Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Problema III

Some comments on and questions about Problema III.

“The ethical as such is the universal; as the universal it is in turn the disclosed. The single individual, qualified as immediate, sensate, and psychical, is the hidden.” (82)

I wonder if K doesn’t too neatly align the ethical with the universal (perhaps Derrida is already on my mind). And I wonder, too, how aligning the ethical with the universal ends up inflecting many of the ethical concerns Jeff has so cogently raised about God’s own actions in the Genesis narratives.

Jeff, are you willing to go along with K’s strict identity of the ethical and the universal? It seems also that, for K, God would necessarily be beyond ethics (though obviously in a way that doubles the ethical movement, that holds it in place and transgresses it). Can we, as Mormons, admit any difference between the ethical (the universal) and the religious (the absolute)? Or, if we allow for a gap between them, would God cease to be God?

The flip side of the question has here to do with the individual as hidden. If the religious is an absolutely singular relation to the Absolute (God), then what of the possibility of theology?

“Philosophy teaches that the immediate should be annulled. This is true enough, but what is not true is that sin is directly the immediate, any more than faith is directly the immediate.”(99)

This passage brings me back to a consideration of some Ralph’s concerns a few weeks ago. Obviously, a return to the immediate (the state of “original unity,” the “dark of night in which every cow is black”) is not what we’re after in our relation to God. But if the immediate can only be fractured by a contradiction (by the introduction of the negativity of consciousness), then I’m not sure how we would think about a “post-immediacy philistinism” sans the absurd (because the absurd always takes the form of a contradiction).

I’m deeply sympathetic to demands for religion to be rationally intelligible, but I don’t see how we can avoid or soften the necessity of the absurd contradiction. Without it, aren’t we back in the field with the cows? Any suggestions, Ralph? Perhaps I’m misreading the nature of the problematic here (or, more especially, what you’re after). Do we require a Hegelian resolution of the contradiction? Or (I’m hoping) is there some third option?

“It is amusing to think about how odd it is that doubt about the immortality of the soul can be so prevalent in the very age when everyone can achieve the highest, for the person who has actually made just the movements of infinity scarcely doubts. The conclusions of passion are the only dependable ones—that is, the only convincing ones.” (100)

The knight of faith “scarcely doubts.” Partly because he already did the work of doubting? The reason K gives for this is that the conclusions of “passion” (passion = the proper response to a paradox) are dependable. He seems to indicate that they are dependable not because they are infallibly “correct” but because they are convincing and passionate. Is this to say that one does not overcome doubt by definitively defeating skepticism on its own terms but by passionately exceeding skepticism for the sake of something else? Is this why faith remains in relation to the absurd? The field of reason is perpetually the field of skepticism? The field of reason must be traversed, but it can't be entirely straightened out?

“For Abraham the ethical had no higher expression than family life.” (112)

Here, for K, the family is expressly not a part of the religious dimension – except insofar as the ethical must be simultaneously preserved and transgressed by the knight of faith. Can we, as Mormons, be satisfied with this account of how the family connects (only secondarily) with religion?

“His response to Isaac is in the form of irony, for it is always irony when I say something and still do not say anything.” (118)

Is the point here that theology, insomuch as it approaches faith, is necessarily an ironic discourse? Theology is possible, but only as irony? Irony is the only appropriate discourse for the paradox of the absurd?

Rosalynde, what do you make of our rhetorical options here? Is it necessary to speak in religion? Should we be silent about the absurd? Should we be ironic in bearing our testimonies? Is there some other rhetorical option?


Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Uncalled for:

I'm glad Adam draws out the question of the family and the ethical. I've been thinking more and more about this (kind of) question in my reflections on this whole seminar over the past two weeks. Let me articulate, and I think I shall have to get into something I've never dared get into in a public forum before. Because this is the case, let me add a point of explanation before I do so: what I'm about to say is a manifestation of faith seeking understanding and nothing more; that is, I will not be held to anything I say here...

I've been reading quite a bit of Michel Henry over the past two weeks (and in another few days, I'd like to take up a few questions with Adam in relation to Henry and how it might re/situate the distance between Marion and Badiou). The more I've read of him, the more fascinated I am with his thematic treatment of sonship. And I think it might be all the richer in implication for a thoroughly Mormon theology, because of how it might lay the foundation for a rethinking of the infamous Adam-God doctrine (with which I assume everyone is at least relatively acquainted).

I take it everyone here is familiar with attempts over the past few years to reinterpret the King Follett Discourse in such a way that it departs far less radically from an orthodox Christian understanding of God. These attempts are fascinating to me, perhaps primarily because I rely heavily on Christian orthodoxy as an interlocutor to question my presuppositions in thinking LDS texts, though I confess I remain infinitely uncomfortable (for a number of reasons) with these attempts. But regardless of my discomfort, I think there is something important to be gleaned from a kind of "return to the God of orthodox Christianity."

I really like the way Henry thinks through orthodox Christianity (if it can be called such after his treatment of the subject!), though it might at first appear that such an account is fundamentally at odds with the basic presuppositions of Mormon theology. However, if we take Brigham's basic statements about Adam-God quite seriously, there may be a way of taking up Henry's "orthodox" Christianity and the presuppositions of Mormon theology. Let me paint, then, a really strange picture.

If one reads Brigham's initial discourse on Adam-God quite strictly, he claims at the very least (and probably at the very most as well) that the Father of Christ in the flesh was Adam, and that many references in scripture to the Father are references to Adam. Because it presents Adam as God, as the Father, as an already resurrected being before coming to earth, etc., this discourse opens the possibility of a strange reversal of roles between Adam and Christ than is at work in, say, 1 Corinthians: Christ (Jehovah) is, in a sense, the "greater." Before His imposition, we (human beings, I guess) were merely "intelligences" or perhaps "spirits," essentially monads without relation. The condescension of Christ would thus be a radical movement in which He abrogated the "separateness" of the intelligences by structuring them, a structure He brought into being precisely by becoming a/The Son (and thus by making of Michael a/The Father). This condescension by which an eternal God (never other than God, God from all eternity to all eternity, YHWH, He Who Is, etc.) typologically recast so many "individual" or "separate" spirits/intelligences in a familial structure by becoming a/The Son.

Christ thus inserts Himself into the middle of things, as it were, becoming Mediation (the Mediator) itself. His condescension is, in Henry's terms, the "establishment" (immemorially) of an Arch-Ipseity that allows for all familial life (and all of this according to a rather Johannine thematic, true to 3 Nephi as Krister Stendahl reads it). Christ--Jehovah--thus appears to be God from all eternity to all eternity, never changing, etc., while God the Father was exalted to that position at a particular "point" in time (as the Father of Jesus Christ), which sets Him up in a Father-child relationship with all of us (and according to a covenant that runs through every revelation we have from Joseph Smith).

In a sense, I think this picture makes Mormon theology more orthodox than Christian theology (again, if Henry can at all be called orthodox!), and precisely in the name of the Adam-God doctrine (I might add that this particular doctrine seems at times to me to be a presupposition in the Book of Abraham...).

Now, as bizarre as all of the above is, it makes a rather simple point: I think Kierkegaard is at once right and wrong in connecting family with the ethical. Inasmuch as family is the worldly crossing of desires that results inevitably in another flesh (woman+man=child), Kierkegaard is right: one's "familial responsibilities," so to speak, are undeniably ethical, universal, public, etc. (never absurd). But the ethical/worldly can never take account of this typological revision of the world according to the condescension of the Son (even if it is thematized in a far less radical manner than I have here done).

Now, I've said more than I probably ought to have said, especially publicly. But perhaps it is typological enough, absurd enough, untotalizable enough, that it will simply be dismissed as madness. I suppose I would find the most comfort in precisely that.

4:08 PM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


No wonder the other seminary teachers have your early morning sessions recorded :)

Seriously, though, I think that it's very important in doing theology to retain some space for speculation, not for the sake of the speculation itself (I haven't the faintest idea whether or not what Joe's posited here has any metaphysical merit - how could I?) but for the sake of what a given speculation might be able to show us.

Speculating is like asking a question. It doesn't make any sense to ask if a question is true or false. Only answers to questions can be true or false. In the same way, we probably shouldn't (as we generally don't in the Church) have any patience for speculations that have the wrong grammatical form (that pretend to be answers or declarative statements) - but this doesn't mean that we aren't in great need of speculative work that understands itself as a question to which the true/false distinction does not directly apply.

So, for instance, I don't personally find it pointless to speculate about whether or not the universe is ontologically One or ontologically Plural, or what it might mean to call Adam Christ's father.

It is, of course, generally pointless to pose these speculations if we take them to be answerable in and of themselves. But the point of the speculation is not the speculation: the point of the hypothetical elaborated by a speculation is to see what can be seen from the perspective of that particular speculation. A metaphysical speculation (such as Joe offers here) is valuable, I think, as a kind of temporary scaffolding that we might scale in order to, at least momentarily, survey from a different perspective the scene of what we know is real.

In a nutshell, my take is the following. It's important to speculate (to pose hypothetical questions) not for the sake of the speculation itself but for the sake of what a given metaphysical speculation might be able to show us about the nitty-gritty of our daily lives.

Speculations, then, operate something like the way "myths" operate in the Platonic dialogues. Socrates says again and again that he has no way of knowing if the myths he's presenting are "actually" true. But he's not tellig them because he's committed one way or another to their veracity. He's telling them because, either way, the very question/speculation elaborated by the myth has the power to illuminate our own present situation.

I'm about out of time (and I'm only very generally familiar with Henry at any rate), but I do find something valuable about Joe's speculations (and Robert's previous speculations about the Axiom of Choice). In particular, I appreciate the kind of light the Adam/God/Son speculation throws on our own individual family relationships (and on what makes them - at least potentially - religiously central).

I can't actually take this up any further this morning, but maybe we could coax Joe into cashing out what kind of light this speculation throws upon Abraham's relation to Isaac and Sarah?

6:25 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...

It looks like I may have jumbled up the reading/discussion schedule a little bit. Looking at the schedule I seem to have written this week (at least in part) about what was scheduled for Jim next week.

Jim, why don't you feel free to write about whatever you'd like next week - perhaps a little look back at F&T and perhaps a little look forward to the Gift of Death? Or - really - whatever you'd like!

11:29 AM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Adam wrote, "Is this to say that one does not overcome doubt by definitively defeating skepticism on its own terms but by passionately exceeding skepticism for the sake of something else?"

In this direction, I've been thinking about the following phrase, "the Lord requireth the heart and a willing mind; and the willing and obedient shall eat the good of the land of Zion" (D&C 64:34). I'm more inclined to think of doubt and skepticism as things that we must experience as a part of learning what it means to be obedient and to have "a willing mind" (which I take to be the "for the sake of something else" that Adam asks about).

Perhaps doubt, then, is similar physical appetites as we typically think of them as Mormons: doubt, like hunger, is a "natural" (immediate?) response to lack, whether the lack is food or intellectual enlightenment or, if truth is an ever-expanding infinity, potentialities that have not yet become disclosed or brought into existence...?

8:43 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

I'm sorry I've not been able to return to this question until now. Let me at last be coaxed...

I'm not at all sure how my speculation about Adam-God helps us to think about Sarah at all. I could only approach such a question by speculating quite a bit more (about Eve, about Mary, etc.) But I'm going to excuse myself from the task of interpreting Sarah here, if I might, in the name of the prophet Jacob, who leaves Sarah out of the story as well (in Jacob 4): he sees the akedah as a type of the Father-Son relation within the Godhead, making no mention of the Mother figure.

I'm going to make, moreover, a rather bold connection between the thinking of a prophet like Jacob and Brother Brigham. As dangerous as I'm sure that sounds, there may well be ground for it. Though I'm not sure what Brigham meant by his teachings about Adam, when they are all taken together, they fit quite nicely into the theology that lies at the heart of the Book of Mormon, or at least, at the heart of the small plates and the visitation of Christ to the Nephites/Lamanites. The theology of the Book of Mormon is one of texts being written in order to bind the fathers to the children and the children to the fathers, from the title page onward (remember that the primary purpose on that title page is this fathers/children business, and that the secondary purpose on that title page---"also"---is to teach of Jesus as the Christ). This idea of the fathers seeking out the children to seal them (textually) up to themselves (they without us cannot be made perfect, nor we without them) is precisely the kind of question that lies at the heart of Brigham's Adam-God teachings: Adam as our God is a God of grace because h/He seeks us out in order to seal us to h/Himself (and the sealing is made possible precisely in the condescension of Christ). That is, Adam becomes a God and our Father precisely in that Christ becomes a/the Son, and we are sealed (this language is throughout the Book of Mormon... Benjamin most clearly) to God through Christ as we are made sons and daughers, etc.

Hence, in the akedah: Isaac became a son precisely as he became a type of the condescending Christ. In fact, a son within the Son (I've been reading commentaries on Romans 8 all morning, and there seems to be something of a consensus that the question of predestination to be conformed to the image of the Son is a question of being predestined first to suffering and second to glory). It is only thus that Abraham is rendered a father (and in fact, a Father, given the language both of the Book of Abraham and D&C 132). In short, Isaac becomes a son only in the Son, and Abraham becomes a father only as his son becomes a son in the Son: Abraham's fatherhood is dependent on the grace of Isaac's "willingness" to suffer and then be glorified.

That Jacob takes this up in the small plates is fascinating: he makes it clear that a father becomes a father only inasmuch as he calls his would-be-son to suffering and glory; and just so, the authors of the Book of Mormon would become fathers only as their text bound them to the sons, who had been called, in the interim, to suffering and when the text was received to glory (the establishment of the Lamanites within the covenant at the last). All of this, of course, is within the Abrahamic covenant, and thus according to the election of grace.

There is a great deal more to think about here, but I'm glad I was pressed here, since I'm beginning to see how all of this opens some possibilities for what I'd like to think at length in my paper....

9:40 AM  
Blogger Adam S. Miller said...


That is very helpful (and I'm glad to have pressed). Though, as a side note, I especially appreciated the insight about the Book of Mormon itself being an attempt by the fathers to (textually) seal the children to them.


11:38 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Adam, that interpretation of the Book of Mormon is the "thesis" (if there is such a thing) of the book I'm working on (which begins with my chapter on Alma 36... which has been radically revised). I'm seeing a way of summarizing my book in part of the paper I'll write for this seminar (as one part of a three part paper).

12:18 PM  
Blogger Robert C. said...

Joe, I like the ideas you've written, thanks. Since we hear so little about the Father in scripture (relative to the Son, at least it seems to me...), I've wondered quite a bit about Jacob's statement--not so much about how Isaac is a type of Christ, but how Abraham is a type of the Father. In particular, I've wondered if Abraham's faith is telling us something interesting about the Father's faith (I've also wondered how seriously to take the claim in Lectures on Faith that God himself works by faith...), or if this isn't trying to make the scriptures too univocal (i.e. Abraham is an example of faith and Jacob brings in an analogy between the Akedah and the Father and Son, but the two shouldn't be drawn together).

So, I find this statement of Joe's fascinating: "a father becomes a father only inasmuch as he calls his would-be-son to suffering and glory". Whether or not Adam was merely a father or the Father, I think this has interesting implications for rethinking the Fall, esp. how partaking of the fruit was essentially a call for all subsequent offspring to both suffering and glory. I struggle a bit with the idea (which seems to have been put forth more and more by Church leaders...) that Eve basically knew what she was doing in partaking of the fruit; but Joe's ideas suggest interesting (and more palatable for me...) possibilities. For example, in agreeing to be tempted and to become mortal, perhaps Adam and Eve effectively agreed to be the cause of suffering for all subsequent generations. This is what all parents do, agree to call forth sons and daughters to a world of suffering, for the purpose of subsequent glory. On the one hand, Adam's agreeing to partake after Eve had already partook seems to highlight Adam's awareness of this decision (i.e. Eve was beguiled, whereas Adam made a more conscious decision...). On the other hand, however, we might take it that in agreeing to the Plan beforehand, Eve agreed to the (predestined...) consequence of sorrow in bringing forth children and being ruled over by a husband (per Gen 3:16 and Moses 4:22). In this sense, Eve is acting as more of a Father figure--in Joe's sense--than Adam, thus Eve is justly given the kind of lop-sided praise we've heard over the pulpit (e.g. see quotes/links listed here).

So, on the one hand, we might take the call to "take up our cross" as a call to enter into this kind of father-son-suffering kind of relationship: we become sons in accepting this call to suffer, and fathers inasmuch as we call others into this eternally family sealed together in suffering and glory. On the other hand, passages such as D&C 19 seem to make a distinction between Christ's suffering and the suffering we are called to endure: "I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent; but if they would not repent they must suffer even as I" (19:16-17). It's hard for me to get very far thinking about father and son types without thinking about the Atonement, and I have a zillion questions about the Atonement....

Also, Joe, in addition to explaining the Atonement to me, can you explain how, or if, we should take up Mosiah 15 from an Adam-God perspective?

6:29 AM  
Blogger Joe Spencer said...

Robert, I'd love to take up Mosiah 15 in just such a manner... sometime. Actually, I've recently been doing some work on Abinadi in my book, but I've been sidetracked by some other possibilities in the meanwhile, and I probably won't get back to Mosiah 15 for a couple weeks. When I do, I may post further thoughts, if there are possibilities to be glimpsed. On the whole, it seems best to me to read that discourse as referring only to Christ. But that alone certainly bears on my speculative understanding of the Adam-God doctrine.

As for explaining the atonement... I'm more and more enthralled with Jacob Morgan's paper on atonement that was published in Dialogue. I really think it is rich... and that it opens onto some amazing possibilities for thinking the Adam-God doctrine (that paper actually lies, to a significant degree, behind my speculations here).

11:29 AM  

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