Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Most Popular Post: Mozart?

I guess the thing to do is to reevaluate what post gets the most views at the end of the year.  It has been a busy year because it is the first as a father.  Next year will be especially challenging because I will start the year taking my Comps and then writing my bloody dissertation.

It seems like the most popular post was the one I did on Mozart and Barth.  It was based on the last few pages of Andrews' postmodern reading of Barth and Derrida (a project that I am very much inclined to rehabilitate).  Again, Barth looked to Mozart for what he affirmed about creation much like Deleuze (nein to resentment).  When one gets trapped by a one dimensional reading of Barth as saying No to everything then one fails to see the creative tendencies in his theology.  Frankly, after CD II/2, I am starting to see a type of Deleuzian affirmation of things especially since God elected to be for "this" world and "this" humanity to the extent that God covenanted with it.  Thus, the nihilistic tendencies of Barth's negative period are more of a No to the safe answers that things like nationalism bring; Mozart's joy is then a way to look past these comforts and enjoy the creation with all of its questions and insecurities and possibilities.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Another Barth Trinity book-Why Ben Myers ROCKS or Why the History of Christ Matters to God

Another book (better named than the one in the previous post) about Barth's theology of the Trinity (and election) is Trinitarian Theology After Barth. Let me restate from the previous post that I more sympathetic with McCormack's reading of Barth's view of the Trinity and election than with Molnar's; these two views are highlighted in this book and many of the commentators work with this debate in the background.

One of the best essays in the book is the one by Ben Myers (the Faith & Theology blog).  The essay is called "Election, Trinity, and the History of Jesus: Reading Barth with Rowan Williams."  What Myers does is basically take the McCormack position and show that Williams noticed some of the same things about Barth's theology before McCormack's work.  The point is to say that the Barth of CD IV/1 (Williams' Second Trinity) is the one to follow than the one of CD I/I (Williams' First Trinity) because the Christ revealed in history is the God we know and who reveals Godself.  In short, there is no abstract God apart from the God we know from Christ.  Myers declares that "this history is the form which God's freedom takes" (134); the way of Christ is the way of God.

Myers notes a helpful distinction in that there are really 3 positions one can take in understanding the relationship between the human Jesus and the eternal God (see pg 135):

1) Moltmann's view (internally divided Trinity): God is a mutable divine being who undergoes change as a result of what happens in Jesus (the source of this view I think is Hegel and even more radical train of thought that follows this can be found in Zizek)

2) Molnar's view (sublimely free immanent Trinity): God is an indeterminate and unknowable divine being who lies behind the election of Jesus  (I would call this classic Calvinism as well)

3) McCormack's view: God is a divine being who is both knowable and immutable, since it is already determined towards the history of Jesus (also Williams' Second Trinity and the one Myers identifies with)

Why I have warmed to McCormack's view is that it manages to take a middle course between a view of the detached God (solitary electing God of eternity, while also not falling into the modern theories that compromise God's freedom [it is one thing to say that God is free to act toward humanity and quite another thing to say this is necessary]).  Election is God's free act to determine Godself to be toward humanity in Christ, so this act determines God's essence.  Another thing I like about this view is that it takes seriously the revealed life/acts of Jesus in history to such an extent that to talk of God apart from God's revealed acts toward humanity toward Israel, Christ and the church is to move into speculation.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Schools on Barth's View of Election and Trinity

Just got my hands on a new book that deals with the Anglo-American scholarship over Barth's view of election and the Trinity. The main players in the book are Bruce McCormack, George Hunsinger and Paul Molnar; also included are a number of other Barth scholars on the rise to deal with this issue.

What is fantastic about this book is that is has brought together the scattered essays about this topic that have surfaced since McCormack's book in the 1990s. I have read a number of these essays before but I like the idea of them all in one place and from there being able to formulate where I think my own position is. This controversy has quickly become a contentious issue over the interpretation rights of Barth. (Personally, I stand very close to McCormack's position [which he is clear is both an interpretation of what Barth said and a build upon Barth's work where he thinks he should have gone with his theology]). Much of the argument follows these questions: who is interpreting the "historical" Barth? Which view is most orthodox? Is there development in Barth's thought? How would Barth react to these views if he were still alive?

The bottom line is the classical argument over the immanent vs the economic Trinity. McCormack claims that Barth's view of election reinterprets Barth's view of the Trinity, in short, that God is revealed as God-for-us or God as being-toward-incarnation. Thus, the economic Trinity is what tells us what the immanent Trinity is all about. The promoters of the classic view deny this because they want the transcendent, immanent God to be free from God's act and creation but also free for it( I would call this a classical Calvinist view).

This issue recalls some of the problems addressed by Zizek/Hegel and a reaction by theologians toward their modern take of the Trinity (the modern paradigm is where I start with even though we can gain value from the premodern but it is time to give up going back past the modern paradigm). I am mostly convinced that Barth moves close to the modern position (especially in CD IV/1 but pulls back); Moltmann is perhaps the most famous figure that takes this idea to the next step. I also think that McCormack is right to base his argument around the historical act of Christ as the determining factor to understand the being of God since this is what is revealed.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mouffe: Agonistic Pluralism and Religion

Just started reading Jeffrey Robbins' Radical Democracy and Political Theology, which led me to reconsider the work of Chantal Mouffe (who is famous for co-writing a book with Ernesto Laclau). Why I like what I have found in Mouffe is her reading of pragmatism and Wittgenstein (I am starting to see the wisdom of the words Negri once said about how everything has changed since Wittgenstein, which has led to my growing issues with Badiou). Reading Jeffrey Stout's Democracy and Tradition over the summer, Stout's interaction with the pragmatist Richard Rorty (and even Rorty's latter openness to public, religious expressions) and finally, Stout's utilization of key, underdeveloped ideas about the secular from Barth's theology made me look out for pragmatic ideas about democracy. Thus, my antennas went up on Robbins' section on Schmitt and Mouffe.

Mouffe's idea of Agonistic pluralism is framed by the reality of the "us vs them" format made famous by Carl Schmitt (her view of pluralism also has roots from Nietzsche and Weber). What Mouffe attempts to do is articulate a politics that forms a "we", which brings together this multiplicity of conflicts, diversity and antagonism. In short, society is never going to be free of "adversaries" (not Schmitt's "enemies") but the pluralistic, democratic space must find ways to be tolerant of such diverse positions. By framing the argument as "adversaries" and not the moral term "enemies", Mouffe acknowledges the contingency of her own beliefs but also the commitment to fight for her beliefs without making it a moral issue. So her presupposition is her view of pluralism that entails the antagonistic nature of different values. She declares that "the real issue at stake in democratic politics is how to establish the us/them distinction in a way that is compatible with pluralist democracy." In order for this theory to work, there needs to be consensus on the basis of this system of conflict ( a symbolic "common ground"). She points out that any movement or figures that won't work with this consensus thus ultimately places themselves or herself in the category of the "enemy". Probably the most adequate or legitimate place to bring a sense of unity is some type of constitutional document. In essence she is working with both sides of western democracy: its liberalism (rule of law, separation of church/state and powers, individual rights, popular sovereignty) and its democracy (populism, pluralism).

One of the key subjects that people feel passion/emotion for is religious issues. However, one of the cornerstones for liberal democracy is the separation of church and state. Mouffe reads this idea differently in stating that the separation of church and state really means the separation between religion and "state power." I think this is probably the best analysis I have read on this subject and I think it fits with a Barthian view. She has this great quote: "It is the tendency to identify politics with the state and the state with the public that has led to the mistaken idea that the separation between the church and the state means the absolute relegation of religion to the private." She notes that this view cannot be defended. Passions (including religious) cannot be removed from politics. However, there is a post-Nazi fear of the passions because in the liberal-democratic mind it leads to "irrational" decisions by the mob or as Toscano calls "fanaticism".

Oftentimes religious expression spills into the ideas of public policies and shapes reactions to them as well. There is no such thing as the liberal neutral view that manages to keep "divisive issues" out of the public realm. It is better to acknowledge the tensions that are in society and work to deal with them in a way that is tolerant to all segments of society. This is a tolerance that is shaped by an idea that there will never be a final, complete reconciliation of conflicts. She writes that "the prime task of democratic politics is not to eliminate passions or to relegate them to the private sphere in order to establish a rational consensus in the public sphere. It is, rather, to attempt to mobilize those passions toward democratic designs." In summary, diversity is to be praised in whatever format it is expressed as long as it recognizes the right of the difference of the other or the adversary.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Christmas Time with Blake

There is something both so frantic and peaceful about Christmas time. There is a feeling of peace and innocence that is sung about, moving toward the final days of the year. Then there is the mad rush of purchasing gifts, holiday parties and overeating. This Christmas season, while I also prepare for Comprehensive exams in a couple of months, I am going to work on meditating over some of the works of William Blake. It is a crazy time in the world today and I think both his apocalyptic tendencies and his beautiful way of talking about naive innocence is most appropriate today. Below is one of my favorite poems:


Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Gave thee life & bid thee feed.

By the stream & o’er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing wooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice!

Little Lamb who made thee

Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a Lamb:

He is meek & he is mild,

He became a little child:

I a child & thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Barth as Dialogue Partner? Really?

I just finished Glenn Chestnutt's book Challenging the Stereotype. He opens up the book with an important comment: the main religious issue of our day is the relationship between Christianity and Islam. The way he approaches this problem is seeing how Karl Barth's theology can be a vehicle for religious dialogue especially with Muslim thinkers. He examines how to do this by filtering Barth's work on Judaism, on the Just State, and his work on "parables" and the other "lights" found in CD IV:3.

Now this is a constructive work because Barth did not write much on the plurality of religions (even though he expressed an intention to) and the stereotype of him being a "Christocentric" thinker is true to an extent (he also highlights problematic passages from Barth corpus on Islam and Judaism). However, the fact that he is not a pluralist in the John Hick sense is also good because in our postsecular age I believe the way for religious thinkers to dialogue is for them to actually acknowledge the concrete differences of their religions instead of a soft, liberal, mountain top theory (the idea that all religions lead up to different paths but ultimately we all meet up at the top of the mountain and say-"hey, what are you doing here?-oh, guess it was all the same god we worship").

Now Chestnutt does two things to craft his thesis. First, he uses the "open space" that Jeffrey Stout claims Western secular democracy brings to the table as a good starting point for religions to have the freedom of expression in concrete talks; in addition, he quotes Stout's use of Barth's theology in backing up his theory. Second, Chestnutt turns to another Swiss born citizen in Tariq Ramadan as a model Muslim thinker who can dialogue with someone from the Barthian side of theology. Ramadan like Barth have strong convictions from their own traditions but also acknowledge the space given by Western secular democracy for their religions to flourish. Ramadan contends that Muslims number of Western citizens are growing and need to become recognized citizens in the West because most have assimilated as good citizens anyway.

What drew me to this work is my own research on the way secularism is being used or viewed by different thinkers like Barth, Ramadan and others. What I especially appreciate is the way the goal is to articulate a way for religions to dialogue but in a way that keeps in mind the actual practitioners of the different religions (and not just to focus on "liberal" thinkers who are hardly identifiable with the actual traditions of the religion).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Barth in Context, the Other and looking at Weimar

I have been finishing up my paper that I will be reading at the Conference of Faith/History on Barth, Badiou and the event with a response to Mark Lilla's critique of both figures. I will be posting my paper shortly on the topic. To some extent, I argue, along with Jeffrey Stout, that Barth offers a "tentative" line between the secular and the sacred that is somewhat negotiated in the public space. I don't know whether to call it post-secular or not, but I do think it looks ahead to the mid-1980s when post-secularism begins.

With comps on the horizon I have started to look into the historical background of Barth's work. One of the first books I will be reading is Peter Gay's Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (which studies the 1920s of German expressionism at its peak before the Nazis take power). Barth as a Swiss citizen teaching in Weimar Germany was definitely an outsider in the academic world. Romans II with its language of Krisis definitely embodies the tone of German expressionism.

Another book that has been sitting on my bookshelf for awhile but I will finally delve into is Samuel Moyn's Origins of the Other (where he makes the claim that Levinas' phenomenology of the Other has its roots in the theology of encounter from Kierkegaard and Barth). One of my goals is to articulate this theory a little further for a conference at Biola next year on Justice and Narrative by looking at Jewish/Muslim contemporaries and how they either agree or differ with Barth on this subject (may even bring Zizek/Badiou's critique of the language of the Other as a starting point).

In short, there is something about the social/cultural trends that either a thinker takes on or reacts to. It seems, whether consciously or not, Barth took on the language of German expressionism, German-Jewish phenomenology and French existentialism (a number of books make this point). However, he took these trends and read them through the theology of encounter with the Christian God of revelation. I know my reading of Barth has really grown now that I have taken historical context more seriously.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Which Enlightenment?

The time period known as the Enlightenment is probably one of the most controversial moments in human history. One learns a lot about a person's belief system in hearing their own feelings about it. When I teach the subject I introduce it in a couple of ways.

1. Understand the Enlightenment from location. This means that one understands the Enlightenment by studying how it took place in England, Scotland, France, Germany, etc. In short, instead of collapsing all the varieties of the Enlightenment under this blanket term one tries to view it per certain local, social-political issues per each culture. One of the problems with this view is that it oftentimes sees the Enlgish/American Enlightenment as superior to the French because the French led into the Terror of the French Revolution. However, this is to deny overlap of ideas from the perspective cultures.

2. Understand the Enlightenment per Radical versus Moderate. This view (see Jonathan Israel's work) tends to see an ignored strand of thinking starting from Spinoza that pushed for real equality and real freedom of thought for all; Spinoza and his naturalist followers like Diderot are the heroes while Voltaire and Locke are moderates who want to keep some type of political/religious tradition because of their elitism. The best from the radical elements of the French Revolution are thus the extension of Spinoza's and others thought. This is somewhat a revisionist take that probably reads too much Spinoza into the history of thought (Spinoza was influential but perhaps not as much as Israel would like). It also tends to be the view that pure secularism is the only true Enlightenment and so those who are not atheist, egalitarian democrats are deemed half-hearted or duplicitous.

3. Understand the Enlightenment as a war against Christianity. This view sees modernity as an anti-God view that propels modernity in its secular ways. I would call this the typical Evangelical view (what I learned as a kid). This view is right in that traditions were debated and criticized. However, there is definitely a religious tradition within the Enlightenment (see those Israel calls moderate or counter-Enlightenment and David Sorkin's work). Simply way too simplistic in saying these "religious" thinkers were not serious or "real" Christians in wrestling with modern thought and ancient traditions without falling into naturalism or pure anti-Trinitarians.

4. Understand the Enlightenment via Postmodern critiques. This view sees the so-called power-plays of Enlightenment thinkers via European superiority and imperialism/colonialism. In short, Reason equals reason via white, European male and not for other races. This view again probably fails in not noticing the diversity of thinkers but makes us aware of just how racist/sexist these thinkers really were. It also suffers in that the critiques of Enlightenment thinkers are carried out by the very methods formed by the Enlightenment.

Well those are 4 generalized readings of the Enlightenment. From Adorno's view that Enlightenment Reason led to 20th Century disasters to Darnton's view that philosophy books were not even the principal means that led to reforms and changes in society, the Enlightenment is a contested time period. Honestly we cannot escape its shadow. The models are not perfect but are at the most part helpful in describing how people see the Enlightenment from different perspectives.

I believe the pragmatic view about the Enlightenment is to take the reformist view. It is to understand that the time was ripe then and now for reforming traditions and society-that progress is a healthy option for every society. I currently think that Rousseau might be the hero of the Enlightenment (an extremely flawed hero). There is enough balance to his look backward at Athens/Sparta as models (a pretty consistent staple of the "moderates") while at the same time pushing for a democratic impulse in current society. I also think a tempered secularism is something that must be fought for. In some sense Spinoza was on to something, but the problem is in trying to see how much he is the true inspiration for democratic-egalitarian movements. The other problem is in seeing our own concepts of liberty, freedom and equality today as it matches up with the Enlightenment. Does it really match up all that well or do we simply pick figures and thinkers we like and make them say what we want them to say?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Saying Adios to Borders

It was a sad day. I finally visited the Borders closing in Torrance and it was a mess. Everything was mostly gone, so I could not even buy anything. Of course I helped contribute to its closing to the extent that I bought most of my books at Amazon in the last two years.

Still, I can't help but think what my life would be like without Borders. At Borders, I bought my first books on Barth, Zizek, Dostoevsky, American history, etc.; these are all the books that have basically shaped my academic career and fostered my love of books (and at the same time ballooned my credit card debt). I will always cherish those days I walked the aisles on a Saturday evening deciding for hours on whether to but a book or not.

Of course there are other bookstores but I can't help feeling a little sad that the main place where my love of books, music and movies was fostered for so many years is actually gone.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Barth, Dewey and Hating Democracy....

As I contextualize Barth lately, I could not help but notice the period of his popularity (right after WW1) and the period of his decline (right after the 1950s) coincided with the same type of reception the American thinker John Dewey received. What is also amazing is that with the rise of postmodern thought in the late 1980s, both Barth and Dewey have been rediscovered. In some sense, both thinkers, in their radically different ways, tried to find a third way as opposed to some of the binary ways fostered in the Cold War or in traditional thought.

Rorty has brought me back to American thought especially to the tradition known as Pragmatism. In light of the 10 year anniversary of 09/11, I remember taking my first philosophy class at El Camino college and reading the work of Charles Peirce. I recall that I considered myself a pragmatist at this point of time because it just made a lot of sense to me.

Where pragmatism and Barth further coincide is in their epistemological doubts; in short, the idea that we must find an absolute true idea to call true knowledge as the primary concern for philosophical thought. Both Barth and the pragmatists doubt we can get to the place where we can be so comfortable with our understanding of knowledge. Instead, it is how this way of life dictates how we live that is important. It is to limit the scope to what us humans can really know but not in the way that denies hope to the actual choices in life's decisions.

For Barth, it is to say yes to life because God has said Yes to us in Christ; he insisted that democracy in an open way is the best way to live in the public world for both the public and the private spheres. For Dewey, democracy was important to foster both individual freedom and responsibility to others to make good decisions, which is why education was so important to him. I wonder have we lost some of that optimism toward democracy today? There seems to be loud voices coming from both the Left and Right who have given up on this idea or judge it as facile and naive. My question is what would you replace it with then? Most of these voices don't have a concrete answer, and I think perhaps never will. To give up on the democratic process is to give up on the public space itself. From my readings of history both Barth and Dewey, again radically different thinkers, would be disappointed if we took the doom and gloom prophets too seriously...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Poltics from all sides

I have been continuing my reading of Rorty and it has been a great pleasure. Again, the biggest benefit is to get me back in touch with American thought. My newest project is to study American pragmatism in Pierce, James and Dewey-which was concomitant with the growth of Barthian thought in Europe.

Rorty's conversational style is also a helpful way in exploring and teaching the Humanities. It ceases to prove some truth or simply gain cognitive knowledge but instead to form a way to live with a certain non-dogmatic approach to things. It is to see value in the great works simply in the way they inspire people; I would argue this is what keeps me reading my Bible because figures like St. Paul, King David and the prophet Jeremiah inspire me to live better toward God and others-even in learning from their mistakes.

For example, in his Achieving Our Country, he makes the point that dogmatism in politics gets nowhere; that real reform works from the top-down and from the bottom-up. In short, this goes against a theory like Marxism that focuses only on the poor (mythical proletariat) for the agency of hope or in elitism that says reforms only comes from the powerful/wealthy. In a democracy, in theory, it is the arduous, everyday work of all to iron out what is best for the greater society. I would then argue that Charles Dickens gets this point well; if you read his novels you see both corruption and virtue from both the rich and poor classes.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Wanting to Follow Rorty

I have never read a book or article by the American philosopher Richard Rorty. The primary reason for avoiding Rorty is because I usually read all things Continental. However, from discussions Rorty had with Gianni Vattimo over belief and truth, I decided to purchase a small book by Rorty (published posthumously from a lecture with excellent introductions and conclusions of the book) on Religion.

What I found from the book is that Rorty writes and thinks like an American. What do I mean by that? Well, because to summarize Rorty is to say he is a pragmatist, who believes the best society is utilitarian based on liberal democracy. In short, liberal democracy creates a "public" space for debate and discussion for the betterment of the greatest amount of happiness for the "we" of the nation. Utilitarianism (from the thought of Mill) is a philosophy that aims at the greatest happiness for the greatest number and American pragmatism (from Pierce, James and Dewey) is based on a thought process that states that one works with a way of life till a better one comes along. So it has an American flavor because it is pragmatic and democratic.

Rorty thus thinks all thought process that has truth or an all-encompassing, essentialist system as its goal as foolhardy. To create systems is to do violence to real life. Philosophy since Plato, according to Rorty, has failed because it seeks after eternal truth or in representing the true world than helping humans enjoy life better.

The American in me really likes Rorty because his thought is so easy to translate to American life. It is to say that democracy in its best egalitarian/pragmatic form is the best politics to push for a better way of life in things like education, health and security. It is to argue about everyday uses than simply about the big ideas we can never have a final answer. So Rorty is quite dismissive of those who try to do philosophy the classical way.

What about those that see Rorty's utilitarianism as denying rights to the minorities in the sense that it aims for the greatest happiness for the majority? Rorty would probably state that its not a perfect system but since its aim is practical and pragmatic, those who believe in the greater good will struggle to see that all are included into the "we" of the majority. That is why the public space is no place for religious dogma, for Rorty. Rorty, on the other hand, would argue that anyone can practice their religion in the private area, yet to argue the truth, for example, of belief versus non-belief in God is unpractical due to the fact that we do not have access to that kind of knowledge. Thus Vattimo's weak thought and Christianity as a deconstruction of metaphysics would be something Rorty would line up with. Again, it is to set up a situation where the goal is the betterment of human life and the monitoring of thought forms that would do violence to this happiness.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Safranski on Barth and Heidegger

A great, short but important summary quote about Barth and Heidegger from Safranski's biography on Heidegger: "Snatching life back from a false Beyond-this is now the most important task for Heidegger and Barth. Martin Heidegger tears life loose from God, Karl Barth tears God loose from life."

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Bear Necessities: Disney's Fox and the Hound and the Scapegoat.

I have been anticipating the release of Disney's Fox and the Hound on Blu Ray. Yes, you can make fun of me; however, it was a favorite of mine growing up. Nevertheless, I always had difficulty with one aspect of the film. What is intriguing about the film is the entrance of the bear. Tod, Copper and Amos Slade are at the apex of their rivalry when all of the sudden this gigantic bear emerges from the woods where Copper thinks Tod is hiding. How does the bear come into the narrative and what is his (or her) significance?

In the book, the bear causes the conflict between Copper (the Chief character in the film) and young Chief (the Copper character in the film)1. Apparently, the Master (the Amos Slade character in the film) goes bear hunting. When they chance upon a bear, Copper cannot act, while Chief attacks the bear. This creates a rivalry between Copper and Chief. However, when Chief dies chasing Tod (by a train like in the film) the Master and Copper turn their attention to Tod who does not have a relationship with Copper. Thus, Tod serves as a surrogate cause for Copper and the Master. The relentless pursuit of Tod takes the place of the initial cause of the bear. Therefore, Copper regains his esteem in the Master's eyes. Instead, the dog eventually pursues the fox until Tod dies from “exhaustion”2. Thus, the old fox simply dies and ends the conflict. The film, of course, changes this completely.

It is certain that Disney would not have such an ending for one of their films. Rather, the bear serves as a scapegoat which personifies the brute rage of the characters involved. Furthermore, all the characters turn their attention to the bear, which they all take turns wounding. Finally, the bear dies extinguishing the enmity between Todd, Slade and Copper. The film partially maintains the rivalry between Chief and Copper, yet alters the story to emphasize the relationship between Copper and Tod.

Tod, then goes against the grain by maintaining that his relationship with Copper is stronger than expected societal roles. Copper too is conflicted. Nevertheless, after Chief is injured while pursuing Tod Copper vows to kill the fox. Therefore, the film revolves around the love/hate relationship of these “natural” enemies. Catching Tod becomes the chief motive of the film.

The character of Tod is an interesting one. He is a wild/domesticated animal. He is like Copper in that he is a pet, but he is also by nature and outsider – one to be hunted. Therefore, his relationship with Copper appears unnatural. Even Big Mama the owl warns Tod about the eventually danger posed by this relationship. René Girard points out that “in the most closed cultures men believe they are free and open to the universal; their differential character makes them the narrowest cultural fields seem inexhaustible from within. Anything that comprises this illusion terrifies us and stirs up the immemorial tendency to persecution.”3 Therefore, someone whose existence calls into question what we deem to be normal and right becomes the object of derision; or as Michael Kirwan puts it: “[Human] beings are by nature mimetic scapegoaters.”4 Of course, this relationship causes the injury to Chief which brings about feud between Tod and Copper. This leads to the bear.

At this point, Tod becomes a scapegoat. Tod's difference/similarity causes him to become the object violence. Tod's entrance into the domestic realm reveals the hidden conflicts and violent tendencies beneath the surface of the society. Tod continually breaks the rules, which leads to his banishment. However, Slade's rage spurs him on to eliminate the intruder. Naturally, Disney could not kill Tod. Rather, a bear comes out of nowhere. The characters transfer their vitriol to the bear. Each character take turns wounding the bear. Tod selflessly saves Copper and Slade by leading the bear away. However, in blind rage the bear eventually does himself in as he and Tod plummet to the water below. Tod, then, emerges as a hero and all three characters are reconciled. This is evidenced by the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly.

During the film, the two birds Boomer and Dinky chase Squeaks the caterpillar relentlessly. In fact, their pursuit acts as a parody of Tod and Copper. However, at the end of the film the caterpillar becomes a butterfly ending the chase. The cycle of violence is over and all the characters enjoy a sense of peace. Even Slade and Widow Tweed are getting along. We are then left with a postcard ending with Copper fondly reminiscing about his friendship with Tod, while Tod stands on a hill overlooking the small farm town. All of this due to the intrusion of some poor bear who was at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Matthew Jimenez is currently studying Theology and Culture at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, CA.

1See for more details. The book is hard to find, so that Wikipedia gives some benefits.


3René Girard. The Scapegoat (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1989), p. 22.

4Michael Kirwan. Girard And Theology (New York: T & T Clark, 2009), p. 21.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Context or Transcendence?

I just finished a wonderful paper by fellow Fuller classmate Seth Gaiters on Barth and Cone. He pulls out a couple of real interesting quotes from Barth.

"Christianity exists in Germany and Switzerland and Africa, but there is no such thing as a German or Swiss or African Christianity. There is a church in England, but in the strict sense there is no Church of England."

"How much longer will it be possible in the United States and South Africa to ratify the social distinctions between whites and blacks by a corresponding division in the Church, instead of calling it in question in the social sphere by the contrary practice of the Church."

In one sense, Barth is emphasizing the Pauline line of the universality of the Church irrespective of race, sex or status. However, in doing this he may err in blurring the real differences there are between various expressions of "Christianities." Simply stated, what exactly is this universal paradigm of the Church that Barth desires? Would his interlocutors say it might be too Eurocentric (which incidentally in the quote he is trying to deny)?

Again, this goes back to my last couple of post regarding theology and history. The theologian will oftentimes strive to connect the theological tradition into one complete package whereas the historian will emphasize the particularities in each historical circumstance and say that any time of "universal" is to do violence to the actual, social-empirical phenomenon that we can witness.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Fall History classes and Theology Fail

One of the Fall classes I will be teaching is Historiography. So far I have a few books planned out and a number of essays/journal articles for the class ( a lot of new stuff so I am excited to try it out especially on reading Agamben). The aim of the class is to teach the writing of History and also to help the students prepare their own writing project by doing a historiographical survey.

I think I have been a historian by heart more than a theologian. One of the themes without a solid answer is the tension between concepts (metaphysical, philosophical or theological) and the historical context. Theology has at times rubbed me the wrong way because it seems to deal with a discussion in the clouds totally divorced from history. Now the other side of this coin is that if you go too forward with the historical context then the charge of relativism is leveled at the historicist. But it's that Nietzschean suspicion of concepts that I think are more than ever necessary as we try to work out or at least live within this tension.

On a side note, I just recently had a paper rejected that I wrote on Barth and Zizek on the human subject. This response reminded me of a similar one I had at community college when my essay was read in front of the class as an example of a crappy paper (this was especially enlightening after having my essays from a previous class published). Still, it taught me to write for an audience and to keep working on the craft. So the criticism boiled down to "this is a graduate paper, with all its promises and faults" because it ended up being more of a survey than a critical piece. What I might end up doing with this paper is to see Zizek as radicalizing a Barthian stance especially as I would classify both as part of the Hegelian tradition since Zizek has a pragmatic use for theology.

So one of the issues that I'm having I posted on last week: finding my critical voice. I think the historian in me likes to layout the scholarship but the theologian in me has a hard time saying were I stand in this landscape. For example, I am at the point of figuring out my thesis and the fact that I have to boil it down to its smallest point is a little daunting. I have themes and ideas I have written about in the last 3 years but to completely commit to something is a little scary especially because it has to be new to scholarship. The point is that it is time to put the cards on the table and move away from the somewhat facile comparisons and start to boldly say: "I claim."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Comps and then Figuring out my Thesis

Well, I have hit that moment where I really need to honestly think about what I am going to write about for my dissertation. For the preliminary stage it has centered on Karl Barth in conversation with_____________. Now the time for experimental or themed writings is over and now I have to really center on a subject and theme.

The easy part is that the paper in some shape or form is centered around Barth. What exactly can I bring that is new to Barth scholarship? Well, the plethora of themes that I have looked at in Barth are the following: history, humor, secularism, modernity, postmodernity, dialectic, the event, the other, ethics and politics (issues of violence and power are themes I still want to explore). The main conversation partner has been Zizek even though I have also tried my hand at Badiou, Deleuze, Derrida, Rose, Hegel and Ranciere.

So why have him in conversation with non-theologians? I believe that this type of conversation will take seriously the idea of Barth as a major public thinker of the twentieth century. I mean, nobody would blink if I thought of placing Wittgenstein, Kierkegaard or Heidegger in conversation with the above thinkers, yet it seems that no one really does that with Barth.

Two figures I really have not had the time to explore are Michel Foucault and Giorgio Agamben. Considering that my project is moving toward a more theological-historical method I may enlist one of these figures as the main interlocutor for Barth.

I really enjoy Zizek and since he has had his hand at theology for some time he might be a worthy subject. Badiou and his math make him a hard person for me to really grasp and since it was Zizek's reading in the first place that got me interested then I am putting him to the side for now. I have got a clear message from good people within the Deleuze field that a project putting Deleuze with Barth is near impossible, so he joins Badiou off to the side.

I think Ranciere has potential but again I am way too new to his thought to dedicate another two to three years in exploring his corpus. Derrida has promise just because it has been done so there is precedent but my whole initial idea was to do a similar postmodern reading of Barth but instead of Derrida pick some other thinker.

So I have the rest of the year to figure this out along with preparing for comps and Fall teaching classes. I guess I should plan out my Barth readings along with some Zizek and perhaps a little Agamben.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Paper Ideas for Upcoming Conference...Suggestions?

Well, the fact I'm finishing up Latin and German, moving, have a 6 month old baby, preparing my Fall lectures and comps this Fall does not discourage me from trying to submit a paper for the Faith/History conference this Fall at Pepperdine .

Still, with my time so taxed I am probably going to edit down one of my past seminar papers to submit. Past papers I presented at the Faith/History conferences were one on Barth and Derrida on the immigrant/neighbor, Said and Barth on being a historian and then one on Zizek on history (which by the way was the only one not accepted). I actually got the most feedback from audience questions on the Said paper probably because of his corpus revolving around the issues about the middle east.

So possible paper topics include:

1. Zizek on Haiti after the earthquake ( again, a paper not accepted for a journal entry but one I do not want to give up on but may instead elaborate); my plan is to see how he claims that Enlightenment modernity was fulfilled in movements like the Haitian Revolution but to challenge this Eurocentrism as if it is necessary or not...may bring in Fanon, Dabashi or some other thinker to discuss this point

2. Either just introducing Badiou as a reader of St. Paul as a model of the event, maybe comparing this reading with Barth or even comparing Barth and Badiou on the idea of the event in history or comparing them on their understanding of political movements...(again, I have done much seminar work on this stuff and maybe a paper presentation would be a good way to work my thought out further especially as I want to get my thesis presented in Winter 2012...

Any suggestions???

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Bianry of West vs Rest

In Dabashi's book, he targets a number of intellectuals and public figures for continuing the binary thought process of the West (Western Europe and the US) vs the Rest (basically the so-called Third World). One of the figures he targets is Oxford scholar Tariq Ramadan. He thinks that Ramadan (and Soroush) are fighting a lost battle by basically appealing for an audience from the modern West that is not listening now and for all intents and purposes does not exist. Ramadan's appeal to reform "Islam" in order to dialogue with the West is doomed for failure.

Instead Dabashi claims globalization has illustrated that the binary thinking of the West vs Rest is over. There is no real monolithic West as there is no monolithic Islam (in essence there never existed such things in the social-historical reality). Modern thought (as seen in Kant and others) brought forth Orientalism and thus colonialism. The response to colonialism is the Islamic nationalism of figures like Khomeini and Qutb. According to Dabashi, these narratives are ultimately oppressive.

Furthermore, a good point Dabashi makes is that for him Shiite thought is a powerful movement of critique against the powers as seen in the thought of Ali Shariati but when in power has the capacity to be as oppressive as other powers as seen especially with the Iranian Revolution (I think Christian theology has the same capacity as seen in history).

Where does Dabashi think we can move from this binary way of thinking? He believes that what is needed are more people movements (kind of like the multitudes of Negri/Hardt) to mobilize resistance against abusive powers. I think one of the key chapters which he closes the book with is when he compares the late global thought of a Malcolm X with other nationalist movements like Qutb. For Dabashi, Malcolm X went through many changes in thought until finally he became a more global thinker due to his pilgrimage surrounded by various peoples of color. Moreover, religion is a force that can provoke a way to a call for justice (see his references to Gustavo Gutierrez, for example), but can never be the transcendent power that tries to collapse the real, social-historical differences of the multitudes.

So, for a book I bought on a whim, it was really helpful to read a current thinker, arguing against various voices inside (like Ramadan) and outside (like Agamben) the Muslim world. I will still be working out his arguments about modernity and the secular for a while but it will probably start a trend in my reading to see the viewpoints of voices outside of the canon of the so-called West.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Carter on Race

Inspired by the folks at AUFS, I have started to read along with that blog J. Kameron Carter's book Race: A Theological Account this summer. It has been an interesting read so far (on the Kant chapter this moment) especially as I am also finishing up Dabashi's book, a book on Spinoza and Leibniz and plan to read a ton of Agamben as well.

One of the main issues below the surface of my summer reading is just how influential has the European presence and its use of Christian theology as a basis has been for both the beginning of modernity and now in the age of globalization? For my overall doctoral project, I have been paying more and more attention on how this connection shaped Barth both negatively and positively. Carter gets to this point somewhat a little later in the book when he looks at Cone's doctoral work on Barth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Hamid Dabashi on the Difference between Foucault/Zizek and Said

I am about half way done with Dabashi's book (which I will post on shortly). However, I also stumbled on his careful, critique of an abstract essay Zizek wrote about the Iranian uprising. I believe Dabshi is right in his critique of the way figures like Badiou and Zizek and many other Western thinkers will create abstract ideas divorced from the historical situation. The creative tension between solid historical/contextual work along with good philosophical/theological reasoning is a necessary must; err on one side too much and you become so contextual you have no standing to speak to a large audience and become too abstract and you speak in speculative generalities. Here is a great quote from his essay:

The problem with the European Left is that they care a little bit about just about everything, and yet there is nothing in particular about which they care deeply. This is very similar my old teacher Philip Rieff used to call “the Monroe Doctrine”—not the famous President James Monroe doctrine of warning Europeans to keep their hands off the Americas, but the little known Marilyn Monroe doctrine, named after the famous actress for having once said, “I believe in everything,”and then pausing for a moment before saucily adding, “a little bit.” The difference between European and colonial intellectuals is summed up in the difference between Sartre and Fanon, or between Foucault and Said. Sartre and Foucault cared widely about the entirety of the colonial and colonizing world, while Fanon and Said cared deeply about Algeria and Palestine, and from these two sites of contestation they extrapolated their politics and ethics of responsibility towards the rest of the world.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rose's "Frank" Autobiography

Just finished reading (my 1st Father's Day gift) Gillian Rose's autobiography Love's Work, which she wrote knowing that she would die from cancer. One of the benefits of reading this small book was just how frank and open Rose was about the frail ( and often physically sick) people she introduces us to in her narrative (many of the stories are based around tragedies of love).

Her philosophy which is centered in the middle place of the tensions within the world and its social place is where we see her situate herself in her own life. This is one of the reasons that she writes against ideas of transcendence that try to escape or explain the messiness of social relations from the outside (see Lloyd's book on Law and Transcendence where he uses her thought to critique such figures as Marion, Stout, Butler and Milbank among others). Her inspiration for her thought is Hegel who grounds thought in the "we" of thinking with all its failures and promises.

For the art of autobiography, Rose book is a testament to the fighting human spirit. It lays out the will to live and for a will to think (and to love). I love this autobiography because Rose seemed so willing to lay out the tensions in her closest relationships; it is to love through all the failures and betrayals. I think that by reading this more personal work, I will have better insight into the actual philosophy of Rose (which I here is a little tough reading).

So I highly recommend this book!!! By the way, I still hope before the end of summer to read her book on Hegel...

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Zizek as Critic of American Evangelicalism

I just finished David Fitch's book called the End of Evangelicalism. It was a fun read as most of the criticisms he has for Evangelicalism I totally agree with (there is much here that I have spoke to my brother about on many occasions). The novel part of the book is that he uses the early work of Zizek on ideology to critique the three main "Master signifiers" of American Evangelicalism: 1) inerrant Bible, 2) the decision for Christ, and 3) the Christian nation.

After using Zizek to illustrate that the three signifiers are often empty, he moves to reinterpret them in a more new, concrete and productive way. I think this section is hit and miss because his aim is a church polity and as mission (I guess there is a lot of literature on this mode of thought but it is somewhat new to me). In short, read the Bible Christologically via Barth/Balthasar (which I like) and that the decision leads to the community of the kingdom of God and not a powerfulvia Milbank, Yoder and N.T. Wright. So one of the main targets of the book is the individualism often seen in the Protestant world of evangelicals. This is a book written to evangelicals to try to rethink the roots of evangelicalism.

I guess I fall more in line with Barth theologically and Hegel (via Rose and Zizek) philosophically than to see the church as a separate space of living examples of Christ in an important way (the turn to ecclesiology is way to vague and sacramental for me). For me, I see it as a place for failures/triumphs and bumbling buffoons who sometimes have moments of inspiration from time to time. In short, churches are places where the tensions of society come into conflict with an ancient belief system that has shaped the social-political situation we live in. It is a continual dialectical game that deals with these tensions but never in a complete way (maybe that is why we can explain denominational breaks as an escape into holism or a yearning of a completeness that will never come). So witnessing Christ would be open about the tensions we live with.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Summer Reading

So here is my list of the major books I want to read for the next few months (mostly for interest, doctoral work or for Fall teaching classes); in light of taking two languages this summer, we will see if I get through any of these books (Rose and Agamben are the writers I want to focus on the most):

Love's Work and Hegel Contra Sociology by Gillian Rose

Law and Transcendence: On the Unfinished Project of Gillian Rose by Vincent Lloyd

The End of Evangelicalism by David Fitch

Islamic Liberation Theology by Hamid Dabashi

Tarrying With the Negative by Slavoj Zizek

Agamben and Theology by Colby Dickinson

State of Exception, The Signature of All Things: On Method and The Sacrament of Language by Giorgio Agamben

Giving an Account of Oneself by Judith Butler

Hegel: Theologian of the Spirit by G.F.W. Hegel

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Theology of FAIL

So I finally finished my paper. It was an interesting journey. I started out wanting to investigate the use of the idea of "power" in Barth's thought but ended up doing a Barth/Hegel comparison that took me to see the idea of "failure" in Barth's thought instead. Weird thing that research does to you.

The bottom line for my thought is failure can be sobering. Everyone should experience it from time to time. I think Barth becomes so Christocentric (more like Luther than Calvin) because he is more aware of human fallibility. Now this is often interpreted that he has no place for the church, sacraments or ethics, but that interpretation is just rubbish. My contention is that he emphasized action after the event of the revelation of Christ the Word, but it is action aware of both the triumphs and failures found in everything human. However, Barth makes the claim that is why grace comes first then command because God chooses to act through fallible, imperfect beings.

Where does Hegel fit in? Well, Hegel is all about emphasizing the inconsistency of human thought and action. However, this needs to be experienced by the human agent so he or she can learn through process and struggle. It is to learn in the "broken middle", as Gillian Rose has said, because there is a social aspect to knowledge and a trail of failures.

Where do I go from here? Well, part of the idea of failure is to perhaps link it to the idea of comedy or humor (like Judith Butler does with the Hegelian Spirit); it is a theme I started working on right off the bat of my doctoral program specifically looking at Zizek and Deleuze. It is a mode that is primed to deal with the contradictions and the inconsistencies that life throws at you, struggling through them, without resorting to either cynicism, which avoids conflict at an ironical distance (Zizek's pet peeve), or fascism, which tries to cover over the differences with a totalizing system; both cynicism and fascism cannot deal with failure or humor. In short, emphasizing the gap of human knowledge, about ourselves and other things, tries to prevent the systems of hubris that claim any type of absolute knowledge.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Time for Gillian Rose

The Hegelian, Jewish/Christian philosopher Gillian Rose is one of those interesting thinkers in critical theory in that everyone mentions how important she is as a challenging thinker, yet they also seem to notice how she has been somewhat ignored.

The fact that she had a deathbed conversion to Christianity may be part of the equation. The idea that Christian thinkers like Rowan Williams, Graham Ward, Robert Shanks and John Milbank all try to utilize her thought for their respective causes but ultimately leave something out is another issue. Perhaps her hard to understand writing style probably due to its Hegelian roots is another thing preventing popularizing; unlike Zizek, she does not read her Hegel through Kung Fu Panda.

Still, I think she is important for at least a couple of reasons (which is why I am going to be reading her Hegel book this summer while I fulfill language requirements for my doctoral program):

1. She tried to make Hegel important in opposition to post-structuralists readings before Zizek made this move sexy. I'll post more on how she did this after reading through her Hegel book, but what is important is that we get a glimpse of the non-totalizing Hegel here and also a Hegel who is joined by the hip with Kierkegaard. I remain convinced that modern Christian (and postmodern for that fact) have to struggle along with (not against) the two-headed monster of Hegel/Kierkegaard.

2. She struggles with the world of faith and reason. There is no private place to do philosophy/theology; it is for the public and toward a public Other. It is in the place of the "broken middle" where there is no easy synthesis or unreconciled dualisms. I like this middle because it forces us to insists that all ideals have a social and individual responsibility that does not try to sweep away the real conflicts of the real world away.

If you are interested in her then see Vincent Lloyd's site:
for his essays on Rose (he is a good guy!).

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

What does a non-totalizing Hegel look like?

Just to add what the non-totalizing Hegel sounds like, see how Clayton Crockett describes Hegel's dialectic:

"The Hegelian dialectic “works” by not working, by breaking down and exposing the gap that persists between reality and our ideals. It’s not that the dialectic gets reality to become our ideal; it’s that the dialectic shows how reality IS the irreducible gap within our ideals themselves."

"What the dialectic does is show us the split between what religion promises in an ideal way and what it can actually accomplish, as well as the gap between the actual state of political affairs and what the political is theoretically supposed to accomplish. This gap is internal to philosophy, to religion/theology, and to politics itself. And the Hegelian dialectic is the process that propels us to think about these problems in a complex, historical, contextual, abstract and concrete way. But we have to free ourselves from the modern progressive view that Hegelian Absolute Knowledge simply overcomes the Kantian antinomies AND the postmodern critique of Hegelian Absolute Knowledge as this devouring monster. We never escape the interrelated nexus of problems that we call philosophy, religion and politics, and we need to return to Hegel to understand this nexus, but we never return to Hegel in any simple or positivistic fashion."

My Barth's Ethics paper: Ethics of Failure

First, the probably most important discovery of the research of this paper is the work of the Jewish/Christian philosopher Gillian Rose. Planning to read her almost exclusively this summer starting with her Hegel book.

Anyway, below is the outline of my paper-in-progress:

Thesis: I claim there is a certain element of the Hegelian dialectic in Barth's thought as especially seen in his ethics.

First, cover the secondary literature criticizing the Hegelian/Barth method (Hoff essay especially).

Second, cover the work of those who see links between Hegel and Barth (Ward, Shanks)

Third, cover the secondary literature that emphasize Barth's dialectical ethics (Cough, Haddorff, Nimmo vs Biggar)

Fourth, critique Barth's reading of Hegel with the non-totalizing Hegel of Slavoj Zizek and Gillian Rose

Finally, dive into Barth's ethics that emphasize act but always beginning again at the beginning (no synthesis)-so then we have a non-totalizing Barth

Conclusion-Barth is like the new reading of Hegel that emphasize the fallibility of human acts and the failures of the acts forward but the point is the journey is the important part for the movement of truth. Grace institutes action that struggles through the contradictions of "this" world but also keeps itself open to new possibilities without falling into the dual trap of conservatism or relativism. However, ethical agents cannot afford to escape this middle, dialectical area of the ethical decision because one cannot simply rely on law but also cannot rely on solipsism. The event opens up the critical points for faith to challenge the law to make a better, new way for the social-political setting.

So I have really tried to latch on the idea of "failure" in Barth as a way to caution the ethical agent in the reality of following the command of God. I'm thinking this might be a good idea to then eventually look at the same idea in a Hegel, Kierkegaard, Zizek or Rose in the future. I think the idea of "failure" prevents both systematization and relativism.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

McKenny on Ward's Wrong Reading of Barth and Modernity

Here is a footnote on Ward from McKenny's book:

From Barth's perspective, to overcome the problems posed for Christian life and thought by modernity it is not sufficient to secure a place in modern discourses for Christian speech or for the existence of God—as it would be if secularism or atheism were the fundamental problem. Graham Ward thus misunderstands Barth when he seeks to claim the latter for his own project of recovering the ‘repressed other scene’ of modernity, that is, all that modernity in its quest for rationality, objectivity, impartiality, etc. sought to forget or ignore. In this vein Ward credits Barth with recognizing the mysterious as a countercurrent to the demystifying secularization of the Enlightenment and for taking the side of Hamann as a voice of orthodoxy and tradition against Kant and neologism (Graham Ward, ‘Barth, Modernity, and Postmodernity,’ in The Cambridge Companion to Karl Barth, ed. John Webster (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 274–95). But Barth says almost the direct opposite of what Ward attributes to him. He draws attention to the mysterious only to claim that it exhibits the very same self-assertion as does rationalism, and far from opposing Kant, Barth names the Königsberg philosopher along with Mozart as the two eighteenth-century figures who recognized the limits of human self-assertion (Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, 35 ff./18 ff., 73/53, 266–9/237–9). Ward is troubled by secularism; he therefore applauds the postmodern attention to the countercurrents of mystery and tradition. Barth was troubled by human self-assertion, that is, by the assimilation of all that is other to the self-enclosed totality of the subject. Suspecting that both secularism and its anti-rationalistic countercurrents are manifestations of the latter, he opposes them both.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Badcock on Barth and Hegel and the Event

Below is a quote from Gary Badcock's essay "Hegel, Lutheranism and Contemporary Theology" where he makes the point that for both Barth and Hegel God is known as Event.

One of Barth's key ideas, and one that has direct relevance to his rejection of Hegel's speculative logic, is that of God as "event," a concept developed in the most fascinating manner in what is without question the logical centre of Barth's theology, the Doctrine of God of the Church Dogmatics volume II. Barth's theology has been nowhere more influential than at this point. For Barth, the living God of the Bible must be understood in dynamic terms as having movement, life, and even decision in himself. There is nothing static, nothing metaphysically unchanging in God beyond God's own freedom, on the basis of which Barth can claim: "To its very deepest depths God's Godhood consists in the fact that it is an event...."

Barth's doctrine of God, however, rests upon a further qualification of this event, for the event in question has a very specific character, and indeed, it could be said that it even has a specific name: Jesus Christ. For Barth, God is in himself the event in which he chooses to be open to fellowship with humanity in Christ. Or, to put the same thing another way, God is the event of election in which he chooses from all eternity not to be who he is without humankind.

It is significant that in his essay on Hegel in Protestant Theology in the Nineteenth Century, Barth also characterises Hegel's philosophy as centred in the idea of God as event. According to Barth, in Hegel's philosophy:

... the key to everything ... [is] that reason, truth, concept, mind, God himself are understood as an event, and, moreover, only as an event. They cease to be what they are as soon as the event, in which they are what they are, is thought of as interrupted, as soon as a state is thought of in its place. Essentially reason and all its synonyms are life, movement, process. God is God only in his divine action, revelation, creation, reconciliation, redemption; as an absolute act, as actus purus. (398-399, PT)

Barth argues here that theology needs to learn from Hegel that God can only be known in truth as the living God, going so far as to argue on this basis that a Hegel renaissance might even be a good thing for theology (416-417, PT).

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ethics of the Event

Trying to put the finishing touches of my seminar paper with regards to Barth's ethical works specifically found in the Church Dogmatics. Here is how it is lining up:

First, following Graham Ward, I think we need a little Hegel to reinvigorate the turn to culture in a way that is open and hopeful. Here Hegel helps Barth along. This is in defense against Hoff's critique of the modern concept of God as the Self-Revealer found in Hegel, Barth which then leads into Zizek. Hoff sees this as un-biblical, but I see it as a plus (at least that is what I am going to try to argue). In short, economic Trinity over immanent.

Following a trend among contemporary interpreters of Barth's ethics (Nimmo, Clough, Haddorff), I am going to argue for a dialectical Barthian ethics based on traumatic events that interrupt the flows of life. This is not an ethic that comes from within but is external and provokes an "act" by the agent. Barth is at his best when he is dialectical, but following Zizek's Hegel, I am going to say this needs to be a dialectic without a synthesis (so at least from our standpoint there needs to be a certain sense of openness).

The basis of this ethics is found in the event of reconciliation; it is formed by the grace of the election in Christ. So grace comes first and forms the command of God that compels the freedom to be obedient (not to a static law). I am still working out this concluding point, but here I will use Zizek to warn and critique Barth's conception in the sense of preventing the commanding God of becoming a big Other (is this possible?).

I am also interested in contrasting Barth's idea of the event with Derrida's notion (maybe for a future paper). For Derrida, the event is undecidable and thus deferred indefinitely. Yet, Barth's and Zizek's use of dialectic compel them to make a decision to act in the here and now. In some sense, Barth and Zizek are indifferent to the pluralism that is out there because they are so particular. It is again a dialectic of the Yes/No that speaks from an identified position. So one must do theology as one does ethics, but like theology one must always begin from the beginning.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Equality of intelligence: Jacotot's teaching revolution

Working through another semester teaching World Civilization II courses has pushed me more and more to see pedagogy the way Jacotot and Ranciere see it. That since the struggles for emancipation that came out of the 18th-19th century, there is a key idea that equality is not something to be taught but that instead just exists. I would venture to say this is one of the best ideas behind the Reformation, even though it was practiced somewhat imperfectly by Luther and Calvin; that the openness to literature (in the case of the Reformation the Bible) meant the liberation of the reader ( I would say Augustine's On Christian Doctrine and Barth's "happy" theology lays out a similar proposal).

This then leads to the reciprocal idea of learning that moves back and forth between teacher and student, and I think opens up the instructor to the students leaning that some knowledge is better left alone because it is past use. It gets away from the idea that students are passive agents just waiting to be filled with knowledge by the teacher.

This is one of the main principles why I enjoy Zizek because he manages to use everyday examples from culture (Hitchcock films/Kung Fu Panda/Radiohead/Starbucks ads) and make them apply to theory (at least that is how I answer the question of why I pay attention to Zizek). For example, when discussing a topic from history, I find that if I can incorporate art/music/film in the lecture the students tend to be more engaged. Some might decry that this ruins the "purity" of learning, but I think that it opens up the actual messiness of trying to make sense of the world; this places the responsibility in our hands and not some all-knowing institution.

See Jacotot's Wikipedia profile below and read Ranciere's The Ignorant Schoolmaster for more details.

Joseph Jacotot

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Joseph (or Jean-Joseph) Jacotot (4 March 1770 - 30 July 1840) was a French teacher and educational philosopher, creator of the method of "intellectual emancipation." He was born at Dijon on the 4th of March 1770. He was educated at the university of Dijon, where in his nineteenth year he was made a professor of Latin, after which he studied law, became a lawyer, and at the same time devoted a large amount of his attention to mathematics. In 1788 he organized a federation of the youth of Dijon for the defence of the principles of the Revolution; and in 1792, with the rank of captain, he set out to take part in the campaign of Belgium, where he conducted himself with bravery and distinction. After filling the office of secretary of the commission d’organisation du mouvement des armées, in 1794 he became deputy of the director of the École Polytechnique. Upon the founding of the central schools at Dijon he was appointed to the chair of the "method" or instruction of science. There he made his first experiments in his "emancipatory" method of teaching. When the central schools were replaced by other educational institutions, Jacotot occupied the chairs of mathematics and of Roman law until the overthrow of the empire. In 1815 he was elected a representative to the chamber of deputies; but after the Second Restoration he found it necessary to quit his native land.

Having taken up his residence at Brussels, in 1818 Jacotot was nominated teacher of the French language at the University of Louvain, where he systematized the educational principles which he had already practised with success in France.

His emancipatory or panecastic (French: panécastique "everything in each" from Greek πᾶν and ἕκαστον) method was not only adopted in several institutions in Belgium, but also met with some approval in France, England, Germany, and Russia. It was based on three principles:

  1. all men have equal intelligence;
  2. every man has received from God the faculty of being able to instruct himself;
  3. everything is in everything.

Regarding the first principle, he maintained that it is only in the will to use their intelligence that men differ. His own process, depending on the third principle, was to give a student learning a language for the first time a short passage of a few lines, and to encourage the pupil to study first the words, then the letters, then the grammar, then the meaning, until a single paragraph became the occasion for learning an entire literature. After the revolution of 1830 Jacotot returned to France, and he died in Paris on 30 July 1840.

Jacotot described his system in Enseignement universel (universal education), langue maternelle (Louvain and Dijon, 1823)—which passed through several editions—and in various other works; and he also advocated his views in the Journal de l’êmancipation intellectuelle and elsewhere. For a complete list of his works and fuller details regarding his career, see Biographie de J. Jacotot, by Achille Guillard (Paris, 1860).

Jacotot's career and principles are also described by Jacques Rancière in The Ignorant Schoolmaster: Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation (Stanford University Press, 1991).

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (Eleventh ed.). Cambridge University Press.