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"Then he gave this illustration to certain people who were confident of their own goodness and looked down on others: “Two men went up to the Temple to pray, one was a Pharisee, the other was a tax-collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed like this with himself, ‘O God, I do thank you that I am not like the rest of mankind, greedy, dishonest, impure, or even like that tax-collector over there. I fast twice every week; I give away a tenth-part of all my income.’ But the tax-collector stood in a distant corner, scarcely daring to look up to Heaven, and with a gesture of despair, said, ‘God, have mercy on a sinner like me.’ I assure you that he was the man who went home justified in God’s sight, rather than the other one. For everyone who sets himself up as somebody will become a nobody, and the man who makes himself nobody will become somebody." Luke 18:9-14 (Phi) Kierkegaard has a wonderful discourse on this parable collected in Without Authority (pgs. 125-134). I excerpt just a bit of it, in relation to that previously cited. "The Pharisee proudly found satisfaction in seeing the tax collector; the tax collector humbly saw no one, did not see this Pharisee either; with downcast, with inward gaze he was in truth-- before God... And when you, alone before God's holiness, have learned that it does not help you if your cry were to call any other person for help, that there, where you are the single individual, there is literally no one else but you, that it is the most impossible of all that there could be anyone but you and that anyone else could come there-- then just as need has produced the prayer, the terror produces the cry, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner"... He went home to his house justified. He cast his eyes down, but the downcast gaze sees God, and the downcast gaze is the uplifting of the heart. Indeed, no gaze is as sharp-sighted as that of faith, and yet faith, humbly speaking, is blind: reason, understanding, is, humanly speaking, sighted, but faith is against the understanding. In the same way the downcast gaze is sighted, and what the downcast gaze signifies is humility-- humility is the uplifting.... to be lifted up to God is possible only by going down."
"Permit me by way of metaphor to call to mind more graphically the difference between the ethical and the world-historical, the difference between the ethical relation of the individual to God and the relation of the world-historical to God. A king sometimes has a royal theater solely for himself, but this difference, which excludes ordinary citizens, is accidental. Not so when we speak of God and the royal theater he has for himself. Accordingly, the individual's ethical development is the little private theater where God certainly is the spectator, but where on occasion the individual also is himself a spectator, although essentially he is supposed to be an actor, not however, one who deceives but one who discloses, just as all ethical development consists in becoming disclosed before God. But to God, world history is the royal stage where he, not accidentally but essentially, is the only spectator, because he is the only one who can be that. Admission to this theater is not open to any existing spirit. If he fancies himself a spectator there, he is simply forgetting that he himself is supposed to be the actor in that little theater and is to leave it to that royal spectator and poet how he wants to use him in the royal drama." (Kierkegaard, Concluding Postscript, p. 158)
Dear Adam, Just this afternoon I stumbled upon your extensive "Speculative Grace" series. I'm going to (arbitrarily) jump in here. There's a few things I am skeptical of, but because I haven't read all your posts, I want to limit myself to my own musings and suggestions. First, have you spent any time with Jean-Luc Nancy? His project of the deconstruction of Christianity is very similar to the one you have going on here (and which I myself am engaged in). The first volume is called "Dis-Enclosure" and the second, forthcoming "Adoration." I've translated the latter; if you want a free copy, let me know. I don't think I could emphasize my feelings for this work enough. In "Dis-Enclosure," see especially "The Judeo-Christian (On Faith)." Second, I'm sympathetic to how you portray "sin" throughout your posts. Let me just add my views here. You seem to say that "sin" = overstepping the natural boundaries on our action and control, where this overstepping causes us despair and gnashing teeth. In other words, trying to change the given, such that "sin" would mark that fool-hearty will to deviate from what is "given" (or "God's will"), to try and change the unchangeable. But I think "sin" says more in Christianity, and for good reason (perhaps you address this elsewhere). "Sin" says the irrevocable condition or feeling that I have deep within me that I have wronged others, that I have acted cruelly to others, that I have been quick to anger, that I have not extended my hand when I ought to have, etc. This feeling I cannot escape, this sense of ugly selfishness. "Sin" says the condition of being focused on oneself, the condition of "self-love," the condition of being a "box" of self presence wherein I am kept forever, enclosed. "Sin" says, above all, enclosure in oneself. For Christianity, this self-enclosure is the ultimate problem, which was solved insofar as Christ as God Himself identified with this condition... and exploded it. I believe that even if we detheologize this, this explosion still opens up the space for a relation to myself that exceeds myself -- the space for a relation between myself and "my own" outside (a big theme in Derrida's Gift of Death, which I gather you hold dear). I don't think there is the space for all this here, but obviously it has to do with overcoming death, where death= self-enclosed = sin. That is, sin is not particular faults or transgressions, but the condition of being-self. This is where Christianity parts ways with Stoicism (perhaps) insofar as the personal happiness of the particular person ceases to be the fundamental concern; rather, the one who once lived in sin, in enclosure, is now dead, "exploded." The gift of death each instant: grace. (Obviously, this would have to do with something more than the 'given' since, in receiving grace/death under this conception does not mean, physically, I am dead; see below) I.e., you must die to live at all, you are already dead; but also, death itself opens up within life. Death is not the "other" of life ; or "death" puts me in relation to the "other" of life in life itself -- and so a relation to an "outside of time" in time itself. There is life in Christ, or God's grace, because sin (self-enclosedness) is forgiven, a time-outside-of-time is opened up, right at [à même] immanence. In being forgiven, we are put in relation to what infinitely exceeds us, i.e., that which makes it possible for that enclosure to be exploded. This means at least three things: 1) love of the neighbor, who is always inaccessible to me (withdrawn like objects in OOO, if you're familiar), which includes the absolute "otherness to myself" that Derrida alludes to throughout Gift of Death (2) love of the true and just word, which is always beyond my comprehension, and which always has less to do with content or doctrine than it does with movement, or with being a "doer" of the word (cf. James 1:25), and 3) the devaluing of worldly wealth/value, which is merely of the order of the "general equivalence" Marx speaks of, in favor of what exceeds everything one might value according to the value systems of this world -- i.e., relating to the invaluable, immeasurable, etc. And obviously, these three are intimately tied together. Thirdly, I'm curious about a dimension of grace that I haven't seen you address anywhere, namely, that grace is that which first lets things to be seen in the first place. This is the sense in which God is the giver of Light -- not giving something to be seen, but giving the very capacity for sight in the first place. (According to Derrida's logic, the giver stays withdrawn in the gift; the gift itself remains inappropriable, and absolutely so; cf. "death.") This is the whole theme of "Once I was blind, but now I see." While your view would correspond to this idea of grace as a kind of acceding to the giveness of whatever is, I think it would miss out on the "excess over the given" that this dimension of SIGHT also allots to us. In other words, the leeway (or what Kierkegaard might call the "leniency of love") that opens up the "given" right in the middle of it, opening it to what could never have been "already given." For Nancy, also (I'm paraphrasing), "grace" becomes the gift of the world, but of the world given in excess of the "given" world, or in excess of whatever "was already" given about the world. This is, quite literally, an imperceptible shift at the margins of things. Undetectable (almost). In that sense, it would be more than amor fati, and would correspond to the gift of increased sight, or rather, of a sight beyond oneself. It would correspond to the light Nietzsche shines in to the world of nihilism, even as, personally, he himself sticks to amor fati, 'willing everything that is eternally.' Lastly, all this reminds me of the famous story told from Gershom Scholem to Walter Benjamin to Ernst Bloch and subsequently to Giorgio Agamben who recounts it in "The Coming Community" -- the story from the Hassidim that tells about "the world to come [where] everything will be just as it is here. Just as our room is now, so it will be in the world to come; where our baby sleeps now, there too it will sleep in the other world... Everything will be just as it is now, just a little different." Agamben extrapolates: "This tiny displacement does not refer to the state of things, but to their sense and their limits. It does not take place in things, but at their periphery, in the space between every thing and itself" (p 54). He also likens it to a superadded "halo" which does not alter anything essentially but simply makes things more brilliant. In my eyes, this would be right in line with the conception of that "Law of Liberty," and that Christian Grace which does not come of necessity, but is superadded in to the world, AS the forgiveness of the worlds' self-enclosure by displacing it just so much, perhaps even AS the exposure of the whole world to itself -- to open it right at its borders, in that gap between itself and itself -- where what's "gifted by the gratuitas of grace" is not 'merely' "the given." And to speak Derridian, perhaps it is even the given's own differance from itself: the gift of its be-ing, in the verbal, transitive sense. Fourth, I hope we can keep in contact with some of this stuff. I'm working up a paper called "Faith vs. Utopia" right now, based in Nancy's work. But we'll save that for later. Tim fragilekeys.com tmlavenz@gmail.com
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Apr 11, 2012