Some sound advice from anthropologist/historian Jack Goody:
"We need always to be on our guard against the misrepresentation of others, whether of the Oriental other or of the other next door (or even the other in our own house). The total avoidance of misrepresentation may well be beyond our capacities. But that is no reason for withdrawing from the task, especially since the process of representing the other will continue, whatever we think or do about it. School children will be taught history and adults will make judgments about other cultures. It is surely our task in the Universities and elsewhere (or one of our tasks) to make certain those products and those judgments are the best that it is within our power to make: not to conclude, as some have done, that the way out is to throw up one's hands in despair or to take refuge in the indulgence of frankly fictional or personalized accounts. That may be a way out; it is no way forward."
On page 241, Rosenblatt, in her study Rousseau and Geneva, gives a couple of helpful definitions of republicanism and natural law theory.
Republicanism: "The republican tradition is based on the ideas of virtue and community and sees love of one's country and identification with the community as the essential conditions for a just political order.
Natural law theory: "The political doctrine of natural law is based on the notion of self-interest and sees the main role of the State as being the protection of private interests."
I am currently working my way through Helena Rosenblatt's study of Rousseau. I have previously read her essay on the Christian Enlightenment in my studies of the Religious Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Here is what I am learning from the book:
1. Rousseau's social-cultural context of growing up in eighteenth century Geneva is an understudied aspect of his life. Rosenblatt is following in the footsteps of Skinner and Pocock in emphasizing this context to understand Rousseau better.
2. The Geneva of Rousseau was one of economic and political turmoil. There were great changes since the time of Calvin's Geneva. Even the Reformed theologians preached a more pragmatic message to fit with the changing world. Moreover, a separation among an oligarchy and the bourgeois was developing, which directly impacted Rousseau's family. His upbringing brought him to admire the republican virtues of the Western classics over against the cultural admiration of everything French in Geneva.
3. Things changed for Rousseau when he became a man of letters in France. This middle period of his life before he wrote his greatest works was the time period when he hung out with the other French philisophes. He abandons his love of republicanism and Geneva.
4. Upon writing the First Discourse, Rousseau begins his turn back to being a "citizen of Geneva." This is also his turn toward sociological interpretation of humanity and his anti-philisophes writings. Many commentators like Jonathan Israel see a betrayal of Radical Enlightenment principles, yet perhaps it is better stated that Rousseau is trying to attempt a republican renaissance through classic virtues...
A brand new book is out that features the way theologians wrestled with joining the Enlightenment(s) and Christian theology. For Dorrien, Kant is the main thread to the story that covers both Schleiermacher's and Hegel's reaction to Kant along with the later reaction from Barth. If you want to really understand Barth's program, you must know Kant (and Hegel too)...
Dorrien is known for his work on social-theological ethics and a great book on Barth's theology, as well. The asking price for the book is over $100 bones, so I'm hoping to get a hold of a library copy soon.
Since my work has taken the turn to the historical, I thought that this would increase the amount of time it would take for me to finish this bloody dissertation thing. Instead I am about 55 pages completed with three other chapters on the horizon. Here is some of the progress of my work:
I have explored the work of recent theologians and philosophers for the last couple of years thinking about how this actually has helped my overall work. First, struggling with concepts is rewarding in and of itself, but what my reading of thinkers like Zizek, Agamben and others have taught me is that they are often leaning on older thinkers within the philosophical tradition. The main figures, who are obviously having an impact on theological thought today, are, for me, Hegel and Spinoza.
One of the things I have taken from both philosophers is that, one, labeling them in a particular school is hard and sometimes anachronistic, and, two, I found that it is better to see their historical impact and appreciate their contribution than to whine and complain about how they took things down a wrong turn or that they need to somehow be overcome. Their discussion of theological matters has had an important impact in all factors of human thought (see Jonathan Israel's majestic work if you think Spinoza is not important).
Again, exploring the history of this tradition (and yes, I think one can see a flow from Spinoza to Schleiermacher and Hegel) has moved the trajectory on how we have historically thought about God, among other things. One can judge the merits of this turn, but, as I just start to wrestle with this history, I must admit that I stand with a certain awe of the so-called Spinozian line and the way Hegel wrestled with post-Kantian thought. Hegel and Spinoza are very difficult thinkers that need real dedication to understand their ideas, but I have a feeling that the payoff is extremely rewarding.
Where does Barth fit in? Well, for some who follow the neo-orthodox argument he really does not, because he is anti-modern; but if Bruce McCormack's recent interpretation of modern theology is correct then it helps lead Barth to a more actualistic understanding of God, which is very modern because it is built around a terminology that came from both Spinoza and Hegel (and Kant). I think that my driving point here has been to articulate a thoroughly Protestant theology and to see an intellectual history that moves from the late seventeenth century into the twentieth century. However, even against a certain Barthianism, I want to follow a sort of German tradition that notes how much Barth inherited his ideas from the nineteenth century tradition he is so noted for taking on.
We know that along with all necessary humanizations of morality
there must remain in this human representation an inaccessible core
of the Prophets' God: "With whom will I compare thee, that is like
unto Thee?" In this eternal and not merely cosmological core of faith
in God, all Christians are Israelites.
I have been buried deep in historical works on the Enlightenment, paying close attention to the issue of religion and the eighteenth century (also issues of secularization). One aspect I will at least try to incorporate is the way the Enlightenment has been challenged in the last thirty years from the postmodern, postcolonial ans subaltern studies; from what I can tell, some of these works border the ahistorical and the imaginary. However, J. Kameron Carter's work Race does a good job in making the point that modern racism has its roots in supersessionism. Here is a key quote on his damning chapter on the Prussian philosopher:
For Kant, the teleological movement toward the perfect race—carried out by white ﬂesh and contrasted to the limitations of the black race—is not yet complete. Indeed, his project, I claim, from the great critical and moral philosophy, with its account of aesthetics and its teleology of culture, to his political and religious outlook, is an attempt to work out how Aufkla¨rung as humankind’s stepping out (Ausgang) of immaturity into maturity is the sociopolitical process by which the project of whiteness is to be completed as the project of reason. The reconstituted and enlightened body politic completes the task of the (perfect) ‘‘race-ing’’ of the body (90).
I finally decided to dive into Jonathan Israel's enormous work. He has written 3 large tomes numbering around 3,000 pages total on the Enlightenment. His major contribution to modern scholarship is to define the time period along its intellectual bearings. He classifies it by two categories: the moderate and the radical. The radical Enlightenment is the one he favors because it is more democratic and egalitarian and has its roots in the thought of Spinoza.
What I am really looking forward to with regards to his last of the trilogy, the Democratic Enlightenment, is his attempt in defining the Enlightenment itself in the first chapter. This is a serious, well-researched book that non-historians who think in the shadow of the Enlightenment should at least be aware of. The more we take the historians seriously when they produce massive works of erudition then the more we will not continue the silly, generalized statements about the Enlightenment.
Part of my dissertation preparation is to read as many books on the "theological" origins of modernity like the recent books by Michael Allen Gillespie and Joshua Mitchell. In other words, to look at books and essays that note how important religious issues were at the beginning of modernity until the present. Even the Enlightenment itself was a contest of competing religious options and not simply the triumph of science and rationality over superstition (even though it was probably the French that popularized this particular narrative).
I guess in some cases of popular wisdom, religion has ceased to be a major factor in the continual quest of Western societies quest for modernization. However, research has shown that the narrative that says religion will be passed by because of growing secularization is a myth.
Now the more and more I read about this issue, the more and more I come to the conclusion that 1) religion is here to stay because it is adaptable (much like many other things in society-see Giddens post on tradition) and 2) in many cases, the religious element has learned to correspond with the secular elements quite well. In short, it is a very complex relationship between the secular and religious forces.
The problem with books by theorists like Gillespie and others is the need to boil down this complexity to a single, overarching problem. He claims that it was the Nominalism of Ockham, later inherited by Luther, that led Western society into secularization. Now Gillespie joins a host of other thinkers (not typically historians, I might add) like Milbank and the RO, who lay blame for modernization at Nominalism.
A recent discussion with George Hunsinger led me to see this move toward the Nominalist bogeyman to be a traditionalist account of modernization. In other words, when one pulls out the Nominalist card it usually is a catchword for "Catholic" defense of religious traditionalism where the Church is still the controlling center of society (I detect even some of this in Protestant thinkers like Pannenberg). The fact that modernization and secularization has decreased religious influence in society is frowned upon by many of this group, but I think otherwise. There is still religious influence in society, sometimes it crosses over the church/state borders, but again, I think that is due to its complexity and in a democratic society with competing structures, it is up to its subjects to work the messiness out.
Finally, of course Nominalism had a part to play in the beginning of modernity, but I do not think it had the central part.
As I get closer to actually writing my dissertation, I have really tried to look at all the possible ways to analyze "my" actual methodology. Because of my experience in studying historiography, I have lately developed a sort of love affair with sociology. Mind you, this is not a "Christianized" sociology, much like I don't like to talk about a "Christianized" history. Since I will be teaching Historiography in the Fall, I will be dedicating much of my summer time to exploring important sociologist with regards to modernity.
A couple of sociologists I have warmed up to are Pierre Bourdieu and Anthony Giddens. What makes both of these figures special is that they fall somewhere in the middle with regards to the structure and agency argument. Being the Barth guy that I am, I believe that Barth is also somewhere in the middle of the two; one can see his late work on Christian witness as an effect in light of the Spirit's previous work in giving humans real agency but without losing the focus of our place in societies structures.
I have only read a little from Giddens; I have just purchased his Consequences of Modernity and just read his short book Runaway World. One thing that stood out to me is his important words about traditions and the Enlightenment:
"In my view, it is entirely rational to recognise that traditions are needed in society. We shouldn't accept the Enlightenment idea that the world should rid itself of tradition altogether. Traditions are needed, and will always persist, because they give continuity and form to life." (62-3)
The valuable point Giddens makes is that traditions will never cease to exist, yet, in the globalized world, traditions will find it difficult not to change, adapt and reinvent themselves in order to survive. In fact, tradtions have historically always adapted to their environment. One of the mistakes that the "secular" Enlightenment made were to make superstition and ignorance synonymous with tradition.
Seems like Zizek has read a little Barth (specifically from God Here and Now, which was one of the first books I read by Barth). From his most recent books, Zizek writes:
"With Christianity, it is the obverse-not "God proposes, man disposes," but rather, "God (first) disposes, (and then) man proposes." What this means is that, although the Event has already happened, its meaning is not decided in advance but is radically open. Karl Barth drew the consequences of this fact when he emphasized how the final revelation of God will be totally incommensurable with our expectations:
God is not hidden to us; He is revealed. But what and how we shall be in Christ, and what and how the World will be in Christ at the end of God's road, at the breaking in of redemption and completion, that is not revealed to us; that is hidden. Let us be honest: we do not know what we are saying when we speak of Jesus Christ's coming again in judgment, and of the resurrection of the dead, of eternal life and eternal death...continues long quote...see pages 45-6 of God Here and Now).
"Our incapacity, which is granted, to observe the past, is not a defect in history itself, but a deficiency which it is the precise purpose of history to overcome."
"History has been the central category of my philosophy, and the way we define our experience through narrative structures - through stories. The thing about stories is that we don't know how they are going to turn out, and how different the beginning is going to look to us when we see how it all ended. Philosophers mainly get hung up on the connection between consciousness and the brain, but my interest is in the historical structure of consciousness - how the consciousness of someone living in the thirteenth century has to have been different from the consciousness of someone living as we do in the twenty-first century."
"I wanted to cut through all ties with literary theory and why, without changing conceptually or theoretically, I preferred to replace the term narrative by representation. Representation is a neutral term. I think it also quite adequately describes what an historian does – he gives a representation of the past in the sense of making the past present again. That is why we need historical writing. A representation is not necessarily a narrative; you have the so called cross-sectional studies, the famous example being Jacob Burckhardt's Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien or Huizinga's The waning of the middle ages or Braudel's on the Mediterranean world. They do not tell a story, they do not give us a narrative with a certain beginning, middle and end, but they are historical works representing the past."
"This is why the epistemological situation in which you find yourself when having to do with truth no longer exist when it comes to representation. You cannot say of representations that they are true. What you can say is that one representation is in a certain sense better than another and it is the task of the philosophy of history to clarify how one can be better in one way or another. And that is what I try to do with the notion of metaphor."
"Historians are swamped by historical truths – and this is how it ought to be. The more truths we have about the past, the better the historian's representations of the past may become."
After taking my Comprehensive exams on Barth's theology I tried to summarize in my mind where we are at after the McCormack's thesis on election (see earlier posts for what I am talking about):
1. Barth was inconsistent with regards to both election and the Trinity. In short, he is sometimes very close to McCormack's reading and other times he is with Hunsinger and company. Therefore, the context of what Barth "actually" believed is not a steady foundation. You can proof text to make him fall into either positions. I think one should strive for authorial intent but at this point this does not rule which theory is more viable.
2. Barth's inconsistency deals with the nature of revelation and his constantly beginning again at the beginning. The self-critical technique places Barth in a position where he is consistently working through and reworking ideas, which it is dangerous to simply proof text him. Thus, this leads to points where he emphasizes the historicity of Christ and the humanity of God and other places he zones in on the freedom of God.
3. McCormack has made the point that Barth's view of election was his most important contribution to the realm of 20th century thought (not just theological), yet he also thinks it is underdeveloped; McCormack also acknowledges that Barth did not go further with this idea than he should have so he even sees his own project as somewhat original and creative ( a point his detractors sometimes do not respect).
He could not be more right! I think Barth was pioneering with this idea and is consistent with his anti-idolatry, anti-metaphysical tendencies. In what sense? It frees us to think of God as God-in-relation with humanity (and the cosmos-ie Moltmann), so that one is not constantly trying to develop a theology of history that is different than what is revealed. In short, it tries to curb the power of speculation between God's being and God's acts. In other words, McCormack is playing to the somewhat Hegelian tendencies of the later Barth.
One of Hegel's points was how can one even talk about God if there is no interaction with humanity? I think Hegel's question is even compelling to some of Barth's defense of the detached, transcendent (yet free) God. If Barth (even unwittingly) teaches us something, it is to stop with the escape into the speculative, foundational metaphysics and to deal with the way the revealed religions contribute to our understanding of what God has revealed and how we live in light of this revelation.
It is an interesting thing to look back on why I decided to get involved in academics. One of the motivating factors was that I was an avid reader of all types of evangelical Calvinism (Piper, Sproul, the Puritans featured in the Banner of Truth, some Augustine and of course Calvin himself), and I wanted to become a theologian to understand the Reformation better because of course the main problem in the world today is that there is a fight against the Reformation's view of justification by faith (ALONE)!
I tried to be a strong evangelical Calvinist for about a year or so (I remember famously getting in an argument with my mom and her "Wesleyian, Semi-Pelagian tenedencies"-c'mon, who talks like that!-over the issue of predestination and free will; there is a certain condescending attitude that sets in when you are one of the elect). However, the fact that I studied history and enjoyed studying philosophy on the side "reformed" my theology to be less Calvinist (even though I have learned to appreciate Calvin, but the people who helped in this transition were Barth and Bonhoeffer).
One of the main issues had to do with the way evangelical Calvinists will almost robot-like claim that God was behind everything even events like genocide and murder (I guess tornadoes was the last event). But they are consistent in the extent that God has to be sovereign over all things especially in the salvation of the elect; adding any foreign elements of goodness apart from God would mess up their formula (because humans are sinful to the core), so that leads them to make God completely in charge of salvation and also of damnation.
When it comes down to the issue of predestination and free will or the elect and non-elect I have gotten to the point of saying that I really don't care about this issue. It has WASTED a lot of pens and paper and probably many an evangelical will argue some more over the Calvinist versus Arminius views. However, rumor has it that many evangelical Calvinists are trying to draw the line in the sand that states they are the only "true" evangelicals. Well, have at it...
If God is not a saving God and the gospel is not a good news for all humanity then I don't want to hear it (God is also holy and just and judges sin but, for me, not before the dawn of human time). I would honestly rather side with Voltaire than with a Calvinist because at least Voltaire had the good moral sense to see disaster in the world as a bad thing and not try to rationalize how something like the Holocaust or child abuse could be somehow used to God's glory. I just think it is about time for more evangelicals (or people in general) to call out this type of rationalizing. It honestly does not help anyone.
One of the Comprehensive exams I am studying for has to do with the Eighteenth Century Enlightenment. The guiding thread of my studies is that religion (and even somewhat orthodox Christianity) was crucial in moving society into a place of toleration for religious dissent. England is the paradigm for such changes (even though the genesis of much of these ideas flow from the interaction of exiles in the Dutch Republic (the place Spinoza hung out).
According to David Sorkin in his excellent recent book The Religious Enlightenment, the movement for toleration was lost to the French especially because dissension was stamped out by the union of monarchy-nobility-Catholic clergy. Therefore, when the Revolution happened in France, the moderate Christian voices were a minority between those clergy loyal to a papal monarchy and the old order and the followers of the philosophes, who distrusted religious beliefs in general. So when the Jacobins took control in about 1793 and the Terror was unleashed (not to mention de-Christianization) many of the moderate voices were lost. After Napoleon was defeated, the reaction toward the French Revolution and the Enlightenment was one of distrust especially in moderate to conservative religious circles.
A popular argument is that the English "Bloodless" Revolution is the paradigm because it is somehow framed as God-based whereas the French Revolution with the Terror is secular and thus violent to its core. This analysis is a little shaky for at least two reasons. One, nobody can question that the Terror was out of control but one can understand after centuries of feudal abuse, in addition to internal fighting in France and external invasion, why it happened the way it did.
Second, to proclaim that the English Revolution was bloodless is simply ridiculous. The "true" Revolution actually happened alongside the Civil War in the 1640s and the rise of Cromwell's army. Nobody would call this fight bloodless (especially when one weighs in on the suppression of the Irish). The Revolution by William/Mary at 1688 was more of a clean-up operation to remove another Catholic king, James II.
One person that I never thought of seeing in the light of these times is John Bunyan (1628-88) author of the Pilgrim's Progress (historians Christopher Hill and Richard Greaves make this point). Bunyan was a soldier during the war and was upset when the Puritans brought back the monarchy in 1660 with the Restoration of Charles II. He was a "people's pastor" who had friends among other dissenting groups. Bunyan himself as a Baptist was also a dissenter and spent 12 years in prison for his beliefs that he had a right and freedom to preach the gospel. One idea from this is to raise the point that here is an orthodox Christian thinker willing to spend time in prison for an Enlightened opinion; his works should then be read for the social-political, and yes, religious implications they had.
All this is to make the point that the Civil War was extremely bloody (but what revolutionary moment isn't) but it was acted out because of political/religious issues. Those issues continued to be debated and fought for by dissenters like Bunyan and John Locke even after the Glorious Revolution in 1688. In short, the Enlightenment in England like France has its foundation in blood and tears but that is sometimes the price society pays for the freedom of conscience.
If I had to define the method that I am most comfortable with, I would probably place myself within the Intellectual History tradition. This tradition has come under fire for being too philosophical or not contextual enough, but I think it has much to offer multiple disciplines. The author I will be leaning on for help to describe this method is Dominick LaCapra. LaCapra is famous for his work on Intellectual History and his work on the Holocaust; some of the questions he raises is on how historians can show empathy for their subjects like in a topic as grave as the Holocaust. Much of the information below is found in Elizabeth Clark's book History, Theory, Text.
LaCapra describes Intellectual History as "a history of the situated uses of language constitutive of significant texts." He criticizes a documentary historiographical approach (this includes both social and economic historians) to texts as positivism; he notes that historical documents are never simply just "there" to read. His point is to ask what do these text really do. Oftentimes the move is to read everything per context or authorial intention and thus the text takes a backseat to the context. However, context itself is something that also needs interpretation. Another factor to take into consideration are those traces in a text of what is actually left unsaid. LaCapra therefore focuses on the place where contexts and texts come into relation with each other. Clark notes that what is so helpful about LaCapra's method is that his concern for language does not compromise the importance of good research practices. Therefore, better reading methods with regards to a more nuanced reading of the context/text and the way the historian actually reads them combined with typical research methods of archival work, and attention to primary and secondary works is the method that seems to form here.
"If it is truly the case that the reality and truth of God's revelation is comprehensive and self-contained in all respects, then it must also be the case that this revelation brings its own historical location, its own reality in space and time. Note that the revelation establishes its location as a historical location, its reality as an earthly reality. There is nothing ghostly or ethereal about the revelation. History becomes an authentic predicate of revelation. But the revelation brings its own history, seeking to be historically real and effective for us. This is what Karl Barth calls election." See Karl Barth: A Theological Legacy, pg 129
Now we come to the subject on why McCormack thinks Barth is orthodox. First, I should add that McCormack's view does not fit under the stereotypical view of some kind of neo-orthodoxy to describe Barth's position.
Instead Barth is positioned as a child of the Protestant Reformation (specifically the Reformed position). That means that Scripture is authoritative for him and the creeds and church confessions are helpful guides to understanding theology not as universally binding. However, our understanding of Scripture is not fixed and so we must continually go to the Bible to be challenged theologically by it. McCormack writes: "Orthodoxy is not therefore a static, fixed reality; it is a body of teachings which have arisen out of, and belong to, a history which is as yet incomplete and constantly in need of reevaluation." As McCormack also points out, this understanding of dogma is eschatological.
All in all, Barth is a theologian who struggled to understand the Orthodox-Reformed tradition in the modern era. Unlike some of his contemporaries who abandoned the classical Christian tradition, Barth attempted to read it again in the present; by doing this he taught us a method as we try to understand the Christian tradition anew.
As I begin work on my Comprehensive Exams, one of the main figures under review is the work of Princeton's Barthian scholar Bruce McCormack. His work has been crucial in my own understanding of Barth's theology. One of the main things I am studying is the historiography of Barth's interpreters.
One term McCormack challenges about Barth's interpretation is the label "neo-orthodox". This term seems to be the one given to Barth and other diverse thinkers like Tillich, Bultmann and Bonhoeffer by North American readers trying to place these figures somewhere between conservative (or orthodox) and liberal (or modern) theology. What this term does not take into account is that Barth's theology is "working under the conditions of modernity" or that his is a "variant" within the framework of modernity. For example, McCormack makes the point that many take it for granted that Barth works with a Kantian epistemology and a Hegelian ontology (while adding his own theological spin).
Modernity, for McCormack, is the time period in Western society when a "historical consciousness" was on the rise. This went along with Kant's critique of pure reason and its limits and the eventual rise of the romantic movement. What this means is that the turn to history and the social-cultural setting as context meant the rejection or at least the suspicion of classical metaphysics (including Christian ones). This is meant to include the reasons for natural theology.
From as early as Barth's Romans, Barth's actualistic understanding of revelation (dialectic of unveiling/veiling) and then ontology followed a Kantian framework (based, for example, on the neo-Kantianism of the early 20th century from thinkers like Hermann Cohen). Barth's actualism moved him to historicize the being-act of God in his doctrine of election. McCormack writes that "God's eternal election of himself to be God 'for us' in Jesus Christ is an act in which God constitutes his being as a being for historical existence." Here Barth is close to Hegel except that "this act of Self-determination was a free act on the part of God, not a necessary one."
What McCormack illustrates is that Barth worked under a modern framework with his basis in history, ontology and rejection of classical metaphysics. Even when he wrote against Schleiermacher, Kant and Hegel it was on the level of modern concepts and not a total postmodern rejection. I am finding that the more I understand the 19th century thinkers the more I understand Barth. As Barth warned in his later thought, even though he once said No to the19th century, one needs to understand what went awry and not be totally dismissive as seen in some conservative or postmodern readings. I think one of the real weaknesses of American theology is the utter lack of comprehension of modern thought especially in Kant, Hegel, and Schelling (which is why Zizek is important in his rehabilitation of them). Some attempt to make the jump to the postmodern not knowing what the postmodern thinkers are even contending against.
One of my goals in life is to write a historiography book based on this reading of Barth which includes a substantial input from the German idealists, some German-Jewish thinkers of the late 19th century and Zizek.
In the next part I will deal with McCormack's definition of the "Orthodox".