Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Christian analogues to the Suspicion by Atheism

Merold Westphal suggested as a Lenten exercise that one could read Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche as prophets of original sin.

Dostoevsky was clearly the Christian analogue of (and triumph over) Nietzsche.  I wonder who would be the analogues to Marx and Freud.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Book Review: Imagining the Kingdom

We all know that worldviews (hereafter w-v) are inescapable. Worldviews rarely move beyond the intellectual dimension.  Smith doesn’t want to do away with w-v talk, but to place it within a larger whole.  We are not simply isolated intellects, but situated intellects--situated and embodied.  We are always embodied individuals and we experience the world as being-in-the-world (per Heidegger).

And we are not Gnostics.  Rather, “The Spirit marshals our embodiment in order to rehabituate us into the kingdom of God (15).”

What is imagination?  Smith defines imagination as  “a kind of faculty by which we navigate and make sense of our world, but in ways and on a register that flies below the radar of conscious reflection” (19).  This is why using concepts like “social imaginary” or “plausibility structure” is much superior to w-v.   W-v rightly highlights the inescapability of presuppositions on our thinking.  We do not deny that.  Smith notes, however, that social structures and our bodily being-in-the-world also function in a “pre-theoretical” (per Dooyeweerd) manner.

Knowing in the Body and By Stories

Liturgies are not only aesthetic, but kineasethic.  They come to us in the body and tell a story.

Perceiving by Stories

*Who we are is shaped by the stories we encounter and imbibe.  “We live into the stories we’ve absorbed; we’ve become characters in the drama that has captivated us” (32).
*narrative trains our emotions and those emotions condition our perception of the world.
*we are not disembodied choice machines.

Smith aims to capture “the creational conditions of human action” (33).  This is where Anchoretism fails.  Anchoretism seeks to transcend finitude and attain unto hyperousia.

*Perception and evaluation are intricately linked.
*“Affect and emotion are part of the ‘background’ I bring with me that constitutes the situation as a certain kind of situation” (35).
*“Stories are means of emotional prefocusing that shape our tacit ‘take’ on the world” (38).
*Antepredicative know--the affective register upon which narrative operates--is processed by the body below the cognitive level (Merleau-Ponty).

Pre-cognitive perception breaks down the traditional epistemology of subjects and objects.  "The world is not what I think, but what I live through” (Merleau-Ponty).  Our being-in-the-world is between instinct and intellect (43).  We aren’t just thinking-things.  “We don’t have being-in-the-world; we are being-in-the-world” (44).

More on Stories

A story has a “flow” and “rhythm” that simply isn’t reducible to a string of facts.  A string of facts is not a story.  It’s a memo.  No one dies for a memo.  No one’s embodied life is transformed by a data brief.  But people do die for the Story of Matthew, for instance.

“The material meaning of a poem means uniquely because it is meant on the register of motor intentionality” (Merleau-Ponty).  Kineaesthetic and Poetics are interconnected.

Worship: Story as Liturgy

Smith doesn’t add too much on Reformed liturgies.  He does apply his earlier insights into how it shapes stories, drawing on scholarship on John Calvin.  We can rejoice that more Evangelicals are moving away from “3 songs and a lecture, 3 points and a poem.”  People don’t die for that, either.  So, good stuff here.

We live at the nexus of story and body--a “between” space where the aesthetic power of a story captures our imagination because it resonates with our body. And all good liturgies tell an implicit story.  The Holy spirit reconfigures our neural maps.

Liturgy is a shorthand term for those rituals that are loaded with a Story about who and what we are (139).  It is an imaginative social practice that captures our imaginations by becoming the stories we tell ourselves in order to live.


Smith admits he has a hard task: steer a middle course between popular literature and the scholar.  He kind of succeeds.  His thesis is fascinating and I believe (literally) life-transforming.  Still, one gets the feeling he is often “Dancing on the edge” rather than “diving in for the kill shot.” As a result, a lot of sections seemed to “go on” in a way that repeated earlier chapters.  

Friday, June 26, 2015

Preaching or Venerating the Numinous?

From Paul Ricoeur's Figuring the Sacred
The “numinous” element of the sacred has nothing to do with language (49).  Another key element is theophany–not moments in the biblical narrative, but anything by which the sacred shows itself (icons, relics, holy places).   This means that reality is something other than itself while remaining itself.
There is a correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm (54).  This brings to mind the Luciferian “as above, so below” dictum.  In short, ontologies of manifestation always focus on “reality/grace/etc” emanating from the thing or the place.


There is a rupture–violent in the case of the prophets’ war against Baalism–between manifestation and proclamation.  The word outweighs the numinous (56).  Israel’s whole theology–and identity–was formed around discourses.

Per idols and icons:  “We may say that within the Hebraic domain they (hierophanies) withdraw to the extent that instruction through Torah overcomes any manifestation through an image.  A Theology of the Name is opposed to any hierophany of an idol…Hearing the word has taken the place of vision of signs” (56).  God’s pesel is the Ten Words. It is the only pesel he commanded.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Outline of Hegel and Modern Society

Analytical outline of Charles Taylor's Hegel and Modern Society.

Cambridge Press, 1979.

  1. Freedom, Reason, and Nature
    1. Expression and Freedom.  Hegel sought to synthesize the Romantic desire for freedom and expression with the Rationalist desire for Reason.  The Romantics saw Enlightenment science severing man’s unity.  
    2. Man can only be self-conscious when he abstracts himself from the world.  But when he does that, he severs himself from the organic unity of life.  Reason and Life are thus opposites.  But they are opposites which can’t exist without the other.
    3. The Embodied Subject
      1. each term (subject/object; nature/freedom; God/man) is identical with its opposite.
      2. Opposition arises out of circular identity.  
      3. Hegel and the Subject
        1. Followed Herder in seeing the subject as an expressive unity.
        2. All of a subject’s functions are necessarily embodied.  On a human level this makes sense.  You usually can’t have a thought without a mind thinking it.  
        3. Man is not an animal with rationality added, but a new kind of totality.  
        4. There is a hierarchy of consciousness. The higher enfolds and negates the lower.
      4. There is a hierarchy of forms of life and a hierarchy of modes of consciousness.  Each negates and gives rise to a new one.  This is why man progresses from art to religion to philosophy.  As his rational self-consciousness grows, so does his mode of that self-consciousness.
      5. A rational subject must be embodied because their must be an opposite pole in which it may flourish
    4. The Absolute as Subject
      1. The universe is the embodiment of the totality of the life-functions of God (24).
      2. Geist is understood teleologically.  
      3. If Geist, then there are also finite spirits.  
      4. There is a limit between Geist and not-itself.  
        1. If Geist is somewhere, it is not somewhere else.
        2. Thus, there must be many finite spirits.
      5. With Kant and Fichte, Hegel agreed that consciousness is bi-polar within the individual.
        1. The ego posits the non-ego.
        2. The subject must be set against the object.
    5. Rational Necessity
      1. A conceptual necessity.  We are not speaking with causal im/possibilities, but with conceptual limits.  
      2. Analytical necessity deals more with the meaning of terms.  Conceptual with the structure of things.
      3. I think Hegel runs into a contradiction.  He says every subject must have an object, which means Geist must necessarily posit finite objects to inhabit.  So far, consistent.  He then says Geist is pure rationality (perhaps), but Geist is not determined.  Its rationality is pure rationality because….--I don’t follow.  
        1. Perhaps we can try this way:  finite things are necessarily dependent on God/Geist.  So far, so good.
    6. A Self-Positing God
      1. Hegel rejects both Christian theism (God independent of the world) and naturalism (God as not absolute).
      2. Self-positing:  God eternally creates the conditions of his existence.  Hegel is not so much arguing for an existent reality, but for the conditions that Geist be.
      3. He isn’t identical to Plotinus, since everything else is a falling away from the One and not necessary to the One’s existence; whereas, for Hegel it is necessary.
    7. Division
      1. The cosmic Subject (Geist) is identical and not-identical to the world
        1. identical: Geist cannot exist without the world.
        2. not-identical: the world’s externality represents a dispersal which Geist must overcome.
        3. Geist exists by overcoming its opposite.  By negating its own negation.
    8. The oppositions overcome
      1. Undoes Kant’s ding an sich because there is no gap between phenomena and noumena, since we are all vehicles of Geist.
      2. Our knowledge of the world turns out to be Geist’s self-knowledge.
      3. Aufhebung: dialectical transition in which a lower stage is both annulled and preserved in a higher stage
      4. Versohnung: reconciliation; overcoming dualities.
    9. Dialectical ways
      1. we start with the most elementary notion of what consciousness is, “to show that this cannot stand up, that it is riven with inner contradiction and must give way to a higher one, which is also in turn shown to be contradictory” (55).
      2. “dialectical” is not a method or approach, but a descriptive fact.
      3. Being and Nothing: the concept of being without any determination, turns out to be empty, nothing.  Being thus reveals a contradiction.
    10. A faulty proof
  2. Politics and Alienation
    1. The continuing conflict
      1. Modern society has seen the proliferation of Romantic views of life along with the rationalization and bureaucratization of collective structures and an exploitive stance toward nature (71).
      2. The New Left reaction: 1968 Paris was decloisonnement; an expressivist reaction against late capitalism.  
    2. The demands of reason
      1. The adequate form of Spirit (remember, Spirit must be embodied) is social.  Man has to be part of something larger than himself, since man cannot exist by himself.
      2. the state is the real expression of this life.
      3. The fully adequate State must be the rational one.
      4. The problem with Kant’s ethics: he purchased radical autonomy at the price of emptiness.
      5. The problem of politics is to limit negative freedom. Hegel’s problem with Rousseau and Kant is both defined freedom as human freedom, the will as human will.  If we define freedom as thought or reason, then the question of freedom doesn’t reduce to man alone, but to all of us.
      6. Sittlichkeit:  the moral obligations I have to an ongoing community of which I am a part.
    3. Ethical Substance
      1. alienation: this happens whenever the public existence no longer has meaning for me.
        1. e.g., the perceived futility of voting; nominal religious belief in Church-States.
        2. Individuals then strike out on their own to define their individuality
    4. The Goals of History
      1. The march of history is the succession of rational communities, the earlier ones embodying imperfect expressions of the later ones.
    5. Absolute History
      1. The French Revolution was the attempt to remake society according to reason and negative freedom.
      2. (Taylor is somewhat reticent about Hegel’s criticisms of the French Revolution).
      3. How to move forward
        1. everything in society (however that term is defined) must be the fruit of all.  
        2. In other words, all must share in ruling (cf. John Wyclif, John Milbank, John Ruskin).
        3. His society must be different from traditionalism because there cannot be structures insulated from the reach of decision.  On the other hand, it can’t be a liberal society, since the Form of Government will permeate everything.
      4. Negative freedom would require that the whole outcome be decided by me.  Yet, the whole outcome is a social one, so it cannot be decided by me alone.  Thus, negative freedom is impossible.  
      5. The society must be a homogenous one.  This might seem unfortunate, but it does have echoes in Augustine’s Book 19.  
      6. Social Estates and Differentiation
        1. the modern state aims at universal citizenship.
        2. The practical problem is universal participation is impossible in a state of any real size.  This leads to representation.  
    6. The Modern Dilemma
      1. Taylor appears somewhat concerned that Hegel’s politics would reject modern democracy.  
      2. However, it does raise the important question:  what kind of differentiation can modern society admit of (111)?  
        1. Ancient man knew he could only be himself in light of some cosmic order.
        2. the revolution of modern subjectivity justified society in what it achieved for man’s needs.   Utilitarianism.
          1. Utilitarianism, ironically, leaves no place for myth, myth of the new beginning, and so cannot justify the vision of its society (112-113).
          2. Absolute freedom, therefore, is seen to fill this “gap.”
        3. Here is why modern liberal society is doomed: radical participation in civic structures is only possible if there is a ground of agreement, or underlying common purpose (Augustine’s common objects of love).  Democracy and participation cannot create this; they merely presuppose it.  The demand for absolute freedom by itself is empty.
        4. Modern ideology and equality leads to homogenization of society.  It is an acid drip on traditional structures, yet it cannot replace them.
  3. Hegel Today
    1. Marx’s take on reconciliation is that it will come via social transformation.
    2. Weakness in Marx’s synthesis
      1. The Soviet view sees the proletarian party as “engineers of building in conformity with the laws of history…[combining] two opposed pictures of the human predicament.  It shows us man,  on one hand, imposing his will on the course of history...On the other hand dialectical materialism sets out the laws which govern man and history with an iron necessity” (151).  
      2. “The laws of history cannot be the basis of social engineering and reveal the inevitable trend of events” (152).
    3. Situating Freedom
    4. Hegel Today

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Book Review: No King but Christ

The best way to describe Donald Cargill’s life is “Richard Cameron minus the muskets.”  He stood for the same principles as Cameron but ultimately did not actively confront the government.  Cargill’s life is not that different from other Covenanter field preachers, but he is set apart in that he excommunicated the king and thought out a coherent (if too cautious) theory of resistance.
No King But Christ, The Story of Donald Cargill  -<br />
        By: Maurice Grant</p>
Like Cameron and other field preachers, Cargill rejected compromises like the Indulgence (an interesting study would be to compare the Indulgences of the post-1660 Indulgences to today’s 501(c)(3) exemptions; warning: you will lose your job as an academician if you do so). They saw this as a concession of Christ’s royal prerogatives, not only to the state, but to a debauched and degenerate monarch.  Who ruled the Church?  Jesus or the State?   It is important to point out that both sides saw their claims as absolute (shades of Rushdoony!).  If the Erastian position is true, then any resistance to his ecclesiastical claims is in fact a resistance to his civil claims.   A conservative theorist can no longer simply say, “We will resist you in the ecclesiastical realm by spiritual weapons, but we won’t resist in the civil realm.”  The Erastian (quite consistently) sees no such distinction.


If such was the opposition between church and state, then it is hard to avoid the outcome.  This is where I think Cargill was inconsistent.  He saw the issues as clearly as Cameron did (or even more clearly), but he refused to follow the applications like Cameron did.   At his trial, his Erastian accusers asserted that Cargill’s Melvillian 2-Kingdom view led to civil disobedience (and granting their premises, they were correct):  since the Crown was metaphysically one (cf. Kantorowicz, The King’s Two Bodies), any rejection of one aspect of its sovereignty, as Head of the Church, is in fact a rejection of the Crown entire.   As Grant notes, it is civil, not ecclesiastical disobedience.

Second issue:  Charles II had sworn to abide by the sanctions of the Solemn League & Covenant–he based his legitimacy on them (which covenants, the Word of God calls binding, Galatians 3:15).  He broke the covenants; therefore, he forfeited his legitimacy over Presbyterian Scotland.  It was on these grounds that Cameron took up arms (and on other legitimate grounds; lawful self-defense and defense of the helpless, which natural law says we can do [it’s so fun to appeal to natural law when it comes to resistance; critics of theonomy don’t know what to do with that! LOL]).  And since Charles’ troops were raping and murdering their way across Presbyterian Scotland, Cameron’s struggle was a limited, defensive war which had already been justified by Samuel Rutherford.

Cargill refused to follow Cameron on these principles, but I think Cameron was right.  Given the Crown’s metaphysical assumptions, it made no sense to plead for a partial resistance.  Given that the oaths that Charles II swore to implicitly called for his removal if he broke them, resistance was justified since the law implied that.

Notwithstanding, Cargill died well.  The book is well-written and the endnotes provide a gold mine of interesting information.   Interestingly, in this book Grant is quite critical of Cameron’s actions, but in Grant’s biography of Cameron written over a decade later, he tries to justify Cameron’s actions.

Possibility does not mean easy

When we see Scripture is perspicuous, we are not say that it is easy to interpret, just that it's interpretation remains a possibility.  

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bibliography: A Report from the Front

A friend of mine asked me for a bibliography of the philosophy works I've read over the past six months.  Part of the reason this might be relevant is that a lot of detractors of Evangelicalism, whether within the camp or the convertskiis without, have no clue about the philosophical issues involved in questions like hermeneutics, authority, and the like.  Here's what I've read from the most recent backwards:

Swinburne, Richard.  The Christian God. An overly analytical account of God's nature.  Some good points on Christology.  Vindicates Calvin.

Swinburne, Richard.  Evolution of the Soul.  Aside from his Darwinian assumptions, proves the soul is not reducible to brain states.

Martin, Malachi.  Hostage to the Devil.  Some papal presuppositions and conclusions, but a valuable study.

Locke, John.  Human Understanding.  One of the most important (if flawed) texts on epistemology ever written.

Smith, James K. A. Thinking in Tongues.  Alternatively brilliant and infuriating. Likens tongues to a phenomenological speech-act.

Wittgenstein, Ludwig.  Philosophical Investigations.  changed the game of 20th century philosophy.  Not an easy or fun read.

Russell, Bertrand.  Problems of Philosophy.  Russell unwittingly defended universals and opened the door for God.

Alston, William.  The Reliability of Sense Perception.  Proves that sense perception cannot be defended in a non-circular manner and rather "supervenes" upon our experience.

Alston, William.  Perceiving God.  Argues that religious experience functions as a legitimate, if minor source of knowledge.

Plantinga, Alvin.  The Nature of Necessity. Possible Worlds Semantics.  Nigh impossible to read.

Moreland, J. P. Universals.

Thornwell, James Henley.  Whatsoever Things are Truth.  Good presentation of "internalism" in epistemology.

Clark, Gordon.  God's Hammer.  All the pros and cons of a typical Clark book.

Kreeft, Peter.  Christianity for Modern Pagan.  All the pros and cons of a typical Kreeft book.

Moreland and Rae.  Body and Soul.  Best book ever written on anthropology.

Audi, Robert.  Epistemology.  The classic text on modern epistemology.

Alston, William.  Realist Conception of Truth.  Defends epistemological realism, but not necessarily in the clearest manner.

Hobbes, Thomas.  Leviathan.  Think Hillary 2016.

Lewis, C. S. Abolition of Man.  Again, Hillary 2016.

Augustine. On Christian Doctrine.  Signs and Things Signified.

Webster, John.  Holy Scripture.  Shows how modern convertskii attacks on the Bible are naive.  Dont' remember too much about it, though. I read it when I had the flu.

Aristotle.  Pocket Aristotle.  Is what it says it is.

Oberman, Heiko.  Harvest of Medieval Theology.  If you are naive enough to say Protestantism = nominalism, you are about 45 years behind the times.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Hegel almost stumbled upon a correct anthropology

Hegel rejects Greek dualism and almost stumbles upon a biblical Hebraism.  He sees the Cartesian project as inherently mechanistic and incoherent (what connects mind and matter?  Cartesians have never really answered this).

Unfortunately, Hegel still sees the idea of a mind/soul in a body as a “dualist temptation.”  He does admit, though, that it is foreign to Greek thought (Taylor 81).  

Hegel is drawing upon Herder’s expressivism.  Thought, language, etc does not exist without a medium.  Thus for Hegel, the subject, no matter how spiritual, is necessarily embodied.  This is true up to a point, but runs into problems in two areas:  God/Geist is not embodied (at least not God the Father and the Holy Spirit, though Hegel gets around that) and the soul exists in a disembodied state after death.

Whose Community? Which Interpretation?

By Merold Westphal

Thesis: Westphal, following James K. A. Smith's The Fall of Interpretation, argues that we should not seek a "pure stream" reading of the Bible that bypasses the act of interpretation. This position of seeking and *im*mediate reading of the text has precendents in Plato0 when he said the philosopher apprehends the purely intelligible structures (Phaedo 66e) In other words, our reading of the Bible is mediated to us by our hermeneutical filters, be they cultural, linguistic, philosophical, or whatever. 

In less abstract talk: have you ever seen the advertisement for a particular translation claiming, "No interpretation needed"? Westphal argues against such naivete. This should not alarm Reformed folks. Did Van Til not say that there are no brute facts but all facts are already pre-interpreted by God? 

Musing: Is Van Til a right-wing deconstructionist?

Westphal then examines recent moves in philosophical hermeneutics from the Romantics to Schlieirmacher to Wolterstorff.

But What About the Radical French Postmodernists?

So far Reformed readers will have no problem with the above narrative. The problem comes with the French trio (Derrida, Foucault, and someone else) who assert, so it is said, "The death of the author." 

But maybe they aren't saying exactly that (mind you, I have my own questions about Derrida). 

Even the French trio doesn’t think the author is truly dead. “To deny that the author is the unilateral source of a text’s meaning is not to deny that the author plays an important role” (58). Westphal explains, “For our French trio, the finitude of the author in relation to the text is expressed in a double relativity. In the first place, human authors ‘create meaning’ only relative to the language available to them...this language shapes and conditions their thought in ways of which they are unaware and over which they do not preside” (59). 

To say it yet another way: “The author is not a godlike, infinite creator of meaning” (65). Humans are finite and our sub-creations (what Milbank would call mythopoesis) are always within the realm of the finite and conditioned.

This is fully in line with Reformed anthropology. 

Westphal then comes to the heart of his project: Hans Georg Gadamer. We must affirm tradition, but in line with our anthropology, we must affirm the "finitude" of our tradition. 

Gadamer's fundamental thesis about tradition is “belonging.” p. 70. Tradition plays a double-role. It gives us a place to stand and it is is plural. We do not belong to a single, universal tradition. “All interpretation is relative to traditions that have formed the perspectives and presuppositions that guide it” (71).

“To be historically means that knowledge of oneself can never be complete” (Gadamer, Truth and Method, 301-302). 

Westphal then offers several theses on reading tradition and being read by tradition:

Alterity Thesis. Tradition as other. Tradition will set before us what it has already done within us.

Authority Thesis. We acknowledge tradition as a “sub-authority” over us. “My conscience is a grounded opacity that allows a richly mediated knowledge of its object” (Westphal 74). 

Fallibility Thesis. Question of critique: “How can we distinguish the true prejudices--by which we understand--from the false prejudices (by which we misunderstand” (75). Tradition must be open to this critique. Even worse, the difference between true and false is not always either/or but a matter of degree. Here is where Anchoretic traditions fail mortally.

What the French Should have said

Authorial intent is important in understanding a text, but only to a degree. Authors themselves are wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstein, historically effected consciousness. They don’t have absolute self-transperancy either. Westphal has an interesting suggestion: “there is a power at work in finite authorial creation--for Gadamer, tradition--of whose agency and effects the author is never fully aware” (81). 

Conclusion and Evaluation

In terms of philosophical analysis the work is first-rate. Westphal may be the only Continental-school philosophy who can write clearly. Unfortunately, Westphal moves to analysis--and since that deals with the church, theology. Here the book suffers from ambiguity or simply wrongness. 

Westphal suggests we should follow Gadamer in seeing Truth Beyond [Scientific] Method. I have no problem with that, but aside from references to beautiful art and literature, I am not exactly sure what he wants me to do.

Westphal offers an interesting paradigm for understand difference in the church. He highlights the debate between political liberalism (classical liberalism in society) and communitarianism (Alasdair MacIntyre). Political liberalism affirms difference but in the midst of an overlapping sphere of agreement among the parties involved. Of course, this is valuable for the church: we will disagree at times, and even traditions (Rome, EO) that pretend to be uniform have to own up to that. Ironically, though, it is rather strange to find a postmodern writer affirming classical liberalism, which is a child of the Enlightenment. 

Westphal realizes that and admits the communitarian model is probably better for the church (but he rejects it for the state).

The book ends with a hopeful suggestion taken from the Roman-Lutheran Joint Declaration on Justification. The theology behind such a move is atrocious and one is disappointed that Westphal ended a fine book on so weak a note.