This is Matthew Yeager's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following Matthew Yeager's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
Matthew Yeager
Recent Activity
PAUL TILLICH PART 5: Mysterium Tremendum, Martin Buber, In some of the typing about Tillich, and particularly about Einstein, I have found a dry taste forming in the top of my mouth. Never good. The dry taste is the result of the distance between a conceptual discourse about religion and the lived experience of religion. By an experience of religion, what I mean here isn’t the situation of day-to-day devotion. Rather, what Rudolf Otto would classify as an experience of the “numinous.” The “numinous” is from the Latin word for God, numen. As a word it is certainly much preferable to “godious,” infinitely lovelier and less off-putting. (The word “godious,” with all the overtones of “gaudy” and “odious,” could perhaps work as an adjective for the gold-painted thrones one occasionally spots on a religious network.) It is good to make yourself smile. Anyhow, as there is not our English word “God” to evoke whatever feelings we have when we read or hear this word, the “numinous” has less tendency to devolve into an issue of belief. The “numinous” is not some experience that one is excluded from for a creed or a lack of a creed. It is on a broader level. You could call a numinous experience an experience of great depth. Experience might not be the right word. Perhaps it is what Martin Buber, the Hassidic mystic and philosopher, would refer to as an “encounter.” An encounter is deeper than an experience, in his thinking, and always takes the character of “I-thou.” I should touch on Buber briefly. Buber says that every time we use the word “I,” we are actually using one of two conjunctive words: “I-it” or “I-thou.” When we say “I,” we are always meaning “I-it” or “I-thou.” A friend of mine, an Israeli chef named Ido, turned me on to him, and the first thing he mentioned was that in Buber’s thinking we are always all of us in a state of relationship. “Eef I think about Buber, I become I-tomato, I-knife, I-window, I-hand holding knife handle, I-hair on my head, I-bald spot, I-subway pole.” He is very right. To think about Buber is to engage your relationship with whatever it is you relating to, which produces a peculiar species of wonder. Buber describes the “I-it” relationship as the surface relationship. He says we speak the “I-it” with just a part of ourselves. The “I-thou,” on the other hand, can only be spoken with the whole being. To have an “I-thou” relationship, be it with a mirror, a tree, a picture of your childhood pet, a poem, an icon, a person, et al., is to be momentarily in connection to the depth within that thing. You access the “You,” which is his name for the unbounded element, within it. This is not to say that you animate with human character, such as imagining that a tomato has a nervous system like yours, and cringes as you would if your head were about to be... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Wow what a beautiful day, blog readers! I’m at the window here, watching cats watching whishing leaves, armed with my NJOY electric cigarette, an ingenious contraption that allows you to inhale nicotine-infused water vapor. I’m going to go for two posts today, half-timed by a trip to Trader Joes. Perhaps even more. Work is going to swallow both days of my weekend whole, and then I think I’m done for my week, which is a shame, as it’s gone by all too quickly, the coins too quickly spent and on what, ultimately, I’m not sure. --- Continuing from yesterday, I must admit I’m a bit dumbfounded by all the possible conversational directions we might go in. Doubt is really not some haze, but the acute awareness of an equally viable option – in poem-making, it’s a word or line or whole draft that could equally well be a different word or line or whole draft. In life, it’s a torn heart. In a matter like this, the doubt pertains to the fact that there is so much that deserves to be brought immediately to the fore. I don’t know if anyone would disagree if someone were to say that every crisis is a crisis of limits. First, my impulse in bringing up Tillich and Einstein was apologetic….One thing Tillich asks is that theology be shown the same respect as one shows physics, medicine, or any other discipline. When criticizing it, one should criticize the most advanced and not some obsolete forms of the practice….In one sense, he’s absolutely right. We don’t debunk medicine as a field because Benjamin Rush, the Doctor Os of the late 18th century, once prescribed his diarrhea-inducing “Thunderbolts” for everything from malaria to nosebleeds. Nor do we say astronomy is doomed to truthlessness because it once assumed the sun to be just the bolder and brighter of our two orbiters. However, we have no problem attacking obsolete forms of religious thought, and feeling justified in our attacks. Of course, it is a different situation in religion. If certain doctors were trying to bleed sinus infections out of us in the present time, we would have grounds for attacking medicine as a viable field. Such a parallel situation can no doubt be found in contemporary religious practice. Ultimately, in Tilich’s religious thought, contemporary Athiesm is put into the surprising position of serving what it believes itself to be attacking. This is what I was hoping to show. Attacks on a distorted concept of God, a conflation of the symbol for the “unknowable ground and abyss of Being itself” cannot be strong enough, and are ultimately in service of religion. This is because they’re in the service of Truth. As Augustine puts it, “where I have found the Truth, there I have found my God, the Truth itself.” Truth, as we all know, can only replace itself with itself. You cannot remove a truth without establishing truth. Thus, it can only become itself more fully as if moves... Continue reading
Posted Apr 23, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
HELLO BEST AMERICAN BLOG READER(S). Good to be back for my third installment; today begins the draft, some of the most exciting few days of the year for NFL fans. Even during the Bengals’ despairing 1990s, in which the Bungles dug out lows nearly unimaginable in a league with such an even financial playing field, draft day was a day of wild optimism. As a young fan you hope for stars; as an adult, you feel yourself hoping for fixtures. You like the idea of your squad using a top pick on some blunt mauler of a guard with the staying power of a canned good. Someone re-signable, who’ll be in the lineup for a decade. I’m hoping that a fellow named Mike Iupati, from Idaho, falls to us this year. He’s just such a blunt mauler. Well worth a 21st overall pick. In the cold-weather divisions particularly, few things are more invaluable than depth on the line. Ah, football….In the name of these blog-posts maintaining at least a modicum of topical unity, I won’t dwell. I would like to begin by picking up discussion of a document briefly touched on yesterday. This was at some point before I began un-systematically meandering through the Ontological argument for the existence of God. Thinking about those sentences, I can only smack myself on the forehead. I was like someone running all the way the around the base-paths without actually getting his foot on a single bag. If you would like to take in a piece de resistance (sp?) on the subject, read Tillich’s “The Two Types of Philosophy of Religion,” which appears in Theology of Culture. Read especially the sections on the Augustinian Solution and the Thomistic Dissolution. All the ideas are laid out there and shine, simply. The document that I mean to talk about is Tillich’s 1940 rejoinder (reprinted in the same book) to some religious statements made by Albert Einstein. Einstein’s comments, in which he rejects the idea and existence of a Personal God, roused a considerable amount of excitement at the time. One can discern that Tilllich was a bit miffed by it. His first point in the paper, after all, is that Einstein’s arguments would have failed to matter out of a different mouth, as they were “neither powerful nor new.” One can also discern that he was disheartened. The outbreaks of fear and anger, the schizophrenic God-affirming and God-denying that afterwards ran rampant, could only indicate a spiritual sickness in the religious communities. It could only indicate superstition, recidivism, suppression. If you read Tillich’s A History of Christian Thought: From its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism, you’ll find in the chapters on religion and science that he was much more optimistic than he should have been about the relationship between the two realms moving forward. And really, there should by now have been a healing together, or at least a movement in that direction. As for the Personal God, Tillich explains that “it is the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
HELLO BLOG-READERS! I was all set to begin today with the statement, “Paul Tillich is not a great prose stylist,” and then go on to talk about what exactly it is that makes his English prose so lucid, so convincing, so compelling. Perhaps I will in brief. The short of it – the root of it – is that Tillich learns English according to what he already knows, namely Latin and Greek, and so is wary of the meanings of words that we as native speakers take for granted. There is a simplicity in sentence structure that almost can feel juvenile for certain whole books, as in Dynamics of Faith. It seems incongruous, at times, but wonderfully so. As many of his essays are adapted lectures, there is an orality to way the sentences unfold. Orality is about rate, as the ear is slower than the eye. He taught, and has that teacher’s ability to sense what is known and isn’t known, stop where he is, and break a concept down. There is a calmness and measuredness. Although certain practices irk him, he is never polemical, which is rare when one is writing about religion. The plan was then to examine Tillich’s response to Einstein’s theological statements in 1959, which is a nice introduction to his viewpoint. Specifically, it a fine example of how the pond of Tillich’s onto-theological system receives the boulder of Athiesm without a ripple of disturbance…He likewise receives Freud, Nietszche, and has enlivening and enriching things to say at various points about their brilliant contributions to human thought. I should do this, at a certain point, as it might lead to good discussion of contemporary Athiesm. Anyhow, as I sat there thinking, outlining a course, my mind ran ahead…. To talk about Tillich is soon enough to talk about Ontology and the Ontological approach to the question of God. Paul Tillich is, perhaps first and foremost, an Ontologist. What exactly is Ontology? It’s definable as the branch of metaphysics that deals specifically with questions of Being. The roots are the Greek on, which means “being,” and the word logos, which means “word.” The logos, as Tillich traces it through history, is shown to refer not only to a word but what the word signifies. He also describes the logos as “the creative structure of the world.” All this is complicated. Ontology, at its basis, is simple. It can be called the beginning and basis of philosophy. It is the philosophical practice that someone with no philosophical training has the best chance of happening into while lying in his bathtub. It is an investigation of the fact that there is not Nothing, and wondering, just as Parmenides once did, why this Nothing is not. It is to simultaneously to wonder why Being is, and what Being is. Of course that is only one way of describing it, and I am not one to say that I am fit to be offering any description at all. As I... Continue reading
Posted Apr 21, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Hello BAP blog readers, It is 11:17 PM as I begin, and my plan is to complete a brief introduction to the thinking of Paul Tillich, the Lutheran theologian thought by many, myself among them, to be the prior century’s great philosopher of religion, by 4 AM. I am also not extinguishing hope that I might pay a few bills, respond to several emails, get my white cotton jacket into a bucket of hot bleach water, and also check the box-scores, all while appeasing a small gray tabby named Charlie who’s addicted, at present, to a stuffed fish on a wand and string and will reenact the yowling pain of his birth unless I periodically make it jitter and dance around the apartment….We will see how all this goes, and hopefully by sun-up I’ll have felt some satisfaction. I was raised as Catholic (“in the Roman Church” as Tillich would say) and received my formative education – my high school education – from the Jesuits. It was in courses in theology there that I first saw and heard Tillich’s name. He became lumped in my head with, oddly enough, James Joyce, whom I first learned of off a black-and-white poster tacked on a wall in my freshman English classroom. It was communicated, at different points, more in tone and less in details, that both Joyce and Tillich were beyond our powers of comprehension. Above our thinking level, above our reading level. As the bias you carry upwards as a student – even if you are student of video games or electric guitar – is for whatever it is that’s beyond you, I suppose I imagined Tillich with a bit of an aura around him. Especially at that age, you are striving to get into more inches of height, more knowledge of the world, more experience, and the thing is, you perhaps one of the horrors of adulthood is that you no longer are in a position where this shedding and this growing occurs with such seeming inevitability. Hence our mid-life piano lessons, karate classes, etc….Regardless, my first impression of Tillich was that he was a part of all I couldn’t yet then get at. He began, for me, in an elevated state. As much as a first impression can be said “to go over the falls in a barrel,” it can also be said to be the barrel into which all that follows is deposited. I suppose I am and should be aware of that. If, in thinking of growth, in thinking of Tillich, I find myself thinking of Rilke, who wrote the processes of growth better than any poet (both in the Letters to a Young Poet and especially in those fantastic symbolist poems in Book for the Hours of Prayer), its worth pointing out that the two shared a common time, a common language, and common corner of the world. Tillich was born in 1886, a decade after Rilke. There are certain affinities between them owing to the... Continue reading
Posted Apr 20, 2010 at The Best American Poetry
Hello, first and foremost, to my fellow poets. Regrets that I’m not getting started on my first post here until nearly noon of day #2. Further regrets that it will constitute little more than a salvo. After a series of long days of catering, I feel a bit of what the boxer must feel lying in his hospital bed after a victorious bout. There is, in the short term, a positive feeling (or at least a more positive-than-usual feeling) about having been utterly pummeled….I suppose what follows any feeling of victory, commensurate with the size of that victory, is a feeling of being entitled to whatever state one is in afterwards. I am not capable of the slightest nick of guilt for having folding closed my laptop, slid it a few feet on my desk, and rested my head in my arms for the bulk of the three or so hours I’ve had this morning to give myself to words. Boxing, sports, catering, metaphor-mixing, forgiveness…. ”Kill the body and the head dies,” is a boxing truism that I’ve routinely found myself applying to my species of paid labor. The ability to think good, coherent thoughts, and write them, is certainly compromised by laboring on one’s feet. Lately, however, as I’ve climbed the catering ladder (it is really a step ladder, and with only two steps) into more responsibility, I’ve been subject to more direct attacks on the head. The head also dies, naturally, if it’s the target and repeatedly struck. Large events = large spaces = walkie-talkies and earpieces among those in management positions. The feeling of an earpiece in an ear, capable of causing one of ten or twelve different personalities to explode in your head, is about as pleasant as having your ear plugged with a living bumblebee. Like those zero-gravity chambers that simulate the environment of space, a headset could be said to simulate the conditions of schizophrenia. Pulling the contraption off at the end of a night invariably leaves me with a feeling that I have done some damage. There’s a nastiness to the bud that lives in the ear too; like the moisture on a fingertip in a wet-willie. In any event, as I have to be back on the clock in exactly one hour, perhaps I should rephrase my analogy to a boxer slumped on a stool between the rounds of a fight in which he is being pummeled, but ahead on the scorecard. One spits strings of water into a bucket with perhaps a little more gusto if he knows he’s ahead on the scorecard. I have four days off following today; I have taken them so that I might make some good posts over the course of my allotted week. In keeping with what I’ve taken to assume is the spirit of blogging, I haven’t done much in terms of pre-writing. This, retrospectively, was foolish. Blogging for a week is like a clock-sport in that the time will elapse no matter how... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2010 at The Best American Poetry