Monday, 22 November 2010

Religion, Public and Private

Expecting a religious person to keep their religion private is much the same as telling someone that they can fall in love but must keep it a secret. It's a waste of time. Anyone seized by love will be quite unable to do what you ask. You'll see it in their eyes.

But that's no justification to bare the whole of the relationship to the world. Imagine a couple in love who broadcast their entire life to the world. All the whispers, the kisses, the lovemaking, the arguments, the drudgery of housekeeping... Some things are best nourished in private, and the same is true with religion.

Religion must have public and private aspects. There are parts of religion which are wholly internal just as much as there are parts which affect the public life of the believer. It's unrealistic and inauthentic to confine it in total to one or the other.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Zizek gets the RSA Animate treatment

Quick! It's Zizek! You know you want to watch it. Eleven minutes of Zizek, turning something on its head, complete with clever pictures on a digital whiteboard.


Tolstoy's Christianity

I've mentioned elsewhere that I've started on some Tolstoy[1]. He seems to have two different approaches to Christianity as a thing. On the one hand, he is adamant that the Christian conception of life is self evidently correct and understood by all to be the truth, but on the other hand he writes persuasively about it for those people who aren't yet living that way. In other words, Christianity is obviously right to everyone, and (even though you know this) you should be genuinely Christian (because you aren't living that way now).

He argues for Christianity using reason, and not just as an exercise in faith. Christianity is not a lifestyle choice, one alternative among many, but is the best way for humanity to live. And he argues that this is self-evident to everyone. Although most of his argument is centred around the issue of not resisting violence by force, his view is clear that Christianity is right because it is universally beneficial and better than the social view or the state view of life.

This, of course, puts him in contrast to Kierkegaard. Kierkegaard argued for Christianity on the basis of authority and revelation, not rationality or reason. Through the inheritance of scripture, the written words of people who witnessed Jesus in person, a person has testimony and instructions for how to be Christian, but that this testimony and instruction only has value through the leap of faith.

Both of them make a return to the individual (reader) and argue that as a result of this reason or faith, the right way to live is to obey the commands of Christ to love God and to love one's neighbour. For Kierkegaard, when the individual obeys Christ they become a kind of authentic human, freed from the structures of the humanly-established order to live in genuine liberty. For Tolstoy, individual obedience to Christ awakens the person from the hypnosis of the existing human order, and when many people do this then the kingdom of God becomes a physical thing, freeing people from the structures of states and institutions.

In short, for both writers, the kingdom of God is an emancipatory project for all people, contingent upon the individual obedience to the commands of love.

1. Coincidentally, this is my first exposure to audiobooks as well, courtesy of Librivox. It's an experience entirely different to reading, but I might write about that some other time.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Adjustment to the comments policy

I've changed my mind a couple of times about whether to allow anonymous comments on this blog. I figured that it would allow people to contribute meaningfully without having to have an OpenID account, or something similar. But I've forgotten what the guys at Penny Arcade have to say about this.

So I'm shutting down the ability to anonymously post onto this blog. I still like freedom of expression and opinion, and in the interest of reducing bile in the comments, I'm taking away the anonymity.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Kierkegaard and Tolstoy

I'm part way through my first real encounter with Tolstoy, through his book The Kingdom of God is Within You. Perhaps some important quotes will venture their way onto the blog in the coming days and weeks.

However, and I might be the last person in the world to pick up on this, the resemblance between Kierkegaard and Tolstoy are striking, even just in this book alone. Kierkegaard's three spheres of life are tremendously similar to Tolstoy's three philosophies of life. Similar, but not identical.

With a little hand-waving, one could make them superimpose on each other, but the more interesting approach is to find how they inform and critique each other. And more interesting still is that they both advocate a relentless pursuit of the teachings of Christ. Christ is, for both of them, the teacher par excellance, who instructed people how to live as though God was king of this world, and that if we are to take Christianity seriously, then it must be immediately (and militantly, if we invoke Badiou) obeyed by the individual, and not enveloped in the mists and shrouds of sacramental observances.

The rest of the book, and maybe some other Tolstoy work, await me.