Abba – Father as Fulfillment of Cosmic Incorporation

“What is God to man, that is man’s own spirit, man’s own soul; what is man’s spirit, soul, and heart – that is his God. God is the manifestation of man’s inner nature, his expressed self; religion is the solemn unveiling of man’s hidden treasures, the avowal of his innermost thoughts, the open confession of the secrets of his love.” Ludwig Feuerbach – The Essence of Christianity

Ludwig Feuerbach’s notion that God is a projection of human values and needs is a key modern theme. Nietzsche maintains God and religion are a product of the resentments of the weak; Freud teaches us that God-language is really about sex; Marx teaches us that it is an instrument of economics, and Carl Schmitt teaches us that God-language is the structuring principle of the state. Psychoanalysis, atheism, Marxism (Communism and Socialism), fascism, and nationalism, all turn theology on its head, claiming that the theological and divine are really about the human.

The proper theological move is to turn theology back round by reclaiming secular insights: instead of God language being for the weak, weakness is really about God and how God comes to us; instead of God language really being about sex, sex is really about God – the erotic is not over and against agape love but is woven through it and indicates its proper end; instead of religion being an opiate to numb economic oppression, economics and economic justice is all about God; instead of allowing for the modern theory of state to occupy theological concepts and structures, the theological must challenge the sole sovereignty of the state.

This final point, Schmitt’s recognition of the sovereign as the exception which establishes the law and the order of state power, pinpoints the unified theme underlying all of these realms. In each instance, God was marked out as a point of exception, the means of escape, the point of oppression, a tool of legitimation, so that the transcendent concept of God came to occupy the supreme place of power, emptied out of immanent categories and these categories were then turned, in secularism, against his transcendence. “God is dead, and we have killed him,” is not an admission of defeat but a claim of power. The power of state, the power of sex, the power of money, the power of the human psyche, each unleashed from its sun have proven deadly and out of control. Capitalism, nationalism, the state as sovereign, sex as an identity, or simply the manipulation of psychic categories, each have claimed their own legitimating frame in pure power, but in their own way each realm has bottomed out. Which is to say God cannot simply be dropped back into the formula as a continued resource for exploitation. Inasmuch as the God of modern religion is a stop gap, a legitimating source for state power, the exception which establishes the law, the gold standard of capitalism, modern religion is atheistic in its practice.

To truly believe in the Trinitarian God, the Abba of Christ, and the Spirit of love, has economic, sexual, ascetical, psychoanalytic, political, and environmental requirements. God With Us, comes to us in and through the realms of the world and where deity has been evacuated from these realms both God and world are lost for us. Where there is no horizon beyond the economic, the sexual, the ascetic, the psychoanalytic, the political, and even the environmental, this becomes sole horizon. There is no proper ordering of these realms, no telos, but only a random groping as in each instance in money, in sex, in the psychoanalytic, etc. we live and move and have our being and this is not a realm apart or a distinct entity in our life but is our life. On the other hand, to picture God as accessible apart from these realms is not to elevate God, but is to demean him to a projection, an instrument, a justification, an opiate, an abstraction who leaves the world to our power.

The point is not that we understand God on the basis of the categories of the world but the categories of the world are mediated to us on the basis of our understanding of God. For example, we do not understand God as Father on the basis of human fatherhood, but we grasp the meaning of human fatherhood as it mediates to us the Fatherhood of God. But, of course, it is not simply fatherhood per se that pertains to recognizing God, but all things, all categories, all ordering of the world, must pertain to being able to rightly realize the identity of God. We understand what children are, what fathers are, what sex is, what a healthy psyche is, what a proper politic is, and what love is on the basis of rightly integrating God and world in Abba (as in Ro 8:15 and Gal 4:6). I presume the realization of this truth of God and world integrated, is what is conveyed in the proper name given to God, communicated by his Son, and realized through the Spirit. God is integrated into our lives and world, not on the basis of the world but on the basis of who he is in Christ in the world, and it is also on this basis that we receive the world. In the incarnation we receive God in the world and the world and all of its categories are transformed in light of Christ. The world is not too low for God; the womb is not beneath God; eating and working and growing tired and living and dying are transformed by Christ. All that is of the world is taken up by Christ and through the world we are now given divine insight.

God has poured himself into the world and into human experience due to his yearning and love, and he draws all things back into himself through this same yearning. So, for example, we can say with Dionysius, that human desire originates in divine yearning and that the basis and end of eros is agape: “let us not fear this title of ‘yearning,’ nor be upset . . . for, in my opinion, the sacred writers regard ‘yearning’ (eros) and love (agape) as having one and the same meaning.”[1] The desire of love pertains to ultimate reality, to God himself, as source and substance (as I have described it here). But this is an understanding that opens up every phase of human subjectivity and experience. The erotic or embodied as agape points to the deepest and earliest phases of human subjectivity as the groundwork of the divine. Just as the erotic rightly ordered is the root of agape, so too all unconscious/conscious origins of development, though we may know only of their disorder, must serve as ground and structure of divine love. As Dionysius puts it, through excessive yearning of his Goodness he is transported outside Himself “to dwell with the heart of all things”:

hence this universe, which is both One and Many; the conjunctions of parts together; the unities underlying all multiplicity, and the perfections of the individual wholes; hence Quality, Quantity, Magnitude and Infinitude; hence fusions and differentiations, hence all infinity and all limitation; all boundaries, ranks, transcendences, elements and forms, hence all Being, all Power, all Activity, all Condition, all Perception, all Reason, all Intuition, all Apprehension, all Understanding, All Communion—in a word, all, that is comes from the Beautiful and Good, hath its very existence in the Beautiful and Good, and turns towards the Beautiful and Good.[2]

All perception, all intuition, all development is in and through and drawn toward His goodness. It is only where this flow and development is stopped short or stunted that the disorder of sin enters in. This principle of sin, a misorientation toward the law, would interject law in place of God and might be described as a misperception of God’s fatherhood. God or the law is pictured as a delimiting factor or a point of proscription. The law is taken as an end in and of itself and God perceived through this law does not beget, desire, or engender but forbids and disrupts. Just as rightly ordering the world is summed up in the realization of Abba-Father, so too the disordering of sin is summed up in the failed orientation of perceiving God through the law.

Without recounting the details of this failure, I presume this stands behind Paul’s culminating point of the Gospel found in the name Abba. The realization of God as Father puts right, not simply the failure of earthly fathers and mothers, but it completes compliments and teaches a true form of subjectivity by locating the human subject in the Trinitarian Subject. Just as Christ calls God “Abba,” we take up this relationship through the Son and the Spirit and this relationship re-appropriates and fulfills the worldly order. This order displaces the monism and pantheism of the world as mother (the law of oneness), and it escapes punishing patriarchy (the binary law of difference). It is in the Trinity, in the place of the Son that brings out the cry “Abba,” through the Spirit. This is not a law-like relationship imposed from outside but describes an interpenetrating realization of true subjectivity. Kittel notes, “Jewish usage shows how this Father-child relationship to God far surpasses any possibilities of intimacy assumed in Judaism, introducing indeed something which is wholly new.”[3]

As John explains, No one has seen God at any time but God the only Son who abides in the bosom of the Father has made him known or explained him (Jn 1:18). As both Galatians and Romans explains it, the Son is born under the law so as to deliver the future sons and daughters from enslavement to sin under the law. In both Romans and Galatians, the shift from slave to adopted child is realized in the heart cry induced by the Spirit: “Because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying out, ‘Abba! Father!’ Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God” (Galatians 4:6-7). The explanation and the adoption accomplished through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, in Paul’s explanation, confronts the lie of sin in regard to the law and defeats the enslaving death dealing orientation. The Abba relationship to God involves all of the work of Christ but it must also involve every aspect of human subjectivity. Paul pictures it as involving the conscious and unconscious self; it addresses the punishing and enslaving aspect of the law taken up into the self and replaces this form of subjectivity with one who is able to imitate Christ.

The Abba relationship and naming of the Father is specific to the work of the Son and the fulfillment of the Spirit, such that to change the name (for example, to Mother) would seem to miss both the universal father problem of the law and the cosmic answer to this problem found in Christ. To erase, evade, or change the name would seem to create the danger of falling back into or failing to be extracted from the original predicament. This in not to occlude the feminine characteristics of God, as it is precisely where we encounter the mothering, birthing, nurturing images of God in the Holy Spirit that the Abba relationship is made possible. This Abba relationship must be a fulfillment of the child’s early concept of mother/father as the unified source engendering one’s individuality. The child’s development is not unlike Paul’s depiction of the Spirit’s (feminine) engendering of sonship as enabling the Abba relationship.

 In conclusion, the development of human subjectivity in all of its stages, known and unknown, along with “all Being, all Power, all Activity, all Condition, all Perception, all Reason, all Intuition, all Apprehension, all Understanding, All Communion” comes from God and turns all things toward God. This pull of divine desire is realized in the Abba relationship, a fulfillment of the specific work of Christ as it overcomes the universal problem (a perceived problem of father) in a cosmic and universal human incorporation into the family of God.    

[1] Pseudo-Dionysius, Divine Names, IV. 12.

[2] Dionysius, IV. 10.

[3] Kittel, G. (1964–). ἀββᾶ. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 1, p. 6). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

I Am Not Me!

My children bought me a birthday present in which each week I am given a writing prompt and then at the end of the year my responses will be put together in a book. I have written about my favorite dog (Mr. Magee, who could open his own cans of dog food, politely wiped his feet when entering the house, and who stole our Thanksgiving Turkey), memories of my grandmother (Grandma was a drag racer), my first job (a circus), etc. but this week the question, “Are you the same person you were as an adolescent?” seems to strike at the very notion of subjectivity, and yet it was an issue that occurred to me very early. Everything is changing so what of me endures? I presumed, instinctively, that memory must be the singular enduring thing about us, so I performed memory experiments. As the car was speeding down the road, I would look at a particular rock or telephone pole or tree and try to retain the object in my memory. “There’s a rock, a rock, a pole, a tree.”  The high rate of speed made it difficult to pick out any particular object, but I presumed this accelerated condition reduplicated, in brief, everyday experience. I ran the experiment repeatedly, trying to remember any particular object. The unwritten rule I had formulated is that the ordinariness of the rock was part of the issue. A spectacular rock, by definition, would not qualify because if memory is to have any continuity it cannot be one spectacular thing after another (an inherent contradiction). If our own being depends upon the continuity of our memory, it must be in the continuity of ordinary memory. The issue of speed also, I presumed, should not in any way be an obstacle – whether fast or slow, memory should not be affected. Things happening quickly should not obstruct our being. Yet, no particular rock or pole proved to have an enduring image, so it seemed the details of memory are continually lost.  

Around this time, I hit upon a formula which proved quite satisfying, and it seemed to resolve the issue: “I am me.” I don’t know if I literally pounded my chest at the discovery, but that is the spirit of the sentence. The existential realization, at least upon initial discovery, was a sort of alignment which proved very satisfying. I had only to repeat the formula to feel once again a profound feeling of coinciding with myself (I did not yet know the term “ipseity” though I had discovered the desire for achieving it). The pronouncement itself, at least initially, seemed to accomplish this coincidence and affirmed my being. That is, I did not experience it as an abiding reality which I had discovered, but the feeling came only as I made the pronouncement.

This very soon brought a moment of despair, as I realized that the “I am” and “me” were only held together in the sentence, and by repeating the sentence. I recognized that even in the sentence there was not complete coincidence or convergence between the two major terms. I tried saying the sentence with force – “I am, me.” Then I tried thinking it rapidly, as if I could close the gap between the “I” and “me” through force of thought or speed. What had initially appeared as a discovery or capacity proved to be the opposite. On the heels of feeling great satisfaction with my new formula I realized the formula (the need for it and the need to repeat it) was itself an indicator of a third term between I and me which disrupted my unity with myself.

I presumed that this third element between “I” and “me” was simply there, but I could not say it. I could pronounce “I am me,” but the discord or gap between the two could not be closed. To say that I literally attempted to access or posit this third element is not exactly correct but I turned, perhaps instinctively, to the unconscious. As I have described it elsewhere:

Flying over the desert of an evening, around Window Rock, over the Grand Canyon, the cool breeze a necessity for equilibrium and the star lit sky preferable for navigation; this was my singular capacity. With the veil of darkness, the arms pumping and as I gained confidence, the leap into a canyon or off a tall building (nearly absent in Page, Arizona) and I could just manage to obtain lift-off.

The ordinary family into which I was born had their abilities – special even – among mortals. I did not question their earth boundness, nor could I articulate the equation of flight with immortality, but this is how it functioned.   I was not grounded by the contingencies of bipedalism. Flight was incomparable with the local means of achieving immortality – throwing a fastball or running bases – it constituted an ontological difference. My apparent incapacities as the youngest and smallest were simply a foil. The three-foot frame housed an ego temporarily fallen from the heavens. Though the slightest talent at anything might have tempered the necessity, but as it was, flying was my Kant and Plato – the equivalent of a philosophical proof of being – of innate immortality.

I assume that my slow development must explain my memory of what must be a universal passage – the passage through a growing awareness of self-identity and yet the unease and dissatisfaction inherent in the incompleteness of the process, and then some compensatory move in which we posit a third element. Descartes’ “I think therefore I am” must describe a universal passage to a presumed absolute knowledge – a foundation, and Kant’s notion that the thought (“I think”) and thinking thing (“I am”) actually constitute a disjunction, a felt noncoincidence, within the self. Isn’t this simply a description of the passage through adolescence and the dissonance this creates  

As Søren Kierkegaard (or SK) describes it, there is a passage into despair in the self’s relationship to the self. “Despair is a Sickness in the Spirit, in the Self” in which there is a refusal (there is no continuity) or failure (there is incomplete continuity) to be a self. This despair has primarily to do with one’s relation within the self – between what SK calls the relation between the body and the soul. “In the relation between two, the relation is the third term as a negative unity, and the two relate themselves to the relation, and in the relation to the relation; such a relation is that between soul and body, when man is regarded as soul.” There is an antagonism built into the human self-relation which is definitive of the human disease and SK assigns primary importance, not to any one element of the relation (soul or body) but to the dynamics of the relation which might be a kind of negative incapacity to cohere.

SK suggests that this absence can be accounted for. “If this relation which relates itself to its own self is constituted by another, the relation doubtless is the third term, but this relation (the third term) is in turn a relation relating itself to that which constituted the whole relation.” He acknowledges that the relation can be constituted in a negative unity but he also offers another possibility: The one “which constituted the whole relation.” “This formula [i.e. that the self is constituted by another] is the expression for the total dependence of the relation (the self namely), the expression for the fact that the self cannot of itself attain and remain in equilibrium and rest by itself, but only by relating itself to that Power which constituted the whole relation.”

The unease or disease of not being fully a self, an I that cannot arrive at its me, turns out to be the fundamental problem, the ultimate prompt which, if we do not take flight, points to the constituting Power of “I am.”

Beyond Hysteria: From Frankenstein’s Monster to Hegel, Freud, and Paul

For most of human history people lived out their lives in the codified cocoon of traditional societies in which the cosmic order was presumed to dictate immutable laws determining every aspect of human life. One might respond by submitting or transgressing, but the laws were held in place by divine dictate. To change up the world order was not a possibility and was made a possibility only by one who would claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. Changing the world order is a possibility introduced by Christianity but the notion of freedom, even among the first Christian heretics, is perverted to mean an absolute freedom from all constraint.  Freedom from the law combined with the revolutionary notion of recreating the world, apart from the specifics of the work of Christ, created a stream of thought already developing in the Corinthian Church but famously represented by such key figures as Descartes, Hegel and Nietzsche. Beginning with doubt and constructing from the foundations up (Descartes), with death and nothingness itself as foundational (Hegel), philosophy marked the turning to a radical freedom in which no values hold (Nietzsche). Continue reading “Beyond Hysteria: From Frankenstein’s Monster to Hegel, Freud, and Paul”