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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Catholicity and a Suffering God


‘The devout Christian of the future will either be a “mystic”, one who has experienced
“something”, or he will cease to be anything at all’.

---Karl Rahner, 'Christian Living Formerly and Today,' Theological Investigations, vol. 7, trans. David Bourke (New York: Herder and Herder, 1971), 15.



One of our more eloquent contributors (see the comments to "Retreat of the Barron") to this blog has suggested that I depart from the teachings of the Church from time to time as it suits the topic. It is never my intent to subvert the fundamentals of Catholic dogma, doctrine or Tradition, though I am aware that sometimes I place a heavy tax on them. My goal is never to destroy, but it is often to deconstruct, and that makes some people very nervous. I am not St. Paul, however, and I do not know I am able to be all things to all people. My goal is to read scripture, dogmatics, doctrine and Tradition and see what wants to come to life in them, to see what events seek release from them, and then allow the event to unfold (that pretty much is deconstruction in a nutshell). I attempt to look past the statements-as-idols and try to land on their iconic element. My self-imposed caveat: avoid at all costs becoming a dogmatic fundamentalist--avoid committing idolatry of the word(s).

What I propose here is not novelty for novelty's sake, nor do I propose to usurp Catholic tradition and turn it into something it cannot become ( that is, foster an inauthentic development). What I am discovering is that the Tradition of the Church is rich with meaning, far from any possibility of being reduced to dead dogma that speaks to no one and ends up on the refuse heap of history. Dogma and doctrine are great gifts bestowed upon the religiously and theologically minded, and as in the parable of the talents, to be received so that they enrich and enliven that tradition. It is their very given-ness that opens up a horizon for their releasing of the event.

My assertions lately of a suffering God do not come hocus pocus from a magical hat. They are deeply embedded in the mystical traditions of the Church, and are part of the very tapestry of scripture. I recently paraphrased Rahner's axiom that the Trinity we see is the Trinity that is--the immanent Trinity is identical with the economic Trinity. And that has implications worthy of meditation and contemplation. Hans Urs von Balthasar has also closed the gap on the economic and immanent Trinity, and from that has allowed for an understanding of a suffering Godhead.

In a remarkable document completed before Rahner and von Balthasar died, we find a veritable Biergarten of  thinkers coming into consensus (the document was very likely finally redacted by Joseph Ratzinger).

I will quote a substantial portion here:


For historical or systematic reasons God’s immutability or impassibility is often called into question in today s Theology, above all in the context of a Theology of the Cross. In that way different theological conceptions of the suffering of God have arisen. It is necessary to know how to separate false ideas from elements in accord with the biblical revelation. Since discussion of this problem continues, we limit ourselves to a first approach, which nevertheless seeks to point to a solution to the question.


1. The supporters of this Theology assert that their ideas can be found in the Old and New Testaments and in some of the Fathers. But the influence of modern philosophy has certainly had a greater weight, at least in the systematic presentation of this Theology.

1.2. According to many of our contemporaries, this Trinitarian suffering is rooted in the very divine essence itself; according to others, it is based on a certain emptying of himself on the part of God the Creator, who in some sense binds himself to human freedom or, in virtue of a pact, freely forces himself to hand over his Son—a fact that they say makes the suffering of the Father deeper than all the suffering of creation.


In recent years a few Catholic authors have made similar suggestions, maintaining that the principal role of the Crucified consisted in manifesting the suffering of the Father.




3. Without doubt the Fathers underline (against the pagan mythologies) the “apatheia” of God, without denying in this way his compassion for the suffering of the world. For them the term “apatheia” indicates the opposite of “pathos”, a word that means involuntary suffering imposed from the outside or as a consequence of fallen nature. When they admit natural and innocent suffering (like hunger or sleep), they attribute these to Jesus Christ or to God inasmuch as he feels compassion for human suffering (Origen, Horn, in Ez. 6, 6; Comm. in Matt. 17, 20; Set. in Ez. 16; Comm. in Rom. 8, 9; De prin. 4, 4, 4). From time to time they use a dialectical form of expression: God has suffered in Jesus Christ in an impassible fashion because he has done it in virtue of a free choice (Greg. Thaum., Ad Theopompum 4-8).
... But the Christology of the Church does not allow us to affirm formally that Jesus Christ could suffer according to his divine nature (cf. DS 16, 166, 196f., 284, 293f, 300, 318, 358, 504, 635, 801, 852).
Despite what has just been said, the Fathers cited above clearly affirm the immutability and impassibility of God (e.g., Origen, Contra Celsum 4, 4). Thus they absolutely exclude from the divine essence that mutability and that passivity that would permit a movement from potency to act (cf. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, q. 9, a. lc). Finally, the following considerations have been taken into account in the Tradition of the Faith of the Church to clear up this problem.

4.2. The affirmation of the impassibility of God supposes and implies this way of understanding his immutability, but this is not to be understood as though God remained indifferent to human events. God loves us with the love of friendship, and he wishes to be loved by us in return. When this love is offended, Sacred Scripture speaks of suffering on the part of God. On the other hand, it speaks of his joy when the sinner is converted (Lk 15:7). “To suffer is a more sane reaction and closer to immortality than complete insensibility” (Augustine, En. in Ps. 55, 6). The two aspects need each other. If one or the other is neglected, the concept of God as he reveals himself is not respected.

5.1. Today man desires and searches for a Divinity that will be omnipotent and certain but that does not appear indifferent; one, moreover, that is full of compassion for the miseries of man and in that sense “suffers with them”. Christian piety has always rejected the idea of a Divinity indifferent to the vicissitudes of creatures. It is even inclined to admit that, just as “compassion” is among the most noble human perfections, it can be said of God that he has a similar compassion without any imperfection and in an eminent degree, namely, the “inclination of commiseration ... and not the absence of power” (Leo I, DS 293). It is maintained that this compassion can coexist with the eternal happiness itself. The Fathers called this total mercy toward human pain and suffering “the passion of love”, a love that in the Passion of Jesus Christ has vanquished these sufferings and made them perfect (cf. Greg. Thaum., Ad Theopompum; John Paul II, Dives in misericordia, 7; AAS 72 [1980]: 1199ff).

5.2. As far as the question of the “suffering of God” is concerned, there is undoubtedly something worth retaining in the expressions of Holy Scripture and the Fathers, as well as in some recent theologies, even though they require clarification as shown above. This should perhaps also be said with regard to the Trinitarian aspect of the Cross of Jesus Christ. The eternal generation of the Son and his role as the immaculate Lamb who would pour out his precious blood are equally eternal and precede the free creation of the world (cf. 1 Pet l:19ff; Eph 1:7). In this sense, there is a very close correspondence between the gift of divinity that the Father gives to the Son and the gift by which the Father consigns his Son to the abandonment of the Cross. Since, however, the Resurrection is also present in the eternal plan of God, the suffering of “separation” (see above, B, 1.1) is always overcome by the joy of union; the compassion of the Trinitarian God for the suffering of the Word is properly understood as the work of most perfect love, which is normally a source of joy[.]   from "Theology, Christology and Anthropology."


The voices of Rahner and von Balthasar are still perceptible in this fascinating treatise.

This God of sympathy, empathy, compassion, need not be conceived as one coming into his own Trinitarian reality in some process within the immanent relations of persons. Rather, as I have suggested, the compassionate God is presented the suffering of the eternal Son made flesh and receives it in sympathy through the hypostatic union. God has confirmed his solidarity with his creature by answering her suffering with his love and presence. God insists we do no less for each other.

The God of suffering has implications for the debunking of theodicy once and for all. Just as God turns the tables, changes the subject in the Book of Job, we, as beings who meditate on human suffering, must uncouple the power and mystery of God from the human condition. If Job teaches anything, it teaches that theodicy is not the right question, otherwise God would have given his answer. Instead, he enjoins Job and makes him present to creation and restores him to more and greater life. Even here in the older scriptures, God has declared his solidarity with mankind.

Genesis has also revealed, in mythical terms, that mankind, having chosen knowledge of good and evil over life itself, must take responsibility for that choice. He must look not toward God to justify or explain evil and suffering in the created world, but to humankind itself. This is the fire mankind has stolen from reshith, and a flame mankind must keep lit. And that work of addressing evil and suffering is hard work, and underscores mankind's preference for taking privilege without its attendant responsibility. After all, God, in the Incarnation has given the Tree of Life back to mankind even after it has claimed to own good and evil. This is the irrevocable self-communication of God as understood within the theological-anthropological horizon.

Redirection and uncoupling: redirect Job's question to explain the ugly side of the human condition toward creation itself, and uncouple God's potentia absoluta from his potentia ordinata, thereby uncoupling his omnibenevolence from suffering in this world. This hermeneutic strategy does not give God a pass on mankind's problem of evil and suffering, but instead underscores his delimiting his own omnipotence in order to respect the integrity of a created universe that lives and breathes in great viability according the his absolute creative gesture.

This challenge to the theodical gesture will no doubt be met with incredulity. Why didn't God in his potentia absoluta create a world already perfect; certainly he could have done that. Wouldn't that obviate his having to ordinate his power to his own creation? The Church has always taught that God, in his absolute goodness and freedom, could have created a world other than this one; but it does not teach that it would be any less imperfect. The aporia cuts an apophatic space of unknowing where all negative statements are true and all positive statements are inadequate (Nicholas of Cusa). He did not create another world: true. He did create this one: inadequate. Such is the aporia of life itself, the mind, and the human condition.

Rahner was right: a mystic or nothing at all.




 

50 comments:

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  2. I have not worked this out completely, Joseph, but it seems to me within the logic of theology to understand the potentia absoluta as the creative power and will that sets created matter into all motion, which would include evolution as process ( as well as all the behaviors of matter). There might even be an aleatory dimension to the creative act. God creates until he recapitulates his own image and likeness (how that would look in this world). Then he rests, declaring all good, and it is that very goodness (and we should add, truth and beauty here: these are part of his image and likeness as well), as part of divine justice, that orders the power to creation. It is God being faithful to the world's integrity and viability. The world continues to morph into itself as creation continues, but after the appearance of man, with and by his cooperation.

    The 'sin' question is interesting. If by sin we mean a breach in the partnership, then 'no' seems the appropriate answer; 'sin' is a 'human' thing insofar as it distorts freedom and responsibility. What do you think? I mean from a biblical standpoint, the so called, symbolic order.

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    3. The synthesis driving these questions is very elegant. These ARE the questions! Catholics today inherit the distinction between the potentias, but that does not imply a particular way to 'read' that distinction. I am (ab)using that distinction lately to debunk theodicy, a poor and ignoble use for sure.

      Your questions ask how we use this gift from the Tradition in a way that makes sense for us today, and does not lead ineoxorably to contradiction within the Godhead.

      I did indeed mean to point out the logic of a completed stage in creation once humankind appears, but that is fairly arbitrary and skewed to the human creature. I opened the door for other objects in creation by introducing the good, truth and beauty (after all, von Balthasar has joined us in this post).

      I wish there were some concrete way into the question of 'where God draws the line' between the potentias. I am taking lessons from Nicholas of Cusa on this right now from his _ de docta ignorantia_ http://jasper-hopkins.info/DI-I-12-2000.pdf . There is a knowing in not knowing. At some point we must let go of Vergil's hand.

      I don't think there is a systematic discernment that works so speculatively, but there might be a contemplative space where such discernment occurs.

      The distinction between moral and natural evil is less mysterious. You later remark about cancer antedating the appearance of humans cuts through to the heart of this issue. Cancer is part of the created order and results, speculatively, from the possible aleatory realm of creation as they affect self-replicating molecules, immune surveillance and programmed cell death (apoptosis). So, I agree with your implicit conclusion that cancer in dinosaurs precludes cancer as retribution for sin. I am reminded of something the young Stephen Dedalus mused about: 'canker is a disease of plants, cancer one of animals.'

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    6. I'll keep this first reply brief so that if I've misunderstood you, you can correct me as we move forward.

      Sam Harris has made the case that there is no free will, and ALL behavior is reducible to the functions of the evolved brain (he is a neuroscientist, after all) without remainder. So, it would follow from Harris's assertion that no distinction can be made between moral and natural (human nature--he is not speaking to volcanos and sunamis) evil. It also follows here that there is no goodness either, that altruism, sympathy, empathy etc are merely adaptions to the environment that seek something for the self: there is always personal gain in every act.

      That worldview does not square with Catholicism, or even Derrida's notions of Justice, the gift, democracy, etc.

      There is no excess in a Borg-like world, and no possibility for the event.

      Let me know if I'm on track with your thinking on this.

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  11. I congratulate you on several fronts: first for mentioning Gould and Meier in the same sentence (that kind of thrown-ness, I think, is very creative), and for the elaborateness of your investigations. You have anticipated the problem of deism/theism very well. And I agree with you that if we leave a mechanistic universe in place and a God off somewhere paring his fingernails, "deism should be the result, not Christian theism."

    What I believe is at the heart of the Christian experience, though, is not a God so distant that he is irrelevant, but that he is not aloof, not utterly impassible. I have presented my meditation on the hypostatic union in this particularity.

    Still, there is something afoot in the Genesis texts. There are 'at last' moments, pauses in something. I have written elsewhere that these equilibrating punctuations contain events released as revelations about God and humans.

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    4. I cannot knee-jerk a response to God taking pleasure in pain and death. The majesty of evil. What you say here, ironically, eradicates theodicy more profoundly and permanently than anything I've come up with. Such a kataphatic meditation as this one dwarfs my apophatic musings.I will retreat for the moment in the mystical adage that negations are true and affirmations are inadequate...

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    5. This is a very dark side of celebrating Leviathan. It can only play out in the Christ-event as a hypostasis of sadism in a world that belongs to Abraxis, not to one created by Elohim.

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  12. I will reconsider a few of the Genesis narratives and look again at what events are released in the transformation of mimesis to semiosis.

    'God created humankind in his image, male and female he created them.' The representation of image and likeness is climactic, an 'at last' moment. The narrative posits 'rest,' but God does not leave the narrative.

    In a related moment, God seeks to provide a suitable helper for the man, and parades the animal kingdom before the man, who does not choose but instead names: a kind of apophatic 'not the suitable helper.' God, who has created the man in his image and likeness, pulls the suitable helper out from the subtance of the man, who experiences his own 'at last' moment: 'bone of my bones.'

    These are moments of likeness, not identity. The contour of the narrative is poised to release the revelation that God creates out of matter, not his very substance, and man's image and likeness emerges from his very substance: likeness, analogy, in difference.

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  13. Your own analogies are provocative and good illustrations of the problems as you see them.

    There are no answers to the impossibilities you present, but because they are impossibilities, they are replete with possibilities.

    Nicholas of Cusa has provided another nickname for God: posse ipsum: possibility itself. Derrida, not to be outdone by an old mystic, has concluded that impossibility and possibility are the same thing.

    One response to your murdering robber underscores the problem of hospitality. We think we are being hospitable when we invite our friends a family over and lavish fine foods, wine, music, etc upon them. Is that hospitality? Hospitality is likely far more pregnant than that, far more dangerous, far more risky.We are being hospitable when we are opoen to the Other, not the 'same' (our own reflections, our families and friends who bring the safety of the familiar). It would be a better demonstration of hospitality to invite the stranger in, the unknown; but that's risky business: he could rob you of your stuff and your family; he could steal and murder. No one is saying be stupid here, but the Gospel says love your enemies, go the second mile, give your tunic as well. This is all very impossible. If the kingdom is about the lion lying down with the lamb, it is in the possibility of the impossible that your robber murderer will leave with a loaf of bread, no matter how bad a night's sleep the lamb will have.

    The logic of the kingdom is not the logic of robber-murderers. Common sense might keep you alive that fateful night, or dead in solidarity with the murdered. Either scenario has foreclosed the event because it hits against the brick wall of 'reason.' Reason always dictates that the lion will rip off the lamb's head. The kingdom is not built on reason, but on a theopoetics of the impossible, on the conundrums in each of your provocative analogies of the possible.

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    1. Yeah, but, Joe, this is the same as saying God can suspend the reason of the universe at any time and for any reason. I thought you were arguing for this being an impossibility.

      I think this too easily confuses the improbable with the impossible. It is improbable that I might survive a run-in with a dedicated killer. It is hardly impossible, though, and our entire existence is often lived and fought with making improbabilities less so.

      When you start to get into this "reason-less" territory, I have nothing to say, since by definition anything could happen, as no reason conditions or hinders such a thing.

      This doesn't seem at all like God whose mind is supposed to be the Logos.

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    2. Yes, that 'reasonless territory' is either the nature of the beast, the vastness of 'entanglements,' or that all paradigms are at work at the same time without collisions. Theopoetics is not theology, though it is inescapably 'theological.' The brick wall of reason is always there; it is itself the saturated phenomenon of the 'idol;' but about the Christ-event: we must be in the saturated phenomenon of the 'icon,' which is a different grammar of the gaze.

      I think we have to bracket off God suspending 'the reason of the universe' to allow for the event of hospitality. the problem boils down to the aporia agency: we will never have empiric knowledge of it. But if we bracket it off for just a moment, we might allow for a moment of our own agency in response to the insistence of God that, for that moment, we will not rob, steal, kill. In other words, do the impossible, which is a nickname for God, whose other nickname is possibility itself; in that moment we will 'do' God. Is that any closer to the Logos?

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    3. It is important to acknowledge that in all this possibility/impossibility logoi, the concept of 'probability' is strikingly absent. That's a hard pill to swallow, but otherwise logoi of the impossible becomes even more opaque that it often seems to be! Even, it would seem, in the dimension of the aleatory, we still must keep 'probability' in check, and that makes little intuitive sense and seems a bit unreasonable. But that could be a good thing...

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    5. These are fair questions: the ideas are from Jean-Luc Marion in his neo-phenomenology ( I don't know what else to call it--it's post Husserlian, post-Heideggerian). Caputo is in dialogue with Marion, but Marion would be too Catholic for Caputo for their speculations to get too cozy.

      Idol and icon do not lose their usual sense in Marion, but they also become technical terms. The idol reflects the gaze back onto the gazer (her own gaze) where the icon brings the gaze into what cannot be contained in it: the Real behind the Symbolic, if I might be so bold. A saturated phenomenon is something that presents to experience that overwhelms the intuition, such that any intentionality (of consciousness, too) cannot sort it out, categorize: the categories cannot contain what they were built for. Both idol and icon are saturated phenomena. Beyond this briefest explanation, I refer you to Marion himself. After you read his work, you can then explain it to me. Still, you get the picture. Theology has something other than being as its object, and saturated phenomena fit the bill.

      Theopoetics means the radical theology that haunts confessional theology. I think Robert Barron was haunted enough by the theodical elements lurking in Catholicism to unleash 'solidarity' into his understanding, for example.

      The term 'theopoetics' means something similar to theologians like Caputo and Keller, even if there is a place where there is no intersection. For me, it is about making God, picking up the pieces of 'God' after modernity is done with it, and bringing God back to life. So for me it is even more about a language for talking about 'God'. Caputo specifically denies that theopoetics is a 'poetry' that replaces theo-logic; for him it is a real radicalized version of what is formerly done as theology. I refer you to his work.

      Levi has recently lamented how philosophy must cull its language from everyday speech. I respect, therefore, your hesitancy and suspicion. I ask you to trust that I am not making word games here. You might wish to listen to one of Marion's YouTube lectures.

      I have blogged about Marion's work, but that was a little while ago.

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  14. That's a wonderful reading of Leviathan.

    It seems that we must be open to an apophatic space between the corollaries of all that presents to experience and all that is, a 'coincidence of opposites,' as Cusanus would say. That space of informed unknowing (docta ignorantia), must be opened up, or the aporias you have identified will be unbearable. But you have said well when you say that God celebrates Leviathan. And yes, too, that image and likeness, as I have noted previously, is not restricted to mankind, but reflective of everything in immense beauty, truth and the good. And you have said well, too, that God creates from the matter he creates (not from uncreated substance (ugh), and everything under the sun is made of stardust: man you are stardust, and to stardust you shall return.

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  15. How do so-called impossibilities relate to God's regulated omnipotence?

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    1. As the time stamps indicate, this is all very ad hoc, very much a rapid fire, fly by the seat of your pants kind of repartee. That being said... One relationship between impossibilites and the potentia ordinata is the invitation to the dance of the ongoing creation of the world: the response to God's insistence, the call to partnership, stewardship, courtship, is to act out the agency(urgency?) of the call, bringing God into momentary existence within the horizon of Being (where -we- live).

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    2. Would, or does, Rahner distinguish two discrete horizons like that, one for being and one for God? It seems to me that, if those things are different, Christianity has reduced them into one horizon, the God who is love is simply the God Who Is.

      See, I am suspicious about "theopoetics" because it really seems like an alibi you are using to solve theological problems, or make theological statements, without a concern for consistency with Christian tradition.

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    3. I didn't articulate that last idea well. I mean theopoetics sounds like it can be less consistent with tradition than theology must be.

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    4. I think this last remark is fairly accurate. As systematic as Keller and Caputo can be, it is not systematic theology the way Rahner does it. Caputo is keenly aware of this, as he is a consummate Aquinas scholar.

      Don't think of theopoetics as an alibi; think of it as being in the actual moment in an entirely different way, as way that is more alive and sensitive to the events that undergird scripture and Tradition, dogma and doctrine, hermeutics and...prayer.

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  17. Western civilization is enmeshed in the language and other constructs of Christianity. It has tried to disentangle itself from the Christian worldview in a project of attaining a new purely secular self-understanding. Modernity tends to wonder about just what the past can bequeath to the present. Pictorial art, music, literature, sacred or profane, vie for a place in the the new zeitgeist.

    Certainly biblical texts are never less that 'imaginative fiction', and as such, have much to commend themselves to any sensibility of any age. They have intrinsic value as literature inasmuch as literature is still valued. Is literature still valued? Making the case is more complicated these days than perhaps in the past.

    I do not ask myself if Genesis is 'wrong' anymore than I would ask if The Iliad or Othello is 'wrong.' Do I value cave paintings more that 'Waterlillies'? The Parthenon more that the Guggenheim?

    Still, we make claims for sacred texts that we do not make for profane texts. Do both of these texts contain 'truth, beauty and the good?' Of course they do. But we do not say that Finnegans Wake is _theopneustos_, God-breathed. That is a different matter.

    Would the events harbored in Genesis still be released if we did not claim for it divine inspiration? Of course. Deconstruction assures us that what's going on in all texts is released as the event. We confess but cannot prove that the events in our Judeo-Christian texts are what we call 'revelation.' That the truths released as events are sacred revelations about God, the world, and us in a special relationality is confessional, not necessarily absolute.

    The hermeneutic that discovers something profoundly true about God or man makes its discovery even in the absence of divine inspiration. Revelation need not be a holy event, to be an event. For those who do not perceive the divine insistence in these texts are not denied their preciousness, though much is missed. If I read Genesis as building bridges between God and man, through image and likeness, can a non-Christian reader share in that reading even if God and man are simply characters in an 'imaginative fiction?' Does man's choice of knowledge over life itself really tell us something profoundly true about the human creature or not? Does the text really need to be the locus of the divine inspiration for that truth to be released? Only a reader knows if a text is speaking to her, and getting 'human nature right', by recognizing the event or not, of the texts meanings ringing true, or not.

    Readers are free to be the hearers of the message on their own terms. Jewish readers come away with something different than Christian readers in the matter of the primeval disobedience. Both are authentic. Much is determined by the hermeneutic lens through which the texts are experienced. The whole megillah is complicated by the inextricable entanglements of aesthetics, the reading phenomena, truth, physics, personality, experience.

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    3. "What justifies a religious interpretation any more?"

      We look in the luminous darkness for the answer to that incisive query. What could the answer be? "Everything and nothing?" The question is the purest poetry. Maybe the existence of that very question is why I persevere in this blogging endeavor; because the question is the question of a restless heart, a restlessness that touches everything that thinks, hopes and fears.

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  18. The Faustian legends are thought to entail something heroic about Western man's perception of himself. I am hearing from you that perhaps this theme is no longer received in the Western literary tradition or in its self-understanding. Still, the rebellion against God (or authority in general, I suppose) has a heroic dimension, especially in light of awareness of the consequences. Could Faust(us) have arisen without the choice in Eden? Perhaps. Would he have had as long a run?

    The romantic, heroic impulse is gone; ave atque vale Marlowe, Milton, Mann, Goethe. But then why a heart restless without a breast in which to rest?

    Modernity has crippled the human spirit, even when it wants to be naughty. Joyce's _Ulysses_ tells us (among so very many things to be sure!) that man can ape the motions of the heroic journey, but, in fact, can no longer do anything heroic; heroism is deflated by the ordinariness of life--it is stillborn in modern culture. Whom do you prefer, Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, John Faustus, Adam and Eve?

    See how I've left Flannery O'Connor off the list (she would be a hero again).

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