Saturday, August 29, 2009

"resistance to annihilation of the human subject"

Fred, writing over on la nouvelle, reflects on the political legacy of Sen. Kennedy: "For too long, Catholics in this country have accepted the findings of experts, journalists, and statisticians as facts: objective and neutral facts. Too often, the knowledge that is acceptable is only a knowledge that excludes faith. Only after the experts have pronounced 'what is' can the person of faith then judge what the Gospels would recommend for be done in the situation (and this judgment is either an opinion or a feeling about what is right). The end of this process is a passionate action empowered by one's religiousness." The religiousness thus empowered is best described a religiosity, a trivialization of religion, a reduction which is at once moralistic and sentimental. Of course, such an instrumental view cuts across party lines and exposes so-called conservatives as well as self-professed liberals. I might also delicately point out that taking such a mechanistic view of the human person was a mistake made by several bishops with regard to pedophile priests.

This line of reasoning made me think of emotivism as defined and described by Alasdair MacIntyre in his still important book After Virtue, especially his dealings with what is known as the fact-value distinction. Let's lay this out clearly at the beginning- facts do not and cannot determine value, much less meaning. 50% of people prefer chocolate to vanilla and 65% of people prefer vanilla with hot fudge to chocolate. I made that up. I am not contending that is meaningless or even useless, especially if you own an ice cream shop! The latter observation forces a reasonable critique of capitalist/consumerist manipulation. Marx wasn't wrong about everything. In fact, his critiques were mostly right on, especially regarding alienation and that capitalism thrives by conflating what we want with what we need. Turning wants into needs is what brought the U.S. economy to its knees. Any attempt to go back to a situation in which 3/4ths of GDP is consumer spending is bound to yield the same result.

Referring to the work of American pragmatist philosopher and mathematician Willard Van Orman Quine, MacIntyre writes: "if there is to be a science of human behavior whose key expressions characterize that behavior in terms of precise enough to provide us with genuine laws, those expressions must be formulated in a vocabulary which omits all reference to intentions, purposes, and reasons for action" (83). The result here is that you might have science, but you certainly have no humanity. MacIntyre calls this view mechanism. A better view of human action, a more ancient view, is opposed to mechanism and asserts that human action has to evaluated teleologically, which means that facts about human action must necessarily "include the facts about what is valuable to human beings (and not just the facts about what they think to be valuable)". On the mechanistic view, there are no facts about what is valuable to human beings (ibid). "'Fact' becomes value-free, 'is' becomes a stranger to 'ought' and explanation, as well as evaluation, changes its character as a result of this divorce between 'is' and 'ought'" (ibid).

This may all seem very abstract, but MacIntyre goes on to show its concrete implications by referring to Marx's third thesis on Feuerbach: Marx's mechanistic understanding of human action included his belief in "the predictability of human behavior," as well as his belief about how to manipulate human behavior (ibid). Even for the philosophically and politically uninitiated, red flags should be going up, the freedom wire tripped, prompting a cultural response because culture, unlike science, is about ultimate meaning, a response such as writing a song like Know Your Enemy. This is a wholly human response, even if there confusion about who and what the enemy is.

MacIntyre continues:"As an observer, if I know the relevant laws governing the behavior of others, I can whenever I observe that the antecedent conditions have been fulfilled predict the outcome. As an agent, if I know these laws, I can whenever I can contrive the fulfillment of the same antecedent conditions produce the outcome." This brings us to literature, to Dostoevsky in particular, to his revolt against this kind of scientific socialism. A negative reaction to this grand and erroneous reduction of the human person was also the cause of Camus' metaphysical revolt as described in The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt. This, too, is what I meant when I wrote, "I think it is the desire to impose values that often makes Christianity unattractive in our late modern milieu" and when I stated that "I have no interest in being an example," but a witness and, finally, [t]he church is never less the church than when we try to make the Gospel a political program, which is not to say that certain Christian commitments don't inform our stance as citizens in a free society."

Awhile ago, when Cahiers was flourishing, I posted an observation made by the the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan that it is axiomatic for conservatives "that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society." By implication this means that it is "an atomic truth of liberalism that politics is more fundamental and important to society than culture." On this score, both U.S. Republicans and Democrats are liberal, a thesis that David L. Schindler has posited for a long time. Hence, the least desirable outcome, one that began in the late 1960s, "is the politicization of culture; culture co-opted in the service of politics." This is something I believe post-modernism is inclined to overcome, even if unconsciously at times. Post-modernism is fragmentary because, culturally, almost all we have are broken pieces. It is due to this reduction of human life to politics that some seek to banish religion from the public square. But, as Fred's insight shows, religion has not so much been banished as co-opted. Religion is dangerous because it dares to insist that meaning has its locus somewhere other than in political schemes, that is, in the reality that each human person is a direct relationship with the Mystery! Dostoevsky was right: we fear our freedom as the children of God!

I could not agree with Fred more when writes that "there is no experience without judgment. It's only a matter of which criteria [is] used." So, the question for today, is what does it mean to be free? I would contend, using the quote in my heading- "the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject"- that Camus was on to something and that he was right to reject politics as the basis of action! Let's be martyrs, that is, witnesses! To this end, let us engage in the building of a truly human culture. We have a holy example in the person of Karol Wojtyla, who as a young man resisted the Nazis by performing Polish plays, reciting Polish poetry, and studying theology in an underground, illegal seminary.

So, instead of rallying up the demons of our souls, let's rally up the angels, just the really kick-ass ones, like Michael and Gabriel! I am pretty certain my guardian provokes me often, if not always! Indeed, as Billy Joe Armstrong observes, "violence is an energy against the enemy." Love is an energy, too, the energy the made everything, that urges creation to its fulfillment, and makes us protagonists. Love is not a sentiment, it is a provocation. Think about the word provocation, as with Michael Keaton's analysis of another word in the movie Night Shift: provocation= pro vocation, that is, living in the awareness of your destiny.

Synthesis momentarily achieved. Thanks to Fred and Mr. Cherry for provoking my latest bout of logorrhea.


  1. vocation = call
    provocation = for call (to make one cry out)
    Your etymology is nothing like Michael Keaton's but funny video.

    NB. pro-stitute "to place before, to expose publicly, to offer for sale" not originally related to sex.

  2. Thanks! My wife has never seen Nightshift! I love Billy Blazejowski (a.k.a. Billy Blaze)- Idea "feed tuna fish mayonnaise"

  3. Perhaps some view religion as dangerous because they fear it seeks to conflate fact, value & purpose, externalized as institutional judgment and so experienced as yet another controlling force, as opposed to a more organic summoning of purpose from within.

    Funny, first time I heard that Green Day song I thought they were singing "we are the enemy," but quickly realized that type of reflection is probably inconsistent w/ their pop-punk oeuvre.

  4. I don't view religion this way. It is far too subjective. Also, I see the church as an ontological reality. Hence, it is necessary. The church is never more the church when making institutional judgments and not caving into the reductions.

    Left to summon meaning from within myself would lead to catastrophe! I do not create meaning and then project it.

    For a Christian, faith is rooted in fact; the fact of Christ, of His life, death, and resurrection. Instead of a summoning from within, it is a matter of correspondence, an event than becomes and encounter. As Fred wrote awhile ago: "Event becomes encounter every time it is judged because the heart (the self) is the locus of the encounter. Event reminds us that this encounter is not purely interior."

  5. Faith in their hands shall snap in two – DT

    We needn't be boolean; the divine correspondence is within us.

    This idea of fact-based faith is intriguing as it seems to bend toward the more empirical, scientific approach of our time and is in that context certainly more immediate than a mystical abstraction. But yet, I can't help but think of Thomas, touching the wounds.

    Thank you for responding. I pray we focus not on the finger, nor on the will that points it, but rather on the spirit in which it rests, opens and joins its sisters in manifest supplication.

  6. Richard:

    I think I understand what you're trying to say. Based on my understanding, I do not think we are that far apart. Where we diverge is on an important point: faith. If faith is correspondence, it cannot merely be a subjective phenomenon.

    "Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied_ (1 Cor 15:12-19).

    Of course, I do not have direct access to an event that happened long ago. This is where correspondence comes in, even where what we are both saying correspond. It something that I come to know on the basis of a witness and that I come to see as meaningful through my experience.

    It bears noting that this entire post is an emphatic rejection of a fact-based, that is, empirical reduction of humanity, of meaning and truth.

    At the end of the day, I don't have faith in faith, or faith in myself.

  7. Thanks, Scott. I too believe we are much closer than it would appear, even on faith. You, Sharon & Fred are an inspiring witness and I appreciate the opportunity to correspond. Thanks, friend, for bearing with me.

    Heads of the characters hammer through daisies

    [That's what we do...this writing life]

    And death shall have no dominion. (DT)

  8. Richard:

    Absolutely. I am not adverse to provocation. I appreciate your comments and look forward to our friendship