Friday, December 03, 2010

The varieties of divine transcendence

There has been some concern recently that defenders of divine transcendence are attempting merely to perpetuate a dead concept, one that has long-since been obliterated by modernity (for various reasons). I have a vested interest in this debate, insofar as I agree with those who wish to dispense with metaphysics, mythology, and other forms of theological discourse that only reinforce the ideological confinement of religious God-talk. For the sake of discussion, I will accept that the burden of proof rests with those like myself who wish to continue to speak of a transcendent God after the death of God (understood in both its christological and modern-historical senses). What follows then is a very brief list of the varieties of divine transcendence, beginning with the two versions to be rejected. It also goes without saying that these are not all mutually exclusive. Finally, I do not claim that this list is exhaustive, and I am happy to add further items based on suggestions in the comments.
  1. Metaphysical (or analogical) transcendence. This is the form of transcendence as posited by the via triplex and other forms of classical analogical modes of God-talk. Here transcendence is defined either as the projection or the negation of some mode of finite immanence. Both of these modes are grounded in the more basic form of metaphysical transcendence, which is causal: God is here the Prime Mover or First Cause.
  2. Mythological transcendence. I take this point from Bultmann, who famously defines myth as representing the transcendent as “spatially distant,” as in the three-tiered cosmos. Myth is understood thus as a crude, primitive version of metaphysics.
  3. Reformational transcendence, or transcendence as deus absconditus. The transcendence of the “hidden God” is a prominent theme in Luther’s theology, and it appears in Calvin and others as well. Here there is a sharp distinction between the hidden and revealed God that corresponds to the distinction between law/wrath and gospel/grace. Transcendence in this sense is posited on the basis of our human sinfulness, rather than our finitude. God is transcendent in the sense that God is removed from us as our judge.
  4. Mystical transcendence. The description “mystical” is hotly contested and I use it tentatively, but in essence I refer to the notion that God is transcendent as “wholly other” in a timeless and ahistorical sense. It often takes a Platonic or Neoplatonic form, as in Meister Eckhart, and in this sense overlaps with metaphysical transcendence. But the crucial difference is that this form of transcendence is not simply an idea to be posited and analyzed through the faculty of reason; it is instead a transcendence to be practiced and experienced through forms of spiritual ascesis. Mystical transcendence is primarily a mode of orthopraxis rather than orthodoxy.
  5. Dialectical-eschatological transcendence. What I call dialectical-eschatological transcendence is the form of divine transcendence represented by Bultmann and the early Barth, where God is understood as “wholly other” but in a concrete and historical sense. Transcendence is here not a “realm” to be reached by reason or experience; it instead refers to the fact that God cannot be objectified or mastered. God is not an object available for our investigation, neither a “thing-in-itself” nor a thing as it appears to us, to use Kantian distinctions. Instead, God is a particular event or encounter within history and only perceptible to faith. Bultmann writes: “The idea that divine action is unworldly or transcendent is preserved only if such action is represented not as something taking place between occurrences in the world but as something that takes place in them .... God’s act is hidden from all eyes other than the eyes of faith. The only thing that can be generally seen and established is the ‘natural’ occurrence. In it God’s hidden act takes place.” This notion of transcendence is thus set wholly against all forms of supernaturalism, which attempt to identify places within history where God is directly accessible, i.e., where a miracle occurs. Dialectical-eschatological transcendence reserves no space for the supernatural. It therefore also excludes all natural theology, since there is no way from “here” to “there,” because there is no “there” as an identifiable place or object. The “there” (or the divine) occurs within the “here” (or the worldly). Eschatological refers to what is qualitatively different from the world as available to scientific and historical research. Some opponents might also refer to this as fideistic transcendence, since there is no proof for such divine action; certainty only comes within faith, not outside of it.
  6. Dialectical-analogical transcendence. What I am labeling dialectical-analogical transcendence is that form of divine transcendence often associated with the middle-to-later Barth—though whether rightly or wrongly is still a matter of much debate. It refers to the relation between the immanent and economic Trinity as a dialectical and analogical relation. Three features of this model make it differ from the metaphysical model noted above: (a) the basis for the analogy is strictly located in Jesus Christ as God’s self-revelation; (b) there is nothing about God’s immanent transcendence that is not revealed in God’s economic immanence; and (c) the entire relation between transcendence and immanence is known only to faith. This version of transcendence is grounded in what Barth calls the analogia fidei, as opposed to the analogia entis that grounds the metaphysical version. What makes this model differ from the dialectical-eschatological model is that what occurs in time and space is identified as a communication or manifestation of what is already actually the case in eternity.
  7. Analogical-ontological transcendence. This is the version represented by Radical Orthodoxy and its fellow-travelers, the most brilliant version of which is found in David Bentley Hart’s The Beauty of the Infinite. The emphasis here is on the ontological plenitude of God’s transcendent being, which is analogically mediated to the world. The analogia entis is, on this account, the sine qua non of Christian theology. For the most part, this is a subset of the metaphysical transcendence mentioned above.
  8. Apocalyptic transcendence. This model, which I derive from Nate Kerr’s writings (particularly his 2009 essay in Political Theology), understands transcendence non-analogically. It opposes both the “univocal production of pure immanence” and the “analogical mediation of transcendence in immanence.” For this reason, apocalyptic transcendence is a thoroughly non-ontological conceptuality, leaving the sphere of ontology to materialist ontologies of immanence. As Kerr defines it, transcendence is here understood in terms of (a) the “priority of grace”—God is “beyond” as the free initiating action of God’s subversive reign within the world—and (b) the doxological response of the human person to this initiating action. Transcendence thus takes place as a form of theopolitical agency, simultaneously divine and human, initiating and following. The main point is that God’s transcendence refers to a particular mode of action within the world that suspends immanence and funds a new form of human action in response. It is therefore, in my view, a political and doxological variation on the dialectical-eschatological model.
  9. Postmetaphysical transcendence. A number of theologians could claim the label of postmetaphysical, but in this instance I define it according to Eberhard Jüngel’s theology, particularly as represented by Gott als Geheimnis der Welt. This work does not use the term “transcendence” very often in a positive way; this is because the book is directed against any notion of God as an ens necessarium or supreme being. Moreover, his analogy of advent is directed against thinking of God as “wholly other” or “beyond.” He repeatedly uses the line from Luther that quae supra nos, nihil ad nos: “things that are above us are of no concern to us.” And yet one can discern in the midst of all this a creative renewal of the language of transcendence in his radical identification of God with the dead Jesus, such that God is defined as the concrete unity of life and death on behalf of life. This (Hegel-inspired) unity of life and death in God that Jüngel posits allows for transcendence to be understood as the soteriological otherness of God in the word-event (Wortgeschehen or Sprachereignis). God is transcendent in the sense of being the word of address that comes from outside of us (extra nos) and so separates us from ourselves. God is the qualitative distance between the old self and the new self, between sin and grace. God’s transcendence is thus an existential distancing of the ego through the event of the word, in which God is present as absent, transcendent as immanent. As Jüngel puts it, “God is my neighbor. He comes nearer to me than I am to myself. Faith opens itself up to this nearness of God. ... In the word, God is present as the absent one. Faith allows God as the absent one to be present. ... Without a fundamental extra nos faith knows of no deus pro nobis and certainly no deus in nobis. God is only near to us in that he distances us from ourselves” (God as the Mystery, 182).
  10. I-Thou transcendence. By this I mean all of those conceptions of transcendence that locate the “beyond” in the neighbor or the Levinasian “Other.” The absolute alterity of the Other is the encounter with the absolute horizon of our future. The Other is the limit of our existence, and so the experience of transcendence. This of course need not be theological, insofar as such I-Thou transcendence can be thoroughly atheistic.
  11. Religionless transcendence. Bonhoeffer’s prison writings are replete with powerful insights into a post-metaphysical, post-religious way of speaking about God. I am calling his model religionless transcendence simply because he refers to the need for a “religionless Christianity.” But a more descriptive term would be socioethical transcendence. Of course, the seeds for this are sown already in his earliest works. In Sanctorum Communio, he speaks of the “transcendence of the You” as an “ethical transcendence,” and in Act and Being he refers to the “illusory transcendence” of the analogia entis formulated by Przywara. Then in his 1933 lectures on christology, he says that the question of transcendence is the “question of the neighbor.” All of this leads to his famous “Outline for a Book” written in prison in 1944. The description of the second chapter reads:
    Jesus’s “being-for-others” [Für-andere-dasein] is the experience of transcendence! Only through this liberation from self, through this “being-for-others” unto death, do omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence come into being. Faith is participating in this being of Jesus. (Becoming human [Menschwerdung], cross, resurrection.) Our relationship to God is no “religious” relationship to some highest, most powerful, and best being imaginable—that is no genuine transcendence. Instead, our relationship to God is a new life in “being there for others” [Dasein-für-andere], through participation in the being of Jesus. The transcendent is not the infinite, unattainable tasks, but the neighbor within reach in any given situation. God in human form! Not as in oriental religions in animal forms as the monstrous, the chaotic, the remote, the terrifying, but also not in the conceptual forms of the absolute, the metaphysical, the infinite, and so on, either, nor again the Greek god—human form of the “God-human form of the human being in itself.” But rather “the human being for others”! therefore the Crucified One. The human being living out of the transcendent. (DBWE 8:501)
    Here I think we find a version of transcendence that shares aspects with the dialectical-eschatological, postmetaphysical, and I-Thou models of transcendence. But that it remains a conception of divine transcendence is indisputable, however much it departs from the tradition.
  12. Eschatological transcendence. Under this heading I include all those theologians who understand God’s transcendence as his eschatological futurity. God is transcendent as the coming horizon of the future that transforms our present. There are a number of variations of this view. Robert Jenson and the early Moltmann embrace this form of transcendence. But it is the early Pannenberg, with his affirmation of the retroactive ontological significance of God’s eschatological future in Jesus Christ, that is the most extreme form of this model.
  13. Maqom transcendence. The most recent works by Jürgen Moltmann speak of God as the Maqom (מָקוֹם)—which means, in its fullest theological sense, “sacred dwelling place,” though Moltmann generally refers to it as the “broad room” or “living space.” The word has its traditional home in Jewish theology of the temple, and it is associated in the Hebrew scriptures with everything from the Israelite tabernacle to sites of theophanies to the promised land itself. God as Maqom is the “broad room” who invites us into covenantal fellowship, who proclaims the mystery of divine grace: “I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God” (Exod. 29:45). Jürgen Moltmann adds to this the notion that God not only dwells with creation but creation dwells in God. He thus speaks about an asymmetrical mutual indwelling of Creator and creature: “God’s indwelling in the world is divine in kind; the world’s indwelling in God is worldly in kind” (God in Creation, 150). This version of transcendence is thus dependent on a certain kind of panentheism.
  14. Transcendence as wonder. In her excellent new blog post on “Thinking Otherwise,” Mary-Jane Rubenstein summarizes a key point from her book on Strange Wonder as a way of overcoming the impasse between the religious and the secular. The religious perspective (she uses RO as the key example) advocates for transcendence as the way to justify and ground a theocratic imperialism; divine transcendence legitimates a tyrannical theology and politics. The secularist perspective cuts itself off from the surprising encounter with anything new; it makes everything that is all there is. The “third way” is to see “the extraordinary in and through the ordinary.” Following Heidegger, Rubenstein calls this “wonder” (thaumazein), which is a way of seeing the world that marvels “at the strangeness of the everyday.” There is a remarkable similarity between this account of transcendence and Bultmann’s dialectical-eschatological account described above, which is to be expected considering Bultmann and Heidegger were friends and colleagues who learned much from each other. Interestingly, Bultmann has an essay on “The Question of Wonder [Wunder]” (Glauben und Verstehen 1:214-28; Faith and Understanding, 247-61) where he articulates a non-miraculous conception of divine action which makes it “really possible for the Christian continually to see new wonders.” For Bultmann, anything in the world at any moment can become the shocking occasion for encountering “the extraordinary,” which he understands as God’s action in the world. 
  15. Noncompetitive transcendence. Many of the above models could rightly claim the label of “noncompetitive,” but I include it here to acknowledge the distinctive contribution of Kathryn Tanner to the conversation about divine transcendence. Tanner’s work intends to show the radical political potential in classical Christian concepts, and transcendence lies at the heart of her project. Her position is opposed to competitive or contrastive notions of the divine-world relation: “Divinity characterized in terms of a direct contrast with certain sorts of being or with the world of non-divine being as a whole is brought down to the level of the world and the beings within it in virtue of that very opposition: God becomes one being among others within a single order. Such talk suggests that God exists alongside the non-divine, that God is limited by what is opposed to it, that God is as finite as the non-divine beings with which it is directly contrasted” (God and Creation, 45-6). Against the competitive model (which I would identify with the metaphysical and ontological models), she argues that “an extreme of divine involvement requires, one could say, an extreme of divine transcendence” (ibid., 46). Divine action and creaturely action do not function in a zero-sum game. God’s increase does not require our decrease, nor does our increase require God’s decrease. It is precisely God’s absolute otherness from the world that allows God to be absolutely with the world. This way of understanding the transcendence of God allows Tanner to argue in Christ the Key that grace is not some “extrinsic addendum,” but is rather more “natural” to us than so-called “nature”; the gratuity of grace is not a function of some presupposed contrast between creatures and God, between nature and grace. It is this absolute transcendence of God that funds Tanners account of radical politics, particularly her understanding of a noncompetitive economy.
I welcome your thoughts and your input regarding other versions not included in this list. I know there are many that I have overlooked. Please feel free to add them in the comments.

40 comments:

myleswerntz said...

This is good, but I want to quibble with the Bonhoeffer intrpretation, as "religiousless". The SC version is a kind of "socioethical transcendence" of sorts, but very much rooted in a corporate version of the I-Thou: the relations of the church put forth a social ontology which is confronted by the I of God. So, yes, it's socio-ethical, but the socioethical nature of relations do not condition transcendence. As you rightly point out, the promeity of Christ conditions human relations, but accordingly, this never becomes "religionless", in Christ is not understood even in the LPP as being a Christ who can be witnessed to without prayer and good works.

David W. Congdon said...

"Religion" does not equal "Christian" or "ecclesial" for Bonhoeffer, which is precisely why he can speak of a religionless Christianity. "Religion" is a technical term in Bonhoeffer's prison writings, which he borrows from Barth, who says that religion is "unbelief" in CD I/2. For Bonhoeffer, in particular, religion refers to the metaphysical "god of the gaps" that religion posits to solve human problems. Praying for God to fix a problem or referring to God as the Intelligent Designer are examples of religious speech. You might be aware of all this already, but it's important to recognize that Bonhoeffer's "religionlessness" is not the rejection of Christian rites and practices tout court, though it does require a rethinking of what those practices might be and look like.

Joshua said...

curious where would you locate Webster's current work on divine aseity and Tanner's strong, but anti-hierachical, view on transcendence

David W. Congdon said...

Joshua: Thanks for the reminder about Tanner. I meant to include her from the start and then got distracted by everything else. I'll definitely include her, though I think hers overlaps significantly with the dialectical and postmetaphysical versions.

As for Webster, his is a mixture of the dialectical-analogical and the metaphysical. He used to be more on the dialectical side, but he's since moved more toward the straightforwardly metaphysical.

myleswerntz said...

Thanks for the clarification: hadn't made the connection between Barth's critique vis-a-vis the LPP in that way, but it's obvious now.

Is this the dissertation area?

David W. Congdon said...

In a way, yes. I don't plan on writing about transcendence directly, but since my dissertation is on Barth and Bultmann the topic will certainly come up. You can see already elements of my thesis in the way I bring Barth and Bultmann together. The difference is that I will want to highlight the postmetaphysical, religionless, and apocalyptic aspects of transcendence in my constructive argument.

scott said...

Thanks a lot for putting the time into this list, David. Working away at the types seems very promising.

Two clarifying questions:

Do you think it's fair to see Tanner's interest in noncompetition leading to a soteriological emphasis on restoration (or re-formation) rather than newness? I'm wondering about the "radical" political implications of this.

I'm also wondering whether, in the Bultmannian model, the "particular event within history" God is identified with is known to faith as "fully" present -- and if so, if there is not then any futural-eschatological excess to the world's redemption.

David W. Congdon said...

Scott: Both sets of your questions are unclear to me, so I need to ask you some questions before I can really answer them.

First, I'm confused by your comment on Tanner. Are you asking whether I think her conception of transcendence is soteriologically driven? And what's the difference between restoration and newness as you understand it? And what relation do you see this having to politics? I'm unclear about the context/meaning of your question.

Second, regarding Bultmann, I'm unclear what you mean by "fully" present. And what does this have to do with eschatology and excess?

scott said...

David,

Sorry for the lack of clarity -- I typed that out rather hurriedly, and obviously it was clearer in my head than in print.

So, to each in turn:

With Tanner, I was trying to ask whether you saw her account of noncompetitive transcendence as tied to an account of redemption that emphasized more a kind of restoration or fulfillment of the creaturely order, rather than new creation conceived as disruptive or totally "other" to creatureliness itself. It was your comments toward the end of #15 -- about grace not being an "extrinisic addendum", and grace being "more 'natural' to us than so-called 'nature'," which got me curious about what her view implied about the nature of eschatological fulfillment. I just couldn't see the connections between those closing remarks and your last line about this absolute transcendence funding a radical politics.

With your dialectical-eschatological type (5), I meant:
If "God" names a particular event/encounter within history, which is known only to faith, and to say "eschatological" simply refers to the hiddenness of the divine act which is imperceptible to unbelief or faithlessness or whatever, does that imply that eschatological reality (new creation) is fully perceived by faith? Or would this view still want to include talk of a future universal fulfillment, which must in some sense be "beyond" or in excess of what is known to faith It seems like the general thrust of this type was to negate a kind of scientism, on the one hand, and supernaturalism on the other, but I couldn't tell if in denying a (futural-eschatological) "there" to which the (historical) "here" is moving, this view would then want to say there is no fulfillment beyond what is already known to each act of faith, here and now. (That's what I meant by "fully present.")

I know neither of these directly relate to your intentions with the post, so it's fine to leave them unanswered. I found this really thought-provoking, but it (naturally) raised more questions than answers.

David W. Congdon said...

Ah, I see. Those are good questions.

1. Regarding Tanner, if pressed to distinguish between restoration and new creation, she would have to fall on the side of restoration. But she would want to question what the "new" in "new creation" means. She would likely insist that its newness is only due to the preceding brokenness and corruption of creation due to our sinfulness. It's not new as in contrary to God's creation; the new creation is not a second creation in addition to the first. It is the reconciliation and redemption of the cosmos eternally (originally) willed by God.

Now whether Tanner's soteriology is entirely adequate is a serious issue. I raised a concern in my response to Scott Jackson on Tanner in the second week of the KBBC. She certainly lacks the apocalyptic element. But she is right, in my view, to reject the notion of "pure nature" and any competitive relation of nature and grace.

2. You raise a crucial point regarding Bultmann. Is the present eschatological encounter the "fullness" of the eschaton already present for faith? For Bultmann, yes and no. Yes insofar as Bultmann does not believe in some future historical period of time in which the eschaton will be renewed by God. There isn't a "second coming" that we are waiting for, on his view. Yet he would raise a modest "no" insofar as our encounter with Christ today is always an event that opens us toward the future. Faith is always future-oriented; God draws us toward the unanticipatable horizon of the future. The typical critique of this by Moltmann, Jenson, and others is that Bultmann's future lacks concreteness, because he does not have articulate a specifically defined future. This critique has some merit, though I do believe Bultmann has good reasons not to state in advance what the future is or should be (which I won't explain here).

All I want to say, then, is that if your concern is that Bultmann doesn't allow for some future historical occurrence that will bring about the true eschatological fullness of God's reign, then he's certainly guilty. But if your concern is that he makes the eschaton fully present now such that there is no future excess propelling us beyond our present situation, then Bultmann has a very robust account to combat this. There is most definitely something that remains always "beyond" our present context, but he refuses to specify in advance and in general what that "beyond" could be. The future can only be encountered in each contingent, personal situation; there are as many futures as there are concrete contexts and individuals.

dbarber said...

I appreciate this post, it's interesting, thought-provoking. For purposes of clarification regarding my questions on the Barth blog, I wanted to note that I would not object that there are various kinds of transcendence. Not that I had doubt about that, but it would certainly not be possible now!

That said, I'd like to point out that my concern was not whether there are various transcendences, but whether there is a transcendence that is not subject to the modality of the "big other" (for purposes of shorthand). I sense -- correct me if i'm wrong -- that you're arguing: "if there are various transcendences, then transcendence need not equal big other." But still, the key point is whether there is a single transcendence, among these many transcendences, that happens not to equal the big other.

So, take it or leave it, but my question remains: is there a mode of transcendence among those here enumerated that is not equivalent to the big other?

David W. Congdon said...

Dan, that's a good question, which I had in mind the whole time but didn't want to specify up front. I would say, personally, that several of these escape the problem of the Big Other (religionless, wonder, postmetaphysical, dialectical-eschatological, and perhaps a couple others).

But I would want to say that the Big Other issue cannot be identified with this or that specific mode of transcendence, nor can it be rejected by a different version. I think the problem of the Big Other (which I do take to be a serious problem that theologians have to address) is much larger and more important than a specific definition of transcendence. As I understand it, the Big Other is really about the use of God-talk to legitimate or secure a particular social or political ideology, thus turning God into an entity that justifies a person. This is the real problem with God as an ens necessarium, particularly in Descartes, where God is posited as the security for the individual ego.

Now, as I see it, virtually all of these conceptions of transcendence are liable to this ideological manipulation. So the problem of the Big Other isn't entirely avoided by adopting a better conception of transcendence. But I do think the problem is largely averted by adopting one of the alternatives.

I should add that it's precisely this problem of ideological legitimation that leads me to favor the dialectical and apocalyptic conceptions of divine transcendence. These modes of God-talk stress the total non-givenness of God, and so preclude the attempt to turn God into a social-psychological Big Other.

dbarber said...

David, thanks for the response and clarification. I appreciate your thoughts. The one point where i think there would be a meaningful difference regarding where I'm coming from, is where you define the problem as:

"the use of God-talk to legitimate or secure a particular social or political ideology"

I'd agree this is a problem. I would go further, though, and claim that the reason there can be such a legitimation is transcendence. Put briefly, it is the idea that the "ground" transcends -- is exterior to -- the social-political order that makes such ideology possible. This, in my mind, is true even for "apocalyptic" versions of transcendence. For what it's worth, I've made this point in my review of Kerr's book, fully available here:

http://www.jcrt.org/archives/10.3/barber.pdf

In my mind, a politics that would allow us to make an exodus from the present state of things will have to find a modality of immanence rather than transcendence.

Anyway, I'm sure you'd disagree with me on this! But I just thought it would be useful to clarify exactly what my stakes are, given the repeated questions I've posed for you.

David W. Congdon said...

Dan,

Surely you can see the logical problem in your comment. When you say that "the reason there can be such a legitimation is transcendence," you are begging the question, viz. the question about what transcendence is. This is really what I have been on about this past week. To say that transcendence simpliciter is the source of the problem is a simple denial that there can be more than one kind of transcendence. It is to subsume all conceptions of transcendence under a single category; it is to deny any variation, any diversity.

Besides this logical problem, there is the further issue regarding how you are actually defining transcendence. When you say that transcendence refers to an "exterior" that grounds some sociopolitical order, you have simply restated precisely the kinds of transcendence I am explicitly rejecting. Put more directly, you took the line that you quoted – "the use of God-talk to legitimate or secure a particular social or political ideology" – and then proceeded to give this a label, "transcendence." You then use this as the basis for a disagreement between us. But on what grounds? How could there possibly be a disagreement if you are rejecting what I am rejecting? The problem is not material content but apparently an allergic reaction to the mere word "transcendence." It's as if you have personal history with this word that renders it unusable for theological discourse. If that's the case, then let's just find a different word. But you can't attack what I'm also attacking and claim to be opposed to my position simply because we use the same word in different ways. That's called "shifting the goalposts": we aren't playing the same language game, so to speak.

Finally, when you say that you want "a politics that would allow us to make an exodus from the present state of things," I'm tempted to just refer you to Rubenstein's essay. Did you happen to read it? There she makes a fairly clear argument that if you want such a politics, you are intrinsically searching for a politics of transcendence. In other words, if you don't want the univocal production of the same (pure immanence), then you are by nature looking for some kind of transcendence. What you are apparently calling immanence I am calling transcendence.

(Parenthetically, when Badiou argues for the event as the occasion of the new, he too is advocating for a kind of transcendence, even if he has rightly dispensed with all metaphysical versions of that concept.)

dbarber said...

Ok, more precisely: transcendence, for me, refers to the operation by which one draws a strict distinction between the determination of the world and the determination of something that would not be of that world. To put it otherwise: transcendence denies that the cause of beings is constituted by the effects of that cause.

What I am saying, then, is that the big other, or ideology, or whatever, requires, in order to emerge, a strict distinction between world and what is not of, or is outside of, world. Big other / ideology / etc persists as that which claims to mediate the gap that emerges from the distinction.

So, what I am saying is that transcendence is the condition of possibility for the big other. Perhaps there is a modality of transcendence which would not function to enable this possibility. I don't see it, but if there is, then I'm happy to see an argument for it.

(But, again, to say that there are various modes of transcendence is still to fail to supply an exemplification of a single mode of transcendence that would do the trick. And, for what it's worth, I don't think this is just an incommensurability of language games. I'm not saying you can't supply a non-ideological transcendence, I'm saying you haven't.)

dbarber said...

Also: I _do_ want univocal production of the same!

David W. Congdon said...

"I'm saying you haven't."

But that's precisely what you have failed to show. You can't simply assert that I haven't shown that; you actually have to argue it. Demonstrate that some of the more radical versions of transcendence offered in this post (particularly Rubenstein's version, if you dare) are still Big Others. Assertion cannot replace argumentation.

"...transcendence denies that the cause of beings is constituted by the effects of that cause."

Are you saying that transcendence brings in a causal agent/agency that is not immanent within history? If so, then you clearly have not read the blog post, for then you'd quickly see that many of the alternatives provided here, including especially the dialectical-eschatological and Rubenstein's wonder, reject any such external ground or agent as the basis for beings-in-the-world.

"...the big other, or ideology, or whatever, requires, in order to emerge, a strict distinction between world and what is not of, or is outside of, world."

Fantastic, because I'm not arguing for anything "outside of the world." Everything you are rejecting falls within the category of metaphysical transcendence and its subcategories, including especially analogical-ontological transcendence.

So, again, how are you not just playing a trick with language? What is your actual substantive argument against my position(s)?

David W. Congdon said...

Do you really want univocal production of the same? Seriously?

If so, then you cut yourself off from "a politics that would allow us to make an exodus from the present state of things," which is explicitly what you claim to desire.

Have you read Rubenstein's piece? How do you claim to counter her rejection of the secularist? Do you think she's also guilty of the Big Other?

Unless you can cogently argue for how your univocal immanence also allows for a politics of the new, I have no choice but to find your position incoherent and self-contradictory.

dbarber said...

David, you misunderstand me, which may be my fault. However, I'm not sure how to answer your questions without repeating myself. What I'm trying to say is that God, or whatever you want to call it, is nothing other than the world. This is immanence. Anything else is transcendence. That is how i am using the terms. If you want to put it in terms of relation, what I am saying is that the related terms mutually constitute one another. Anything less than this mutual constitution creates a situation in which one term grounds the other. The fact that you say that this ground is "unobjectifiable" doesn't change that.

As for your following threat "to find your position incoherent and self-contradictory" ... well, go for it if you like. I've written a dissertation as well as an additional book on this, though to be fair they're not yet published. That said, plenty of my articles are on this (you can find references on AUFS), including the one to which Kerr's piece, which you cite, is a response. (Strangely, when trying to argue against me in that piece Kerr basically quotes arguments from Milbank that I'd already argued against.) Also, you seem shocked at the link between univocal production of the same and radical politics -- don't they make you read Deleuze, or Hardt & Negri (or even Spinoza) at your Seminary?

David W. Congdon said...

All right, that clears things up. But I think Badiou already exposed the inability of Deleuze and others like him to offer any real grounds for radical politics. And I also think you fall under Rubenstein's critique as well. So we'll just have to disagree on that point.

As for immanence/transcendence bit, we disagree there because I happen to believe in God, i.e., I actually happen to have faith in a particular event, known as Christ. That conditions everything else. Wouldn't that qualify, at this point, as an incommensurable? I have no intention of jumping to that prematurely, as you accused me of doing before. But would you be willing to agree that this is the appropriate place for such a notion?

dbarber said...

Regarding Badiou's critique: Have you read much Deleuze? Not that people aren't entitled to their opinions, but in my mind Badiou's book was a pretty egregious misreading of Deleuze. So I don't accept that. (As for Rubenstein, I'm not sure what critique you're speaking of -- if you're implying that I'm a "secularist," I'm not; again, I've written an essay precisely on the relation between immanence and secularism in the new volume on Continental Philosohpy of Religion.)

Regarding incommensurability: If you think there's an incommensurability, that's fine. I should say, though, that I do not see how your claim to "believe in God" / "to have faith in a particular event, known as Christ," is able to "condition everything else." Such a belief, along with the concepts believed in (God, Christ, event), along with the role of "faith" ... all these things are _extremely_ conditioned. That is, they are the effects of long, complex processes or series of mediation. So, I'm not trying to be polemical here, but I don't see how the claim to have this faith in God / event of Christ as what conditions everything else makes sense. But perhaps it is here that the incommensurability dawns.

David W. Congdon said...

"But perhaps it is here that the incommensurability dawns."

Precisely.

(As for Deleuze, I like him very much, and I enjoy reading him. But I agree with Badiou on the issue of the event.)

Bobby Grow said...

Okay, since I don't follow AUFS; I was under the impression that dbarber was a Christian. Given your comment to barber, David, the one where you say "since I believe in God;" now I'm wondering if this means that dbarber doesn't?

Seriously, is dbarber a non-theist? Just looking for a little clarification.

David W. Congdon said...

Dan can answer that question himself, but I believe he answered it.

I take it that the general AUFS position follows people like Zizek and Altizer in claiming that if there ever was a God, that God died in Jesus such that the only way to be a "Christian" today is to be an atheist.

Bobby Grow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dbarber said...

Bobby, to be precise, the point that i was calling into question was not whether it is possible to believe in a determinate God; it was, more precisely, whether it is possible for a belief in a determinate God to be that which conditions everything else. To take, for example, your question as to whether I'm a theist: this concept, "theism," is one that emerges out of very many conditions; it is the effect of various other factors, so how could it be that which conditions the very factors that engendered it?

A question for you: What is gained, for you, by the knowledge of whether or not I'm a theist?

Bobby Grow said...

@Dan,

1) Since He is.

2) I am just curious. There is no gain for me.

dbarber said...

Regarding (1): But the statement is not the same as that to which the statement refers. (This, it should be noted, is the point of the impossibility of saying the divine name.) So even if what your statement refers to, "God," conditions everything else, the statement that refers to God (as well as the claim that that "God conditions everything else") is conditioned.

David W. Congdon said...

Dan: You're quite right about the conditioned nature of all God-talk. I'm in complete agreement on that point. But where we depart (and where the incommensurability lies, if there is one) is in the axiomatic belief that God is the acting agent/speaker who establishes the truthfulness of God-talk. Thus Barth's language of commandeering within the analogy of faith or Bultmann's understanding of Christ's paradoxical identity with the kerygma. The divine name is indeed unspeakable, unless God is the one who makes that name speakable anew. Something along those lines is what I mean when I speak of the fact that God (not my God-talk) conditions everything else I can and must say.

Bobby Grow said...

What if God came to me and told me that He is? What if *my* statement is conditioned by the IS in the first place?

Aren't you appealing to something outside of yourself, outside of the conditioning in order to assert that everything is conditioned; thus making statements about conditioning conditioned and thus only semantic gestures devoid of any unconditional referent and thus un-intelligible?

Aren't you necessarily appealing to something that is unconditioned or "determinate" in an ultimate sense?

I don't plan on winning this argument, Dan; but I should say, along with David, I believe in God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit etc. I don't have the kind of time or concern to play with "language games" right now; life is a little more pressing than that at the moment :-).

pax.

Bobby Grow said...

@David,

Where would you place TFT on your list of "transcendences?"

David W. Congdon said...

TFT falls in the dialectical-analogical camp, meaning that he's a mix between the radically dialectical position that I advocate and an analogical-ontological metaphysics.

Bobby Grow said...

David,

Thanks. That's what I was thinking, but wasn't sure how you would distinguish your approach from his.

I favor TFT here :-).

geoffrey holsclaw said...

David,

Curious where you would place William Desmond? The "analogical-ontological transcendence" I would assume.

On the issues between you and Dan, I kind of agree with both of you. You that "transcendence" need not be linked to the Big Other.

But with Dan that there is still an issue of transcendence that cuts across your typology, what I might call "actual transcendence" and "self-transcending immanence." It seems that main in your list don't postulate (desire especially not to) an actual transcendence (be it metaphysical, apocalyptic, mystical, apophatic, etc). Dan, and many who still use the term "transcendence" don't want another world/place.

The problem reminds me of two saying:

Franz Wright: "there is another world/ and it is this world"

Badiou: "There are only bodies and language, except that there are truths!"

either can be read as "actual transcendence" via a complicated relationship or "self-transcending immanence" via an alternative yet equally complicated relationship.

David W. Congdon said...

Geoffrey:

I don't know Desmond's works well enough to say one way or the other, but from my very cursory interaction with him I think you're probably right.

I'm not sure you actually agree with Dan on anything. As I understand Dan, he doesn't even want a self-transcending immanence, but perhaps that's a point he didn't articulate well enough. In any case, insofar as you side with Badiou over Deleuze, you and I agree over against Dan's position.

geoffrey holsclaw said...

David,

I don't agree with Dan's conclusion regarding immanence, but I understand and appreciate the alternative placement of emphasis regarding transcendence and immanence. Certainly, with you, there are different types of transcendence. But I hear Dan's concern that the true difference is not between these different types, but rather between transcendence itself as other than the world/cosmos/existence.

I take from your typology that metaphysical, mythical, reformational, mystical, dialetical-analogical, analogical-ontological, non-competitive, and apocalyptic all probably fall in this category is some manner.

The types of post-metaphysical, I-Thou, eschatological, dialectical-eschatological, Maquon, wonder, and religionless may or may not fall into the category of true/actual transcendence depending on how they are inflected (and I'm sure that Dan could agree that some of these don't fall prey to ideology, but then he would probably follow that up by saying those versions have actually given up on transcendence w/o admitting it).

My dual concern (and perhaps Dan's) is that there are many versions (maybe some in your post) of transcendence that really just theories of immanence in disguise, but also more to my concerns, there are theories of immanence disguised as transcendence.

Don't know if that cleared things up or not. But you are right that I prefer to stand on the side of transcendence (in some form) which is why I end up arguing most vigorously with others committed to transcendence (like you I guess) while I prefer not to engage much with those who have given up on it.

But for me, I would like to turn the tables on Dan and ask via Hegel, not "How can we make the unhappy consciousness happy again?" (how can we reconfigure transcendence such that it doesn't unnerve/trample the subject?), but rather, "Why is the unhappy consciousness so unhappy in the first place?" (how can we reconfigure the subject such that transcendence is not violence but freedom?).

David W. Congdon said...

Geoffrey:

For the most part, I agree with you. Especially the bit about versions of immanence between transcendence in disguise.

But I confess confusion regarding how you came up with that division between good and bad types of transcendence from my list. For instance, the apocalyptic type, as I expressly state in my post, is related to the dialectical-eschatological model. And the non-competitive model is too ambiguous to locate, though I would argue it fits better with the "good" forms of transcendence, even if Tanner's theology itself has problems. Likewise, I think there are serious problems with the Maqom model of Moltmann.

geoffrey holsclaw said...

your confusion i'm sure rests in my quick recategorization. I wasn't really trying to place them all perfectly, just showing how you list might change.

It is probably just as problematic, but we could use "strong" and "weak" for different types of transcendence. I put apocalyptic in the first category b/c I see it usually affirming a strong transcendence even if non-ontologically or non-metaphysically (even if historically it is connected to a dialectical-eschatological type).

David W. Congdon said...

"Strong" and "weak" works a little better, only if one recognizes -- as I believe -- that the stronger the transcendence, the more it coincides with a radical immanence. It is precisely this paradoxical identity of absolute transcendence with total immanence that Barber and Kotsko and others are incapable of seeing or affirming.

Anonymous said...

(Geoff from my phone)
Yes, I do agree with you on that account which is also why I think some forms of apocalyptic live close to some versions of mystical/apophatic.

I guess we just disagree with what our accounts of transcendence mean for the churcn ;-).