Thursday, January 31, 2013

Spin-Off of an Addendum: Beyond Theism; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Death of God™

I wasn't expecting my brain to generate all this material, but my addendum to my post of a few days ago has itself generated a spin-off as a section that I originally included as part of that post has grown in my mind over the past day to the point of needing its own post.

Originally, my last post had section where after discussing Von Balthasar's image of the "pillaged Church" (I also called it the "Giving Tree" Church) I pointed out that Žižek goes even further and suggests that, basically, we really do have to undergo the "death of God" and that Christianity is something like "the religion of atheism," but that it will involve sacrificing the form to save the substance (of universal spiritual liberation or love or whatever): "That is the ultimate heroic gesture that awaits Christianity: in order to save its treasure, it has to sacrifice itself–like Christ, who had to die so that Christianity could emerge." 

Though I myself am no atheist, I do think there is a wisdom here nonetheless. I think lately, due to experiences of my own, I've been realizing more and more that God can be made into an idol too (we'll call it God™). That theism in the traditional sense can really just be the "other side of the coin" of atheism. That to propose God(™) as this thought-stopping capstone ending all thought, who "closes the system" by acting as the final unmoving anchoring point of meaning...can be extremely problematic, and that this sort of Absolutism easily devolves into fundamentalism and a certain type of totalitarianism. The Warrior God™ of All-Consuming Submission being often just the meme of ultimate oppression and suffocation.

And yet, I think, this is how many theists think of God and His function in their metaphysics. He is the Supreme Being or Transcendent Signifier, but in a way that implies that, basically, He is just one Being among all the others (albeit the highest one), one signifier among others (albeit the grounding one.) God then becomes this rigid sort of final monad or something like that.

However, I think this goes back to what I've said before about how in Eastern Christian theology, God is spoken of as "hyper-being" beyond Being. That is to say, God's essence is beyond all duality, all categories, beyond even the being/non-being duality. Beyond even the God/Not-God duality. This, I think, is Meister Eckhart's distinction between "God" and "the Godhead" (which is actually very Postmodern).

When I say that God(™) in this system can become an idol too, what I mean is that if we try to "essentialize" God as the "Being" part to the exclusion of the "non-Being" part, or even objectify Him as the "God" part as opposed to the "Not-God" part ("part" being a very imprecise term here!) then we are trying to contain Him and in the process make an idol. By confusing The Divinity for Divinity (in other words, confusing the hypostases for the ousia) we risk making an idol out of "The."

There are some creatures in Dr. Who known as the "Weeping Angels." They move around quickly and invisibly until they are observed, at which point they become "quantum locked" and stuck in stone form. This idea is based on the concept from quantum mechanics of super-imposed wave-functions. How mathematical models basically describe a universe that is probabilistic, not deterministic, and so which "version" of the wave-function actually "collapses" can ultimately only be defined as the one we observe (whether our observation "caused" it or not, depending on the interpretation). Shroedinger's Cat can be alive or dead, but our definitive observation "quantum locks" it in one state or the other as "real," our observation, our consciousness, being the only factor that differentiates the "actual" from the merely "potential" or "possible." But of course, God is "pure act," so who are we to exclude anything that God "might be but isn't" or anything like that?

Of course, God™ who can be an not simply different from "the real God." In fact, He is in some sense the Real God, but the Real God abstracted from and kept separate from the Unreal God (because divinity can't be "quantum locked" in one category or the other). So God™ is not merely some falsehood we must smash to get to the "real God." God™ is rather more like the mask that God (or Godhead) uses to appear to human beings or rather, perhaps, one that we projected onto Him in our weakness or finitude.

And yet, if we are to "get through" to Godhead, this mask God(™) must die. He(™) is (or can be) an idol that must be smashed, and also (as I discussed above) a sort of totalitarian oppression. He(™) must be dissolved like the God at the end of the Golden Compass books. Yes, Christianity must accept the death of this God(™), in fact that's the message all the crucifixes of the world seem to cry out. Of course, when I speak of "death" here, I don't mean atheism. Like I said, atheism and theism are just two sides of the same coin, and atheism (especially as popularly conceived) sets up its own idol in the form of simply a god-shaped Void. Rather, the "death" I'm talking about is (to go back to that Eastern theology) not simply replacing an image of God-Being with an image of God-Not-Being, but recognizing that God is "both and/or neither." I mean God(head) "breaking free" from that objectification into just one of the "quantum states," to escape that sort of determination and become something like "undeconstructability." (Caputo speaks of this in his "weak theology.")

To refer again to the quote I used in the post the other day: "the divine identity cannot be a straightforward sameness or self-equivalence," and yet I feel like God™ the idol is just that: God (or, rather, human concept of God) reduced to straight-forward self-equivalence, and all the rigidity that imposes on the system that "terminates" with Him™. However, what the modern world is realizing sociologically is something that Christians should have realized 2000 years ago: that God is dead. This was revealed to us on the Cross, but as that Williams/Von Balthasar quote makes clear, this could only be, could only effect salvation, effect that transformation of human consciousness if it was revealing something that was always inherent to God's essence: that He is not a straightforward self-equivalence, and that if we worship the God-Who-Is-God to the exclusion of the God-Who-Is-Not-God, we are locking Him in stone, like a Weeping Angel, and then He is an idol to be smashed. The modern world is no longer accepting this sort of "God as the keystone which locks the arch in place" in terms of organizing a hegemony of desire and truth in society...and maybe that's a very good thing, because that use of God makes Him into God.

That God™ is a monster. I realized that in the past year but, unfortunately, was still under the impression that He™ is to be worshiped. This is not an unreasonable error, however. Because, as I said above, it's not as if this idol is "not really God." Like I said, He is the Real God, but the Real God objectified to the exclusion of the Unreal God. So our attitude here must be extremely nuanced and complex. We shouldn't hate the Real God, but to avoid idolization we also have to realize His Death.  

Maybe it's like the constitutional monarchy that keeps the symbols of hierarchy to represent the authority which is now realized democratically...and really always in actuality was anyway, inasmuch as popular acceptance/agreement was "secretly" the source of authority all along. (As opposed to a Revolutionary government which tries to found its authority, ultimately impossibly, on the very overthrowing of Authority itself).

With the rise of pluralism/secularism, we are realizing this sociologically now, I think, this Death of God(™). We are getting rid of totalizing ideological systems which enforce any God's place "upon the throne" with coercion (mentally/spiritually speaking). With this comes disenchantment, but also genuine freedom and love and grace. And yet, this is also something that I think will continue being a process in each life. Even with sociological progress, it is to be expected that most people are going to start out knowing God as simply self-equivalent; many would likely find the things I'm saying here impossibly subtle (and probably quite scandalous).

And like Osiris, His bones, the fragments of His broken body, lie all over the world, in every church, in every work of religious art, wherever the sacred is encountered even out in the profane in the world like that tantalizing "scent of the Beloved" that Von Balthasar describes the Bride smelling in the streets. These fragments are the "clues" that the kenotic God, in His self-emptying self-abnegation, leaves us to recognize that beyond the smashed idol-mask there is, in the very smashing into such shards, still Godhead.

Anyway, that all probably sounds like mystical rambling, but it's the best I can do right now to express these realizations...


Robert said...

Any good links on the Eastern Orthodox concept of God transcending the duality of being/non-being?

A Sinner said...

Robert said...

I think this is a clearer description of the energeia ousia question. Would you say this is a accurate, though simplistic?

Jordan MZ said...

A Sinner: Maybe it's like the constitutional monarchy that keeps the symbols of hierarchy to represent the authority which is now realized democratically...and really always in actuality was anyway, inasmuch as popular acceptance/agreement was "secretly" the source of authority all along.

Perhaps postchristianity, then, is the terminal stage of God(tm)'s constitutional monarchical hold over the mores of society. Even so, individuals maintain separate and distinctive distances from God(tm). However, God(tm) strongly dislikes when adults decide to accept or reject certain components of the affective precursors to marriage and procreation.

Over at VN, a response I wrote to the article about near occasions of sin got booted. I only pointed out that later marriage allows younger people (twenty- and thirtysomethings) the opportunity for friendships outside of the marital paradigm. I have a "girlfriend" -- we go on "dates", I've met the parents a number of times, but we're not interested in sex. I've had a number of friendships like this, which often end tragically when I finally reveal that I am not interested in courtship or marriage.

I sense that in the eyes of God(tm) the struggle between heterosexuals to "remain chaste" retains a higher moral value than adults who aren't tempted to have sex but maintain certain couple-like attributes in their friendship. After all, God(tm) wants procreation. Mutual emotional growth is a subsidiary benefit, but is not the telos of courtship. The notion that courtship must inevitably wind up at the altar strikes me as an aspect of the chastity movement which injures both men and women.

Certain Catholics will rail, with more than a hint of misogyny, that the Pill is the fundamental reason why women postpone marriage. There's something deeper here. Maybe women want to be viewed as complex, intelligent persons rather than breasts, a vagina, and a babymaking oven. The constitutional monarchy has fallen not because of licentiousness, but because women and men have jointly agreed to display a kaleidoscope of relationships, rather than relationships laser-focused on sexuality as an entirely procreative vehicle.

A Sinner said...

Robert: that article is rather simple, but seems accurate for what it says, I suppose.

Jordan MZ: Interesting take, but I think you misread my point a little.

I don't think "the constitutional monarchy" has been overthrown. Rather, my analogy here was to argue that the divine Absolutism of the past has transitioned (or is transitioning, or should) into the constitutional monarchy model.

Now, there are some, of course, who call for a theological "Republic" of the Void. But not me; I'm no atheist. I think that a constitutional monarchy avoids the miscognition about the nature and sources of authority inherent to absolutism of any sort, while avoiding the [anarchistic] inner-contradiction of a [revolutionary; as all republics are by intellectual heritage, even when the transition is peaceful] republic that tries to base its authority on the very destruction of authority. This is as true theologically as it is politically, methinks.

Of course, as I said in my post, I'd be wary of speaking disparagingly of God(tm). He(tm) can be an idol, yes, but He is(/"was") also in the end also really God too. As such we need to be careful.

I've been thinking of it like this. The Truth is most certainly the truth. No one would deny that the truth is truth. And yet if we confuse The Truth with Truth, then we have made an idol out of "The." The LORD is Lord, but I think many Christians are worshiping "The" rather than "Lord."

It is the same with the Church. The Church is most certainly the Church. We won't deny that "Church" subsists in The Church. But there is a certain triumphalism that worships the "The" which even the Vatican now rejects in its recognition that there is not such a rigid equivalence.

"Everything" is still not "Anything." Replacing the transcendent Yes with a transcendent No is silly, in this sense atheism is just a negation of theism. We need the "Divine Maybe," even "The Divine Nothing."

Thus Eckhart writes that "God as God is not the final goal of creatures. If a flea had intellect and could plumb the eternal abyss of God’s being, out of which it came, then not God and all God is could fulfill that flea. Therefore we pray we may be quit of God and get the truth and enjoy eternity, for the highest angel and the soul are all the same yonder where I was and willed that I was and was that I willed."

I'm also not sure why you focus on sexuality and gender issues here. These ideas certainly have an effect on how we appropriate morality or virtue, including in that area of life/society, as that Vox Nova post was discussing. And perhaps you are right to see the obsession focusing on those areas as a sort of death-wail of the sociologically dying God(tm). But it's hardly something enlightened people need to worry about; we can live our lives, and what can the fundamentalists do to stop us? Nothing. I think mainly they are infuriated by the futility of their own attempts (trust me: always attempts at repressing themselves; but individual remnant super-egos based on the old God(tm) will soon enough find themselves impotent in the face of mass social structural shifts).

A Sinner said...

“If I were not, God would not be God.” - Meister Eckhart

Aric said...

Zizek sees Christianity as useful in the sense that it offers a philosophy that is conducive to egalitarianism because it is, as he understands it, an ideology that must destroy ideology itself. Christianity is a faith that really has faith in "no-faith", just like Christ himself is God's "alienation from himself". Zizek knows that the only way to a true materialism is through Christianity; and he's right of course. Materialism as we know it wouldn't exist if it wasn't for Christianity.

Yet as fascinating as all that is, it seems as if Zizek and and similar minds (Altizer for instance) grossly misrepresent the disturbance that is the incarnation: Besides deliberately glossing over the resurrection, Zizek, as a Hegelian, attempts to read the incarnation as a "monstrosity": Christ is God suffering with Himself - God committing suicide (God is already dead, He has been trying to tell us this for 2000 years). But Zizek can only do this by skewing (or perhaps misunderstanding?) the Catholic position, namely, that the embodied Christ lives and allows actual knowledge to the God that is Being itself. Christianity is emancipatory not because it allows for alienation from the "big Other", but rather because it frees the pagan from throws of mystical speculation and the gentile from the confines of philosophical systems: Christianity is paradigm shattering because it is actual revelation and it is embodied in two physical/sensory realities: The sacraments and dogma.

In my mind - and I may be off-base - but it seems to me as if Protestant theology, taken to its ultimate end, must collapse into atheism. It must because, eventually, if it is consistant, realizes its own idolatry and turns around to destroy itself (and when it does, nothing is left). This is because Protestant theology (or Jewish mysticism) can only really grapple with God apophatically; there is no living voice of God, there is no physical presence of Christ - all encounters with the Divine are dependent upon personal zeal, creativity and intelligence. A rigorous individualism is required for an "intimate relationship with God".

It is through a sacramental system that the God who can only be known by what He is not becomes actually knowable - because to look upon the face of Christ is to see God. It is through dogma that the divine Logos continues to speak, and from which actual revelation - the foundation of all theology proper - becomes possible.

The God™ mask is constantly being destroyed for me not through a process of self-awareness or study or whatever - God™ is destroyed by revelation, and revelation is realized in obedience. It is through faith, with hope and by our acts of charity that we come to know God - and we come to know him actually.

(On a personal side note - Zizek was an enormous catalyst in my conversion to Catholicism, something I'm sure he'd find amusing (and perhaps predictable). On another personal side note, you would benefit from reading Chesterton's The Man who was Thursday if you haven't already. )

Jordan MZ said...

A Sinner: I think that a constitutional monarchy avoids the miscognition about the nature and sources of authority inherent to absolutism of any sort, while avoiding the [anarchistic] inner-contradiction of a [revolutionary; [...]

Neither absolutism or constitutional monarchy are appropriate metaphors either for the idol-God of turgid fundamentalism or the Domine Deus Sabaoth of mystical revelation and moral growth. The difficulty with a replacement of theistic absolutism with a constitutional monarchy as a model for God's reign resides with the reality that political constitutional monarchy (at least in the Commonwealth model) is nothing more than functional republicanism with a politically impotent eightysomething woman who hands out maundy money and gives a Christmas greeting each year. The anarchy and post-theism is still quite evident, even if the crown in the Tower of London has a bejeweled cross on top. Similarly, the God(tm) of a theistic constitutional monarchy is drained of his blood and water. Christ is nothing more than a cross to wear as a pennant, nothing more than a crucifix to nail to the wall of the (Quebec) National Assembly, nothing more than a faint reminder of previous absolutism within de facto democratic-socialistic agnostic atheism. The "constitutional monarchical" model is only a few faint shades of grey away from "republican" anarchy.

And perhaps you are right to see the obsession focusing on those areas as a sort of death-wail of the sociologically dying God(tm). But it's hardly something enlightened people need to worry about; we can live our lives, and what can the fundamentalists do to stop us? Nothing.

Quite beg to differ. Okay, I apologize for getting a bit off track with the last post. There's something to salvage there, however. First, for those who worship God(tm), an "enlightened person" does not exist. For God(tm) devotees, sexual conduct is a basal human activity for the evaluation of most other moral and ethical behavior including intellectual discovery and advancement. Sure, "enlightened persons" can carve out enclaves where gender and sexuality "norms" can be blurred and challenged. However, unless a true theistic "republican" agnostic anarchy is achieved, the "enlightened" will always be subject to some form of theistic absolutist judgment.

I do not interpret the quaesumus of the Mass collects not as a literal "begging" of God for a favor, as if he were an idol to be supplicated in return for tangible results. Rather, quaesumus is a call for the realization of the charity which is beyond theistic absolutism, theistic constitutionalism, and agnostic-atheist anarchy. So long as each state must be endured, true charity in the "actual God", the Holy Trinity, cannot be destroyed.

A Sinner said...

But what's wrong with a politically impotent 80something woman?

Isn't the idea there that The Queen is the repository of QueenSHIP, as it were, but that she is also NOT Queenship Itself? She is Queen but not Queenhead. There would be no Queen if there were no subjects, because it is an oppositional category, and yet it is society which invests it in her.

This is sort of what I think Eckhart means by "If I were not, God would not be God." When we speak of "God" we are talking about God as a Something among (and opposed to) other things. God is contrasted with myself, with mankind, with creation.

This God is an "Other," but really what we're trying to "break through to" in Godhead is not merely an Other, but Otherness Itself.

But of course, that implies no straightforward self-equivalence. "Otherness" conceptually is not just instantiated in an "Other" but also contains the sort of paradox that the Other of Other is Selfsame, or something like that. So "Otherness" must, itself, be beyond the "Self/Other" dichotomy.

"God" is, therefore, "God as God." God as Himself. But Godhead is Otherness, so it is "also" Not-Itself. Therefore, God is only "God" in categorical opposition with other beings, with creatures, with me.

But Godhead, beyond all duality and categories, must likewise be beyond the being/non-being duality, beyond the creator/creature duality, beyond the self/other duality, beyond the Me/God duality. It isn't just "everything," it is "anything" and nothing.

In a sense, I guess, we are not at all the source of Godhead, but we confer Godhead on God by NOT being Him. I think this is what Eckhart means.

A Sinner said...

I disagree it means Atheism. But, basically, an "open reality" an "open ontology" (and an "open morality") if you understand what I mean there...are the conditions of real liberation. If the system is "complete" then there is self-enclosure, even a sort of "divine self enclosure." But that is...not good.

Jordan MZ said...

My last post on the subject was complete word pudding. Let's try again.

I agree that the Queen exists in part because she has subjects (er, now "citizens"). Let's say that within the next few years all of the Commonwealth realms, including Britain, decide to become republics. The Queen reverts to being Mrs. Betty Glücksberg, a private citizen of the new republic. Yes, the notion of queenship would still exist in an abstract sense even without ER on the throne. Still, without subjects to invest a throne with legitimacy, "queenship" exists only as a cipher which awaits recognition through polity. The existence of queenship does not require human assent, but its temporal realization requires human participation.

Similarly, some might view God(tm) as a temporal manifestation of the Godhead. An ideal manifestation? Daresay erroneous. Yet, God(tm)'s subjects are legion, and have given God(tm) temporal form through their investment in him as a concept. However, others invest themselves in a truer approximation of the actual Godhead, God. Both God(tm) and God qua Godhead require human investment and trust. The actual Godhead, however, does not require human assent because it is, I AM.

Fundamentalism, God(tm) based or otherwise, must be acknowledged. If not, then the notion that human interaction with deity necessarily involves a fiduciary relationship loses its validity. Put another way, either all deities known to humankind are trusted and temporally embodied similarly, or no deity is trusted and embodied. This is why I have maintained that no "enlightened persons" exist beyond the question of theism. Certainly, many might elect to ignore fundamentalist morality or ethics, but an individual's worship of God depends on the fundamentalist worship of God(tm).

Nominally Catholic said...

Where can I buy more God(TM)?

Nominally Catholic said...

A simple solution in a vision from the Diary of St. Faustina Kowalska:

Notebook 1, par. 30
+On one occasion I was reflecting on the Holy Trinity, on the essence of God.I absolutely wanted to fathom and know who God is. ...In an instant my spirit was caught up into what seemed to be the next world. I saw an inaccessible light, and in this light what appeared to be three sources of light which I could not understand. And out of that light came words in the form of lightning which encircled heaven and earth. Not understanding anything, I was very sad. Suddenly from this sea of inaccessible light came our dearly beloved Savior, unutterably beautiful with his shining wounds. And from this light came a voice which said, "Who God is in His Essence, no one will fathom, neither the mind of Angels nor of man." Jesus said to me, "Get to know God by contemplating His attributes." A moment later, He traced the sign of the cross with His hand and vanished.

Amy said...

I love your weeping angels analogy. I actually find that very moving. I don't know if we need to smash the mask; maybe just as long as we realize that we're dealing with a mask, a weeping angel frozen rather than the living reality, we avoid the worst dangers... a la C S Lewis "He whom I bow to only knows to Whom I bow..."