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#41 Fred K

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 09:29 PM


Some excellent points have been brought out in this discussion... so here's a bit more for the mix.

The basis of any dialogue is our common human need. Religion, politics, human sciences, etc, may all propose solutions to these human needs, and I can certainly accept that adherents are sincere in their beliefs, but if different religions claim to solve the same human need, then it makes sense that some would do this better than others.


But that is pure Weber, and I am not sure how far to go with that.

I never read Weber, so please explain how you're reading me. Would you say that religion has nothing to do with human needs?

Edited by Fred K, 14 April 2010 - 09:31 PM.


#42 Fred K

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Posted 14 April 2010 - 10:43 PM

Having reviewed Wikipedia: "Sociology of Religion", I see that Max Weber did propose a human need for theodicy and for soteriology, and that these needs become especially acute in Calvinism insofar as God is seen as utterly beyond human understanding. Instead, The need I'm referring to is more fundamental, a wonder in the face of what is and a sadness which Thomas Aquinas characterized as 'the desire for an absent good.'

#43 stu

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 08:14 AM

I just reviewed the post I wrote last night, and it is stupidly long. So here is the same question, condensed somewhat:

Isn't this all a bit irrelevant, though? We tend to think that the following two questions are the same questions:

1. What is the relationship between the truth claims of Christianity and the truth claims of other religions?

2. What is the relationship between Christianity and other religions?

These are not the same questions. They are incredibly different questions. And they are both important questions, though the former is significantly more important than the latter.


As I see it, the division of the problem into two distint areas - one concerned with the relationship between abstract 'claims' made by human beings, the other concerned with the 'actual' relationship between human beings or groups - already relies on a particular understanding of truth, in which truths are somewhat separate from the lives of the human beings who believe them.

I would rather say that really, there is just one question, the question of how peace is possible, and we can for convenience abstract one or another particular moment of this problem out, treating intellectual events as 'truth claims' at one moment, or treating beliefs as if there were simply 'sociological events' at another.

Does that make sense?

Edited by stu, 15 April 2010 - 08:19 AM.


#44 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 08:24 AM

My head is spinning.

#45 M. Leary

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 09:25 AM

Does that make sense?


Yeah, it makes sense. That second question is the fundamental question asked in any religious studies classroom. (You could swap out "Christianity" for any other organized religion.) I think you are right to say that as people who believe something very specific and exclusive about the death and resurrection of Jesus, we should not capitulate to the shell game that happens in academic religious studies, wherein all truth claims collapse into pleas for tolerance or whatever. That is a fraudulent peace.

When we flip back into the context of doing theology, I often notice that when people are trying to be progressive (or even reacting to something progressive), one of these two questions gets overemphasized.

So this:

"the model we have for how we, as Christians, should relate practically to people of other faiths must have some correlation to how we imagine the interaction of 'truth claims', because in the Christian story - as I am coming to read it - truth emerges through the negotiating of difficult change in relationship between groups."

Is a good place to start in context of doing theology. I think that this process of negotiation you refer to is not far off from the hospitality I referred to above.* But I am curious, which specific Christian truth claims emerge from processes of negotiation?

#46 SDG

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 09:29 AM

But I am curious, which specific Christian truth claims emerge from processes of negotiation?

Hm. Niceo-Constantinopolitan Christology could be said to have emerged, if not necessarily from negotiation, at least amid dialectic between Nestorian and Monophysite views.

#47 stu

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 10:13 AM

Is a good place to start in context of doing theology. I think that this process of negotiation you refer to is not far off from the hospitality I referred to above.* But I am curious, which specific Christian truth claims emerge from processes of negotiation?


Well, I am thinking primarily of Paul's realisation that the heretics he had been persecuting were in some way allied with messiah, and the way in which the New Testament is formed in part through having to deal with the interaction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.

But I suppose more philosophically I'm thinking of the Girardian point that truth always comes from the victim, who can see the truth of the group one is part of, having suffered from its violence. Reading James Alison's work has really influenced me in this regard, especially the essay 'Theology amidst the dust and stones'. Alison would also say that the emergence of monotheism is best understood as a crisis in group identity, not simply as a sort of gradual realisation that this is the most philosophical viable route (which is how I think we are most likely to see it in retrospect). He wants to say that any revelation always occurs through, and as part of, some change in one's sense of belonging. Perhaps, putting a spin on Bonhoeffer, this means that there is a cheap and a costly relativism, and that Christian truth comes through the latter, as embodied by Peter being willing to countenence the words "kill and eat".

But to return to the point about the separation of the two questions...

Another way of trying to express my point would be to frame it in terms of the question 'what is really happening?'

So, two people are having an argument, say, if they're Christians about biblical inspiration. It's a heated argument, there's the beginnings of real resentment, frustration, aggression, defensiveness, etc. What is happening? What kind of description best describes the reality of the situation? Is it best understood in terms of two opposed sets of claims about the bible? Or as a failure of human understanding, acceptance, kindness?

Or suppose there are two different religious groupings sharing the same space, the same living facilities. They get on ok, somehow. They would make very different claims - if asked - about the nature of God, and religious duty. But there is respect, sharing, mutual concern. Is the best word for what is going on in a situation like this 'truth' or 'peace'? Or both?

What I find so fascinating about the Milbank bit I quoted earlier is the sense that peaceable human interaction actually the condition for the emergence of truth (even though it seems to me that Radical Orthodoxy fails to embody this, since it seems frames the history of thought as a history of strife...). The existential willingess to understand another human being is actually the condition for coming to understand 'life' better, simply because it is always through human beings that we hear any propositional truth, and because propositional truth only ever exists as a kind of moment in a human life, as a life event, it is something humans experience and do, closely related to feeling and practice. God speaks through human people and events, according to Christianity, not in some vaccuum of revelation, in which the lack of humanness guarantees accuracy.

Um. So, I suppose what I'm saying is: if any of this is at all right, then it must mean that Christianity has the capacity to interact with alternative truth claims in a very different way. I really think that it's insane to think that you can have an ethic of non-violence without a non-violent conception of truth. I don't know how this happens in practice, but perhaps no-one really knows yet, because in large part, the Christian west has been violent, its truth has been linked to, and led to, violence. If you see truth as emerging from strife, then I don't see how you can fail to see stife as necessary in practice given the fact of disagreement.

Whereas if you see the possibility of seemingly competing insights being combined, harmoniously, in the same way that seemingly competing human interests can often - with sacrifice, honesty, patience - be combined harmoniously, then you're not stuck with a picture in which 'reaching a conclusion' is a something like a moment of triumph, a solider planting a flag in the ground, but more like signing a peace treaty, in which no-one got exactly what they wanted, but feels unexpectedly satisfied anyway.

(That last bit was a bit weird, but I am leaving it in...)

Seeya

Edited by stu, 15 April 2010 - 10:15 AM.


#48 M. Leary

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 12:36 PM

Well, I am thinking primarily of Paul's realisation that the heretics he had been persecuting were in some way allied with messiah, and the way in which the New Testament is formed in part through having to deal with the interaction between Jewish and Gentile Christians.


Absolutely. And we can take this further by pointing to Paul's narration of reconciliation in Col. Reconciliation is true for two reasons. First, the resurrection, which is Christ emerging from that negotiation between life and death/sin and judgment. Second, the church itself is the material means by which reconciliation is achieved on this side of the eschaton. The church itself is the result of social and economic disparities being addressed through local church practice. Our theology emerges from this historic social process. Ergo, hospitality.

So reconciliation is true not because we bear witness to it but because we practice it. It is meaningless apart from its own historical instantiation.

I don't know how this happens in practice, but perhaps no-one really knows yet, because in large part, the Christian west has been violent, its truth has been linked to, and led to, violence. If you see truth as emerging from strife, then I don't see how you can fail to see stife as necessary in practice given the fact of disagreement.


This is in part the legacy of the Schaeffer "true truth" fiasco which led to the murder of abortion doctors in the US. The better answer is putting that energy into creating local foster care and adoption systems as a means of bearing witness to the sacredness of life, which in turn is a means of bearing witness to the incarnation.

Great stuff, Stu.

Edited by M. Leary, 15 April 2010 - 12:36 PM.


#49 stu

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 06:14 PM

Thanks! This thread has been useful for me, actually, I feel like a few things have become a little clearer. Might post some more at some point, who knows...

#50 Fred K

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Posted 15 April 2010 - 09:34 PM

Stu - This talk of peace and hospitality seems a bit abstract to me. The encounter between Paul and Stephen is concrete (Saul, why are you persecuting ME?), but another encounter is also interesting: that of Monica and Augustine. Monica, the mother, urging her son toward the stability of success, marriage, and the Catholic faith; Augustine trying somewhat to pacify his mother while torturously trying to grow in understanding of the truth. Monica wrestled not just with her son, but also with God (and even his priests) - desiring her son's ultimate good but also trying to dictate the form it would take. What mother would provide only for her son's needs without considering his ultimate good? As a father I can't dictate the road that my children will take, but I would hardly be a father if I did not urge my children to seek out the greatest satisfaction in life. Paul was reconciled with the Christians, and Monica was reconciled with Augustine - only in the relationship with a third person who is victorious over both parties. Nobody gets what they want, to be sure, but the conclusion is not brought about through settlement between the parties on terms of their own understanding.

#51 stu

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Posted 16 April 2010 - 04:06 AM

Stu - This talk of peace and hospitality seems a bit abstract to me.


It is a bit abstract, I guess. But abstractions are necessary to get at the common patterns that emerge in life, aren't they? 'Human' is an abstraction, it just seems like a particularly useful one. Being 'a bit abstract' on its own doesn't give me that much to work with...

Paul was reconciled with the Christians, and Monica was reconciled with Augustine - only in the relationship with a third person who is victorious over both parties. Nobody gets what they want, to be sure, but the conclusion is not brought about through settlement between the parties on terms of their own understanding.


I agree, with the final sentence at least, but what I'm asking is - what is the nature of this 'third' who brings peace? How is this third victorious? And really, this is the question of what it means to speak in the name of Christ, and I am definitely not claiming to have an answer to that. Part of what I am saying is that since we do not find peace, or attain to truth, on the terms of our own understanding, as you say, it is necessarily found through some kind of breaking open of our own understanding, and since our relationship with God is always in some way mediated through real human relationships, this involves an openness to those who appear to be outside of the terms of our own understanding.

In other words, at some point, some slightly disturbing voice is going to say "kill and eat", and in our own way, we're going find that God was where God never should have been, where we never thought he could be.

(Again, this is all just rehashed James Alison...)

#52 Fred K

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Posted 16 April 2010 - 07:17 AM

James Allison ... I looked at a couple of his articles online which looked pretty good. I see that he draws on Girard, whom I'm familiar with at secondhand: i.e. through Balthasar and Gil Bailie. Is there something that gets at the core of Allison's approach?

#53 stu

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Posted 16 April 2010 - 07:41 AM

The stuff on monotheism as discovery, which I'm parroting here, is in this one.

His last two books - On being liked and Undergoing God are both excellent, I think.

I like Gil Bailie, and along with Richard Rohr, Alison, Mark S. Heim they're all wrestling with Girard in different ways. As for Balthasar, his critique of Girard in Theodrama vol IV is on the money, I think (he basically says that Girard has no positive sense of the sacred) but I also think you can re-work Girard's insights into a less secularising framework. I think you can. Either way, something about the basic scapegoating/mimetic desire thesis feels profoundly true to me.

#54 Fred K

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Posted 16 April 2010 - 05:33 PM

Wow, that's a great article... Christianity as the discovery of a presence rather than an idea... God, after all, is greater than that which can be conceived (Anselm).