Sunday, March 18, 2007

Living in a covenant of grace?

I've been dry for a while.
Basically, it's always the same. I get some high notions about myself and what I'm to do. Then I fail, thereafter I have to return into the darkness which surrounds us all in order to find repair or healing.

I've just read again what I said about un-claiming, and I wonder if one mightn't look at that as the "covenant of grace" in which we are told to live.
What does that mean?
If I unclaim the world there remain two ways to get my living. First I can get some of it by achievement and earning, even if there's no claim. Secondly I can get some of it by the grace of others and be thankful for that. So our common lives as Christians are grounded on a fabric of graces (gifts) and thanks.

Saturday, December 23, 2006


Reading once more "Trial Run" by Dick Francis ...

There's a passage which describes an important part of inner darkness in an excellent way:

"The intensifying to anger of the natural scorn of youth for the mess their elders had made of the world. The desire to punish violently the objects of scorn. The death of love for parents. The permanent sneer for all forms of authority. The frustration of not being able to scourge the despised majority, And after that, the deeper, malignant distortions ... The self-delusion that one's feelings of inadequacy were the fault of society, and that it was necessary to destroy society in order to feel adequate. The infliction of pain and fear, to feed the hungry ego. The total surrender of reason to raw emotion, in the illusion of being moved by sort of divine rage. The choice of an unattainable end, so that the violent means could go on and on. The addictive orgasm of the act of laying waste."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Personal guidance and moral responsibility

I'm convinced that we should look for personal guidance.

I'm convinced that we should ask ourselves: Do I feel free to do that? Do I feel bound to do that? Can I do that in the right spirit (or, for a theist, in the spirit of God)?

But I don't see that we have any guidance in a more general way. My feeling can't tell me what other people are to do (or "what is to be" in society). But a lot of people seem to believe this. They equate personal guidance with "moral intutionism", the idea that any moral statement can be grounded immediately on our observation or our emotional reaction to a certain situation. ("I simply SEE and FEEL that that or that is to do.") Moral intuitionism is mostly connected with "situation ethics" (in a broad sense), meaning that we don't need general rules or standards at all.

Let me tell you that moral intuitionism opens the door to all kinds of lazy thinking, prejudice, double standards and hypocrisy.

So, personal guidance, even if it's important, is not enough. It must be accompanied by "moral responsibility".

Responsibility means literally that I respond - namely, I respond to everyone who questions my conduct. I respond by sincerely telling why I did this and what I would have done in that or that other case - in short, I lay open my basic motives. And at the same time I form a kind of general rule how I tend to react on different situations. I form that rule, and when I see it before me, I may question it and modify it.
That's the use of moral responsibility for me. For others, I tell them what they can really expect from me in such or such a situation - giving them security; and perhaps giving them an opportunity to argue and criticize me.

So, general rules ARE important. Not always for my own behaviour, but always for my living with other people. Moral intuitionism must not be used as an opportunity to avoid that way of speaking and living with others.

Claiming and un-claiming in politics

People have wishes and desires, that's natural.

Politicians change wishes and desires to claims, inciting thus the energy to work or to fight for them.

Liberal and left politicians change claims to "just claims"; which means that the desires are to be satisfied out of justice. (Conservative politicians do the same, sometimes, but not so often.)

There are a lot of concepts of justice, some rather acceptable, some more puzzling. That's in particular the problem with our ideas about a "just distribution of goods". Is it to be (a) equal distribution or (b) unequal distribution according to the persons' (subjective? objective?) needs or (c) unequal distribution according to the persons' efforts (achievements? efforts? mere energies given into their work, even if unfruitfully)?
Then, what's about supporting particular persons (which gives them an advantage they wouldn't have had otherwise)? Is it justifiable in all cases? Do parents have a right to save money (or buy property) and to let it over to their children? Or should property be confiscated after death? Is supporting particular persons allowed if these persons are disadvantaged beforehand (like, your child is crippled). Can we decide by objective criteria which persons are enough disadvantaged to allow us to give them particular support?

In average politics, politicians simply pick and choose that particular concept of justice which is apt to justify their particular claim today. (Tomorrow, with other claims they may refer to a contradictory concept.)
That is made possible because people tend to think (or simply pretend) that justice is a matter of intuition. "Every good man would FEEL that OUR claim is a just one - and if you don't feel so, you show us that you are not a good man." That's an effective way to avoid any discussion about the justice of a party's claims.

From a Christian point of view, men have first to un-claim, to lay down their claims, before they can start a discussion in whose end they may be find a common concept of justice. Also, from a Christian point of view, a lot of wishes and desires can be satisfied out of grace, without referring to a concept of justice at all.

But will liberal Christians really try to tell that to liberal politicians?

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

Un-claiming the world, because (2) ... there's another world

Classical judaism wasn't (and isn't) interested in another world nor in afterlife - and it is informative to look how that strange and noble belief developed out of poor roots.

1. The first step was laid in the times of the Babylonian occupation. Jews came into contact with the Persian religion which was highly interested in "eschatology" - fears and hopes about the final conflict between good and bad - and which worked out an ideal about "the end of all times". Jews being in misery because of their military defeat get a grip to those speculations, as is seen in the Prophets. But the "other world" was somewhat which existed in the future and would be no more than a corrected and ameliorated version of traditional society.
2. The second step was laid in the Maccabean wars when hopes were uttered that the dead heroes and freedom fighters might rise again in the new ideal state of the Messiah. So the "other world" began to become at least partly something more than a corrected society.
3. By the times of the Jesus Movement there had formed a popular belief that not only the fighters, but all or most dead would rise again at the end of times. That's a belief which was shared by the Pharisees and the Jesus Movement.
4. But that "other world" had still been no more than a matter of future. It seems to have been the Jesus Movement which firstly told people that the kingdom of God was already present in a way.
5. In early Christianity that mystical presence of the future world was melted with the idea - already well known outward of Judaism - that also the dead would not only rise again but were living in a world (ore different worlds) aside of us (Heaven, Hell and Purgatory).
6. Catholicism at last formed secure and everyday ways in which the living and the dead could communicate - the living praying for the dead, and the dead praying for the living.

Now let's consider how the discovery of the other world was undone and sank into oblivion:
1. At first, Luther destroyed the ways of communication between the living and the dead. It was useless to pray for the dead or to hope on their prayers.
2. Secondly, Biblicism - which put the Torah above of Christian tradition - denied the idea of the dead actually living and restrained our hopes on a future where they might rise again. In the same way the kingdom of Christ lost its presence and became a mere matter of future.
3. Thirdly, enlightenment and liberalism reduced our future hopes to a kind of kingdom which would be nothing more than a corrected and ameliorated society.

The problem of a second or parallel world is important as it's the base of the idea of the Christian as a "resident alien". That idea was extremely dear to early Christians (as we know e.g. from the letters of St. Paul and the famous "Letter to Diognetus"). Stanley Hauerwas tried to revive it, and it has become somewhat popular in liberal circles. But if we don't really count on another world whose citizens we are, it's just lip service to tell that we were "resident aliens" here and now. And in fact liberal Christians act in no way as if they were "resident aliens".

Monday, December 4, 2006

Un-claiming the world, because (1) ... there are no contracts

Last time I argued that we can claim a separate part of the world (a free and private sphere) if there is a valid law which distinguishes between lawful claims (as "needs") and unlawful claims (as "greeds").
So I suppose that the christian practice of un-claiming the world developed partly because there was no valid law in that time. Roman law (which e.g. allowed a Roman soldier to claim a jewish civilian walking with him for a certain, definite distance, but not more) was not seen as valid by Jews - and why ought they have it seen so? Jews had to decide for themselves if and how far thy accepted the Roman claims (and that seems to have been the situation the Sermon on the Mount refers to in its passage about walking with a stranger).

The general consequence I draw from that is that law can't be seen as valid only because there is a government or parliament which imposes it.
Neither can law be seen as valid only because there's a pope, bishop, synod or a theologian or philosopher who decrees it.

Law can not even be valid because there's an "inner theologian" or "inner philosopher" within us who decrees it. There need's more to be said about the inner light and its effect on us, but for the moment I raise only one objection: An inner light can stir my personal actions, but law is not personal but social.

So my answer is that a law is only valid insofar it flows from the light that the concerned parties share. In other words; a valid law is a (genuine) contract.

In some way that' a trivial answer. Contracts do just that: Each party allows the other one to lay claim to something and, in case of transgression, defend that claim.

The inventors of the "social contract" theory of state and society seem to have seen that - but "social contract" became soon a simple ideology which justified state and society as they were. Market economists were perhaps the only ones who earnestly insisted that contracts were a basic institution. (Sometimes even market economists may have been hampered by an inability to see the difference between a formal and a genuine contract - which I want to explain next time.)

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Suffering: the submissive response

If we are damaged or deprived by someone we can get into a state of mind where we accept the result and moreover accept the other one in a way that we give him more than he demanded.
I'm calling that the "submissive response", even if "meek, humble or modest response" would ring less offensive in our ears. I concede that the point is not that one is obedient vis-à-vis one particular transgressor. The point is, as far as I see, that one doesn't lay a claim on anything vis-à-vis life, that one "un-claims" or "dis-claims" everything one has had.

That's unusual insofar as we are used to think that under law (or ethical "law") there ought to be a difference between "need" and "greed": on the one hand things we can lawfully (or rightly) claim because we need them, on the other hand things that we cannot lawfully claim and that we demand only out of greed. So the submissive response seems to presuppose that there is no (valid) law which allows us to distinguish need from greed - something to retain for a later post.

The submissive response pattern was virulent in early monasticism (leaving an inciting tradition for monks and saints of all centuries) and, thereafter, in early anabaptism (leaving an inciting tradition to christian pacifism). From a geographical point of view, it was most virulent in Russia where it inspired saints and sectarians just to the times of Tolstoy.
The submissive response pattern has often been grounded in the antitheses of the Sermon on the Mount. In fact, traditional theology mostly maintained that the antitheses were meant that way, and disputed only how far the antitheses were obligatory for the everyday christian person.

Traditional interpretation was challenged since the last century from two sides. Modern Jewish theology tried to interprete the sermons of Jesus in the frame of Jewish thinking which normally meant watering down the "submissive" content of the antitheses. And left protestant theology interpreted the antitheses not as "dis-claiming" or "un-claiming" but as a particular strategy to get what one has claimed. But I'll postpone that for the moment.
On the whole, I think we have firstly to admit that there's a clear distinction between the submissive response pattern and other patterns of acting. Which way of acting is in fact "authorized" by the alleged words of Jesus is a secondary question.