Ktismatics

12 February 2007

The Unlikeliest Thing

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 12:12 pm

Thou deckest thyself with light as it were with a garment; and spreadest out the heavens like a curtain. (Psalm 104:2)

For the pagans, the Greeks, the medievalists, nature participates God, revealing in bedimmed image a divine essence that suffuses the surfaces of the world as light shining through fabric reveals the shadows and contours of the reality behind it. The appearances that reveal but an image of the depths, the representation of the immaterial in matter: isn’t this, asks Barfield, what the Psalmist sees?

For a moment we are inclined to feel that the Psalmist, too, is experiencing the representations as representations, and the world as a theophany. But as we read on, we are impressed more and more with the enormous difference between this world and the world either of Greek or of medieval man… For here is not only no hint of mythology, but no real suggestion of manifestation. Everything proclaims the glory of God, but nothing represents Him. Nothing could be more beautiful, and nothing could be less Platonic.

The high hills are a refuge for the wild goats; and so are the stony rocks for the conies, but it is not, we are made to feel, by contemplating these phenomena that we shall rise to the contemplation of the invisible Divinity who brought them into being. Here, too, the appearances are indeed grounded in divinity; but they are not grounded in the same way. They are not appearances — still less, ‘names’ — of God. They are things created by God. There is, in short, nothing to suggest ‘immanence,’ and everything to suggest the contrary.

If, moreover, we review the Old Testament as a whole, we shall scarcely find there suggested what we find assumed by both Aristotle and Aquinas, namely, that knowledge of God’s creation can become knowledge of God… The Jew could rejoice in the appearances; but he was not curious about them. He was not interested in them. He was, above all, detached from them.

Yahweh’s commandment not to make any graven images was, says Barfield, perhaps the unlikeliest thing that ever happened. Everyone else represented their gods; Israel was forbidden from having anything to do with nations whose gods participated the appearances of the material world. It’s too easy to substitute the sensory appearance of the representation for the reality it represents, as if the idol were a numinous object in its own right: this is idolatry.

I think that’s all I want to say about Barfield. The questions I ask myself are these:

  • Thought as a representation of Truth: isn’t this an essentially pagan/Greek idea? The same holds for language as representation of Truth. The idea of representation implies that truths participate minds or words in the same way they might participate the sun or the mountains or graven images.
  • Did the Hebrews conceive of thought and language in non-representational terms? Just as the Creation is wholly other than the Creator, are ideas and discourses wholly other than the truths toward which they point?
  • What is the nature of a Hebraic Truth that does not participate minds and words? Is it knowable?
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32 Comments »

  1. http://jasonhesiak.blogspot.com/2006/01/golden-ass.html

    :)

    More later, probably…

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 12 February 2007 @ 7:54 pm

  2. get well soon

    Comment by ktismatics — 12 February 2007 @ 8:07 pm

  3. What are words, then, when we write of the Creator or Truth? They are not representations of them, but about them? Do they but describe them? Is the implication then that we can know them but not talk about or write about nor represent them?

    Or do we just have an inkling about them, but can never know them?

    Comment by bluevicar — 13 February 2007 @ 8:19 am

  4. Good questions. Are these your answers? Are they your experiences?

    Comment by ktismatics — 13 February 2007 @ 3:27 pm

  5. My providing of the link was my take on what I can figure as what’s going on. Basically that God is the God of the living, and what appears disappears. That God has no fate. I don’t think I really have any other comments. I think I need to read Barfield’s book myself, which I plan to do at some point now. Thanks for the summary.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 14 February 2007 @ 11:03 pm

  6. To complicate things let’s throw this into the mix…..Although the Hebrews were not to represent God with a graven image of anykind they repeatedly represented God via annthropomorphic language. That is, they could make God into the image of man through language: “The eyes of God” “The hands of God” The arm of The LORD” “The LORD is my Shepherd.” So, even though a physical image could not be created, a mental metaphor could be constructed to represent some aspect of God. This is one of the ways the Hebrews took a transcendent God (as described so well in this post) and made him near and relevant.

    Comment by Jonathan Erdman — 15 February 2007 @ 1:15 pm

  7. Why don’t you believe that God has eyes, hands, arms? In Genesis the only created entity that really does carry the image of God is man. Maybe transcendentalizing God is an act of de-anthropomorphizing, a gradual transformation of God from someone virtually indistinguishable from man into the wholly Other. Jesus brought God back into his original anthropic form.

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 February 2007 @ 1:44 pm

  8. Jason – I hadn’t realized that you’d linked to a particular page of your blog. Yes, I see you’ve been closely in contact with Greek praxes of participation linking material with ethereal. I can see why Jews might react with skepticism to Christianity’s more participatory theology. I was just thinking the other day about the Stoics, the Confucians, and I guess also the Pythagoreans, who seek the middle point of the triangle between the two extremes. Hegel too I guess. Christianity maybe has two separate axes: material-spiritual and evil-good. Christianity isn’t loooking for a midpoint: it wants to put one to death and live extremely in the other. Christ isn’t exactly a midpoint: he’s more of a tohu vavohu, one who through the void of death enters into the void of emergent being.

    Comment by ktismatics — 15 February 2007 @ 2:43 pm

  9. I don’t think Christianity is seeking an extreme of the material-spiritual axis. Tohu Vavohu is a creation myth, a story – again – of formation. It’s not about man becoming spiritual, but about man’s properly ordered place as man…

    And I don’t think I’m clear yet on what you mean when you say participation? Example, I’ve been reading Leviticus. Aaron is to with his hand put the sins of Isreal upon the head of the goat, and a man is to guide the goat out to the wilderness, so that Isreal’s sins are “carried away into the wilderness”. Either this is “just symbolic”, or – to me – participatory. To me Aaron “really” “places the sins of Isreal upon the head of the goat”.

    Also, the Isrealites are commanded not to drink the blood of the sacraficial bull. The blood is to be sprinkled upon the altar as sacraficial atonement, because the blood is the life of the animal. Meanwhile the meat, carcass and dung of the bull are to be carried outside the camp, and burned. The Isrealites would have SEEN this; this is not the condition in which they would have typically SEEN a bull. On the cover of Barfield’s book is a mask. This ritual with the bull strikes me as a masking and a re-masking. Either that or, as far as I know, it can only be taken as “just symbolic”. This ritual is one of atonement from God, but it doesn’t, however, mean that God is a bull.

    In the context of my link/post…”the great chain of being”…such “participation” described in Leviticus is not a question of whether or not there is binding (such as how Christ frees us from the bonds of fate), but its a question of to WHOM does the binding occur? This is why the Eucharist must be practiced regularly over the course of time. Man is bound to temporality.

    What sayest thou?

    :)

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 February 2007 @ 12:57 am

  10. I just re-read your first post on this topic, and found the following to be enlightening on what you mean when you say participation:

    “Barfield contends that the ancient Hebrews found a radically different way of saving the appearances, one that rejected participation altogether. For ancient Near Eastern cultures the stairway from raw phenomena to supernatural divinity passed through the idol. An idol is a graven image: a man-made artifact that ‘represents’ a supernatural god in physical form. Representation occupied the same middle position in paganism that mathematics played in Greece, mediating between lower and higher, between the natural and the supernatural.”

    OK, so basically, you are saying that pagan “idols” “participated”, supposedly, in divinity. Because they represented the image of the god. I know, too, for example, that bulls were often the figures used to represent pagan gods.

    Here’s what I’m saying. I’m obviously not referring to the bull as a graven image of God, as I said in my last comment. But there’s still something that crosses over between realities in ways that defy the Newtonian mechanics that commonly governs our ideas of the relations between bodies…and this Hebrew ritual is not Greek mathematics, either. From the people of Isreal to the bull to God the non-sensory reality of sin and atonement is actualized in the world of appearances, presicely because man lives in such a world.

    And the people of Isreal are re-formed, not necessarily in an extending line from God out to the world, but in an interactive/interweaving way, as would make sense for a relational covenant. Interestingly too, atonement occured by God’s taking the sins upon Himself. The Holy of Holies was the most inward place. Atonement occured for the people out in the courtyard by inverse. It’s geometric :)

    And speaking of Greek mathematics and geometry…in reference to a previous conversation, as a side note really…the values of numbers/letters are not arbitrarily assigned in Jewish mysticism, but are given value by their geometric associations. And geometry speaks for itself. Ancient Greek mathematics was more like what we now think of as geometry, although not even that, really.

    So, again, in reference to my previous question, what sayest thou?

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 February 2007 @ 1:25 am

  11. And I just re-read your second post as well, and I think what I was saying about Isreal’s formation not occuring by extension OUT from God, through the bull, is related to what you were saying about “immanence”…but I don’t know if “detachment” follows.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 February 2007 @ 1:31 am

  12. Jason –

    It’s not about man becoming spiritual, but about man’s properly ordered place as man… That’s better. Perhaps material/spiritual is a dialectic holdover from the medieval. Even the whole world/kingdom, old/new can be framed within the context of “proper order” if man is intrinsically both matter and spirit. But there is Paul’s flesh/spirit dichotomy, wherein he wants to put the flesh to death and live in the spirit. Doesn’t this sound like choosing spirit over matter as the “proper order”?

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2007 @ 8:06 am

  13. The Atonement is a fascinating ritual in many ways. That there are two goats: one chosen by lot to be God’s, killed in sacrifice; the other, the unchosen, the scapegoat, to bear the sins of the people into the wilderness. The Atonement instructions of Lev. 16 come right after a whole series of cleansings: childbirth, leprosy (see the two birds of Lev. 14:49-53), discharge, seminal emission, menstruation. You get a sense that sin in Israel is a physical thing. Intention or uncleanness of the heart isn’t really a concern: physical uncleanness doesn’t seem to participate spiritual uncleanness. It’s all about separating yourself physically from your physical impurities and atoning for them ritually.

    It’s not “sin” that’s atoned for, but “sins”: discrete acts of uncleanness. And he shall make atonement for the holy place, because of the impurities of the sons of Israel, and because of their transgressions, in regard to all their sins… Then Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the sons of Israel, and all their transgressions in regard to all their sins, and he shall lay them on the head of the goat… (16:16,21).

    It’s all very physical. No real sense of the physical symbolizing or participating the spiritual. The transfer of iniquities from the sons of Israel to the scapegoat is like some physical residue that transfers from the people to the goat. But how do the iniquities get onto the hands of Aaron so he can transfer them to the goat? When the priest offers sacrifice, does the iniquity go from the sinner onto the sacrifice? Then, when the priest handles the sacrifice, does he take on the iniquity so that it doesn’t get sent to God in the offering? And then, on the Day of Atonement, does the priest unload all the accumulated sin-residue onto the scapegoat?

    Then, in chapter 17: the slaughter of animals shall include a sacrificial offering and a sprinkling of blood and a burning of fat as a soothing aroma to the Lord. And they shall no longer sacrifice their sacrifices to the goat demons with which they play the harlot… For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement. Therefore I said to the sons of Israel, ‘No person among you may eat blood, nor may any alien who sojourns among you eat blood’… for the life of the flesh is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.’ Maybe the blood/life of the sacrificial animal substitutes for the blood/life of the sinner. When the priest sacrifices an animal, he takes the sins out of the blood and into his own hands, so the blood can be purified befor it’s given to God?

    Then in chapter 18 God begins like this: I am Yahweh your God. You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt where you lived, nore are you to do what is done in the land of Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are to perform My judgments and keep My statutes. The Law is all about separation: clean from unclean, Israelite from non-Israelite. Here Yahweh conveys no sense that the Mosaic Law participates a Universal Law of the spirit: there are their statutes, and there are My statutes. Don’t follow theirs; follow Mine.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2007 @ 9:52 am

  14. Now we have Christ’s substitutionary atonement. He takes the sins (plural) of the world onto himself. He is killed and goes to heaven, like the chosen goat. But before he ascends presumably he goes to hell to deposit the sins there, like the scapegoat going into the wilderness, so he doesn’t pollute heaven with them. Jesus doubles himself in his death.

    This death/doubling motif repeats itself in many experiences of portalic transport between realities. Think of, say, Hitchcock’s Vertigo: Kim Novak becomes both women just as she dies. Frodo and Gollum are always doubles of one another, especially right at the culminating moment of throwing the ring into the volcano. And Frodo dies too, kind of, to Middle Earth — he has to go to the West with the elves. And so on.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2007 @ 10:03 am

  15. Partially to say that I don’t think physical deformities are just physical deformities, even just on simple levels, and nor is the transformation:

    http://jasonhesiak.blogspot.com/2006/07/from-dark-to-light-personal-story.html

    (FYI – that was a particular link) Again, more later :)

    In general, I think you are trying to point something about about physicality that most people miss as moderns. In the Bible things aren’t centered on the cogito the way they are assumed to be for a modern. Am I right?

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 February 2007 @ 5:59 pm

  16. Jason — I agree about physical deformities being more than just physical. The social and psychological ramifications are significant and probably inevitable. To reinforce this bias with a pronouncement of uncleanness and sin under the Law seems to be adding insult to injury. Certainly the New Testament is a different story in this regard. It’s one of those anomalies that makes people wonder whether the O.T. God is the same as the N.T. God. The repulsion at uncleanness seems like a visceral response associated with human instinct rather than divinely inspired morality. But what do I know? It makes me think of sin under the Law as being kind of trivial. Maybe Jesus had to atone for the sins of the Father.

    But yes about physicality being a more significant aspect of life in the Biblical world. There’s a lot of N.T. cogito, more so in the epistles than the gospels, but hardly anything about feelings, personality, and a lot of other factors that motivate us nowadays.

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2007 @ 9:13 pm

  17. As for flesh/spirit, there is also the verse: “Lord turn my heart of stone to a heart of flesh.” Rather than do a dissertation then on the implications, I’ll just say for now that I think its about the spirit helping us to become who we are to become rather than about us becoming spiritual. I think the meaning of Paul’s statement has to be taken in cotext too. He’s setting up a framework of specific meaning in that passage for those terms.

    And when you say, “It’s all very physical. No real sense of the physical symbolizing or participating the spiritual.”, do you mean again to question the spirit/matter dialectic in the first place? But in that case you don’t end up with a world that is purely physical. I’m just trying to see where you’re at.

    Also, you said: “The transfer of iniquities from the sons of Israel to the scapegoat is like some physical residue that transfers from the people to the goat. But how do the iniquities get onto the hands of Aaron so he can transfer them to the goat? When the priest offers sacrifice, does the iniquity go from the sinner onto the sacrifice? Then, when the priest handles the sacrifice, does he take on the iniquity so that it doesn’t get sent to God in the offering? And then, on the Day of Atonement, does the priest unload all the accumulated sin-residue onto the scapegoat?…Maybe the blood/life of the sacrificial animal substitutes for the blood/life of the sinner. When the priest sacrifices an animal, he takes the sins out of the blood and into his own hands, so the blood can be purified befor it’s given to God?”

    It seems like you are as a modern person questioning exacly how the sins are transferred in the ritual in the same way that moderns question the exact way and/or location of man’s understanding of God in creation in ways that ancients/Paul would not have done (to reference a conversation you were recently having).

    As for how the sins get to the scapegoat, it says that Aaron confesses them. In general though, I don’t think there really is such a detailed explanation. I think the basic point is that, in the same way that technologies are extensions of man, what appears to man is part of what man becomes, in a wholistic way. So Isreal is purified simply because the ritual happens, and they are present to it. Also too, the way I see the purification occuring, I think atonement does not occur “before” the blood is offered to God, but it is God’s presence that makes atonement. The priest doesn’t purify, but he is the medium/intercessor between Isreal and God, so that God(‘s presence) can purify.

    There’s another ritual where the kidney’s and liver are cleansed by the priest. Again, I think the power of this is simply that it was a visible act. Man was acting something out (purification), sort of like in a play (although theater came much later, I think they are related). A man, however, didn’t take out his own kidney or liver and visibly clean it, nor did he do that with that inner spiritual reality of his being that carries sin or grace. This was why I referenced McLuhan, that technologies are extensions of our being. I think you could say the same about religious rituals. In fact, I sometimes wonder if McLuhan sort of secretly/privately had ancient religious rituals in mind as he formulated his theory.

    And so what I was saying about the dynamic between God’s presence and atonement…I think these ancient Hebrew rituals were sort of prophetic, I guess you could say, of Christ’s “substitutionary atonement”. But just as I see the ancient ritual as “participatory” (whatever that means here), I see US as “participating” in the sacrafice. I AM a “living sacrafice” (supposedly). I think this is the prophecy. The ritual is an extension, but Christ is a fulfillment. I think of Augustine.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 February 2007 @ 11:36 pm

  18. Also, BTW, when I say “inner spiritual” part of our being that carries sin or grace, I just mean that there’s no organ with that function (even though you can easily connect stress and sin -although often not your own sin – and bodily functions).

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 16 February 2007 @ 11:45 pm

  19. I’m trying to understand the OT worldview as best I can, but it’s elusive. The reason I delved into some of this on the blog has to do with tying up loose ends on Genesis 1. Personally, I think it’s unlikely that God had anything to do with creating the material universe. Personally I think it’s unlikely that there is a God. But I’ll acknowledge I could be wrong.

    Anyhow, I’ve wondered how important it is to Judeo-Christian faith for God to have created the material world. My own Christian experience had little to do with God as creator: for me it was about personal relationship, right living, eternal life. Outside the early chapters in Genesis there isn’t much about God as Creator in the OT. In the NT it’s mostly Romans 1, where Paul says that the creation reveals not just the existence of God but also his “invisible attributes.” And I’m trying to reconcile that sense of the material pointing to spiritual with the OT view, which I don’t think shared Paul’s sensibility.

    So I try to understand things like uncleanness and the Atonement ritual: how does the spiritual interpenetrate the physical? I don’t think medieval or Greek ideas of “participation” work. I don’t think symbolism is right either — too modern a concept. It’s more as though the physical is also spiritual. Physical uncleanness is also sin; sin can be transferred physically from a man to the priest’s hands to the scapegoat through the performance of rites and the confessing of words. Uncleanness offends God physically and physically pollutes his dwelling-place on earth. In the blood is the life, so the life of the sacrifice is given to God as a substitutionary death. It’s not so much that matter and spirit participate one another. Matter is intrinsically spiritual; spirit is intrinsically material — there is no pulling them apart. Presumably the OT God is also this way: inspeparably material and spiritual. The burnt offerings really are a sweet-smelling savor in the nostrils of God, etc. There is no separating matter and spirit. There is, however, separation in the OT world: of clean from unclean, of Israel from non-Israel, of Yahweh from other gods. Just different planes of cleavage than we’re accustomed to.

    I think Christians “Christianize” the OT, in part by over-spiritualizing it. Moderns perhaps over-intellectualize the OT. Barfield is interesting as someone who tries to contrast OT thought with NT, Greek, and pagan worldviews. I was trying to summarize his position, but I think we’re seeing some gaps in his understanding.

    I’m also wondering about whether there could be some version of Christian faith in which God didn’t create the material world, and where Christians who so believed wouldn’t be cast out into the wilderness. Are there readings of Scripture and versions of belief where God is a “weaker force,” to use Caputo’s term? Certainly there were Gnostic Christians who didn’t believe the Judeo-Christian God created the universe. Can there be Christians in this era who believe in God but who also believe that the material universe “just happened”?

    Comment by ktismatics — 17 February 2007 @ 5:24 am

  20. A very interesting post! just an odd thought on ‘the blood’ having the life and the sin. I see the symbolism (if that’s what it is) of the blood being left on the alter as God Himself taking possession of the sin and so effectively personally destroying it, therefore providing forgiveness. The parallel with Jesus would be that He takes to Himself our sin – and so destroys it. I don’t see Him conveying the sin to be dumped in some safe spot any more that the blood itself was.

    Comment by samlcarr — 17 February 2007 @ 4:45 pm

  21. You know, a clear understanding of being an O.T. fella’ eludes me, as well, I must say. I am definitely doing some framing whenever I think of the O.T., and I haven’t found a way out of this frame, really, nor a better one.

    And, of course, you speak of your Christian experience as in the past?

    As for O.T. and God as creator, there are also the Psalms, where there are references to the God who made mouths and ears, ect, if I remember right. Or the God who wonderously made us or formed us in our mother’s womb, kind of thing. There are similar references in Job, for sure, in terms of the God who made mouths and ears having or bestowing the power of speech or hearing.

    As for the Gnostics, I don’t take them to be Christian. I don’t know if that invalidates your question about whether there is a Christianity that doesn’t so heavily rely on God as creator. I don’t necessarily think it does. But I just think that Gnosticism is a whole other world view that radically alters everything. I mean, for them its not that God didn’t create the material world, but that Satan did, essentially. Or even that Yaweh IS Satan.

    As for the matter/spirit dialectic thing…uummm…yeah, I’ve thought about that. That’s what I mean by “elusive”. The way I think of those rituals I was talking about, I don’t think it DEPENDS upon such a dialectic. I would think it would read that way, possibly, what I wrote, that my words don’t depend on such a dialectic.

    And what do you mean when you say that its unlikely there is a God? It sounds like there’s a whole lot of personal story behind that statement, considering that you spoke of your Christianity as being in the past. But it also sounds to me as if, from the rest of what you’ve written, you have just made that subtle shift from belief to knowledge; and that such a shift requires some reframing of some things that in reality are very similar either way, but look different from different angles…?

    I should mention. When I say the word participation, it is largely colored by something my professor said. He said, “Priests believe, philosophers know, and poets participate.” This, it seemed, was said under the hidden implication/ground that all three live in the same world. As well it didn’t seem from the way it was stated there that the word participation was dependent upon Plato, but that his construct gave a bit of a different meaning to the term participation. Although Plato could relate to what he was saying, it seems. Plato talked a lot about poets.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 17 February 2007 @ 6:27 pm

  22. Also, when you say you don’t know if there’s a God, are you questioning God or Socrates?

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 17 February 2007 @ 6:48 pm

  23. Sam –

    I’m not quite clear on the atonement, either OT or NT. In the OT it seems that the blood is an offering to God in compensation for sin, not a presentation to God of the sin. The chosen goat is God’s goat, given to God in sacrifice; its blood is used to cleanse the sanctuary from the sins that had already corrupted it. The scapegoat carries the sin away from the presence of God and into the wilderness. What becomes of the sin-bearing goat once it gets to the wilderness? There are traditions saying that someone would push the goat off a cliff and kill it, which doesn’t seem right. Others contend that the scapegoat is sent to the devil, but for Yahweh to give Satan anything, even a year’s worth of sins, doesn’t seem right either. It mostly just seems important to get the sins out of town: what happens to them there is of no great concern. Again, the motif is separation of clean from unclean.

    To what extent does Jesus’s death parallel the OT atonement? There is debate. The Apostle’s Creed says that, after he died, Jesus descended into hell. Why? To preach to souls there, to deposit sins there and bind it until the end of the age? The Lamb of God takes away the sins of the world: this sounds like scapegoat language, but it would have to be a “scapelamb” — for which there is no OT parallel. Jesus was crucified on the outskirts of town rather than in the temple. so maybe the Via Dolorosa, the walk from Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives, the “Stations of the Cross” in Catholic ritual, corresponds to the scapegoat being led to the wilderness. So from the official Jewish standpoint Jesus was the sin-bearing scapegoat, but from God’s perspective Jesus was the chosen goat being offered to God. Actually, that seems to be a pretty good theory. What do you think?

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 February 2007 @ 6:02 pm

  24. Sounds good to me tho quite a ways off from what you were posting about! The idea of representation is certainly there in the ancient practices tho perhaps in many cases we can see something like antisymbolism at work. I wonder how much of the symbolism is designed to turn people off? The less attractive or even more disgusting something is, the less likely to become idolized?

    Comment by Sam Carr — 18 February 2007 @ 7:06 pm

  25. Jason –

    I don’t want to see a return of Gnosticism. I’m more interested in the fact that the early Christians and nearly-Christians weren’t quite sure whether they could get behind the idea of God as creator of the material universe. The less kindly, less savory aspects of nature may have been more prominent in people’s minds. In a heavily industrialized global economy perhaps nature gets a more romantic patina of innocence attached to it, rather than the sense of senseless violence that is, I suppose, the other side of the same coin. Are the harsher aspects of nature also reflective of God, or are they the result of the Fall? I suspect even today there are differences of opinion within the Christian camp about that.

    I think your professor’s idea of “participate” differs from Aquinas’s. His was a more technical, philosophical usage of the term. To participate rather than to watch from the sidelines, to engage rather than to critique — I’m all for that sort of participation.

    But yes, I’d classify myself as ex-Christian, or post-Christian. I’m not particularly concerned with debunking or debating about, whether God exists, whether Christ is savior, whether God made the material world. Nor am I ripe for reconversion. I believe Christianity has a long and storied history, that it has done far more good than evil in Western culture, that it has an integrity as a worldview. Maybe it’s even true in a literal sense. And the issues of morality, reality, truth, etc. concern me greatly. I’m not just playing around with these topics. I feel like I have more in common with committed Christians than I do with the average secular person. However, my not considering myself to be a Christian makes me reluctant to participate in “official” Christian blogs like Jesus Creed, Open Source Theology, and Church and Postmodern Culture. Sometimes I feel like I can move a theological discussion along without my unbelief getting in the way. But my tent is pitched outside the camp, even though I share many concerns of those on the inside.

    Comment by ktismatics — 18 February 2007 @ 10:46 pm

  26. Sam –

    “Antisymbolism” — that’s an intriguing idea. What do you have in mind?

    I wonder how much of the symbolism is designed to turn people off? The less attractive or even more disgusting something is, the less likely to become idolized? The descriptions of unclean lesions, the bloody sacrifices, etc. — it is sort of distasteful, isn’t it? In line with our Creation discussion, it’s curious that, if physical death on earth came through sin, God sure seemed to find a lot of use for dead animals. Even as early as the Cain and Abel story: Abel’s slaughtered animal was the acceptable sacrifice, whereas Cain’s “vegan” offering was rejected. Does God purposely make himself a participant in the consequences of the Fall by turning to animal sacrifice? I wonder why?

    Comment by ktismatics — 19 February 2007 @ 8:35 pm

  27. I definitely think that “nature” has been romanticized. In the gospel’s Jesus’ interactions aren’t romantic but seem to be spoken about under the assumption of nature’s violence and danger. It’s what brought Luther to God. Jesus has the power to subdue the winds. But now that everything’s been mapped, known and subdued by technology…I think its that very idea of a false control that people are really reacting against when they become romantics. Brennan Manning commented on the goofiness of going from theophany to merely a thunderstorm on the weather report.

    I don’t think this negates the idea of God as creator of the material world. But it certainly fits in with the idea of God as the giver of meaning. This is why I like the idea of creation as a mythical truth.

    As for participation, of course I don’t know enough about Aquinas and whatever exactly Barfield meant by it, but I wonder how that discussion is effected by the dawn of speculative thought. I wonder the relation between the two. I mean, is Aquinas’/Barfield’s discussion on participation an attempt to come to terms with speculation? Are they just trying to find a way back IN, since speculation places us on an OUTside?

    And of course I’d be quite curious to hear the story of how you went from Christian to not…if you are willing to share? I won’t hound, I promise.

    As for participating in the consequences of the Fall (I realize this wasn’t my conversation, so feel free to ignore me), I’ve heard that the only way OUT is THROUGH. I’ve asked of myself similar questions about Jesus himself…why did he have to be “sacraficed”? Why did he have to die? I’m just saying that I don’t see how death could ever be conqured without dying, without facing it. I think it was built into an ancient’s attitude that when you fight with something, it is for the sake of making something appear.

    When vikings would defeat an enemy, they would weave their intestines on a loom while the enemy was still alive. We would now think of this as simply cruel, but I think to them it was just sort of an expression of what was happening. Its like the victor didn’t just subdue the power of his enemy, but took it on for himself. In ancient Mayan artifacts, the dying party of a contest to the death…his head is cutt off, but from where his head was emerges lots of new vegetation, new life. I realize that’s all a bit of a turn from the sacrafice of Jesu, but…nonetheless I think it still fits in too with your questions of the violence of nature and the messyness of the material universe. I tend to think of the death and resurrection of Christ as more of a revelation and fulfillment than a commercial transaction of sin and justice.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 20 February 2007 @ 5:51 am

  28. Jason –

    Jesus rebuked the wind, didn’t he? As if the wind was exerting a force of will contrary to Jesus’s. Maybe it was a “special” storm he rebuked, since Jonah’s storm was sent by God.

    I think you’re exactly right about Aquinas and Barfield coming to grips with speculative thought and looking for “a way back in.” Barfield talks about alpha thinking, which is thinking about, theorizing, accepting one’s ‘outness’ relative to the world. Barfield doesn’t want to return to a pre-alpha oneness with nature, though. He’s much more Christian-incarnational in his orientation. Perhaps this is a “passing through” rather than a “going back,” to use your language.

    I’m intrigued by the paradigm of “going through.” There are two unreconciled parties: God and man. Jesus doesn’t move the two sides together; he passes through the void that has opened up between them, pulling everyone through behind him. The sacrifice is always the thing that plunges into the void between the competing realities, rather than (as you say) the economic equalizer.

    Delving into the void and passing through to the other side: terrifying, suicidal, explosively generative. I’m interested in exploring this paradigm in psychological praxis as well. Most praxes try to find a transition path from here to there, from sickness to health, from disrepair to full functioning. But to plunge into the gaps between actual and desired, between self and other, between fantasy and reality-so-called — this is where I want to go.

    As for my “reverse testimony,” maybe later, maybe email.

    Comment by ktismatics — 20 February 2007 @ 7:24 pm

  29. Very interesting about Barfield’s “passing through”…a thought that has escaped me…I have tended to “go back”. Well, now that I think about it, I’ve tended NOT to “go back” (impossible), but to WANT to go back. But our will is part of who we are, huh.

    I wonder though, in the persuit to pay bills, stay fed, stay healthy, stay warm…is speculation itself a bit wacky in reality? Is it to “naturally” “go back” simply to live in reality…the reality of daily NEEDS? A fear and trembling, of sorts. This is where Aristotle starts, but eventually its like we NEED it as a big reminder, when everything seems taken care of by the system of things, un-needed, pre-held-together (speculatively). Is this simply a circle, rather than two interconnecting ones that can be reconciled?

    And I think you can’t have reconciliation between to things without first establishing their difference(s). E cannot EQUAL MC squared until it doesn’t. Like you said, there’s a gap between the two lines of an equal sign.

    Maybe in your notion of diving into the gap, that’s exactly what’s happening with the mask’s appearance on the cover of Barfield’s book. That doesn’t “take us back” to wearing masks, but it certainly places something different/other before us, just outside of us. Maybe it is TWO circles instead of one, making reconciliation possible.

    And I look foward to hearing your reverse testimony.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 20 February 2007 @ 8:03 pm

  30. It seems phenomenology was attempting in its own way to find “a way back in”, no? Well, now that I think about it, that’s what everyone’s trying to do. But to stay more particular…then both Hegel(ians) and Kierkegard are really trying to do the same. One’s critique of the other is a critique of outsidedenss, and yet criticism itself by definition occurs from an outside.

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 20 February 2007 @ 8:10 pm

  31. And in regards to “alpha thinking”, does/how does Barfield distinguish between reconciliation and just specu-speculation (speculating on speculation)? Maybe its right there in the title, huh…

    Comment by Jason Hesiak — 20 February 2007 @ 8:29 pm

  32. I agree about finding difference before reconciliation. The gap = the difference.

    Reality without speculation? What’s the point? “Specu-speculation” — speculation about speculation — is what Barfield calls “beta-thinking.” Self-awareness as a speculator is another step out, but also perhaps another step through in Barfield’s Christian project.

    Phenomenology I agree is an attempt to find the way back in. I also agree that it’s probably a self-defeating endeavor, because it’s intrinsically a theorizing project from the outside. On the other hand, Heidegger drove home the point that there is no outside for humanity. Being is always already being-in.

    I tend to think about reality as being some kind of a cobbled-together rickety structure extending precariously over/into the void. Nature is under there somewhere, but there’s a lot of artifice involved. But a chair is just as real as the tree it’s made of. In extending this contraption over the void it’s not necessary to get to the other side or to the bottom, because maybe there is no other side/bottom. How does this fit with “going through”? Maybe going-through is an incremental exploration rather than a single plunge.

    Comment by ktismatics — 20 February 2007 @ 8:33 pm


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