Friday, September 3, 2010


Caveat 1: Limited scope

We cannot critique desire (and in this case religious desire) apart from its manifestations in particular practices or habits at the experiential level. Let's not pretend that the five experiences below are comprehensive. I have chosen five experiences:

absence of the transcendent,
and ecclesial marginalization

which correspond to several key lived experiences that promote significant religious desire in today’s context. Within each of these experiences of the human condition, desire manifests itself in particular ways, some problematic, and some bearing within them great possibilities for theological invention and action.

Caveat 2: The vulnerability of desire.

It is important to assert, at this point, the vulnerability of desire, what E. Farley calls its “tragic” quality.
Vulnerable because constituted to some extent by a lack or non-fulfillment. (GE,109). Vulnerable therefore to subsuming itself as lack, losing its positive, eschatological aspect.
Vulnerable because “subject to the biological, historical, social, and even subjective influences.” (109)
Vulnerable because interdependent, and interdependence “can undergo alteration, decline, and distortion.” (109)

Caveat 3: The referent of desire

Do the desires that emerge in and through these experiences imply an “eternal referent?” Is the goal of a practical theology of desire to “fill in the blanks?” I presume not. This would be to undermine desire by making it desire attached to a specific object or referent. It would deny the “infinity” of the resource that desire seeks to encounter, and close the horizon of desire altogether. But we affirm that desire is not unrelated to the question of God. It does not necessitate or lead to the deduction of God, or to the denial of God as a projection of desire. It is, as W. Farley puts it “that feature of the human agent apart from which there could be no question of God.” (EO, 113) This eternal horizon does not redeem or “found” this desire, whether as a “passion for reality” or as “the other yearned for by interhuman passion,” to use Farley’s language, until it occurs as “an actual presence,” in the “presencing of the sacred,” the “creative ground of all things.” (EO, 113) This, of course, leads to the threshold of theology’s door. The goal of a practical theology of desire is to recognize the contours of desire in its deepest and most potent forms, to analyze its structure, pointing to both demonic and redemptive possibilities. Then, some form of religious imagination must be construed that will meet both the demonic and redemptive challenges set forth, including habit of the heart and practices.

Caveat 4: Our “Cognitive Style”

Let's assume a cognitive style that builds on E. Farley’s “reflective ontology." This style of thinking assumes that contextualist and deconstructive critiques of ontology are “relative rather than absolute,” and are ongoing ways of opposing “distortions” rather than “constituents” of reality (GE 17). In other words - let's not allow ourselves to get stuck in deconstructive double binds and dead ends. According to Farley deconstructive critique is not a “direct rejection of presence, representation, and ultimacy but a transgressive disruption of unhistorical modes of thinking these things.” (GE, 17) Reflecting on the “being” of things phenomenologically, therefore, can be “regional, epochal, and historical…to explore the being of (human) reality is to explore what shows itself as enduring.” (GE, 25) In other words, deconstruction cannot be grounds for a positive practical theology…it remains primarily a “therapeutic.” (See GE, 25) We need, however, to consider what we mean by ontology at this point.

Ontology via Edward Farley: There are three spheres of human existence, the interhuman, the social, and the personal. The interhuman is primary for ontological inquiry because it “engenders the criterion, the face (Emmanuel Levinas)" (GE 29) or ethical awareness the other that is the ontological ground for all religion. This remains the deepest substratum for our reflection, which will move back and forth from the interhuman level to the social and personal spheres where the depth ethical criterion of the face gives way to a "presencing" of desire, in its many aspects. (see GE, 97ff)

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