Friday, March 4, 2016

The Desire of Nature and The Nature of Desire

I woke up a few days ago with the following axiom on my mind: 
"It is our preconceptions that give us the insight that we have into something but paradoxically they are also the source of our blindness for what is right in front of us." 

One example of this is contained in my exposition of 1Kings. Language that is taken uncritically hides the patterns of preconceived notions of meaning. It's not just the words in one's bucket but it is also the size and shape and color of the bucket that counts too. Similar to a wineskin as I've written about here.

A phrase such as "old nature" is already layered with centuries of meaning provided by a particular notion of that nature being something distinct to individuals. What if it can be shown to be of a completely other thing? One that can only be properly understood in a cultural or sociological way related to origins. It would seem that Jesus' counter-revolution is structured not around individuals but around community and this sense of community is to contain a very distinct counter-culture and type of sociology.

Are our natures bounded and shaped by a world which we have shaped in a way that serves our nature? Kosmos, which is translated world, means an "orderly arrangement" and can refer to a completely naturalistic structure, a hypostasis, of purely human origin. I propose it is this orderly arrangement that is the container for and shape in which any sense of "old nature" is derived. It sets the very boundaries of what we can know about this kosmos at all! It is the very human way that societies are ordered around creating and maintaining "peace" by giving and receiving death in the making of enemy others and by sacrificing those others summum bonum.

Jesus is found everywhere juxtaposing the kingdom of God/heaven against the kings/kingdoms, i.e. principalities/powers of this world; the "orderly arrangement" of human being. God's orderly arrangement falls along certain ethical-though not only ethical-lines and the content of Jesus' teachings seem to flow from this understanding as they appear as subversive and anti-normal from a human perspective. It goes against our "natures" to even imagine ordering a society around a notion of enemy love and forgiveness or justice as mercy. But is this not exactly what the community project that began from his work is called to be and do in stark contrast to the principalities/powers and kings/kingdoms of earth as a sign to the world, a lamp on a stand, a message of hope in the midst of despair?

"What if I told you that the Matrix is the world that is pulled over our eyes to blind us to the truth?" 

What if there was no such thing as an "individual"? That the idea of autonomous being is merely a romantic illusion? This would constitute a change in perspective that changes everything else. This can precisely be a way that we are "joined" with the Adamic narrative in scripture. Not by some sense of individual genetic progeny, nor in some mysterious metaphysical attribution of sin, but by means of a certain form of sociality and culturalization, something structuring and functional, and none could even see it much less escape it, because from the moment we're born we enter into this human predicament. This is a part of Alison's[1] thesis as he has built upon the insight of the interdividual psychology of Rene' Girard. I am continually being formed by my imitation of the desires of another, I exist only in my relationship with others.

This is what Girard has so keenly observed and systematized over a lifetime of study and it has very deep explanatory power by which to see the world and ourselves.  View the Asch experiment on YouTube to see how early researchers in the 50's had already had a basic view into this without fully recognizing it's significance or the scope of its influence. Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, in "Moral Man, Immoral Society" dances all around this in 1932 but was never able to grasp the insight into it that Girard later did.

The biblical "creation" narrative of Adam and Eve's temptation is not toward disobedience but toward desire-I am aware that Paul uses this story in a different way but, on a close reading, to make a similar point-though this is not just about desire per se but about how it is acquired. It appears from the story that desire to be like God (whatever that means) was original and good. God is portrayed as a completely gratuitous giver, man the grateful receiver, every desire always gratuitously fulfilled and therefore seeking and desiring for nothing

The break that occurs is when the serpent "tempted" or caused Eve to desire, but not just to desire but TAKE for herself what had been previously gratuitously given; likeness to God. Were they not, after all, created in his image and therefore already "like" him? This doesn't just represent a single action but presents itself as a model of being malformed by acquisitive desire. She "received" ,or took as in "taking a cue from", her desire from the serpent, likewise Adam "received" his desire from Eve. 

What happens next is an amazing reversal. In the tale Adam and Eve both hide from God; who has no nefarious intention. When confronted over this peculiar behavior Adam blames, is willing to sacrifice, i.e. scapegoats, Eve for his desire. Eve likewise deflects blame, is willing to sacrifice the serpent who is the final scapegoat in this story, one through whom Adam and Eve can regain unity. What we have is a rupture within the structure of human relationship where it now requires an enemy other to be sustained! In much later writings this "serpent" becomes referred to by the moniker "accuser", that is to say the principle of accusation, and it functions precisely as a force though which we can identify scapegoats in order to create social order.

Of necessary importance to this mechanism's functioning is our blindness to it. Jesus gives us some insight into this unconsciousness from the cross when he prays: "forgive them Father for they do not know what they are doing."  Quoting Girard[2]: "To have a scapegoat is precisely to not know that you have one, you think that you have a culprit." He would say in an interview [paraphrased]: "In the 17th century nobody would have made the claim to be a witch. We have that now but not then. In the seventeenth century the term witch was merely an accusation". As such it served to ameliorate social crisis at that time by the expulsion and murder of others accused as being responsible for the crisis.

So within the Adamic narrative it is only after eviction from the garden, essentially being "given over to their own desires"[3], do we see any working of death (of which God has nothing to do with) in the story of the murder of Abel. This being given over to our own desires is something that requires a much deeper discussion of its own on the nature and shape of judgment or punishment.

Now addressing the continuity and discontinuity of  "natures" old and new. The writings of James Alison, N. T. Wright, and others show that there is a certain continuity between the here and hereafter; what we are and what we are to become. Would that we desire to be the kind of people who would "be at home" within a world, a Kingdom, such as Jesus describes, this continuity already would exist and might allow one to make a more-or-less seamless transition while for others "it would be like going through fire"[4]. Now as to the manner in which we are constituted as human beings. If we are constituted as being formed by desiring of the desire of another then this continuity can remain. Only the manner in which desire is appropriated need be transformed. Psalm 37:4 should probably be taken quite literally on this point:
  Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. This giving of desires is frequently misunderstood in a self-appropriative manner i.e. If I delight; Lord gives me things I desire. This might instead be understood as desires will be established within one in a non-appropriative way.  This correction of origination of desire could happen in an apokalypic-as unveiling- way to us within mind and spirit simultaneous and inseparable. This would represent a type of undoing the effect of the original distortion of desire; original sin if you can accept it.

In the Revelation of John we have an image of the way this apocalypsis might appear: 
Rev 1:7  Look! He is coming in the clouds. Every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all the tribes of the earth will mourn because of him. This rich symbolism seems to represent a mass 'repentance' or a simultaneous re-ordering in which 'all the tribes of the earth' have a fundamental cognitive shift. This mourning or grieving, not in fear of some retributive act, but because of the sudden recognition in which all creation at once and finally sees its complicity in a culture of death and death dealing, victim making, and violence. It includes the tacit recognition of  not knowing what we were doing that is now being revealed not only in what we have done but also how we have reconstituted ourselves from the beginning. So who is this group of "those who pierced him" except all humanity? Matthew[5] records this fact yet the one who is pierced still calls us friends.[6] But thankfully all who mourn will be comforted.

I close with the following citation which refers back to my original observation on preconceptions: 
Paul Ricoeur: The Intersection Between Solitude and Connection by Kathleen O'Dwyer

Freud, Marx and Nietzsche… All three recognized that meaning, far from being transparent to itself, is an enigmatic process which conceals at the same time as it reveals. Kearney, in his introduction to Ricoeur's short thesis, "On Translation", explains that for Ricoeur, translation "indicates the everyday act of speaking as a way not only of translating oneself to another…but also and more explicitly of translating oneself to oneself". (Kearney, 2004: 7, 8).

[1]James Alison, The Joy of Being Wrong. Original Sin through Easter Eyes.
[2] Rene Girard from an interview here:
[3] See also Romans 1;24  for an instance of judgment shaped as a "giving over" to our desires.
[4] 1Co 3:15  If his work is burned up, he will suffer loss. However, he himself will be saved, but it will be like going through fire.
[5] Matt 26:31 Then Jesus told them, "All of you will turn against me this very night, because it is written, "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered." (quoting Zech 13:7)
[6] Zech 13:6 "Someone will say to him, "What are these injuries to your hands?" He will reply, "They're what I received at my friend's house."

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