On anxiety

22 03 2011

I just found this interesting:

I think Americans have become extremely vulnerable to the pressures of the 21st century. For the past 50 years, we’ve been getting progressively more anxious in good economic times and bad, so we can’t even blame it on the recession. As I was conducting research for the book, psychologists pointed to three basic reasons why our psychic state is deteriorating. The first is a simple matter of social disconnection. As we spend more time with our electronic devices than we do with our neighbors, we lose our physical sense of community. Social isolation flies in the face of our evolutionary history. The second major cause is the information overload that we’re experiencing with the Internet and the 24-hour media cycle. We’re all aware of it, but I’m not sure we realize how big an impact it’s having on our brains. The third explanation can be attributed to what one psychologist refers to as a culture of “feel goodism” — the idea that we shouldn’t ever have to be upset and that all our negative emotions can be neutralized with a pill. This to me feels like a distinctly American phenomenon…

You might think that jobs that require the biggest amount of work or the longest hours would be the worst, but that’s not actually the case. The most anxiety-producing jobs are the ones in which the employee has very little control over what he or she does during the workday…The notion of executive stress syndrome — the idea that bosses and corporate executives experience much higher levels of anxiety than their underlings — has proven to be total bullshit. Executives tend to have more control over what they’re doing, and they often displace their anxieties on the people that work beneath them.


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18 responses

27 03 2011
Arturo Vasquez

Where the hell is the “Like” button on this damn page. Wait, this isn’t Facebook…

Seriously, I know there are a lot of young kids who read this blog who are in academia. Take a long, hard read of what Owen is saying, and think before you comment. Peace out.

27 03 2011
Owen White

I have a friend and, uh, political associate here in Memphis who is a prof of African studies at the local university. He tells the story of being asked to give a talk on African politics at the meeting of a Trot group in Alabama. He went down there, gave the talk, they thanked him, and then promptly asked him to leave, because only working class persons were allowed to attend their meetings, or join their group, and as a college prof, he was not considered working class enough for this group.

It’s easy to joke about such views, but when I read threads like this one, I’m reminded why I have some sympathy for them.

More than a few of the friends I had in my 20s went on to graduate programs. I’ve heard the bitch and whine stories of the poverty stricken life of the TA. A close friend with a family of 5 made only 17k one year when he was getting his doctorate. Of course his solidly middle class family helped them get through that year.

I have little sympathy for the whining. When I was a freshmen at my first go at college, my mentor told me that there was no way in hell, as a white male, I had a chance at getting a tenure track position in anthropology. He said a graduate degree in anthro would only make sense if I planned on supporting myself through other means. I listened to him. At my third go at college my UW history prof told us of an entry level history tenure track position which in the course of one week had 200 applicants who had earned PhDs – the Department had thrown out the applications of the ABDs who applied. He told us not to even think of going on in history. Everyone in the humanities side of academia talks incessantly about how difficult the game is. There is no way that a person with an IQ higher than 60 could not know that a PhD in the humanities ain’t a ticket to the middle class life.

But it’s not really that which bothers me. What bothers me is that so many people I have known who have gone the academic route say things like:

“Then again, there’s only so many ways to word process data or bolt wheels on a car. Often the greatest scrutiny and psychological stress befalls those who work with concepts that live and die at the mercy of peer review.”

This is utter bullshit and unforgivable ignorance. If you work in any shop, factory, or even fast food restaurant, you will learn that the best work is being done by that minority of workers who creatively work “beyond” the exacting parameters of whatever systems controls are in place. In most such settings, there are a minority of workers who do a majority of work, who care, and who creatively find ways to make the job flow better. If they are lucky they might get paid 5% more than the usual guy who (wisely) does not give a shit. There are many ways to organize the process of “bolting wheels on a car.” The most creative innovations in that regard are usually learned on the shop floor, and not in a room full of engineers.

Sometime in my parents’ generation the intuition that blue collar work is necessarily mindless and uncreative – the simple doing of what systems experts tell one to do, came to be beyond pervasive. And it is striking to me that some of the people who believe this most unquestioningly are academics, especially younger academics.

Let me put this in the most charitable way possible. Go fuck yourselves. As someone who has spent years in college classrooms and more years in a metal shop, and as someone who has close friends who are profs and others who are minimum wage workers, I can assure you that the process of teaching humanities classes in most cases, and of going through the systems ropes it takes to get to the point where you are teaching humanities classes (as a TA or adjunct, whatever) is really not nearly that much more complicated as being, say, one of the minority of machinists in a machine shop who actually gives a damn and makes the place run. The million things you have to know and you have to be able to intuit as a machinist (without running to a book) may be far more complicated than what one actually has to have mastered to teach undergraduate humanities courses. It never ceases to amaze me how many people in the humanities are absolute dipshits – the manual labor trades have no lock on attaining such persons.

I don’t mean to suggest that there is some plethora of working class intellectuals out there in America today – far from it. I only mean to suggest that the assumptions most academics (especially in the humanities) make about the complexity of their working knowledge is greatly exaggerated, and when they begin to contrast themselves with working classes, they usually deserve to be smacked.

And then to go beyond that to the martyr complex – oh how stressful and hard it is to play the peer review game – how much easier it would be to work in some mindless shop. How fucking clueless can you folks be? Surely you have had some working class jobs to supplement your TA game, no? Or do mommy and daddy supplement it? That guy on the factory floor is either not getting enough hours to get benefits, or, if he has a decent union job, he might be like my friend Mike, whose shop has no one under 50 at it because its been so long since they hired, and who has been forced to work crazy overtime for 6 or 7 years now – everyone there is convinced it is because GM wants as many of the guys in his shop to die of heart attacks from overwork because this saves them so much money in pensions, etc. Especially in America’s current recession, many employers know they have you by the balls and are constantly telling you or insinuating to you how lucky you are to have a job – demanding more and more from workers for less and less, often in hostile environments. The insistence on rub-your-face-in-your-shit-outta-luckness at the American workplace is rampant now – with more and more systems humiliations. At my own shop, which laid off 80% of its work force only to hire back about half of those laid off on a now part-time basis (thus no benefits this time around) and at 2/3rds their prior pay (a job offer we had to take because once offered we were going to lose our unemployment – you can’t turn down a job and remain on unemployment – even if they offer you less and it ends up costing you more than you were getting for unempl. because now you have to get childcare), all but one of the managers will not walk back into the shop because there is so much animosity between the workers and management. This scenario of hostility is one which is increasing across America, and one can only hope it leads to some breakthrough of an actual development of class consciousness and class antagonisms. But in any event – I have long thought academics a lot like folks who go into religious ministry, and then bitch about how hard their job and life is compared to the run of the mill worker out there. Such delusion is beyond childishness. I think part of the problem is that most folks who get to post masters level in acedemia think of themselves as ontologically middle class or something by nature of their education, and think that any social or system circumstance which deprives them of a middle class life is some sort of unique and grave injustice. Arturo told me once that I was a bright guy and surely could have gone and become a lawyer or something had I wanted to – and thus had no right to bitch about being working class. It was my choice, and most people don’t get a choice. He was right. Grow the hell up. Your life is not that hard. Worrying about peer review is no more difficult than the sort of indecencies and callousness and impersonal treatment and humiliations that most workers in America face.

25 03 2011
sortacatholic

Right on. Couldn’t’ve said it better with my crud bloviation.

Turmarion has a point, though — it’s infuriating to watch CEOs “earn” $millions when the nation is still mired in stagflation. Maybe it’s time not to fire at the heads of executive officers and rather at the boards that authorize such ethical (I say moral) crimes.

24 03 2011
random Orthodox chick

“One might say that factory workers and data clerks often have little or no work autonomy. Then again, there’s only so many ways to word process data or bolt wheels on a car. Often the greatest scrutiny and psychological stress befalls those who work with concepts that live and die at the mercy of peer review.”

I argue that it’s the life circumstance, not just the job, that leads to anxiety in these types of positions. Sure, it’s repetitive (AKA unstimulating and mind numbing, but that’s a different topic) but usually they have many other things on their mind, such as how they can afford to get a baby-sitter next week, will they be able to afford rent this month, how can they get their car fixed (if they have one), or how is little Tommy getting braces on this crappy salary. Things that the middle-class take for granted cause stress to those who have-not, not the job.

24 03 2011
Turmarion

Fair point–the thread has wandered a bit afield!

As to executives, there probably are analogies with the academic environment you speak of–I have a sister who’s a PhD in academe, and this sounds just like what she always talks about.

On the other hand, the compensation of a CEO compared to the lowest Joe on the factory floor is around 300 or 400 to one, a ratio much, much higher than that of a department chair, academic superstar, or even university president compared to, say, an adjunct or temp. Also, CEO’s have a nasty habit of pursing their own goals at the expense of the companies’, and then getting a golden parachute when they leave or are fired–something that doesn’t happen for the average worker or for academics.

Thus while I can sympathize with academics, I still have not a whit of sympathy for corporate executives. Any stress they get is still vastly offset by perks, and if the executive doesn’t feel that way–well, I’ve got the world’s smallest violin….

24 03 2011
sortacatholic

Quick, help your Densan fellow-traveler: what the heck do any of the above comments have to do with the Salon article? Anyway …

Jacob Sugarman, interviewing Taylor Clark, author of Nerve (Salon.com):

Sugarman: In your research, which jobs did you find to be the most stressful?

Clark: The notion of executive stress syndrome — the idea that bosses and corporate executives experience much higher levels of anxiety than their underlings — has proven to be total bullshit. Executives tend to have more control over what they’re doing, and they often displace their anxieties on the people that work beneath them. (my bold)

Clark completely misses this one. All jobs are stressful psychological rat mazes — the scenery changes but the underlying “bullshit” of human mind games remains. In my current position as a PhD TA drone student teacher, I’ve noticed that the academic pecking order is positively brutal no matter where you stand on the food chain. The petty manipulations don’t stop when a prof gets the department chair, an endowed position, or academic superstar status. The entire range of the academic experience, from TA peonage to endowed chair lordship, demands a subservience to unctuous flattery and even outright ostracism. The pressure to produce intellectual property often reduces academics to nervous wrecks who live from book review to article, manuscript to monograph, hoping for that big break that’ll catapult them to the editorial board of a journal or the lecture circuit. Just because academics can take time out of the day to play four hours of engrossing Mindsweeper or pee at will does not make them any less beholden to subtle yet often devastating criticism.

One might say that factory workers and data clerks often have little or no work autonomy. Then again, there’s only so many ways to word process data or bolt wheels on a car. Often the greatest scrutiny and psychological stress befalls those who work with concepts that live and die at the mercy of peer review.

Aside: my office has often thought of upgrading to meth or cocaine, as we’ve hit the ceiling on caffeine consumption. Each one of us polishes off at least 1000 mg of caffeine a day in coffee and diet soda. What’ll cause arrhythmia in a normal person is all in a day’s work for us. The tower is wired. The need for speed contributes to the tensions and even adult temper tantrums that sometimes flare up in academic offices.

24 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

Paradoxical, but most mystic views are; and isn’t Christianity the greatest paradox of all, as Chesterton would say?

I agree: they are, and it is! Chesterton was right there.
I also agree that the overly-analytical bent of the Western scholastics has caused lots of problems, even among the Protestants, that perhaps a less-rigid, less-cerebral, less-left-brain theology would have avoided. I assume, without being a pro in it or acceding to it, that Eastern Orthodox theology is on the plus side here.

John Henry Newman said that if faith and reason seem to contradict, then either the reason (history, science, etc.) is wrong (your default option); or faith needs to be reinterpreted in a different mode–e.g. that Jonah’s fish is an allegory. You seem unwilling to admit the latter possibility.

Perhaps because I am not Newman. While that Newman position is not rare, something that it necessitates is rare unto being impossible to find: the way to tell which of the two options to take. The reason it is not there is because it would itself be a canon of some sort, which also succumbs to such questions as assault the Biblical canon; be it via Gödelian methods or due to criticism that is secular regarding it.
Newman’s problem (the same for many others) is that he assumes that reason and faith have to be in sync, in the common way that we moderns think of it. That is the original sin of theology, and it is so far-reaching that it has been made dogma among the Roman Catholics, for example. Rationalism is actually the real religion of modern people (especially Westerners); and that is why Christianity would have to die, if reason decreed it so. They do not say “Let God be true and every man a liar”; they say let reason be true and everything else a liar. Reason is the god. Yet reason is not as complete as faith; and faith is not as consistent as reason. But in this matter, it is completeness I want, not consistency. This is why 1 Cor 1 is still valid.
In closing, the reason Newman’s alternatives are useless is because ther are no tools to tell when which one should be taken. And then we have the question: for these tools (if we should have them), how to resolve the same problem? See also: Gödel, Turing.

… but the vast majority of Christians believed exactly this for centuries. … many used the exact same arguments against heliocentrism and a multi-billion-year-old cosmos that you are using against an allegorical reading of Jonah.

Well, I am not any of those Christians. (I have trouble identifying as a Christian; for their sake.) Still, I am aware of the biology, the cosmology, and the physics of the modern World. Yet I maintain that Jonah was swallowed by a fish. The profane for the profane; the sacred for the sacred. I would not write the Jonah story into Nature journal, but I will not let Nature‘s exegesis anywhere near my Bible reading either. I am not aware of the arguments against an old Universe or against heliocentrism that the earlier Christians launched.

Let’s take an explicit example. Do you think that Noah’s Flood happened literally … ?

Yes. Noah’s flood happened literally as reported. Do honestly believe that this Noah is the issue that will shock me into realising the foolishness of my stand? I hope you do not expect that I am suddenly going to have to recant because you mentioned Noah.
Noah was flooded by the heavens, and save for his family and the animals he took with him, nobody survived. (Ironically, sin survived; Ham went and peeped at his nudity.) This story is literally true. The Earth was covered by water. Also, the Earth, according to science, has never been covered by water in the time that life has been here.

If you say “yes”, that’s your prerogative–I suppose anyone has the right to believe as many impossible things before breakfast as they want, à la the White Queen; but that makes further dialog on Scripture pretty much impossible, as it reveals radically different worldviews.

Why would dialog be impossible? Do you have to sandwich all talk of Noah in “but of course this is a myth, you understand” every time you speak of him? Speak of Noah and the flood, and let us go on from there. Why would dialog fail? Because some, like me, do not feel the need to bow perpetually to modern myth-illiteracy (pun intended), modern lack of poetic seriousness, and the irritating requirement to escape every reference to miracle with the subjunctive past tense? Surely dialog is possible, since you read things written by croyant convaincus in the Bible, even though you yourself are not such a naïve croyant convaincu. That is in fact the dialogue that you say has been rendered impossible.

So you seem to be saying that we accept the literal truth of the “myths” in the Bible, or reject it tout court as a “quaint little fiction”.

No. One can see them as something other than these two extremes; but for me only these two options seem live.

To insist on the literal against all evidence on the notion that rejecting it would also reject the profound meaning is just getting it all wrong.

What if their literalness is the point? As I said earlier (pace Sallust), myths carry a payload that is meant for those who will believe them as fact. If you see them as interesting observations you miss the point of them, given that they (at least in the Bible) expect that they will be believed as fact. Of course, I respect your inability to have myth as fact; but that is a learnt (dis)ability that I will be proud to not have, for as long as that is the case.

I have to agree with St. Anslem’s dictum of fides quaerens intellectum.

Ah, but then you are a fideist; after all, by what faculty do you accede to that dictum? Reason or faith? If reason, then by what faculty do you accede to reason? Reason or faith? If reason, then by what faculty do you accede to reason? Reason or faith? And so on, ad infinitum. After you have established that the beginning of wisdom and knowledge is faith — for axioms are always a matter of faith, being as they precede reason — then you will recognise why you are a fideist (if you are lucky enough to not be self-refuting).

However, that doesn’t mean we toss logic and reason in the trash bin, which is exactly what fideism does, not “celebrate” it.

You are very mistaken, my friend. Fideism does not reject reason. In fact, when I argue for fideism, I argue with reason. Reason is lucky in that it can show itself that it is limited. (Having detected the self-reference in that sentence, allow me to tell you again: Gödel, Turing.) Fideism does not reject reason. It just rejects the primacy of reason. If faith demands that P, and reasons opposes it; then P. For the rationalists like everybody else (all non-fideists), if faith demands that P, and reason opposes it, then not P. But we, the people of fideism, have much wider scope, we have a complete system (even though we pay for it by having an inconsistent system, given conditions such as those of modern people: see my affirmation that the World flooded, even though the World, I affirm, did not flood).
You rationalists think that only Aristotelian logics exist. I hate three-valued logics when my work makes me use them; but in life, most things proceed by three-valued logics (especially outside of the modern West). Fideism is tenable when it uses such a logic; the opponents of fideism basically can be summed up into aying “Your fideistic system does not work in an Aristotelian logic,” which is a straw-man.

I don’t want my faith in science journals, either, but if my faith tells me to believe something that is simply contradicted by reality, that’s not good, either.

That will never happen. Your reality is determined by your faith. So your faith does not tell you to believe something contradicted by your reality. Your case is the Bible nipping at the journals’ territory, because for you the journals are the final authority (“Let Science be true and every man a liar.”), such that they — and you will agree — define the reality for you; the reality that your faith runs into. Your faith is in the journals.

I just can’t buy the whole “knight of faith” thing.

I do not like it much, either. But in his language, there is no better way to phrase the situation that a believer finds himself in. Faith is really the journey of one man on 70,000 fathoms of water, and this kind of imagery fits rather well. Of course, I hate the individualistic machoism in it, but then we do not choose what the truth is.

It was indeed a good discussion. Every such discussion helps me sharpen the way I introduce my thought, by seeing what comes of how. It is always a productive thing, especially when the tone remains civil.

23 03 2011
Turmarion

Our discussion of apophatic and cataphatic is starting to sound like Nagarjuna’s Madhyamika. I acknowledge, as I said above, that without affirmation, you don’t have a discussion or even a religion. Perhaps I am less sanguine as to the dangers of conceptualizing God as a “bipedal ape” than you are. Most likely, each person has a differing temperament, with some being more cataphatic, some more apophatic, if you will. Each sees the dangers of the other side, and the advantages of his own. Both are needed to keep the discussion honest and to correct each other’s errors.

I might point out that Orthodox theology has no problem affirming that God did indeed, in the Incarnation, become a “bipedal ape” (can’t be much more cataphatic than that) while simultaneously affirming that God in and of Himself is indeed an “Abyss” of whose essence we can know absolutely nothing. Paradoxical, but most mystic views are; and isn’t Christianity the greatest paradox of all, as Chesterton would say? Now I’m assuming you don’t care much for Eastern theology, whereas I tend to see it as superior to most theology in the West, particularly Scholasticism (which in my view is the origin of a lot of problems in Catholicism and Protestantism both); but we can agree to disagree.

Yes. I do not merely leave the option [of the literal truth of Jonah et al] open; I affirm that they are. For others, these external sources are how to judge the history and biology written in the Bible.

Well, I certainly have to disagree strongly. I would assume that the “external sources” you speak of, viz, intelligence, reason, and the methodologies we use for implementing them, such as science, history, and so on, were given to us by God, and that He expects us to use them. John Henry Newman said that if faith and reason seem to contradict, then either the reason (history, science, etc.) is wrong (your default option); or faith needs to be reinterpreted in a different mode–e.g. that Jonah’s fish is an allegory. You seem unwilling to admit the latter possibility.

Look, it’s clear from many, many passages that the ancient Israelites thought the Earth was flat and that the cosmos revolved around it. The Bible does not say so in so many words, just as it does not explicitly say that the Creation took place over six twenty-four-hour days or that the Earth is 6000 years old; but the vast majority of Christians believed exactly this for centuries. When the evidence began to show otherwise, many used the exact same arguments against heliocentrism and a multi-billion-year-old cosmos that you are using against an allegorical reading of Jonah. Remember how Galileo got into trouble? In any case, the fideists didn’t win that one.

Let’s take an explicit example. Do you think that Noah’s Flood happened literally, despite the fact that covering the highest mountain would require more water than has ever existed on Earth, which water would then have nowhere to go, to say nothing of the multitude of other impossibilities involved? If you say “yes”, that’s your prerogative–I suppose anyone has the right to believe as many impossible things before breakfast as they want, à la the White Queen; but that makes further dialog on Scripture pretty much impossible, as it reveals radically different worldviews.

Myth, too, recounts the sacred. It is just that myth was not meant to be understood as myth. When origins stories were told, they were told to people who believed them as truth. This is what is required even of the myth we find in the Bible.

So you seem to be saying that we accept the literal truth of the “myths” in the Bible, or reject it tout court as a “quaint little fiction”. I don’t think it’s either/or, but both/and. I don’t think, for example, that the Iliad and Odyssey actually occurred; but they are profoundly, deeply true in their portrayal of humanity and everything pertaining to it. They are certainly not “quaint little fictions”. Likewise, while I may not believe in a literal ark, or Jonah’s fish, I think the stories are not only profound but Divinely inspired. To insist on the literal against all evidence on the notion that rejecting it would also reject the profound meaning is just getting it all wrong. In short, I agree with Sallust that “myths are things that never happened but always are.”

I am a fideist of the school of the naïve, absurd fideism of Noah, Abraham, Jesus, Paul, Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Gödel (if I assume that he followed his Incompleteness Theorems to their theological implications), and the like.

I think this is the crux of our disagreement. I just cannot accept fideism. I have to agree with St. Anslem’s dictum of fides quaerens intellectum. Yes, ultimately it comes down to faith, as we cannot “prove” God or the truths of faith. However, that doesn’t mean we toss logic and reason in the trash bin, which is exactly what fideism does, not “celebrate” it. I don’t want my faith in science journals, either, but if my faith tells me to believe something that is simply contradicted by reality, that’s not good, either. While I respect Kierkegaard and his keen psychological insight, I never have liked him much, exactly because of his fideism. I just can’t buy the whole “knight of faith” thing.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting discussion and I appreciate the civil tone and thoughtfulness of the responses, but it seems as if we’re in very different places in terms of worldviews and philosophical commitments.

23 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

I forgot to mention: esse is not apophatic. Being is not apophatic; it is affirmative. So, in every statement about God, there is an affirmation. If God is not-P, then God is affirmatively something, viz., not-P. The affirmative is here to stay, and thank God for that. Like I said, apophatic theology is salutary. Every bit as salutary as affirmative theology.

Also, a correction to what I wrote above:

If the secular historians do agree with Esther, their system is incomplete, and needs more work — philosophical work or field work.

That should be: If the secular historians do not agree with Esther, their system is incomplete, and needs more work — philosophical work or field work.

23 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

“Infinte” means “in-finite”, i.e. un-limited, not limited. Thus “God is infinite” is an apophatic statement–it says what He’s not (limited), not what He is.

It is not apophatic, since being “limited” is described affirmatively, and it is something that that sentence uses on the first order: God’s limitations, that is, are known affirmatively. Even God’s not-being-something is itself known affirmatively, not apophatically.
In this wise, you cannot escape affirmative theology, just as much as you cannot escape the apophatic theology. Moving the issue to the meta level does not solve it, since whatever we negate must itself be positive (affirmative) in order for the statement to be apophatic.

Any affirmative statement about God, even that He exists, must be understood in an analogous manner.

Ah, but before the apophatic was, the affirmative is. The negation operator has an arity of 1, you will notice; and truth statements have an arity of zero.
This is not to knock on apophatic theology — it is often a good way to show God’s attributes (“God cannot be mocked.”) — just to knock the rather naïve tendency to see it as somehow supreme over affirmative theology.

The problem with cataphatic theology is that, given human nature, we all too easily fall into thinking of God as the big, white-bearded man in the sky, and of thinking of His actions in anthropomorphic terms.

The prevailing proclivities for modern humans to eschew anthropomorphism is really not my concern; my concern is the truth. If the truth leads us to fall into a certain pit, so be it. In all this, let the Grace of God be known, and the rest is of little import. I guess the equal-and-opposite problem with apophatic theology is that people too easily fall into thinking of God in such far-from-anthropomorphic terms as “the Abyss” and the like. And say what you will about anthropomorphism, at least it has Jesus’ approval (“unless you become like children, you will not see the Kingdom of Heaven”, “Our Father, who art in Heaven”). Jesus was not very scared of proclaiming a God who had ears and hands and eyes. How could the God-Man be?

… a cataphatic theology without an apophatic theology causes all kinds of problems.

A corollary to the correspondence of the two is that apophatic theology does not really avoid any of such problems, given Aristotelian logic. It is how apophatists have started out with God-as-a-vacuum, which is even more-foolish than God-as-a-bipedal-ape.

Based on the boldface clause, you seem to be leaving open the possibility that Jonah is correctly reporting the swallowing of a human by a fish for three days or that ancient Ninevah was three day’s journey across … or that the events of Esther and Daniel, despite the lack of correspondence to the well-attested history of the Babylonian monarchy at that time are historical.

Yes. I do not merely leave the option open; I affirm that they are. For others, these external sources are how to judge the history and biology written in the Bible. For me, those outside who are opining about the Bible are the ones I judge by it. It is a different culture, so to speak, and I, with my Biblioculture am resisting the cultural imperialism of secular entities. This is how I reject the supremacy of the secular historians over the ancient Hebrew goatherds. If the secular historians do agree with Esther, their system is incomplete, and needs more work — philosophical work or field work.

Look, I believe the Bible is God’s word, but that doesn’t, in fact, can’t, commit one to a literal reading when such a reading is simply untenable.

Such a reading is always untenable. It is never tenable when the Divine crosses the merely human. There is a reason it took those Protestants (of whom I am not one) a whole Reformation, which is probably still on-going, to say that John 3:16 is literal. All the Pauline epistles speak of one thing only, but it was (and is) not tenable for most who have heard of Christianity: the justification of the impious by faith alone. It cannot be that hard on doctrinal issues, and be any easier on trying to judge the Bible correct by secular (often hostile) standards.

Btw, I do believe in miracles, but very sparingly, and not when they are contradicted by reliable evidence.

I believe in miracles, and I expect that if they were supposed to be easy to believe, they would not be miracles. Anyway, miracles are easy to believe; just not for modern minds. People, even in the Old Testament, did not write of miracles as miracles unless they were (i.e., they were facts that would not happen in normal course, and were therefore worth retelling). There is, of course, a tendency to think of the goatherds as less-sceptical than we are; but that is modern hubris that is not borne out by the fact that they considered miracles to be miracles: i.e., things that should not have happened.

If the author of Jonah deliberately made up the story of the fish … how is that a a problem?

It is not a problem. It is just that he did not make the story up. That’s all, really. Once you decide that Jonah should submit to a peer-reviewed anthropologist, then question rises. But I have not made such a decision.

I just don’t lay claim to knowing what the Biblical authors (or other ancient authors) thought was real or not, or when they were deliberately fabricating.

Ah, but for grant-chasing, peer-reviewed anthropologists we can be absolutely sure. Even when they contradict things that were meant to be read — and verified, as per Hebrew prophetic custom — by peers of these alleged fabricators? I love modern methods of knowledge acquisition; it is just that, as I said, the profane for the profane, and the sacred for the sacred.

In regard to which, how are we to say that we can know that Pseudo-Dionysius consciously lied?

He asserted that he was someone he was not, and made efforts to hide his not being that person. He was largely successful, too.

I’m pro-Platonist, you’re presumably anti, so we’d disagree–which is perfectly OK.

I am Platonist in other pursuits; not theology, though. In theology, I am a fideist of the school of the naïve, absurd fideism of Noah, Abraham, Jesus, Paul, Kierkegaard, Lev Shestov, Gödel (if I assume that he followed his Incompleteness Theorems to their theological implications), and the like. This is not opposed to logic; au contraire, it is the true celebration of it, as much as soccer is a celebration of the legs (“it may not render everything, but it renders some things well”); after all, the goalkeeper uses arms in the game (as does Maradona, from time to time). When we recognise that reason is vanishingly incapable compared to what faith can accomplish, we are not saying it is impotent. I do not want faith in my science journals; but I do not want science mucking with my gospel truths.

if one believes … that Genesis 1 is literally true in stating that the cosmos was made in six twenty-four-hour days

Except, of course, it says no such thing. Just as “Operation Oddysey Dawn” says nothing about any 12-hour morning. Insofar as it refers to days, the third day is when first God declares “good” what He has done. On the third day He rose from the dead. These are the kinds of nuggets that hide within reach for those who know that the day there is the day here.

… that the various genealogies of the OT prove the universes’s age to be about 6000 years …

Except, of course, it does no such thing. The sum of the times of the Patriachs does not equal the age of the Universe. It is merely the sum of the times of the Patriachs. Then again, minds tainted by modern assumptions should not be allowed to exegesise the ancient writings. This excess of quantitative precisionism is what made the Hebrews, for example, not realise that Jesus did in fact rebuild temple in three days.

It’s not so much “the profane for the profane, and the sacred for the sacred” as it is trying to find the sacred within the context of myth, legend, poetry, and (sometimes) history.

We find it too; the Psalms are poetry, and they are full to spilling with the sacred. Myth, too, recounts the sacred. It is just that myth was not meant to be understood as myth. When origins stories were told, they were told to people who believed them as truth. This is what is required even of the myth we find in the Bible. Sad that, to moderns, myth implies something that should be treated as a quaint little fiction, which (in the case of sacred myth) is the wrong way to go, if anything will be got from the myth as was intended by God for those who would read these stories.

23 03 2011
Turmarion

[A]pophatic theology gets its justification from affirmative theology. As your sentence shows, we only know to be of the apophatic stance because of what we can affirm God as being (“infinite”), rather than what He is not.

“Infinte” means “in-finite”, i.e. un-limited, not limited. Thus “God is infinite” is an apophatic statement–it says what He’s not (limited), not what He is. Any affirmative statement about God, even that He exists, must be understood in an analogous manner. In a sense, affirmative statements do take precedence in that if we weren’t willing to say “God exists,” “God lives,” “God loves,” “God creates,” or even the word “God”, we’d literally have nothing to talk about, let alone worship. The problem with cataphatic theology is that, given human nature, we all too easily fall into thinking of God as the big, white-bearded man in the sky, and of thinking of His actions in anthropomorphic terms. Apophatic theology is the necessary corrective to this, reminding us that “lives”, “loves”, “creates”, etc. refer differently to God than to us, and that His way most certainly are not ours.

Put it this way–while you couldn’t have an apophatic theology without a cataphatic one, a cataphatic theology without an apophatic theology causes all kinds of problems.

The writers of Job, Jonah, Esther, Ruth and Daniel were not knowingly writing fiction insofar as they wrote any fiction at all. (my emphasis)

Based on the boldface clause, you seem to be leaving open the possibility that Jonah is correctly reporting the swallowing of a human by a fish for three days or that ancient Ninevah was three day’s journey across, despite what we know of ichthyology, human physiology, and the archaeology of Mesopotamia; or that the events of Esther and Daniel, despite the lack of correspondence to the well-attested history of the Babylonian monarchy at that time are historical. That’s your prerogative, but it seems highly unlikely to me. Look, I believe the Bible is God’s word, but that doesn’t, in fact, can’t, commit one to a literal reading when such a reading is simply untenable.

Btw, I do believe in miracles, but very sparingly, and not when they are contradicted by reliable evidence. Like C. S. Lewis (a man not noted for being a Platonist, apophaticist, or even Catholic!), I tend to view most of the miracle stories of the OT as “types” or intimations, in mythical form, of the historical miracles that occur in the NT, culminating, of course, in the Resurrection.

As to whether the authors in question were intentionally writing fiction, I don’t claim to know, not being a time-traveling mindreader. My point is that it is not sacrilegious or heretical or insulting to God to think that they may have done so. If the author of Jonah deliberately made up the story of the fish as part of a parable intended to convey the point that God loves the “bad guys” (the Ninevites) as much as the “good guys” (the Israelites), then how is that a a problem?

We moderns tend to forget just how malleable a human’s idea of reality can be; especially for people back then (and in present days among other peoples who have not become too unmystificated).

Agreed 100%, although I’m not much for Jaynes. I think I said that, and the Allison book I pointed out makes that case in fair detail. I just don’t lay claim to knowing what the Biblical authors (or other ancient authors) thought was real or not, or when they were deliberately fabricating. I just don’t think that the concept that a book of the Bible was partly or wholly deliberately intended as a non-historical (i.e. fictional) work which still conveys spiritual truth disqualifies it from being Sacred Scripture.

In regard to which, how are we to say that we can know that Pseudo-Dionysius consciously lied? Maybe he really believed what he apparently said about knowing the Apostles, etc.; or maybe he intended it as allegorical. Who knows? In any case, both Eastern and Western Christianity absorbed much Neo-Platonism, not all from Pseudo-Dionysius; and even after it was found during the Renaissance that Pseudo-Dionysius was not who he’d been thought to be, the Catholic and Orthodox Churches didn’t immediately turn around and toss all the Neo-Platonic influences. Presumably the feeling was that, properly Christianized and contextualized, aspects of Neo-Platonism were compatible with Christianity and in fact salutary.

Now you could make the opposite argument, that Neo-Platonism is totally bad, incompatible with the faith, and that embracing it was a bad idea; but that’s a completely different argument than the one about Pseudo-Dionysius’ authenticity or mendacity. I’m pro-Platonist, you’re presumably anti, so we’d disagree–which is perfectly OK. One day we’ll both find out, right?

The Bible can be understood in a naïvely literalistic fashion….

But I’d say that in some cases it’s a very bad idea to do so. E.g. if one believes, contrary to all biology, paleontology, geology, astronomy, physics, etc. etc. etc. that Genesis 1 is literally true in stating that the cosmos was made in six twenty-four-hour days and that the various genealogies of the OT prove the universes’s age to be about 6000 years, then one is sacrificing truth to an unhealthy attachment to literalism. It’s not so much “the profane for the profane, and the sacred for the sacred” as it is trying to find the sacred within the context of myth, legend, poetry, and (sometimes) history.

23 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

“We finite creatures, by definition, cannot grasp the infinite God, so it seems that affirmative theology would be severely limited.”
But in which case apophatic theology gets its justification from affirmative theology. As your sentence shows, we only know to be of the apophatic stance because of what we can affirm God as being (“infinite”), rather than what He is not. How can we ever replace the axioms? We cannot.

Apophatic theology is not to be dismissed, of course, unless we are to dismiss of affirmative theology as well. (Indeed, my whole point is the 1:1 correspondence of affirmative and apophatic theology, given excluded-middle.) The reason I look at it with a red eye is because those who do indeed fawn over it do so because they pretend that it renders some tools or truths that affirmative theology does not, which is false if they also use Aristotelian logics — and they do.

I knew about Gödel’s ontological proof; I just did not know of any recent controversy around any theological work he did. I think that his proof holds insofar as any proof for God holds, viz. it first assumes what it is going to prove. After all, the Anselmian expression thereof actually names God in the first premise. In that sense, therefore, I think it succeeds in proving; just not in a logically irreprochable way. (And I should be more modest than to use such a sentence on Gödel.)

The writers of Job, Jonah, Esther, Ruth and Daniel were not knowingly writing fiction insofar as they wrote any fiction at all. We moderns tend to forget just how malleable a human’s idea of reality can be; especially for people back then (and in present days among other peoples who have not become too unmystificated). I think Julian Jaynes said all this better than I could. The problem with Pseudo-Dionysius is that he consciously lied, which is not the case for any of the other authors.
The Bible can be understood in a naïvely literalistic fashion; it just also has to be understood in its time and place. As we say, the profane for the profane, and the sacred for the sacred.

22 03 2011
Turmarion

[A]pophatic theology does not give any tools or information that affirmative theology would not give.

At best this is debatable. We finite creatures, by definition, cannot grasp the infinite God, so it seems that affirmative theology would be severely limited.

I’m not sure that Thomist/Aristotelians “fawn over” apophatic theology. In fact, St. John of the Cross got in trouble over his apophaticism because the Scholastics didn’t get where he was coming from. Apophatic theology has been much more characteristic of the Eastern Church. In any case, many holy men and women, Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant, too, have been apophaticists, so apophatic theology is not, in my mind, to be easily dismissed.

If you Google “Gödel’s Ontological Proof” you’ll see that whatever anyone else might think, Gödel thought his mathematical work had some relevance to theology (though I’m not sure I agree with his proof)

Re Cantor, read Rudy Rucker’s excellent Infinity and the Mind, which draws out some of the religious implications of his transfinites, though it does so only tangentially. If I understood the comments thread, the idea seemed to be that positing a chain of being somehow brings God too “close” to man, therefore laying the groundwork for the institutional Church to in effect claim to be God, or God-like, with inevitable problems to follow. I don’t see how positing a chain of created beings necessarily brings God any closer to us, as He’s infinitely far from the highest member of the chain. Infinity plus a million is the same as infinity plus one; but that doesn’t mean it’s not useful to distinguish a million from one (or humans from seraphim) in day-to-day life.

Ironically, you and other posters on the site seem to have an issue with apophatic theology and essence-energies theology; but those theologies stress how far from us and how different from us God really is. This right after complaining that such theology somehow brings Him too close!

As for pseudo-Dionysus, just knowing that he was consciously writing a fiction makes it legitimate to deem him unworthy to inform doctrine.

Certainly in the case of Jonah and Job, very likely in the case of Esther, and possibly in the case of Ruth and Daniel (which may have historical bases, but are largely fictional as they stand), the authors were consciously writing fiction. Edifying fiction, and even divinely inspired fiction, but fiction nonetheless. If you’re going to use that criterion you’re either going to have to throw out large swatches of the Bible or adopt a literalistic interpretation that is simply not tenable in the light of modern science. Please be clear–I’m not rejecting the inspiration of the Bible–just saying it can’t be understood in a naively literalistic fashion.

As to Dionysius, it’s debatable that he was consciously writing fictions. A good book on the complexity of all this is Constructing Jesus: Memory, Imagination, and History, by Dale C. Allison, Jr.

KarlH: [Apophatic theology is] too often used as an excuse for shallow mysticism and a tacit acceptance of a post-post-modern temperament (indeed, it often drives it).

Very, very true; but I think John of the Cross, Theresa of Ávila, and Gregory Palamas, to name just a few, were far from shallow or post-post-modern, and I think that apophatic theology has many strengths, and is in fact stronger than cataphatic (affirmative) theology.

22 03 2011
KarlH

Ah, my apologies. The post made me rage a bit and I couldn’t really get past that.

I’m not really an apophaticist, anyway. It can potentially serve as a good mirror for critique of the various scholasticisms and systemologies that pop up around the various religions and religious approaches, but it’s too often used as an excuse for shallow mysticism and a tacit acceptance of a post-post-modern temperament (indeed, it often drives it).

22 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

Also, apophatic theology does not give any tools or information that affirmative theology would not give. Certainly not to one who uses an Aristotelian logic, which is the case for these people who fawn over apophatic theology, like the Thomists and other scholastics.
I do not recognise the recent discussions about Gödel’s controversies on theology; Gödel’s (mathematical) work, as far as I know, does not bother itself overmuch with the sizes of infinity, because he treated all Cantorian infinities as one category. NBG set theory cannot even express Russell’s Antimony.

As for pseudo-Dionysus, just knowing that he was consciously writing a fiction makes it legitimate to deem him unworthy to inform doctrine. Although, of course, like I said, it is the comment thread I was referring to, not the main post.

22 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

Not the post. The comments. The comment thread is what I am calling attention to.

22 03 2011
KarlH

That’s a terrible post. Has the author actually read Pseudo-Dionysius or any of the Neoplatonists? It doesn’t seem like it. He compares One to Infinity but he is forgetting sizes of infinity, transcendental infinities as were discussed recently in the theological controversies and dialogues surrounding Gödel (a similar historical controversy and dialogue is Leibniz), etc. And it was Platonism/Apophatic theology that even gave us the proper mindset and language to speak of God as an Abyss. This reads like just another “pious” Reformer who thinks he can cast broad judgments on things he’s never read (and never will).

“The old religious authorities, at least, defined a heresy before they condemned it, and read a book before they burned it.” – Chesterton

22 03 2011
The 27th Comrade

Eh, Arturo! I just landed on this comment thread, and I thought you would be interested, because of an exchange that basically says that idolatry and this réligion mélangée that you discuss is in fact rooted well in Catholic philosophy, and is far from being the preserve of “pagans not fully converted”and the like.

http://beggarsallreformation.blogspot.com/2011/03/nature-and-character-of-god-and.html

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