Monday, January 31, 2011

A short message by Tariq Ramadan on Tunisia and Egypt

I have to admit being glued to my T.V. for a bit Saturday night watching events unfold in Egypt; stuff like this does not happen everyday. I'm totally out of my element in understanding the social-political situation of Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, but I have to say I see forms of Orientalism (see earlier posts on Edward Said) in some of the news broadcasts. This impression I get is that there seems to be this underlying fear that since we are predominantly talking about Muslim/Arab people here they don't have a shot in hell to do this thing democratically. Let us just wait to see how this all turns out.

Muslim theologian Tariq Ramadan gives some words about the hope for a democratic process in Tunisia and Egypt; I have read some of his works to get an idea of a Muslim thinker on modernity and concepts like human rights, democracy, etc that came out of it. His whole take on it is that Muslims can live peaceably in Western society just like Christians have been able to. In fact, his overall point is that most everyday Muslims who live in England, the U.S., etc. already do live in such a way:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Part Dos: Not Guilty! Reading Job in Prison

One of the most poignant comments from the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer as he contemplated life in a Nazi prison for being an accomplice to an assassination plot to kill Hitler is when he says that he loves the Psalms; he read them daily. In addition, more importantly, he also notes that he read Job and that it obviously touched him deeply considering his present condition.

The idea of reading a Psalm a day as a devotional is something I have heard all my life. There are a plethora of commentaries and devotionals written to do such a thing. There is even an addition of the New Testament that charitably includes the Psalms in the back right behind Revelation (because everyone knows that's all a Christian really needs-FAIL).

I honestly think that Christians might be better served reading a daily dose of Job. A number of thinkers have brought out how crucial this book is. I will be looking for the next week on a number of interpretations on Job that I think will help us with our understanding of guilt.

One book I just started is Negri's book The Labor of Job. Like Bonhoeffer, Negri turned to Job as he spent years in an Italian prison for being a subversive toward the Italian government. In that situation, he writes about how Job helped him reformulate his own positions in life. Moreover, like Bonhoeffer, Negri found in a Job a model for someone who is condemned as guilty by his peers even though he stands by his innocence. In fact, he aggressively proclaims his innocence toward his theologian friends and even in the presence of God just like Bonhoeffer and Negri did against the powers that be.

Perhaps the Psalms are not that far away from Job in that there are a number of Psalms where the Psalmists cries out to God for protection against both verbal and physical violence especially because he speaks from a position of innocence. Did not St. Paul say if God is for us, who can be against us? That we no longer have an accuser because we have an advocate with Christ? I think these words of course ring true about our reconciliation with God in Christ but I would also say that when we are unjustly accused in any facet of life we have the freedom like Job, Bonhoeffer and Negri to say we are innocent!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Quick thought on Parousia

Just read this direct quote from the Wikepedia article on Deconstruction/Christianity/ Jean Luc Nancy: "For Nancy, because Christ is central to the formation of value and meaning in Christianity; because parousia is an announcement of a Christ to come; and because the promised return of Christ involves the return of a person who lived in the past, then Christianity as a framework of thought supports the notion that 'traces' of the non-present (i.e. past and future) are constitutive of the present."

I wonder how and if this connects with Karl Barth's threefold understanding of the parousia? The fact that the Resurrected (1st parousia) and the Glorified (3rd parousia) is radically with us through the Spirit after Pentecost (2nd parousia). Both non-present traces are crucial in our present understanding of Christ. You cannot understand the parousia without all three.

I have been debating on whether or not to engage Nancy. I have a couple of recent edited books on political thinking that he contributes; I guess after those I can decide on whether or not to read some of his other philosophy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Part Uno: Really Guilty?

If there is one thing that Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation teaches us (somewhat imperfectly) is that guilt can be a debilitating thing. The story goes that the young Luther never felt that he did enough good things to please a holy God. He was annoying about his habitual confession of his unworthiness to please the stern, holy God. He famously remarked on how could he love this type of God, in fact he hated him! Finally he was pointed toward the reading of the Bible. Upon reading St. Paul, Luther discovered that he no longer should feel guilty about past, present or future sins because of the freedom brought by God's grace in Christ. Finally no guilt!
Or is there no guilt? Is this freedom or are we even more bound to Christ? In short, did Luther miss the point? The point is if Christ paid for all our sins are we now even more his prisoners?
There are at least two ways to go from here. On the one hand, some will then impose a number of ethical/moral commands to follow to be so-called good servants of Christ. This usually consists of scavenging the Bible to set up some type of moral norm. Many call some forms of this legalism because it tries to make certain things universally binding on everyone because its source is the Bible. The guilty are those that do not follow this ethical norm. I think this view betrays a "yes, I'm free from sin by God's grace, but..." because something is always attached to the "but". This crew is often uber-anti-Catholic and prides itself over its grace-based salvation (not works based), even though they honestly spend most of their time complaining about the lack of people following the legalistic code.
On the other hand, a few will say that yes we are in fact free, really free. That the biggest obstacle has been removed: the identity of a stern, holy Other that watches our every move has been shown to be a scam. Now we have the incarnated God-Man of grace and his presence among us by his Spirit. I think we constantly do not take the freedom that Christ gives us seriously so instead because of our own internal or communal guilt we reestablish a stern Other to keep us in the cycle of law-sin-guilt. Instead, when we look to do the good, we only have to look as far as our fellow human being. Our guilt should come when we actually fail to live a life that avoids some sort of violence (objective or subjective) toward a brother or sister. The laws or codes within the Bible (especially per St. Paul) are ways to enact a healthy discipline among the brethren.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Theory Matters! Joke on Study time

Paul Taylor, a Žižek interpreter, mentions that in our day of action, action, action what we really need is some good old fashioned theory to really figure out the mess we are in. This idea is best displayed in "an old Soviet joke, Marx, Engels, and Lenin are all asked whether they would prefer a mistress or a wife. Marx says a wife, Engels a mistress, whilst to everyone's surprise Lenin says he would choose both explaining: "So that I can tell my wife that I am going to my mistress, and my mistress that I have to be with my wife..." so that Lenin could then “go to a solitary place to learn, learn and learn!"

See interview of Paul Taylor's book on Žižek and the Media here:

Or if you are interested in the book:

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Expert knowledge

Having my first child is an indescribable joy. Something that came with it is all the "knowledge dropping" by friends, family and co-workers about the health of the baby. When one is new to something he or she would be foolish not to listen to people who have gone through a similar experience. Still, some of the advice has been a little weird, but I have been also surprised at what actually worked...

This reminds me of the current state of "expert" panels one might see on T.V. whether the subject is fashion, politics, science or sports. Oftentimes philosophical thinkers will be asked to comment about the current issues of the day. Jacques Ranciere asserts that knowledge is open to everyone and that the commonness of things challenges any expert opinion. This is not to say that some people are not better informed; it is that some have better access to this knowledge. The internet is one of the things that allows knowledge to be at one's fingertips that bypasses the so-called expert. In other words, he is pushing for a democracy of knowledge.

On another note, Zizek for one says this is not philosophy. Philosophy serves the world best when it re-frames questions and asks new ones in a different way. When it comes to questions about sports, one should ask an athlete. When it comes to questions about science, get the picture. He uses the hypothetical example of a meteor heading toward the earth. Zizek claims a philosopher is basically useless at this point; one needs a real scientist to deal with this threat (the answer being send up Bruce Willis and his drilling pals to destroy the meteor of course)! In one sense, what Zizek is laying out is that human knowledge is only as deep as you put the work into it. The typical, fly by night "expert" knowledge that currently runs across the airwaves does not help anyone perhaps because of its lack of depth. Belief behind the opinions (of both the experts and the listeners/viewers) are often what controls the knowledge we come across anyway.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Kind of like this one....

One of my favorite scenes from the Tim Burton Batman was the scene where the Joker (Jack Nicholson) and his goons trash some great pieces of art. However, when one of his goons tries to knife the picture above (Figure with Meat by Francis Bacon) the Joker stops him and says: "I kind of like this one, Bob. Leave it."

The fact that the Joker likes Bacon and wants it left alone illustrates just how screwed up or warped Bacon's art is perceived. I think this is one of the reasons French philosopher Gilles Deleuze turns to Bacon's work; it serves as a good testing ground for how we may perceive things. Deleuze was ahead of his time in picking subjects outside of the typical canon to analyze. I'm currently reading another intro to Deleuze at this time and plan to jump into his book on Bacon next week.

One of my goals as an adjunct history professor is to also pull from the works of literature, art, cinema and music as ways to understand history rather than simply looking at the typical, great, so-called human events. There are more forces and factors that determine what we humans experience. Art is one of the best ways to see this fact more clearly.

See this link for the Joker scene:

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Getting History Right?

Some may find it surprising to read Barth's short essay on history in his Protestant Theology and find him to be so charitable. In it he cautions those who mishandle history in two different ways. The first are those who find only problems in history, and the second are those who lift up the historical on a pedestal. In short, it is to be guilty of either presentantism or traditionalism. Instead, Barth advocates an openness toward history (and specifically the texts of the past) because one may discover something new in it. This may even lead to looking at a so-called heretic anew.

Barth's thought led me to ask what do we really want with the works of the past (both its events and texts)? Do we section off parts of it to fit within the time line of our liking? Do we dismiss it as irrelevant to the concerns of the present and the future? Are we trapped by it because it is the cause behind the effects we see all around us?

There is certainly a narrative aspect about it. When I put together lecture notes I inevitably choose some events and persons apart from others (time only permits such a choice). From Deleuze I have learned that History can be stifiling when it becomes an "official" all-encompassing story, so I am okay with the conscious decision that I am creating something out of the raw data of facts that have happened in the past. This is not making stuff up, but instead trying to be creative with the historical stuff that is there. Perhaps a more open and creative attitude toward history can help avoid the useless debate over telling history as it "really was" versus the idea that there is no such thing as history but only stories/fictions.

I think one of the best examples of this is the use of film for telling historical events. It sometimes connects the audience to history in a better way than a dense textbook even though the director may not have dotted all his i's and crossed his t's when it came to historical accuracy. Frankly, who cares! A good film may push someone to then read a good book.