Sunday, March 22, 2015

Evidence and Phenomena

I loved Bazooka Joe bubble gum and have the fillings and crowns to prove it. But the little comics tucked into each gum wrapper were precious. One little strip has been spooking me lately.

Bazooka Joe finds Mort searching for something in his living room. "Whatcha lookin' for Mort?"

"Oh, I lost my skate key in the basement," said Mort.

"Then why're ya lookin' in your living room for it?" asked B. Joe.

Mort replied, "because the light's better in here."

Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom [1 Cor. 22, NIV]

There is neither Jew nor gentile [ Gal. 3:28, NIV]

Somebody's always looking for something. The positivist wants evidence, but the Christian has an experience. The former demands empirical access, but the latter offers phenomenality.  The former looks into the categories of knowledge and the latter to the horizons of experience. The former looks for data on the plane of immanence for what the latter locates in what transcends immanence. The former looks with the illumination of pure reason, and the latter with the light of intuition. The Christian asserts it is irrational to look to the horizon of being for what is to be found on the horizon of love. The positivist asserts that if that which is sought is not to be found on the horizon of Being  (or at least the empirical world), the search is irrational and meaningless, if not absolutely and maliciously false.

Why do you look for the living among the dead? [Luke 24:5, NIV]

In 1980, Johnny Lee was looking for love in all the wrong places. The lyrics, in perhaps another form, go back further than that; but some folks continue to look for stuff, even in places the stuff is surely not to be found. This is a 2-way street; the recourse to what John Caputo calls 'blackmail' is deployed by those who find themselves locked in the self-imposed binarities of faith/reason; atheist/theist; theology/philosophy, etc. The infinite loop of extortion does not lead to stalemate, but to violence of one sort or another. And that kind of intellectual criminality has to stop.

Reflecting on Nicholas of Cusa's almost surreal, ecumenical, instinctual critique applied to the religio-political peregrinations of his day---his call for non-violent engagement with Islam--Catherine Keller has observed that

[t]he question of religious multiplicity is, of course, today posed altogether differently.  It cannot begin or end with any "one religion." The pluralism of both theology and politics rule out any discourse of unification...[I]t arises now, for instance, within a renewed discussion of the democratically appropriate role of religion in the public sphere [t]hat now envelopes the planet. And that world appears pervasively complicated not only by the troubled relations between the religions, but also between religion and secularism[S]cholarship in religion might unsay religion, even as secular thinkers unsay secularism. (Cloud of the Impossible, 242-3)

Though Keller problematizes the inherent violence of religion (244-45), she points to the breathing room of saying and unsaying, on either side of the religious/secular binarity. Is this wishful thinking, or a description of nature of things? The blackmail inherent in binarities does seem to dissolve in the ebb and flow of enfolding, unfolding and folding together as each polarity takes the other into itself. This rhythmical, kenotic spacing through the slash---the accommodation of apophatic entanglement---the self-emptying of the one into the other opens into saturated phenomena.

Marion's icon and idol come into view in the nexus revealed in enfolding and unfolding. Resistance between the terms in a binarity results from the idolic gaze of the one upon the other. The response to the reflection is narcissistic, overwhelming and what Tad DeLay might identify as a perversion of, or a perverse relation to, reality (cf. God is Unconscious, 79). In the apophatic maneuver, the terms break through to the iconic other, allowing 'likeness and image' to unfold. Only through the idolic and iconic phenomena can a healthy reality present itself in its radical givenness; for, as Marion has provocatively asserted, the phenomenon gives itself (Being Given, 68). 

Keller's cloud, not unlike an orbital of probability, allows things to appear in a process of entangling---saying and unsaying, knowing and unknowing, insisting and existing. Phenomenological horizons themselves bear the stigmata of implicatio, explicatio and complicatio. It would seem that evidence for this trinitarian dynamic seeks its horizon of understanding in a givenness of res ipse loquitur glimpsed only in the folds where appearances come into truth. The drive to evidence must make room for phenomena, as phenomena evidence the horizons of experience of the real.


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    1. This is a good question that enable us to better understand the difference between the objects of physics or mathematics and those of theology. Generally speaking the objects of the former are not saturated phenomena---they certainly present to the intuition but intentionality is not so overwhelmed that it cannot subdue what is presented. In fact, such objects/phenomena sharpen and modulate the intention. So, problems in math or physics do not present gaps for theology to fill: no God in the gaps of understanding. Revelation, on the other hand, presents to the intuition in a way that cannot be 'figured out'. The very excess of revelation does not allow the intentionality to adopt a conformation that can move forward. Such saturated phenomena are the objects of theological investigation.

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