Saturday, July 25, 2015

Degrees of Givenness and the Critique of Marion's Phenomenology

 I am both delighted and horrified that I have just now come to Christina M. Gschwandtner's Degrees of Givenness (Indiana: Indiana Univ. Pr., 2014). What a pleasure it would have been to have one of Marion's translators (The Visible and the Revealed) walk me through some of his challenging ideas, and what a pleasure (in retrospect) it was to have to unknot my own brow walking alone. Gschwandtner's study is a fine secondary source, and it beautifully, responsibly and comprehensively lays out some of the difficulties in Marion's extraordinarily ambitious project. She presents her own theory of possible refinements in the ideas of givenness and saturation, and identifies 'degrees' in the mode itself of the given, that the given gives itself incompletely (Marion might say inexhaustibly) to the recipient, responder, reader, observer. 

Despite the incalculable contribution of Degrees of Givenness to the study of Marion and to phenomenology in general, I can still sense an unresolved struggle with the interface between givenness and the self, both in her analysis and in critiques of those whom she presents. In my piece on Marion's In the Self's Place, I noted that when Marion heads straight into interpretation of  Augustine, he locates a self already in relation to the given. Gschwandtner identifies a conflict between hermeneutics and discernment that is simply absent from Marion's reading of Augustine. Clearly, Marion's posture is hermeneutic, not mystical.

Part of the problem here (in addition to the persistent problem with metaphysics, which Gschwandtner has elucidated definitively in her Reading Jean-Luc Marion, another gem read in tandem with Degrees) might very well be Christianity's view of formation, which tends to be conceived of as pluperfect. The formations of the self, spirit, morality etc., seem always to be actions already completed in the past; that certainly seems to be the Catholic view. But Catholicism is not grounded into a theology of the already-become-once-and-for-all. Catholic formation is not to be thought of as the perfection of the technique of a musical instrument: where a musician has, through years of practice and mastery, overcome every difficulty of getting around her instrument. Even in concepts of musicianship, practice never ends, and is always open to artistry and ever-increasing levels of effortlessness in technique.

In order to protect God from idolatry in which the religious responder has experiences of God but not from God (the essential difference between the idol and the icon), Marion, as a Catholic and religious thinker, tends to emphasize the side of the given against the self of the recipient. Some have interpreted this emphasis as a commitment to one term in the obvious binary opposition. But this I think is a fundamental misreading of Marion: certainly my reading of Marion does not look at the event of givenness as in danger of idolatry. As in the quantum reduction, the collapse of the waveform that allows the particle to appear, the problem of the observer is paramount. 

Metaphysical notions of causality undermine the appearance of phenomena. For Marion the individuation of the self follows givenness, which is anterior to it. In this sense, I find the closing remarks in Degrees of Givenness, troubling. There most certainly is, in my reading of Marion, a "back and forth between the phenomenon as it gives itself and one's reception of it" (203). That idea might not be so clear in Marion's work prior to his study of Augustine, but there the self emerges in synchronicity with givenness: degrees of the givenness of phenomena and the ever-forming of a growing self defy the metaphysical categories of cause and effect, of the appearance of the given and of the self. The anteriority of the given is all the protection saturated phenomena need, including the saturated phenomena of the icon and perhaps even of revelation. We must think of consciousness, being, time as collapsing into the reception of givenness, in a moment of Rahner's Schwebe, as they play out in the possibilities of the impossible in Keller's Cloud of the Impossible. It may very well turn out that the oscillations (i.e., schweben) demanded in Degrees of Givenness are already in the third reduction.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Givenness of Death

Death comes.

Hospices across the universe manage death and dying, often without the slightest idea of death as it is in itself. As a specialist in hospice and palliative medicine, I am often part of a team dedicated to death, or more accurately, to the looks of death when it is happening. When death is happening, a human being is dying, which is the process through which a living being exits life,  a life lived in a world of living and non-living things. The living and the dead. The dead are things formerly living, having gone through the process of an exit from life. The hospice team specializes in the death of a human subject; there is no palliation for fishes and trees. Every living thing dies (despite the odd and remarkable life cycle of turritopsis dohrnii); but we only manage the death of humans---it is the human thing to do.

We pronounce death. We declare that a human has died and has exited life. We even speak of the 'remains,' a thing left behind,  such as after a departure. A presence is exchanged for an absence. The official declaration is a matter of ownership and the public health. We protect the living from the dead. We protect the dead from accidental life by embalming or cremation, lest life creep back in, a very rare occurrence. Such is the final act in the management of the dead. The dead really must stay dead. It is the human thing to do.

Dying is the human thing to do. We all do it. Death is manner of the human condition. It is also the least examined thing we do. Thanatology does not begin to touch death; not even in its most morbid observations (turritopsis, not thanatopsis). When does death make an appearance: how does the phenomenality of death enter experience as it is in itself? Neither Addie Bundren nor Agamemnon get to report back to base camp, and the tales they do tell are for the lips of the living, the logoi of the dead; which is not to say they do not speak---they are given their lines.

As our patients lay dying, we minister to lives woven into the death-in-coming. Death presents itself to the life it entangles, and to those eyes that dare to manage it. Just what or who is managing what or whom? This death at a distance is the very hermeneutics of death, if we dare to experience its givenness. This hermeneutics of death is the space between the living and the dead, the call of death in its givenness to the one who would read its hieroglyphics. Even when we paint over dying with morphine and other opacities, death shines through in its phenomenality and givenness. We can know of the givenness of death by the response to its call. As the ones who want to know, we know death in its insistence to be heard, its command to interrogate it, through the hermeneutic that cuts a gap between we who would know and a death who would speak.

The symptom is death in its lowest degree of givenness. To understand it as a metaphor is to already read it, and misread it at that. The symptom is not a mode of similarity. Death's symptoms are extensions of itself; their reach is metonymy, and they foreclose on death's wholeness. We tend to know death by its parts. The 'death rattle,' the coalescence of secretions in a throat betraying the personhood of the dying, chills its hearer. For some, the sound is the very voice of death, gripping a loved one by the throat. By the time this symptom makes its appearance, the dying are oblivious, so it is a gift only for the hearer. It is a symptom more often treated to 'treat' a family member, than to alleviate suffering in the dying. The secret is to dry the secretions and quiet the sound of death, denying it embodiment. Another symptom, 'air hunger' or dyspnea, is horrific for the dying and their witnesses. Morphine blankets air hunger, subdues it, gives it rest; the body relaxes as this finger of death loosens it grip on everyone in the room.  We add to the massive presence of death in every intervention; we give death a shape and a rhythm, and make its invisibility visible, if only in outline.

Our own presence to death invests it with meaning, the meaning it calls to us as it beckons us to display its self. This the moment of two selves: reading and being read, interpreting and being interpreted. We so want to abbreviate death, we would close it off with a signature on a death certificate. But if we want to know death, we must allow it to appear, to makes its presence known to our own presence. What is in the room when the last breath, the last beat of a broken heart, has had its say? I am in the presence of death, now without a symptom, without a metonym to make it all a bit more palatable. I am present to death as death. What is becoming visible? Death is an idol created by my gaze upon the invisible. Death is in life's place, a complete transubstantiation symbolized in the lifeless body before me: the accidents of the flesh, which give death its metaphor.

Death does not mean the absence of life. Death, in its pure givenness, means the change in substance. That is the difference to which I bring my own presence. Death wants to present itself in its whole givenness, which we are wont to foreshorten through its metonymy, our very desire to keep it at arms length. But we do not let death appear through the perspective of foreshortening, which distorts it to fit it into a frame, our picture of death. To be with death is to stand in death, the space in the room that wants to mean as it wraps its cellophane self around my presence and the lifelessness before me. Death embraces the living and the dead with its difference that builds its cathedral to house a sacred space.

Death sacralizes all things and erases every profanation in the event that is death. Death is the difference that cuts a gap in the space of my hermeneutic attitude  that give it a voice in which to whisper its call. This eventive gap cuts into the lack that reshapes my reader's self, now something also different, and new.  This death is the event of my own death as a movement from the profane to the sacred. It is the same death that I will die. The wholeness of death is in the difference it makes for everyone. It is the same difference. I know death because I am as human as the dying and dead before me. Death appears before me as I appear before death. I do not sign so fast: I sign for myself when I sign for the dead. I tarry, for I do not certify death; I ratify it with the signature that I use to sign off on what we all do.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Grace, Sin and the Natural Attitude


The 'natural attitude' works against phenomenology and other deconstructive gestures. This attitude survives because it is a useful adaptation for getting on with everyday life. It allows us to stop at red lights without reflecting on electrons and wavelengths or other gods of glowing. It allows us to hear thunder without fear of Zeus. It gives us the daily logic that allows us to make countless choices. We like the natural attitude. We will keep it.

I have no idea how many people think about grace and sin, or how many times a day these thoughts arise, or if they arise at all. Perhaps only religious people think of such things, and then perhaps not very often. Sin and grace live in the rarefied zones of human experience. The natural attitude, the pre-phenomenological attitude, tends to foreclose those zones. Not so for some religious people, certainly not for biblical personages.

Many Old Testament texts witness to the relation of sin to human suffering. The first human suffering is tied to sin in Genesis, and elsewhere sin, usually in the form of a departure from the covenant, explains individual and collective suffering. The OT is also of 2 minds about the transmission of sin---visiting the sins of the fathers upon the offspring. Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Exodus 20:5; 34:6-7 seems to say yes, Deuteronomy 24:16, not so much. The prophets Jeremiah (31:34) and Ezekiel (18:20) look toward a 'no'. But the New Testament give a resounding response to sin in its relation to suffering. Sin does not lead to human suffering, certainly not necessarily, apart from the pangs of guilt, whether that sin rests with the fathers or the children.

And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him. (John 9:1-3).

The disciples ask their question from the natural attitude, from the OT normative condition. Jesus vacates the theory of suffering and sin, and posits mystery in its place. This is the Catholic position to this day. That we sin, and that we suffer is simply given; why we sin and suffer is unknown: sin is without why.

The natural attitude wants to know why. Yet, the very paradigm of knowing that creates the natural attitude has no access sin or suffering, except perhaps to describe them. To get anywhere at all, the natural attitude must be suspended, bracketed, to allow sin and suffering to appear in themselves, in their givenness. The authors of Genesis gave a mythological shape to their experience of the ubiquity and givenness of sin. In an imaginative and picturesque manner, they present the progenitors of humanity in a mythic topos, Eden. It's a great story, and I highly recommend it: its a truly inspired way to express why for something that is without why.

The Johannine Jesus also presents an explanation for something that is without why. Elsewhere I have noted how the man born blind assumes the very signature of divinity. The outcome of John 9 is the blind man 'becoming' Jesus. There are many ways of reading this pericope; I would recommend only those approaches of interpretation that avoid arguing that the text is trying to put itself out of business. For example, an exegetical, interpretative gesture that identifies a Jesus who made the man blind since birth in order to gratify his ministry and magnify his status among the people does not advance the interest or theme of the text, and in fact props up the text to assassinate itself by assassinating the protagonist. Better approaches allow the text to speak through such critical agendae.

The Greek text is more open to possibilities and more interesting readings:

καὶ παράγων εἶδεν ἄνθρωπον τυφλὸν ἐκ γενετῆς. καὶ ἠρώτησαν αὐτὸν οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ λέγοντες ῥαββί τίς ἥμαρτεν οὗτος οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ ἵνα τυφλὸς γεννηθῇ. ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς οὔτε οὗτος ἥμαρτεν οὔτε οἱ γονεῖς αὐτοῦ ἀλλ’ ἵνα φανερωθῇ τὰ ἔργα τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν αὐτῷ. ἡμᾶς δεῖ ἐργάζεσθαι τὰ ἔργα τοῦ πέμψαντός με ἕως ἡμέρα ἐστίν ἔρχεται νὺξ ὅτε οὐδεὶς δύναται ἐργάζεσθαι.

[Jesus passed by a man born blind. The disciples asked, 'Rabbi, was it because of his sins or his parents that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, neither this man nor his parents sinned. But for the appearance {phaneroothe} of the works of God, as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me; night comes, when no one can work. GNT, John 9:1-4; my rendering]

On the face of it, the disciples' question is absurd: sins do not send sinners back to the womb to be born punished. The real question is about the parents: they ask if the sins of the parents are visited upon the child. Jesus' reply is shocking: there is no connection between sin and suffering. That the man suffers blindness is simple fact, but in the face of this fact in the plain light of day, Jesus does the work of God. If Jesus were making an ontological statement, if he were saying that the man was born blind so that God could pat himself on his glorified back, he would have been saying nothing new; such was the status quo of sin, suffering and the retribution of God.  But Jesus here authoritatively perfects the revolution begun by Ezekiel and Jeremiah: sin and suffering are without why, and the justice of God is love, not hate. Human justice, however, is always bent on violence and destruction, as the pericope successfully presents. It is only in the irony of the blind man who now sees saying to the authorities, ego eimi, "I am," that the justice of God's love comes to the fore, and the condemnation of the authorities comes from their own mouths.

The biblical authors share in the collective experience of humankind and identify its condition of violence, greed, suffering, and injustice, and they conceptualize this condition as sin. Their self-understanding further experiences sin as a rupture in the relationship with God. Why it sees it this way is a complicated question rooted in that relationship itself;  that is sees it this way is self-evident: res ipse loquitur. The prophets, nonetheless, are already speaking of a healing of that rupture, and a freely given forgiveness, a relief for time served, a totally gratuitous gift: grace.


The ties that bind in any relationship have as their only determinants the individuals in that relationship. Such ties can be deontological, moral, ethical, and so on, but some can be of a different order and determined to something more essential than even those ties. A soldier and her superior officer has a relationship built upon, among other things, duty and obedience. So too, might an employee have a relationship based on these determinants, but perhaps also, ethical and moral ones. The case of of people who love one another, is of yet another order. That love itself is more essential than any other determinants that might also inform the relationship. Parents and children command simple determinants, but also the determinant of love. Lovers are bound by love before they are lovers.

Jean-Luc Marion makes the case beautifully for lovers in his The Erotic Phenomenon. In this fascinating study, love between humans and love between God and the human is carefully articulated in an intense meditation.

The erotic phenomenon, as it arises through the advance that makes the lover make love, paradoxically offers death no hold---precisely because it breaks free from the horizon of being. Contrary to the anticipatory resolution in the ontological reduction, which only reaches possibility according to being (which is the say according to death, which highlights the possibility of being through the possibility of impossibility), in  the erotic reduction the anticipatory resolution opens a measureless possibility---a possibility that being, and therefore death, never limits. This possibility is defined as the impossibility of impossibility. The erotic phenomenon, as such, has no motive to succumb to death because it does not belong to the horizon of being (193).

The movement in this passage exemplifies the movement of the entire work, which is more symphonic than philosophical. It is a movement sweeping the relationality of love off the ontological horizon and onto the erotic. Between lovers, love is more essential than being. Love is eternal in its own horizon and levels the Heideggerian motion toward death. Death has no truck within the horizon of love. Instead, love offers a perpetual, eternal, calling of the lover, which brings the lover to her self. Lovers do this for each other every day. When God is a lover in such a relationality, the other lover is called into itself as a self. Love therefore is anterior to being. God himself loves before he is, and he loves the other before that other is, before individuation. 

It was necessary that I enter into the erotic reduction and that I advance under the form of the lover in order that the logic of love lead me insensibly, but ineluctably, to comprehend that another loved me well before I lover her. It was enough that I accept the possibility for it to become actual (215).

The erotic reduction allows relationality to appear to the lover. This is true of human lovers, as it is true of God as he loves the other. 

Grace has been called many things, but in its most neutral expression it commands relationality: grace is friendship with God. Phenomenologically, we now know that this friendship is determined by a freely given love before the other even comes to be. But love, even as a mode of grace, is certainly available outside of the phenomenological reduction. The natural attitude, the attitude of science, of structuralism, of empiricism cannot close off such grace. It can ignore it, bracket it off to accomplish its own version of phenomenology, but it cannot resist it: this is the sufficient grace that infuses itself in all the world.

For grace to appear, the grace that sanctifies, the natural attitude must be suspended in deference to the supernatural existential. In order to enter the horizon of the sacred, of love, one must side-step the ontological reduction, which always disallows the divine. The attitude open to God is within sufficient grace, and the experience of a relationality between the hearer of the call and the call which calls the self into itself, opens upon the horizon of love, the love that essential to the relation of God as love.

The self is not something that emerges in a finality, once and for all time. The self is always emerging, pulled into itself by God the lover in relationality. Religious people intuit that all relation with God comes with the ties that bind. The turning away from God in this relationship causes a rift in its matrix. The rift is not an irrevocable sundering; it is an injury to the relationship. It is an injury against what it means to be in a relationship with God whose horizon is love. It is an injury to love and the lovers. There is a disruption on either side of the relationship, and the self, always emerging and constantly created in the relationship, is damaged. Injury to the relationship with God is called sin, but so to is the injury to the self also sin. Sin injures the self by rupturing is on-going emergence and creation which is constitutive of the relationship.

It is this profound sense of emerging that the self seeks. Even as it precipitates out as a subject with intuition and intentionality, in knows its self in relationship to God whose essence is love. The self loves the self when it wills for itself the good, which is love, the self-love that is only the good when grounded in the relationality of love which is God. The self always wants to return to its self-emerging, to which it is properly ordered by the ties that bind it in the relation to God.

Sanctifying grace then is the grace that returns one lover to the other, the self to God. That grace is freely given as love from the God who is love to the lover. It is also the grace that keeps the lover in the relationship. So why is it that some lovers fall out of lover with their lover? The choice to love is always radically free; it is always a free act of the will. The freedom to resist sanctifying grace is what makes the relationship a real relationship: vulnerable to a self seeking the self to its own ends and even its own detriment. Freedom is all bound up in the will's ability to choose to resist the grace that sanctifies---the grace that holds the self in its relationship to God.


The man born blind in John 9 is a self called into something new, a new self so in love with God that he dares utter the Exodus ontology, the divine name, "I am." Is this a usurpation of the divine calling card, the divine signature? The Johannine pericope witnesses to the place of the self in the new paradigm of the Incarnation. "Before Abraham was I am (John 8:58)," says the Christ. The man born blind, comes into himself from the ambiguous identity experienced by the crowd and says, "I am" (9:9). A self is born out of a sea of ambiguity grounded in the erotic reduction: it is he who is speaking to you: I see and I believe. And he worshiped him (9:37-38). Worshiped? What can worship be but a self in relation to a God who has pulled that self into a brand new thing: a self in relationality with its lover and creator?

What Rahner has called the absolute mystery that is God is the selfsame God who appears in the erotic reduction, and finally in the reduction to givenness. Rahner's supernatural existential is written into to potential space that Lacanian psychoanalysis calls 'lack,' which is the apophatic place of the emerging self being pulled into itself through the creative agency of relation to God. Lack is not a loss, or an emptiness, a fault, a depravity or a deprivation: it is constitutive of an ever-emerging self within its relationality with God. Rahner's, Marion's and Lacan's positions coalesce around the givenness of the absolute mystery, Vorgriff, lack and the place of the self. I am most myself in the erotic relationality that is the relation with God. I return to that place of the self where I continue to emerge as my self, which I experience in the erotic reduction as a person who loves in love and in grace. Lack is never filled, but always apophatically and kenotically vacated, to keep creatively renewing that place. In this manner the on-going creation of the world is forever entangled with the on-going creation of the self: generatively and regeneratively.

Why would a rational creature exercise its freedom by injuring its relationship with the lover par excellence? Why does any lover cheat? Where does a lover think he is escaping when he seeks freedom from his lover? The Catholic response to these questions is fairly straight-forward. When we cheat we escape into bondage, into the idolatry that insults the good. It is an escape into the self, which directs its gaze into its own reflection. So bedazzled by its object, the self is blinded by its own distorted, fun-house mirror reflection whose very bizarreness entices the injudicious exercise of freedom. But all is not lost: the icon is always behind the idol, awaiting the return of the prodigal.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Religious Tolerance

The tight tolerances we set for religious ideas are based on concepts of reason and epistemic modes of knowing. Lately, much has been said about the desirability of religious tolerance and the tolerances we bear toward people whose modes of knowing include revelation, phenomenology and metaphysical speculation. A self-proclaimed ‘cutting edge’ pattern of thought has emerged in the Routledge Handbook of Contemporary Philosophy of Religion in the form of Mehdi Aminrazavi’s article, “Religious Tolerance.” Essentially, Aminrazavi’s argument rejects all forms of knowing outside the realm of logical positivism, and denounces in particular religious ways of knowing as dangerous to the common good of any given culture, equating their logic with the logic of racism and Nazism. Though he suggests that he remains able to ‘respect’ people who hold views whose logic is outside the pale of what he calls ‘reason,’ he must adopt an attitude of “intellectual intolerance” toward such views as a moral imperative. Just how such a schizophrenia of praxis would play out does not enter his argument, but Aminrazavi strongly implies that he is able to ‘respect’ racists and Nazis and other religious people, while maintaining what can only be an impotent intolerance toward the logic that brings them to believe and do the things they do.

We have heard this case made before: the late Christopher Hitchens has made it passionately and without practical ambiguity. Hitchens, unlike Aminrazavi, would eradicate religion for the same reason as the latter would adhere to merely an intellectual intolerance. Aminrazavi’s argument seems disingenuous to me, as it embraces the lofty idealism of identifying genuine danger in the logic of faith and Nazism, and equally embraces an intolerance that results in the ‘respect’ for those who harbor such dangerous logic. Hitchen’s position seems the more intellectually honest about its intolerance.

Perhaps more disturbing to me is how religion itself becomes intolerant. This move is not merely a strategy of returning intolerance to intolerance. Intolerance always wants recourse to violence. For Aminrazavi, that violence appears to be limited to the intellectual realm. For Hitchens, violence will meet violence in both an intellectual and practical showdown. Fr. Robert Barron (“
On Love, Tolerance and Making Distinctions”) has lately chosen a path similar to Aminrazavi’s, in which he delineates ‘limits’ to tolerance while embracing an imperative praxis of love. By drawing the distinction between love--- willing the good of the other---and hate---willing evil toward the other, Barron moves to the heart of what tolerance actually is. “Criticizing someone’s moral choice is not tantamount to hate,” he says. Acts of love may indeed take the form of such criticism, so long as that critique is a way of effecting or willing the good for the other. Moreover, according to Barron, honest debate and argumentation does not lead to disrespect, but authentic respect, not merely for the point of view, but for the one holding that view. Aminrazavi cannot respect a point of view based on epistemic modes other than empiricism or logical positivism, so his only recourse to civility is through ‘respect’ of the other as an individual qua individual---apart from her presumably loathsome logic.

Tolerance itself refers to the acceptance of a point of view or behavior that if it existed within the one doing the tolerating would be intolerable. We can only tolerate that which we find objectionable. Intolerance is the non-acceptance of such views or behaviors, often attached to a praxis inclined to eradicate them. Aminrazavi remarkably holds to the moral imperative of intellectual intolerance that has no civic teeth in order to preserve a ‘respect’ for an individual qua individual. To what purpose is such intolerance directed then?

Barron worries that a tolerance for a point of view or behavior that falls short of exuberance and celebration is often interpreted in our culture as intolerance and hatred, a phenomenon he attributes to a lost objective morality. Amirazavi has no such concerns because his ‘respect’ for the individual is exuberant and celebratory enough to offset his intellectual violence towards that individual’s logic and epistemic mode. It is interesting that both Barron and Aminrazavi seem to land in the same place: Barron tolerates some points of view and behaviors for the common good and the dignity of the person, while Aminrazavi is intolerant of such views but nonetheless ‘respects’ individuals because it is the right thing to do. Barron accomplishes this task through ‘love,’ Aminrazavi through ‘respect.’

If intolerance and tolerance have identical outcomes, how can one approach make claims upon moral imperatives mutually exclusive of the other? It seems, therefore, that tolerance and intolerance are expressions of the same inclination to a moral supremacy that has no effect beyond the self that makes such expressions. Since neither term seems to escape subjectivity, appeals to objective data in support of either position or to the objects themselves under the gaze of such subjectivity undercuts any epistemic mode, religious or secular, rational or anti-intellectual, or any logic, intuitive or mathematic, metaphysical or physical. Neither intolerance nor tolerance seems to have any clothes other than the 'borrow’d robes' that gratify certain intellectual proclivities. Both terms extort the truth from reason and intuition, and neither accomplishes its goal.

I suggest we do away with both terms by tightening intellectual tolerances so that neither term can get through to do the violence they are wont to do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Robert Barron on Laudato Si' and Catholic Social Teaching

Robert Barron seems to be a bit more optimistic than I am about the reception of Pope Francis' Laudato Si'. For one thing, Barron sees the encyclical leaving a 'wake' behind, and I have been sadly compelled to see it as a flash in the pan, mainly because its teachings are 'hard.'

It is a wonderful coincidence, though, that Fr. Barron, a single day after my own post  on Catholic social teaching, would ponder Laudato in terms of the prophetic (read: fiery and colorful) language of the document and the pope's speeches in Latin America. Though Barron's comments seem very accurate to me, he does not couch them in the terms of my previous post: subsidiarity, socialization and solidarity. Nonetheless, his contextualization is a good one, and he touches appropriately on the dignity of the individual and the common good.

I recommend Fr. Barron's article for those who seek a context for what this pope is about.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Subsidiarity, Socialization, Solidarity: Heathcare, Patients and Doctors

Subsidiarity, socialization and solidarity are the trinity of principles that form Catholic social teaching. To be sure, Catholic social teaching is as old as the Gospel itself, but it takes the form of official teachings at the end of the 19th century with Leo XIII's Rerum Novarum. The latest encyclical dealing with Catholic social teaching, Laudato Si', recently made a splash in global media, but has gone cold and will soon be forgotten. Quite simply,  the principle of subsidiarity insists that, in the social order, whatever can be accomplished at the lowest level, for example the level of the individual or small community, must be accomplished there, and larger social structures such as higher levels of government should yield to the greater efficacy of the lower levels. Socialization, on the other hand, insists that what the lower levels have failed to do, or have accomplished ineffectively, or have ignored, must be enacted upon by higher levels of the social order. 'Human dignity' and the 'common good' drive the choices that locate where that good is best accomplished. Solidarity, has two meanings: first, it means that all humans at the various levels of community are in irrevocable relationships, and the common good is exercised at all levels of such relationships. The second meaning, more cynical, is simply to offer a less threatening term for socialization, as so many people hear in that latter term 'socialism,' a nasty word for liberal democracies seeking to balance political power.

Leo's encyclical reacted against the rise of socialism in response to the problems of labor by embracing subsidiarity; John XXIII's Mater et Magistra flowed in the other direction in response to laissez faire attitudes but also back again to socialization regarding healthcare and housing. Francis' Laudato Si' embraced an 'ontoecological' solidarity in response to the rape of the natural world and the further degradation of the poor. All three encyclicals are rewarding reads, and I highly recommend them as my brief summaries hardly do them justice.

The clearest validation of Catholic social teaching can be seen in the issues of American healthcare. The absolutely dismal failure of the American system gave rise to Medicare and similar programs, managed care, and the latest program, the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The failures are largely at the lowest levels, where people seek care through too few doctors and over-crowded hospital emergency departments. What we have here, as Strother Martin once noted, is a failure to communicate.

While Medicare is arguably the best idea that emerged in the American system, managed care, and its chimeric monstrosity, the ACA, while having the best of intentions, have taken Americans down the road to hell, as Samuel Johnson might have observed. The problem of course is the corporate greed that transformed the practice of medicine into a generator of wealth. This wealth generator has no objection if somewhere along the generation of mega-dollars a few people actually get the healthcare they need, but the system is designed to garner wealth for the few. America pays more than any other country per capita for its health system, but does not approach other countries' effectiveness and good outcomes: the 'common good.' Sadly, human dignity plays no role in the American system.

The failures at the points of service underscore a failure of subsidiarity, and mandates socialization. The American game of feigning commitment to free enterprise has left too much money in the hands of the few and too little, if any, improvements in healthcare delivery to actual Americans. Solidarity remains elusive in American healthcare because it is inconvenient to business interests that have usurped the very nature of medicine and healthcare and transformed it into another 'free enterprise'-government collusion to concentrate wealth in the hands of power structures.

This result was not the intent of the presidency and legislative bodies that shepherded ACA into being, but good intentions are often short-sighted and don't see the beast of unsatiable and unquenchable desire (capitalist-government entanglements) until it's too late. And the beast's brood ain't walking any of it back anytime soon. No, I'm afraid the disingenuous game of 'free enterprise' must yield to the common good and the dignity of the human person sooner or later. A single, single payer system will go a long way in removing the interlopers in the delivery of healthcare. A doctor and a patient must be free to operate without having to answer to stockholders and the wealth-generating machine that places obstacles to the delivery of care so that costs can be channeled into profits.

One way we can conceive the 'common good' is 'human dignity' writ large, and nowhere is the dignity of the human person more present than it the doctor-patient relationship. What happens at the bedside must be reflected at the larger order of social commerce, but, in fact, the flow is in the reverse direction. The commodification of healthcare and its transposition into transactions of goods and services has injected suspicion and hoodwinkery into the sacred space of disclosure and foreclosure, what was once a space of trust. The injection of distrust and malice infects both sides of the relationship. Defensive medicine confronts consumerism and both pound thunderously as the white elephants in the exam room. Doctors have forgotten how to speak to patients empathetically and effectively and patients feel cheated and injured when things don't go as well as Madison Avenue and the marketplace had promised.

The problem has become acute and the medical profession has decided to address it head-on in remediation of physicians' communication skills. Either under the aegis of hospice and palliative medicine, or medical ethics, or malpractice education, physicians hone their skills in role-play, scripted dialogue and general education in empathetic communication. Yet empathy itself cannot be learned, and patients' suspicions are not allayed by canned speech. Only time will tell if essential conversations between patients and doctors are becoming more effective and trusting.

The dignity of the human person as microcosm or macrocosm should begin in the relationship between a doctor and her patient. Human dignity and the common good root deeply in an "I" and an "other." The potential for intersubjectivity is always present in such relationships, if given the tools and skills that can facilitate meaningful communication. Subsidiarity and socialization go hand in hand in healthcare; and only in solidarity, as individuals and as smaller and larger communities, can the problems in healthcare become truly manageable. The human element in the sacred relationship between a patient and her physician is always poised to engender an authentic morality and ethic that goes all the way up and down.

Other equally authentic Catholic (or even strictly secular) viewpoints on the issue of healthcare abound; but unless the discussions become political or fall into the trap of ideology, other viewpoints must identify and stress the successes of our current system, of the situation at the bedside, of the current communication skills of physicians, and of the trust level of patients. Interpretations of the status quo will be judged by how well they ring true in the ear of the beholder.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Hermeneutics: Here Comes Everybody

In his Conflict of Interpretations, Paul Ricoeur notes that the Tradition lives by the grace of interpretation. That understanding certainly has standing in theology, biblical hermeneutics and the handing down of the Church's self-understanding, its gift, to subsequent generations of receivers and hearers of the word. I place a good deal of credence in the relationship Ricoeur sees between interpretation and tradition, and I like to think I have respected it in the pages of this blog. Recently, this blog has examined dogma in relation to scripture, and how the entire Catholic rule of faith plays out in its own terms.

Grace of interpretation. I rather like that phrase. Grace has the uncanny and amazing ability to give sight to the blind. Or at least to permit a vision, a gaze upon events. All hermeneutics are heuristic; discovery itself drives interpretation to know something. Caputo's increasingly radical hermeneutics open upon the discovery of the self-disclosing 'call.' Marion's reduction to givenness opens upon the horizon where the locus of the self grounds its emergence and subjectivity. Levinas' 'face' calls subjectivity into otherwise than being, an ethics that obligates and orients a self to the other. Keller's apophatic entanglements resurrect Cusan and Augustinian docta ignorantia into an ever-expanding space of unsaying and unknowing where events can be called into existence.

Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker long ago heard it on the Liffey. Joyce is Everybody's bag of tricks, and the Wake sets up an attitude to what hermeneutics can do or be. It's no accident that in Glas Derrida begins mid-sentence and ends that way. Even his visuals capture something of the Wake's own pagination. Joyce and Derrida, whose situation mid-20th century make them the pranksters of Triskelion, move critics by their sheer acts of the will upon a shifting critical grid.

Peter Rollins has picked up a gauntlet of tradition in his response to Caputo's [non]critique of his work. Rollins is reconfiguring his concept of 'lack' and seems to conclude that lack, too, is all Vorstellung. Recently, both here and on Pete's blog I located lack in Marion's place of the self, his pure call, and Caputo's insistence motif. He seems to have liked that idea. 

Regardless of the tradition in question, a productive hermeneutics will always look to the flux of time between them. Readings are always already other readings, and the something they discover is beyond Vorstellung, an in the zone of the self. What is self-understanding if it is not what's going on in the place of  the self?

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hermeneutics and Dogma: Some Odds and Ends

The recent discussion on Mary in Church dogmatics has opened upon the stages of theodicy, the reality of the Incarnation, the Will of God, and the biblical representation of sin. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception (IC) has underscored the difficulty of its own language and its reception in the sensus fidelium. In order to move toward a reasonable synthesis, it would seem that the dogma should be contextualized within Christological, ecclesiological and soteriological themes and grace-theology as well.

1. Sanctifying grace (SG): The grace of holiness, SG maintains the integrity of a properly ordered relationship to God, and it is freely given by God, absolutely gratuitous, and beyond the reach of human merit. It is imparted by God through sacramentals, sacraments (the 7 properly so called and all others) and by direct will of the triune God. It is both cause and effect of the relationship between a human and God. SG is the grace operative in the dogmatic expression of the IC, for in this grace all abuse---sin--- of the relationship with God is impossible.

2. Ultimately, Original Sin (OS), from which Mary is preserved, is unintelligible apart from the representation of evil in the bible, which expresses the lived experience of evil and sin of the inspired authors of the biblical books, and the culture which produced the authors and books. Hence, only a hermeneutic that addresses the biblical representation of the reality of evil and sin can decipher the dogmatic representation of the IC. Any logic that seeks to separate the IC from OS and its representation cannot but fail to go astray in any effort to consider the meaning of the dogma. The Christian self-understanding of sin, Adam, Christ and (by obvious extension) Mary is already established in the Pauline corpus (cf. Rom 5:12ff; 1 Cor. 15:22) during the formation of the Church. For Paul, Adam was a historical figure, not merely a historical 'reality.'

3. The historical and biological uniqueness of the motherhood of Mary provides the facticity of her uniqueness as an individual. In this manner, Mary is forever embedded in Christology, and the uniqueness and facticity of the Christ-event itself.

4. Soteriologically, The Word made flesh, in order to effect salvation, must be of the flesh of Adam, real human flesh. The flesh of Adam was given to the Logos through the biological motherhood of Mary.

5. The sanctity of the vessel of the historical Incarnation of the Logos is a very ancient idea in the Church. How could God enter the world as a human being from a flesh always poised (effect of OS) to breach the relationship with God?

6. Which Adam would provide the flesh for the Word, a prelapsarian Adam, or a postlapsarian Adam? If we are to move to an interpretation of the IC and OS, a hermeneutic ordered to the mythological representation of the human being in proper relation to God is required, and that hermeneutic must be attuned to an Adam on either side of the breach, hence the validity, if not the essentiality of the question.

7. The dogma of the IC would be incoherent if it positioned Mary in a superior relation to sin from the incarnate Word. The Synoptic temptation scenes (Mk. 1; Matt. 3; Lk. 3 etc.) present Jesus being invited to sin by Satan. Though Jesus did not sin, narratologically there was an 'occasion' of sin. This simple concupiscence denied by Jesus cannot therefore be absent from Mary. The sanctifying grace imparted to the human nature of Jesus forecloses any real 'drama' in the moment. It must be something like this for Mary as well, without prejudice to the unique grace of the hypostatic union.

8. The simple concupiscence---the drive to seek the good--- of Adam is not the rejection of sanctifying grace. Such concupiscence is simply the reality of being human in a created environment. The IC implies that Mary did not answer to concupiscence, and this is held by the Tradition, though without de fide status. Mary's concupiscence is bracketed in this discussion (epoche) to allow her to appear on the same horizon as the prelapsarian Adam, both of them being full of grace.

9. OS is itself the mythic representation of the reality of moral evil in the world. In Gen 2: 16-17, God orders the freedom of the human to the special relationship with him, and informed the man that any exercise of freedom apart from that relationship would entail death. In the context of choice, and of seeking the 'good,' the human orders that choice to itself, apart from relation to God: when the fruit was judged 'good for food, pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom' (Gen. 3:6), choice is ordered against the relationship and to the human alone. The inspired author has witnessed the actions of humans apart from their relationship with God: treachery, murder, theft, pride and selfishness, and dislocates this reality to a mythic action in the past.

10. The plain language of the dogma of IC invites theodicy by presenting Mary's single privilege of grace (SG) in a uniqueness that alienates the rest of humanity in its divine exclusivity. By collapsing concupiscence as it has come to be known, Mary appears, with Adam, in the natural attitude of sanctifying grace, which was meant, from the beginning, for all of human-kind. As such, theodicy cannot make an appearance as an event.


OS is the religious expression of the experience of the universality of moral evil. It is the sitz im Leben, the condition in which we, like the inspired authors of Genesis, find ourselves, and that which is mythologically represented in the biblical narrative of the fall. OS is itself mythos, and a dogmatic interpretation of mythos. It is therefore a mythos that represents an experience on either side of the mythic and dogmatic enterprise of faith. OS unites scripture with its tradition in a metalanguage of dogma.

To be free of OS, one assumes the position of Adam, who walked in graced freedom with God; and this condition is rather like the fullness of grace imparted dogmatically to Mary. Like her ancestor, Mary is immaculately conceived metahistorically with him, inherits his flesh and in turn gives that flesh to her son, Jesus. This much is already understood in the early Church, as Paul declares the relationship to the first and second Adam. Paul does not examine the condition of the portal of sin, but simply asserts a parallelism of grand design, leaving the examination to posterity.

Jesus then is 'born of a woman' of Adamite flesh. That flesh, Mary's flesh, though, is free of sin, of even the possibility of sin. This condition of the [im]possibility of sin cannot be the evil concupiscence that the Tradition identifies as the consequence of OS. This condition must be instead a simple attribute of the human nature. An attribute that is constitutive of the human partner that in and of itself does no injury to the relationship. Human nature, sanctifying grace, the immaculate conception of Adam and Mary are anterior to the fall. How can there be two outcomes from the lived experience of the same grace? How can impossibility and possibility come from the same grace in the same flesh?

"Their eyes were opened" [Gen. 3:7; Luke 24:31].

These identical phrases in Genesis and Luke read each other, the Tradition and dogma.  For the walkers on the road to Emmaus, there was the vision of a saturated phenomenon, the icon of the risen Christ. For the eaters of knowledge,  there was the vision of the saturated phenomenon, the idol of shame that overwhelms their gaze.

The early chapters of Genesis do not know of prophets, so God himself must declare the state of affairs in Eden.

He would fall. He had not yet fallen but he would fall silently in an instant. Not to fall was too hard, too hard; and he felt the silent lapse of his soul, as it would be in some instant to come, falling, falling but not yet fallen, still unfallen, but about to fall. [ James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 188].

And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." [Genesis 3:15]

Adam on the precipice of a self-determined good, experiencing his lapse before the fact in some instance to come; God prophesying the struggle between good and evil through motherhood of all human offspring, to the motherhood of the savior: this is the protoevangelium.

In the last gasp of the prelapsarian world the Christ-event becomes a reality, as does the conception of Mary in the grace that preserves her from what is about to happen. Mary does not fall with Adam, because the prelapsarian grace has opened her eyes to the icon of Christ through the providence of God which gazes back at her,  redeeming her through the very event Luke has depicted. Adam's eyes were opened, but Mary's eye's were opened wider on the same grace enjoyed by both. Adam could only be bedazzled by overwhelming gaze upon himself through his new knowledge, but Mary's gaze is saturated by a larger view upon grace and she partakes of the grand affirmation of creation itself: the fiat of creation whose reshith (thought of as perhaps 'chaosmic' time, Joyce's time of 'fall, falling, fallen') has ticked a heaven round the stars, becomes her own fiat, her 'yes' whose time ticks to and fro. Poor Adam, he could have hardly known, with all that knowledge, he was saying 'no.' He just couldn't see it, drowning in grace and blinded by the idol. Mary though, bathing in the sea of faith and the same sea of grace, was seen by God in the gaze that looks upon the gazer.

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful. [Ineffabilis Deus]

Though Mary did not fall, she inherits and inhabits the same human condition as all other human beings. She was heir to everything that is human: joy, sorrow, suffering, death. The dogma states that she is graced, without saying how. Because it is also dogmatically stated and therefore de fide that Adam, too, in "the first instance of" his "conception by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God," he is joined by Mary in the relationship with God as it was in the beginning. Unlike Adam, Mary was left behind in prelapsarian grace, even though she was historically born into the postlapsarian world to receive God in her very flesh, the flesh of Adam, who, in the beginning was very like her. Mary's singularity and privilege play out in this fallen world in the historical motherhood of Jesus. As Adam was, for just a moment, falling out of love with God, God loved Adam unconditionally as he fell, and though Adam was fallen and surprised, God  had already declared the coming of Paul's new Adam. In the light of Christ, Paul could see it all coming.

It is therefore not the grace the marks the difference between Adam and Mary, but the gaze. Mary and Adam appear within the same horizon of grace; but for one, eyes open to the idol, and for the other, eyes open to the icon. The events of the fall and the redemption are released in the phenomenality of grace which pulls both Mary and Adam into selfhood. The gaze trumps the theodical attitude on both the Adamic and Marian trajectories toward the saturated phenomena. God has willed only freedom, the gaze upon which is the only determinant in the different outcomes. The rest is history.

The idol and icon present themselves within our experience in their very givenness. How shall we become? How wide shall our eyes open? Shall our souls lapse, or magnify the Lord? What shall appear to us in a disappearance on our own road to Emmaus? 

This is the stuff of grace, of hope, of what is to come. This is Mary-for-us in her givenness, as gift, as the exemplar of human cooperation in the ongoing creation of the world in the relationship with God as it was in the beginning.  This is Mary, mater et magistra, within the Catholic rule of faith: scripture (read, received, alive), Tradition (read, received, alive) and magisterium (read, received, alive).