Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Saturday, 27 December 2008

Nicolas of Myra

Christmas is a weird time.  On the one hand, it's a festival to celebrate the arrival of Jesus into the world, but on the other hand it's marked almost exclusively by consumerism and capitalism.  We celebrate, not by giving, but by shopping.  We celebrate by shopping because that's what we know how to do.

Rather, I think that it's worth taking the time to remember Santa before he was Santa - back when he was just Nicolas of Myra.  Here is a man who had a reputation for giving in secret to the needy.  Go read the wikipedia article for an overview.

Should we teach our children about Christmas?  Sure.  Teach them about Jesus.  And what about Santa Claus?  Teach them about the original Santa - the man who gave in secret to the people who needed it.  Christmas is a Christian holiday, and we usually celebrate it as capitalists.  Instead, let us celebrate it as Christians.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Thoughts on the Hebrew Bible

For several years I've had a love-hate relationship with the Hebrew Bible. In my youth, I believed the 66 books of the protestant Bible to be the canon, the holy scriptures, the words of life. Later, I began to doubt the continuity between the Old and New Testaments (to use the Christian labels). The character of Yahweh and the character of Jesus seemed to be incommensurable, so the texts which support these two also have some measure of incommensurability.

To resolve this, for a while, I followed Pannenberg's lead and insisted that theology begin and end with Christ. Begin with Christ, move through the text in question using the starting point as interpretive locus, and then return to Christ to conclude. It seemed like a reasonable methodology. However, it's tantamount to taking a pair of scissors to the Hebrew texts and slicing out large sections. It reduces the Hebrew Bible to a Christian apocrypha: interesting to read and useful for exegesis or comparison, but not authoritative for the Christian. As with anything apocryphal, there can be overlap and supporting sentiment; a Christian message could be found in it, but the link is, for want of a better word, accidental.

Perhaps the way to read it is to return to the initial assessment and reinterpret it. The Hebrew Bible does contain the words of life, but life isn't always divine or good. Life has good and evil, respite and suffering; and there is no booming voice of authority from the sky (or the pulpit) to identify which event is which. A man hears a voice that tells him to sacrifice his son... such is Abraham. A woman gets close enough to a foreign invader to drive a tent peg through his skull... such is Jael. A man hears a voice to lie on his side for a year, cooking his food on a fire fueled by dung... such is Ezekiel. A king kills one of his officers in order to sleep with his widow... such is David. A song is sung about the joy of smashing babies against rocks... such is Psalm 137. Who is to say which is good and which is evil? They are prompts for contemplation, they are accounts of what happens in life, but they aren't categorical imperatives.

Does this help the Hebrew Bible at all? Not really. It remains apocryphal, as a wisdom tradition, as a politicised and theocratised history of an ancient culture. It makes for good reading and good contemplation, but no more than that.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Islam in Australia

Straight from the pages of Moral Panic for Dummies come the stories about the Brisbane Islamic Schools. In the first story, a proposal to put a new Islamic School on the Gold Coast, near a Christian Church has received vocal opposition from some locals. In the second story, barely a week later, a Brisbane Islamic School apparently banned the singing of Advance Australia Fair in the school.

For the first story, the sheer hypocrisy of the protestors beggars belief. On the principle that, "It's segregation, not integration," (Tony Doherty) this school should be opposed, and yet a Catholic school is "the same as us" and should not be opposed. The problems with this are many, and here are just a few. First, the proportion of Australians who are Catholic is not great, and yet they are over-represented in the schooling system. Second, the Islamic schools of Australia need to follow the same guidelines as any other private school, including the use of government curricula and the problems of integration (boys schools, girls schools, Catholic schools, pentecostal schools...). Thirdly, the "same as us" argument smacks of discrimination on the basis of the Other. Anyone who is not ostensibly "the same as us" should be denied opportunity to be different from us. If Australia is to be the secular liberal democracy that grants certain freedoms, then it cannot oppose the different but must promote that which is the same between Muslims, Christians, atheists and so on. Lastly, the original religion of Australia is not Christianity, it is the aboriginal religion. Christianity is an import to this land. If one was to rely on tradition and geography to identify the Australian religion, Christianity is the incorrect result.

For all these reasons and more, the protest against the Islamic School is wrong on the ground of discrimination.

In the second story, the school that allegedly banned - note the inflammatory introduction of the word "ban" by the news outlets - singing the national anthem at assemblies is more interesting. The Islamic Scool, wishing to teach Islamic values in the midst of a secular liberal democracy, is trying to assert itself as a minority. It is attempting to identify itself as different in the wider community of Australians but is doing so from a position of fear, and therefore will not succeed. Zizek might suggest that they aren't being "violent" enough (in the Zizek sense of violence, not in the normal sense). In other words, if they truly want to be different then they will assert Islamic values, regardless of the wider community. However, such is the state of play that they will probably continue to press on with "safe" Islam, being "safe" in the midst of a culture which fears and loathes the different Other.

This is the predicament of the different in the midst of the prevailing order. To assert this difference is to generate opposition. It is a sad case of affairs that although Australia is quite secular and irreligious, Christian actions are not opposed in the media because of how flavourless we Christians are. Kierkegaard's situation has not changed. In this regard, Australia may as well be the Denmark of 200 years ago.

Friday, 21 November 2008

Faith and Theology: Dishonest money: what the financial crisis tells us about ourselves

Faith and Theology: Dishonest money: what the financial crisis tells us about ourselves

It is worth reading this post for two key features: identifying the inversion of vices to virtues between Aristotle and today; and the appeal to Christians to constitute the Church.

The vices identified by Aristotle (greed, lack of self-control, profit through usury, ...) are now virtues and building blocks of the capitalist model. Having just finished with Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, it seems apparent to me that there is a great deal of truth in what Nietzsche wrote. Morals are not universal constants in society. They change and develop over the years in order to support one class against another. The morals of the Situation (c.f. Badiou) are plastic and support the moral centre, the prevailing world order. Consequently, morals inherited through unconscious societal imitation (c.f. Girard) have feet of clay - no support for themselves. We therefore need to be careful about which moral or ethical code we promote.

Second, whether the solution fits the problem or not, the appeal for Christians to be the Church is timeless. It opposes the notion that the Church is the accidental occurrence of a group of Christians. The Church must be the Church through the intentionality of Christians. Unless Christians intend to be the Church, it will never happen. It cannot be there by accident. This might sound like tired rhetoric, but it isn't. Instead, it is a necessary and sufficient condition to establish the reality of the Church, and therefore to manifest the presence of an invisible God in the material world.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Save the banks!

From an article by Slavoj Zizek:
The financial meltdown has made it impossible to ignore the blatant irrationality of global capitalism. In the fight against Aids, hunger, lack of water or global warming, we may recognise the urgency of the problem, but there is always time to reflect, to postpone decisions. The main conclusion of the meeting of world leaders in Bali to talk about climate change, hailed as a success, was that they would meet again in two years to continue the talks. But with the financial meltdown, the urgency was unconditional; a sum beyond imagination was immediately found. Saving endangered species, saving the planet from global warming, finding a cure for Aids, saving the starving children . . . All that can wait a bit, but ‘Save the banks!’ is an unconditional imperative which demands and gets immediate action. The panic was absolute. A transnational and non-partisan unity was immediately established, all grudges among world leaders momentarily forgotten in order to avert the catastrophe. (Incidentally, what the much-praised ‘bi-partisanship’ effectively means is that democratic procedures were de facto suspended.) The sublimely enormous sum of money was spent not for some clear ‘real’ task, but in order to ‘restore confidence’ in the markets – i.e. for reasons of belief. Do we need any more proof that Capital is the Real of our lives, the Real whose demands are more absolute than even the most pressing demands of our social and natural reality?

"Save the banks!" indeed. It's like shouting "Fire!" rather than "Help!"

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

More Obama Analysis

This is an interesting exercise in demographics. It's a series of maps of America, identifying racial, religious and voter groups. Check it out and draw your own conclusions.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Christianity without Creation

Although I am not specifically a New Testament scholar, I take an interest in it.  From what I've read, the writers aren't so interested in studying the origins of the universe.  The universe is a given.  It simply is.  There are some plausible explanations for this, and I'm going to write a little about two of them

1. The authors assume that God created it, and see no reason to expand on this.
Since most of the NT documents were written by converts from Judaism, it may well be that the Jewish belief in the origins of the universe were brought along with the authors.  The universe was created by God from out of the waters.  Go and read Genesis 1 for more details.  With this assumption so clearly in the culture, there's no need to write more about it.

2. The authors see that New Creation is more important.
Regardless of the origins of the present situation, the origins of the New Creation take precedence.  The consequence of Jesus' death and resurrection are to be worked through in the lives of the believers and should take more attention and focus than meditations about the origin of cosmos.

If #1 is correct, then we are left with a universe that suits classical theism.  God is the Big Three omnis, with all the mind-twisting problems that this entails (e.g., theodicy).

If #2 is correct, then we are left with an absurd universe that has always been absurd and which requires an intervention to give it meaning.  It also means we should probably shut up about where the universe came from and get on with the issues of being Christian.  Kierkegaard was right.  The real question concerns how we can be Christian, not how we can argue about it.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Elections Have No Connection To Policies

It has been impossible to avoid the news of the recent American election.  Yes, American now has a new president, and for some reason the most celebrated aspect of the electoral winner is skin colour.

Yes.  Skin colour.

Amongst all the reports about the victory was one with a snippet of a speech made by Martin Luther King.  It included this statement:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Barack Obama is not being celebrated (or plotted against, it seems) because of his politics, or his gender, but because of the colour of his skin.

Regardless of the reasons that people voted for him, I think the more interesting feature is the reporting of the victory.  Why is it such an issue that Obama is black?  I can only speculate that it is because the context in which he ran is so horribly racist, deep to the core.  Only in a society that has a clear socially dominant class could there be such emphasis on the exception.  Suppose that Hillary Clinton was the winner, then gender rather than skin colour or policy would be the distinguishing issue, and would clearly identify the American situation as sexist.

Putting so much focus on the colour of his skin serves only to show that in America, race is still an issue, and that genuine democratic consideration of a candidate's policies plays no part in the mind of the voter.

Note: In the interests of full disclosure, if I was eligible to vote, I would have voted for Obama in order to extract the Republicans from office, and because I think Obama is more likely to implement socially responsible policies.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Misc - Kierkegaard

David Chalmers (yes, yes, I know this is two references in a short space of time) has published a taxonomy of philosophy that he has compiled with David Bourget. I, being the self-interested being I am, only bothered to look at the sections of interest to me. Under 19th century philosophy there were the usual suspects, categorised by country. Then I saw the one that made me laugh.

Misc
Kierkegaard


This wins the internet for today.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Remember Remember the Fifth of November

Yes, it is Guy Fawkes Day once again, and all across the world people are celebrating it by watching the US election. The irony is delicious.

And in case you'd forgot, allow me to remind you.
Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I see no reason
Why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up the King and Parli'ment.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

And if you have time to watch a movie, then make it V for Vendetta. You might never see a finer illustration of mission, resurrection, and Church. Here's a teaser to jog your memory.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Chalmers and Theology

Long-time readers of this blog know that I've written a paper and posts about David Chalmers' work, specifically driving it towards theism and then sitting back to watch the collision. It wasn't a spectacular crash, so don't go reading it expecting Michael Bay to show up.

However, now I see that Chalmers is being drawn, against his will, into another theological argument - Intelligent Design. His response is admirable, and one with which I would generally agree. Chalmers' work is about challenging materialism, for sure, but it is not about arguing for the existence or non-existence of God. If anything, Chalmers is non-theistic but to his credit is always open to the conceivable and possible. Nevertheless, if Propositions A and B are both contrary to Proposition C, there is no guarantee that A and B will agree with each other. Making that claim is poor argumentation. This is what the Intelligent Design proponents appear to have attempted, attempting to make alliances with the opponent of their opponent.

Also, I don't think that Chalmers is trying to destroy the achievements of materialism. I think that he sees it as an important step in eventually understanding consciousness and that it should be refined and developed to make a better model. That doesn't mean he wants a return to Cartesian Dualism, but to something else. It is an Hegelian negation of the negation, so to speak, and is worth pursuing. By his own account, he doesn't claim to have yet solved the hard problem, but wants to explore the possibilities so as to either eliminate them or find opportunities in them for further exploration. I think this is the right approach to research.

Lastly, from the perspective of theology and intelligent design, let me reiterate what I've written before.
It is not that the Christian philosopher is ill-equipped to tackle those problems – that has nothing to do with being a Christian – but rather the case is the opposite. Christian theology has not been excluded from metaphysics, but metaphysics has been excluded from Christian theology. There is little reason to pursue it as an explicitly Christian activity. Theology will only be distracted by it. Rather, theology is closer to its home when concerned with the consequences of the resurrection rather than any back-filled metaphysical explanation for the resurrection.
Intelligent Design is a waste of theological neurons. I estimate that more than 95% of the New Testament is about the ethics of how we live now and that the remainder is little more than speculation about the cosmos. Theologians ought to leave metaphysics to the metaphysicians (or even the physicists) and get on with the business of writing about what it means to be Christian.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Logic as a revelation

Logic is often attributed with more function that it has ever claimed. I hear, from time to time, an interlocutor claim that “Logic tells us that X is right” or “Logically, such and such is true.” The worst case of this that I experienced was when I was told, “So you’re studying theology. I’m very interested in this… I mean, logic tells us that God doesn’t exist.”

Although the primary reactions are a combination of debate and so on and so on, it was clear that by invoking logic he had attempted to take the rational high ground. In other words, by being the first person to claim that his position is the result of logic, any contrary position could not be founded on logic, and if not based on logic it could not be true. Now, in the current state of affairs, rationalism is given the highest standing as the most reliable basis on which to assert a truth. It is, however, a trick of persuasion and debate rather than an actual exercise in logic.

Logic, after all, is only really used to test propositions or to reach conclusions from propositions. For example, “The sky is dark for about half the day because the sun is located on the other side of the planet” is a proposition that logic can test. Also, “The sky is dark for about half the day because humans generally prefer to sleep at night” is another. Likewise, logic can be used to extrapolate from, “This house is made of wood, and wood is combustible” to “Fire can destroy this house” or even “If I want to protect this house I should ensure that it does not catch fire.”

The point is that without an initial proposition, logic doesn’t have a starting position and cannot then reach any conclusions. Logic, by itself, can tell us nothing.

However, what the invocation of logic does tell us is the fundamental proposition or assumption of the invoker. In the creationist argument, one person might say that, “Just look at creation! That’s enough argument to tell me that God exists.” The unspoken assumption is that only a God could create such a thing, that there is no way the universe could spontaneously come into existence. Alternatively, one might weigh in to a debate on abortion and say that, “Early term abortion is acceptable because the foetus has not yet developed a neural system.” Again, the unspoken assumption is probably that the validity of human life is based largely on the presence of a healthy neural system that can support consciousness, rather than the assumption that human life is made valid by the presence of a soul or spirit that inhabits the flesh.

Logic, by itself, tells us nothing about the claim. When invoked by a lazy debater, however, it tells us that not only is the debater lazy (or a practitioner of misdirection) but it reveals the underlying assumption on which the conclusion is based. And for that there is only one remedy, the assumption must be exposed for what it is, an unfounded assumption. It is merely an assertion, based only on the force of will of the one making the claim. An assertion is only that, an assertion of the will, and it holds weight only by conviction or violence. Logic, so very often, doesn’t tell us what we claim it does, but it reveals so very much about ourselves.

Friday, 3 October 2008

True Opinions

Pluralism is a strange beast. We cherish the co-existence of people who have beliefs contradictory to our own, who live according to those beliefs and still peacefully with other people. Two people can make opposing statements and yet preface those statements with, "I believe" and therefore the listener takes it in as an opinion or a statement of faith.

To the listener, the "I believe" is almost the same as a license to disregard the validity of anything the speaker has said. "I believe that the Greek gods are alive and active, and am going to a festival in their honour this weekend," is not heard in any persuasive sense, but is entirely interpreted so as to give context to the speaker's weekend activities. The listener can feel content in ignoring any of the content of the statement.

To the speaker, however, the "I believe" is cherished and at the core of conscious experience. As I heard someone say one day, "It's my opinion, so it is 100% true because it is my opinion. And your opinions are 100% true, because they are your opinions." Truth in this sense is determined by assertion of ownership. For as long as one claims an opinion as one's own, it is true in one's consciousness, and therefore one's universe.

All these words (believe, opinion, and so on and so on) and their secondary meaning of doubt for the listener, serve to reinforce the maxim that our experience of the world is mediated through the senses and the experiences we have had. Absolute truth (the view from nowhere) is beyond our reach, with the possible exception of mathematics ("Mathematics is ontology," said Badiou.).

And with this in mind, we return to pluralism. Absolute truth is always mediated and out of reach. The remainder is opinion and subjective experience. The reality in which we live is mediated, and although it supervenes on a universe of physical laws, it is the level of experience. It is only at this level that we can make sense to each other, even if when we listen, we find reasons to dismiss the opinions of others merely because they are opinions.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

American Subprime Clip-Art

Take a look at this picture in Full View: Subprime Crisis.

It's tenuous, it's active, it's provocative.

Most interestingly, it uses a clip-art style that a user of MS-Office would instantly recognise. The very world that generates such a crisis is enmeshed deep within this aesthetic and I find it fitting and appropriate that clip-art is chosen.

Monday, 15 September 2008

The End of the World

I mentioned in an earlier post that my friend Scott Stephens was going to the Grandeur of Reason to present a paper. Some content of that paper is now available online at Faith and Theology. Go! Read! Argue!

I, for one, feel as though I understand his point. Theology and philosophy should be large, imposing, ceaseless and disciplined, if they are to be worth anything at all. The enterprise needs some weight behind it and loses all value if it is regurgitated into digest-sized sections.

This, of course, stabs directly in the heart any philosophical blog (such as this one, for example). And to a certain extent I agree. In the 500-word nibbles I write here there is very little that I can accomplish that doesn't already belong in a footnote. For the serious advance of the theological-philosophical enterprise, the blog is a blip.

And yet, the essay, the column and the blog continue to have their place inasmuch as they are interventions generated from beyond the web. They are as useful as the pamphlet is to political action. While theology-philosophy takes the time to see larger concepts, it must also manifest as the intervention or else it has no immediate effect.

In other words, a philosophical blog means nothing if the author is not also engaged in a larger project, a project which feeds and informs the interventions themselves.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Forsaking All Others

I was at a wedding on the weekend and had the privilege of being one of the groomsmen, and also one of the official witnesses to the vows. So I listened to what they said to each other in order that when I signed as a witness, I was actively and intentionally signing it. One of the promises that they made to each other was to devote themselves to each other, forsaking all others for as long as they would both live.

I've been thinking about this phrase for some time and have come to the conclusion that it is one of the most unnatural and amazing things to promise anyone else. Natural mammalian urges are quite selfish in almost every way and are, as some folks theorise, the effect of ensuring that one's own genes are passed on. Eating and procreating, being among the strongest drives, easily fit into this category and can be used as a backdrop to much of human behaviour. Compare this to the idea of selfless monogamy, in which one person commits to another that they will take control over those drives in all areas and ensure that the needs of one's partner are higher than all others, including one's own.

The freedom in nature to eat or shag anything else that comes along is given up for the sake of the new partnership. It requires a choice by each partner to deny those urges and freedoms so that the partnership can succeed. This choice is the action of love, the existentiality of love. Without this choice, love does not exist and is reduced to little more than a greeting card sentiment. To love is to forsake. To forsake all others is to forsake self-gratification. Even though the phrase we most associate with weddings is "I do," it means much less if we forget that this doing requires "forsaking all others."

Sunday, 31 August 2008

New and Improved

I'm struck by the amount of literature available from the Self Help and Actualisation Movement (yes, that's how many folks in and out of the movement refer to it, even though the acronym is SHAM). It's everywhere and covers just about everything. And it constantly spreads the messages that you are valuable just the way you are, and that you can do anything you want to do, and that you can get all this by buying all my publications. It infests corporate life, personal life and religious life and has the ostensible goal to remind you how much you need it and to separate you from your money while you fail to achieve anything else.

However, in the mode of consumption that it endorses, it is actually giving you the structure that requires you only to buy another book and attend another seminar. You need not actually apply anything as long as you feel empowered. In fact, if these kinds of authors were really that good, you wouldn't need to buy more books because the first one or two would be enough to solve most of your problems.

But that is the trivial side of the problem. The real problem is that the product of the SHAM is only a better you, not a reborn you. A better you is the one with the same goals and aspirations, thinking about how to satisfy the basic mammalian desires. A better you is you with straight teeth, perfect hair and a pay raise – but you never transcend that instinctive lifestyle. If you really did transcend it, you would lose the desire to be a better you. Genuine transcendence of the self is the New and not just the Improved.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Style over Substance

I had every intention of leaving the Mike Guglielmucci story alone and then it became apparent to me that the more important story is related to it, but one step removed. You won't have to read through a scathing attack on Mr Guglielmucci. His denomination, on the other hand, might not come away from this so clean and smooth. I'll let you make up your own mind.

As I considered the situation, it became apparent to me that Guglielmucci is not the only party which needs to take responsibility. The ACC (formerly the AOG) itself must take a share of the blame for this. There are theological and institutional problems within the ACC that contributed to the whole mess.

Theologically, they are quite focused on a spirit-led approach, similar to that found in the book of Judges. A person can be a faithful member of the assembly and then the spirit can descend on them (like a dove?) and lead them into some kind of act. The person is anointed, is empowered - and above all else is permitted. They are given license to embark on any action they see fit. Furthermore, the actions are sanctioned because they have the status of anointed. Such a person should not be questioned, because they have a greater measure of the spirit than the rest. The theological problem here is one of status. The primary Pauline literature insists that the way of the spirit is common to all believers, producing a Sameness, therefore status is not an applicable category within the Church. Christians are simply brothers and sisters, or comrades if you prefer. It seems to me that the ACC theology credits anointed pastors with some measure of preferred status, almost infallibility. This is not obvious at first read, but has become an institutionalised reality.

To make it plain, the idea of elevated status has manifested itself in the form that an anointed pastor who has a divine vision is a person who should be obeyed and not questioned. Anyone who bows down before that pastor is endorsed. Anyone who questions or opposes is not welcome. It is clear that the institutionalised culture of the ACC allows style over substance because the substance can hide behind the style. The style (the appearance, the manifestation of anointing) is enough to prevent questions. Any threat to the substance can be defended by style-based arguments such as church attendance, impassioned preaching, album sales, or whatever. The appearance takes the place of the substance itself, meaning that substance is irrelevant as long as the style meets the requirements.

It is a culture of appearance, enforced by an institution that promotes a theology of status. If there is anything that should be learned from this sordid affair it is that the ACC must engage in internal reform and an increased level of transparency.

I don't expect it to happen. Rather, I expect that they will see these criticisms as cynical and as "raising a hand against the Lord's anointed." It is not a institution that will change, but one that will give the appearance of change. I expect that they will remain just as they are.

Prove me wrong.

Thursday, 21 August 2008

Listen to your Heart

As a Christian, I am at the tail end of thousands of years of tradition and interpretation. I was raised in one tradition/interpretation which was mostly evangelical and Augustinian. Today I find myself in the midst of another tradition/interpretation which is not too dissimilar. The thing that I find most difficult about this is the invisibility of the penetration of contemporary ideas and thoughts.

Here's an example of what I mean. The Christian world around me is predominantly white, middle-class Euro (American, Australian, British...). That very culture penetrates the Christian message in various ways. The middle-class goals of "you can be anything" has become "you can be anything ...for God." Even without going through the reductio ad absurdum arguments against this, it is apparent that this approach is based on the idea that we can base our Christian expression on what is in the heart. "But God gives us the desires of our heart! Those desires come from God!" Bollocks. Desire comes from mammalian drives, honed over many years to ensure survival of the species. Desire is a thickly veiled (and sometimes thinly veiled) excuse to satisfy the more base instincts.

The problem, as I see it, is that we have allowed these kinds of influences to over-inform our interpretation of scripture, whereas we have allowed more relevant influences to under-inform our interpretation. Do we consider, for example, what the ancient Greco-Roman concept of "lord" meant when we interpret the phrase "Jesus is lord" for today? Do we understand what a 2nd temple Jew interpreted by 'father' when we read passages like John 8? Or do we insert a 21st century, middle-class interpretation of 'father' instead?

Applying Christian thought and praxis today is difficult because we are overwhelmed by other cultural influences. Christian life is not defined by gender, job or race - to the point where it disregards those markers. A Christian is not a Manager-Christian or a Mechanic-Christian. That aspect of a person which is Christian is unadulterated and the Same as the next Christian.

I've asked the question before and found it to be generally unanswered, but I will ask it again. What is it that Christians do only because they are Christians? "Be nice," doesn't count because the kindergarten teacher tells everyone to do that. "Give money," doesn't count either, because lots of non-Christians give money.

We who claim to be Christians need to sort this out and decide to do it. Simply going along with the rest of the world's "goodness" is feeble and indicative that God has not intervened at all. Rather, it is crucial that the Christian Act be clear and uncontaminated by the traditions and interpretations of the world around us.



Post-script
I mentioned above that I was going to avoid the reductio ad absurdum argument but now that I've seen this from Cyanide and Happiness, it simply must be added. Enjoy.

Cyanide and Happiness, a daily webcomic
Cyanide & Happiness @ Explosm.net

Guglielmucci Miraculously Healed!

I remember first hearing about his cancer and feeling terrible for him. Even though I had other disagreements with the AOG theology and praxis, I still felt that cancer was a horrible outcome for anyone. I hoped and prayed (albeit briefly) that it would go away.

It has. It's a miracle - Guglielmucci is miraculously healed of cancer!

Now, instead of cancer, he's going to be remembered as the guy who lied.

Ahh fuck it. There are worse crimes in the world and they don't generate this much ink. Go and whinge about Robert Mugabe instead, people. Or George Bush. Or the miliary junta of Burma? Remember them and their massacres? Yeah... they disappeared off the news screens behind the veil of Ben Cousins and his drug habits. They're still oppressing dissidents, though, and that's worth more of your efforts than another pentecostal preacher who turned out to be lying for money or the rush of micro-fame (or whatever his particular pathology is).

Saturday, 16 August 2008

The General Equivalent

Money is, without question, the general equivalent. It is, as Uncle Karl indicated, the means by which we store labour. For my work I get money and I can use this money to instantly get the results of someone else's work. This is the genius of the capitalist. By creating money we are able to divide labour amongst ourselves and exchange it one with another.

The dark side of this, however, is that once we have an independent value for labour we find ourselves able to exchange any kind of labour for money. From building houses and sewing clothes through to building bombs and performing sexual acts. All of these things can be bought and sold at rates determined by the market. Each of them is a labour and each can then be given value.

And the means to produce this labour (and the products or services associated with them) can be owned, either by the individual or the collective. A building business owns the tools and buys the labour of the builders. A brothel owns the building and furnishings and buys the labour of the sex workers. The means of production is owned.

Money, as the general equivalent, can be used to regulate the exchange of material things. A number of bolts can be traded for some other number of cabbages through the equivalence of money. Cars can be exchanged for cattle. Cattle can be exchanged for other animals, and so forth. Interestingly, this allows for the exchange of the human animal for money. Slavery is well within the control of money. The physical material of a person can be exchanged for money. Money is not only the genius of the capitalist project, but it is also the exposure of that same project. A general equivalent is necessarily a universal equivalent. Any material, living or dead, can be exchanged for it. And people, being nothing more than living material, are part of that realm of the exchangeable.

Capitalism has brought us all kinds of interesting benefits, but it must be imprisoned and watched so that it doesn't get out of control.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Three Sisters

I watched a performance of Chekhov's Three Sisters on Saturday night. I can't say that it was an uplifting story, but I think it was an uplifting message.

Overall, I felt the theme was one of choice and circumstance. The central protagonists began the play trapped in their situations and spent the rest of the play struggling with it, all the while yearning to leave their rural town and move to Moscow. For them, the Thing that would alleviate their suffering was Moscow, but it was always out of reach because they were confined by the social circumstances in which they found themselves. Ultimately, their final situations were the product of choice, or a lack of choice (or better still, a choice of lack).

The whole play resonated with me because of this theme. Life without a reason is absurd. Absurdity requires nothing of you and gives nothing to you. Any meaning that you find in an absurd universe is probably the result of choice. Any self-realisation or fulfilment is the result of choice. Thumbs up to Chekhov for this one.

Aesthetically, the performance was fascinating. The whole thing was in Russian, with surtitles for those of us without that language. It felt Russian at every level, not just the language. The performances were dynamic and drew me in. The stage was a great stream of contrast between action and stillness. I enjoyed the experience immensely.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Commodification of Causes

Today I spotted on the wrist of a colleague a band of the type usually associated with a fund-raising effort for a cause. Here's an example.By itself, this serves as yet another way to raise money for a cause (in this case, breast cancer research). It is only a token effort, based around the idea that if we each give $2 (oh mighty bank-breaking amount that it is) we can eventually raise enough money and awareness of the issue (to generate more research money).

One criticism of such efforts is that it is precisely a token effort. It doesn't require any commitment other than the approval of peers that you are wearing a worthy wristband. Your $2 went to a noble cause. And then, for an indefinite period, you wear the seal of Social Conscience on your wrist. Does it imply an ongoing commitment to raising funds for breast cancer research? No. Would you wear the wristband to a cocktail party? What if the colour clashes with your dress or your tie? Does the wristband remind you each day to give money or to ask other people for money to be passed on to the nominated research centres? Such a wristband, according to this criticism, is a temporary penance to alleviate the conscience and allow the individual to continue to live how they like.

The wristband I observed, however, had nothing to do with a noble cause or charity. It was a Batman - Dark Knight wristband. Should we be offended at this? No. Rather, we should see it as the revelation it is. It reveals to us the cheap, tawdry nature of the penance. If we are offended then it is because our consciences are only placated by the trivial amounts of money we contribute to worthy causes, in comparison to the flippant expenditure devoted to other capricious whims.

I don't write this to suggest that if you have $2 to spend you should spend it on the Dark Knight over Breast Cancer research. Conversely, I don't suggest that you should buy just the Breast Cancer research wristband. Rather, I write this to point out that if you are actually going to make a difference, then you should make a real difference. Commit to one cause over another ("Breast Cancer research is more important than the One Campaign!") Give more than $2. Give more often than today. Write letters to influential politicians and community leaders. Phone them. Berate them in public forums for not allocating enough money to the cause that has seized you. But do not absent-mindedly drop $2 for a wristband which represents a passing interest in a cause.




Monday, 28 July 2008

The Grandeur of Reason

This is little more than a bit of promotion for a friend of mine, Scott Stephens. If you're going to be anywhere near Rome in early September then get along to The Grandeur of Reason. Milbank, Zizek, Hauerwas... Stephens. My head explodes just thinking about it.

And despite my hectic travel schedule, I won't be anywhere near the place. Dang.

Friday, 25 July 2008

They're Made Out Of Meat

I found a story the other day, written by Terry Bisson and entitled, They're Made Out Of Meat. It's thoroughly worth reading, even for the comic value alone.

But I quite like the implied philosophy at work here too. We human beings are, after all is considered, totally biological. We are meat and bones, who each have a sense of individual identity. We are walking and talking, thinking and feeling, structures of meat. There is nothing about us that exists on another dimension - just the meat and bones you see in the mirror and on the table of the mortician.

This is a truly compelling view of human existence. It provokes a sense of absurdity, of finitude and of urgency. We live in a universe that has no obvious purpose, and we are going to die one day, so if we are going to do anything of value we need to hurry up and do it today.

It certainly sounds better than, "Thou shalt not X, or else I will put you in my furnace!"

Monday, 21 July 2008

Papal Apology for Sex Abuse

I've read only excerpts from the Papal apology concerning sexual abuse by holders of Catholic offices, and I both support and question it. That he has made an official apology is a very good thing. That he has said he takes pastoral responsibility and feels empathy is a very good thing. Neither should be ovverlooked or downplayed. For all the crimes which have been inflicted by Catholic priests (teachers, monks, nuns, etc.) there must be an acknowledgement of responsibility and of compassion. If there had been no apology at all, the situation would continue to be fester. Someone had to take a stand on the issue so that reconciliation can begin.

My only question is with regard to timing. I would have liked this move earlier than WYD2008. These crimes have been happening for too long, and I feel that this apology should have been given years earlier. One needs only read through a page or two of Marquis de Sade's 120 Days of Sodom to know that these vile practices occurred long before WYD2008. Nevertheless, an apology has been made and it is time to move forward.

I also question the immediate need for financial compensation for victims - but I ask this question without looking into matters of lost income as a result of mental trauma. Rather than appealing for compensation first and foremost, I think that a reconciliation is a more appropriate first step. Passing money from the Catholic Church to the victims does little to heal the hurts or mend the wounds felt by these victims. Truth and reconciliation must come first. Counselling should be provided to the victims and their families long before cash is calculated. Someone who is emotionally hurt will remain so whether rich or poor.

Don't doubt my position on this issue. The acts are vile and should never have happened. The apology is late but it has happened. It is time to move forward in reconciliation.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Enraged!

I heard a story last night, and it enraged me. I felt sorry for the folks who were hurt by the stupidity and I remembered what it was like to feel the same hurt (as it turns out, it was inflicted by the same people who last left scars on my soul). I wished that I could change it all.

About an hour later, I was asked by someone else to think of a time when I experienced God's love. I had two choices of moments with which I could reply. The one I didn't choose was this moment of injustice. But I will write about it here instead.

How is it that feeling outraged can be an experience of God's love? It is because divine love cares for people who are persecuted and oppressed. It is because God's love is best felt when it is felt about someone else. God's love is outward, not inward. God's love is not self-indulgent or narcissistic. As Bonhoeffer wrote, "The church is only the church when it is for others." Experiencing God's love is an experience of loving someone else, of giving to another, of acting compassionately in the face of injustice.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Motivation

In recent years the general feeling in Australia has been one to support efforts which protect the environment. Businesses are now including assessments of carbon footprints in their annual reports, because it makes for “green investment” appeal. The push for individuals to use compact flourescent lightbulbs grows stronger.

And yet, the burden of this green sentiment is always thought to be the responsibility of someone else. Someone should make cars use less fuel. Someone should find a way to use alternative energy. Someone should sign the Kyoto protocol and establish carbon trading. Everyone wants a large scale effort to make a change, but it has to begin with someone else.

Furthermore, it must not impact upon individuals. Someone should make cars use less fuel ...so that I can use lots of fuel without guilt. Someone should find a way to use alternative energy ...so that I can use lots of it. Someone should establish carbon trading ...so that I can continue to use up all the carbon I want.

This became evident when, last week, two different nightly news programmes announced that with a carbon trading scheme, the price of petrol could rise to as much as $8 per litre within a few years. Oh the moral panic! Eight dollars! Yes, eight dollars. The general populace wants change, as long as it doesn't cost a lot. And if it does cost a lot, someone else has to pay for it. Humanity is, by and large, a greedy predator that wants what it can get with the least amount of effort, struggle or sacrifice.

Such an approach to life is great if all we want is to be complex and technologically advanced animals. If that's the case, our lives should be about nothing more than sex and food. On the other hand, our lives could be so much more – but it will take more motivation than mere cash.

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Metaethics

After an informative discussion with my academic supervisor, the problem of what to do next has been resolved. I'm going to pursue studies in metaethics. Sounds like fun. In preparation for my thesis in this very question, I will look at some key works by Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Levinas and follow the line through the history of philosophy to Badiou.

Do you have any favourite writings by these thinkers? How do you read them?

Monday, 30 June 2008

What next?

I've been contemplating the next direction to take in my masters. Through some curious administration constraints I am once again in a position to direct my own study towards the final goal. But ah-hah! we must ask what the goal is.

I've long said that I'm working towards a materialist theology. This much is true, but I need to define what I mean by that. First of all, this materialism is informed as much by physicalism as it is by Marx, perhaps a little more so. I am mostly convinced that everything supervenes on the physical. There are no phenomena that contradict the physical laws of the universe. That is not to say that the articulation of physical laws we use now is perfect or complete, but rather that these laws are fundamental to the universe. The influence of Marx builds on this, and suggests to me that the most powerful forces in human history are social, economic and political.

So what to do with theology? I think there are two possible paths for future research. One is to develop a metaphysical model of how God relates to a physical universe. This model must not contradict the laws of physics, and to really top it off, should try to supervene on them. That's a hard ask, and almost equivalent to proving how it is that we know the earth to be banana-shaped. The other possible path is to pursue an epistemological investigation into truth. It is one thing to propose the form of truth (Badiou) but it is quite another to argue how it is that something is true. Assertion is a problem, as is revelation. The problem is that God, by all traditional definitions, is intangible and vulnerable to speculation. Perhaps it is as Badiou suggests, that the correct answer is anti-philosophy: pure, militant assertion outside the realm of proof.

At this stage there are no answers, just a question about which way to direct my next research.

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Newsflash: Capitalism is evil

Something that I don't often write about in this blog is what I do for a living. For the sake of keeping my worlds separate, I don't intend to make this a habit. It is also for the sake of keeping my side of my employment contract. However, there are some things about which I can write without saying too much.

My employer is a multinational firm that has had a lot of damaging press. Most of this poor press is related to corruption on the part of various executives, managers, sales people and intermediaries who have engaged in all manner of terrible business practices, including bribery, price fixing and market sharing. For all of these things the company is either being investigated or has already been prosecuted and fined - it's all a matter of public record.

One of the consequences of this is that all employees within a certain demographic are required to attend a session each year on compliance and ethical behaviour. In this session the truth of capitalism is exposed, quite unashamedly. There are just two points that I want to share. The first is the reason that ethical behaviour is expected: because it costs a lot of money to be unethical. Case after case is brought forward to show that the direct result of unethical behaviour is a hit to the bottom line. Just the first Powerpoint slide alone adds up to about 40MUSD in fines or litigation. The evil of capitalism is exposed here because it converts ethical behaviour into money. Money, the general equivalent that is useful in trading cotton for corn, etc., is so entirely general that it can even be exchanged for an ethical value. Once that equivalence has been established, it also means that money can be used to procure ethical values. It is entirely consistent with capitalism that money be used to procure certain kinds of behaviour (i.e., through bribes) and also that money be used to measure behaviour (i.e., the consequence of the bribe being prosecuted). The justification for “good” behaviour is money, rather than any other moral or ethical reason.

The second was a comment by the presenter that the reason for the corporation to exist is to make money - and that safety, the environment and social responsibility are secondary to that. If pressed on the issue, I'm sure that he would have argued that without profit, the company cannot do anything, let alone something “good.” His argument would have been flawed. If profit is more important than safety, the environment or social responsibility then it is permissible to ignore safety, the environment and social responsibility for the sake of profit. Using that logic, I could put someone's life at risk in order to make money so that I could avoid putting someone's life at risk.

Capitalism is, in two small examples, exposed for what it truly is: pure predation. It is the accumulation of money for the sake of money. The accumulation creates its own standards which exist only to justify itself. This relentless pursuit is the oppression of our time. It is the root of many kinds of evil, without question, and it has already conquered the world. Sell what you have, and give it to the poor. Give, and expect nothing in return.

Monday, 16 June 2008

Badiou - A Conclusion

This is a straight copy and paste from the conclusion of my recent paper on Badiou.



Badiou’s philosophy is complex in its presentation, but ultimately simple in its primary thesis. His assertion that ontology is mathematics is clear, but has wide ranging implications. It is also not a thesis that has gained widespread acceptance among philosophers or mathematicians. Nevertheless it represents his commitment to a pure philosophy, free from the sutures to immediate actuality in politics, art, love or science. From a theological viewpoint, there is more work to be done to apply this thesis to theology. Such a project would surely assist Christianity to shed itself of many of the elements that have crept in and become part of an all encompassing populist Christianity, leaving exposed once again the radical break that the Christian gospel makes with the world.

This break with the world, this theory of the Event, is at the heart of Badiou’s work. In L’Organisation Politique, and in his subsequent books, the theory of the Event arises again and again to provide context. The introduction of the new into the world is necessary for change. Without it, the situation is not truly changed, but is merely rearranged with little effect, creating only the appearance of change. For change to occur, the Event must happen and the truth of that event must seize individuals so that they, with the courage of the conviction in that truth, become militants who effect the changes necessary to bring into being a new world that they have glimpsed in the Event itself.

Badiou’s writing about the militant speaks predominantly about the single militant, the one who is seized by the truth. With some prodding, it is apparent that Badiou has in mind something more widespread and organised: the group. Groups of militants are subject to internal plurality, hypocrisy, fraud and division. They need to be organised and managed, and their interventions need to be defined. This is the kind of “requisite severity” that one first thinks is necessary to protect the group against the weariness of prolonged fidelity. However, taking that path is enough to overwhelm the group and drive it towards Evil. It is tantamount to legislating morality, forcing obedience, applying violence in the quest to totalise the truth. It is also unnecessary. The development of the transliteral law, a guiding principle by which the individuals discern fidelity, is a necessary step to unify the group. That law creates a touchstone for the militants and also defines space for the militants to have differences of opinion. That which is central to the group is fidelity to the Event, and the rest is peripheral. No group can maintain the Good without this structure.

These ideas of evental unity find friendship in the work of Bonhoeffer. The unity of Spirit over the identicality of action is key. Bonhoeffer creates his theology of the church around the unity of the Spirit, a unity for those who are “in Christ” and therefore in the church. For Bonhoeffer, being “in Christ” is the same as being in the church, because the church is Christ. That is not to say that the church is merely the representative of Christ, or the agents of Christ – the church is Christ, the group as collective person. God is in the world as Christ the church. Bonhoeffer’s concept of unity aligns with Badiou’s, but Bonhoeffer takes the veracity of the Event seriously and draws his conclusion.

So to insist on the veracity of the Christian Event, following the formal conditions as Badiou has laid them down, results in a picture of the church that requires a radical understanding of God. It is necessary to accept Badiou’s conditions that the militant is formed out of fidelity to the Event, and that this fidelity is guided in it actualisation by the transliteral law. It is necessary to accept that the Christian militant acts out of conviction and towards the actualisation of a new world. Because of the veracity of the Event, the next step through Bonhoeffer is the acceptance that Christ is the church as collective person, the actual materiality of God as unified by the Spirit. And the last, radical turn necessitated by accepting the veracity of the Christian Event in the formal conditions of Badiou is the ultra-Pauline view that it is only in the Christian Event that God now exists.

Badiou’s philosophy is an important contribution to secular philosophy and politics. Whether he acknowledges it or not, it also makes an important contribution to theology and contemporary Christian praxis.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Badiou, Done

I've finished my work on Badiou, for now. It was quite interesting to take his philosophy and plug it back into the ecclesiological context, even though he and most Badiou scholars would not care a whit for it. In brief, however, as soon as we take Paul's claim seriously (and Badiou doesn't) then we find a lot of common ground with Bonhoeffer, and are confronted with a model of God that is entirely New (I use this word deliberately, in the context of Badiou's work) and still very Christian.

The conclusion of the last essay found its way to here as a blog post, so I may yet do the same with this one when the peer review comes back. It'll be a long post, though.


Monday, 2 June 2008

Who loves whom?

The phrase "I love you" functions in a strange way. One person says it to another to convey affection and desire. "I love you" means only that "I find you appealing" or "I feel happy when you are near" or something similar. It is an expression of opinion and emotion and has an important role to play in the amorous relationship.

However, there is another side of "I love you" that is unspoken and perhaps not widely considered. It should be considered as an observation of action, rather than an expression of feeling. The lover who sets aside a promotion at work so that they can look after the beloved has performed an act of love. The lover who cares for the sick beloved by preparing meals, buying medicine, etc., has performed acts of love. In this way, the phrase should be said as "I loved you" or even better, "I loved you today."

Love, after all, is no less than choice that has become action. Love, if limited only to a state of emotion, is fickle and representative only of response to another. There is a place for that kind of love in the world, but by itself will not overcome difficulties and evils.

Perhaps the pinnacle of "I love you" is to say the subjective opposite. That is, "You love me." This is not a selfish or narcissistic statement, but rather one of humility. Occasionally one might hear it in the form, "Thank you for loving me" but this is gratitude. To say to someone, "You love me" or even "you loved me" is not a measure of ego or self-aggrandisement. It is an observation of the selfless acts of another, directed wholly towards the beloved.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Homer Simpson

This is great. It's a picture by an artist who takes fictional images and makes a real version of them. Behold, the real Homer Simpson.


Rare Homo Sapiens Specimen by *Orioto on deviantART

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

American Food: Big, Fat and Sweet

I recently spent some time in America visiting some friends and not contributing to my blogs. I couldn't help but notice several things about the country but one of them is with regard to the food. Everything is big, fat and sweet. Or at least those three adjectives are the criteria for how food (and perhaps other products) are deemed to be successful in the marketplace.

Now, coming from Australia, the first thing to notice is that American portion sizes are enormous. I don't just mean that they are a little larger, but they are simply enormous. I dare say that the standard portion size is close to double the Australian portion size. On the one hand, this represents a certain value for money (note that American prices are also lower than Australian). On the other hand, it indicates that the key attribute for the American consumer is quantity rather than quality. Whoever does market research for American restaurants has determined that a lot of average food is better than an average amount of great food.

The second and third are really variations on a theme: fat and sweet. If a savoury dish doesn't appear to be savoury enough, it gets deep fried to make it more appealing. Likewise, a sweet dish has extra sugar added to ensure that it is sweet enough (a chocolate muffin, with chocolate chips, and sugar crystals sprinkled on top...). Such artificial enhancements do little to add flavour, but do a lot to add to the simulation of flavour. Sugar and oil are the new equivalents of MSG.

This quest for more, and the sensation of more (rather than the actuality of more) speak volumes about the American consumer mentality. Rather than actually getting the good thing that they desire (a tasty and nutrious meal) they are getting an approximation of it as substitute (an unhealthy meal with exaggerated enhancements). They are never really satisfied, except in the senses. The object (meal) looks good and tastes good, but does no good.

This is the trap of sensuous consumerism. The root cause of desire is isolated and commodified in order to extract maximum cash in exchange for minimum production expense. The craving for sweetness that indicates that the body needs the nutrients of (for example) an apple is isolated into raw sugar and then added to something bland and cheaper. The thing that the person needs, in body or soul, is never delivered. It is only the primal trigger in the brain that is temporarily satisfied.

Monday, 5 May 2008

Published in Arche

This is a short notice to let you know, faithful reader, that I have had an article published in the BCT review of 2007, Arche. The paper is entitled, "Theology from Consciousness: Theological Implications of David Chalmers' Metaphysics."


Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Behold, the Idol

I'm told that I need to pay attention to the American election campaign because the actions of the president have a profound impact on Australian activity and foreign policy. To that end I have two things to say.

The first is to do with media coverage. Here in Australia it seems that Obama is getting a lot more press coverage than Clinton. Obama comes across as young and intelligent, whereas Clinton is portrayed as older, and part of an attempt for another Democrat dynasty. I've no idea what stage the Australian press has in the election outcome, except for Mr Murdoch, but that only affects his American readers and viewers. The bias is disappointing, but not really surprising.

The second is that this view (that the American election result affects Australia so very much) indicates that America is so powerful that we need to kowtow to it, thereby making America more powerful. The circularity of this is madness. An idol is something that is ascribed a property that it does not have (e.g., a lump of wood becomes an idol when a person says that it is a god). Behold, America the idol.

I wish that even in this globalised world, non-American countries could maintain cultural identity, but it feels that this is becoming an antiquated ambition.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Eat Less Meat?

Let me point you to an interesting article by George Monbiot on the sustainability of eating meat. Take the time to read it and consider how well we share our food with the world.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

2020 Summit

Kevin Rudd's 2020 Summit is a clever idea for a new Prime Minister. He has put forward the image of himself as someone who promotes discussion, understanding and ideas. Not only that, but he has managed to do so in a way that will always allow him to refer back to the summit as the place where various ideas were generated. Even if he had these ideas beforehand, as long as someone raised them at the summit, he will always be able to say that "These ideas came from the summit."

Clever.

Now that the cynic has said his bit, I honestly think it's a good idea to have this kind of thing. It's expensive, sure, but it's important to take the time away from the firefighting of daily governance and management in order to examine the situation from a larger perspective. I hope that we Australian people get more than a little back from it. We will need to get some coherent answers and policies communicated to us quick smart if we are to keep faith with the exercise.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Biblical Wisdom or Greek Common Sense

I was listening to a reading of Plato's symposium and heard two interesting passages that precede similar Biblical passages. Here, first, is a quote from the Symposium (in the dialogue between Socrates and Diotima).
...but I say that they are seeking neither for the half of themselves, nor for the whole, unless the half or the whole be also a good. And they will cut off their own hands and feet and cast them away, if they are evil; for they love not what is their own, unless perchance there be some one who calls what belongs to him the good, and what belongs to another the evil. For there is nothing which men love but the good.
And the Biblical passage that creates an echo of it.
"If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire." - Matthew 18:8

Again from the Symposium.
Diotima answered me as follows: "There is poetry, which, as you know, is complex; and manifold. All creation or passage of non-being into being is poetry or making, and the processes of all art are creative; and the masters of arts are all poets or makers." "Very true." "Still," she said, "you know that they are not called poets, but have other names; only that portion of the art which is separated off from the rest, and is concerned with music and metre, is termed poetry, and they who possess poetry in this sense of the word are called poets." "Very true," I said.

With the following from the letter to the Ephesians (noting that the word for workmanship is derived from the same root as for poem).
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them." - Ephesians 2:8-10

Now, what can we conclude? I think there is a lot that can be speculated, but the key conclusion is that the Bible certainly isn't unique in the wisdom sayings and proverbs it communicates. In fact, some of these sayings are better thought of as plain old common sense. Although there is wisdom in the Bible, these sayings do not make it unique, or the source of all wisdom. I find myself agreeing with Paul (through Badiou) that what is central to the Christian message is not a collection of proverbs or aphorisms, but Resurrection.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

The Human Animal

In reading through Badiou's two small works Ethics (halfway through) and St Paul (finished) it is possible that he has little regard for the human animal; the mundane entity that is caught up in the situation, immersed deep in the flow of capital with only self-interest and fulfilment of desire for activity. This human animal is no different to any other mammal and is driven only by evolutionary urges to eat and procreate. Such a beast does not have any principles by which to live, only urges and low level desires.

To become something other than this, the human animal must be exposed to a truth process – a state of living that changes the animal into something greater that is faithful to the truth itself. The animal becomes an “Immortal” or a master of time. This Immortal is what each human animal should become. It is the highest state of life because it is unnatural and goes against the default existence of humanity. Badiou writes, “To belong to the situation is everyone's natural destiny.” The “situation” is nothing more than the world into which we were born, or the society into which we have moved. Belonging to the situation is merely following the trend, the style, the fashion, the mob. Little wonder that it is only natural to belong there.

As I have mentioned elsewhere, and it seems that Badiou agrees (though he put it into words long before I ever did), to live a natural life is one of selfishness and narcissism, and is the original condition of humanity. Consequently, it is apparent that there was no Fall of Man and that I cannot agree with Augustine on the matter. Rather, the natural condition of Man (the human animal) is mortality, to die in the situation to which the human belongs. However, the unnatural life is the one that has been caught up in an impossible truth and is given a new identity because of that truth. What I would call the unnatural life, Badiou would call the Immortal life. There is nothing natural about taking laying down one's life for the sake of a friend or stranger.

My primary criticism of Badiou here is his apparent relegation of the Mortal Human Animal to a classification of sub-human (though this is not a term that he uses). With such a tag applied, there is an opportunity for abuse, or the demand that the welfare of animals be considered more highly than it is. It is acceptable to kill a cow to eat it. Is it now also acceptable to kill a Mortal Human Animal to eat it? Alternatively, it is unacceptable to force a Mortal Human Animal to become a slave (an owned biological machine to be used for labour). Is it now also unacceptable to own a horse as an animal of labour? Perhaps I have read him wrong, but until such time as I read otherwise, this appears to be a hole that needs to be filled or exposed.

Friday, 7 March 2008

Mark Twain's War Prayer

I don't often engage in mindless link propagation, but this one says enough by itself. It is Mark Twain's War Prayer. In this time of incessant war around the globe it is a timely and poignant piece and we should read it again.

Friday, 29 February 2008

Christian Metaphysics No More

Much of the baggage surrounding Christianity has been acquired over centuries of contact with culture and other religions. The highly evolved angelology and demonology were inherited from certain sects of Judaism, which in turn inherited them from the Hebrew exile to Babylon. Oddly enough, the strong claim of strict monotheism by Deutero-Isaiah that Yahweh was the one who creates good and evil (Is 45:7) came out of this same period. Only Yahweh was responsible for the heavens and all other gods were nothing more than blocks of wood or stone. As far as this Isaiah was concerned, the only things in the universe were matter and Yahweh.

The Pauline tradition, perhaps not unlike an ink blot, has been read to support all sorts of metaphysical systems, but ultimately makes no real claim one way or the other. In fact, as Badiou and others point out, Paul's message is really about a single thing: "Jesus, son of God, and Christ in virtue of this, died on the cross and was resurrected." All other issues are peripheral to this. Circumcision? Peripheral. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision are anything. In other words, unless it has something to do with the central issue of Jesus and the resurrection, it should not be evaluated within the language of the Christian message. Peripheral doctrines that divide the community don't have value.

So it is with metaphysics. The traditional evangelical worldview of dualism has no value to Christian theology. The traditional Catholic heirarchies of angels and demons, saints and sinners, planes of existence outside the material... all have no value to Christian theology. Even contemporary views of Christian physicalism (whether creationist, Darwinian, intelligently designed!) are nothing. Extend this far enough and the very problems of metaphysics are not Christian problems. It is not that the Christian philosopher is ill-equipped to tackle those problems – that has nothing to do with being a Christian – but rather the case is the opposite. Christian theology has not been excluded from metaphysics, but metaphysics has been excluded from Christian theology. There is little reason to pursue it as an explicitly Christian activity. Theology will only be distracted by it. Rather, theology is closer to its home when concerned with the consequences of the resurrection rather than any back-filled metaphysical explanation for the resurrection.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Working Title

The working title for my essay has been proposed. "The Resurrection, The Church and the Theology of the Subject" is where it stands at the moment. Sounds intriguing. At this stage it looks as though I'm going to put Badiou next to St Paul, Hegel or Žižek, and Bonhoeffer. It's a funny little mix, but should result in something interesting.

It certainly fits into the larger project of materialist theology. And by "materialist" I think there is a deliberate double-meaning of materialism as opposed to physicalism. Not only does materialism demand the absence of an ectoplasmic reality, but it marks a solid line through Marx as well. From Paul to Marx to Bonhoeffer to Badiou.

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Impossible to Believe

Reading through Badiou's St Paul I noticed a comment of his that mentions that it is "impossible the believe" that a person could be resurrected and so Badiou dismisses it as a fable. At a basic reading of this it seems like justification that Badiou can separate Paul's concept from Paul's proclamation. However, upon further reflection it seems more likely that Badiou is more correct than first pass would reveal.

Of course it is impossible. To believe such a thing is a rupture against the prevailing order. It's impossible, but that's the very reason that it works. Unless it was impossible, Paul could never have written what he did. Unless it was impossible, it wouldn't have been an Event.

So let's see where this goes...

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Saved by Tea

If you've never read the h2g2 entry on tea, go an do it now. Don't read further until you have.

There are those who would suggest that making a cup of tea this way is frustration because it is too much work. It takes a long time to do all of that. In fact, in my estimation I think it would take about 10 minutes to make a good cup of tea, and then another 10 minutes to enjoy it.

This is a good thing. How many activities do we have left in the contemporary Anglosphere that require us to do something as slow-paced as this? It forces us to stop. It opens space for us to reflect. It opens space for us to talk with each other. A good cup of tea is never drunk alone.

Pardon this diversion into pop-philosophy, please, but I think that this is something inherently wise about the activity and practice of drinking tea. Certainly the Japanese philosophers think so, and so do I.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Lacanian Skins

Recently I've been watching Skins and think it's great. One of the most interesting features of the show is that all adults in the show are initially portrayed as one-dimensional characters. The school principal is only focused on the image of the school; the parent is only about disciplining the child; etc. However, just as the protagonists are 17, reaching the status of legal adulthood in England, so too do the adult characters reveal complexity as each episode progresses. For a child, the world is full of simple things that perform a small number of functions. Other people fulfil single roles. Playmate, parent, stranger, shop-keeper. However, as we move into adulthood it becomes apparent that desires, dreams, hopes and additional layers of complexity are present in everything. There is no single explanation for how and why things operate as they do.

It is as though the Lacanian quilting process continues for all of these characters, as they are forced to uncover the meanings of symbols that they have always-already had around them. The immersive environment of childhood and then adolescence is repeatedly stripped away and refined as they gain some measure of empathy with other people. The parent is not only about raising children, but also has desires and emotional states. The parent wants comfort, emotional stability, sexual fulfilment and so on.

And yet, the next step is never taken. That is, the pursuit of all these desires, now uncovered in the lives of adults, ultimately results in no satisfaction. The dissatisfaction of obtaining the object cause of desire is not discussed. The show stops at the point of identifying the core drives and desires of the characters, and leaving the viewer to merely acknowledge that the person is complex and needs to be understood within the framework of those motivations. If there is anything that I have learned from even my shallow reading of Lacan, it is the fact that desire is an illusion, an artificial motivation that will not satisfy because it will never replace the Real. All desires are arbitrary. They come from nowhere and they deliver nothing. Ultimately the journey itself is a meandering under the pretense that it has a final destination. However, the only destination is the grave. The journey only has meaning in context, but if the first point of that context is arbitrary then the meaning itself is arbitrary.

Moving back to the show, I think it's a worthwhile series of fictions and I'm keen to see where it goes, but I can't shake the feeling of arbitrariness in it all. Life is absurd after all.

Thursday, 10 January 2008

New Research for 2008

I'm currently in discussion with the good people at BCT about what subjects I can do in 2008. The administrative wrangling continues. However, if everything goes my way I will be pursuing the work of Alain Badiou to determine the ecclesial implications of the Event. It strikes me that if the only genuine subject is the revolutionary subject then there must be some limits to it with regard to a group of subjects.

Is the group comprised of subjects and followers?

If the group succeeds in its revolutionary ambition, must it now necessarily embark on a new mission to revolt against itself?

And so forth. It seems to me that if the genuine Christian experience is best described as a revolutionary subject, there are some difficulties in establishing or maintaining a community called the Church. It may be that the Church can only exist accidentally and not institutionally. However, I won't really know for a few weeks to come.

Watch this space for more.