Future, Present, & Past:



Speculative
~~ Giving itself latitude and leisure to take any premise or inquiry to its furthest associative conclusion.
Critical~~ Ready to apply, to itself and its object, the canons of reason, evidence, style, and ethics, up to their limits.
Traditional~~ At home and at large in the ecosystem of practice and memory that radically nourishes the whole person.

Oυδεὶς άμουσος εἰσίτω

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Reticence

I have been very gratified by the responses to my previous post -- thank you, and by all means keep them coming if there is more where that came from.  (Comment section or email is fine.)  It is extremely helpful to have specific occasions for work, with specific interlocutors in mind. I don't know who other people imagine as their "implied reader," but I am almost always wrong. It may be dangerous to write something for just one person and then post it for all and sundry, but it is almost certainly less dangerous (for me) than writing it for "all and no one."

Most of the long questions have come via email, and of these, a surprising number -- perhaps a good third of them -- have asked about Christianity, or about religion. I admit I was surprised. More than one said that my writing on this blog (which, let us just admit, precipitously dropped off in general last year -- of which, more anon) has seemed to avoid the matter. It does not surprise me that people have real questions about these things, but I was surprised that this would stand out so. 

It is true that I do feel the need not say too much. Auden was right:

love, or truth in any serious sense, 
Like orthodoxy, is a reticence.

The symbols of faith, when "taken literally," are prone to breaking; the history of the Church is full of heresies which arose because questions arose due to over-statement. But of course this does not mean that once a question has arisen, it can be adequately dealt with by avoidance. (The Emperor Constans II tried to forbid discussion of the monothelitist dispute; it was too late.) 

Still, I am not dispositionally a controversialist in matters of faith. It is not that I am allergic to "evangelism." It's partly that I genuinely believe that religion is ordinary, that homo adorans is homo sapiens (and vice-versa), and that acting like this is the case is the best way of demonstrating it. So I tend to neither trumpet nor conceal my religion, such as it is (and my Christianity is quite garden-variety, I hope), because I fancy that the best way to "normalize" it is to treat it as normal -- i.e., as not calling for special comment. 

It is also that I have a great wariness of parading my piety -- and not a little impatience with those who display theirs. While I know full well that my sins are as scarlet, they are also trivial, unspectacular, cringeworthy-- thank God, or I would risk being proud of them (indeed, describing them as I have is also a function of pride -- why, oh why, could I not have better sins?) At the same time, there's really no way of discussing thee questions without raising the category of sin, which invites either solemn moralizing, or shameless confessionalism. It'll take considerable intentionality for me to skirt those. 

Finally, theology is prayer (and vice-versa). Talking about God in the third person is of course possible --  as I can also speak of my spouse, my child, my friend, my colleague, my enemy in the third person -- but unlike all of these, God cannot be spoken of in absentia. It would be a strange practice to speak of a person who was present but never to them. Indeed, if I refer to my friend in the third person while she is present, I am also speaking to her -- or, if I am not, there's something seriously wrong. (There is of course a mode of philosophizing etsi Deus non daretur, "as if God did not exist," which may or may not involve some absurdities, but this is a separate matter.) 

Only pretend-theology (flatus vocis, if ever there was an apt use of the phrase), or at best history-of-ideas theologology, wears itself out pretending to talk "about" God rather than with God. Conversation with fellow believers can become an extension of prayer. This is much harder when talk is between believers and non-believers, not because there is no shared orientation, but because the temptations to misconstrue or over-construe this shared orientation are many. (In truth, the same thing can occur between those of "shared" faith, but the ways of catching this, and the remedies, are different.)

All of this raises questions of/about pluralism, conditions (ideal or otherwise) of discourse,  and so on. I'll try to think about some of this "aloud" in the coming weeks. 

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