Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Abraham 3 - Summary

1. God appears to exist in time.

1.1. God’s time, however, is described is magnitudes greater (1000 times greater) than our time.

1.2. Does this difference in magnitude indicate a different relation to time? A kind of meta-time? Does it indicate a dimension of immemoriality?

2. There appears to be a kind of (typological?) equivalence between the stars, Abraham’s posterity, and the eternally existing spirits/intelligences that allows each to be read in terms of the others.

3. If two things exist, and if they can be ordered hierarchically, then there will also be a third greater than both of them.

3.1. This appears to supply an effective formula for generating an infinite number of “things.”

3.2. It may also bear on the question of what a Mormon ontology would take as fundamental: the One or the Infinite?

4. Despite the possibility of hierarchical ordering, all spirits are co-eternal, without beginning or end.

4.1. Rather than grounding a kind of libertarian notion of self-founded “freedom,” the co-eternality of every spirit may instead indicate that no spirit has access to its own ground or foundation: every spirit finds themselves always already thrown into the world.

4.2. This co-eternal “throwness” may have a particular ethical implication: the universe may simply be such that we must (God included) engage in a kind of ethical bricolage - rather than being able to precede on the basis of a set of absolute ethical principles.

4.2.1. Our co-eternal “throwness” re-opens the topic of grace: we find ourselves always already given both ourselves and the world. We can’t have earned or deserved this gift because it necessarily precedes us.

4.2.1.1. The cosmic conjunction of grace and “throwness” is micro-mirrored in our own relationships with our parents.

4.2.2. How we relate to the grace of this “throwness” (either cosmically or familially) may be salvifically crucial: do we (a la Jesus) honor the gift such as it is, or do we (a la Satan) refuse the gift such as it is?

10 Comments:

Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

An additional thought occurred to me this morning about section 4.2:

"This co-eternal “throwness” may have a particular ethical implication: the universe may simply be such that we must (God included) engage in a kind of ethical bricolage - rather than being able to precede on the basis of a set of absolute ethical principles."

It occurred to me that the necessity for ethical bricolage does not in itself preclude our being bound side a set of absolute ethical principles. We could be bound both by the factical conditions and our unconditional ethical obligations.

If so, it would be possible to find ourselves in situations where it's not possible to act as we ought while still remaining under an obligation to have acted differently. (Though such a situation would contravene a notion of ethics in which "ought" implies "can.")

If such were the case (and I'm not arguing that it necessarily is), then the necessity of "forgiveness" would acquire an almost ontological weight: the universe, being such as it is, requires some kind of forgiveness for everyone, by everyone. The very act of creation/organization might fundamentally entail relationships of forgiveness. Every attempt to give a gift of grace may end up requiring a reciprocal forgiveness for having attempted to offer it.

I'm not sure how much sense that makes (especially as compressed as the explanation is), and I'm not sure how I feel about it. When we get to Derrida, though, we may be able to say more about such a situation.

My best,
Adam

6:51 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Adam, I find this idea very interesting. I think this is probably a misapplication of what you're saying, but let me try to apply this to Abraham 2 (sorry for not writing up a summary of the Abr 2 discussion, I'll try to later, even though it'll be out of order):

Abraham lies to Pharoah, even though, from the perspective of "absolute ethical principles," he ought not to have lied. Although this is probably not the best example, can we consider God's telling Abraham to lie a situation where effectively "it's not possible [for Abraham] to act as he ought" (i.e. not lie). In this sense, Abraham has done something which requires forgiveness.

Or am I way off in taking your idea in this direction?

11:52 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Robert,

I think you've got the general idea. The point (if we pursued it) would be something like: though a situation may necessitate a certain action as "the least bad thing to do," this necessity wouldn't relieve one of responbility for its "badness."

Kierkegaard will, I think, say something similar in Fear & Trembling. Abraham is asked to murder, but God having asked Abraham to do it cannot relieve Abraham of his moral culpubility even if he goes through with it. In fact, the test is only a test if Abraham maintains the absolute ethical principle though his circumstances demand that he betray it.

The akedah, though, is probably not as good an example of what I generally intend here because there is no apparently "material" necessity to Abraham's actions.

My best,
Adam

12:00 PM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

I like your point at 4.1 that Abraham describes intelligences/spirits as having a kind of eternal thrownness. However, the notion of grace that you introduce at 4.2.1 is a different notion than the usual theological notion--which is not to say that I'm disagreeing that eternal thrownness implies grace.

As usually understood, grace is a a gift of God. The grace you describe here is an ontological fact rather than a gift. (Is this like the gift of Heidegger's "es gibt" rather than the anonymity of Levinas's "il y a"?) How is it related to grace as divine gift?

11:33 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Jim,

You're certainly right to point out that my use of the word "grace" here departs from the basic theological sense of the term as "a gift from God" - though I wonder if the departure may be, at least partly, a function of the expressly theological/ontological shift that the book of Abraham is itself prompting us to undertake.

There are gifts, but they are now decentered from God’s sovereignty. There are gifts, but they are not the sovereign gifts of an all-powerful Creator ex nihilo.

Thus, you’re right to point out there is a sense in which we can no longer describe our “eternal throwness” as a gift from God, but (a la Marion) there is a sense in which that throwness is all the more gracious as a gift because there is no identifiable giver of the gift.

Further, the additional theological implication is that even God finds himself “thrown” into existence and that he also experiences his existence as an unconditioned, unmerited, unexplainable gift. Neither we nor him are self-creating. My suggestion is that we recontextualize our “throwness” as a “gift of being” rather than as an ontological fact.

For each of us, then, our lives begin in an irrecoverable, immemorial past that exceeds every reason, every string of causality, and every possible condition. This picture of a non-sovereign grace (of a grace without a transcendent giver) opens, I think, the path to a consideration of a grace that is genuinely immanent. And it is certainly the case that a sovereignless, immanent grace is not a traditional, theological notion of grace. But I think that this may be just the ticket :)

Additionally, my hunch is that this sovereignless grace is the key to thinking the theological centrality of our family relationships: the parent/child relationship being, in crucial ways, structured by a sovereignless, unaccountable, and ultimately unassignable gift of grace.

Do you think that it’s possible to continue with a traditional theological conception of grace within the framework of Abraham’s very non-traditional, Mormon “ontology” of creation?

My best,
Adam

8:09 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Adam, can you elaborate on the following?

"Thus, you’re right to point out there is a sense in which we can no longer describe our “eternal throwness” as a gift from God, but (a la Marion) there is a sense in which that throwness is all the more gracious as a gift because there is no identifiable giver of the gift."

How does "no identifiable giver" make a gift "all the more gracious"?

Later you say,

"This picture of a non-sovereign grace (of a grace without a transcendent giver) opens, I think, the path to a consideration of a grace that is genuinely immanent."

I don't follow what you mean here either. I would think that a gift without an identifiable giver would make the gift more transcendent, not more immanent.

Thanks for your patience with my ignorance. I know you won't have time to elaborate that much on all of this, but a few hints would be very helpful!

10:54 AM  
Blogger Jim F. said...

Adam,

I'm not sure I see the difference between "a gift of being" and "an ontological fact."

Otherwise, however, I think you're right that there is within Mormon thought--and this chapter exemplifies it--the idea of the throwness of every being, including God and that the notion of divine grace occurs within this larger notion of the gift of being.

11:08 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Robert,

I'm happy to take a crack at an additional bit of explanation.

1. Re: "a gift being more gracious without an identifiable giver." My take on this is more or less straight Derrida/Marion. (Especially useful here might be the opening chapters of Marion's Being Given.) The premise is that the graciousness of a gift is perpetually threatened by its potential re-inscription within an economy. If the giver of the gift is identifiable, then this threat of "economizing the gift" is all the greater.

For instance, if I give you a gift and you know that the gift is from me, then you'll feel obligated to re-pay the debt or "return the favor." In other words, you'll be tempted to take the gift as something other than a free gift: an obligation. But if you receive a gift and have no idea who it is from, then the possiblity of direct reciprocity is eliminated and the gift's graciousness appears all the more abundantly.

This, of course, is why we're not supposed to do our alms in front of other people (they'll see and that will ruin the gift!) and, additionally, why we're not even supposed to let our own left hand know about the gift that our right hand just gave (otherwise we'll and ruin the gift - in part - by congratulating/ rewarding ourselves for being such good gift-givers!).

2. Re: "grace as immanent in the absence of a transcendent giver." Marion gives an interesting analysis of the way that some gifts simply have no giver (sorry for no references - Being Given is at the house right now). They just "happen" (a la an unpredictable event). A gift just "happening" as an event would not require an reference to a transcendent giver. It would only require a theory of how events happen immanently.

Does that help?

11:18 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

Jim: "I'm not sure I see the difference between 'a gift of being' and 'an ontological fact.'"

I think you're right to point this out. I don't know that there's an "intrinsic" difference between the two. What's at stake is a question of perspective. I'm inclined to say that the difference results from what we "take it as." A faithful response to our throwness, for instance, being something like "taking the throwness as a gift."

11:28 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Thanks, Adam, very helpful.

12:03 PM  

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