Thursday, August 24, 2006

Strangers, Aliens, and the Hidden God

A friend of mine, Professor Greg Walter, sent me an article recently he was working on for LWF related to the hidden God and other religions. I was intrigued by his choice of language, because it is the same semantic range I often work with in talking on the ethics of the stranger (not to mention the resident alien), but he applied it to, it seemed to me, God as such, and even went so far as to say that a central loci of Lutheran theology is emphasis on the stranger. I inquired further about this, asking the following and providing a summary:

As to your argument "as a whole", I find it persuasive. You're charting a middle course, which is always difficult, between those who wish to go whole hog the way of theology of religions, and those who see the truth claims of various traditions as incommensurable. Your category of strange-ness is helpful. If I were to summarize your argument, it might be "The Lutheran tradition of the hidden God, which has resonances in apophaticism, is primarily that of promissory strangeness." Said otherwise, "Lutheran's relation to other religions is eschatologically weird." :)

I think their remains a potential incommensurability in your proposal inasmuch as a deferred unity can be deferred indefinitely. This may be an aporia in your proposal that can only be circumlocuted.

and his response was:

Lutheran emphasis on the stranger, it seems to me, comes from its contention on the hiddeness of God. I think that Luther's two forms of the hidden God (sub contrario and absconditus in maiestate) are better understood through the language of alien and stranger. Indeed, Luther uses "alien" to talk about God's law or wrath (alien and proper activity) and that belongs to the general semantic range denoted by "stranger or strange." I like "wierd," too, but it is more difficult for me to adopt wierd since it is such an interjection from my youth and nearly unsalvagable in our midwestern culture, just like the word interesting. It also has a different geneology than stranger because it belongs more to horror (tales of the wierd--Lovecraft etc) and in contemporary discourse there is a kind of "horror/wierd analysis" that borrows from psychoanalytic theory. I'll try to find the title of a "wierd" analysis of the book of revelation that accuses the book of political conservatism owing to its use of wierd creatures and figures. Wierd theory tries to show how conservative horror genres are. So, these are additional reasons why I prefer stranger/strange to wierd. I do like queer but that of course focuses specifically on sexual and gender difference.

You may be right--if I understand you--that there is a uselessness of eschatology to a pragmatic perspective. The dilemma of the dynamic between strange and proper truths is as follows. I could either articulate a unity that allows the strange to disappear into the proper, or one that maintains an incommesuarbility between them, an unbridgeable gulf, or one that resolves them into a higher unity, or one that maintains a never-ending ping-pong match between the two (a kind of incommesurability of a different sort). I had a paragraph that I deleted that did the following:

1. Christians ought to interpret strange claims not as alien but as novel (anonymously Christian claims)
2. Christians can interpret strange claims as alien that have force as proper claims (alien claims as alien)
3. #1 is the prevalant kind of inclusivism of post-liberal to Roman Catholic theology
4. #2 is the road not taken
5. Both are necessary (note difference between ought and can in #1 and #2)
6. Because of the eschatological deferral of any unity between the two, theology of religions and systematic theology are required to speculate as to their unity.
7. I offer a conception of God as infinite to bring together God as alien and God as promised.
8. This speculative conception owes itself to Gregory of Nyssa, Duns Scotus, Nicholas of Cusa, Luther, Hegel, Schleiermacher, Pannenberg, and many others.

I would not easily identify the promised GOd with the strange (like a veiled bride) because that would make faith entirely deferred until the eschaton, confusing faith and hope. Hope is primary, it seems to me but must be distinguished from faith.

I find this dialogue helpful on a number of levels, not least of which is its accessibility as a way of moving forward in interreligious dialogue that maintains a confessional Lutheran position that is at the same time an open rather than a closed system. If indeed that is what Greg intends. If not, it's what I'm projecting onto him. He can comment more if he'd like.

No comments:

Post a Comment