Friday, 28 August 2009

A sentence from a higher power

This is an interesting quote concerning the release of the Lockerbie Bomber on the basis that he has been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given only three months to live.
"Our beliefs dictate that justice be served but mercy be shown," Scottish Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said. He added that Megrahi "now faces a sentence imposed by a higher power. . . . It is terminal, final and irrevocable. He is going to die." (source)
It's interesting because it identifies the role of mercy between human beings, even for those who have committed terrible crimes or inflicted evils on the world. Mercy is not often granted to people like Megrahi.

Machiavelli had an opinion on mercy that applies here, insisting that it should only come after the willingness and capacity to punish had already been well established. In this case, MacAskill has been quite Machiavellian. Megrahi was sentenced and served much of that sentence, thus giving value to the mercy (according to Machiavelli).

This view of mercy, that it should only exist in contrast to a history of actual punishment, is not dissimilar to the idea of the mercy for Christians at a Final Judgement. However, as the core of that idea is the insistence that God has punished, continues to punish, and will continue to punish according to divine will. This Machiavellian God fits the model of God-as-earthly-monarch. The model collapses when God is not viewed as a kind of earthly monarch, but when God defines what it means to be a divine monarch.

The power of conquest and legislation is not the power of God because God's power is shown in weakness. Weakness is powerful because it cuts across the natural order to exert power and assert self-interest. Weakness (so-called) is only weak because it denies any claim to assertion of power. In fact, it is powerful because it can act without fear of consequence from the natural order. Thus, this kind of mercy does not need the merciful person to have previously demonstrated punishment. Rather, it requires that the merciful person gives up any claim to administer punishment.

The criticism will come, no doubt, that this will make for a terrible system of government. That's true. A government needs laws to guarantee the perpetuation of society. However, this idea of mercy is meant for those who eschew the primacy of government, for those who follow God-as-divine-monarch, who will live in weakness.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Template Change

I've lost all knowledge and will to knowledge for web development, but it was time for a new template, and time that I flipped that picture of me so that it's not like what I see in the mirror.

More theology and politics later.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Thesis Update

I know that it's poor form to spill too much about a thesis prior to submitting it for assessment, but on the off chance that one of you is interested in the progress, I'll share the following.

By word count, it's about three quarters complete. Only the final chapter and the conclusion remain.

By content, I think I've managed to distill the essential elements of Kierkegaard's text and Badiou's text into something manageable within the scope of the project. I also think I've managed to put the two adjacent to each other and let Badiou add to Kierkegaard. I only hope that I've not simply stated the bleedin' obvious, but that I've been able to add some small token to Kierkegaardian scholarship.

The answer to that riddle, however, remains to be seen.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Revealing God

Christianity has a problem. Amongst the myriad of parody and critique levelled at the Church, a serious problem lurks, and it is an ongoing and genuine problem that must be addressed. It reared its ugly head in a living room one night as a friend asked, "What does Jesus look like at work?" No answer. It was seen in a lengthy op-ed, "Our research is necessary because religion does not do what apologists for religion usually say it does. It does not reveal a god to us or enable us to achieve something referred to vaguely as enlightenment." Again, no answer.

The problem is this: How does Christianity embody God in such a way that God can be recognised?

There is no shortage of opposition to the idea that the Christian embodies God, or reveals God. Disunity in the Church, pedophilia among the clergy, greed in the televangelist, violence in the middle ages. Every stereotype can be imagined and is based on some truth. Where is God in all that? How does Christianity reveal God?

The answer lies in Žižek's appropriation of Hegel to explain the Church. He takes the ingredients previously used to create the concept of the Trinity and develops a different answer. Whereas in the Nicean model of Trinity, the three modes of being for God are taken as having always existed, in Žižek's approach the three modes of being form the three components of the dialectic. God, the wholly transcendent ontological being, is the thesis. Jesus, the wholly material existential being, is the antithesis. When these two are brought into direct opposition in the violence of the Cross, neither of them remain and we are left with a synthesis: the Church, a wholly material being which has its being in the wholly transcendent spirit. The concept of God as a transcendent, ethereal being died on the cross, along with the notion that God's spirit could only reside in a single material being. Instead, God continues to exist as the Church, the group of believers whose existence is only assured (to throw a little Bonhoeffer into Žižek's mix) as the Church, not as individuals.

From Žižek, with a little help from Bonhoeffer, the answer to the question of how Christianity embodies God is that it does so in the Church community, not in the individual. Ever since the Crucifixion, no individual has ever been able to reveal God because God now inhabits the community. It's not a single action that reveals God, whether that action is by an individual or a community, but it is in the community itself that God is revealed because it is only in the community that God exists.

The answer to the question of "What does Jesus look like at work?" is to look away from the individual and look toward the community. There are, therefore, no ethical rules for the individual, only for the community. Whatever the individual does can only have meaning and relevance if it is grounded in community. For the Christian who is in the workplace, the same applies. God is revealed as the individual is grounded in community, not in individuality. The New Testament teaching has heavy emphasis on the community, from the Matthean sermon on the mount to the Pauline metaphor of the body of Christ, from the Johannine exhortations to love to the Jamesian insistence on the responsibility to others. The Christian individual exists, without question, but genuine emancipatory (read: salvific) existence is in the Christian community.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Assumptions about War

I see I'm not the only one thinking about the pervasiveness of war these days. This is a great quote from Natasha Mitchell, host of All In The Mind.
Why do we assume that war is, must and will always be inevitable - that it is a core condition of humanity and therefore we need develop increasingly sophisticated technologies to service it? Has this become a lazy civilizational assumption based on beliefs about our predecessors and the nature of deep historical rifts, a loyalty and love of the military complex, and a habituated blood lust? Why in the 21st C can't we prioritise using our smarts to drive innovation in cross-cultural conflict negotiations?