According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

On Knowing in the Bible: Is God Dead? Badiou's Reflective Thought for Theology, Part 3




The last several days have found me listening to the French Philosopher Alain Badiou describing his life and ideas in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at Kendall College of Art and Design at the behest of GCAS (see HuffPost's article: Something Radical: The Global Center of Advanced Studies). To say this event was surreal would have been an understatement. However, this kindly and gracious man and his wife have spent the past week discussing his philosophy of "Being and Event" by examining his early youth experiences of French colonialism in his homeland Morocco; the Nazi occupation of North Africa and France; his later involvement in the Algerian resistance to French colonialism after WW2; and the philosophical trajectories he has taken on the topic of "Subject and Difference." Especially as this topic related to the political doctrinaires of Fascism, Communism, Maoism, and tyranny, around the understanding of self within society. It has been a thorough undertaking and one that GCAS had arranged masterfully in order to make a complete documentary of Alain's life story.

My own backstory is that of a lay theologian with some university coursework and background in philosophy but nothing formally in a specific degree program unlike most of the attendees whom I have met holding at least one, if not more, Ph.D's to their pedigrees. And so, coming into a setting such as this immediately put me at a disadvantage to the depth of linguistic concepts and ideological structures being knowledgeably discussed amongst participants representing a small cadre of international philosophers, scholars, ethicists, educationalists, sociologists, and the arts, ranging from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Adelaide, Australia, the schools of Switzerland, to the lands of Belarus. Each had come to hear from the man they had read, or studied under, and were in some way associated with, through GCAS' graduate or post-graduate programs as it extended its global outreach beyond the brick-and-mortar walls of academia to help lower the burden of education's expenses while bringing teaching directly to the learner.

Our schedule was as follows:

Mon (10 AM-12:30 PM EST): Badiou in the 1960-70s
Tues (10 AM-12:30 PM EST): Badiou in the 1980-90s
Weds (10 AM-12:30 PM EST): Badiou & the Global
Thurs (10 AM-12:30 PM EST): Badiou in the 2000s
Thurs (2-4:00 PM EST): C. Winter on Africa & Contradiction
Fri (10 AM-12:30 PM EST): Badiou in the 2010s

These included two-hour luncheons with one another and roundtable discussions in the evening from 6-9 pm with Alain and the co-directors of GCAS. It was a thorough undertaking by GCAS who hosted an excellent week of study, sharing, and participation by scholar and student alike.

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So then, when coming to Badiou's thought and philosophy as a Christian theologian how does one approach the concepts he has constructed so meticulously over a lifetime of historical observation and reflection? One of Alain's descriptions of philosophy is that of a close kinship with theatre whose form imitates life even as "all explanation" is not unlike theatre itself" (sic, clast v. iconoclast). Each has the same goal - that of creating new conditions for thinking about life; or, in providing a different way in which to find a new freedom - some concrete, some aesthetic. And it is our choice as participants in its product as to whether we will be the actors on stage ourselves or to view its play from the seats of the theatre as its dramas unfold. Plato's solution (re: his illustration of "The Cave") was to be on the stage, even as Badiou himself had written many plays in an earlier life in attempt to disclose his perceptions of his times as both playwright and patron.

For myself, I ultimately wish to contemporize and expand the language I use for my postmodern Christian faith but when entering into philosophy's earthly appointments immediately come into conflict with its sublime premises: that all is reason and rationality. As such, I find my Christian faith's theistic basis of knowing self through divine revelation of God's Word in direct opposition to philosophy's premises and assertions. In philosophical  terms, special revelation then becomes merely religious ideology, and must be abandoned in all its forms and structures if we are to proceed on a more proper philosophical basis of deriving our sense of being through the very human means of reason and rationality. Thus is the conflict between human wisdom and the divine of special revelation.

But admittedly, no religion - not even the Christian faith - is without immersion within society's philosophical perspectives. And it would be audacious to pretend that it is lived so separately from this world we live within. Hence, the study of philosophy is to know both thyself, our fellow man, and hopefully, our God, in a fuller, deeper sense. As such, theology must be acquainted with philosophy which itself is a close observer of history, society, movements, and events. Where one looks for meaning in God, the other looks for meaning in event, place, and time. Each carry similar purposes even as each casts a wary eye on the other. For myself, this is not a problem and should be welcomed within the tensions of the disciplines in hopes that in the critique of both disciplines will come an enlightenment to the degree that each might admit the other into the audience of its theatrical stage, if not upon the very stage itself. Each struggling with its own idea of reality and being as versus the real reality that lives and breathes off the stage of performance and show.

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Now to the topic at hand, that of knowing and being. Badiou presents to us the problem of our postmodern times, namely that "God is Dead" and summarizes it thusly:

"Our times are undoubtedly those of the disappearance of the gods without return. But this disappearance stems from three distinct processes, for there have been three capital gods, namely, of religion, metaphysics, and the poets. Regarding the God of religions, its death must simply be declared.... Regarding the God of metaphysics, thought must accomplish its course in the infinite.... As for the God of poetry, the poem must cleanse language from within by slicing off the agency of loss and return. That is because we have lost nothing and nothing returns.... Committed to the triple destitution of the gods, we, inhabitants of the Earth’s infinite sojourn, can assert that everything is here, always here, and that thought’s reserve lies in the thoroughly informed and firmly declared egalitarian platitude of what befalls upon us here. Here is the place where truths come to be. Here we are infinite. Here nothing is promised to us, only to be faithful to what befalls upon us." (Badiou: Briefings on Existence, pp 30-31)

So then, if "God is Dead," according to Badiou, then how can a Christian faith continue to exist in the face of this statement? More so, how can philosophers such as Badiou be read and used in extending the Christian faith forwards towards an epistemologic declaration of certainty rather than one of an existential despair? (re: a recent sermon's topic which I heard this past Sunday when visiting a more conservative church fellowship declaring its own ground of being and certainty of biblical knowledge).

Notes David Congdon in his research on Badiou ("See What Is Coming to Pass and Not Only What Is: 
Alain Badiou and the Possibility of a Nonmetaphysical Theology"):

"The question for Christian theology is whether Badiou is merely an antagonist, or whether he can serve as an ally in the task of contemporary theological reflection. And if the latter, under what conditions? (3)"

He then observes towards the end of his research the problem of approaching a subject with a prejudicial set of a priories, or pre-formed assumptions, about a subject - which in this case is my basic theism in opposition to Badiou's non-theistic approach:

"Theological appropriations and translations of philosophical accounts of being and existence are always hazardous endeavors. They continually run the risk of violently conforming each philosophy to fit a presupposed theological paradigm. On some level, this danger is never entirely avoidable, hence the need to critically re-translate and re-appropriate each concept anew, or dispense with them altogether in order to start again on a different footing.

"The goal of this [research] paper has been to demonstrate that Alain Badiou’s mature philosophy is especially congenial to the task of formative Christian theology in the present situation. Badiou provides theology with the terms and ideas to articulate an emancipatory, pluralistic, and nonmetaphysical account of Christian fidelity to Jesus the Christ. The gospel kerygma mobilizes a multiplicity of new communities for the sake of a messianic theo-political witness in the world. Responsible talk of God (i.e., theology without metaphysics) is thus a consequence of this concrete fidelity and always speaks to the ongoing work of subjectivation within a particular situation." (41)

Reading within the pages of David's research will come a beautiful recital of the kerygmatic event of God's being in the world through Christ Jesus' incarnation and resurrection encapsulated within the body of mankind, and more specifically, His church:

"A Badiouan account of nonmetaphysical theology thus understands God to be an unanticipatable event that dialectically unites in Godself both object (site, inexistent, point) and subject (trace, body), without being directly identified with either. God takes place as a local disruption whose singularity embraces ever new situations and new subjective forms. God’s being, we might say, is ontologically located in a transontological event which is transpositionally repeated in the infinite multiplicity of contingent historical worlds. In other words, the above account of the kerygma is here understood as an account of God’s very being - a being that is, in fact, wholly beyond being, beyond the antimony of finite and infinite. God cannot be inscribed within the limits of ontology. The truth of God cannot be described as something that is, but only as something that does. Theology is not a doctrine of being but a doctrine of doing, that is, of God’s own kinetic-kenotic praxis in the economy of grace. God is not a nature or a substance or an idea, but an action, a migration, a proclamation. God happens in the kerygmatic event of Jesus Christ as an apocalyptic interruption of a situation, calls forth a new faithful subject to carry out the consequences of this messianic truth, and repeatedly translates this truth into new contexts. In other words, God translates Godself in the transhistorical movement of this christic-pneumatic event. The subjectivating power of the kerygma is God’s own self-mobilization and self-repetition. A non-metaphysical theology of God-as-event will therefore be apocalyptic, existential, hermeneutical, and missionary." (40)

To see how David arrives at this conclusion I would recommend a close reading of his work and especially the ideas expressed using Badiouian thought behind the deep meaning of Jesus' incarnation into this world, His incarnate death, and incarnated resurrection, for the sins of this world. Especially as encapsulated in the continued paschal-Pentecost event for continued divine affirmation and personal human experience which is revolutionizing the very world that the Redeeming God has created. Though a Christian soteriology of sin is not held by Badiou, in all other aspects of Badiou's work "the death of God" can be capably utilized by theology to verify the necessity of the incarnated resurrection of Jesus as the redeeming Son of God in whose atonement we lie as both subject and event. It defines our being, our knowing, our doing, our hope. And it is in this way that the Christian's sense of being and knowing is reaffirmed, extended, and deepened into the very fabric of life itself, and into the living God Himself, who bespeaks life and death and resurrection:

"In truth, there is no “self-creating” or “self-incorporating” freedom of the individual. There is only the individual who receives his/her freedom as part of his/her newly created identity that occurs in the hearing of God’s word in the kerygma. Therein lies the persistent point of opposition between philosophy and theology: not ontology, but soteriology. Christian faith can travel a long way with Badiou in his exploration of being, event, and subjectivity, but like Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy, the purgatory of philosophy’s materialist commitments must give way to the paradise of theology’s kerygmatic affirmation that it is God’s gracious action in Christ which alone makes possible one’s incorporation into the new faithful subject." (42)

In summary,

"Despite this crucial caveat, Christian theology joins Badiou in opposing metaphysics and pursuing an emancipatory politics. Theology can learn from Badiou how to speak of a God who is not necessary, who is beyond all necessity.

At the same time, theology learns how to speak of God from within the multiplicity of worlds. Perhaps most importantly, Badiou provides theological discourse with a way of surpassing the traditional bifurcation between subject and object. The object of faith is an unanticipatable divine event in the contingent historical occurrence of Jesus Christ, but this occurrence cannot be articulated or interpreted apart from the subjective consequences that are bound up within the event itself. Not only are these consequences irreducibly theo-political in nature, but they operate locally as contextual manifestations of fidelity within a particular world.

Christian faith proclaims with Badiou the mobilizing word: “See what is coming to pass and not only what is.” If metaphysics concerns “what is,” then “what is coming to pass” refers to the impossible possibility of a nonmetaphysical event that puts an end to the old regime of being and appearing and inaugurates something decisive and new. It is in this ongoing pursuit of something new in the situation that theology will find Badiou to be a provocative and fruitful dialogue partner." (43)

At the last, theology itself finds its ultimate description not in the sense of "being through knowing" (or knowledge) but in the sense of doing, enacting, and presence, in this world as exampled by the very God Himself in His incarnational atonement. Much like the actor who comes off the stage of the theatre to enter into the reality of life's streams with purpose, with resolve, with conviction, so too the church today must come off its own pulpits to live amongst the peoples of the land. Yes, preach Christ. Yes, preach good doctrine and less dogma. But get off the stage of preaching and into the messy lives of people requiring justice, love, kindness, and mercy. To use hands and feet, tongues and voices, to deliver the good news of the gospel in concrete form and fashion. This is the ultimate definition of a good theology. It is a theology of doing. And from doing, becoming. This is because God is, and will be, in the kergymatic re-enactment of the Paschal-Pneumatic (Christ & Holy Spirit) enlivenment of the Christian faith where the church becomes as both paschal-event and spirit-embodiment of Christ and Spirit to the lives of those requiring a "cup of cold water" or a "good word of gospel cheer".

"God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my
witness how constantly I remember you...." - the Apostle Paul (Romans 1.9)

R.E. Slater
July 16, 2014







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