Saturday, September 4, 2010

I. The First of Five Wounds/Five Desires: the Wounding of Our Desire for God

Theological Mashup. 
Wound/Desire 1: The absence (of God, peace, dwelling, self, truth) and desire for transcendence

We start with anthropology - the human condition, and posit first of all that at the heart of this human condition is a desire for the absent God - or the God who is made present by a felt absence. 

Peter Black speaks of eros (desire) as a form of “lack,” and the search for “completion.” (Black, 108-109)

"Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him." (Luke 24:13-16)

The experience of desire funded by absence, in our context today, seems to be driven most fundamentally by otherness and multiplicity, rather than historical or existential crisis. The experienced absence of God does not come to us so much as an experience of existential separation - modern industrial humanity’s alienated existence estranged from essence. It is not so much the experience of longing for reconciliation, acceptance, and return - existential lack and anxiety that creates a deep need. Neither does it seem driven by despair over the fate of progress within history. Instead, desire (eros) is experienced in the separation implicit in the idea of infinity, difference, or otherness, in all its multiplicity. 

Desire, as we will speak of it here, is desire for that which is, by definition, other - that which is unattainable and beyond fully knowing or possessing. According to philosopher Emmanuel Levinas, this infinity “requires separation, requires it unto atheism, so profoundly that the idea of infinity could be forgotten. The forgetting of transcendence is not produced as an accident in a separated being (Tillich); the possibility of this forgetting is necessary for separation.” (Levinas, Totality and Infinity, 181). We see, therefore, in the absence of God, the possibility that is produced by the idea of infinity, or radical otherness itself.

Wendy Farley makes a few key observations about absence. “True life is absent” 1) “from totality itself, which is “structurally incapable of encountering the mystery and beauty of particular beings,” 2) metaphysically, that is beyond grasping, comprehension, or possession, and 3) within the self – in the absence of self-sufficiency and our “capacity for relationship.” (Eros for the Other, 70-71)

David Klemm asserts  “the very act of negating also makes being present.” “The withdrawal of being from thought” if an “ironic presencing of the primordial.” (Klemm, 459, 461). He then speaks of a “wound,” and the “loss of primary immediacy…to be and not to be in the presence of religious reality.” (462 ff. 466).

The advent of postmodernity heralds a shift from historical crisis to a crisis of reflexive existence, to reflexive “otherness.” We migrate from Barth’s “Krisis” of “negation” (unknowability of God) as a result of proclamation, and Heidegger’s “Krisis” of “inauthentic existence," the result of a forgetting of Being in an over rationalized and technologized world, to the crisis of the self's desire for itself-as-other - the reflection of the self on the self reflecting on itself on the self reflecting on itself........, and the self's desire for the self's other (the mystery of alterity in all of its forms).

In this context we encounter sociologist Wade Clark Roof’s “seekers.” And as Lyon puts it in his book Jesus in Disneyland, “…not only in America, but in several European countries, a vague, inchoate, but seemingly serious religious quest is in evidence.” Robert Wuthnow identifies “a shift from religious life as “dwelling,” to “seeking.” (see Lyon, 88)

Consider among seekers the crisis of self/other reflexivity noted above, coupled with the “malleability” of desire (Ludlow, in Laird, 509). As the self de-centers endlessly, desire shapes itself in many ways. It can be mimetic (and potentially violent) (Girard), consumerist (Lyon, Ward, Bauman), eroticized, spiritual, etc. In all manifestations it seeks transcendence. 

Bill Friskics-Warren, in I'll Take You There: Pop Music and the Urge for Transcendence, asserts that much of popular music is oriented toward various forms of self-transcendence (through beauty, compassion, sex, sheer volume, community, exorcism, etc.)  

Paul Tillich says it this way: “each person is locked up within himself, and each desires to transcend himself through the power of eros.” (in Black, 113)

See also Laird on Nyssa, and the “clenched fist of desire” when turned in on itself. (510)

According to Tillich religion is the “depth” dimension of the human spirit (ultimate, infinite, unconditional). (Theology and Culture7), and his statement that “the religious and secular are in the same predicament…both of them…are rooted…in the experience of ultimate concern.” (9)

Charles Winquist goes in search of desire and lack in theological discourse. According to Winquist “The unrestricted desire to know is part of what is semantically given in explicating a theory of theological discourse. It is a characteristic of theological text production.” (Winquist, Epiphanies of Darkness, 102) In other words, to be a theologian, and to write theology, or to be a seeker, and to read theology, is to give expression to "the unrestricted desire to know." 

In this regard, Winquist exposits the work of theologian Thomas Altizer. Altizer focuses on faith “as the fullness of speech,” but by that he means a “fall” from “the quiescence of silence.” (Winquist, ED, 111) Speech, then, is a kind of essential difference – the beginning of meaning and identity. Like Derrida, “the origin of identity is the substitution of a signifier, a name, for the transcendental signified, and a displacement into a network of signifiers.” (ED,111) In Derrida, this is an act of difference, a “deferring that is also a differing.” (ED, 111) The naming of God, then, is experienced as “an exile,” an exile from God. In our context today, we are hyper aware of this exile. And the more the name is named, and reified, and familiarized, the more the person on the street cringes – the familiarity, the proliferation of names, locations, systems, etc. seems to increase the exile – create a pornography of God – a proliferation of pictures that only yield a surface, increase a lack, and perpetuate an unquenchable deferral of the thing itself. And yet, it is not simply a matter of becoming silent. We know that God “has an identity through difference” in all of this speaking and naming. Traces of God are there in the rubbish of names. So emerges the creative urge to subvert the names…to speak transgressively…on behalf of God.

So Dave Tomlinson in his book The Post-Evangelical, speaks about a group of seekers meeting in bars and coffee houses while talking of God. (see for instance Moot at And Tomlinson argues that living together before marriage, or without marriage, may not bring the system of God to a screeching halt. We're in a situation in which there is a broad “No saying to the name of God” even as a resounding “Yes” is said to an eschatological God who is coming, or emerging.

Is this the death of the God of totality and a(nother) birth of the God of infinity, the death of the God of the text and the birth of the God who peers at us through to gaps in the text? For Altizer, the negation of this God “is the realization of faith.” (ED, 114) According to Altizer, “there can be no real parousia of God, no real final and total presence of God, apart from a negation of every other presence and identity of God.” (in ED,118, Altizer, Total Presence, 49) Perhaps we are stumbling into kenotic Christianity, in which incarnation and eschatology will be the prevailing doctrines. The incarnation as “a fall into experience.” And eschatology as a radical proclamation of the Kindom of God in the middle of experience that completely reverses religious consciousness?

Or, from another perspective, of John of the Cross’ “dark night” of the spirit, according the R. Williams, “on the cross…the Father, we might say, has ceased to be in any way a graspable other for the subjectivity of Jesus. … In the life of God, love is always deflected from the ‘object’ that would close or satisfy, that would simply be the absent other imagined as the goal of desire; the other is always engaged beyond, engaged with another otherness. So to be included in the love of the Son for the Father is to participate in a love without satisfaction or closure – an endless love; and for us as creatures, that can only be felt as pain and privation before it is recognized as freedom….Divine love is most free in Jesus at the moment when the Father is no longer a determinate other over against him but an absent love that will not stand still to be consolingly viewed.” (in Davies and Turner, ed. Silence and The Word, 121) 

This sounds a lot like the desire that is invoked when the “named” God recedes – is parodied, lampooned, shadow-boxed, exorcized, in postmodernity.
In all of this, the first wound - an absence of God creates a desire for transcendence.

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