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).