Monday, March 26, 2007

Christianity invites us to think in authoritarian terms

I do not understand why enlightenment is eing given such a reductive reading when it was itself such a contentious space, filled with all sorts of divergences. The most important things I take away from enlightenment are the ideals of autonomy, the egalitarian, departure from the unquestioning acceptance of authority, and the investigation of the world through our own abilities. I take it that this can lead to many things besides procedural liberalism. For instance, Marx comes to recognize the abstract and one-sided nature of the Lockean individual, discovering the social field in which individuals come to be. This isn't the rejection of enlightenment, but the ongoing process of auto-critique internal to enlightenment itself. Adam has suggested that I am non-dialectical in my relation to history and religion, and perhaps he can show me this through a series of good arguments. For instance, the cat I haven't let out of the bag on my end is that I have worries about the possibility of eradicating the religious as a place (apart from what fills it), by virtue of the way in which the incompleteness of the symbolic calls for an "irrational" supplement to halt its endless sliding. *This* sort of argument is one that I don't know how to respond to and one I find very interesting. There's a reason theological forms of thought repeat throughout history in relation to groundings and narratives of origins that isn't simply accidental, though the manifestations or ways in which the empty place is filled out are accidental.
Alex, you make an interesting point with regard to reason and Hume. It is likely that I lack a very precise definition of reason, as I see this investigation of the passions that Hume undertakes as part and parcel of reason. Here I'm inclined to follow Hegel and argue that reason must have a dialectical identity with unreason in order to know itself as reason. Incidentally, Hegel argues that this dimension is ineradicable and that it would not be desirable to eradicate it. A lot of this discussion has thrown about the term "reason" without any of us bothering to clarify what we mean by it. So far only Anthony has made such an attempt, providing a sort of heuristic definition. It could be that we're actually far closer than we suspect or that we're talking about entirely different things. Minimally, I do not think we can ignore things such as the passions, desire, jouissance, the unconscious, identification, etc., in discussing these issues or reason. This is one of the reasons that I'm so interested in psychoanalysis. For me Spinoza and Hobbes are exemplary in this regard. Hobbes provides a sort of "physics" of the passions in Leviathan, while Spinoza develops an elaborate psychology in the Ethics. I am not endorsing all the P's and Q's of these analyses, only suggesting that, especially in the case of the latter, recognition of this dimension of thought is central to the enlightenment project as conceived by some thinkers.
Nonetheless, I still have difficulties with your comparison of Jesus and Socrates. There are a couple of different ways in which one could go with this. On the one hand, it could be pointed out that the parables are designed to be enigmatic, thereby opening the possibility for a detachment from authority. A good friend of mine here, a Mormon who teaches Bible classes at his temple, who is a philosophy professor in my department, and does brilliant work on Badiou and Marion, teaches the Gospels as a sort of Lacanian analysis. The ideal Lacanian interpretation (in the clinical setting) is polyvalent, allowing for a plurality of interpretations on the analysand's end. On the one hand, this leaves the analysand in a position of never quite knowing what the analyst himself thinks, thereby fostering separation from the idea of a master. On the other hand, the analysand progressively comes to discover the structure of their own transference in this way and must take responsibility for how he "actualizes" the meaning of the interpretation. Jesus seems to speak in a very similar way, that is riddled with irony in much the same way that Socrates' words are always filled with irony. Jesus then would not so much speak the truth as allow others to discover their truth.
On the other hand, this ironic or Socratic Jesus does not seem to have been taken up by the subsequent church at the popular level except in high level theology texts and among rare figures like Kierkegaard. Rather, Jesus seems to be treated as a king that speaks the truth, that *tells* us what the truth is. Jesus's words, unlike Socrates', are true because of who he is (the son of God), rather than because of *what* he says (where the individual speaking becomes irrelevant). It is in this regard that I say there's a strong split between religion and philosophy in its *concrete practice* (rather than it's idealized articulation). Christianity invites us to think in authoritarian terms by virtue of its attachment to a guru that is the truth by virtue of being divine, and this attachment to authority comes to bleed through in concrete social formations by analogy, such that authority comes to be treated in an unquestioning fashion. I don't think this is something that can really be denined when we look at actual Church's and believers throughout history and the politics they've often been connected to. I would be very interested in seeing a genuine alternative that doesn't simply articulate itself in academic treatises addressed to other academics, but in real practice. I think the early Baptist church went some way in this direction before the Convention, as have the Liberal Catholics and Unitarians more recently. Sadly these populations have been such minorities within the American context that it would be dishonest to suggest that somehow they negate what is predominant in American religiousity. Posted by: Sinthome March 25, 2007 at 09:37 PM

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