Mar. 26th, 2017

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So, I'm falling further and further behind on my Lenten homilies ... among other things. And, uh, my Lenten project of giving up being hard on myself--gah, that wasn't the way to put it either, but it's better than "shame" or "self-loathing" (which, geez, "self-loathing" is way too strong)--is going extremely poorly. If I'd been on the ball I would've posted this--

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--on the second Sunday of Lent, for which this year's gospel reading in the lectionary is the third chapter of John. The bible that is more than any other "my bible" is one that my grandparents gave me on Easter of 1990; my grandmother wrote a little note in it that concludes, "Read the third chapter of John." Which, thinking about it now, reminds me of the time that my sister reported that our grandmother had said to her, "It's fine to read books, but I don't think [whoa, I have never, that I recall, had call to refer to myself by name here before ... it is making my brain explode a little] reads the right kind of books." Well, I doubt that my grandmother would be all that happy about how I read the right kind of books, either. (It is a funny thing how heterodox readings of scripture make you suspect from all sides.) Anyway, I did read the third chapter of John on its appointed day this Lent, and then I went off and poked about in the Greek, and realized that if I was going to write anything about it I would have to get straight about some kind of something like principles of biblical hermeneutics ... and then the whole thing just gets progressively more overwhelming. I'm reminded again of Ian Angus's Grant essay, which is all about Grant's struggle to give each of Athens and Jerusalem, reason and revelation, its due. As far as Angus is concerned, Grant, as a Christian believer, can't help but give revelation priority and suppose that revelation must be able to know something that reason isn't able to know ... and so Grant can't be a philosopher all the way down ... except that Grant refuses to accept that he is not a philosopher all the way down, and so he is left with an unhappily irreconcilable conflict between competing fundamental commitments. As I suggested when I brought this up before, I don't see this the same way Angus does ... and, funny, I had just written in the following parenthesis after the last sentence: "(Angus ends the essay with a line that would be a too cute and cheap joke just about anywhere except there, where it's just right: 'It's all Greek to me')"--but now it strikes me (although I still love that as a last line) that I think I differ from Angus in having a "more Greek" conception of rationality, or at least more Platonic, in that, as I have said before, I see revelation being something like the grounding movement of reason and not something different from it ... by which of course I don't mean scriptural revelation where that is supposed to mean things that scripture tells you that you couldn't otherwise know and have no reason to believe except that scripture tells you them. More broadly I don't mean propositional revelation, but revelation in the sense of a presentation of something to awareness (lousy word maybe but ... ) such that it is now an object or a possible object of thought (including of "reason" in the more limited, conventional sense of ordering propositions).

Which brings me to the gospel reading for this week in the lectionary, which is the ninth chapter of John, in which Jesus gives sight to a man who was blind from birth. The disciples ask Jesus who sinned, the man or his parents, so that he was born blind (and I have to say I read that several times before it struck me--they ask whether his being born blind is punishment for his own sin!), and Jesus replies (as the NRSV puts it): "He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." "Revealed" translates φανερόω, which I recognize as being related to "phenomenon" and which Strong's Concordance tells me not only means "to make visible" but is derived from φῶς, "light". He was born blind so that God's works might be brought to light out of darkness. And, well, here's where you have to confront those principles of biblical hermeneutics, and the problem of the relation between scriptural revelation and reason. On a straightforward, face-value, orthodox, "churchy" reading, this is a miracle story. This man is blind; Jesus makes some mud with his spit and rubs it on the man's eyes; now the man can see; this proves, if the man is not lying, that Jesus has magic powers that come from God, and so the Pharisees are alarmed and pissed off. But I want to read it not as a miracle story that states in propositions that something happened which either did or did not happen, but as a story to be read as part of a basically non-propositional (i.e., non-literal) revelation of the truth of Jesus Christ (not an actual or fabricated historical figure who may or may not have been born in Bethlehem, etc., but the Jesus Christ who is the main character in the New Testament read not as a work of fact or fiction but as a work of mythology) as the light of the world ... this Jesus Christ who, because God so loved the world, was given so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life ... and who, John says at the beginning, is light as well as logos.

Which brings me back to Angus's problem with Grant. In everything I think about salvation in the New Testament I think of Kierkegaard and Heidegger and (God help us) Nietzsche--the Nietzsche whose Zarathustra's task is to affirm the eternal recurrence of all things, not to turn away from or renounce or seek retribution against anything that is, has been or will be, but to shine a light on all things and love them all. From Heidegger I learned about the eternity of every moment (which, following Heidegger, I hope is what Zarathustra's "eternal recurrence" is really all about); in Kierkegaard I see that the eternity of the moment is a truth apart from which no understanding of Christianity is possible; in Kierkegaard I see that the fundamental teaching of Christianity is that human being is a synthesis of the godly[1] and the material (such that eternal life as disembodied "afterlife" is strictly ruled out--something which I was disappointed again and again to see even my bright students fail to grasp) ... salvation consists in recognizing yourself in Christ, recognizing that things come to revelation in the lighting that you bring to them and that things once lit are lit eternally. Damnation is oblivion--not being rendered nothing at the end of your time line but rendering things and yourself nothing through your lifetime by going on and on obliviously. Salvation, ironically, involves an eternity of suffering ... among other things. There is more paradise in hell than we've been told.

Anyway: but in everything Kierkegaard and Heidegger think about eternity, among other things, they think about the New Testament. So. There is a dialectic there, or hopefully there is. (And when Angus tells you what he thinks Grant thinks the thing is that Jesus gets that Socrates doesn't, he expresses it propositionally in a rational discourse. Revelation becomes subject to rational examination, and "reason" takes the upper hand. But limited reason would have nothing to examine without revelation. "Reason" and revelation owe their lives to each other. No wonder they love and hate each other so much! (Uh, speaking of lines that may or may not be too-cute and cheap.)) Hopefully it is not merely a matter of using stories as illustrations. But you can't ever rightfully be comfortable about it.

Oh, geez, I just remembered--feeling bad about myself. That's what I somehow keep forgetting is the closest thing to the right way to put what I'm (failing to be) giving up for Lent this year. Well, that sounds a lot less dire than "self-loathing". Shame, though, that's another story.

Currently at Havelock: 0.8, which is the high for the day so far. Freezing rain this morning.

PS1: a little further mulling and I remember that when I was writing my dissertation I left the chapter about Heidegger until the end because I was so scared of it, because I didn't know whether when it came down to it I would be convinced that Heidegger was saying what I needed him to be saying for my dissertation to be a Heidegger dissertation and not just, uh, my own original philosophy or something. (Good Lord.) When I did go back and engage with the stuff I needed to engage with to write that chapter, I was at least convinced that it could be read the way I needed to read it and that you could say the principle of charity demanded it be read the way I needed to read it because as far as I was concerned reading it the way I needed to read it made it as true and as important as it could possibly be. Point being that it's not like there are any starting points here. It's dialectics all the way down.

[1] PS2: ick, not the right way to put it--well, the "godly", but not the godly, because I think you ought to come away from Kierkegaard with the idea that God does not exist apart from the incarnation, or at least some incarnation (like, you know, when God was a guy walking around Eden).
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