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.