10 July 2007

Deconstructing Abraham

Filed under: First Lines, Ktismata, Language — ktismatics @ 8:56 am

Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman. But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise. This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. For it is written, “REJOICE, BARREN WOMAN WHO DOES NOT BEAR; BREAK FORTH AND SHOUT, YOU WHO ARE NOT IN LABOR; FOR MORE NUMEROUS ARE THE CHILDREN OF THE DESOLATE THAN OF THE ONE WHO HAS A HUSBAND.” And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise. But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also. But what does the Scripture say ? “CAST OUT THE BONDWOMAN AND HER SON, FOR THE SON OF THE BONDWOMAN SHALL NOT BE AN HEIR WITH THE SON OF THE FREE WOMAN.” So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman. (Galatians 4:21-31)

This is a very strange passage. In Genesis we learn that Abraham had two sons. The mother of the first son is Abraham’s servant Hagar; her son is Ishmael. The mother of the second son is Abraham’s wife Sarai; her son is Isaac. Ishmael becomes the patriarch of the Arabs, whereas the Jews trace their lineage through Isaac. But here in Galatians we have Paul, a Jew, asserting that Ishmael is the father of the Jews.

Paul makes himself clear. The story of Abraham’s two sons is an allegory. Hagar, the bondwoman, is the covenant of Law. Hagar is a mountain in Arabia, which corresponds to Jerusalem. Those who follow the Law are descendants of Hagar, enslaved to the Law. Allegorically speaking the Jews are the Arabs: enslaved, unclean, cast out.

Paul shows his readers that the Biblical story of Abraham contains an alternate weave within itself, and if you pull the right thread the text creates its own reversal of meaning. I would call this a deconstructive reading of the Torah.


9 July 2007

Would You Seek Help From This Man?

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 8:36 am

Last night I (voluntarily) attended one of those newfangled emerging church services, and believe it or not the homily was on Galatians 4:1-7. So I’ll take that as a sign that I’m on the right topic. I have more thoughts on Galatians, but meanwhile I’m still trying to get up some momentum for starting a therapy practice. Yesterday I drafted a summary of the approach I’d like to pursue, in case any potential clients ever happened to find me. What do you think?


Do you ever get the feeling that you’d be fine if only the world was different? That if you could just transport yourself to another reality, your weaknesses would turn into strengths, your failures into successes, your indifference into enthusiasm, your frustration into fulfillment? A reality where value isn’t just market value, where you make something besides money, where spending time isn’t just wasting time? A reality where people engage each other instead of undermining or ignoring one another. Maybe there really is such a reality. Maybe you just can’t see it or find your way in. Or maybe it can’t fully come into existence until you start living in it.

Realities are systems of meaning that link individuals to the world and to other people. A reality isn’t just in the world or in your head; it’s more like a web of meaning that links you to the world and to other people. A web of reality is knit together from multiple interlacing strands of meaning: beauty, danger, money, security, sex, power, and so on. We assume there is only a single reality, that multiple realities are the stuff of fantasy and science fiction. But we actually participate in multiple realities every day, depending on what’s motivating us at the moment and what signals we’re attuned to in our surroundings. An unlimited number of overlapping realities can coexist in the world.

Most of the time we participate in realities without paying conscious attention. But we can pay attention; we can become aware of realities and the strands of meaning that comprise them. We can learn what attracts us to certain realities, what repels us from others, what keeps us unaware of still others. We can understand the ways in which realities shape us, and the ways we shape realities. We can become reality travelers, linking ourselves to the world and to to other people in ways that we might never have imagined possible.

The Salon Postimse:
• Portals, Intervals, Alternate Realities
• Deterritorialization, Flows, Differance
• Discovery, Creation, Revelation
• Plenitude

Proprietor: John Doyle
• M.Div., Ph.D. (psychology)
• by appointment

7 July 2007

Masochistic Desire and the Law

Filed under: Christianity, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:34 am

They eagerly seek you, not commendably, but they wish to shut you out so that you will seek them. But it is good always to be eagerly sought in a commendable manner. (Galatians 4:17-18)

Paul has been warning the Galatians against those who would require them to follow the Law. They desire you but not in a good way, Paul warns. They desire you so they can reject you, and then you will desire them. This sounds familiar: Hegel‘s master-servant discourse, Girard‘s mimetic desire, Lacan‘s desiring the desire of the other. They seduce you then reject you, which makes them all the more desirable.

Isn’t this principle intrinsic to the Law itself? Doesn’t the Law coax you into following it in order that it might reject you? And then you desire the Law all the more, not just as a manifestation of a goodness that is wholly Other but also as the confirmation of your own badness? So that the more zealously you follow the Law the more corrupt and inadequate you feel?

But it’s good to be desired in a good way, says Paul; a way that leads to acceptance and love and freedom. And so Paul is perplexed: why would the way of the Law remain attractive when a far more appealing offer is on the table? It’s because the Law isn’t just a means of suppressing desire. The Law relies on desire for its appeal, the desire to be dominated and rejected and humiliated — the masochistic desire.

6 July 2007

A Thorn in the Eye?

Filed under: Christianity — ktismatics @ 5:45 am

Paul talks about suffering from a “thorn in the flesh.” Maybe he had trouble with his eyes.

but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me. (Galatians 4:14-16)

Paul says that he preached the gospel because of a bodily illness. In Acts 9 we learn about Saul’s epiphany, where he encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus.

Suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground… Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight.

Ananias visits Saul and lays hands on him.

And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; and he took food and was strengthened. Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”

It was because of his blinding encounter that Saul could see Jesus — nobody else who accompanied Saul on the road that day was blinded or could see Jesus. And certainly it was because of his mystical vision that Saul (who at some point and for some reason changed his name to Paul) began preaching the Gospel. Maybe Paul never fully regained his sight, even after Ananias healed him. Maybe his limited earthly vision enhanced his “second sight,” enabling him to envision Christ more clearly during his ministry. Because of his impaired vision Paul found it difficult to get around in the world, so he always had to rely on others to help him. The Galatians didn’t despise Paul for it; they would gladly have given him their own eyes.

I’m not strongly invested in this theory, and it’s not all that important. What do you think though?


4 July 2007

Paul and the Hermeneutical Horizon

Filed under: Christianity, Language, Psychology — ktismatics @ 7:42 am

I beg of you, brethren, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. (Galatians 4:12)

Paul doesn’t command, like a Master imposing a new Law; he begs. “Become like me.” Should Paul’s Galatian readers accede to his request, or should they resist it?

Gadamer talks about the hermeneutical horizon (pp. 301-304 in my edition of Truth and Method):

The horizon is the range of vision that includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point. Applying this to the thinking mind, we speak of narrowness of horizon, of the possible expansion of horizon, of the opening up of new horizons, and so forth. Since Nietzsche and Husserl, the word has been used in philosophy to characterize the way in which thought is tied to its finite determinacy, and the way one’s range of vision is gradually expanded. A person who has no horizon does not see far enough and hence over-values what is nearest to him. On the other hand, “to have a horizon” means not being limited to what is nearby but being able to see beyond it. A person who has an horizon knows the relative significance of everything within this horizon, whether it is near or far, great or small.

Gadamer says that, in conversation, trying to discover where the other person is coming from is necessary for understanding the other. But it’s not enough if you’re trying to arrive at some sort of agreement with the other.

By factoring the other person’s standpoint into what he is claiming to say, we are making our own standpoint safely unattainable… Acknowledging the otherness of the other in this way, making him the object of objective knowledge, involves the fundamental suspension of his claim to truth.

Instead of regarding the other from a distance, like a professor giving a student an oral exam, Gadamer insists that it’s necessary to “transpose ourselves” into the other’s horizon.

For what do we mean by “transposing ourselves”? Certainly not just disregarding ourselves. This is necessary, of course, insofar as we must imagine the other situation. But into this other situation we must bring, precisely, ourselves.

In putting ourselves in the other’s shoes we don’t just make ourselves like the other, thereby eliminating the differences between us. Instead, by putting ourselves in the other’s position we become more acutely aware of the individuality and otherness of the other.

Transposing ourselves consists neither in the empathy of one individual for another nor in subordinating another person to our own standards; rather, it always involves rising to a higher universality that overcomes not only our own particularity but also that of the other.

Here Gadamer explicitly deviates from the modern. scientifically-inspired hermeneutic that seeks to understand a text objectively by explicating the historical horizon within which it was written but that succeeds only in alienating the modern reader from other truths. He also disagrees with Nietzsche, for whom the multiplicity of other horizons is an irreducible source not only of difference, but also of mutual isolation and the loss of one’s own distinct horizon. What Gadamer wants is for both self and other to broaden their limited and prejudiced points of view by transposing themselves into one another’s different horizons. Understanding, insists Gadamer, is always the fusion of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves. But Gadamer doesn’t envision ultimately collapsing all individually distinct perspectives into a single universal horizon. Instead it is the tension between different limited horizons that makes new understanding possible. The hermeneutic task consists in not covering up this tension by attempting a naive assimilation of the two but in consciously bringing it out. In this way the two separate horizons don’t just converge and merge into a single point of view; rather, they are both simultaneously superceded.

“Become as I am, for I also have become as you are.” Is Paul being Gadamerian in his plea to the Galatians, or is Gadamer explicitly rejecting what seems to be Paul’s empathic blurring of distinct horizons? By transposing himself into the Galatians’ horizon did Paul learn something? Did he expand his own horizon, superceding his prior understanding, making it more universal?

3 July 2007

Law as Servant

Filed under: Christianity, Culture, Psychology — ktismatics @ 10:27 am

It’s Bible study time again at Ktismatics. The pew slip Anne brought home from church on Sunday printed out the epistle reading, which was that well-known passage about the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5. It turns out there’s all sorts of very interesting stuff in Galatians 4-5.

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by the father. So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 4:1-7)

Awhile back we spent some time looking at Hegel’s master-servant discourse and its ramifications in Nietzsche, Freud, Lacan, Girard, etc. Hegel went to school at a Protestant seminary; clearly the Bible influenced his thinking significantly. So here in Galatians we have Paul, the foremost interpreter of the master-servant discourse as it plays out in Judaism and early Christianity. What’s his read on lordship and bondage?

Now I say, as long as the heir is a child, he does not differ at all from a slave although he is owner of everything.

Everyone appears to be a slave, even the heir of the master. Even he who is “owner of everything” — the master himself — seems to be a slave. You might even say that the master is in bondage to himself.

So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.

In speaking of “the elemental things” Paul clearly refers to the Law. The Law is the bond by which the lord holds the servant in thrall. But for the heir this same Law functions not as enforcer of servitude but as “guardian” or “manager.” This word “manager” in Greek refers to a steward, usually either a slave or freedman, to whom the master entrusts the day-to-day workings of his household. So for the heir the Law itself is a servant.

Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.

Now Paul seems to be backing off his introductory sentence: his readers didn’t just appear to be slaves; they really were slaves. Is he speaking only of the Gentiles, grafted in as sons of God through Jesus? I don’t think so.

God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

You could interpret this passage as saying that everyone born under the Law was a servant to the Law until God adopted Jesus. But it seems to me that Paul is saying that Jesus was already a son, that he merely appeared to be a servant “until the date set by the Father.” He was born under the Law, but because he was an heir of the Master the Law was his guardian, his servant.

So Paul seems to be saying that, before Jesus, everyone, Jew and Gentile alike, was a servant under the Law. Now, through Jesus, the Law is servant of everyone.

1 July 2007

Children in America

Filed under: Culture — ktismatics @ 10:43 am

In a recent survey, only 41% of American adults say that children are important in achieving a successful marriage, a huge drop from 1990 results. The top three factors were faithfulness (90%), good sex (70%), and sharing household chores (62%).

The new Pew survey also finds that, by a margin of nearly three-to-one, Americans say that the main purpose of marriage is the “mutual happiness and fulfillment” of adults rather than the “bearing and raising of children.”

At the same time, the most important factor contributing to survey respondents’ personal happiness and fulfillment was their relationships with their children. Relationships with spouses/partners came in a close second.

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