Closeted transcendence

Over at AUFS they have just concluded a book event engaging Adam Kotsko’s recent work Politics of Redemption.  Adam has just posted a response to the event and in it engaged one of the topics raised which is the highly debated but perhaps hardly debatable question of transcendence/immanence.  I thought the response was quite diplomatic without interest in any sensational jabs (the jabs were quite under-stated but still present . . . well fine perhaps ‘jab’ isn’t even the right word).  In any event I thought of commenting directly there but it would not have been in keeping with the event as a whole and since I am still waiting for a copy of the book I don’t have much to contribute.

I did, however, want to pick up on one line.  Adam writes,

Even at its best, though, I can’t see how one can argue for divine transcendence — it’s always going to be an argument from authority, because it’s fundamentally an argument in favor of authority.

I think that is about right.  At various points I have thought about how I could enter into that argument and in the not too distant past I have done as much on a limited level mostly with appeals to my concept of infinity but I understand that can be accounted for in other arguments . . . fair enough.  I have also viewed this from a Kierkegaardian perspective a la Philosophical Fragments,

So also with the demonstration [of the god] – so long as I am holding on to the demonstration (that is, continue to be one who is demonstrating), the existence does not emerge, if for no other reason than that I am in the process of demonstrating it, but when I let go of the demonstration, the existence is there.  Yet this letting go, even that is surely something; it is, after all, meine Zuthat [my contribution].  Does it not have to be taken into account, this diminutive moment, however brief it is – it does not have to be long, because it is a leap. (43)

. . .

Defined as the absolutely different, it seems to be at the point of being disclosed, but not so, because the understanding cannot even think the absolutely different; it cannot absolutely negate itself but uses itself for that purpose and consequently thinks the difference in itself, which it thinks by itself.  It cannot absolutely transcend itself and therefore thinks as above itself only the sublimity that it thinks by itself. . . . But this difference cannot be grasped securely.  Every time this happens, it is basically an arbitrariness, and at the very bottom of devoutness there madly lurks the capricious arbitrariness that knows it itself has produced the god. (45)

Well, I cannot know it, for in that case I would have to know the god and the difference, and I do not know the difference, inasmuch as the understanding has made it like unto that from which it differs.  Thus the god has become the most terrible deceiver through the understanding’s deception of itself.  The understanding has the god as close as possible and yet just as far away. (46)

To come back and ground things a little.  I do this all as a pastor.  As such I am increasingly taking the notion of prayer (as the essentially transcendent orientation) to be that which one does in the closet.

But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6)

This of course looks like the worst of divine transcendence as the internalized form of ideological authority.  But I think where the critique falls short is that prayer of this sort ceases to be prayer when it is outed for the purposes of leveraging, when it is political.  This is not a move towards an a-political Christian position which is impossible in any event.  It is a conviction or at least present acknowledgement that if I hope to maintain the sort of political and social orientation that I see described in the biblical witness I must also nurture an internal orientation that will strip ideological power.  I will happily be critiqued on this position because I am not interested in maintaining it for irrelevant or pious purposes.  I maintain it so that I can best hope to engage or resist the powers of this world without being corrupted by them.  Basically I want it both ways or a three-way perhaps.  I want uphold the singularity of Jesus the Messiah.  I want to participate in the community of Spirit that resists and dismantles cross-building powers and I want to nurture a relationship as an individual with God my parent.  Does that result in an incoherent mess?  To put it more clearly;

As an active participant and leader with influence in the church I see myself as,

Seeking and calling to gather around the body of Christ as it is broken in this world

Speaking of and engaging in the work of the Spirit that manifests in this gathered community

And still praying in secret to the One who birthed me that I might avoid both herd mentality and narcissistic individualism.

In this way transcendence is removed from the argument but not abolished.  Perhaps that is what needs to happen.  Take transcendence off the table and get on with it.  This, of course, is easily said and again I need to ground this in my particular community and think about what it means to pray as a congregation and confess God as a church.  I suppose where Ineed to start is exploring the internal critique necessary for my church and conference to the extent that ‘God’ functions as the sort of public and pious leverage that keeps our community from seeking and gathering around the body of Christ and working in the Spirit.  So for my part if there is an argument regarding transcendence at this point I think it must turn internal.  But if there are glaring red flags and potentially unhelpful orientations here please point them out.

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3 comments on “Closeted transcendence

  1. Jeremy says:

    I mean I think your response to my post is understandable give your job as a pastor. You seem to be cognizant of the critiques of transcendence and individualism. However, you obviously have a spiritual piety and relationship with the divine that you find very important to you. I think you recognize the problems but still believe in a transcendent God and in a personal relationship. I think this comes down to a decision. I don’t really know how one could be a pastor and not believe in both of these things in the orthodox church.

  2. Yah, I am not really sure what I would expect by way of ‘critique’ and that is the whole point of drawing attention to Adam’s quote. I suppose it was simply an attempt work-out what I am trying to process here and see if it created any larger resonance or dissonance. For instance, I understand what I am doing will be something different than a thoroughgoing materialist-death-of-god approach but it may also be different than being ‘orthodox’ (however defined) and so in some ways the question, as I end the post, will be more a matter of internal processing within context of what an appropriate ’embrace’ of the individual relationship with the divine could look like. And the question of course has significant implications for how I relate within my community (prayer and piety are social practices but may need to be reworked). Plus, I put this out there because I am hoping to be ‘open’ to understand the possible need to dismantle this piety. But I do not assume or expect that will be done by argument.

  3. Jeremy says:

    I think that was my real point. Your personal piety obviously brings joy to your life. I don’t think anyone’s going to be able to dissuade you from that lived reality, especially if it’s so central your life.

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