Random notes on God

4 04 2011

What do we mean when we say, “God”? I think we may all mean different things:

1. The God of doctrine: This is the God who will not fail, not defect into error, the abstract God floating in the ether above history, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. Except when they do.

2. The “folk Catholic” God: Sort of a cross between Santa Claus and a Mafia don. Old women burn candles and bug this god constantly to get their children a job, off drugs, to shut their neighbors up who are gossiping, etc.

3. The God of the mystics: The god of bullshit or good feelings. Pretty easy to make this one up and still sound the same as every other aspiring mystic of any given religious confession.

4. Deus sive natura: Perhaps the god of the agnostic, “spiritual not religious” person. Also a god of bullshit.

5. The personal God: Can be purchased for $19.99 plus shipping & handling. Options include fundamentalist, righteous misanthrope, suburban conservative, suburban liberal, peace activist, beige, compact, sedan, candy-paint, and “personal God Zero (TM)”.

6. The God of tradition: A cross between a Mafia don and your mother throwing a frying pan at your head. You believe in him because your father did, and his father did, and his father did. End of story.

7. The real Jesus: Unknown. Many have mentioned him, but no one can confirm that he actually exists. Some say that he was last seen at an anti-war demonstration in 1991 wearing sunglasses, flip flops, and a smiley face tee shirt. Others say that he was hanging out at a GOP fundraiser with Ralph Reid sipping a Diet Coke. None of these sightings have been verified by third party sources.

8. The God of virtue: Ceiling cat is watching you masturbate.

9. The “real God”: The one you found after concluding that all that your parents taught you were lies, lies, lies, and this society is intellectually and culturally BANKRUPT!!!!! Also known as the personal God.

10. God as History: “But in the World, secular business cannot be thus repudiated; it demands accomplishment, and ultimately the discovery is made, that Spirit finds the goal of its struggle and its harmonization, in that very sphere which it made the object of its resistance – it finds that the secular pursuits are a spiritual occupation”. Hegel, The Philosophy of History.

Most of the time, I am referring to 2, 6, 10, and sometimes 1.

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Some superficial notes on Pascal

31 01 2011

I read a post recently on Pascal’s wager. Overall, I am not so sure of the tone taken by most of the participants in that discussion. But one must point out first that Pascal’s wager takes place in the context of his anthropology. Being a Jansenist, he was profoundly pessimistic about the powers of man, while giving great weight to the infinite power of God. This quote, also from his Pensees, came to mind in connection to this issue:

One little thought could not be made to arise from all bodies taken together, for this is impossible and they are of different orders. One single movement of true charity could not be derived from all bodies and all spirits; for that is impossible. It is of another order, and is supernatural.

While there is an “orthodox” interpretation of this idea, in the Jansenist mind, this means that the natural order is more than superfluous when applied to revealed truths. In a sense, the heavens could not sing the glory of God in Pascal. They are part of a barren universe devoid of meaning. They sing nothing, or if they sing something, it is a lie.

Related to this is perhaps the response that Pascal may have given to the author of the post cited above when he says that the courage of conviction is more important than the fear of eternal loss at the heart of the wager. There is a Spanish saying that goes, él que se salva sabe todo, él que no se salva no sabe nada (he who is saved knows everything, he who is not saved knows nothing. In traditional Christian discourse, salvation is an absolute good that determines all others. While one could try to hold to the idea of the absolute justice of God, the argument is a bit of a cop out because we have no real idea what that justice would look like.

Which gets me to the false presupposition at the heart of the argument. The presupposition, alluded to by Christopher Hitchens, is that a God who would offer Pascal’s wager would be foolish and far from sincere. The death bed conversion, embodied best by the Good Thief on the Cross, is a sign that God is a finicky monarch who is satisified by mere flattery. This extends further into the very modern notion that God’s behavior has to be reasonable and acceptable to modern attitudes. The fear at the center of these attitudes is that God’s behavior may be completely contigent, that absurdity and capriciousness are signs of the absolute power of God, and not signs that God doesn’t exist. In Pascal and the “traditional” world, one can be saved by dumb luck and bad faith. Such an idea for us seems vulgar and perverse. That is why many have to argue for universal salvation, and so forth. A god who would behave otherwise would be “unpreachable”.





St. Tweety

6 12 2010

Someone sent me this article about the saints venerated by Mexican drug smugglers. This one was a little out of the ordinary:

Traffickers also rely on good-luck charms, such as Scarface posters and pictures of Tweety, the yellow bird from Looney Tunes. Apparently traffickers find comfort in the idea that although Sylvester chases Tweety, he never catches the wily bird, Almonte said.

Next to their pictures of St. Jude and Santa Muerte can also be found pictures of a cartoon character. This is not surprising, as even back in Mexico, people would carry and “pray to” sea beans and heads of garlic for luck in such things as games of chance.

This perhaps is another chapter in the phenomenology of the divine: how does something go from being popular image or inanimate object, to being a saint, a demi-god, or a god itself. What is the difference between luck and Providence; a local manifestation of the preternatural and the metaphysical ens causa sui of philosophy?

Perhaps the “god of philosophy” or the “god of ethics” is just as much an “idol” as Tweety, and serves almost the same purpose.





Two texts on women

4 10 2010

Again after all this he created two human beings in his image, man first, then woman, in whom the heavens and the earth, and every embellishment of both, are brought to perfection. For when the Creator came to the creation of woman, he rested himself in this creation, thinking that he had nothing more honorable to create; in her were completed and consummated all the wisdom and power of the Creator; after her no creation could be found or imagined. Since, therefore, woman is the ultimate end of creation, the most perfect accomplishment of all the works of God and the perfection of the universe itself, who will deny that she possesses honor surpassing every other creature? Without her the world itself, already perfect to a fault and complete at every elevel, would have been imperfect; it could only be perfected in the creature of all others by far the most perfect. For it is unreasonable and absurd to think that God would have finished so great a work with something imperfect.

Since the world itself has been created by God as a circle of absolute perfection, it is fitting that the circle be perfected by this particle capable of being the link that unites perfectly the beginning of the circle with its end. That is how, at the time of creation, woman was the last in time of all things created; in the conception of the divine mind, however, she was first of all, as much in prestige as in honor, as was written about her by the prophet: “Before the heavens were created, God chose her and chose her first.” Indeed, it is a commonplace among philosophers to say (I cite their own words): “The end is always the first in intention and the last in execution.” For a woman was the last work of God, who introduced her into our world as the queen of a kingdom already prepared for her, adorned and prefect in everything. It is therefore right that every creature love, honor, and respect her; right also that every creature submit to and obey her, for she is the queen of all creatures and their end, perfection, and glory, absolute perfection. This is why Wisdom says of her: “She glorifies her noble birth by living with God, for even the Lord of all has loved her.”
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The crossroads

19 07 2010

From the blues to Brazil and beyond

If you want to learn how to make songs yourself, you take your guitar and you go to where the road crosses that way, where a crossroads is. Get there be sure to get there just a little ‘ fore 12 that night so you know you’ll be there. You have your guitar and be playing a piece there by yourself…A big black man will walk up there and take your guitar and he’ll tune it. And then he’ll play a piece and hand it back to you. That’s the way I learned to play anything I want

source

This vignette was told in conjunction with the story of bluesman, Robert Johnson, who according to another site, “claims he sold his soul to the Devil at the Crossroads in exchange for becoming the greatest musician ever. He is — and was dead at 27.”
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Mandatory Pentecost post

24 05 2010

I consider the Holy Ghost to be the most abused member of the Holy Trinity in the last fifty years. God the Father is vague enough and distant enough for people to mostly leave Him alone. There are no churches devoted to God the Father, no manipulation of His image. Sure, many feminist thinkers have a problem with us calling God, “Father”, but they don’t seem too important. God the Father sits up there, watching, the agenda of no one.

Once you get to the Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, then you get all sorts of crazies coming out of the woodwork who claim that Jesus said this, Jesus did that, Jesus wouldn’t like the Church the way it is now, “Jesus, save me from your followers”, etc. So saying that the Holy Ghost is more abused may seem inaccurate. I would contend, however, that the Second Person of the Trinity is used to it. They have been doing that to Him for the last two thousand years, so it isn’t exactly news. People have been wondering what would Jesus do since He ascended into Heaven, so we can just blow all of that stuff off at this point.

But the Holy Ghost, the New Pentecost, the movement of the Spirit, and speaking in tongues… that stuff has become a theological cottage industry in the last fifty years. People feel moved by the spirit. Theologians feel that He is too anonymous, too misunderstood: “we haven’t yet understood pneumatology”. I have read such posturing in thinkers as diverse as Cantalamessa, Zizoulas, Congar, and so forth. In my hometown, the Mexican charismatics get together on Pentecost to share the “Spirit”, bathe in the “Spirit”, be moved by the “Spirit”. I have never been comfortable with this stuff. But the Holy Ghost is too ghostly to defend Himself from all of this. And usually, when people talk like this, they usually mean to say under their breath: “yeah, because we’ve been doing stuff wrong so far, our faith has been that of the ‘frozen chosen’, and by golly, things have to change!”

So I am immensely unsympathetic to this sort of thing. For me, it seems that people use the Holy Ghost for all sorts of stupid agendas. Let’s change the Mass, because the Holy Ghost told us so. Let’s tack on more mysteries to the rosary, because it seems good to the Holy Ghost and to us (but mostly to us). Let’s slam the religion that came before us because we are more “spirit-filled” than our predecessors. Yeah, I get really tired of the Holy Ghost getting mentioned so much, and I think He is too. (It seems good to the Holy Ghost… nah, just playin’). People think they have the Holy Ghost because they’ve got “good feelings” inside them, they feel good about God, they feel “on fire” with God, and they feel more fervent than everyone else.

Well, maybe I am just a lukewarm cultural Catholic who reads too much, but I still think we should have a fifty year moratorium on mentioning the Holy Ghost in religious literature except for the mandatory prayers. Maybe we have to learn that the Holy Ghost is a “still small voice” who speaks sometimes in fire, but most of the time in a gentle breeze, unnoticed by time, unpretentious like the household chores. People want to get their jollies off of religion, but maybe they need to get their jollies off of more normal things and their fervor from more mundane sources. God knows we can’t even get basic things right now. What makes us want to be mystics so badly?





Jesus as Social Engineer?

17 05 2010

Found via the Western Confucian

Jesus as anti-family

Here’s a nibble of this article:

As the Church settled into the groove of establishment, accepting to greater and lesser degrees the realisation that Christ was not about to be returning anytime soon, the imperative of discipleship gradually waned, other priorities taking its place, and that rather than the mission of the Kingdom having a Church, the Church had a Kingdom. Ironically, the Church had become well and truly secularised, so profoundly so that cultural norms of empire, those of citizenship, stability, honour, familial obligation and ties, became the ethos of Church, and the motifs by which morality and religiosity were infused. How odd it is that many of today’s proponents of ‘orthodoxy’, and the inveighers against ‘relativism’, are perhaps the unwitting spruikers for what is actually the victory of a secularism that long ago permeated our Church.

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The Metaphysics of Voudoun

12 04 2010

Maya Deren’s book, The Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, is one of the greatest works of metaphysics of the 20th century. Unlike the works of such figures as Husserl and Heidegger, and very much like the work of Mircea Elaide, she attempts to find being in the midst of life itself, and not in pure thought. For her, Voudoun is not just some “ungodly” superstition, some manner of manipulating spirits in order to get your own way in life. The complex pantheon of deities and the rituals used to feed and invoke them are informed by a complex worldview in which all things are interconnected. The truth of being is thus not abstract, but is so concrete that it flows through the very veins of the worshippers themselves.
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On Death

7 04 2010

If the resurrection doesn’t sound like the Gospel, you haven’t really considered how great and powerful death is. An ordinary man might conquer a vice. He may fix a hole in his reasoning. But he will never defeat death. Even if he finds the Fountain of Youth, death will eventually blot out the sun and leave the earth a cold, lifeless shell. Should he escape the solar system and find another star, death will destroy that one, too. It will devour and devour until not a single wisp of usable energy remains in this universe to sustain life.

The easiest way to kill the Gospel in your church is to drive thoughts of death out of our minds. Hurry the old and the frail out the doors of your church, so the youthful and exuberant don’t have to see them. Distract people with self-help lessons and inspirational stories. Wrap people up in the institution, in the programs, and the politics of your version of the faith. Just don’t let them think about death. Don’t let them see the dying. Be sure to do this, and regardless of how “orthodox” your church is on paper, the Gospel will be the only thing that dies in your church. Only face to face with the ugly visage of death do we learn who Jesus is.

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On translation

6 04 2010

God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

-John Donne, from Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions