Archive for April, 2010

Oh my. Here is the best quote in this book. I am definitely going to steal this.

I will not conclude with a long list of what we must do. In too many books the word “must” increases in frequency in inverse relation to the number of pages left to point out how what must be done might be done.

-Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther, p.251

Though Erikson here uses a list of modern secular heroes, I don’t find his point any less potent.

Consider for a brief moment certain great names of our time, which prides itself on a dominant identity enhanced by scientific truth. Darwin, Einstein, and Freud omitting Marx, who was a conscious and deliberate ideological craftsman would certainly deny that they had any intention of influencing, say, the editorials, or the vocabulary, or the scrupulosity of our time in the ways in which they undoubtedly did and do. They could, in fact, refute the bulk of the concepts popularly ascribed to them, or vaguely and anonymously derived from them, as utterly foreign to their original ideas, their methodology, and their personal philosophy and conduct.

Darwin did not intend to debase man to an animal; Einstein did not preach relativism; Freud was neither a philosophical pansexualist nor a moral egotist. Freud pointed squarely to the psycho-historical problem involved when he said that the world apparently could not forgive him for having revised the image of man by demonstrating the dependence of man’s will on unconscious motivation, just as Darwin had not been forgiven for demonstrating man’s relationship to the animal world, or Copernicus for showing that our earth is off-center. Freud did not foresee a worse fate, namely that the world can absorb such a major shock by splintering it into minor half-truths, irrelevant exaggerations, and brilliant distortions, mere caricatures of the intended design. Yet somehow the shock affects the intimate inner balance of many, if not all, contemporary individuals, obviously not because great men are understood and believed, but because they are felt to represent vast shifts in man’s image of the universe and of his place in it shifts which are determined concomitantly by political and economic developments.

The tragedy of great men is that they are the leaders and yet the victims of ideological processes.

Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther, p.177

I find it personally interesting that Luther was attracted to mysticism, but unable to make much of it.

Martin also pursued his lifelong unhappy love, mysticism.

All the primitive superstition and German simplicity in him should have found refuge in the mystic’s unification with God which needed no formula of justification and which, in fact, left all “thinking” aside. He did yearn for the birth of God’s “uncreated word” in his soul; he desired to be physically pervaded with the kind of assurance “that really gets under your skin” (senkt sich ins Fleisch). The mystic proclaims as attainable exactly that total piety which Martin desired (tota corde and tola mente; omni affectu and toto intellects). Bonaventura “drove him nearly mad” with his advice that it is better to turn to grace than to dogma; to nostalgia than to intellect; and to prayer than to study. But, alas, Martin had to admit that he never “tasted” the fruits of such endeavor (ullum unquam gustum . . . sensi) sincerely as he had tried. He could not feel his way to God.

Erik Erikson, Young Man Luther, p.164

Just finished reading a lengthy essay by Mark R. Anspach that serves as the introduction to a collection of studies by Rene Girard entitled Oedipus Unbound.

Excellent stuff. Freud’s “Oedipus Complex” is completely kicked to the curb and can never rise again except with a severe limp.

The essay mostly builds on Girard’s earlier work and uses some excellent examples to further explain the scapegoat mechanism.

Here, we have some of these ideas applied back in the garden of Eden:

“Psychoanalytic man is forever an Adam from paradise becuase he devoured or coveted the forbidden fruit,” writes Girard. But mimetic man covets the fruit BECAUSE it is forbidden; he covets whatever is withheld from him by the mediator, who acts as both model and rival: “The obsession with forbidden fruit is not primary, it is not the cause but the consequence of the rivalry” The paradise of mimetic man is not a place of enjoyment he had to leave, it is the place he cannot go: “The model shows the disciple the gate of paradise and forbids him to enter with one and the same gesture.” Thus, it “is with the model and not the obstacle that the dialectic begins. But this heirarchy will soon reverse itself, dissimulating the true genesis of desire.”

Mark R. Anspach, Imitating Oedipus, p. xxxix

Satan desired to be like God. Eve picked up this desire from the snake. Adam picked up this desire from Eve.

We are so much like God – more so than any other created thing. But we desire what we are missing and he won’t give it to us. And we hate him for it. We were content before we started imitating the serpent.

Why have Christians and Jews fought so much over the past 2000 years? Shouldn’t we be able to get along? Especially from Girard’s viewpoint, we alone among people groups share a super-important element in common: the revelation of the innocence of the victim revealed in scripture. What makes it go south so often?

I have read about the intense hatred of the Jews throughout history. I’ve even seen it first hand sometimes in the news. On the other hand, I’ve seen some contemporary Christians fawn over everything remotely Jewish: traveling to Jerusalem a lot, giving money to Israeli nationalist groups, lighting menorahs at home and quickly giving even non-messianic Jews the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their relationships with God. Can these two attitudes actually be related?

Here (with some Girardian jargon) is a pretty convincing explanation.

Jews and Christians should be united by the condemnation of scapegoating that distinguishes the religions of the Bible from mythological cults.

If Girard is right, if the defense of victims in Judaism served as a model for Christianity, why have Jews historically been hated victims of Christians? If the Bible looks forward to a world where men will treat each other as real brothers, not enemy brothers, how did Jews and Christians wind up being enemy brothers themselves? What can explain a conflict so long-lasting and so intense?

To the Jew in Gentile Society, we said, the Christian is the model and obstacle. But to the Christian, what is the Jew?

-Good News, says the Christian, knocking at the door of the Jew, He is here, the Messiah you desire to ardently. You taught me to desire Him too, and it is I who have found Him. Join me in rejoicing.

-No, says the Jew. Not yet. This Messiah of yours leaves me indifferent. He is not the one I wanted Try again later.

To the Christian, what is the Jew, if not the original model and ultimate obstacle? The model who “considers himself too superior to accept him as a disciple,” provoking the very type of passionate reaction described by Girard in his analysis of internal mediation.

The subject is torn between two opposite feelings toward his model – the most submissive reverence and the most intense malice. This is the passion we call hatred.

Only someone who prevents us from satisfying a desire which he himself has inspired in us is truly an object of hatred. The person who hates first hate himself for the secret admiration concealed by his hatred. In an effort to hide this desperate admiration from others, and from himself, the no longer wants to see in his mediator anything but an obstacle…Now the mediator is a shrewd and diabolical enemy; he tries to rob the subject of his most prized possessions; he obstinately thwarts his most legitimate ambitions.

-Rene Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, p.10

To the Christian, what is the Jew, if not the original model and ultimate obstacle? Christianity is, after all, the offspring of Judaism.

-Mark R. Anspach, Imitating Oedipus, p. liii

I’m reposting this short note from Taliesan here. I was thrilled to see someone write a coherent thought about epistemology. It’s a difficult topic to say something useful about.

Uncertainty Principal

There is an ancient distinction between the synthetic and analytic operations of the intellect.   The synthetic operation builds parts into wholes, the analytic operation breaks wholes into parts.   The distinction seems to have lost its usefulness among sophisticated people, as thought becomes a mess of mush.  But reductionisms flourish from this amnesia, as minds forget that one mind cannot do both operations at the same time on the same object.

So synthetic assertions always melt away under analytic scrutiny.  This is normal; it says nothing about the synthetic assertion itself.   You can’t see wholes with a parts-instrument; likewise, you can’t see parts with a wholes-instrument.   That wholes are more than the sum of parts is not a confirmable proposition, because you can’t validate decibel measurements with a spectroscope.

You get that? It’s normal for “big picture” ideas to fall apart under an analysis of the pieces. But that analysis may in fact be illegitimate because of this divide in how our minds work. A large idea can still be true, even if some of the pieces are found faulty. Likewise, a bunch of true pieces cannot necessarily be assembled together into a working big idea. To the logician shaking his head right about now – the only thing I can say to you is that even now, you’ve already reduced things down too far and thrown out important information. We are sloppy with this all the time.

All men aspire to excellence. The very crimes against the human race are derived from the “dream” of establishing an orderly existence.

War itself is the “dream” of eliminating bad men and bad societies.

All energy is the corruption of an aspiration to excellence.

Gold is exhausted radium and lead is exhausted gold.

It is the basic condition of the human mind to wish to be free. The desire is noble and wreaks a large part of the harm in public and private life.

What does man do with his despair, his rage, his frustration? There is a wide variety of things he does with it…

-Thornton Wilder, via Mockingbird NYC

Sitting in a coffee shop in Spokane, I had to shrug off repeated attempts from a wild-haired man at the next table to discuss how the world was going to hell.

He repeatedly ranted about Obama, gun control, Obama, immigration, and more Obama. He had a large study bible that he was marking up with a set of 5 neon highlighters. He also had a copy of some newsletter that was explaining how Obama was an agent of the devil and that the star of the U.S. military is actually a modified Satanic pentagram.

I mentioned that I was from Idaho and he seemed relieved. “Oh good. You guys have lots of militias there, so maybe you’ll be safe.” I admitted that I didn’t know anybody in a militia, but that, yes that is a bit more of what the U.S. founders had in mind when they thought of national defense. I bought up that as much as I was dismayed by Obama’s socialism, America couldn’t last forever and I couldn’t be too upset. Rome only lasted 500 years – far longer than anyone else. We’re not even halfway there. His response of course was to start explaining how history doesn’t matter – we were living in the end times and this would be the last hurrah before the end of the world. He warned me that I would likely lose my job soon. I asked him what he did. He’s a pastor of course.

It seems you can’t brush off eschatology. It ends up driving so many beliefs and choices. It has far reaching implications. I’ve tried most of my life to sweep it under the rug in the name of Christian unity. But alas, what you believe about the future colors everything.

It’s easy to brush off this man, sitting here, but am I that much different from him? Here I am with 5 neon highlighted bookmarks taking notes on Thomas Merton and Rene Girard.

Do I get up off my seat and walk out the door listening just a little harder for the Holy Spirit’s voice? Am I just a bit more apt to embrace my fellow man and not push him away? I hope so.

I went to see Jennifer Knapp and Derek Webb perform last night.

Just a few scribbled thoughts:

It was a good show! Jennifer especially can project some serious emotional energy at the drop of a hat.

Recurring theme in just about every other song: Don’t be afraid.

Derek Webb is incredibly short.

I love percussion, but have really found drum-sets distracting the past few years (especially in church). It was refreshing that the entire show was solo voice + guitar. They did a few harmony numbers at the very end.

From Webb’s “Wedding Dress”

i am a whore i do confess
but i put you on just like a wedding dress
and i run down the aisle
i’m a prodigal with no way home
but i put you on just like a ring of gold
and i run down the aisle to you

From “New Law”

don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

i want a new law
i want a new law
gimme that new law

I’d post the lyrics to Jennifer’s song “Want for Nothing”, but it’s on the album that isn’t out yet. Can’t find ’em on the web.

Photo credit (from a show a few nights earlier)

OK. So these notes are just to help me remember a few things. They need a lot of context.

Here, “mediator” is used to mean the one whose desires we are imitating. They are the model. We want to be like our father or mother. We want to be like that guitar-shredding rock star. We want to be beautiful like so-and-so. We want to be holy like that saint or that role-model. For better or worse, they are the gate-keeper of our desire once we’ve made them our model.

At a certain depth there is no difference between our own secret and the secret of Others. Everything is revealed to the novelist when he penetrates this Self, a truer Self than that which each of us displays. This Self imitates constantly, on its knees before the mediator. This profound Self is also a universal Self, for everyone imitates constantly, everyone is on his knees before the mediator.

-Rene Girard, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel: Self and Other in Literary Structure, p.297

EVERYONE IMITATES, everyone is just the same: compared to the deep, dark secret unearthed by Freud’s Oedipus, the fearsome secret of patricide and incest, this secret seems disappointingly tame.
There is something seductive in Freud’s notion that the king’s “destiny moves us only because it might have been ours – because the oracle laid the same curse upon us” Freud allows each of us to play the hero’s part in our own private drama. Girard, by contrasts, casts us in a decidedly unheroic posture, kneeling before the model whose desire we copy. It would be hard to imagine anything more humiliating than that. While incestuous and patricidal impulses are no doubt shameful, they also appear gratifyingly spontaneous, powerful, and extreme. In a world that places a premium on originality and authenticity, the most shameful thing for the Self may be to admit that it “imitates constantly, on it’s knees before the mediator.”

-Mark R. Anspach, Imitating Oedipus, p. xxxvi

Ouch. “imitates constantly, on it’s knees before the mediator”. This idea is SOOOO strongly resisted amongst artists. Imagine a young composer writing a piece of music. He wants to “find is own voice”. But what is he doing? It’s painfully obvious that he is imitating those who came before him at every freakin’ turn.

(That’s OK though! Let’s be honest.)