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.