Thursday, October 29, 2015
The Death of God and the Necessity of a New Phenomenology
God died at least twice, once on the Cross and at least once in the crosshairs of Altizer's (et al.) theology of the death of God. Perhaps in the last word, these are not two but simply the one death of the God who abandons the plaintive voices in the psalms and the God who does not arrive at the Cross to satisfy the sardonic and sadistic demands of the jeering crowd echoing the 22nd Psalm. The death of the God of being necessitates a phenomenology of a God without being, or at least one that might give an account of revelation. Jean-Luc Marion's project recognizes the death of this God, this ontotheological God, and strategizes just how a transition from theology to theology might occur; and, yes, even how a phenomenology of the 'analogy of being' can move into a 'being of analogy'---an analogy from finitude (logos) to an analogy from infinity (theos).
What concerns me here is not so much the niceties of a pious development of a new phenomenology that somehow remains faithful to Husserl, but how religious phenomena can make an appearance in a similar way non-religious phenomena make their appearances. There should be a methodological continuity coursing through these kinds of experience. The genius of Marion's approach gives unprecedented priority (which is not to say privilege) to givenness. I wish to commit the great sin of conflating theology with phenomenology ( John Caputo, in his "Hyperbolization of Phenomenology" [in Kevin Hart's Counter-Experiences] has already charged Marion with just that intellectual, academic transgression---sin---and his argument is very sound on its own terms; so what the hell). I want to look at the givenness of revelation. I use the lower case 'r' here to underscore that my discussion will focus on the provisional character of the actuality of revelation (or simply the possibility of revelation) as opposed to the strictly theological actuality of Revelation (upper case 'R') in order to respect this crucial distinction that Marion maintains through the body of his work.
From time to time I float the idea of the 'hypostatic union' and I wish to examine that a bit more in this post. So, now, a little religion.
The disciples see Jesus for the very first time in the resurrection appearances, in which he is no mere Jesus of Nazareth, but the Christ. It is only in the experience of the risen Jesus that the Cross comes into focus, and it is from the Cross, the very blood and water issuing from the side of Christ, that Jesus can be constructed in the narrative novelty that we have come to call 'gospel.' A genre needed to arise that would 'contain' the good news that God had died. Mark, the likeliest candidate for the status of the 'first to write,' appropriates a political method of communication (the announcement of the sovereign) to communicate another kind of news of another kind of son of God; the evangelium takes on another kind of good.
I have always been fascinated that all four evangelists, despite their distinctive christologies, view the Cross through the kaleidoscope of the 22nd psalm. Of the four evangelists, only Luke sidesteps a direct quote from the 22nd Psalm. Mark and Matthew quote the line of abandonment (22:1); all four allude to the 'casting of the lots' for the garments, while John only quotes the incident directly (22:18). That all four evangelists appropriate the Psalm tells of the importance of this type of psalm in the psalter: the psalm of the deafness of God. Lamentation and complaint in these such psalms bring the holiness of God into relief: "yet you are holy and enthroned on the praise of Israel"(3). In these psalms, and of course in this 22nd psalm, the deafness of God is not a contradiction, but accepted as part of the mystery of holiness. For the evangelists, the resurrection has re-presented the psalter's holiness of God after the abandonment of the suffering servant. The difference is that for the psalmist the transition from plaintive abandonment to the holiness of God rests in hope for God to come; for the evangelists that hope is fulfilled in the event of the resurrection in an enactment of the mystery of holiness.
For our canonical evangelists, the content of the form characterizes the new genre and distinguishes it from its antecedent. Only the experience of the resurrection could power such memory. That power drives the making visible of Jesus, who until the resurrection, was invisible. Memory brings Jesus into focus, allowing him to appear in the flesh. Apart from the resurrection, such memories could become lethal; dead messiahs must stay dead, which up to then, was the way of things. To remember a failed messiah, one whose fate and memory was forever sealed by Roman sovereignty, was not about resurrection but insurrection, which leads to more blood and the numbing boredom of the banality of crosses.
But this Cross inaugurated a kingdom unknown to contemporary sovereignty; it is the crux of memory, Eucharistic, liturgical, political, phenomenological. As I used to say back in my apologetics days, the gospels answer the question, "who was that masked man?" Not masked in the sense of persona, but in the sense of the hidden, the yet to be made unhidden, revealed, and true. The Gospels discover the truth of a God with us. It reminds us of something forgotten, something lost in memory. The river Lethe washes away memory, but aletheia, is the washing away of forgetfulness; it is the discovery of something once known: it is the truth.
The resurrection washes away what was forgotten about the resurrected one. So who did the masked man think he was? He was who memory of him says who he said he was. The gospels are the evangelists' discovery of Jesus within the memory jogged by the first Easter morning (allow me the anachronism's logical privilege). 'The Father and I are one' (John 10:30). The Johannine statement of the identity of the father with the son is the first theological formality of what would later emerge as the hypostatic union.
So what could the hypostatic union mean for us today? If the ontotheological God died with good riddance, then to what is Jesus united? He is fully human and fully divine united at the level of the single divine person of Christ Jesus. So here is my maneuever: substitute revelation or the revealed (aletheia) for divine in the Chalcedonian formula and see what makes an appearance. We are bracketing off 'divinity' so that ontotheology doesn't come in through the back door of the phenomenological moment of the saturated phenomenon of Christ, the union of the visible with the invisible in the visibility of Christ. The hypostatic union then sees in the single revealed person of Christ the unity of revelation with existent human flesh. "I and the Father are one" tells us that in the person of Christ a living Jesus understands himself to be in perfect relation to revelation as Revelation.
The hypostatic union understood in this way constructs theosis (an abbreviation of theopoeisis) as the approximation to Jesus' own self-understanding as being the one whose self is that self in perfect relation to the givenness of revelation. Theosis then can never mean the actually becoming 'divine' (it never meant this), but rather approaching asymptotically Jesus' reception of revelation as adonne receiving donation, but now writ as Revelation, the theology. The hypostatic union then is a crystallization of a phenomenological moment---the precipitating out of an existing entity from a saturated solution (the saturated phenomenon of the givenness of Revelation). But instead of a counter-experience of a saturated phenomenon, we have the crystallized, sui generis, God-man.
Caputo's critique looms large over this kind of formalization. He persuasively locates the phenomenological moment not in actual historical occurrences, but in the event harbored in the biblical narratives. He rightly distinguishes the experience of the first followers of The Way, from the experiences of the communities for whom our evangelists write. For the former, he posits a phenomenality of [the Holy] Spirit; for the latter, he posits the event of faith released from the sacred narratives. Yet the horizons for each of these seemingly distinct experiences blur and transgress each other. Caputo could not articulate just how the Spirit was at work for the first disciples because he had not developed his memory-constituted hauntology of It Spooks. He might after all meet Marion in the mutuality of the 'pure call.'
The conviction the first disciples had of the resurrection was certainly of a different character than the convictions of faith experienced by the later communities united by their gospels, but they were not of a different order. The phenomena each group experienced was different, but not the phenomenality of the event. The Cross was already memory for the first disciples at the time of the resurrection. But the power of the gospel narratives to suspend time brings a phenomenological immediacy to both groups, and the discovery that issues forth from the Cross is an aletheia that is indistinguishable for either. Alethos anesti.