Mar. 27th, 2016

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Currently at Havelock: 6.8. High today: 17.3.

 photo Easter card.jpg

I had a hard time coming up with a bible bit I liked for Easter. Christmas is easy; the first book of John is one of my favourite things in the bible, and anyway the incarnation is more my kind of thing. That's a funny thing in itself. Lots of smarty-pants Christians will tell you that Easter is a more important holiday than Christmas, but that's a tendentious theological position, not a fact. Depending on what kind of Christian you are, you might think the most important thing is the incarnation (and all the living of temporal life after that), the crucifixion, or the resurrection. As a Kierkegaardian fellow-traveller, I'm interested in the marriage of the eternal and temporal in the figure of Christ, to which at least the resurrection may be--as I've said something about before--not only irrelevant but a distraction from. The idea that Christ has to be resurrected for there to be eternal life gives credence to the conception of eternity as endlessness rather than as a-temporality. If eternity is a-temporality then Christ having descended into hell is eternally in hell, Christ having been resurrected is eternally resurrected, and Christ having lived on Earth lives eternally on Earth. So anyway as my "Easter text" I've taken this very vague expression of Christ's eternity, which happens to be the last thing he says in the gospel of Matthew.

In a way it's hard to believe it's been a year since my last Easter post, which is still very fresh in my mind. That was the first of my "taking stock" posts, the suicide post being the second. This is another. All along near the foreground is the question of what is worth saying, how, to whom. I'm making some uncertain and questionably successful effort to pare back to essentials, but it is not clear what essentials are, at least not in the realm of expression. I'm trying to avoid frivolousness but it is hard to do that without falling into the spirit of seriousness. And then sometimes frivolousness is the very spirit of seriousness itself. (I just read a story of Margaret Laurence's where the son of a hard man tells his loose sister that she protects herself as much as he does, and she asks how's that, and he says, "wisecracks". Anyway, by "frivolousness" I don't mean humour, but I do mean humour as a substitute for intelligence.)

Lately I've been re-reading Ian Angus's The Undiscovered Country: Essays in Canadian Intellectual Culture, hoping to take a shot at writing up a review. One thing this book did for me the first time I read it last year (or two years ago ... who can tell!) is it explained the crucifixion in a way that at least makes some sort of sense of it. You grow up in whatever sort of Christian environment knowing you're supposed to believe that Christ died for your sins, as if God had to punish someone for them, and only Jesus could be a big enough scapegoat to take all that punishment. (But he'll only take the punishment for your sins if you.... Otherwise, you get absolute infinite punishment! Which, uh, holy fuck, what?) And this is something you accept until you think about it, and ask, well, why does anyone have to take the heat? Why doesn't God just forgive you if you ... , and skip the whole crucifixion bit?

One thing about that is that as a kid you probably don't really get that you're supposed to think that "God" and "Jesus" are the same thing, which on the face of it probably makes about as much sense to you as the idea that the sacramental wine is actually Jesus's blood. So when, e.g., as an Anglican, you recite the Nicene Creed and say that Christ is "of one being with the father", you might understand it in the same sort of way as Anglicans (but, of course, not Catholics) are supposed to understand it when the administrator of the sacraments offers you the cup and says "the blood of Christ, shed for you", i.e., metaphorically. But then there are many ways to dance on the head of the pin that tacks the trinity together. You, as it happens, are, literally, of one being with your father, in some ways, and in other ways not. You are in some ways of one being with your own self and in other ways not. The problem of identity, let alone personal identity, is ... a problem. Socrates says in the Republic that the first thing the incipient philosopher has to learn is how to count. How do you count the father, son, and holy ghost? Actually the philosopher never stops learning how to count. You'd like to be able to say that Jesus and God the father are at least separate people, even if they're two people "of one being", and that you know this because Jesus prays: "Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done." "Father, father, why have you forsaken me?" But any step beyond the words themselves is an interpretation. Anyway, suppose that God "alienates" himself from himself in the form of a quasi-separate, temporal, person, in order to experience temporal existence from the inside. Part of what it is to be a finite temporal-eternal being who is conscious of its finite eternal-temporality is to suffer. It is finished are Christ's last words on the cross in the gospel of John. Maybe this is something that John knows that the other gospel writers don't (because only John has this line): this is really the end of the story. There's some more stuff that happens, but look, really it's finished right here. (Why the resurrection, then? God recollects his alienated self back to himself, and the experience of Christ is part of God now.) There is only so much of this life, and so much good must be left undone; what is bad in it does not just vanish--there may be some way or other of redeeming it or redeeming oneself from it but there is no changing it--and much of what bad there is does damage that there is not time to undo. Some of what bad there is, such as being nailed to a cross, precludes there being any time in which its damage can be undone. Given infinite time I can hope that anything lost can be restored; if I am finite then I can't. Seen this way, the crucifixion is simply the fulfillment of the incarnation. The crucifixion shows up in very large letters what it means to be human: as we all share in the essence of the incarnation, we all share in the essence of the crucifixion.

I hadn't meant to write all this and I'm uneasy about having written it. All of this is worth thinking through but I don't know whether it's good to say it like this or not. Anyway, what Ian Angus has to say about the crucifixion--in the form of a commentary on George Grant, so I don't know how much of this is Grant and how much Angus--is by way of a comparison with the death of Socrates. Socrates dies cheerfully with his wits about him. Christ dies in agony, bitterly: why have you forsaken me? According to Angus the point is that there are circumstances of human life that can obscure your vision of the good--Christ on the cross is forsaken--and render reason powerless (supposing that Socrates could not be cheerful on the cross--unless he was out of his mind!); Christian religion gets this and Socratic philosophy doesn't and can't. And what that means for Grant, according to Angus, is that religion must be the dominant partner in the marriage between philosophy and religion. (Remember, though, that in the Phaedo, Socrates signals that he has forsaken philosophy for mythologizing, and that the point of this may be to suggest either that in the face of suffering and death philosophy must give up its pretensions to being all-encompassing, or that philosophy is only possible on the ground of mythology, or that philosophy and mythology are necessarily in dialectic with one another, or that mythology is an aspect of philosophy.) The resurrection, you might suppose, then offers an extra-rational solution to the problem of suffering that reason can't solve. Like Kant says, eternal life after the life of suffering, which renders past suffering moot, is a necessary postulate of practical reason, not itself rational but necessarily taken on faith. A more "tragic" sense of life accepts that the story can finish on the cross and still not be a story of suffering and death and defeat, because a story is not defined by its end. This is not satisfying, but I have to leave it there for now.
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