live in extended, and yet still limited, moments of being and non-being.

The veil between the individual and the community is thin (if it is anything but a ghost at all). The self is nothing but a community; the community is nothing but a self. Communities make up part of the locality, part of the potential individuals live within. Individuals make up part of the locality, part of the potential communities live within. Both ghosts are conscious. Both are tragic, hopeful, contradictory, unstable, local, walking values. Both share in a haunting. Both are the potential we see in the world. The veil is thin...

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Motivation, or what does "the cat is on the mat" have to do with our values?

As I mentioned in my post "A Modal World," my entire narrative project is dependent on the claim that all beliefs and statements (even descriptive statements) are supported/undergirded by our values. The stories we tell will assume that we have a fundamental choice to make as we live - ghostly meaning or the void. In order to set up this contrast, however, I need to establish that there are no other alternatives. Our values are unstable, foundationless, ghostly. My claim up to this point had been that everything we construct, utter, write is built upon the foundation of our values. Those values are ghosts. And so, everything that enters and leaves our minds is supported by our ghosts, our foundationless foundation. Imagine a building, complete with foundation, with no ground below it, floating in the sky. In that place, we are strangers at home. Or, imagine we are lost in the desert, surrounded by a blinding dust storm with nothing to guide us beyond our limited vision before us and our footsteps quickly vanishing into the sand behind us. The dunes are shifting beneath our feet.

Still, particularly in our culture, one might object that ethics is dependent on metaphysics, not the other way around. Or perhaps our values are completely distinct from our beliefs "about" the world. After all, it seems deeply counterintuitive that a typical descriptive statement such as "the cat is on the mat" has anything to do with values, emotions or ethics. If descriptive statements have nothing to do with our unstable values, perhaps we can escape our subjectivity and succeed in describing objectively the "world out there." If this happened to be true, we would have stable ground to stand upon. We would have exorcised our dilemma. No void or ghosts.

I have told a few stories up to this point why I believe that descriptive statements are dependent on our values. However, more than anything, I merely made the gesture. It was critical to establish what the question was before we attempted to answer it.

Every belief arises from a cause. I don't believe that claim to be controversial. If I believe that "the cat is on the mat" I have some reason (however poor) for believing it. There are two kinds of causes one might consider here. The first is how we typically think of causes in modern day, scientific language - Aristotle's efficient cause. What brought something about? If someone gives money to the poor, for example, and another person asked for the efficient cause of the act, a proper response might be "I pulled money out of my pocket, and transferred the possession of that money to an individual who was poor." An efficient cause for the belief that "the cat is on the mat" might be "my visual experience displayed a cat on a mat actually in the world." For efficient causes, think "how did something happen?"

However, an account of belief is not nearly so simple. After all, the question of why remains - "why did I come to believe that the cat is on the mat?" What was my motivation to accept such a belief? Why did I wish to give money to the poor? After all, belief indicates a level of commitment while the word "statement" does not. What was the motivation to commit oneself to a belief? It appears as though there are two possible answers to this question.

The first possible answer is to consider other kinds of causes - Aristotle's formal and final causes (the difference between the two does not matter for the moment). One's particular values motivated the acceptance of the belief. Consider an obvious case - say that someone believes abortion is wrong. Say that someone also encounters a study that claims "abortion causes breast cancer." That person's ethical value (abortion is wrong) will almost certainly provide the motivation to accept the claim "abortion causes breast cancer" as a belief. This will be the case unless other values interfere. After all, our values are not in individual vacuums - our decisions are always the result of an interplay between all of our relevant values. Perhaps that said person also deeply values a friend who provides reasons for not believing that "abortion causes breast cancer" is true. In such a case, that person will exist within a moment of value conflict. Which value is more important to the individual (and more directly connected to the belief)? The resolution to our value conflicts (when we act/come to believe something) is rarely simple. Regardless, values clearly provide motivation (since we act toward our values all the time), so it would seem plausible that our beliefs are motivated (and therefore supported) by our values.

The second possible answer is that the efficient cause is the answer to the why question, i.e. we come to believe it because that is how the world is. Certainly, many individuals seem fairly driven to be able to describe the world as it is. A challenge to the claimed objectivity behind some beliefs is bound to find resistance. However, consider the claim for a moment. Let us ask a metaquestion. Why do individuals believe that "we come to believe beliefs because that is how the world is?" The same two answers present themselves - individuals either gain their motivation for the belief because of formal/final causes or because of efficient causes. Notice, however, that the second possibility immediately eliminates itself - the statement "we come to believe the belief that we believe beliefs because that is how the world is because that is how the world is" is complete gibberish. However, a formal/final explanation seems more plausible. Strictly speaking, we will find no psychological motivation in efficient causes unless we first value efficient causes. If we come to value the traditional methods of "discovering" how the "world is," we will respect those methods, we will accept the belief that those methods are reliable at discovering how the "world is." If we don't accept that value, then we will not accept the belief. But notice that we are no longer talking about how the world is, about efficient causes as the source for our beliefs. As long as our values provide our motivation, our beliefs (descriptive or otherwise) will always be built upon specters. Our envisioned potential will always shape what we believe. As Heidegger might say, there is no belief about the world that escapes our intentionality. We come to believe because we value what we believe (or what lies behind our beliefs).

One might still object - this might appear sound in theory, but also appears deeply counterintuitive in practice. After all, what does "the cat is on the mat" have to do with our values? After all, our typically critical values (life, love, equality, freedom, etc.) appear to have nothing to do with such a belief. So why have so many people in our world come to believe such "trivial" beliefs?

We have not hidden from our ghosts. There are many things that we traditionally value that were not listed above because they are typically taken for granted, particularly in our modern era. Just as our values do not come in a vacuum, so too, our beliefs are not isolated from each other. Imagine what would be entailed in rejecting the belief "the cat is on the mat" "because my sense data gave me that experience." We would no longer be able to trust our sense experience. And yet, in our scientific world, nothing is more important, more valued than our sense experience. Our sense of order, of structure to our world, of our ability to predict the results of our actions would come crumbling down around us. There are haunting ghosts hidden within our descriptive statements. Our horizons depend upon the ability to state that "I believe the cat is on the mat because my sense data gave me that experience." And yet, those very horizons are supported by ghosts, by our unstable values.

We believe because we ought to. And yet, even in our search to escape our dilemma, we have discovered it again. We have walked in a circle in our desert dust storm. As we live our lives we are presented with one question, one choice - should we, or should we not? Should we live a life of specters or should we vanish into the void? Metaphysics, physics, science will not save us. All we have is our values, our potential, our ghosts. Perhaps that is not enough to continue walking, weary in our journey of shifting sands. Or, perhaps, that is enough, just enough, to take one more step.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Dreamt of in Philosophy

[This is my response to Emily's post below. Please read her post in its entirety before you read my response. This post is dedicated to Emily Rains. Your patience, encouragement and critiques have been a blessing to me throughout our friendship. I look forward to our continued dialogue and my conversations with a treasured friend.]

"And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Hamlet Act 1, Scene 5, 165-167.

Yes. As I read Emily's essay, that was my first response. Absolutely. You understand. But what do you understand?

At first glance, much of your essay is set up in such a way as to assert my story as being an idol, an object of my own construction. You write: "God IS. We simply have to deal with that fact," that God is "infinite transcendence" and "only idols are constructed." I am open that the story I tell is a construction. Questions remain though - is the story merely my construction alone? AND is there room in my philosophical approach to be able to both assert the value of the story I tell as well as assert that it does not exhaust the meaning of God?

I believe the answer to the first question is "no," just as is the case with any story. The story I tell is just as much an extension of the communities and the localities I am a part of as it extends itself from me. Our stories extend beyond ourselves. Of course, this does nothing to counter your claim that such a story is still an idol. After all, whole localities and communities can be deceived.

I believe the answer to the second question is "yes." Consider the quote from Hamlet above. There is always a surplus of meaning beyond the stories we dream. My stories never claim to exhaust the nature of God. God is certainly transcendent over and beyond my stories. Life is more than a solipsistic hell. Life is more than just what our individual stories share. Our stories might glimpse the meaning of the "stranger," and in that they have value. Still, God is beyond our individual stories. It does us all well to remember that.

This is the difference between an idol and an eikon for me. Eikon is a popular word in greek, both amongst philosophers and in the Bible. An idol claims to be exhaustive of God. An eikon is an image of the prism of God, a glance at the stranger beyond our dreams.

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that I don't have access to that exhaustive, transcendent story. Emily also acknowledges she does not have access to the complete story - "we have not yet exhausted the task." So what are we supposed to do? We work with what we have. There is a different form of realism at work here - the acknowledgement on my part that we don't have all the answers. Do we give up? My answer is an emphatic "no." We must work with what we have. And so we story-tell.

You might notice that on first glance there is a real shift in the mode of the storyteller between Emily's story and mine. To Emily, the storyteller is God. For the story I tell, the nexus of the individual is the storyteller. My unusual realism creates this shift in emphasis - even if the "storyteller" of the world is God/potential, ultimately we simply cannot tell the story from God's perspective. We don't know what God's perspective might be like. It is like attempting to share in the perspective of another - I have known my brother, for example, for my whole life, and yet, still, (luckily for him, perhaps) I cannot always get into his head. Consider the stranger. "There are more things..."

As such, for both of us God/potential might be the storyteller of creation as a whole, but Emily and I are the storytellers here. The majority of Emily's essay (my post isn't mentioned for five pages after the introduction) is Emily presenting a counter-story to mine. That is what she understands, for me. If you don't like a story, (re)tell a new one.

Of course, there is much possible overlap between our stories. "This Christmas Day" never claimed to be exhaustive, and as Emily rightly points out, it is possible for the story to extend before the birth of Jesus (and after his death). There is much I will not mention in her story that I would be happy to embrace with my story(s).

As I read Emily's story, a theme seemed present to me - even if we are the storytellers of our human stories, God should always be seen as the center, THE storyteller. Emily does give room for human creation, but it is in a very specific role - that of reaction within relationship. Consider, a small list of a few subject/verbs in your essay - "Man rebelled," "Abraham obeyed," "He [Isaac] dreamt." Emily writes that we are in "awe" of God as a "soul-shaking experience" and that "only God could save." And yet within that experience of salvation (within God's domain) we are supposed to "hope in you [God]." "And thus man is faced with a choice."

Absolutely - we are faced with choice(s), choice(s) born in a (re)action toward God. What story will we tell? But it is not a matter of simply choosing God's story or choosing a story of our own. After all, the moment words leave our lips, to a certain degree, we have already made it our own (no matter the story). That is the blessing and curse of choice. Within our lack of knowledge we have a terrible (and liberating/creative) freedom. That freedom is responsibility. What story would we tell?

Emily, you understand - tell a story to counter another story. The question, of course, remains as to whether your story does successfully challenge mine. What is the authority, the values behind your story? Do they successfully pull the story I tell apart?

As far as I read it, your argument, Emily, is this - the story you tell is the story of tradition, while my story is not. For example you say that "He [God] has not changed," and "The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is still the Holy One of Israel." You extend the story of Christ so that your story gains authority for being rooted in tradition.

There are several problems within this argument, however. First, it is difficult for me to understand why "substitutionary atonement" and David's response to God are related. The story you tell does not necessarily hold together. I, too, value trust, Emily. Acting with trust toward God (as stranger), trust that tragedy will not consume us, trust that our individual stories are not the final words is critically important. However, what does that have to do with God murdering his son for a cruel and vindictive sense of absurd honor?

Secondly, which tradition? There is no unitary whole that holds the world of Christian tradition together. In fact, there had already been several interpretations of the crucifixion before Anselm told the story of substitutionary atonement. Which tradition should we choose? And why? We need to know what traditions to hold as authoritative before we respond with "meek obedience." Who is the stranger that is God? Who is the stranger we have relationship with?

The choices keep revealing themselves. We all have choices to make. You write that it is my "arrogance to make [my] own god and tell [my] own story." You then write that it is "this arrogance [that] lies hidden throughout much of [my] story as [I] cover the safe and unthreatening parts of God's story." I sense poetry - for you what I hide is exactly what I reveal. I reveal safety, the security-blanket God for what it is - a falsehood. It is a falsehood because it keeps us from owning up to our responsibility - the impossible responsibility we have, that we are burdened with. We have choice.

What you see as arrogance, Emily, I see as responsibility. We, as humans, must own up to the fact that we have choices to make, that we have responsibility. That responsibility is not something I take pride in, nor is it something that I am happy to be "arrogant" about. It is a burden we must all live into. We don't have the answers. It isn't in our capacity to know. And so we act and story-tell with what we have. All with the hope that our (re)actions and stories hint toward the stranger that is God. You understand Emily, because your act of storytelling in your essay is exactly that - a grasping in the dark toward God. We grasp together.

To you, "[I] have had the arrogance to tell God who he is and what he wrote." I don't believe that for one moment. Every day, I pray to God for the courage to (re)act toward God, to meet God as stranger. It is that or the void. The void can be tempting at times. Grasping in the dark is exhausting. But the courage God gives me does not allow me to give up. We must not give up simply because we are stuck within our own finite perspectives as storytellers. We must not give up. I cannot give up, because I too "worship... a God who was [is/will be] bigger than any of [my] stories."

And within that grasping, Emily, let it be known that I am not afraid of power. I am afraid of meaninglessness. Call it stubbornness, but even if a omnipotent being that could eliminate me without a trace told me to do an evil act, I would not. Emily, if Satan had set the rules, would you worship him? All we can speak of is "what ought to be." If that condemns us, so be it. At least we will have lived a life of meaning rather than power. Considering that Paul writes that God is a God of the ta me onta, of the powerless and the foolish, of the outcasts, I have to believe that God works with us in our search for meaning (rather than against it). After all, our search for meaning is filled with enough tragedy already.

Ultimately, you write: "Perhaps it would be more accurate to draw a picture of a mighty warrior holding a hollering infant in his firm grasp, his mother left without breath, eyes glued to her child." Call it an idol, call it an eikon, but that mighty warrior is not God, even if that mighty warrior "is." The mighty warrior, militaristic and consumed by power (and nothing else) is the meaningless void. Gripped by it, we struggle on. Our struggling might be futile. And yet, we must not give into the void, into meaningless. Meanwhile, the mother is God, sharing in our suffering, "left without breath, eyes glued to her child." The mother is God, horrified by the death of her son on the cross. That God might not have the coercive power that the mighty warrior has, the dangerously fascinating, crippling pull of the void. Ultimately, though, as you point out, we have choices to make. And I will continue to pray to God for the courage to choose the mother every single time. And as we pray to God for what ought to be, like Job, and find no voice come out of the whirlwind, it is not because God is not there, or because God is the warrior. Instead, it is because God is breathless.