Category Archives: Theologians

Yoder on faithful living and Marion on faithful seeing

Similarities between the theology of John Howard Yoder and Jean-Luc Marion may not be immediately evident. At the same time, I suspect that Marion’s work will become more helpful to my own theological work if I can tease out some of these similarities and put them into conversation with each other. One such similarity I think I’ve found is their shared conviction to act as if the world is God’s and is loved by God. Yoder often voices this conviction in terms of faithful living and Marion in the terms of faithful seeing. However, for both true sight and living well are so closely joined that they are almost the same thing. This is what I am trying to point towards with my quotations from Marion and Yoder below.

Before getting to those passages, I’d like to clarify one aspect of ‘true sight.’ Often true sight is a euphemism “for a beautiful vision to impose from above by authority,” to use Yoder’s words in just one of the many passages where he critiques such methodology. For both Yoder and Marion, an emphasis on seeing does not start with a large vision, but with the particular and with letting particular people, places and things speak with their own truth and beauty. Marion’s term “saturated phenomena,” speaks to this and to the excessive profundity of the world when we see that it participates in love before being. If it isn’t explicit I hope that this aspect of sight is at least implicit in the following passages.

“We are not called to love our enemies in order to make them our friends. We are called to act out love for them because at the cross it has been effectively proclaimed that from all eternity they were our brothers and sisters. We are not called to make the bread of the world available to the hungry; we are called to restore the true awareness that it was always theirs. We are not called to topple the tyrants, so that it might become true  that the proud fall and the haughty are destroyed. It is already true; we are called only to let that truth govern our own choice of whether to be, in our turn, tyrants claiming to be benefactors.” – Yoder, For the Nations

“The same distance designates the same world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other: from the world as vain or as ‘beautiful and good,’ according to whether the gaze perceives the distance through one pole or the other from the world, on the fringe that opens it to the excess of a distance, the totality appears to be struck by vanity; from the inaccessible point of view of God, at the extremes of distance, the same world can receive the blessing that characterizes it in its just dignity….

For another gaze – the gaze of God – boredom no longer arises; the gaze that can love strikes no longer with vanity, but prompts ‘goodness.’… [V]anity arises from a gaze that exceeds Being/being without yet acceding to charity, a gaze that discovers the world as being beyond Being/being without seeing it loved – by God…. Vanity comes from the boredom of man, not from the boredom of God; for God loves, and from the gaze of charity comes the ‘goodness’ of the gazed at….

That which is, if it does not receive love, is as if it were not, while that which is not, if love polarizes it, is as if it were: the indifference to determination according to ontological difference reappears as the responsibility of love…. To give the world which is, empty of love, for that which is not but belongs to the domain of love – there is nothing more reasonable and even advantageous.” – Marion, God Without Being

The Idolatry of Genius, part one

We’ve had some discussion recently on genius and the possibility for authentic art. Most recently, Lisa (using Woolf) called the term “genius” into question, suggesting that it does not adequately account for the extent to which those reckoned “great artists” are in debt to those who came before (teachers, colleagues, mentors) and to the social conditions that made possible their position as an artist. In this way, genius functions as a sort of privileged male illusion that allows the most indebted to consider themselves self-sufficient and authentically creative because of their self-sufficiency. I agree with Lisa’s critique and would like to push it further. I want to use Jean-Luc Marion’s analysis of the idol to suggest that much of what we consider the marks of “genius” indicates idolatry and illusion. Nevertheless, I would still like to claim that not all art is absolutely determined by a stifling immanence; in other words, that there is more to art than its context. To do this, in part two, I will draw on Marion’s understanding of the icon. Continue reading The Idolatry of Genius, part one

Pascal on greatness and vanity

I’m currently working on some further thoughts on genius, in response to Lisa and Joel. It will probably be a few days yet, as I’m currently scrambling to complete grad school applications by their Feb. 1 deadlines. So, for now, here’s a great quip from Pascal that speaks nicely to some of the problems with pursuing genius – at least, to the extent that our conceptions of genius are linked to an achievement of glory. Enough of me. Here’s Pascal.

“That something so obvious as the vanity of the world should be so little recognized that people find it odd and surprising to be told that it is foolish to seek greatness; that is most remarkable.”

The Christian’s Destination as Ongoing Work that is Good

I often find it helpful to think of the Christian life in terms of journey and Good work. And I also find that we best think of this journey or work as ongoing. In this way the destination of the Christian’s journey is journeying in friendship with God. God does not call us to something that is other to Godself, and God does not give us hard work prior to a reward in abstraction from this work. Certainly God promises rewards to the faithful, but these rewards are in fulfillment of the good towards which our faithful actions gesture. Martyrdom, for example, is a confessional embodiment of the Kingdom reality of “living together in love,” which is promised the reward of the loving communion of the resurrection.

This approach has the advantage of not separating God’s gifts to us from our reception of (and participation in) these gifts. Grace and discipleship are brought together rather than severed. Such an approach also holds the potential of dispossessing us of any pretentious to absolute truth. We may be called by God, but this calling does not mean that we know in advance where and how God’s truth may be found. In fact, it actively calls us to a certain openness towards unexpected discoveries of God’s grace. For if our goal is ongoing work, then perfection involves continued growth and learning, not “having it all together.” And finally, seeing the Christian journey as ongoing removes any separation between God’s being and God’s act. God both is love and gives love; resting in God’s love is not different than living a life of love. Continue reading The Christian’s Destination as Ongoing Work that is Good

The politics of purity and compromise

The rhetoric of western leaders, as we once again prepare to wage war against Islamic peoples, has reminded me of the ways that I think the politics of purity (a politics that wants to neatly define who is in, who is out and, most importantly, where it is that “we” stand) has captivated our political imaginations. This may be surprising to hear, given that it is the rhetoric of compromise that is most evidently present in the calls for and declarations of “total war.” What I detect, however, is that the kind of compromise being articulated functions within the larger framework of a puristic politics, creating one of its most insidious offspring: puristic compromise. Continue reading The politics of purity and compromise

“Disciplined Inattentiveness”

In the introduction to his commentary on Hebrews, D. Stephen Long calls the reader to a disciplined inattentiveness while reading the book of Hebrews. The point is that the modern reader, living in a flattened and gridded world, cannot enter into the book of Hebrews unless she or he also enters into its “odd” world of depth, messiness, and wild spiritual entities. To quote Long more fully:

Bultmann intended…to show the need to demythologize the Bible, rid it of its enchantments, and make it palatable to life on the grid. Hebrews challenges this intent by asking us which is the ‘real’ world. Is it the flat metaphysics of the grid, or is it the illusion that requires a disciplined act of inattentiveness to see it as real? – Long, 13 (my emphasis)

Continue reading “Disciplined Inattentiveness”

One more reason to read the endnotes

I think I often do my best writing in footnotes and endnotes. In a footnote there is less of the feeling that the words are graven in stone, and there’s something very freeing about that. It seems that something similar may be going on for Stanley Hauerwas:

“[This] is but another indication that ethics at best is only bad poetry – that is, it seeks to help us see what we see every day but fail to see rightly. Put differently, ethics is an attempt to help us feel the oddness of the everyday. If ethicists had talent, they might be poets, but in the absence of talent, they try to make their clanking conceptual and discursive claims do the work of art.”
-Stanley Hauerwas, Community of Character, 246n59