Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Coffee and The Representation of Absence

Zizek's recent talks at Birkbeck have included the illustration of a man ordering coffee. It's from a film, but I haven't yet found the name of the film. So, at the risk of butchering some otherwise fine dialogue, here's a paraphrase.
The man ordering coffee says, "I want coffee without cream." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry, we've run out of cream, but I can still bring you coffee without milk."
Zizek makes the point that in this exchange we see the importance of the representation of absence. Even though black coffee is black coffee, whether caused by the absence of milk or the absence of cream, the specific absence makes the difference.

I think a similar logic is at work in the question of existential goodness. In other words, a person might give aid to a needy person because they follow the Christian command to love, and another person might do the same thing because they've concluded that it maximises the total amount of happiness in the world. The distinction between the two is only the unseen motivation.

In a pragmatic view, the two should be judged the same. The need was met. Are we then just quibbling about the details if we consider motivation? How about a third case?

A person gives aid to a needy person because they know that doing so they will make the needy person dependent on aid, and later can exploit this dependency. The need was met, but the motivation is vastly different.

The representation of absence can be quite important, especially in cases where something is defined by its absence, or defined by the absent motivation. Sometimes it's a necessary addendum, albeit secondary. After all, there's no point ordering coffee without cream if you don't even get the coffee at all, whether without cream or milk.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Rapture Redux

Some pithy thoughts about Harold Camping's predictions. Twitter didn't seem to be the right place for this.

1. Followers gave away their possessions leading up to the event. But why leave it until the last moment? If it's important to give away all you have, then do it anyway.

2. Judgment Day predictions come and go all the time. This is just another one.

3. Camping is probably a sincere and devout believer, even as much as he's wrong about this. Christians need to be gracious, even if our fellow believers piss us off or do some other stupid thing (e.g., odd peripheral doctrines, false claims of illness, and so on).

4. There was an interesting sense of expectancy because this had such a high profile. Such certainty is intimidating.

5. The whole thing has an escape clause of, "I was wrong, but the Bible is right!" It just saps credibility.

Last one (for now):

6. After the rapture, the earth was meant to be abandoned by God for judgment. What if that's true? What if the world as it is has been abandoned by God's direct intervention, but his command to love remains? The burden falls to us and us alone, and our punishment or reward is to live in the world of our own making.

I like the last one best.

Friday, 20 May 2011


I know I'm giving it attention when I shouldn't.

I can't help it, though. It's silly. It's big. It's a target and I'm giving in to temptation.

See you all on the 22nd.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Warning! Speculation!

This is something of a woolly idea at the moment, a comparison of axiomatic foundations for revealed knowledge.

The easiest thing to criticise about a revealed religion is the foundation of revelation. All three religions of the book are open to this problem. The text is sacred because it is named as revealed. Revelation makes it authoritative. Readers who were not privy to the revelation must assent to the underlying workings which produced the text.

I speculate that there is a similar structure at work with physics texts. Readers who were not privy to the calculation need to assent to the underlying workings. The reader may never have worked through the various mathematical proofs of the theory, so is one step removed from the creation process.

But (ah hah!) the science is peer-reviewed! Unfortunately, so is canon. Lots of texts didn't make it into Christian canon, as reviewed by a learned body. In both cases, we trust the authoritative body (editorial boards, synods, etc.) which is comprised of people who are insiders to the privileged knowledge. Therefore, the implicit trust is in the reviewing body who approve the individual's text as authoritative. The primary trust is not in the mode of production of the knowledge, but in the mode of production of the review.

If someone outside that venerated group is unable to comprehend the production of the knowledge (has no mystical experience, cannot grasp calculus), they're left only with the choice to trust people who can comprehend it. We are alienated from the truth because there is a veil over its mode of production and must rely on testimony to overcome the alienation.

With such similarities in the production of authoritative texts, any comparison between the two can't be done in this arena. We're forced back into looking at reason and revelation as modes of production in themselves. It makes me wonder if, like natural theology or revealed theology, there is Reasoned Theology. If so, it sounds like the greatest excuse ever developed for lots of books on apologetics. And I can't stand apologetics.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The darndest things

I was going to start a new feature on this blog, called Pentecostals Say The Darndest Things. I even had a few lined up. Try this little gem.
Pente: I'm just thinking about the house with the deck and the pool that I'm going to have.
Me: How long's that going to take you to save up for it?
Pente: God's going to give it to me. He gives me the desires of my heart, and that's what my heart desires.

And it honestly sounds like a fun sport, but I think I'd be hopelessly blown out of the water by Fundies Say The Darndest Things. It's a mission for them, but it's just a hobby for me.

Nevertheless, I might drop one in from time to time, as the mood takes me.