Darth Vader's Erasure of Self to the Dark Side
I began not long ago with the stated interested to explore what Radical Theology might mean to conservative Christianity as a positive, renewing exploration of the life of faith. Wading in I can see that I am about 20 years too late to this discussion - which is a good thing because by now all the warts and wrinkles should have been ironed out. Personally, labels and words like new atheism, the death of god (little g), the death of self, is not upsetting. In fact it makes me want to explore more the reasons, why's, and wherefore's that today's existential philosopher-theologians wish to think in these terms.
In no small part are we responsible for the quenching of the Holy Spirit in this world when we do not obey and submit to all the many ways and avenues of God's love, mercy, forgiveness, and redemption - what it can mean to our communities, our relationships, our caretake of this earth, our passions, etc. So, in a sense, I think I might understand why existentialists (of whatever variety) believe God has died within the realms of mankind, our religions, our churches-and-charters when witnessing our acts and activities.
But on the other hand, even so do we erase ourselves when we erase God's presence in our lives. That is, we erase any possibility of God's Spirit moving in our midsts while contenting ourselves in going to heaven rather than realizing that heaven has come here to earth within our midsts through the presence of Christ by His Spirit. As a consequence, our faithless faith brings to our Christian faith this post-secular sense of new atheism that we dare not admit but practice daily.
And that, in my simplistic mind-and-heart, is what I think Radical Existentialists are trying to say to us as they write in their non-biblical ( a misnomer if ever there was one, maybe non-churchy), academic manner using earth tones and phrases. Hence, my interest in capturing their epistemic ideology and bringing it over into my own more conservative (but progressive) thought-forms of Christianity as it sits now within the pews-and-aisles of Emergent expressions and Postmodern cultural acceptance.
For me, I wish to describe this form of Radical Christianity as an existential expression of the apocalyptic elements of our here-and-now faith seeking radical transformation and resurrection in the name of Jesus as held within His upside/down present-day Kingdom. To embrace this Savior of mankind not in terms of an Almighty, Conquering, Transcendent God of the Universe - which is the Aristotelian/Hellenistic side of Christianity's Medieval faith-elements that have carried forward into today's 20th century modernistic creeds and confessions. But in the terms of the divine weakness of a God who was willing to lay aside His Otherness, to suffer and died to our sin by creation's own hands. Even as He bowed to our own sinful wills that we might become identified with His death, and raised by His divine weakness, to mysteriously find faith's paradox of divine strength set amidst the renewal of His all-present, all-pervasive Spirit which works to redeem this world from its roots up.
Thus, I wish to think through the articles of Tony Jones and Barry Taylor who do not decry this faith of Jesus, nor the power of the Spirit, so much as to decry the institutionalization of Christianity... wishing that it might become a religionless Christian faith marked and filled with God's divine weakness, Almighty Presence, and Kingdom resolve of renewal and blessing. See what you think....
September 10, 2013
Barry Taylor’s Faith (after the death of God)
by Tony Jones
September 7, 2013
Barry Taylor is someone I respect very much. He’s written a wonderful post about where he thinks the Christian faith is going after the death of God and the death of the self (what I would call the death of metaphysics). Here’s a taste:
It would seem that the consciousness of the world has changed. Mark I. Wallace, in his book, Fragments of the Spirit, names both the ‘de-priviledging of metaphysics’ and the ‘erasure of the self’ as two significant challenges to Christianity in the third millennium. What does this mean? Well to me, it heralds a shift in human self-understanding away from the subjective and static view of the self, bequeathed to us by the Greeks and others that has driven our understanding of the self for centuries. I believe this is being eclipsed by a more mobile and fluid understanding of the self, where inwardness is not of prime focus. Two things going on for me–we can reference ourselves without a working hypothesis of God (Vattimo) and we can now consider ourselves without the anthropocentric impulse of the Enlightenment.
What are the implications of this? Well, they are immense. It throws into question how we engage with life, ourselves, each other. It challenges assumptions about what is prioritized in religion–’spiritual disciplines’ for instance, in that I believe that most disciplines are rooted in ideas of the self that no longer hold true (at least for me) and therefore must be revisited. I also think we are liberated to pray as Jesus invited us to pray, i.e. communally–’our father’–it is a form of prayer not anchored to a technology of inwardness.
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From Publishers Weekly
Wallace, a professor of religion at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, suggests that a new understanding of the Holy Spirit as a being that dwells within the world to transform the world may be the solution to problems of human violence and ecological catastrophe. In his first section, Wallace examines the characteristics of postmodern culture, including the loss of self and the death of metaphysics, as well as the ways in which traditional Christian readings of the Holy Spirit as a metaphysical, transcendent being fall short in the contemporary world. In his second section, Wallace explores the issues of nature, violence and evil as he builds his own model of the Holy Spirit as the being that restores wholeness to the natural world, heals the brokenness of humanity and fosters unity between humanity and nature. Wallace's provocative ideas are cast in beautiful lyric prose, and his brilliant readings of the Bible in concert with the theologies of Paul Ricoeur, Rene Girard and Sallie McFague render his book utterly convincing.
From Library JournalIn a brilliant tour de force of post-modern theory, traditional Christian theology, and contemporary metaphysics, Wallace (religion, Swarthmore Coll.) ponders the role of the Holy Spirit in a late modern culture characterized by the loss of God and fragmented by violence. Using the philosophies of Kierkegaard, Levinas, and others, Wallace first demonstrates the inadequacies of the conventional models of the Holy Spirit. He then goes on to construct his own model of the Spirit as a life-giving force dwelling within nature, which seeks to mend the brokenness of the human spirit and to foster partnership and healing between humankind and nature. An elegant meditation on ecology and the Spirit, Wallace's book is highly recommended for all libraries.
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Theology After the Death of Self
by Barry Taylor
September 4, 2013
Last night I did a podcast with my friends Bo and Tripp for their Homebrewed Christianity event with Reza Aslan--I was the 'opening act' if you will. We had a pretty wide-ranging discussion about what it means to be human in the 21st century and how that affects the ways in which we think about faith/belief etc. We talked a little about my own theological trajectory in the past few years which I outlined as taking in a couple of different factors. I think about theology chiefly after two significant 'events.' Theology after the 'death of god' and theology after the death of the self.
There is lots of talk about death of god theology these days. There have been a few less than friendly social-media exchanges over certain interpretations of that project, principally around radical theology and various interpretations of what that means. It highlights the problem with labels and naming things--the minute you do, someone usually takes issue with your particular interpretation of the contours, or appeals to some kind of assumed legitimate criteria for speaking about this or that, that one supposedly violates, misses or doesn't understand. I find most of it petty and not worth the effort of addressing, it is the kind of stuff that makes people walk away from institutions and groups of all kinds, but that's another conversation.
So I have been working through ideas around the post-metaphysical world and death of god theology, but I am also interested in the shifting world of the self and what that heralds for faith. I have never been that 'god-fixated' that may sound funny from someone who has spent more than thirty years in public dialogue about faith and religion, but god has always been a difficult issue for me, but it is only in the past few years that I have faced that fully and freed myself of other people's obligations for what constitutes faith (my rather general and dismissive dictum about this is that dogma is the noise of other peoples thinking and sometimes I have to tune it out). Where I have come to with some of this is captured in a perspective drawn from Altizer and others, that I cannot dismiss the present world for a transcendent one and that a continual reflection/obsession/focus on 'god,' particularly the metaphysical view of god, keeps lifting us out of this world, and I am interested in fully living in the present, in the here and now.
I have been living for a while with a few ideas drawn from here and there that I have been returning to over and over in an effort to harness and focus my own thinking on what all this means. Of particular importance has been a section of Bonhoeffer's letter about religionless christianity. I've written about this before so forgive repetition, but I am in a cycle of thinking and I tend to view and review until my thinking comes clear.
"How do we speak of god without religion i.e. without the temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics, inwardness and so on...How do we speak in a secular way about god?"
Bonhoeffer's little comment has fueled a long journey of thinking for me. And I have taken that two-pronged comment, along with similar ideas from others and myself, as a starting point. The one side--the 'temporally conditioned presuppositions of metaphysics' has gained a lot of traction and there is plenty of thinking in that arena , its the 'inwardness' comment that has had me wrestling lately. I think he is talking about the inwardness of subjectivity. Elsewhere and earlier Bonhoeffer writes that,
"we must finally rid ourselves of the notion that the issue...is the personal salvation of the individual soul...in such religious methodology human beings themselves remain the central focus."
(you could do yourself a real favour and read Jeffrey Pugh's, Religionless Christianity, for a much clearer and expanded perspective on these ideas).
It would seem that the consciousness of the world has changed. Mark I. Wallace, in his book, Fragments of the Spirit, names both the 'de-priviledging of metaphysics' and the 'erasure of the self' as two significant challenges to Christianity in the third millennium. What does this mean? Well to me, it heralds a shift in human self-understanding away from the subjective and static view of the self, bequeathed to us by the Greeks and others that has driven our understanding of the self for centuries. I believe this is being eclipsed by a more mobile and fluid understanding of the self, where inwardness is not of prime focus. Two things going on for me--we can reference ourselves without a working hypothesis of God (Vattimo) and we can now consider ourselves without the anthropocentric impulse of the Enlightenment.
What are the implications of this? Well, they are immense. It throws into question how we engage with life, ourselves, each other. It challenges assumptions about what is prioritized in religion--'spiritual disciplines' for instance, in that I believe that most disiciplines are rooted in ideas of the self that no longer hold true (at least for me) and therefore must be revisited. I also think we are liberated to pray as Jesus invited us to pray, i.e. communally--'our father'--it is a form of prayer not anchored to a technology of inwardness. I think I'll stop there because I have things to do but I'll return to flesh this out at a later date. But then I'll talk about prayer, and why I don't.
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This book is an interpretation of Bonhoeffer in the contemporary context. Jeffrey Pugh puts Bonhoeffer's theology in perspective by revisiting some of the themes of his life that have found abiding significance in Christian theology. Starting with a chapter on why Bonhoeffer is still important for us today, this book moves to chapters that bring Bonhoeffer into conversation with our present situation. In each of these chapters Pugh takes one of the central ideas of Bonhoeffer and gives them a fresh perspective.
Many of Bonhoeffer books today are written from an exegetical perspective, they try and get at exactly what Bonhoeffer meant. Others are written from a hermeneutical perspective, they try and interpret Bonhoeffer's abiding significance. This book seeks to combine both these approaches to offer interpretations of Bonhoeffer that are germane to our situation today.