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The Naked Offense of the Cross

celtic cross

I. Introduction

I want to put forth the argument here that the Christian cross, understood radically, constitutes a strange and unusual offense. This offense is not merely an offense to a particular culture or subculture of humanity. The offense is offensive to culture as such, reflected in the image of a naked body on a naked cross on Golgotha (or ‘place of the skull’), a place symbolically naked of all cultural identities, marking the radical apriority of the nakedness of being anterior to the entire socio-cultural technology of human existence. That naked cross and naked crucifixion as an abyss of human meaning and fullness of darkness paradoxically signifies the nonbeing that haunts the being of God—a nonbeing that is the difference always-already within the life of God, and a Life whose structure is the trinitarian ground of being. Thus the trinitarian God appears in the cross as the primordial One (1) whose Life is always-already a Multiplicity (2) in Excess (3) of itself (to use Badiou’s terminology). Hence the structuring of God as a One whose eternal self-emptying is a multiplicity always in excess of itself constitutes a more deeply abstract and ontological elucidation of the trinitarian technology of divine spirit. I will return to this trinitarian structuring shortly, but first I want to elaborate this offense of the cross where it appears 2,000 years ago as well as where it appears now.

II. The Gospel of Christ-Crucified

Saint Paul sought to preach ‘nothing but Christ crucified’—strange terminology for what he called his ‘gospel’ or ‘good news.’ What is so good about God’s divine and messianic representative being crucified? Yet for Paul, the crucifixion of Christ is absolutely imperative for any positive meaning to resurrection (but not in the sense of dialectical necessity, for conversely, it images the very anti-dialectical foundation of what is called ‘grace’). For Paul, as noted above, the cross was the place where every former identity perishes—the entire self and ego. A new identity is born ‘in Christ,’ where one is now self-identified as a member of the ‘body of Christ,’ which is the incarnate body of God that appears as an abyss to every contingent meaning. One (as both oneself and Primordial One) is self-realized in the incarnate body of God when the divisive illusions of culture are thrown off, which is how Paul images Christ as the naked divine hanging from a cross—a cross which the Gospel traditions place on Golgotha, bordering the valley of Hinnom (translated by modern Bibles as ‘hell’) where—in Jewish consciousness—human identity is placed under a Curse and forgotten. For Paul, Christ enters this darkness of forgotten-ness, abandonment, oppression, and erasure in order to open up a new subjectivity indistinguishable from the naked spirit of God itself manifest in humanity. Thus Paul’s offense is the naked immediacy of God in its unconditional access to all beings (and, in Paul’s radical terminology, nonbeings!), an immediacy constituted by the radical self-abandonment and self-emptying (kenosis) of God in the absolute self-outpouring of divine spirit into the world.

III. A Stumbling Block and Broken Word

This offense offended both Jews and Greeks, which in Paul’s cultural consciousness are symbols for the religious and the philosophers. The religious are offended because they look for signs and wonders—magic and power—traumatically encountering in the cruciform image of God an impotent and defeated God unable to intervene to rescue us from existential vicissitude. The philosophers are offended because they seek wisdom, and a wisdom that can center all existence in an unbroken (and thus un-crucified) Absolute whose Oneness remains intact and whose static Logos maintains harmony and balance in the world. But Paul’s God is the crucified One whose divine elements are scattered and emptied throughout existence, a divine multiplicity always-already in excess of itself, always-already exceeding every identity and rule with novelty and evolution. New things are perpetually conceived and born from the divine Womb, which is why Paul loves baptism. For Paul, this image of new birth is what the cross is actually about, where Resurrection—as a surprising, unconditional, and graceful appearing—is the novel creation that arises from the floodwaters of catastrophic history and spaces of nonbeing, opening new worlds through the naked divine itself that trickles through open cracks and continually forms new essences.

IV. The Trinitarian Ground of Being

Here I return to the trinitarian ground of being as the orthodox symbol that harbors a secret heterodoxy against the omnipotent One who reigns atop the hierarchy of Orthodoxy. The radically trinitarian God—understood as the Primordial Being who is simultaneously Multiple and One—is structurally the same as Paul’s crucified God. That is, Paul’s crucified God is the crucified One whose kenosis splits it into 2, then 3, ad infinitum. In the trinitarian hermeneutic, Father [or Mother] is Primordial Being. The second element, Son [or Daughter], signifies the doubling of the divine One through incarnation (spirit<–(-/+)–>flesh/matter). The third element, Holy Spirit, is the Multiple that dynamically exceeds all static identities by always exceeding what was via ongoing evolutive novelty.

V. The Naked Offense
Unfortunately, today’s most deeply conservative philosophical theologians—entrenched in a Calvinism that continues to dominate a large portion of American religion—still define the offense of the cross according to the cross’s mediation of the disapproval and condemnation of sin by a ‘Big Other,’ which in psychoanalytic terminology means the authoritarian phantom of cultural ideology that remains in the aftermath of childhood parenting (and more specifically, distorted family systems). Such theologians claim that the cross is the place where a controlling Father (dwelling in a separate abode of existence) murders His innocent Son so as to both testify and satisfy his Wrath against us, boldly proclaiming that the logical and ethical paradoxes inherent in this image constitute the true scandal and offense of the cross. Is it possible that the offense is on them—a nonjudgmental offense that simply unveils their inability or unwillingness to accept the cross in its absolute nakedness, darkness, and trauma? Or more specifically, is their authoritarian monotheism offended by an unpolished cross where the transcendent One of judgment and imperial legitimation unexpectedly transfigures into a broken Absolute, and a broken One whose divine elements are incarnately spilled and disseminated in the birthing of new Life? Such an evolutive portrait of reality, structured by a trinitarian and kenotic ground, cannot legitimate a static view of existence or life. Rather the dynamic paradigm of trinitarian and evolutive divinity suggests that any good posture toward Life is one of openness and self-transformation. The good news—as seen in the cross and its evolutive outpouring of Life—is that the naked event of new birth remains a possibility within our grasp yesterday, today, and tomorrow, constitutive of an Unconditioned Real that cannot be cornered, owned, or defeated, always luring things forward into creative self-transcendence without end. Consequently, the naked offense neither caters to the image of Christ as merely an apocalyptic prophet nor a traditional mystic/sage. Rather this Christ proclaims an immediate and eternal apocalypse that perpetually contaminates all Presence, destabilizing and exceeding every order that it births through its own chaordic ground of eternal flux and creativity.

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Top Ten Reads from 2014

Spending the semester teaching my first class, and focusing a bit more on articles than book-length texts, this year’s reading list was a little light. Nonetheless, there were some real gems this year, here are the top 10.

10.) Jose Miranda: Marx and the Bible: A Critique of the Philosophy of Oppression
Given its title, it is surprising how much more Miranda’s Marx and the Bible is of “the Bible” than “Marx.” In fact, at its core, this text is essentially a large-scale commentary on the whole of the Christian scriptures. Emphasizing the key liberative portions of the bible (the exodus, the prophets, the gospels, and the epistles), Miranda suggests that the consistent stream that runs through the center of the all Christian scripture is a fundamental call to justice for the oppressed (the widow, stranger, and orphan). This call, Miranda will ultimately suggest, is not inconsistent with the liberatory call of marxist socialism. Rather, he will argue, within the Latin American context, the two must be held together.

9.) Alain Badiou: Paul: The Foundation of Universalism
In this short text, Badiou summarizes his philosophy of the event through a reading of Paul’s epistles. For Badiou, a staunch atheist, Paul’s subjective appropriation of the event (the resurrection of Christ) can be abstracted from its mythical ground (the resurrection as a literal event) and recognized as a clear exemplar of the proper form by which the subject responds to the revolutionary event. The text has a few obvious faults vis-avis Pauline scholarship, e.g. demphasis upon the communal character of Paul’s thought. Nonetheless, it is an insightful reading of Paul and likely the clearest presentation of Badiou’s philosophy.

8.) Slavoj Zizek: The Fragile Absolute
Zizek here presents — in his typically idiosyncratic and schizophrenic way — a fascinating defence of Christianity, particularly the protestant notion of “love” (caritas) as distinct from law. Christianity, in Zizek’s mind, is uniquely situated to offer a space to think beyond the strictures of the ruling capitalist ideology.

7.) Thomas Piketty: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
A bit of a sensation throughout the summer, Piketty’s Capital is intricately researched, and strongly argued. Central to his text is the argument that the average growth of capitalist economies is generally less than the standard rate of profit (his infamous r>g inequality). Thus, overtime, unrestricted capitalist economies always tend toward radical inequality. For a more intricate look into the argument, be sure to check out my (slowly moving) chapter-by-chapter analysis here.

6.) Gustavo Gutierrez: A Theology of Liberation
The foundation of liberation theology, now a classic of theology, is unexpectedly fresh even after all of these years. A truly remarkable text, Gutierrez succeeds in rethinking Catholic theology through engagements — not only with Marxist thought as generally noted — but also phenomenology, critical theory, and contemporary theology.

5.) John D. Caputo: The Insistence of God: A Theology of Perhaps
The functional sequel to The Weakness of God, Caputo’s most recent publication situates his theological vision of a “weak theology” within the context of a number of key philosophical and theological trends including: the radical theology of Slavoj Zizek, the radical orthodoxy of John Milbank, and the speculative realists.

4.) Thomas J.J. Alitizer: The New Gospel of Christian Atheism
Rethinking his unique vision, years after the publication of the first “Gospel of Christian Atheism,” Altizer presents a startling vision of an apocalyptic Christianity. A religion of the “absolute Novum” turned against any vision of a primordial return, Altizer’s Christianity pursues a radically Hegelian vision of an inbreaking of the authentically new.

3.) H.P. Lovecraft: Waking Up ScreamingThe Watchers Out of Time
Technically two books, I have recently reentered the world of fiction through H.P. Lovecrafts exquisitely written short stories. Absolutely essential reading for anyone interested in the history of science fiction or horror; Lovecraft has also been entering the philosophical domain, having been appropriated by the new materialists. Great fun, though there are certain problematic racist undertones, particularly in his early work, that most be recognized as Lovecraft’s unfortunate inability to think beyond the bounds of the racist early 20th century New England society in which he was raised.

2.) Karl Marx: Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume I
Given its infamy, history, and declaration as “the bible of the proletariat,” it seems absurd to offer a meager praise of Marx’s Capital. That being said, the coherence and rigor of Marx’s magnum opus, is remarkable. Avoiding hasty generalizations, it both draws upon and critiques the preceding bourgeois economic tradition (particularly Smith and Ricardo), offering helpful correctives and laying out a profoundly nuanced labor-theory of value, theory of surplus value, and explanation of exploitation. Notoriously varied in rhetorical style, Marx seamlessly transitions between rigid economic prose, literary flourish (vampires and werewolves abound), and journalistic investigation.

1.) Hadewijch: Complete Works
A brilliant combination of love poetry, mystical theology, and theosophical reflections; the work of Hadewijch has been (rightfully) seeing a resurgence among medievalists and theologians alike. Its deeply embodied and sexually intricate theological vision is enlightening and inspiring. Truly Profound.

Short Study on Deleuze, Hadewijch, and Immanence

Head on over to The De-Scribe, and check out David Dreidger’s recent set of posts examining the development of philosophies of immanence, and the use of immanence as a hermeneutic for a compelling reading of the Medieval mystic, Hadewijch, and her conception of love.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

13 Books from 2013

My top 13 favorite reads of 2013…

13.) Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions
12.) David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous
11.) Slavoj Žižek, Parallax View
10.) Richard BauckaumJesus and the Eyewitnesses
09.) Jean-Luc Marion, God Without Being
08.) Christina Gschwandtner, Postmodern Apologetics
07.) Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity
06.) Emmanuel Falque, The Metamorphosis of Finitute
05.) Slavoj Žižek, God in Pain
04.) Jacques Derrida, Given Time
03.) Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition
02.) Edmund Husserl, Ideas I

And the grand finale…

01.) Caroline Walker Bynum, Fragmentation and Redemption

Micro-Reviews #10 Jean-Luc Marion’s “God without Being” (Second Edition)

Overall Rating: 7/10

I should begin with the confession that I entered God Without Being with a bit of trepidation. On the one hand, the text is somewhat foundational for my own field (phenomenological theology), on the other, I find myself consistently disappointed by Marion’s explicitly theological texts (he makes a better philosopher than theologian, I would suggest). On top of this, I also had the strong suspicion that, having been so foundational to phenomenological theology in the 90’s and 00’s, that this text would say nothing that I hadn’t already heard. All that being said, I was nonetheless pleased with the reading, and though at times it tends to bog down in the very dense specifics of Marion’s reading of Heidegger, I would still suggest that it is a significantly valuable text, specifically the second edition, for reasons that I will explain below.

The main focus of God without Being is Marion’s attempt to theologically sidestep the Heideggerian critique of ontotheology. By ontotheology Heidegger intends, primarily, the theological or philosophical move wherein a greatest being or super-being (i.e. God, the Good, the One, etc.) is posited as the foundation of all other beings. Without going into considerable detail, I will leave that for Marion, Heidegger contends that this move fails to recognize the fundamental nature of ontological difference (the difference between beings and Being). Simply, for Heidegger, the foundation of all beings must be ontologically dissimilar to the beings it grounds (beings can’t pull themselves up by there own ontological boot-straps). Or again, the absolute foundation of all reality must be of a completely different nature from the reality it is said to found.

To his credit, Marion does not begin by attacking this notion of ontotheology, but rather, fully embraces it, re-articulating it under his notion of idolatry. For Marion, to think God as a being among beings is, not only to fall victim to ontotheology, but to furthermore commit the crime of idolatry. This redoubling of Heidegger’s critique culminates in his notion of “conceptual idolatry.” For Marion, any attempt to delimit God under the guise of a concept, is already to subsume God under the reign of Being, and therefore ontotheology; the “true” God, the God without Being, must also be a God beyond conceptuality.

In order to make the case that Christian theology can bypass this critique, Marion attempts to articulate his notion of a God which is “beyond Being,” that is to say, is completely dissimilar to created beings. For this task, he draws upon a variety of sources, most notably the Neoplatonic tradition of Christian theology inaugurated by Pseudo-Dionysius. For these mystical thinkers, God surpassed, not only all beings, but also Being-itself, even, they would add, Nonbeing. God, for Marion and these mystics, cannot be rendered as an object, either physical or conceptual, but instead surpasses all objectivity, all beings, even being itself. God, in this thought, is radically transcendent.

The obvious critique of this position is built upon the question of evidence. If God is beyond both Being and conceptuality, than how can this God be known, experienced, or verified? Marion’s creative solution to this problem, one which points to his latter work in Being Given, is to think God, not principally as a being, but as a giving (and as charity). God, for Marion, is defined by self-revelation. His principal case study in this notion is the Eucharist which, he argues, permits the presence of the absolute Otherness of God to manifest as the ultimate gift. More strongly, and revealing an indebtedness to the work of Michel Henry, he argues that this gift of presence is also the gift of the present, that the eucharistic presence of God cuts through the negative irreality of the past and future and offers the only true access to the present now.

The great addition to the second edition of this text is the inclusion of an additional essay “Thomas Aquinas and Onto-Theology.” In some ways more interesting than the primary text itself, Marion here pits Aquinas against Thomistic theology, arguing that while the latter falls victim to ontotheology, that this turn is only prepared by a misreading of Aquinas himself, who never subjugates God under the categories of Being.

Overall, I would recommend this text to anyone interested in the relationship between continental philosophy and theology, scholastic thought, or ontology, but would caution casual theologians or those who do not already possess a background in Heidegger as they may find themselves lost in his extended engagement with Heideggerian phenomenology.

350 New William Blake Etchings Discovered

Researchers at the University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library have stumbled upon a treasure trove of works by poet and artist William Blake.

After two years work the students, overseen by Blake expert and Manchester university art historian Colin Trodd, found about 350 engraved plates designed by Blake in the collection.

The library has held works by Blake including hand-coloured illustrations of Young’s Nights Thoughts, but the team suspected more were hidden in the collection of a million books and records.

[Source]

William Blake

William Blake

Micro Reviews #8 “Religious Experience and the End of Metaphysics”

Overall Rating: 8/10

I recently picked up a this short compilation at a small used bookstore and eagerly made my way though it.  Religious Experience and the End of Metaphysics is comprised of a collection of articles–originally written for a seminar “Religious Experience in the Wake of Modernity” at the Catholic University of Louvain, 1999-2000–edited and prefaced by (noted Levinas Scholar) Jeffrey Bloechl of Boston College.

While a comprehensive examination of every chapter is beyond my current attention span, the book as a whole stands together in surprising uniformity, and it should be possible to speak in broad strokes about its presentation.  As the title indicates, the subject of this volume is twofold, on the one hand is religious experience, particularly (though not exclusively) of the mystical variety.  On the other, is the continental philosophic tradition seen specifically through the lens of Heideggerian thought.  Drawing upon the work of Heidegger, Marion, Derrida, Levinas, as well as a wide variety of religious traditions both Eastern and Western these thinkers question the nature of God, the relationship between cultural/historical development and religious ultimacy, and the universality of religious insight.

Overall, the contributions to this volume are of considerable quality, although a few noticeably stand out.  In “The Work and the Complement of Appearing”, Jean-Yves Lacoste reexamines Heidegger’s famous analysis “The Origin of the Work of Art.”  Here, seeming to reveal the influence of Michel Henry, Lacoste elaborates a theory of direct aesthetic affectivity.  Yet, challenging both Heidegger and Henry, Lacoste proposes that this affectivity does not carry the absolute quality that it is generally attributed and instead positions affectivity itself within the larger project of factical interpretation.

In “Derrida and Marion” John D. Caputo reveals the Husserlian genesis of these two influential thinkers, marking out the ways in which they both sought to move beyond Husserl’s strict understanding of intentionality and fulfillment.  Contrasting Derrida’s freeing of intentionality (through the abandonment of intuition) from Marion’s supression of intentionality (though a surplus of intuition), Caputo critiques the latter by way of the former.  Citing the inability of Marion to bridge the gap between non-conceptual intuitive givenness and concrete knowledge; Caputo argues that it is only through faith that one can move from pure saturated givenness to “God.”  “Marion comes around to confessing that givenness requires an intention that intends something not given that we can and must belive, that we also trust and love.” (p. 132)

Overall, this volume is a satisfying read and a helpful supplement to those who are already familiar with the debates surrounding the “theological turn” of post-existentialist French phenomenological thought.  Recommended for anyone interested in phenomenology, philosophic theology, mysticism, or 21st century continental philosophy.

Dissonance

“Quietude,” we have been taught: an internal harmony, a concordance of the soul.  From the pulpits, as from the analysts seat, discord has been routed.  Yet, has it been refuted?  For, as Boehme, that philosopher extraordinaire taught us–if not more so the Kabbalists–even God itself persists in dissonance.  How much more we?  Is not the internality of life, life-itself, precisely this dissonance, a dialectic sans synthesis?  Let us embrace this which we are in our innermost, let us balk at concordance.  If it is consonance that we are to seek, let them demonstrate it.  But, until then, let us remain as discordant as we know ourselves to be.