News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: What Is It That Will Solve Everything? Nothing

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What Is It That Will Solve Everything? Nothing

As Kierkegaard noted, it's not what in the past you appropriate but how you appropriate it. The history of philosophy and theology has been a quest for origins, seeking the source of the current problem, the pure self once established and somehow lost. The past must be chosen not as past but as preparation for a future.

Kierkegaard was concerned that Hegel continued the metaphysical tradition begun with Plato in seeking the source of identity and being in the pure past. Does modernity go in the opposite direction and pose a future without a past (Lockeanism)? We must find liberation in the nothingness of the present that acknowledges both the death of the past and its resurrection in a just future.

The notion of the blogosphere and the promise of infinite (impossible) identities is that nothingness that informs the basis of who we are. The play of potential selves is important but only as a tensioned antithesis to what must be. Without engaging the real world in its temporality, its finiteness, we end up being inauthentic selves.

Anyway, with my very limited understanding of these issues, I was looking for a common framework (I love that word--used it in my thesis several times) for Leftist religionists to use in voicing how they see a truly (what's that?) religious response to modern issues taking shape.

I came up with several tentative tracks ( I borrow the notion from a book I recently read on Kierkegaard and Repetition):

1) there's the Nietzsche track--here, positive and negative Nihilism duke it out, with the eventual victory of der Ubermensch, a religious type that spurns all religions and lives for eternal recurrence.

a) Under this track, I place Heidegger, probably unfairly, and his notion of the time of the god(s) and its relationship to the Problem of Technology, especially Dreyfus' contention that Heidegger is actually advocating a positive vision of technology in that essay.

2) Kierkegaard and Leveling--though K did not use the term Nihilism, it does seem there are parallels between what he calls leveling and Nihilism.

Again, K like N, sees a positive and negative aspect to this historical process. The negative for K is traditional Xtendom. The positive is a process whereby leveling leads to the gutting and evisceration of all traditional values, a state of nothingness which will actually form the starting point for a new form of religiousness.

The form of this new religiousness would follow the lines of a more radical Christianity verging on martyrdom.

a) Under this track, I'd mention George Pattison's work on agnosis. Pattison has worked on a non-Christological understanding of religion that emphasizes the nothingness of everyday life as the starting point for a revitalized religious life.

Okay, that's really generalized and poorly organized. I realize its deficiencies, most notably in alluding to specialized areas of thought that might not be generally known.

It's a start, or is it? Maybe it's just drivel and all this crap is just ivory tower wannabes doing the solitary nasty in a corner, as the future proletariat will no doubt judge.


There are two aspects to the problem, I think. The first is sociological. Since that fits the temper of the age, I'll go with that first. And since I'm so much a Kierkegaardian, I'll steal shamelessly from his critique, though I take full responsibility for my interpretation of K.

The early "church" witnessed some form of struggle between those who wished to maintain an itinerant existence and those who thought that the church should organize and institutionalize. Gerd Theissen has called the former, the prophetic movement. It seems to have been in some disagreement about the understanding of Jesus' message, specifically related to the saying about having no place to lay his head.

This movement was at loggerheads with the Pauline strain which believed that forming into churches and maintaining fellowship in this way was the right interpretation. The struggle continues for some time into the later centuries, and may be part fo the reason why some of the gnostic groups had difficulties with the established hierarchy. Though not a gnostic, Tertullian's association with the Montanists may also have been part of this. Various reform movements within Christianity, especially milinialist groups also represent this undercurrent within Christianity.

Anyway, as I say, Kierkegaard recognized much of this and criticizes the early church's cozying up to the status quo and political regimes. That forms the basis of his own so-called attack on Xtendom. In psychological terms, Kierkegaard's explanation for why Xtians buy into the status quo involves a form of false consciousness called despair. The two concepts can't be collapsed into each other, though, since despair also includes the Christian notion of sinfulness.

Despair is the desire to be God on one level--Sartre borrowed heavily from K's Concept of Anxiety--and the non-desire to be who one is on another level. With consciousness comes awareness of the absolute freedom that humans have to be who they are. In much the same way that Heidegger was later--he too borrowed heavily from K's work--to analyze the THEY, K says that in reaction to this freedom we tend to fall back into reliance on various socio-cultural apparatuses that shield me from the imperative to be who I am in freedom, ie, making authentic and conscious choices.

In this framework (there's that word I love so much), Xtians who buy into the capitalist ideology and thereby provide cover for its oppressive and exploitive undertaking do so because they are in despair and cannot live with the infinite demand to be who they are, which ultimately involves doing God's will, which itself involves living an ethico-religious life that opposes all forms of oppression and injustice.

There's some correspondence, I think, between the Lacanian understanding of the Nothing and interpretations of K that start from his analysis of freedom--which itself is awareness of the nothing.

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