Wednesday, June 14, 2006

On God’s power in Christ’s weakness

Epistle of Diognetus 7:3-9(c. 170 AD) : “This [messenger] He sent to them. Was it then, as one might conceive, for the purpose of exercising tyranny, or of inspiring fear and terror? By no means, but under the influence of clemency and meekness. As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God. He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?... Do you not see them exposed to wild beasts, that they may be persuaded to deny the Lord, and yet not overcome? Do you not see that the more of them are punished, the greater becomes the number of the rest? This does not seem to be the work of man: this is the power of God; these are the evidences of His manifestation.”

If you enjoyed this and want to read more from this letter, see the first comment below.

114 Comments:

Blogger Mark Moore said...

This is a most incredible passage for describing self-abnegation in the context of being a citizen of the kingdom of God: (5:1-17) “For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.”

June 14, 2006 at 7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All i can say is WOW... and OWW!

Wow what a paradigm, and Oww my conscience was just pricked with the thorn of conviction.

June 15, 2006 at 10:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok, I had to go look this, up and found it online at the following

addressaddress.

Check out Chapter X
great stuff.

June 15, 2006 at 10:59 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

We translated that passage for our final exam in Greek II and I worshiped. I read a quote about the Church in The Myth of Certainty by Daniel Taylor and it said of the Church, ‘No group has done so much and yet fallen so short of it’s calling.’ It has been interesting as I am reading through Church history, both first hand resources and histories written by contemporary authors, that the Church is struggling with many of the same issues it always has. Reading through Church history documents really after the Nicean Council and before the reformation (not that the church was not political before Nicea or after the reformation) how worldly political the Church has been and was. I do think that in many ways the institutionalized church became a prop for the state. Before the reformation was a courting of kings and popes and after the Church just stopping thinking it was political because it was too concerned with “spiritual” (other worldly things). The Church became another state that used cosmic languge to justify her unjust politics (unjust in action or unjust in lack of action). I wonder what is our response to a Church with such a past? What is our response to a Church with such a present (i.e. President Bush; American Imperialism; Doing your Christian duty come election time by voting republican)? This comment became more and more pointed as I typed. I do love the Church, and I do know of churches who seek to live out the political program of Jesus. Tell me friends what do we do or say or act in a world like ours with a Church like God’s.

June 15, 2006 at 11:07 AM  
Blogger Jeremy Bacon said...

I'm actually really giddy about the opportunity to live in a culture that does not see the institution of Christianity as one of its own pillars. Maybe we'll actually start living the story (like those early Christians in the letter) and not just yelling it like it's assumed.

June 15, 2006 at 9:32 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I think too often Christians are known for what they are against rather then what they are for. Why do we expect pagans to live by God's standards? They are not born of the Spirit; we can’t expect them to live by his standard, and besides morality without faith is not going to save them.

We scream about abortion and gay marriage (which I agree are terrible abominations) but outlawing those things isn't going to change the sinner’s heart, only Christ will. Maybe if we take all that time and money spent protesting those things and use all our efforts to promote what we are for, namely Christ, we would see more people come to Christ and then be able to make godly decisions on their own, being lead by The Spirit.

I like what the epistle said: “They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers.”

I think this is hard for American Christians to do this because in our minds we like to think of America as a completely Christian nation. We like to think of this country as “ours” and want to force the world to play by “our” rules. To our shame we have made this place our home.

June 16, 2006 at 9:26 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

But we must not forget that America was founded on Christian principles, principles like the individual's right to pursue capital.

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June 16, 2006 at 9:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When we proclaim the Gosple we invite people to forfiet their current citizenship in exchange for an eteral citizenship in the Kingdom of God.

I think it's great when the government addopts christian moralities, i think thats mostly why this country has been so blessed for the last 200yrs, but with morality spinning farther and farther down the drain i don't see any battles being won in Washington, i see them being won on the streets, in the homes, the chruches, and the mission fields (here and abroad)one person at a time.

June 16, 2006 at 12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How can any government adopt Christian morality? Especially the American Government, which is based on capitalism or "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." How does that have anything to do with Jesus? How has America been “blessed”? Oh do you mean the financial benefits that the country has reaped by exploiting impoverished nations rich in national resources or starting wars in the name of "freedom" that are conveniently consistent with the American value of bottom dollar. If you mean that is a blessing then I'm confused about what it means to be blessed (Mt 5.1-12). I know that you didn't mean to back up liberal (as in worldly) politics, but I think we need to be very careful about saying what it means to be blessed by God especially when we begin to ask how it is that America became so "blessed"? If any government can adopt truly Christian morality then why do we need the Holy Spirit? No, America cannot be “Christian,” neither can any nations for that matter. Only Jesus’ kingdom has the power (Holy Spirit) to be sons of their father in heaven, which interestingly enough in the Sermon on the Mount is intricately connected to being a peacemaker (Mt 5.9, 45) which America certainly was not, is not and cannot be

June 17, 2006 at 3:55 PM  
Anonymous Thom Stark said...

I think it would be a good thing to know who these anonymous bloggers are. You can fill in your own name simply by clicking "Other" and typing it in in the space provided. I've done so here.

June 18, 2006 at 12:43 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Thom, the "anonymous" was me all along..................kidding. You already know that the only thing I can debate on is Rabbinic hermeneutics.

Is that first comment something you used in your Preaching & Teaching sermon Mark? If so, is the full text available online?

-Tonan the Barbarian

June 18, 2006 at 10:53 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Tony,

I miss you.

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June 19, 2006 at 2:59 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

My anonymity allows me to respond in ways that I otherwise might not. I suppose the Christian thing to do is to leave my name on the statements I make. I was the last anonymous commenter. I put anonymous because I didn’t want anyone to get upset about the things I was typing, or at least not upset at me. I suppose if I can’t say something and attach my name to it I shouldn’t say it. I think what I said was right, but being anonymous for me was wrong. Thom, your rigorous devotion to truth telling sometimes hurts, huh?

Tony, I too miss you and your Rabbinic hermeneutic debates. How is the Internship? And your commentary reading?

June 20, 2006 at 10:23 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Ahhhh the world of hermeneutical debate. The internship is awesome, I'm in Savannah, GA right now wishing that Joplin looked half as nice as this. Conference is great, I just can't wait to see how the next 4 are going to turn out.

My commentary reading can be compared to a crippled rabbit. it is going slow, as a crippled rabbit would. BUT, a rabbit will never quit the race simply because he becomes disabled....oh no no no, the rabbit will finish the race marked out for him. As will I. I didn't get the NIV app of Ephesians either, I ended up with the IVP.

I miss you guys and your guidance

-Tony

June 20, 2006 at 11:41 AM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

Tony you're definately a crippled rabbit.

June 20, 2006 at 11:57 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

That's OK though, Tony. You can't read. Tyler can't spell. I can't lose an argument. We all have our disabilities.

Back to the post. While I agree with Tyler that neither the United States nor any other nation will ever live up to the standard held out by the church's prophetic witness, I do believe, providing the church IS IN FACT witnessing properly and propehtically, the state will be able to imitate our behavior, at least for a time.

For instance, the modern hospital owes its existence to the church's medical care centers centuries ago. However, that modern medicine now sees its task as curing diseases more than as caring for the diseased is a result of the practice of medicine being abstracted from the story (Christianity) that birthed it.

So, imitation is possible, at least for a time, and yet the state will never live up to the church's call. This is why the church's first task should be to live up to its own call. I don't think the American church is ready or has the right (at this point in history) to be telling America what it should do.

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June 20, 2006 at 4:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What does it really mean for me to become less? What does the latter bit of this conjunction amount to?

Cf. Plato via Socrates:
“Do not, he said, confine yourself to humanity if you want to understand this more readily, but take all animals and all plants into account, and, in short, for all things which come to be, let us see whether they come to be in this way, that is, from their opposites if they have such, as the beautiful is the opposite of the ugly and the just of the unjust, and a thousand other things of the kind. Let us examine whether those that have an opposite must necessarily come to be from their opposite and from nowhere else, as for example when something comes to be larger it must necessarily become larger from having been smaller before…
Then if something smaller comes to be, it will come from something larger before, which became smaller?..
And the weaker comes to be from the stronger, and the swifter from the slower?..
Further, if something worse comes to be, does it not come from the better, and the juster from the more unjust?..
So we have sufficiently established that all things come to be in this way, opposites from opposites?”

June 22, 2006 at 12:40 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Methinks this game is contrived. Socrates (via Plato) is not picturing the variety of descriptions we employ when speaking about the world; he makes clean cuts with analytic statements as though they were ontological truths. Insomuch as Socrates is making analytical remarks, this is philosophy at its best; insomuch as Socrates conflates analytics with ontological predication, this is philosophy at its worst. Paradoxically.

I'm confused as to how this helps us to understand self-abnegation.

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June 22, 2006 at 8:51 AM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Ontological predication is a biproduct of contextualized Hermeneutical spiraling. The only reason this can help us understand self abnegation (notice I didn't use the hyphen which implies deconstruction) is to look at this comment through the eyes of a postmodern patriarch.





Thom, I believe that you have, in fact, lost an argument to me before, but you doing my taxes has righted that wrong. And I'm sure that Tyler didn't misspell that word on accident...it's probably one that nobody else knows about.

June 22, 2006 at 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Ontological predication is a biproduct of contextualized Hermeneutical spiraling.” That is simply false.

For that matter there is nothing about “analytics” and “ontological” that make them two options of any given choice.

Of course this is not the place for philosophy talk, but you should be careful with your vocabulary. The point of the above post re Socrates is (I think) to point to the question of whether or not abnegation must “come out of its opposite,” that is to say come out of self-inflation.

June 24, 2006 at 1:50 PM  
Anonymous Tony said...

Well anonymous, I threw random words together in a sentence for Tyler and Thom to enjoy. I should have clarified that my comment was only there for a short-lived laugh (specifically for the two of them). I'm sorry if that sentence accidentally made sense.

-Tony

June 24, 2006 at 8:21 PM  
Blogger Andy Rodriguez said...

I got a great laugh out of it, especially Mr. Anonymous's commentary.

I am going to let our friends here debate on how to achieve self-abnegation. I don't have too much to add, particularly in regards to the current Socrates discussion. But when you folks figure it out, Thom or Tyler please give me a call.

Mr. PhD. canadite, what are your thoughts in regards to the current discussion. Does Jesus' model of self-abnegation answer the question of whether or not abnegation must “come out of its opposite,” that is to say come out of self-inflation.

(Tony, I also think you are flat wrong about the hyphen. Where in the world would you get the crazy idea that it implies deconstruction? Gosh!!)

June 24, 2006 at 9:14 PM  
Anonymous tony said...

Jacques Derrida has stated on many occasions that the hyphen implies deconstruction

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Derrida

June 24, 2006 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Not to drive against our anonymous philosopher friend, but this kind of philosophy just creates more confusion than it resolves. What would it mean for self-abnegation to "come out of self-inflation"? Theology (with or without the aid of good philosophy) tells us that self-abnegation "comes out of" the character of the Father (see Mt 5:43-48 for example). Once we start paying attention to the vast diversity of reality, these categories (those derived from an arbitrary criterion of "opposites") start to lose their explanatory power.

Philosophically, if we want to say that self-abnegation is the opposite of self-inflation, we would only be making a grammatical remark, for there is no one such thing as "self-abnegation" or "self-inflation." I realize this is highly unsocratic of me to say. That we see "self-abnegation" as the opposite of "self-inflation" reflects the limited nature of language. It does not reflect some reality called "self-abnegation" or "self-inflation" that transcends concrete, ordinary activities. Once we see this and begin to pay attention to these activities as they are situated in a narrative context, it becomes increasingly more difficult to pin down which example actually typifies what we mean by the terms. Rather than (with Socrates) looking for essences, the philosopher ought to pay attention to the family resemblances between those activities to which we typically apply our terms. Of course, I am entirely Wittgenstinian on this point.

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June 25, 2006 at 9:03 AM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

isn't it funny how jesus didn't have to resort to name/vocab dropping to encourage his disciples to live like him?

isn't self-abnegation more about giving up trying to prove yourself to someone?

i think the topic is a worthy one, but perhaps its something more than mincing words...

June 25, 2006 at 4:04 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Though I'm not sure what to make of your "name-dropping" remark (if you're referring to my giving credit to Wittgenstein where credit is due, next time I'll just claim his ideas as my own so I don't look like so much of a "philosophy student"), I thank you, Furnal, for clarifying what it was I was trying to say: "self-abnegation" cannot be abstracted from concrete activities, i.e., "it's something more than mincing words."

I like your definition of self-abnegation as "giving up trying to prove yourself to someone." If by that you mean, however, that one should not employ a certain philosophical vocabulary in a philosophical discussion, I'm not quite sure what to make of it. If you'll read over my last post again I think you'll see that we are more in agreement than you might think. My argument was that philosophical talk about essences isn't going to help us understand self-abnegation, that self-abnegation can only properly be understood by paying attention to the right paradigm, i.e., the impartial Father who sends the rain on the just and the unjust, and the Son whose life is the embodiment of that divine impartiality.

Don't take this as a defense of myself, but as a clarification of my argument. I am anxious, however, to hear from our anonymous friend again, about why he thinks seeing that self-abnegation comes out of self-inflation is helpful for us. He may convince me. I have only been giving my reasons why I think he's wrong.

If you just don't like my writing-style, that's something else entirely.

...

June 26, 2006 at 12:19 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

To return (helpfully I hope) to the text that began this discussion, I quote the Epistle of Diognetus:

"As a king sends his son, who is also a king, so sent He Him; as God. He sent Him; as to men He sent Him; as a Saviour He sent Him, and as seeking to persuade, not to compel us; for violence has no place in the character of God. As calling us He sent Him, not as vengefully pursuing us; as loving us He sent Him, not as judging us. For He will yet send Him to judge us, and who shall endure His appearing?"

Here we have a paradigmatic theological portrait of the God from whom we Christians derive our sense of "self-abnegation." It is in light of these "highlights" of the biblical narrative that "self-abnegation" carries the meaning it does for us. "For violence has no place in the character of God," although, as the final sentence in the above quote implies, God is certainly capable of violence. "Not as judging us," though judgment is to come; that is Christian self-abnegation.

With this theological portrait in view, my question is how introducing the Socratic discussion of "opposites" is going to make anything clearer for us than the life of Jesus already makes it. Wittgenstein's genius is to expose the pretension in the essentialist's position, for the essentialist essentially wants to secure the supremacy of philosophy over theology by creating metaphysical/ontological problems where there are none.

Here's my point without all the name/vocab-dropping: Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

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June 26, 2006 at 12:49 AM  
Anonymous shane said...

Colossians 1&2- i think paul had similar concerns.

Can any wisdom of man ever aid us in becoming more like Christ? There is no true wisdom apart from the fear of God, just as there is no rightousness apart from Christ. Can the ideas of pegan philosophizers be of any use in a discussion on self-abnegation? It is a trait that only Christ fully holds, and only Christ can help us pursue. Furthermore Christ did not achieve Self-Abnegation, its is apart of the eternal unchanging charatcer of God, so to say that it would or even could come out of it's opposite doesn't even make sence. It comes by the grace of God.

For the record i was the anonymous from the first 3 posts. i don't know any of you but i much appreciate your blog. if you would prefer that outsiders not post that's totally cool, just let me know. i'll be happy to just read along. -regards

June 26, 2006 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Shane,

There are no outsiders here.

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June 26, 2006 at 11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“Can any wisdom of man ever aid us in becoming more like Christ?”
Well depending on what you mean, yes and no. Consider that the notion of self-abnegation. The wisdom of men often values self promotion and the wisdom of Christ stands in opposition that. So if nothing else the wisdom of Christ is often reactionary to the wisdom of man, and thereby the wisdom of man can even tell us what not to do.

Is self-abnegation really part of the eternal nature of God? Does it come from the grace of God? This is not my blog so I will let the regulars respond to this, but this statement seems wrong-headed.

June 27, 2006 at 11:00 AM  
Anonymous shane said...

Yeah I kinda get your point, but without the wisdom of Christ and the conscience God gave I don’t think we would know that the wisdom of man is wrong, would we?

As for God's eternal character I didn't mean for that to be a complete description of his personality, but I think S-A is one of the main traits God displays through out scripture. It is also shown in the eternal relationship between the Holy Trinity-Father, Son, and Spirit. Notice how one member always seems to be pointing towards the glorification of another even when each member is God and worthy of recieving glory.

I guess what I'm saying is God didn't just wake up one day and decide that it would be good to make S-A a new virtue. I don't think something can be a virtue if it is not already a characteristic of God, and I don't think God's character ever changes.

To your second point, “does it come from the grace of God?” I would boldly say yes. Any attempt we make at self-denial without the grace of God seems contradictory because we have refused to deny ourselves before Him who is of first importance. To reject his grace is to reject any hope of taking even one step down the road of mimicking God in Self-Abnegation.

This is my understanding from studying God's word, I admit though that I have no formal theological training or education, I may very well be wrong and if so please rebuke me if you know what is right.

June 27, 2006 at 2:28 PM  
Anonymous tony said...

"Shane,

There are no outsiders here."

We practice gentile inclusion

June 27, 2006 at 2:42 PM  
Anonymous shane said...

sweet, cause i'm about as gentile as they come. I know some people don't like it when strangers post on their blogs, so thanks.

June 27, 2006 at 4:16 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Shane,

Your pointing to the Trinitarian nature of God in response to Anonymous is right on, and very well put. The "self-abnegation" we see at work in the life of Jesus is but the historicization of the intracommunal deference of God.

Moreover, you are right not to think that "something can be a virtue if it is not already a characteristic of God." What we mean by "love," "justice," "patience," "self-abnegation," etc., are not terms the meaning of which we already know before we apply them to God. They are terms whose meaning we learn by paying attention to God's timeful relationship to the world. In this sense, God does not "love"; rather, God "gods" and in certain contexts we call what God does/is "love."

Thus, once again, "self-abnegation," for Christians, refers not to one rigid concept but to a range of activities we have learned to recognize by worshipping the God found most fully in Jesus of Nazareth.

...

June 27, 2006 at 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There seems to be a problem here “Moreover, you are right not to think that "something can be a virtue if it is not already a characteristic of God."

Could you name something that is not a characteristic of God. Secondly, if it is virtuous then it is a characteristic of God. And if it is a characteristic of God then it is virtuous?

Next, “What we mean by "love," "justice," "patience," "self-abnegation," etc., are not terms the meaning of which we already know before we apply them to God.”
Seems misleading as well. Are you saying that no Buddhist knows what patience even is? This seems wrong. What about the centurion in Acts who was already giving to the poor? Doesn’t he know what justice means? You might respond by saying something like: “Well he doesn’t know what it REALLY means.” But, that seems troublesome too; headed down a strong dualistic/gnostic path.

June 27, 2006 at 8:45 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

To Mr. or Mrs. As of Yet Anonymous,

Troublesome to you maybe, but what I said simply does not lead to these problems.

I did not say that there is no overlap between one community's conception of justice, love, etc., and another's. There is always overlap. But pointing out the overlap often leads us to overlook the differences in our narratives that make justice in one at times look like injustice in another. There are differences between what a Buddhist means by justice and what a Christian means by justice. Those differences are part of what makes one Buddhist and the other Christian. As a Christian, yes, I don't think the Buddhist can really know what justice means without attending in faith to the story of Jesus. But I am just as confused in the Buddhist's eyes as he is in mine. I don't know why you think this is a problem.

I was only pointing out that our commitment to a particular narrative should determine the "content" of our terms. If it doesn't, what we mean by love, justice, etc. is only going to be determined by some narrative other than the one we wish to claim as our own.

Your charge of "dualism/gnosticism," as far as I'm concerned, is nothing more than a scare tactic. If you're reading either dualism or gnosticism into what I said, it's for one of two reasons: (1) you're not reading what I said, or (2) you don't know what dualism or gnosticism means.

I think I might be confusing you, however. Most likely it's because I'm not skilled enough to say clearly what it is I'm trying to say. As far as that goes, I apologize.

But we have gone too far afield, I'm afraid, from our original topic: Is the question of whether self-abnegation comes out of self-inflation a significant or even an intelligible question? I have argued that it is not.


I'm writing at 2:30 AM not because I'm obsessive about blogging but because I just got home from seeing Superman Returns. For the record, it was magnificent.

...

June 28, 2006 at 2:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

“ As a Christian, yes, I don't think the Buddhist can really know what justice means without attending in faith to the story of Jesus… I don't know why you think this is a problem.”
Well its not a problem, if you fully embrace the implied dualism. It’s only a problem if you later want to evoke a cultural-linguistic source for the difference between “Buddhist justice” and “Christian justice.” Which you have already said overlap. So if you later point to a cultural-linguistic source then you have grossly over-determined your notions (cf. a doctor over-determining a diagnosis: “your dizziness is partially due to your bad lunch, and partially due to your high blood pressure, and partially due to an aneurysm.”), which is just not helpful. Personally, I prefer a cultural-linguistic source, but that may just be where we differ.

“Your charge of "dualism/gnosticism," as far as I'm concerned, is nothing more than a scare tactic. If you're reading either dualism or gnosticism into what I said, it's for one of two reasons: (1) you're not reading what I said, or (2) you don't know what dualism or gnosticism means.”
You are attributing a source of our understandings if you say that the Buddhist doesn’t “really know” what justice is. That source is either Gnostic (i.e. she does not know what she needs to know to KNOW) or it is dualist (i.e. it will be imparted to her via faith on Christ). It seems that you imply the latter, but it could be the former. See your previous statement: “They are terms whose meaning we learn by paying attention to God's timeful relationship to the world.”

I don’t really think that dualism or gnosticism is scary, if you do then I apologize.

As to the question of whether self-abnegation comes out of self-inflation a significant or even an intelligible question? I have argued that it is.

June 28, 2006 at 10:05 AM  
Anonymous Zack said...

Isn’t going to see the latest show of Superman, and then staying up to respond to a blog afterwards simply point to a personality that is doubly obsessive

June 28, 2006 at 10:08 AM  
Anonymous shane said...

Look at the “thou shall not”s of the ten commandment, look at the deadly sins, read Christ’s sermon on the mount and you will have a grocery list of things that God does not desire from us because they are not in the character of God. Just for example lying is not in the character of God…God does not lie (Titus 1:2). Look at the thing he does desire from us and you will have a list of some of his characteristics.

Also I will boldly say that there is no virtue apart from Faith in Christ. This is my reasoning. Hebrews 11:6 say- without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Faith is a prerequisite; any attempt at virtue apart from Christ has impure motives. Either the person is serving to appease a guilty conscience or they are self-righteous and being moral for their own self-glorification. Bottom line is, who gets the Glory. If it is not the Lord Jesus Christ, then good luck building your stairway to heaven. Why would a Good Just Judge be pleased with a criminal’s latest “good deeds” if the criminal is still a fugitive from the Law? A very rich man recently bought himself a lot of glory by giving a ton of money to a charity… how much glory has he given to God for being able to give that gift? As far as I’ve heard it is none, and that is like the antithesis of what this blog is all about isn’t it? He must become greater. I must become less.

June 28, 2006 at 10:14 AM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

"I was only pointing out that our commitment to a particular narrative should determine the "content" of our terms. If it doesn't, what we mean by love, justice, etc. is only going to be determined by some narrative other than the one we wish to claim as our own."

our commitment to a particular narrative SHOULD determine the 'content' of our terms???

Look, the very notion of a narrative framework is NOT normative, it does NOT say 'should' rather, it DESCRIBES what/why people do the things they do. narrative frameworks are to be exposed or uncovered for their relevant features, NOT called to be acknowledged by those who already inhabit them.

Narrative frameworks are like fish being in water in the sense that it explains why the fish is able to go up and down the stream so easily BUT it never necesitates that the fish acknowledge that its in water to do its explaining.

Further, your second sentence seems to imply that if you do NOT acknowledge your narrative framework, you run the danger of slipping into a different narrative framework. This is absurd.

If someone grew up in Germany, speaking German, THEN EVEN IF they fail to acknowlege this(i.e. fail to utter "I am a German speaking German), it would never result in them waking up one morning only to find their 'terms' being determined by a French narrative.

YOUR call to acknowlege our particular narrative framework or else face a different narrative framework could be, in itself, a scare tactic.

it would be nice to see you actually respond to arguments concerning self-abnegation (as posted by anonymous) rather than pontificating about the method of this discussion. "Preoccupation with method is like clearing your throat: it can go on for only so long before you lose your audience."

June 28, 2006 at 12:31 PM  
Anonymous shane said...

Could someone state what the argument supporting the idea that "self abnegation come from it's opposite" is? I've seen the idea proposed as a question, and stated as a belief, but have not heard anyone back it up with anything solid. If there is no solid argument supporting it then maybe we should close this agrument and celebrate the fact that we are probably in the running for the "blogspot post with the most comments awards". Yeah, let's hear it for comment #41 ! !

June 28, 2006 at 3:53 PM  
Blogger Tyler Stewart said...

Just for clarity,
Anonymous, you wrote, "dualist (i.e. it will be imparted to her via faith on Christ)." I don't really understand what you mean by that but I don't see how it makes sense of any definition I know of for "dualism"

dualism:
(1) The condition of being double; duality.
(2) Philosophy. The view that the world consists of or is explicable as two fundamental entities, such as mind and matter.
(3) Psychology. The view that the mind and body function separately, without interchange.
(4) Theology.
(a) The concept that the world is ruled by the antagonistic forces of good and evil.
(b) The concept that humans have two basic natures, the physical and the spiritual.

Your use of "Gnosticism” is also confusing for me. “Gnosticism” was a heresy of the second and third centuries that taught revealed “knowledge” concerning the unknowable divine being could only come through secrets revealed by “demi-urges” who have imparted this “knowledge” upon certain cults. Only through initiation into these cults and sworn secrecy can this “knowledge” be attained. I’m just not sure what you mean. As far as scare tactics are concerned lets avoid accusations. Furnal, I’m not so sure about what you’re saying about narrative. I agree that narratives are descriptive, but those descriptions produce prescriptions. I think of the Gospels and the epistle material. The gospels are descriptive while the epistles are more prescriptive, but it is because the epistles are based on the “good news” that they can make prescription (i.e. within the story). I may have miss-read you, and I may not understand narrative very well, but certainly part of the task of theology is prescriptive.

June 28, 2006 at 5:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well if there is not a material explanation for a given quality (in this case a material explanation would be cultural and/or linguistic sources etc.), then it must be case that it is imparted in a non-material manner. In this case it would be spiritually. That, in the common (secondary) philosophical literature (Think, Problems of Philosophy, etc if you want page numbers I will find them) is considered dualism.

I understand the confusion, since this word has divers meanings, but what is really needed is a good theological/philosophical dictionary.

Similarly, with gnosticism, (which my computer inadvertently capitalized liking it to the historical heresy). It is also common in theological circles to describe the tendencies of a given modern theologian using references to historical precedence, even if the doctrines are not identical. I think that one of the people above was asserting a position that focused knowing before achieving. Though I admit that he was vague, so I am not exactly sure.

June 28, 2006 at 5:46 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Furnal,

No one inhabits just one narrative. As Christians, we are told to always be on guard not to be suckered in by different accounts of the world. To be so suckered would not normally be all-pervasive, but it would amount to our vision being framed by one narrative rather than another in certain contexts. And not all narratives are as all-pervasive as the fish/water metaphor implies, though there are many narratives that can be invisible to some, yet often those same narratives are perfectly visible to others. To begin to see one's own "water" as a narrative is to begin the process of being converted by another. To appeal to a narrative as normative is not absurd. It is, in our case, to point out how narratives that are not Christian have distorted our understanding of the Christian narrative. To say that references to narratives can only be descriptive and not normative is to grossly underestimate the role of narratives in our lives. The narratives we hold dear become clarion calls for us to act in certain ways in certain contexts, i.e., short-hand references like "Remember the Alamo" can easily become a call to uphold a certain sense of duty in battle, if you're a Texan, as many are.

I like you, Furnal. Everytime I talk to you, though, I always feel like there's some chip on your shoulder. There probably isn't, but talking with you I never feel like I'm getting the genuine Josh. That may be my problem, and it probably is, but I don't know how to solve it without your help. It may be of no interest to you to address this, but until I feel like I know where you're coming from, I will not debate with you.

Mr. or Ms. Anonymous,

I don't know who you are, what your training is, or why you choose to remain anonymous, but the fact is, as Shane has pointed out, you have not made an argument one way or the other about the question of opposites. You threw out a quote, raised a question, and, from my perspective, have only stirred up mischief since then. Here are my brief responses to your last post:

My position does not posit a dualism prior to a cultural-linguistic "source," as you call it. To say that one's beliefs about the world determine the content of certain terms we employ in the world is not dualism. Neither is it "dualism" to say that a Buddhist doesn't know what justice is because he doesn't know who Jesus is. Overlap is something, but it is not enough to constitute universal understanding. Our language, particularly our moral language, is but shorthand for the narratives we hold dear. Thus when my church thinks of justice they cannot think about it without thinking about the cross of Christ, nor can they think about it without also thinking of God's mercy and how it qualifies our use of "justice." Our concepts are constituted by our narratives. That is not dualism. Nor is it "dualism" for me to say, as a Christian, that the Christian understanding of justice is "real" or "right" and the Buddhist's isn't, even when there are points of agreement between us.

To say that a true understanding of justice comes by faith in Christ does not mean what you construe it to mean, i.e., that the right understanding is "imparted" to us because of our faith. That may or may not be "dualism," but I never came close to saying anything like that. I said that by paying attention to what God has taught us about himself in Jesus, we learn to use our moral notions rightly. This right vision is a skill to be developed, not a gift that is "imparted."

As for gnosticism, you still aren't using the term correctly. There is nothing "secretive" about the understanding I'm saying Christians have that others don't. But just because it isn't secretive doesn't mean it isn't peculiar to Christians. That's what preaching and evangelism is for. To make Christians, i.e., to make people who see the world and act in the world in a certain way and not in other ways.

I don't think dualism or gnosticism are scary either. But you are well aware what I meant by calling your reference to them a scare tactic. By using them you mean to scare me or others away from my position by labeling my position with terms reserved for heretics and bad philosophers. If your intent was not to "scare" me away from but rather to accurately describe my position, you should not resort to labels without explaining your use of them, particularly when, as in this case, you are going to misapply them.

In closing, I appreciate your presence here. I welcome every opportunity to try to articulate what it is I think about how it is we tic. But since I don't know you, your training, or your motive for blogging here, I will not continue in this discussion with you. I warmly invite you to respond to this post, and I will read your response, but this is my last post on this topic. The final word is yours.

...

June 28, 2006 at 6:04 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

"To begin to see one's own "water" as a narrative is to begin the process of being converted by another."
I disagree. Everytime i realise i am in a given narrative then i am on my way out of it? No. This doesn't work. If my transition out of a narrative, begins by me being aware of it, then how am i unawere of my transition to a new one. This narrative shifting is mystic stuff in your theory.

June 28, 2006 at 6:50 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

“To say that references to narratives can only be descriptive and not normative is to grossly underestimate the role of narratives in our lives. The narratives we hold dear become clarion calls for us to act in certain ways in certain contexts, i.e., short-hand references like "Remember the Alamo" can easily become a call to uphold a certain sense of duty in battle, if you're a Texan, as many are.”

You misunderstand the criticism. You “Alamo” example is just a case of normative appeal in action, but it has nothing to do with narrative framework theory. The narrative framework is (say) American military which causes you to charge with furry when the Alamo is invoked. Now if you don’t, then you might be corrected (normatized). This correction will come from those within the narrative group (who according to you don’t know there in that narrative group otherwise they would be on the way out of it), the correction does not come from the theory that sets out the boundaries of that narrative group. The theory is the stuff of cultural anthropologists. The normative element comes from those within the narrative group, not the theory itself.

All this is to clarify what was a “level confusion” in your previous post.

June 28, 2006 at 7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Short answer to Thom:
I was neither calling names nor attempting to scare. Apologies. I was useing a fairly standarded move in figuring out a position in matters theological. That is an attempt to uncover what specific beleifs commit you to in general. When this is done with two positions held by the same person it is given a latin name. It is called a "reductio". That was what i was attempting to try out on a couple of your positions, nothing personal. Enjoyed the discussion, sorry to see that you have posted you last here.

June 28, 2006 at 7:35 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Here's my last post:

Zach,

You've misunderstood me. To be converted to another narrative is not necessarily to be converted out of an old one. As I said earlier, no one inhabits just one narrative. Thus we can learn from cultural anthropologists that what we take for granted in fact comes to us through our narrative, and so we learn to see certain aspects of our lives through the narrative-lens of the cultural anthropologist. (A mistake here would be to assume that the anthropologist describes from a vacuum.)

In actual fact, we inhabit many narratives simultaneously. We often inhabit conflicting narratives simultaneously. But not all narratives conflict with all others, and most that do only do so in part.

There is no mysticism in my "narrative shifting," but I can see why you would think so since you and others have consistently understood me (wrongly) to speak of narrative as a wholesale, take-it-or-leave-it frame of reference. Furnal above conflated narrative with a general French or German way of seeing and thus found absurdity in my argument.

Anonymous,

I was not offended at you. I did not take it personal.

...

June 28, 2006 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

PS:

Zach,

I never made the claim that the normative element came from the theory and not from the within the narrative. Perhaps there is confusion here because of the temptation to think of theorists as those who speak from outside a narrative. I do not think any such theorist exists. At any rate, a Christian ethicist or theologian can point to elements of our speech or behavior whose origin is foreign to the Christian narrative. He can point out that the origin is from another narrative, and prescribe a normative correction to the foreign speech or behavior from within the narrative of Christianity.

Perhaps my use of "converted" was confusing. In my idiosyncratic use it need mean nothing more than "learning to see from another perspective." That kind of conversion does not require, though it can involve, intellectual or behavioral commitment.

I'm no good at not posting, but blogging really does frustrate me because of the patience it takes to clarify confusions that could be cleared up much faster in face-to-face conversation.

...

June 28, 2006 at 9:04 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Well your farewell post, and your two additional posts do serve to clarify you position somewhat. Yet, there are still some questions/points.

First, you made an aside pointing out that it would be a mistake to think a cultural anthropologist makes an observation from a vacuum. True. Yet a cultural anthropologist can present an observation from outside any given view or narrative framework. The importance of this clarification can not be overstated.

You also said:
“Perhaps my use of "converted" was confusing. In my idiosyncratic use it need mean nothing more than "learning to see from another perspective." That kind of conversion does not require, though it can involve, intellectual or behavioral commitment.”
Again this calls for clarification. Are you equivocating between narrative and “learning from another perspective”? Because they seem to be cross cutting classes. I can, from within my own narrative see things “from another’s point of view”. I think there might be an additional, idiosyncratic, use of “narrative” or “narrative framework” in your view. To be clear, I am not criticizing you, I am simply addressing your view. Well even then I should say, your view as it is being presented.

Thanks for being willing to chat some more.

June 29, 2006 at 9:14 AM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

thom,

glad to have you back from your 'farewell post.' I don't want you to read any animosity into my words. I was just trying to uncover your position.

Zach is correct in identifying your 'equivocation.' however, i think you do this across a number of terms. so let's back up a bit:

"What we mean by "love," "justice," "patience," "self-abnegation," etc., are not terms the meaning of which we already know before we apply them to God. They are terms whose meaning we learn by paying attention to God's timeful relationship to the world."

(1) So atheists, buddhists, hindu's, etc. do not know the meaning of "love, justice, patience, self-abnegation, etc."

When anonymous made this point, you responded,

"I did not say that there is no overlap between one community's conception of justice, love, etc., and another's. There is always overlap"

(2) I think there is a logical contradiction here that needs to be teased out. (a) On one hand you grant that the buddhist knows the meaning of a given virtue because of the overlap. (b) on the other hand you're claiming that people can't know about virtues until they "apply them to God."

The original question of this post dealt with self-abnegation. There was a quote from Socrates earlier in this discussion which brought up the question whether or not Socrates is able to teach us Christians about virtue.

According to thom's logic, Socrates knows both nothing of virtue, because he doesn't apply them to God and something of virtue, because there is "an overlap between one community's conception of virtue and another's."

I think it's either one or the other. on one hand, if the definiton of virtue overlaps between communities, than Socrates can teach us something about self-abnegation in the above quote.

OR if Socrates doesn't know anything about self-abnegation (due to his failure to "apply it to God") then, we should be able to use this quote to show why the greek definition is inferior to the Christian definition of virtue.

all scare tactics aside, there is a tug of war between gnosticism and platonism going on in this discussion. I choose platonism here because it is a more accurate term than anonymous' use of 'dualism.'

June 29, 2006 at 10:44 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

I am the Michael Jordan of theology blogs.

The first thing to do is to clear up what we all mean by "narrative." Erica read through these posts last night and clarified for me that Furnal and Zach are both using narrative in a grander yet more specific sense than I. While my use of narrative includes their use, it is also more diverse. I've tried to articulate this in posts above, but Erica said I wasn't clear enough. Furnal seems to be using the concept of a "narrative framework" to refer to things like the language we speak and all those things that frame our reality for us that escape us. More often than not, I have been using narrative to refer to the biblical narrative, the very thing with which theology is most concerned. Because Furnal and others have been using narrative in one sense, and I in another, I have been misunderstood consistently to be saying that to become aware that we speak English requires that we have already learned to speak French. Rather, what I have been saying is that attention to the biblical narrative through theology and worship qualifies and corrects our use of English or French. There are all different kinds of narrative that are pertinent to narrative theory; the invisible-linguistic kind is only one such. That there are multiple senses of "narrative" in narrative theory is not idiosyncratic to me. Just read MacIntyre or Hauerwas.

Now, to your questions:

Zach said: "a cultural anthropologist can present an observation from outside any given view or narrative framework. The importance of this clarification can not be overstated."

Zach, I recommend you read Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough by Wittgenstein. But whether you do or not, suffice it to say that this will be a main point of contention between us. A cultural anthropologist can speak from outside the narrative he is describing, but he can never speak from outside any narrative at all. To do so, in short, would be to speak without speaking. The terms the anthropologist uses to describe narratives "neutrally" are someone's terms, they are some tradition's terms, and often they are not the terms the people within the narrative being described would use to describe themselves (just read John Milbank's Theology and Social Theory). Everything is described from some point of view, and a neutral point of view is an oxymoron.

To see from "another point of view" is to see from the vantage point of another narrative. This does not necessitate that our narrative changes wholesale. This is why there is never one narrative narrating our lives. I think the way both of you have been talking about narrative is a little too simplistic, as though English or French or American presented complete options.

So, Josh, I do not think that Zach has been correct in identifying my "equivocation." Neither, I fear, are you correct in your diagnosis of my further equivocations.

But let me take a moment here to address something Zach said. Zach said that he is addressing my view "as it is being presented," and I should rather say that Zach and Josh are addressing my view as they are understanding it, and I am responding to their views as I am understanding them. "As it is being presented" puts to much faith, in my opinion, in the concept of linguistic univocity. Digression concluded.

Josh, your diagnosis of my equivocations is just based on several misunderstandings. I still don't think there is much disagreement between us, based on past encounters with your thought.

I said that a Buddhist doesn't really know the meaning of justice, which means, from the Christian perspective we all share, that he doesn't have the right paradigm/s in view to understand justice as YHWH God's. Overlap is there, but the differences are what is crucial for really understanding one another.

Do not confuse me as saying that a Buddhist doesn't have a meaning of justice. He has a very complete meaning. To the Buddhist, it is the right meaning. But there are elements of YHWH's justice, I'm thinking specifically of a good man on a cross, that the Buddhist would not dare call just. My point is not to say that no other tradition has a coherent use of justice, love, etc., but that each tradition has its own stories that qualify and restrict their use of such terms. What I am really saying is that the Buddhist does not have a Christian use of "justice," and since I am a Christian I can collapse that into saying that a Buddhist does not have a right use of "justice."

Your phrase, "apply them to God," is not mine. That phrase implies that the terms are already what they are before God gets entered into the equation. I have argued consistently that God, YHWH God, defines them first. We have learned to speak about God in light of the fact that God has acted in certain ways and not in others. We do not learn to speak and then "apply it to God."

There is no logical contradiction in my position. To say that there is overlap and yet that others do not really know justice (I have always used the qualifier "really") is not trying to have my cake and eat it too, as you've suggested. It is to say that there are similarities but the differences are really what makes each version of justice what it is. If I were a Muslim I would say that the Christian version of justice is not really justice. If I were an American political theorist I would say that Christianity doesn't have a version of justice, at least, not one as useful (i.e., as "real") as America's. But I am a Christian. And I believe that by attending to the biblical narrative/s we come with hard work to the right, the real, the true use of such terms as justice, love, patience, etc. If this were not the case, being a Christian would make no difference whatsoever for our moral notions and thus for our moral life. This last point is very Hauerwasian, but in fact it was Erica who reminded me of it last night.

Your cute little rendition of my position that says, "Socrates knows both nothing of virtue, because he doesn't apply them to God[,] and something of virtue, because there is 'an overlap between one community's conception of virtue and another's,'" is just not my view. Socrates knows Greek virtues. He need not apply them to God for them to be Greek virtues. Jesus, on the other hand, knows the character of God, not because he applies moral notions to God's character, but because Jesus' familiarity with God's character precedes his use of moral notions. I never said Christians have nothing to learn from Socrates (although I am of the persuasion that we have more to learn from Aristotle, but that's another argument for another place). My objection to using Socrates to understand self-abnegation was explicitly put in Wittgenstinian terms. It could have been put in Aristotelian terms. I'll take Aristotle's N. Ethics over Socrates via Plato any day. I never came close to saying that "we have nothing to learn from the pagans."

There is no tug of war between gnosticism and platonism here. That should be clear by now. If it is not, I fear it is because of differences in philosophical and theological training. The only other prescription I can think of to resolve that problem would be to do a massive book-swap. But none of us has any time for that. However, I hope I have cleared up some more of the confusion "I" have caused.

...

June 29, 2006 at 12:50 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Do you own this book: Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough by Wittgenstein

Have you read it?

June 29, 2006 at 3:35 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

It's in Philosophical Occassions, a collection of his writings. Yes, I have.

...

June 29, 2006 at 3:52 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

You have missunderstood me. I meant any GIVEN view.

Meaning that if you pick and isolate one given narrative framework/community, then there can be a cultural anthropologist who can present an observation from outside of that point of view. The importance of this clarification can not be overstated.

I was not saying as you read that there is a way for a cultural anthropologist to present a view from outside of all points of view. That is that there is no "view from nowhere".

So i dont know how this could have been, nor will be, a cheif point of contention between us.

June 29, 2006 at 3:55 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

I just ask cause my copy of "Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough" cost me nearly seventy-five dollars. I really enjoyed reading it, and i was not aware that there was an abridged version avalable.

Maybe the "Selections" makes it appear as though that is the point of the work, but the purpose more nearly is that Fraiser's work strikes Wittgenstein as backward, so he offers a corrective reading of specific native customes and magical practices.

June 29, 2006 at 3:58 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Zach,

Glad to see I misunderstood you. Your clarification helps me to see that we agree on this point.

I did not, however, say that "the point" of Remarks on Frazer was to show that one cannot argue from outside a point of view. I only suggested it to you as one (good) example of a critique of an anthropologist who thought he was describing objectively. Since you've read more of it than I, and since you've clarified what I misunderstood, I can see that my suggestion was unnecessary.

Is my position at all clearer to you now? Or are there still points of unclarity?

...

June 29, 2006 at 4:07 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Tom you said, and note the last phrase:
"Moreover, you are right not to think that "something can be a virtue if it is not already a characteristic of God." What we mean by "love," "justice," "patience," "self-abnegation," etc., are not terms the meaning of which we already know before we apply them to God."

Yet in your latest post you said:
"Your phrase, "apply them to God," is not mine. That phrase implies that the terms are already what they are before God gets entered into the equation. I have argued consistently that God, YHWH God, defines them first. We have learned to speak about God in light of the fact that God has acted in certain ways and not in others. We do not learn to speak and then "apply it to God.""

Could you clarify these two statements.

And i will be quiet for awhile

June 29, 2006 at 4:46 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

Re: "applying them to God."

Ah-ha. Thanks. I DID use that phrase. My apologies. However, if you'll read the point I am making when I use it, you'll notice that I am saying that the terms are not what they are before we apply them to God, but that they are what they are because God's activity precedes our talk about it. Furnal made it sound like I was saying that just any one could "apply them to God" without paying attention to (i.e., being committed to) the biblical narratives. In other words, the words themselves, i.e., the signs, justice, love, etc., are applied to God rightly only after our attention to God has already helped define them. So while I did use the phrase (I'd forgotten I had), I didn't use it the way Furnal made it sound. It may have been a small point to pick on. It probably was.

I've been thinking, Hauerwas is constantly getting into trouble for making both descriptive statements and normative claims in the same breath. He does this because he is both a meta-ethicist and an ethicist. He speaks both about the Christian narrative/s and from within the Christian narrative/s. I understand that this is a tension, but I don't see any reason why this is a real problem.

I think I've gotten into trouble a little bit here because of that same tension. I have not always been clear when I move from descriptive statements about Christianity to normative statements from within Christianity. I apologize for that, but I'm sure neither that I can nor that I want to put an end to that practice.

This whole mess may end up being mostly a problem about style after all.

Getting back to our real business here. I want to quote Jeremy Bacon's post above, because I like it so much:

"I'm actually really giddy about the opportunity to live in a culture that does not see the institution of Christianity as one of its own pillars. Maybe we'll actually start living the story (like those early Christians in the letter) and not just yelling it like it's assumed."

My desire for Christians to stop "yelling it like it's assumed" is part of my motivation here in calling us to pay attention to the differences in different narrative traditions' use of moral terms.

...

June 29, 2006 at 4:50 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

“There is no logical contradiction in my position. To say that there is overlap and yet that others do not really know justice (I have always used the qualifier "really") is not trying to have my cake and eat it too, as you've suggested. It is to say that there are similarities but the differences are really what makes each version of justice what it is. If I were a Muslim I would say that the Christian version of justice is not really justice. If I were an American political theorist I would say that Christianity doesn't have a version of justice, at least, not one as useful (i.e., as "real") as America's. But I am a Christian. And I believe that by attending to the biblical narrative/s we come with hard work to the right, the real, the true use of such terms as justice, love, patience, etc. If this were not the case, being a Christian would make no difference whatsoever for our moral notions and thus for our moral life.”

One simple question. Take a group of 20 acts of justice for the Christian, not the Buddhist, Muslim, nor American. Just 20 acts of justice in the eyes of the Christian. What do those acts have in common according to your theory? And particularly in light of the above.

June 29, 2006 at 11:23 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

I don't think there would be any one thing that is common to all of them. Justice describes a range of activities that share "family resemblances." I don't think there's one common denominator we can point to to say, "That is essentially justice." I have been saying this all along: justice cannot be abstracted from particular activities. Learning what to call "just" and "unjust" cannot be done in theory. It is a moral skill that is developed in agents who apprentice themselves to virtuous people. I realize this is not a direct answer to your question, but I think it would be a mistake to try to find one. The real work of applying moral notions is not for the theorist but for the agent and the agent's community.

The one thing that I can say that must be present in every just act from a Christian perspective is a recognition that justice is God's, not ours. This is not the "essence" of justice though; it is merely part of the proper grammar of justice.

I'm afraid the only answer I would be able to give you is to tell twenty stories involving just acts. But I think it would be a mistake to abstract from these stories some essential property of justice. Rather, the stories would serve to broaden the range of our possibilities by showing us what kind of people we are capable of being.

One thing I will say about Christian justice that distinguishes it from other traditions' versions of justice is that Christian justice cannot be abstracted from eschatological hope, and present-day patience. I do not agree with liberation theologians who see Jesus' ministry to outcasts as an indication that the Church's task is to make the world more just. I see Jesus' ministry to outcasts as an indication that the Church's task is to create a space for justice, i.e., the Church itself. This kind of justice demonstrates eschatological hope and present-day patience. There is no formula for how this space should be created. There is no one such thing as "justice"; there are only unrepeatable acts that virtuous men know to call "just."

I realize this may be an unsatisfactory answer, but this, at least initially, is the response I think best.

...

June 29, 2006 at 11:53 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

So given your response that you would disagree with the following statement:

In twenty anecdotes of Christian justice, all would portray one characteristic of God. In this case that characteristic is justice.

June 30, 2006 at 12:55 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

No. I would not disagree with that statement. I understand how what I wrote could be read that way, but that's not what I said. I object to the idea that justice is one thing that can be known apart from such anecdotes. I do not object to the fact that "just" is what we call certain kinds of activities. To say that all twenty anecdotes portray "justice" is not to say that they all contain some essential element constituting justice that transcends them or that can be identified apart from them. To say that all twenty anecdotes portray justice is to make a grammatical remark; we are saying that what we mean by "justice" is found in these activities. But we know that justice is found in these activities not because we have a definition of justice that precedes all activity but because "justice" is but short-hand for those paradigmatic stories we hold dear.

...

June 30, 2006 at 2:09 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Although, on thinking about it further, I would object to one part of the statement: "In twenty anecdotes of Christian justice, all would portray one characteristic of God. In this case that characteristic is justice." I would object, partially, to the idea that justice is a characteristic of God.

By this I do not mean that God is not just, but that God alone is not just because justice requires the prior existence of some form of injustice for its proper use. In this sense, "God is just" is our way of saying that God goes on being God in response to man's rebellion against the divine harmony. If there were no injustice, the concept of justice itself would be superfluous. Thus God in and of himself is not just, but just is what we call God as he continues to be himself, i.e., harmonious, in the midst of disorder. In other words, God gods, and in certain contexts, we say God acts justly. For just as we cannot abstract justice from the activities that give it sense, neither can we abstract justice, or justness, from the one who acts justly. God's character is absolute, so much so that his activity cannot be abstracted from his being.

The upshot of all this is that justice is not one characteristic of God among many. God has only one characteristic and that is "godness," for God alone is pure. When we call God just we do so only in light of God's relation to something other than "godness."

That is not to say that all predications of God mean the same thing. There are differences between love, and justice, and patience, and such, but these differences reflect human experience. They are analogies that are useful for talking about God, but they are only useful because the diversity of human experience requires them.

Thus to say that "in twenty anecdotes of Christian justice, all would portray one characteristic of God" is not to say that the anecdotes portray one characteristic of God as distinct from some other characteristic of God. Rather, that we call such activities "just" reflects the reality of God's interrelationship to the world.

Once again, "justice" cannot be abstracted from particular activities. This is to warn us against the common confusion that justice somehow exists inside God, as though it is something that makes sense in and of itself that was just waiting to "come out" the moment God first "acted justly." Justice is a word that we use to navigate our world; it is not a thing; it has no ideal existence.

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June 30, 2006 at 3:00 AM  
Anonymous shane said...

If you could give one anecdote of Christian justice it might clear up, for me anyway, what you me by justice. My understanding is that justice is basically people getting what they deserve. Now the world will usually say that people deserve a better more comfortable life, or at least something that is pleasing or beneficial for them. Christianity differs in that it says, no, the only thing any one here has ever earned or deserves is death. Rom. 3:23 & 6:23. Every moment that we are not receiving justice, comes from the mercy of God. Anyone who desires justice for himself or herself or for our world either has a death wish, or does not understand the awesome holiness of God. Praise God for his mercy and grace! I would say that from a Christian point of view 20 instances of true justice do not exist. There are 2-one is finished, one is yet to come; the wrath of God that will be poured out on those who refuse to believe, and the wrath of God what was poured out on Jesus Christ in place of those who have repented and put their trust in Him.

If you mean “Christian Justice” as in, disciplining those who rebel against Christ authority and cause trouble within his Church, then I think we are called as a body to deliver that kind of justice (1 Corinthians 5:11-13). But then it is only for a certain time until the “evil doer” has repented and can be restored to the body.

But if you mean civil justice then I’m pretty sure individual Christians are not to be involved with carrying it out, that duty is reserved for the ruling government (Romans 13:1-7). I don’t know if you would see that as “Christian Justice”. On one hand the governments were given authority by God, but that doesn’t mean they act in ways that are Christian. I don’t feel eligible, to speak on that subject do to my own ignorance.

If you mean “Christian Justice” as in caring for widows, orphans, the least and the lost; I would not call that justice at all. I would call that Love, I would call that grace, but I would not call that justice.

Depending on what you mean, the common threads of Christian Justice will differ, but one common thread they all do have is the punishment of disobedience. I say disobedience and not sin only because in reading Acts I see that there are times where a person can be punished by a God established government for doing something that is completely in God’s will. If you do not include the civil justice mentioned then I would use the word sin. Punishing sin is just, God is Just.

June 30, 2006 at 11:13 AM  
Anonymous zach said...

Wow, I know that what I am about to say boarders closely on an ad hominem remark, but it should be said. Look, I think there might be a couple people on this blog who have willing put aside any attempt toward succinctness and clarity for quantity and verboseness. I think there is no little significance in the fact that one particular side of this discussion has had to repeatedly fall back on the claim that they were “misunderstood” (and I note regularly placing the fault on the reader). The “snow job” is not a recognized academic tool. I think it is bolder to attempt to trim down our words toward a decocted final product. Picture a debate taking place in scholarly literature, or perhaps you have even read one recently, you do not find a repeated reference to a misunderstanding of one persons reading. This is not a chastisement, just a call to a higher academic standard, and to academic honesty.

Having said that. Thom, I take it now that you do agree with the statement that “Twenty antidotes of Christian justice all have in common that they are characteristics of God.” That is given all of the given all 5 (or so of your qualifications). I glean this from your initial post at 2 am that says you do not disagree with the statement followed by your two qualifications in that post, in addition to the one qualification in your 3 am post, then another qualification followed by a qualification of that qualification, and then finally a summarizing qualification. So I will move forward with your much qualified assent, trying my very best to walk the line and not betray those qualifications. Undoubtedly I am taking a risk because no matter what I say, you will likely say that I have “misunderstood you” or you will say that you meant a word in a way that you did not specify or you might offer further qualifications. Yet my time is mine to waste so here we go.

I take your qualified assent, and I ask for a further thought experiment. Think of 40 acts of Buddhists justice. That is to say 40 acts of justice done among a fully Buddhist community and as viewed by Buddhists. I recognize that you are not a Buddhist, but based on what you have said earlier I am going to go out on a limb and say, that (while you will undoubtedly say that you cannot fully analyze the situation as a Buddhist) you are able to give a kind of inchoate (though surly much qualified) response. This is the chief portion of my post.

Yet before I close I would like to point out an eerie similarity between the following quotes:

Thom: “By this I do not mean that God is not just, but that God alone is not just because justice requires the prior existence of some form of injustice for its proper use… If there were no injustice, the concept of justice itself would be superfluous.”

Socrates: “as for example when something comes to be larger it must necessarily become larger from having been smaller before… Further, if something worse comes to be, does it not come from the better, and the juster from the more unjust?”

June 30, 2006 at 12:11 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Shane, I wanted you to know that I read you post. I do agree that there are different uses of the word justice and I agree that for the Christian all finite uses will be tempered by the “infinite use.” That is to say by the final act of justice. Thank you for the reminder to all of us.

I would say that it may not serve you point that well to use language in this way:
“I would say that from a Christian point of view 20 instances of true justice do not exist.” CS Lewis pointed out, in a rare moment of greatness, that when we start adding emphasizes to our words then we know that they are loosing their meaning. From the other side, when we do this we cause Derrida to dance from beyond the grave.

On the distinction between vocabulary, we could ether clarify or revert to symbolic rendering of our points. While I do not agree with Thom, I will refer you to him on this point because I think he could clarify the last two paragraphs of your post with some of his already stated views. Thank you again.

June 30, 2006 at 12:20 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

You cover a lot of good stuff here, Shane. I would not, however, agree that the punishment of disobedience is the common denominator present in every just act. Justice can include but does not necessarily include punishing wrongdoers. A just act can simply be a right act, one that rights a wrong, without punishing the wrongdoer.

You're right that the government's justice is not Christian justice. Jesus qualified justice for us by introduing patience, among other things, as part of its grammar.

We should be careful, however, about claims that God has given authority to the governments of the world. The authority God gives government is not inherent in government itself. I think it does more justice to the biblical narratives to say that God gives certain kinds of authority to a certain government at certain times for certain purposes. No government has divine authority automatically and at all times.

I would call caring for widows and orphans, etc., in most contexts justice, not to the exclusion of love. Particularly in societies where women and children do not have power, caring for them is about righting a wrong, not for the sake of society but for the sake of the kingdom of God--so that it might be seen for what it is.

I do like your post though, Shane. You are right to point out the eschatological character of Christian justice. And you are right to point out the diversity of activities we call "just." Again, I do not think "punishment of disobedience" is the common thread running through each instance of justice, and I think any such common thread will be difficult to pin down, but your pointing to the variety of things we call justice is, I think, right on target.

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June 30, 2006 at 12:25 PM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

Zach,

to thom's credit, he has an opinion(s) and at least he is willing to wrestle through the issues as well as open himself to criticism.

With that said, i do see validity in your comment about the 'snow job' effect not being a scholarly tool. In scholarly discussions, you have one chance to publish what you mean, and it may be a month (or years) before you get a chance to defend what you say. In academic circles, there is little opportunity to claim, "when i said X, i meant Xy" just like saying that the use of 'narrative' sometimes means 'biblical narrative.'

i have learned a lot through this discussion and feel sharpened by it.

June 30, 2006 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Thanks, Josh.

While I agree with Josh that in academic circles it is hard to defend yourself, this is a blog and defending myself, though difficult, is less difficult than in book form.

However, I thank you, Zach, for the time you've put into your criticims. I do not feel that a point-to-point response to your crticisms would be appropriate at this point. I will say that I am sorry my "snow job" did not make what I am trying to say clearer for you. It did for me. That's why I write the way I do.

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June 30, 2006 at 1:19 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

thom,

i welcome your response to my points on the topic of virtue. if the preferatory comment in my last post was harsh, i apologize. i believe that progress in our understanding is possible, as long as we are on the same page.

i look forward to your response.

June 30, 2006 at 1:26 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Thom, i have reread your post several times and it is unclear to me whether you are addressing just my prefitory comment, or if you are excusing your self from the discussion. I do hope that you are not offended.

Many people say that scholarly discussions are fruitless, but i strongly beleive this to be false. I suspect you may agree with me on this. People learn and grow and change. I just want to make sure that we are commited to this and not to something more fleeting. That is the background of my comment. Please hear me with my tone of sincerity (i cant spell). Agian i look forward to your response.

June 30, 2006 at 2:01 PM  
Anonymous shane said...

RE: in response to those who responded to my last responce :)

Ok. That clears it up a bit.

I guess here was my reasoning for saying that the care of "orphans", "widows" is not justice in and of itself. But now I’m not convinced my reasoning was very solid.

I was thinking this: (For it to be justice, it would have to mean that they deserve to be blessed? I'm uncomfortable with that because I know I have never done anything to deserve blessing. If I am blessed it is only because of God's grace, not because of anything I’ve done to deserve it.) that view was probably a little narrow

Thom you are right, many orphan and widows are living in unjust situation, as you said Particularly in societies where women and children do not have power. You said: “caring for them is about righting a wrong, not for the sake of society but for the sake of the kingdom of God” I do not disagree with that. I’m just not sure if caring for them actually rights the wrong or if it is just the right thing to do regardless. If by caring for them we were able to right the wrong, then yeah I would call that justice. My only concern would be; has the wrong really been righted if they are still being wronged by society in some ways despite our efforts to take care of them, and has the society that wronged them been given justice for their wrong actions towards them. But maybe it’s not necessary that the wrongdoers be punished in order for the widow/orphan to receive justice. I won’t go any further on that because I’m simply not educated nor wise enough to speak on such things, and quite frankly it’s not that important compared to my obedience to Christ. Speaking of which, does anyone else have a hankerin’ to go hang out at the orphanage or the old folks home? I got 2 words for you Bing-Go! (Please don't read any sarcasm into that, our small group really does play some mean bingo at the nursing home, it’s a blast.)

June 30, 2006 at 2:30 PM  
Anonymous shane said...

by the way when i said "frankly it’s not that important" i din't mean this conversation was not important, i just meant my abuility to add to it is not that important, because anything else i say would most likely be spoken in ignorance, not that that hasn't stopped me before :) i suffer from the "open mouth, insert foot syndrom" every once and a while.

enjoy your weekend gentlemen

June 30, 2006 at 3:31 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Zach,

I am not offended at you. I am frustrated with the way you mischaracterized me, but I do not even take that personally because, in fact, you've never met me. Not that I never mischaracterize people, even people I know. I mischaracterized Furnal earlier in this discussion, and I take his word on that.

I think your borderline ad hominem critiques (I'm not in principle against ad hominems by the way) largely missed the boat, though I received a lot of it. I will respond better when I have more time. I am at work right now. Suffice it to say, for now, that you've misunderstood my talk about justice being dependent upon injustice for its sense. That I am pointing out that you have misunderstood me is not my way of escaping responsibility for what I've said. It is my way of pointing out that you have misunderstood me. That is evident, at least I think it is, by the way you abstracted that quote of mine from its context and set it against the Socrates quote about opposites. Very early on I said that if Socrates was making analytic remarks, he was on target. But of course he was not.

My quote about justice needing injustice for its sense should not be abstracted from what came after it, namely: "Once again, 'justice' cannot be abstracted from particular activities. This is to warn us against the common confusion that justice somehow exists inside God, as though it is something that makes sense in and of itself that was just waiting to 'come out' the moment God first 'acted justly.' Justice is a word that we use to navigate our world; it is not a thing; it has no ideal existence."

In other words, Socrates assumes both "justice" and "injustice" have some kind of ideal existence, and that all particular instances of "justice" or "injustice" in some way correspond to their ideal counterpart. In that sense "justice/injustice" is independent of the world. I have argued that the only thing fixed is God. "Justice" and "injustice" do not exist. They are words for describing activities, activities that are properly understood, i.e., named, only in light of God's relationship to the world.

My insistence, moreover, that pagans do not have a right understanding of the virtues is not my insistence. It was insisted upon at much greater length and with much more clarity by Aquinas in the Summa Theologiae.

I am happy to be in dialogue with you. My decision not to respond at that time was not a decision to retreat or to give up dialogue. It was a decision not to come back tit for tat.

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June 30, 2006 at 3:56 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Fair enough, lets just move forward respectfully. Thats probably what we all want anyway.

It is not clear to me what kind of comments you think Socrates is making. You say he is not making “analytic” statements, which of course is to hold him to an anachronistic standard. I would be interested to hear what you have to say about that.

I would also say that Socrates could have agreed with everything you said in the paragraph that starts with “My quote.” Alternatly, he would probably (though this is a matter of continuing scholarly discussion) disagree with what you said in the paragraph that begins with “In other words.” Socrates/Plato believed that there was God and that all of the virtues were contained in God and were not existent and unable to be defined outside of him. I am piecing this together from Euthaphro, Crito and Phaedo. If I need to fish out quotes I can dig through my notes, but I suspect that you will remember this to be the case.

And I should add that I would take Aquinas to task over the same issue.

Also I restate my previous question:
Think of 40 acts of Buddhists justice. That is to say 40 acts of justice done among a fully Buddhist community and as viewed by Buddhists. I recognize that you are not a Buddhist, but based on what you have said I am going to say that you are able to give a kind of response. What do these acts have in common?

June 30, 2006 at 5:28 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

I have already answered the question of what the acts of justice have in common. What they have in common is that we call them all acts of justice. I do not believe that means they all share one essential element that can be pinpointed in theory.

Next I would like to see you take Aquinas to task. That is interesting to me.

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June 30, 2006 at 7:52 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

That’s true, you did say that you thought they would have a family resemblance. Which is interesting because I am not sure why Socrates, Buddhists, etc. are outside “the know” when it comes to Christian life and virtue, but Wittgenstein receives a place of honor. Interesting. Thom, do you have an explanation.

So, we have the concept that 20 anecdotes of Christian Justice share the fact that they have a characteristic of God. But not in the sense of an essence, and not in any sense that can that can be abstracted from the anecdotes, or stories, themselves.

Similarly, 40 anecdotes or stories of Buddhist justice, share the characteristic of being acts of so called justice as judged by those in the Buddhists narrative. Mutatis mutandis with the above qualifications.

Now you have granted that there will be some overlap. Since we are all Christians we can assume that we would be familiar with the overlaping bits even if they are not (for now) made explicit. But Thom you went on to say that the Buddhist would not “really” know what justice is (and you went on to point out that she would say the same of you). So I ask you Thom: “What would the differnce be in that which the 20 Chrisitan anicdotes have in common and that which the 40 Buddhist anicdotes have in common?”
Again granting the important qualifications.
That’s my major question.

As for me and Aquinas, I don’t think you would be that intersted because I would just be summerizing the voluminus literature criticizing Auinias on that particular point. And you would probably be more interested in reading that. Besides we have enough threads here without introducing another major philosophical figure.

Finally, have you thought about my last post and the extent of your agreement with Socrates?

June 30, 2006 at 8:51 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

Who are you?

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July 1, 2006 at 12:34 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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“What would the differnce be in that which the 20 Chrisitan anicdotes have in common and that which the 40 Buddhist anicdotes have in common?”

Why do you assume that there is one difference? Why must all 20 or 40 anecdotes have the same difference in common?

I am growing quite weary of this discussion. In answer to your question, yes, I have thought about the extent of my agreement with Socrates and I have nothing to say about that at this point. My argument that the virtues are what they are because of God's relationship to the world is something I learned from Aquinas with the help of Burrell. There may be some convergence between Socrates and Aquinas on this point (there often is, especially given Thomas's debt to Augustine).

As for your question about why Wittgenstein should be priveleged in philosophical talk about Christianity, you wouldn't really be interested in that because I would just be summarizing the voluminous literature on that particular subject. And you would probably be more interested in reading that.

If we're close to being done with this, or even if we're not, I'd like to get back as soon as possible to talking about self-abnegation. Perhaps you can finally give us a positive argument why Socrates' opposites help us to understand the concept.

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July 1, 2006 at 12:51 AM  
Anonymous tony said...

zach attack

July 1, 2006 at 1:10 AM  
Anonymous zach said...

“Why do you assume that there is one difference? Why must all 20 or 40 anecdotes have the same difference in common?”

Read what I said again. I said: What would the difference be in that which the 20 Christian anecdotes HAVE IN COMMON and that which the 40 Buddhist anecdotes HAVE IN COMMON? That is my concern.

I am sorry this is fatiguing, most important things are. Much study wearies the body and all that.

“As for your question about why Wittgenstein should be privileged in philosophical talk about Christianity, you wouldn't really be interested in that because I would just be summarizing the voluminous literature on that particular subject. And you would probably be more interested in reading that.”

On one hand I say to this: “touché” that was very funny. I was being cute, but not because I was unwilling to talk about this, rather just because it seemed inappropriate to bring up that much new material in this stage of the discussion (just a leftover feature of etiquette, that you don’t introduce whole new topics late in the game). On the other hand I say: Wittgenstein has been in this debate throughout, in fact you even recommended some of his work as relevant to this debate. Additionally since you both introduced him and made the claim only the Christian community can rightly lead us to Christian virtue, then I don’t think that it is superfluous to ask for a clarification from you in this matter.

Well, I guess I thought that we have been talking about self-abnegation, although what we have said might also apply to other Christian virtues. I think that Socrates certainly can teach us about self-abnegation. He taught it and lived it, which is enough for me to think that I can learn from anybody. The beatitudes make me think that Socrates might be close to right in this particular quote as posted by Anonymous, which is in keeping with the whole “first is last, last is first” motif. At some point someone said that self-abnegation was only revealed in the nature of Christ (that is a paraphrase of someone I don’t remember who, but it was early on and not you Thom). To this I would point out that the verse which is this blog’s namesake is not about Christ but about John the B, which I think puts this in a particularly limited context. I think that this verse in addition to Socrates’ notions serve as practical reminders that self-abnegation is not coextensive with the gospel message. If I am able to go to Darfur and work in a refugee camps with Christians and non-Christians it may well not be necessary to preach self-abnegation, even if it is still necessary to practice it. Which might point out to us that self-abnegation is a doctrine of special importance only to those for whom becoming greater is a real chance/option/temptation.

Finally Thom, it has been a lot of fun and a real blessing, but a blog is not a binding contract. That is to say you can leave when you please. No one is forcing you to stay if you are tired, you can just stop posting. To be clear that is not my desire, just a live option. If you know who the Anonymous was who posted the original quote from Socrates, tell him to come back because I would still have a number of questions to ask him. Also Josh Furnal said something interesting a few quotes back which I would be interested in revisiting if Thom you are tired of blogging.

July 1, 2006 at 6:17 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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McClendon's Systematic Theology: Volume 3: Witness and Kallenberg's Ethics as Grammar: Changing the Postmodern Subject both argue persuasively (with a strong arrangement of the facts) that Wittgenstein was a Christian, albeit an unconventional one. This is a huge controversy, of course, but there is I think inescapable parallels between Wittgenstein's religious remarks and his philosophical method. But besides that, if we take the line of D.Z. Phillips, Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy was to clarify what if being said by traditions, not to arbitrate what is possible for traditions to say. On either side of the coin, Wittgenstein is of enormous importance for philosophy of religion. I don't think you have to believe Wittgenstein was a Christian to see how uniquely important he is for philosophy of religion and for ethics. There may be some convergence between Wittgenstein and Socrates, but there is very rich convergence between him and Aristotle (see Kallenberg) and him and Aquinas (see Grammar and Grace). These are just general reasons; I have not explicated them in detail. Really I couldn't do it better than it's already been done by others.

As for whether Socrates can teach us about self-abnegation, I never said he couldn't. I questioned how this particular quote from Socrates clarified anything for us. I am still waiting for a discussion about that. But there are plenty of people in history that are not Christian who I would point to as some kind of paradigm of self-abnegation. I would just say, with Aquinas, that without the theological virtues, particularly the virtue of charity, the natural virtues cannot but be ill-directed. This is not to say there is nothing significant to learn from non-Christians. This is to say that without the theological virtues Christians cannot be properly virtuous. Moreover, Stanley Hauerwas has argued extensively that the Gospel narrative takes better account of human existence than does even the Aristotelian virtues, although, of course, Hauerwas is entirely Aristotelian.

"If I am able to go to Darfur and work in a refugee camps with Christians and non-Christians it may well not be necessary to preach self-abnegation, even if it is still necessary to practice it. Which might point out to us that self-abnegation is a doctrine of special importance only to those for whom becoming greater is a real chance/option/temptation."

There is a good point here, but I do not think the powerless are not tempted to become powerful. Anyone can at any time attempt to be powerful. Whether or not one can be successful is beside the point.

But again, anything virtuous reflects God in his relationship to the world. Aquinas's and even Jewish and Muslim doctrines of divine simplicity remind us that God does not have properties, but rather God is his properties. This means that divine self-abnegation does not "come out of" self-inflation. The terms "self-abnegation" and "self-inflation" are navigators. To be sure, one does not make sense without some concept of the other, but that is a linguistic relation, not a real relation.

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July 1, 2006 at 10:17 AM  
Anonymous shane said...

This is not directly related, but I have been bloggin it up with a guy in Malaysia, and I think he is a Buddhist. His ideas of these virtue are almost completely backwards from our. He caught my attention with this post head line “There is no virtue in self sacrifice”. To our conversation earlier about widows and orphans he would say to take care of them would be damaging to them because we have taken away their ability to learn how to take care of themselves. Further more he believes nothing is sin except maybe for one to deny their own deity. As you can see there would be numerous differences between what he call justice and what we call justice.

July 1, 2006 at 11:16 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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I'd say this is fairly directly related, Shane. Thank you.

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July 1, 2006 at 11:42 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

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"Read what I said again. I said: What would the difference be in that which the 20 Christian anecdotes HAVE IN COMMON and that which the 40 Buddhist anecdotes HAVE IN COMMON? That is my concern."

Please answer your own question in your own terms. That'll help me.

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July 1, 2006 at 11:52 AM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

Wittgenstein was a Christian huh? When i read with 'ethics as grammar' i do remember Kallenberg referring to the possiblity of this being the case, but i didn't remember him taking as firm of a stand as you have.

“For the religion at which Wittgenstein hints in his early writings is a form of pantheism. In the Tractatus he says that God does not reveal himself in the world, and this means that he does not reveal himself in any particular fact or set of facts. In the Notebooks he goes further and says that God is the world. So the object of philosophical inquiry [the World] is also the object of feelings. But though the object is the same, it is approached in two different ways, and there is no suggestion that the logic and ontology of the Tractatus are a form of theology” (David Pears, 90)

Tragically I do not have a copy of the Notebooks, but I can get it if necessary. Now besides the fact that Wittgenstein was ethnically and culturally Jewish (though some of his family were acculturated), this quote above is enough to show me that he was not a Christian in any sense that I know (although, Thom, you may be comfortable with a pantheist version of Christianity).

If that weren’t enough, the use of “God” in Investigations is more than clearly a device to criticize any non-materialistic view. Unfortunately, the quotes from Investigations would be out of place with out large amounts of context.

“But besides that, if we take the line of D.Z. Phillips, Wittgenstein's conception of philosophy was to clarify what if being said by traditions, not to arbitrate what is possible for traditions to say.”

Well that’s all fine and good. Yet according to much of what you have already said, I think you might be committed to saying that there is really no strong difference between “to clarify what if being said by traditions” and “arbitrat[ing] what is possible for traditions to say.” I glean this from your reliance upon qualifications and your insistence that things like virtue are not “essences” but simply features of grammar, and your point that things like virtue can’t be abstracted from the stories.

Additionally, you seemed to have alluded to the idea that criticisms must only arise internally, which would mean that this Phillips quote was completely dependent upon the antecedent point that Wittgenstein was a Christian.

“On either side of the coin, Wittgenstein is of enormous importance for philosophy of religion. I don't think you have to believe Wittgenstein was a Christian to see how uniquely important he is for philosophy of religion and for ethics.”

This quote of yours seems to undermine much of what you have already said, because you could substitute any of the major figures in philosophy (and even a lot of minor ones) for Wittgenstein, and that quote would still hold true.

These are significant points and ones to which I am not sure you have a good response, but then again I have been surprised before. I am currently fishing through my notes from ‘ethics as grammar’ to check your quotes to see if Kallenberg does in fact assert what you are asserting, or if this is just a “misunderstanding.”

July 1, 2006 at 1:23 PM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

thom, i found your reference. on page 276 in 'Ethics as Grammar' (which is the end notes section) Kallenberg references where he first points to McClendon's assertion of Wittgenstein's Christianity.

i didn't take time to read the McClendon source, (maybe you did?) but i think the quote is less than conclusive regarding Wittgenstein's christianity. And i am positive that Kallenberg recognizes this in his work without going as far as you have gone.

July 1, 2006 at 1:44 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Short answer first: Thom, I don’t agree with you that there is some significant difference in Justice across groups like Buddhists and Christians. So my thought exparament is to try and tease out the subtleties of you view which I think has gaps, not my own. So I would never have a reason to answer my question, I was just waiting for you to answer. Indeed the terms are “thick,” Thom you brought us to this point by numerous qualifications and retrospective changes in the meaning of the words used. So if there is something you don’t understand then ask, if not then I wait for your answer to my main question:

What would the difference be in that which the 20 Christian anecdotes HAVE IN COMMON and that which the 40 Buddhist anecdotes HAVE IN COMMON? That is my concern.

Second my “argument” for the value of the Socrates quote was simply that it can teach us about virtue. That’s the claim, which I think is supported by the parallels between your statements and Socrates’ statements. Secondly my Darfur anecdote was a point/argument that was inspired by the Socrates quote. Though I recognize that I did not make the connection explicit. Also it was not strictly an “argument,” so if you would like it in a more formal (logical) rendition, that would be a fair request.

July 1, 2006 at 2:31 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Like Josh Furnal, I am less then certain that anyone could/should claim Wittgenstein was a Christian. Though I suppose the people that you quote would have to say that to use him to the extent that they do. Josh, I will try to find the references you quoted. Wait, I just reread what you wrote, and are you saying that “McClendon's Systematic Theology: Volume 3: Witness and Kallenberg's Ethics as Grammar: Changing the Postmodern Subject” are actually the same source? I mean, are you saying that one quotes the other? So that is not two sources arguing for the same point, its really one. Josh, would you classify the arguments presented in those sources as “persuasive”?

July 1, 2006 at 2:39 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

I never said that I was sure Wittgenstein was a Christian. I said that Kallenberg and McClendon argued persuasively. They are not the only ones of course. And yes, Zach, they are two different sources. Kallenberg does reference McClendon, but he makes his own argument. McClendon spends 60 pages arguing it, and Kallenberg one chapter.

Josh, your Pears quote deals with Wittgenstein's thought in 1914-22. He lived a little while longer than that, and dealt with religion, and Christianity, a lot more extensively in his latter writing. Moreover, the Pears quote does not do justice to the Tractatus' implicit distinction between the world and God. If God is the world, the Tractatus would be pointing to nothing, because Wittgenstein was attempting to point beyond the world to das Mystiche.

Josh, Kallenberg does believe Wittgenstein was a Christian, albeit an unconventional one. If he didn't, he wouldn't have argued that he was.

At any rate, you guys can talk amongst yourselves now. I'm done here.

...

July 1, 2006 at 3:54 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Well Thom sorry to see you go, your contributions here will be missed.
A few clarifications though. First of all Pears was in fact, connecting the early with the late Wittgenstein. Furthermore, while the Notebooks do in fact bare the dates you provide, upon examining a copy you would find that there is additional material of Wittgenstein’s (letters, scraps not in the actual notebooks) that extend in date well into the forties, and well into the time when we can date much of the contents of the Investigations. So much of the material contained in the Notebooks does rightfully belong in his later period. So I think this statement is off base:
“He lived a little while longer than that, and dealt with religion, and Christianity, a lot more extensively in his latter writing.”
In fact, I am not rightly sure what that statement means, though I would very much like to have some quotes to back it up, if such really exist. Anyway, virtually everything that we have (including Investigations) was compiled and published posthumously. And the executors of his estate claim that there is more then ten time the amount of published writings as yet untranslated/unpublished. An important article on this is Stanley Cavell’s work entitled "The Availability of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy.” It is a must read for any would-be students of Wittgenstein, as Cavell was a student of Rush Reese’s.
The problem is that Wittgenstein is Christianized where he was vague and done so to support the theories of scholars for whom philosophy is a kind of hobby. The ultimate result is that we receive a heavily filtered and baptized Wittgenstein, not unlike the heavily filtered and baptized Aristotle of the medieval scholastics, or the early church fathers who went so far as to claim that Plato was a Christian blessed with Christian knowledge. So we should be similarly weary of comparable claims made of Wittgenstein.

Next this claim:
“If God is the world, the Tractatus would be pointing to nothing, because Wittgenstein was attempting to point beyond the world to das Mystiche.”

I highly recommend rereading the first two sentences of the Tractatus before making that claim. The best part about the Tractatus is that it does point to nothing. That’s why he started to move (in the single most famous and widely discussed shift in philosophy) away from that position in Investigations. I suggest all of the relevant quotes of the Investigations which say that “the author of the Tractatus thought…”

Well, I think that is all. It is an irony of ironies that for many philosophers, and unfortunately many more theologians, Wittgenstein is the fly paper from which they can not detach themselves.

Again, Thom I have appreciated the talk. I have grown and changed from it. I hope our paths cross again some day this side of glory. Blessings, love, and peace in your search for self-abnegation.

July 1, 2006 at 5:31 PM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

Zach, thanks for clarifying the quote from Pears for us. Kallenberg mentions a similar thing about the posthumous publications of Wittgenstein, saying they are "partially obscured" (p. 35). Which leads Kallenberg to later distance himself a bit from the likes of McClendon and Drury when he says that the alleged christian features "render an ambiguous picture" of Wittgenstein (p. 111).

why was wittgenstein even brought into this discussion anyway? i guess thom thought it was relevant to his point(s).

steering the discussion back to self-abnegation (or better known as the virtue, humility):

Zach, how does the socrates quote (mentioned above) guide us in limiting or selecting our audience for whom humility can be taught?

thom, thanks again for your contributions. you will be missed.

July 1, 2006 at 6:02 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Josh, thats a good point. One of the great benifits of the Socrates quote is that it can teach us about the audience for lessons of humility. In fact it may be the case that we can only see the virtue of humility in those who have once practiced self-aggrandizement

July 2, 2006 at 3:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

like jesus once practised self-aggrandisement?

July 2, 2006 at 4:12 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Exactly; in glory. See that’s not wrong for God. Then when he came to earth he was able to put aside that glory in an act exemplary of humility. Thank you anonymous for that reminder.

July 2, 2006 at 9:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

so the vurtue of humilty can only be seen in jesus by people who believe He came from heaven? or else what else would be the self-aggrendisement that people see in Him to let them see His self-abnigation?

the opposite of self-abnigation i don't think is God's true righteosness. God's righteousness is not self-aggrandisemnt. that's something you do to try to get more power and God can't get more power. self-abnegation comes from truth, the truth about who Jesus is (john 18). i don't think self-aggrendisement applies to God.

July 2, 2006 at 10:15 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Thom, glad to have you back. You’ll have to forgive me, I am not entirely sure what you mean. Punctuation goes a long way towards clarity. In its absence I have to make some inferences as to what you mean.

“i don't think self-aggrendisement applies to God.”
Assertion only warrants counter assertion. I think it does.

“so the vurtue of humilty can only be seen in jesus by people who believe He came from heaven?”
Short answer: yes. Of course they could doubt the factuality of the whole story and still meet this qualification.

Could you elucidate this ‘sentence’:
“the opposite of self-abnigation i don't think is God's true righteosness. God's righteousness is not self-aggrandisemnt.”

“[Self-aggrandizement], that's something you do to try to get more power and God can't get more power.”
Well, the first part of your conjunction is simply false. And I don’t really know what to say about the latter bit. Somehow you found a statement that’s true, false, and neither all at the same time.

Finally your reference to John 18 is opaque to say the least. It’s a big chapter. Which part is supposed to reveal the truth of his self-abnegation? Is it verse three when Jesus accepts the impulsive worship of the soldiers and officials? Or is it verses 5-8;20-23;33-36 when he engages with banter with his captors. Or is it between verses 10 and 11 in the miracle not recorded here. Or is it verses 36 and 37 when Jesus claims to be a King with his own kingdom. There is so much claim to power and influence in this chapter is difficult for me to see where you are pointing to humility.

July 2, 2006 at 11:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hold on. Anonymous, are you saying that a supreme being that creates all people throughout history, and then commands them to worship Him, are you saying that such a being does not practice self-aggrandizement?

July 2, 2006 at 11:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

my name is brian, i don't know thom.

self-ag·gran·dize·ment
n.
The act or practice of enhancing or exaggerating one's own importance, power, or reputation.

dictionary.com

God can't enhance or exaggerate His own importance power or reputation and He can't get more power because He's all powerful.

john 18, talking to pilate. He doesn't have to fight because He's the true king.

to anonymous, yes, i don't think self-aggrandizement is the right word to apply to God. self-aggrendizement is about getting more glory for yourself but God can't get any more glory. i think getting people to admit the truth about God is different than self-aggrandizement.

July 2, 2006 at 11:50 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Over one hundred comments!

To Brian-who-is-not-Thom. Your previous statement declared that self-aggrandizement was only the act of grabbing for more power, that is false. I am happy-er with this definition, but I would ask, Is dictionary.com really a good source for these kin of discussions?
1. god
a. A being conceived as the perfect, omnipotent, omniscient originator and ruler of the universe, the principal object of faith and worship in monotheistic religions.
b. The force, effect, or a manifestation or aspect of this being.
2. A being of supernatural powers or attributes, believed in and worshiped by a people, especially a male deity thought to control some part of nature or reality.
3. An image of a supernatural being; an idol.
4. One that is worshiped, idealized, or followed: Money was their god.
5. A very handsome man.
6. A powerful ruler or despot.
Now I don’t know about you, but I am not satisfied with that definition of God. I like a little more. See quoting a dictionary is simply to quote an authority, no different then quoting Aristotle. People have always wondered what the “good” was, and I think that they wanted to know more then dictionary.com would tell them.
“God can't enhance or exaggerate His own importance power or reputation and He can't get more power because He's all powerful.”
We might be able to debate most of this sentence. Can God enact a logical contradiction. Can God make everybody in the world Christian? Can God sin? Can God let us into his holiness without taking away our sin?
It’s a huge mistake to think that self-aggrandizement is only about power. It is just as much, if not more, an issue of fame, glory or what they refer to in the East as “Face.” Perhaps the latter comes the closest. Therefore another question would be that if God cannot get more power/glory/“face” then why create us at all? And why would you and I care if others worship God or not, unless we were jealous for his glory? These are some things you can think about.

I think you should play out the options of this sentence:
“john 18, talking to pilate. He doesn't have to fight because He's the true king.”

Are you familiar with the notion of a bad syllogism? There is one here
“i don't think self-aggrandizement is the right word to apply to God. self-aggrendizement is about getting more glory for yourself but God can't get any more glory. i think getting people to admit the truth about God is different than self-aggrandizement.”

I would LOVE for you to explicate this phrase: “getting people to admit the truth about God”.
I am dying to know what this means and how you understand worship in a way that this seems anything like an appropriate understanding. Do you really consider a persons conversion, that is the time when they turn away from the world and their life is redefined by where they put there allegiance, do you really consider that simply “getting people to admit the truth about God”. I can just see a picture of the world where this phrase was appropriate. Evangelists would be huge thugs who went around pushing people up against walls and twisting their arms behind their backs saying, “Go on. Admit the truth Jesus is Lord.” Wow, I really hope that you spoke without thinking here, and that you really don’t believe this, its just kind of sad.

July 3, 2006 at 10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

gosh, you know what? you're right.

July 3, 2006 at 10:37 AM  
Anonymous zach said...

hmmmm, i am not sure what to think about that rapid change of heart.

July 3, 2006 at 12:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see a few minor problem with all this; When God recieves Glory it's not to his own benifit, but the worlds. God doen't need to recieve glory, its not like he dries up if people stop filling up his glory tank. Basically he doen't seek glory for his own good, but for the good of his creation. So even in self-agrandizement he is really putting us first. The most unloving and selfish thing he could do is not let his name, his glory be know.

So God bringing glory to his name, and god displaying self-abnegation are probably not good examples of opposites, and do not support the idea that everything come out of it's opposite.

July 4, 2006 at 1:29 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Brian-who-is-not-Thom. This is a theological assertion, which you really could not claim to know:

“When God recieves Glory it's not to his own benifit, but the worlds.”

I might ask if it was possible for the world to benefit from something that was not to God’s benefit (careful, do not equivocate here). Secondly, if there are things that people can do in heaven to glorify God, is it really necessary that they also “benefit” the world? What does it even mean for God receiving glory to “benefit” the world?

“God doen't need to recieve glory, its not like he dries up if people stop filling up his glory tank.”

No one was asserting that.

“Basically he doen't seek glory for his own good, but for the good of his creation.”

Hmmm. That is really a reassertion of your first claim. This is really difficult position to hold. Why for instance would God create anything at all? Why does creation suffer (i.e. problem of evil) if the only reason that they are created is to ultimately benefit themselves. Do you see how this is a very strange ends. Why would we have free will? Why wouldn’t God just do things for our benefit anyway?

“So even in self-agrandizement he is really putting us first. The most unloving and selfish thing he could do is not let his name, his glory be know.”

Wow, what do I say to that? Your implied syllogism might even be true, but it does not work in reverse. Again, I would be willing to lay this out logically if that is to your liking.

“So God bringing glory to his name, and god displaying self-abnegation are probably not good examples of opposites, and do not support the idea that everything come out of it's opposite.”

You did manage to slip in a “so” there, but in no way did you show that this is an inference from what you have already presented. You do not have an argument here you have a threefold reassertion of the same point. You might say that I have not presented an argument either, but neither did I use the word “so”. I presented concepts and appealed to our intuitions, which you must have accepted on some level since you took to trying to explain them away in your last post.

July 4, 2006 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...

...

"Zach,"

Give it a rest. First of all, the last post by anonymous was not written by me. I don't know who wrote it (I agree with him or her, despite your forceful arguments against him or her). But I myself (Brian included) have already finished arguing with you. Lastly, this discussion is tired. Sum up, and move on to another topic, or take your syllogisms some place where they'll be better appreciated. Not too many thinkers here (myself included) are as lucid or well trained as you.

...

July 4, 2006 at 3:51 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Thom, you back in name and spirit! Thanks for dropping the cloak buddy.
Curiouser and curiouser…
You say that this is a “tired” yet you return again. And you say that this is a tired post, but there doesn’t seem to be much action elsewhere on this blog, so who can blame me for keeping things moving. Where is the proprietor of this blog? Or Thom is it you by proxy? Anyway, I don’t do much blogging so I have enjoyed this one. Josh Furnal: are you tired of this post?

Happy fourth! (chanting) U-S-A, U-S-A

July 4, 2006 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Josh Furnal said...

wow. i leave for a moment and the comments spike up past 100! congrats guys! the next goal should be to exceed 200, i think...

zach, your comments about the double-sided coin of humility/glory is something worth pondering about. does this coincide with 'the greater the risk, the greater the reward' kind of thinking? God shelves his glory for humility (kenosis), for the sake of undoing the fall from not only a transcendent end, but also a very immanent end, this side of heaven.

hmm, i will have to keep thinking about this one...

July 6, 2006 at 11:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

people talk and word gets around. There are people reading this as we speak.

July 8, 2006 at 11:51 AM  
Anonymous thom said...

good. that's why it's up here.

July 8, 2006 at 12:12 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Thom, your back again. Does this mean that you are back in earnest. What I mean is, are you back and willing to answer some questions about your previous posts?

July 8, 2006 at 5:00 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

I just saw Warren Buffet on CR. He is a man of true humility. He is not at all falsely humble about his gifts. That is what makes him a great man. All those who seek to know, and to live with, humility have a lot to learn from him. Almost as much as they can learn from Socrates…

July 10, 2006 at 10:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL that's funny

July 11, 2006 at 4:19 PM  
Anonymous zach said...

Oh, did you see the interview then? case he was hilarious.

July 12, 2006 at 4:54 PM  

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