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Thursday, June 4, 2015

Haunted by the Holy Ghost

We live in post-gothic times.

Culture seems to shadow the shadows,  moving as a dark figure against a background of blurry darkness.

Everything is haunted by everything else. History haunts the present; the present haunts the future; the future haunts losses to come prefigured in the now. Things are lost and found in the luminous dark.

Hauntology is a word whose days are numbered, no doubt destined to become a ghost that haunts its haunts and itself. The tropes of spooky actions at a distance that spook the boredom of coffee spoons, books, and the past that falls out from old books onto the floors of the fleeting present, themselves hang on the clock of hackneyed figura. But for now, it spooks.

It spooks. So says the title of Caputo's recent magazine, It Spooks. I believe it does. Nowadays, everything is spectral. Even Caputo is haunted, not just by Derrida and hauntology, but 'from within.' How does one even begin to respond 'to an unheard call?' Without begging the question of 'response,' responding to something that gets itself heard, even if outside the senses, is couched in undecidability, the tension that makes binary oppositions oppositions in the first place.

In The Weakness of God Caputo offers an apology to confessional theologians for pointing out that their best work is a response to the ghosting of their texts. There is something waiting to be born in the texts of the Tradition, both biblical and post-biblical. Though I am not a theologian, I have discovered that I am a theological thinker, a person that lives a form of life open to the theological turn. That I am also Catholic seem often to be beside the point, but I am of a time and place, a quirk of history, and there is no getting around the tradition and discourse that has played an important part in shaping my consciousness.

Ghosting. I am actually thinking of the phenomenon of printed letters appearing to imperfect eyes. A blurring whose frame must be adjusted by a squint, a best squint. This experience is known to anyone whose had their eyes examined (what Chart, what "E"?). In any event, 'ghosting' is a useful metaphor here. Ghosting is not limited to what the eyes do when they confront a written text. It's about focus and focusing, about getting something to appear, even if a best squint cannot reduce all ghosts to clarity. It is about a process of reductions that allow vision to envision not only a clearing of the letter, but a focus on the ghost.

In a remarkable if not difficult work, Senses of Tradition (Oxford:NY, 2000), John E. Thiel presents a sound case for bringing the Tradition into focus in a post-structuralist version of allegoresis (non-unlike the premodern patristic exegesis that maddens the moderns). Thiel allows the Tradition to visit hermeneutics, and the clarity of dogma to take on a depth of a ghosting. Of course, he doesn't talk like that.

And I am not going to talk like Thiel here. I have suggested elsewhere in this blog, and fairly recently, of the givenness of the Tradition, of dogma. I have also commented on its plasticity. I am sympathetic to Thiel's instincts that such gifts are unconditional. And I accept biblical texts, patristic texts, magisterial texts (the tripartitie Catholic rule of faith) as unconditional gifts that call to be received,  calls unheard but calls insisting to be heard.

There is a reason for Catholicism's paroxysmal fear of the holy ghost. It fears it will leap out of the trinity and into a pneumatological life of its own, freeing up the rollers, shakers and quakers to speak in tongues that would drive St. Paul to put those scales right back on his eyeballs. We Catholics have something of a love-hate relation with the holy ghost: we really want the renewing of the face of the earth, but without the spooky stuff (I'm thinking of Robert De Niro doing his tongue rolling at the end of Cape Fear).

I am quite comfortable with my ghosted Catholicism, and I'm pretty OK with the holy ghost, too. Every sacred text must be blurred for the good stuff to happen, to appear. The reader might recall those computer-generated images that required the viewer to relax her eyes to allow an image to appear in "3-D." That is the physiological version of the phenomenological reduction. Nothing reductive informs this kind of reduction; there is nothing of "God is nothing more than the projection of the human," or "religion is nothing more that wishful thinking." The kind of reduction here has nothing to do with the last gasps of rigid modernity trying to dictate the parameters of what is real and true. This kind of reduction is more like a great chef transforming a liquid hodge-podge into a sublime sauce, a reduction, that brings an asparagus spear or a seared duck breast into focus. But I digress (and make myself a little hungry).

 Of course some of us will remain Mr. Pitt (Seinfeld), a little too eager to see but unable to get beyond the facial contortions that disfigure the apparatus and not the image.


You hide Your face, they are dismayed; You take away their spirit, they expire And return to their dust.You send forth Your Spirit, they are created; And You renew the face of the ground. Let the glory of the LORD endure forever; Let the LORD be glad in His works. [Psalm 104:29-31]



The holy ghost haunts sacred texts and imbues them with the uncanny ability to read the reader into bringing something into relief, something always there lurking, disponible, waiting to appear. The holy ghost is a spirit of integration and revelation. It blurs the letter, deepens it, and renews it from all the way down. Without the ghostly gesture, texts become dead letters, lost in a limbo without direction, without a hope of being received. Without the haunting apparitions that cause every letter to oscillate between its clarity and porosity, the letter is lost, collapsing into the dust in a valley of very dry bones.

The holy ghost is a spirit of freedom, of life, of movement. Letters, like dry bones, quicken with life and meaning in the presence of  the psalmist's "Spirit," and create a new space in a new face. The spooking that gets confessional theologians to read between the lines of dogma is the unheard call that gets itself called. Theologians attuned to the call write a new earth in the crevices of the letter. They free dogmatic concepts from their idolatry to resonate within the iconic gaze. Is this not what Aquinas did for his age, and Rahner for his? Is this not what Roger Haight, SJ, was about in his Jesus:Symbol of God? The Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith was certainly spooked! Haight's hermeneutics and his


 ...interpretation, however, does not in fact result in doctrinal proposals that convey the immutable meaning of the dogmas as understood by the faith of the Church, nor does it clarify their meaning, enhancing understanding. The Author's interpretation results instead in a reading that is not only different from but also contrary to the true meaning of the dogmas. [from the Notification]


Clearly Haight was haunted by dogmatic statements about the divinity of Christ, but so too was the CDF haunted by what divinity looks like when rewritten into a postmodern world. I wonder if Haight would have gone unnoticed if he had access to Marion's notions of saturated phenomena and the idol and icon. Certainly Jesus: Icon of God has its problems, but it might have saved us all from a very ugly scene in the life of the Church. but I digress again...

To say that I am comfortable with a haunted Catholicism does not imply a departure on my part from scripture, Tradition and the magisterium. I simply mean that to be Catholic is to be a Catholic at a given place and time and therefore recognize that eternal truths about God and Catholicism can never be written into any age as Absolute Truth. Sadly, simple confessional religion, with which Catholicism sometimes finds itself complicit, sometimes pulls the spirit from the letter, allowing things to turn to dust. That's a ghastly kind of ghosting. We need a complicated religion, a blurred, blurring, oscillating religion that shakes out the event from its letters. That kind of spectral Catholicism seems to me the very heart of a lived faith, a lived religion, a lived Catholicism.

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    2. I certainly agree with you that the miracles cannot simply be extracted from the Gospels and leave christology unchanged. The miracles are integral to the Christ-event. Though the miracles say as much about the power of the faith of the recipients as they do about the power of Christ to perform them, or facilitate them, they are indeed inextricably woven into, as you say, the mythos of Jesus.

      As a physician, part of my response to the miraculous healings in the Gospels is simply that we just don't heal like that anymore. If we cure any diseases today, we cure from a very different paradigm; that much I suppose is obvious. In my medical experience, healing miracles have been very rare, but when they occur, they are spooky indeed! To look at stunning changes in empircal data such as state of the art imaging, and sophisticated laboratory investigations boggles the mind. The complete normalization of distinctly abnormal lab findings, the complete and sudden resolution of cancerous metastases are signs of truly haunting events, rare as they are. What better word for these events is there? They are miracles, pure and simple. Their rarity makes them truly extraordinary, and very difficult to attribute to something spontaneous, something explicable.

      Are miracle manifestations of a kingdom of God already here? Certainly, the gospels assert that the kingdom is suddenly upon us; it also suggests that it is something inaugural. Even the manner of prayer Jesus teaches call for the kingdom to come. That call would be illogical if the kingdom were not still arriving. Perhaps the coming of the kingdom continues to unfold as we take more and more responsibility for its unfolding. Miracles, then, are likely signs of the kingdom to come, but certainly the signs of the Christ-event proper, a temporal event in which signs occur that they might bring faith. The Marcan Jesus seems to be constrained by lack of faith (Mark 6:5 and softened in Matthew 13:58), which is the substrate for gospel miracles.

      I am troubled by your assertion that "Christianity doesn't proclaim a justice and love and power to come." Certainly we do a great injustice to justice, love, peace, etc., if we look at the current versions of these and say that they are here in their fullness. Christianity does indeed have hope in the future, hope for all the things 'to come.' Advent is always in the 'here and now' hoping for a 'then and there' where the kingdom comes, and justice and love and freedom finally arrive.

      This hope in the future is what gives Derrida and Caputo faith and hope in the viens, oui,oui. This is not unlike Meillassoux's hope that God will come and pull everyone out from the wreckage of all the capsized ships in life.

      Let me mull over a hermeneutics of the miraculous. Obviously you are calling for something more than an approach to interpreting the miracle texts.

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    3. A place to start a hermeneutic of the miraculous might be making a simplifying assumption that, though rare, miracles, for lack of a better word do indeed occur, and that they are recognized as such by their rare and extraordinary nature. By assuming that the perturbations noted are real, visible, and empirically verifiable, whether they are 'performed' or 'spontaneous' becomes less relevant.

      There are all sorts of miracles associated with Jesus' ministry in the gospels, and only the broadest hermeneutic strategy can provide for their interpretation. The transformation of water into wine and the cure of the demoniac are different in character, but if the hermeneutic fosters interpretation of both of these divergent types we have before us a productive approach.

      If we think of the narratives that hinge on an miracle, we should be asking what those narratives are about. They are not 'about' the miracle per se, but about something else: in other words, miracles are not the punch-line even though they pack a punch. I have always found it fascinating that the miracle narratives are not about miracles, but about what goes on in the narrative---the event. These narratives are less about the extraordinary and rare pertubation in the natural order of things than they are about the transformation of hearts and minds. The wondrous deeds of Jesus are no more crucial to the interpretation than the event of faith, or metanoia, or the in-breaking of the kingdom, which this hermeneutic locates not inside the wondrous deed itself, but in its effects, in what's 'going on' inside these happenings.

      This kind of hermeneutic is helpful even in everyday 'miracles.' By everyday miracles I mean those special moments, like the miracle of love, the miracle of personal growth, of friendship, of generosity, of hospitality, etc. These are examples of the release of the event. Even Zizek has referred to the miracle of love as an event (in his _Event_) .

      The hermeneutic need not get caught up or bogged down in the problem of the supernatural. Clearly the gospels tell us that wondrous works of power occurred when Jesus was around. Whether, for example, this observation can be rationalized into synchronicity (that Jesus' presence coincided with spontaneous unusual happenings) is an unnecessary procedure. The gospel narratives present the 'miracles' as having been 'worked' by Jesus, and these texts command any hermeneutic. The miracles of the gospels, as we noted earlier in a slightly different context, cannot simply be plucked out of the narrative and examined under a microscope. That would be an unfortunate hermeneutic because explaining a miracle, describing its anatomy and physiology, is not interpreting a narrative of the miraculous. A stronger hermeneutic would interpret a miracle as something that is what it is because it does what it does. For example, the inexplicable resolution of metastatic disease as demonstrated by a CT scan is a 'miracle' because it is inexplicable, not because the tumor is no longer present. I could do as much with chemotherapy and no one would call that a miracle.

      I realize that what I have offered is an approach to texts that allows for the release of the event. I do not know if there is a hermeneutic that works apart from context. Removing things from their context for the purpose of examination and explication is more akin to the scientific method than a theory of interpretation.

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    1. There can be no hermeneutics of the absence of miracles. I do not know why miracles happen in the here and now, but in the gospels, they do indeed happen in relation to faith: that is what the evangelists construct.

      Were the absence (or even the rarity) of miracles a mark of God, they would indeed measure his malice and irony. But that would not be a hermeneutic; it would be theodicy, which is the disfigurement of theology that occurs when it passes through the sieve of modernity. I thought we were looking at the issue of interpretation.

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    5. But what are we interpreting in the gospels but the choice of Jesus' miraculous healings. He has a choice, does he not?

      Joe, you don't want to address the absence of miracles because you know that ends in malice and irony. But you can't avoid it. Miracles almost need the absence of miracles to even look like miracles.

      If you think you are on any firm ground, in any sense—theological or epistemological—to interpret a miracle, then you have to be able to interpret its absence.

      My feeling is that you have no grounds to do either. If you do not know why God does not work a miracle, you do not know why he does, either.

      Miracles are a Christian problem, period. They were as problematic then as they are now. It has nothing to do with modernity, not in the slightest. Miracles ARE a problem in any context, in any era.

      Why did Jesus restore Jairus' daughter but not my uncle? Again, you may not like that question, but it's an absolutely justified one.

      There is something so perverse in your inability to see that theodicy is inescapable. In fact, there is only theodicy. Theology is theodicy. Every attempt to show some kind of relationship between God and the world must deal with its questions in some form.

      Take away God's providential governance over the world and his power over evil and what do you have left? Well, you've got Caputo, and all the Nothing he fills his pages of his books with.

      There is some pleasure in the contempt your writing inspires in me, the same contempt which Barron and Rahner and Schillebeeckx and Haight and Aquinas and Augustine and John and Matthew and Luke and Mark and Paul and Jesus inspire in me. They all deserve to be challenged and resisted, and aggressively at that. They are liars. They are liars for a God who we blasphemously call "good."


      The truth is, you're an old man with an old religion.

      Your God never lets me sleep. He is my nightmare.

      *************************************************************

      Joseph:

      I will be responding to these remarks, soon, but for openers, to say that God's ways are not our ways, in no ways means that the horrors of the world are God's will. Theodicy means only one thing: God is not real. The logic of theodicy has no where else to go, regardless of what Alvin Plantinga writes. Your equation, theodicy=theology, is false by any standard.

      By the way, I don't feel all that old. 58 is the new 38.

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    6. To continue (if just for a bit)...

      Joseph: You want to limit interpretation of the miracle narrative to Jesus' choice of the type of miracle and perhaps more importantly, the selection of the recipients of the wondrous deeds. The problem with this approach is that every miracle/recipient inclusion will incur the accusation on your part of exclusion. You really want to investigate why Jesus excludes essentially the whole world from the reach of a miracle. That certainly is an interesting goal, but it rips the miracle narratives from their context and places them outside the very texts that construct them. I am not averse to recontextualizing, or reframing how miracles play out in religion; but we must stipulate that we are no longer talking about the gospels, but about a biblical theology that ignores the bible. I know that 'sounds' Catholic, given the caricature that Catholics have certainly 'heard about the bible,' but that approach leads to the very tired theology that dissatisfies you and is of no interest to me: such theology is speculative and not _de fide_. You can read in many places about how human misery is a mystery, the will of God, simply permitted by God but not caused by God, beyond human comprehension, et cetera; just not here in this blog.

      There is certainly a continuity of the gospel Jesus and the Christ of Catholicism, but that continuity is painstakingly worked out in systematic theology; Rahner is perhaps the most coherent in his christology in this regard, but others, too, have made their contributions (sorry you find such theologians contemptible). The miracles are part of christology, but it seems a poor strategy to divorce them from christology, and then critique christology with their anatomic dissection. The miracles do not play the same role in every christology.

      Right now I must content myself with a historical-critical hermeneutic when it comes to the miracle traditions. And that entails an understanding of 3 stages of the gospel tradition itself, and any real understanding will distinguish 1)the very words and deeds of Jesus; 2)what was preached about this extraordinary figure, and 3) what was finally written down by the evangelists. What you are asking for derails even this simplest of hermeneutics.

      I might add here that I am baffled by your accusation of 'scapegoating modernity.' I do no such thing. Unlike you I do not accept the modern project uncritically, but it remains a true statement that, when theology is forced through the requirements of 'reason' it emerges as something else, namely a victim of observations and data that can only reshape it into a reason-only based configuration: theodicy. That is the only context where your formula, theology=theodicy, makes any sense. Even the very principles of modernity you embrace keeps them separate, despite relegating them to the heap of ethics, emotions, and the irrational. We do not know 'theodicy' until Leibniz; labeling antecedents that bear some resemblance to the issues of theodicy as theodicy is just intellectually slovenly.

      And yet, strangely, I agree with you: miracles are a problem in any context. But you must agree that they were not a problem for the evangelists. They make no judgement about the exclusionary problem. The do not judge Jesus for his selection of miracles, contexts, or recipients. That's the miracle tradition we must confront.

      The evangelists do not leave a page intentionally blank to honor all those who did not receive a miracle as a critique of Jesus' severe limitations or smallness of spirit. The good news is not that there were many miracles performed in early 1st century Palestine. The good news is that something began there, is still coming at us, and fills the future with hope.

      Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding...

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    12. I completely missed these 2 posts of yours from 6/27; my eye was drawn to the dishonesty issue.


      "...aborting a line of questioning because the evangelists never asked it is indistinguishable from fundamentalism."

      "I am not limited by the gospels' constructions. I have no obligation to adopt what they adopted, to avoid what they avoided. Neither do you."

      Prior to these remarks, I noted: ' You really want to investigate why Jesus excludes essentially the whole world from the reach of a miracle. That certainly is an interesting goal, but it rips the miracle narratives from their context and places them outside the very texts that construct them.' So there really was no 'aborting a line of questioning': just a realignment and acknowledgement that we would be doing something very different. I would say that such an approach is the definition of intellectual honesty.

      So let's pursue this interesting question: why does Jesus work so few miracles, and let's answer the question without recourse to the texts in which the paucity of miracles occurs. Another way to ask the question is 'why doesn't Jesus, here and now, work a billion miracles a day?' He can do it, it is fitting that he do it, so he must do it.

      How's that for turning the constipated logic of dogmatic theology on its ass?

      Of course, this is theodicy, again. This could be a problem: you want to bracket all theology and exhaust theodicy---I want to bracket off theodicy and exhaust theology.

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    2. Though the future can be disastrous, I choose to have hope that it is not.

      I have hope in you and for you and that magnificent mind of yours, and in and for your greatness of heart, which has room for all the suffering in this world. I have hope in you as a man, whose convictions are strong, and whose strivings are noble. I have hope that you will add steps to the ones you take outside your door, but even if you cannot take those steps soon, I have faith that you still have places to go and people to meet, ideas to share and ideas to shake. These are hopes of mine.

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    1. I am still mulling this over, but I think in the end, the distinction between a future and the eschaton is not a fruitful one. Disasters are what we fear in the foreseeable future; the cataclysmic demise of the universe as an outcome of the processes of the natural world are post-human. It should be called not a dis-aster, but an 'aster' or an 'asterification' as all matter returns to stardust that is destined to become stars.

      The eschaton is the end of a human future. It affects only humans. It's all very speculative, and I am far less interested in eschatology than in almost any other domain of theology.

      It seems to me far better to be open to the coming of the kingdom, already, no doubt of a piece with the eschaton, but much more fun. It is more fun, healthier, more constructive to ponder how beginnings move into the next phase, where the rudiments of humanity develop more into what they are to become. This is the very stuff of hope.

      Let's hope and pray that love, justice, democracy, faith, wisdom move into themselves with upper-case first letters. Moving into the upper-case versions of these hopes (and that's really what they are, hopes; if these are only to remain what they currently are, that's a future going very badly) is how the future is built.

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  8. As we speak, just outside of Baghdad, a community is being built that will house a million people. This city, Bismayah, is a kind of hope in the future, a future envisioned, a vision of the future that contains people with all their own hopes (and fears). The construction company, as well at the workers building furiously, fear for their lives and the undoing of their project. Yet the hope in an idea of a future, is based in the starkest concept of reality.

    The thing about hope and the future is that the possibility of disaster is constitutive of them. The future always holds out that things might go very, very badly. Like any promise, it can be broken, unfulfilled, but it can never not be made. The future and a promise, uncannily, are both foreseeable and unforeseeable.

    Sometimes we build the future on a hope and a prayer, and like ants and bees, continue building after someone comes along and steps on anthills and hives. We never stop hoping and praying and building. This drive to create, to build to conceive of and move into a future is either beyond reason, or irrational. Indeed none of it makes much sense on the horizon of being, of what is; it must have its reality on another horizon.

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  9. That is a very prolific response to what I thought were simple examples from everyday life of hope and future. While you are right to point out the speculative nature of much theology, that I find the eschaton less fertile ground than the in-breaking of the kingdom should not lead you to conclude paroxysmal fear of the end of the world on my part. As I also said, the inauguration of the kingdom is also (theologically, not geologically) the inauguration of the eschaton.

    Evolution: this is the fact of the universe, and I cannot imagine what paying 'lip service' to it could mean. Unless, of course, it is a back door to the concept of providence and then a quick detour to theodicy. An evolutionary theology is almost a contradiciton in terms, as evolution as simple fact is not a saturated phenomenon, and saturated phenomena are the object of theology---simple phenomena are the objects of other approaches. So the extinction of the dinosaurs, which has much to teach us about how nature works and has worked, is not really a theological problem, unless again, we reduce theology to theodicy; that is simply not my posture.

    Rahner addresses your concerns quite eloquently in his FCF, especially those wonderful pages, pp. 80-90s. Perhaps if you level your critique there we can discuss more objectively. Simply stated, one is radically open to God's self-communication or not. Nothing in the world need point to God, evidentially, but remaining radically open to God in the supernatural existentiell, allows for God's self-communication, experientially. I embrace Rahner's thought in this regard, and I cannot improve on it, despite my reading him very aggressively lately.

    You make an important point about the locus of the phenomenological horizons. It's not that these horizons don't play out in our world of experience (of course they must or else we could not experience them with our consciousness). Rather such horizons cut gaps in the plane of being, and present themselves as other realities and allow us to experience what makes appearances there. Horizons open gaps in being---God makes his appearance in those horizons of transcendence, of love, perhaps even of the "infrastructure" ( and by this I think you and I mean the phenomenality and materiality of the grounding of all horizons). But, as Rahner has pointed out, we always start from where we 'are'. When we speak therefore of his theology as one with an evolutionary worldview, we are not talking about how nature evolves per se, but how everything moves into the future with greater and greater development. I have cautiously identified this strand in Rahner's thought as Hegelian; Hegel probably would have understood Darwin as a great analogy to the growth and development of Spirit in history. Rahner, too, is very historically-minded; it's not a stretch to say that Rahner locates the 'action' of God in history, albeit in his own inimitable way.

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  18. The 'good idea' metaphor is simple and a bit too glib; it is, for me, Rahner at his most pedestrian (I will always be shocked that he employs something of an apologist stance here---why can't it be this way---recourse. Not impressive. But considering everything else, I will cut him this much slack!! It appears as a dull spot because so much else is so brilliant. The metaphor has always struck me as, at best, anticlimactic.

    Why don't I let you teach me about Teilhard. I haven't read him since the heady days of the Vat2 discussion board out of Temple.

    I think we both agree that Rahner's conception of evolution is a bit naive by today's standard, and by today's very rigorous science of evolution. He meant it, unfortunately, in a socio-anthropological sense. I am glad I am not alone in palpating a Hegelian streak in his work. I have not read Kung on this, and I would be suspect of his grasp of Hegel's thought, but I trust you a bit more on this point. Yes, there is something very Hegelian going on in Rahner. And, further, I think he would be a bit disappointed in that, as I think he would prefer being thought of as Kantian, a critic of the Kantian turn; and, moreover, a Heideggerian post-Kantian at that! I remember that, not too long ago, we were considering a large swatch of Rahner and I called it "pure Hegel," but for the life of me, I cannot recall the incident.

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    1. An ecumenical nightmare, mariology is conceived in a pre-evolutionary worldview. The dogmas must be received in a robust christology, or else the theological, metaphysical gymnastics you allude to reduce them to mariolatry: that is never what is intended. Yet, it is understandable, from a perspective of a certain type of piety, to embrace Mary because she is purely human, just like us.

      There are wholesome mariologies, such as in contemporary Carmelite spirituality, and certainly in liberation theology.

      As a Catholic obliged to assent to mariology, I am not obliged to accept the doctrinal---metaphysical-theological-speculative---basis of the dogmas. For example, I can only begin to make sense of them in a transhistorical, narratological, theo-dramatic way. While I certainly understand your critique, I do not conceive of the matter in the same way you do, despite the soundness of your train of thought.

      We will have to relegate Mary to a blogpost of her own. But, to bring this all back to the original theme---Mary has a way of haunting theology, christology and Catholicism. So, as you can imagine, my approach is to look at what event is harbored in the biblical and dogmatic Mary. Hint: it's not theodical, which to my critical instincts, suppresses the event.

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  20. I don't think I would have countenanced a Hegelianism in Rahner's theology of the trinity. Instinctively, I think Kueng must be wrong about this. I seem to remember that my remark about Rahner's Hegelianism had more to do with his dialectic of negation, but still, I just can't recall. Maybe you're right: I'm old, I grow old...I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled.

    I have been giving some more thought to this theme of evolution and how it might and might not appear in a theology. Rahner's naivete can be forgiven because his idea of evolution predates the sharpening of the theory as it plays out in the history of biological science. Nonetheless, he perhaps understood that the human creature, for all intents and purposes, has stopped evolving because it has reduced nearly to zero all selection pressures. Even the thoughts on the expanding man from the 1950s-60s must be abandoned because we have collectively foreclosed on such intellectual development by externalizing 'thinking' and relocating it in the computer. For Rahner, though, he subjects religious and spiritual development to an idea of evolution, which for him, is something of great beauty. We must remember that Darwin himself saw a profound beauty in the process his discovered, and judged it good and wondrous. We shouldn't be harsher on Rahner than on Darwin.

    It strike me that the likely insurmountable problem for a theology of evolution is adaptationism. Viewed from a purely naturalist perspective, religion, theology, God, etc., all dissolve into genetic adaptation pressured by natural selection. If any progress is to be made in an evolution theology, it must be open to influences upon 'development' other than selection pressures expressed in genetic coding. I therefore see no 'practical' basis for moving forward with such a theology.

    Do you see a similar dilemma?

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  21. I should have added that for Rahner, the Incarnation instantiates the final phase of human development from an anthropological perspective. All movement in oscillation between matter and spirit, human and divine is already on an irreversible trajectory of theosis (theo-poeisis, divinization). Imitatio Christi is, for Rahner, the natural predilection of the human for the divine inaugurated in the Christ-event. Rahner believed this progression to be an 'evolutionary' idea.

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    2. For the biological and spiritual reasons I've already stated, I do indeed recognize that humanity is in the post-Christ-event final phase of its development. Theosis is is the process of development that leads the human creature to become more perfectly united to the divine. This idea was given its first iteration by Irenaeus, in his famous formulation: God became man so that man might become divine. This is not an arrogant, blasphemous formulation: it is about a 'more perfect union' with God. In Rahner, the movement is of the spirit, and is captured in his idea of oscillation, schweben; and he characterizes the human creature as that very Schwebe, the oscillation between matter and spirit that moves into the future. It is (you anticipate quite well) indeed on this horizon of a post-Christ-event human creature, that theosis, short for theopoiesis, makes its appearance through Jean-Luc Marion's third reduction of givenness.

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    3. As I continue to read your comments, I am really struck by just how robust your concept of evolution is: it entangles biological, geological and cosmological themes. Perhaps these entanglments constantly regenerate the inevitable pathways to theodicy that unify your entire theological posture. I would venture that you share Neil DeGrasse Tyson's observation that the cosmos is indifferent to the rarity and preciousness of life, and the very precariousness of the situation of life informs the darkness that percolates through your thinking.and your interpretation of existence. This indifference of the cosmos cannot but be placed right on God's doorstep because of how you have conceived God's complicity in the treachery of the universe. I think this notion is the distillation of the theodical gesture that so enthralls you.

      There is an unassailable logic, even a relentless and violent logic that informs your interpretation of how things are. I see things so differently, which in no way disparages your argument.

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    4. I enjoyed your discussion of the problem of freedom; I also think your premise is not quite right. Of course we've had this discussion elsewhere, and I have stated that we must conceive of 'freedom' with a lower case "f". In Catholicism, radical freedom is ordered to responsibility, which implies, certainly, an orientation toward God.

      Your critique of the assertion that evil is permitted out of respect for freedom/free will is sound; that assertion is too teleological for my tastes as well, so I think your instinct is right on this point. I agree with you that "evil is not an act of freedom." But I don't quite like your description of evil and 'unfreedom' because while it is deconstructive, it is not deconstructive enough. We need to go a step further to free the event of evil. Evil is not the opposite of freedom---"unfreedom" but a twisted version of freedom: evil is a caricature of freedom---both divine and human freedom. Evil, then, is the reduction of freedom to pure license---this is the event of evil. Pure license is oriented to the moment that destroys responsibility and it appears on the horizon of a disordered, a disoriented, self. We are only really free, radically free and therefore free from evil, when we are oriented toward truth, beauty and the good, and God.

      My instincts tell me that evil understood as this event, obviates much of your subsequent discussion on sin. Or does it make matters worse?

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  25. Thanks for these eloquent communications which are both pleasant and instructive.

    My response will be more rhapsodic than systematic. First, I think we find common ground in understanding theodicy as heterogeneous, and that not all theodicies share the same degree of obscenity. Indeed, to acknowledge that some of my responses were of a type of theodical gesture, simply suggests that they were 'responsive' in general.

    The issue of theosis and categorical evil develops this kind of thematic theodicy. Perhaps the matter is really very simple. Theosis is a process we embrace and experience though it never achieves the hypostatic union we see in Christ. We can approach the divine only asymptotically and therefore only imperfectly. The election of catergorical evil, by comparison, is far more concrete and complete, as in the examples you provide. Unless faith becomes concrete in action (faith bearing the fruit of works), unless orthodoxy is expressed as orthopraxis, theosis will certainly appear weak and indifferent in the face of such utter concreteness of evil. I appreciate that theosis tends to make its appearance in lateness and paucity; yet all of the horrors you emunerate were not inevitable (certainly not as inevitable as the entropic annihilation of the universe in 40 billion years or so). And I offer this not as any type of good news, but to underscore the tragedy that undergirds such tragedy.

    The phenomenological 'call' (e.g., Marion) or theopoetic 'call' (e.g., Caputo) is the grace that calls for justice---the elimination of evil---opens up the space where the response to evil might take place. I must say 'might' here, because the historical record of such events is anemic. Why is good so late? Why is evil so punctual? The justice to come is the only justice up to the task of moving against evil. The justice we have today is certainly too feeble, and to suggest that the justice we have is the only justice we will ever get is a great injustice and an assault on the truth and the good.

    Grace in either human or cosmological nature cannot be reduced to a God gene or a God particle, regardless of how appealing those notion are to popular consciousness and culture. Grace is God's workhorse, and it mustn't be kept in the barn. Doubtless, grace is the weak but unconditional force of God, which, sadly for us, means it can be kept in barn, despite its call to be released in the event. Events harbored in the name of God do not of there own accord leave the harbor.


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  26. (continued)

    When I noted earlier that I do not see things the same way you seem to, I mean to say that I do not accept the very real face-value, the appearance, of indifference, as God's own indifference. I view it instead as wonder and awe in beauty and truth, and that's not because I am afflicted with the God gene, but because of my hermeneutic of suspicion discovers that not all appearances reveal total reality, and because my hermeneutic of faith is firmly rooted in God's 'yes' to creation and his declaration of its goodness. While I admire you passion for the unexceptional nature of life, I cannot participate in it because my passion is for what makes life exceptional---its creation by a God that ratifies its inherent goodness. While one may very well conclude that the cosmic threats to living things make for a very unexceptional view of nature, I view the infinite entanglements of the living and non-living elements of the universe as emblematic of something intrinsically exceptional, something that is equipped to navigate and negotiate with all of creation.

    I do not think our positions can be reduced to pessimism and optimism. I think it matters what we lay on God's doorstep because what we place there determines the likelihood of finding anyone at home. Though Ellie Arroway could never pass for a theist, she is onto something when, in the face of the very givenness of the cosmos she notes that she 'never knew,' 'so beautiful,' 'they should have sent a poet,' 'hope,' 'precious,' 'not alone.'

    Givenness. The possibility of the impossible. Are you missing the possibility of givenness? You always have a deep understanding of the reduction to consciousness, and to being, but I sense you are troubled by the reduction to givenness. Your sense of getting things backwards is interesting here. How about a cosmos (better chaosmos) that is unconditional and purely "given?" Creation without causality? It would be fascinating if givenness opens up a space for you to reframe your interpretation of how things are.

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  30. Trickiness is never my intention in this blog. I think you have it precisely right when you write:

    "The reason Jesus was the Son of God is because of God's own initiative of embracing and creating a human person that is united completely with divinity itself. If we are not incarnations, if we do not achieve a hypostatic union with God, you can't be saying that is the result of our human imperfection. Are you using hypostatic union in a weaker and broader sense? It is true Rahner links the potential for grace in all of us with the fully realized, God-filled human existence of Jesus, but Rahner would not say we are called to be equal with Jesus in any ontological sense. This is impossible."

    Rahner is never about compromising the uniqueness of Jesus: there is only one abiding hypostatic union. Rahner does not hesitate to add that, anthropologically, the Incarnation marks the final stage in the development of humanity. We may approach the likeness of the hypostatic union, but not its actuality: thereby preserving the ontological uniqueness of Christ. We are in agreement on this essential Christological point, and also it seems, we are in agreement with Rahner's anthropological theology. The Incarnation, according to Catholic theology then, did not become a historical event to tantalize us, but to ground the idea of perfection and salvation. Were we to actually achieve the hypostatic union, we would each become our own saviors, our own Christ-events, relegating the historical reality of the Incarnation to the dust bin of history.

    The logic of the Incarnation underscores the problem with your formulation of grace. Start in Jesus' exhortation to 'be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect' (Matt 5:48). This is not an invitation to usurp the divine initiatives and prerogatives, but rather to seek completion and wholeness, which itself is grace. The grace that leads to the fulfillment of perfection can certainly be resisted, but not the invitation: these are modalities of grace, the one that extends the invitation, the other that leads to completion. Traditionally, Catholicism call the former sufficient grace, and the latter efficacious grace. This distinction provides the basis for dismissing the notion that grace defeats freedom. Sufficient grace and freedom are inseparable: that is why we really have a choice; we really are free to resist the grace that effects 'perfection.' But here we must be careful to distinguish perfection from a realization of a hypostatic union.

    Rahner's axiom (as you call it) is another way of saying Irenaeus' "the glory of God is a human being fully alive." Of course there are ways of perfecting the human creature in the absence of efficient grace. People do it all the time. Self- actualization, meditation, etc. can bring the embodied creature to a more perfect experience of itself. Perhaps it is only that autonomous and perfecting creature who really lives out freedom and sufficient grace who in so doing moves closer and closer to the divine. does this idea free you from your infinite loop of failure?

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  34. It occurs to me that your miss something fundamental about grace and nature. You ask, "Does this sufficient grace really exist and face a freedom that is, at that moment, totally free of grace, a neutral, graceless humanity?" Do I understand you to be asking if human nature is separate from grace? Are you asking me to repeat my clear statement that "Sufficient grace and freedom are inseparable?" The idea that human nature can be free _from_ sufficient grace is nonsense; human nature is free _in_ sufficient grace. After that we are free to reject modalities of grace, just as we are free to recover them again. The theology of grace is settled law. You can look it up in any book of Catholic doctrine since Trent.

    The whole mythos of the creation story is that to be created is to be in grace. Theologically speaking, "pure beginning" has its roots in _the_ beginning. The figures of Adam and Eve are as 'privileged' as Mary, as she, too, was conceived before the Fall (Gen. 3:15).

    Since 'it matters not one jot' how I receive the Marian dogmas, I will leave you to the protoevangelium and to Denziger: you are as well-equipped as I am to navigate them. I must take you at your word when you said earlier that the dogmas per se do not interest you, so I do not understand how I am to address "what the church infallibly teaches about her and her divinely granted perfection" since my 'reading' or 'opinion' is not what you seek.

    For the record, though, I see Mary as Rahner does. The Christ-event puts us all in Mary's shoes (the one's she wore in 1st century Palestine, not the one's she's wearing now). In other words, God HAS granted " to each person the Marian 'pure beginning' in the work of Christ.

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    3. Lex orandi, lex credendi. That certainly is an authentic mode of being Catholic. My theology does in many ways extend from the prayer of the Church, yet we pray so differently today than we did even just 50 years ago, let alone 100 or 500 years ago.

      Though I am not sympathetic to the thrust of liberation theology, I have always been struck by how the Magnificat became, for the theologians, something of a manifesto. I suppose I was channeling Gutierrez and his succinct appropriation of that great Lucan passage in his _A Theology of Liberation_. But Boff, too, has a fairly robust mariology, as you have pointed out.

      For me, mariology is thoroughly christological. None of the Marian dogmas are intelligible or remotely coherent apart from the Christ-event. All her uniqueness, singularity and privilege are derivatives of her relationship to Jesus. The IM (a very ancient belief) in particular has always been understood in terms of her being the god-bearer, the mother of God. Only after a strong rooting in the fact of her motherhood of Jesus, can anything about Mary enter theology.

      So why is see viewed as being singularly different? For me the answer is simple. She carried the Word made flesh inside her very body, her very person. Because the Christ-event itself is unique, so too, is Mary. He could only have one historical mother. That is the foundation for her attributes in dogmatic theology.

      For me, there are only 2 prayers about Mary: the Magnificat itself, and the Angelus. The Ave Maria (itself a deeply biblical expression joined to the conclusion of the council at Ephesus--theotokos) is best prayed from within this prayer. These are the soundest expressions of Marian piety in my view, as the former places Mary within the hope of the poor and the work and praise of God, and the latter within intensely biblical and christological contexts. The Magnificat, though, is the Marian prayer par excellence, and every Catholic should wear that prayer every moment of every day.



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    4. It is important to bear in mind that the Marian dogmas are about Mary, not about us. We receive the dogmas as gifts, and we accept as such or at our own peril. It is true that the IM in particular has far-reaching ramifications for the theology of grace and nature, and that the IM underscores a difference in the economy of grace for Mary and the rest of us. But it is still the same grace, and we, too, in Baptism, become free from OS.

      It is interesting that Marian piety, historically speaking, peaks at time of great trial and tribulation. Even now, there is a resurgence in Marian piety as manifested in increased pilgrimages to Marian shrines. This tells us something about the signs of the times.

      People reach out to Mary not because she is different, but because she is totally human. It is fascinating to me that the Islamic view of Mary makes of her something as close to a saint as Islam is able make. She is revered as the first true Muslim, the first true servant of God. Let it be done to me according to your word. What if Mary is to be the sole mediator of a peace between Islam and the world? What would we think of her then? That would be a high mariology indeed, but a mariology of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55, [KJV]):

      46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

      47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

      48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

      49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

      50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

      51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

      52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

      53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

      54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

      55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.


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  36. Biblically speaking, the mythic disobedience in Genesis represents the subversion of freedom and grace. The decision to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil represents the reordering of freedom to power (the usurpation of the divine prerogatives), against its original ordering to responsibility (mythologically represented as "do not eat..."). So what is right and just is whatever I determine it to based on my own need: freedom becomes mere license, an evil that caricatures freedom. Humankind therefore injects license into creation through the misuse of freedom, the distortion of freedom.

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    2. I didn't think my use of the Genesis story degraded into plot summary. I have interpreted the moral movement under the narrative. But, I understand how you want me to shape my response a bit better.

      First, I must reject your assertion that God is 'never a thematic and known object.' I hold with Rahner that while our first experience of the absolute mystery is unthematic, it very quickly becomes thematic either through contemplation or speculation. So, from relationality with the absolute, we further experience a relationality with just what that absolute mystery is. Once we are in a relation with the other, we become that which is in a relation, and relation always has a moral dimension and moral/ethical commitment.

      Once our 'ancestors' (ugh) understood that relationship with the absolute mystery that is God obligated them to a certain reality, a reality of a relationship bound by moral and ethical imperatives, that relationship bears with it a responsibility.

      When other imperatives contradict the moral and ethical imperatives dictated by the reality of a relationship with God, the possibility of injury to that relationship arises.

      Whence could such contradicting imperatives emerge? Plausibly, such conflicting imperatives can arise from the growth of consciousness itself. Subjectivity and an "evolving" self and consciousness, in responding to its environment can find itself in a tension with its creator. That much can be traced to the biblical narrative.

      What fiction can I create that better situates this scenario? Perhaps an analogy, a poor one, but one that at least puts relationship in play, with its attendant moral and ethical imperatives. How about married, committed spouses. I love my wife for all the reasons a man loves his wife. I am created by her (I am who I am now because of what she means to me in my life). She expects me to honor her because that honor is due such a relationship. One day I am not with her; I find pleasure in someone else because it suited the moment. I have dishonored my spouse, my love, my relationship, the imperatives that issue from the relationship. That dishonor is what moral theology calls sin, which has injured the relationship. Was I free in that relationship? Did I really injure that relationship by seeking the 'good'? Can I recover the grace of my beloved?

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  37. If God exists, and he is who theists claim him to be, then we are only truly free when we remain in his good grace[s]. When we are not in his good graces, we are not free in any sense that does justice to freedom. We can call it 'freedom', but that is nothing more than a usurpation and emptying of a word. I have chosen 'license' to underscore what I think is the difference.

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    1. I appreciate how deeply you've investigated this issue, and, it turns out, that you really ARE interested in the Marian dogma per se. For all its ingenuity, it has been an ecumenical stumbling block. For some Protestants, the problem is that the dogmas are not biblical; for atheists, the problem is theodical.

      It's amazing that you get me to adopt apologetic and Marian postures I dislike.

      I accept the critique that many have pointed out, that deconstruction can appear to be non-committal. I reject the claim of course, but it is a time-honored critique. I have greater difficulty with your earlier accusation that I am intellectually dishonest in my approach to theology. Perhaps these two critiques are really just one.

      I will be responding to many of your comments above shortly. But, to start, I will not 'ban' you from the blog, as that would indeed be intellectually dishonest. Hospitality is the rule here. And while as a non-Catholic atheist your views are not currents in Catholic thought, your ex-Catholic atheistic approach, I think, does bring it into the fold. I will always therefore welcome you here and engage your thought the best I can.

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