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Oct. 13th, 2015

The Mods

wildgodmods

[WAY]

Where are you?


WAY posts are open to interpretation, allowing anyone to say where they are and what they're up to. Be as serious or light-hearted as you like, but if you've not commented elsewhere recently, comment here to say "hello" or "I'm here."
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Oct. 5th, 2015

The Mods

wildgodmods

Walking with the Wild God

Any member of the community is invited to post a WIGIT post, a public thinky post or a private thinky post. The mods actively encourage you to go back and catch up and comment on posts you may have not had a chance to get to, from this week or further back. If you would like to draw the attention of the community to articles or blog posts that might be of interest, please leave a comment on this post.

2nd October
wildgodmods Prayer requests [community-locked post]

WIGIT: WIGIT posts need to be community-locked, and include the WIGIT rubric, which you can copy and paste from any of the WIGIT posts so far. You can include a personal reflection if you would like to, but don't feel you have to include one. We aim to have a WIGIT posted every 24 to 48 hours (so a post every day or every other day). sabethea will make sure that a WIGIT goes up regularly, but if you feel called to post one, please do so.

Sep. 30th, 2015

The Mods

wildgodmods

Walking with the Wild God

Any member of the community is invited to post a WIGIT post, a public thinky post or a private thinky post. The mods actively encourage you to go back and catch up and comment on posts you may have not had a chance to get to, from this week or further back. If you would like to draw the attention of the community to articles or blog posts that might be of interest, please leave a comment on this post.

20th September
bbovenguy Summer reading [public post]

26th September
wildgodmods [WAY] [public post]

28th September
bbovenguy Summer reading [public post]

WIGIT: WIGIT posts need to be community-locked, and include the WIGIT rubric, which you can copy and paste from any of the WIGIT posts so far. You can include a personal reflection if you would like to, but don't feel you have to include one. We aim to have a WIGIT posted every 24 to 48 hours (so a post every day or every other day). sabethea will make sure that a WIGIT goes up regularly, but if you feel called to post one, please do so.

Sep. 28th, 2015

Arts Festival

bbovenguy

Summer Reading

"The courage to be is rooted in the God who appears when God has disappeared in the anxiety of doubt."

So concludes Paul Tillich at the end of his 1952 book, The Courage to Be. But what exactly does that mean?

In this book, Tillich has identified three forms of anxiety - that is, three forms of "nonbeing" that threaten the foundations on which we base our lives. They are the anxiety of fate and death, the anxiety of meaninglessness and emptiness, and the anxiety of guilt and condemnation. Tillich has also identified two poles for the courage we can summon to overcome those anxieties - the courage to be as a part, and the courage to be as oneself. We all express our courage in some combination of these two. But neither of them is enough to overcome the anxiety of nonbeing completely, because we all have human limitations. Something more is needed, something that can transcend our boundaries.

In his final chapter, Tillich writes about "the power of being-itself," or "the God above the God of theism." And this is where things get a bit tricky, because anything that transcends our human limitations is by definition beyond our human concepts. Any description in words is inadequate, and in fact some of our best words have been weakened over the ages by our inadequate uses of them. We say "God," but we don't mean an old guy with a beard sitting on a throne in the sky or any other image you may have. We say "faith," but we don't mean "belief in something unbelievable." Ultimately, any words we use to describe what it is that strengthens and encourages us will fail. God disappears in the anxiety of doubt - and yet God remains.

"We have defined courage as the self-affirmation of being in spite of nonbeing. The power of this self-affirmation is the power of being which is effective in every act of courage. Faith is the experience of this power.

"But it is an experience which has a paradoxical character, the character of accepting acceptance. Being-itself transcends every finite being infinitely; God in the divine-human encounter transcends man unconditionally. Faith bridges this infinite gap by accepting the fact that in spite of it the power of being is present, that he who is separated is accepted. ... Faith is not a theoretical affirmation of something uncertain, it is the existential acceptance of something transcending ordinary experience. Faith is not an opinion but a state. It is the state of being grasped by the power of being which transcends everything that is and in which everything that is participates."


One reason our words and concepts for God always fail us is because they always put God into a subject-object relationship. Either we are the subjects relating to God as an object (which He is not), or God is the subject and we become objects. This notion reminded me of something Thomas Merton once wrote, taking apart the "cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am") of Descartes - "For the contemplative there is no cogito and no ergo but only SUM." And in fact, this entire last chapter reminds me of Merton's book, The Ascent to Truth, which became impenetrable to me at one point when I read it two years ago. I think I can grasp it a little better now.

Reading this chapter, I was also reminded of the movement, "Behold, God the Lord passeth by" from Mendelssohn's oratorio Elijah, which I sang many years ago, where God comes to Elijah not as a mighty wind nor an earthquake nor a fire, but as a "still, small voice."

"Absolute faith, or the state of being grasped by the God beyond God, is not a state which appears beside other states of the mind. It never is something separated and definite, an event which could be isolated and described. It is always a movement in, which, and under other states of the mind. It is the situation on the boundary of man's possibilities. It is this boundary. Therefore it is both the courage of despair and the the courage in and above every courage. It is not a place where one can live, it is without the safety of words and concepts, it is without a name, a church, a cult, a theology. But it is moving in the depth of all of them. It is the power of being, in which they participate and of which they are fragmentary expressions."

And so concludes this summer's reading. I should mention that there's another Tillich book called Dynamics of Faith. I'll have to put that on my list of books for the future.

Sep. 26th, 2015

The Mods

wildgodmods

[WAY]

Where are you?


WAY posts are open to interpretation, allowing anyone to say where they are and what they're up to. Be as serious or light-hearted as you like, but if you've not commented elsewhere recently, comment here to say "hello" or "I'm here."
Tags:

Sep. 20th, 2015

Arts Festival

bbovenguy

Summer Reading

Continuing Chapter 5 of Paul Tillich's The Courage To Be, we delve into 1950s Existentialist philosophy as an expression of "the courage to be as oneself," with both its strengths and its limitations.

In the first part of the chapter, which read last week, Tillich traced the roots of existentialist thoughts and attitudes through history. The 19th century saw two important changes in society. First, intellectuals began to reject the idea of God, which freed people from a lot of social restrictions, but also tore down the system of values and meanings they lived by. Second, the Industrial Revolution turned society's focus more on our modern system of production and consumption and "progress," making individuals more like just more cogs in the machine. The tipping point came with World War I, in which it seemed like the whole world was turned into a senseless killing machine.

Existentialism is a response to the anxiety of meaninglessness that modern society creates. The existentialist embraces the despair of meaninglessness and affirms himself in spite of it. In a world that has no meaning, we create our own meaning. The most extreme proponent was Jean-Paul Sartre, who said, "the essence of man is his existence." "The courage to be as oneself," Tillich writes, "is the courage to make of oneself what one wants to be."

But there are limits to this philosophy. Some people are creative enough to express themselves and the way they respond to existential despair - but many are not. Instead, many people become cynics, rejecting all values, truths and beliefs without creating any answers of their own. Their only value is the freedom to reject everything presented to them. And even the more creative existentialist is still limited. Existentialists say they have the freedom to make of themselves what they want to be, but that's not entirely true. They are still human beings, with all the limitations that come with being human.

When existentialism reaches its limits and collapses, it leaves people open to forces and influences that take away the freedom they tried so hard to assert. Tillich points out that the two most tyrannical 20th century political systems evolved from the works of philosophers who were trying to bring freedom to people - the Nazi system has its roots in the philosophy of Nietzsche, and the Stalinist system came from the writings of Marx.

So, in these last two chapters, we've seen that neither "the courage to be as a part" nor "the courage to be as oneself" leads to a satisfactory answer. What, then, are we to do? At the end of Chapter 5, Tillich asks, "Is there a courage to be which unites both forms by transcending them?"

Spoiler alert: Yes, there is. Or at least Tillich thought so. And that will be revealed next week in Tillich's conclusion.
The Mods

wildgodmods

Walking with the Wild God

Any member of the community is invited to post a WIGIT post, a public thinky post or a private thinky post. The mods actively encourage you to go back and catch up and comment on posts you may have not had a chance to get to, from this week or further back. If you would like to draw the attention of the community to articles or blog posts that might be of interest, please leave a comment on this post.

18th September
wildgodmods Prayer requests [community-locked post]

WIGIT: WIGIT posts need to be community-locked, and include the WIGIT rubric, which you can copy and paste from any of the WIGIT posts so far. You can include a personal reflection if you would like to, but don't feel you have to include one. We aim to have a WIGIT posted every 24 to 48 hours (so a post every day or every other day). sabethea will make sure that a WIGIT goes up regularly, but if you feel called to post one, please do so.

Sep. 14th, 2015

The Mods

wildgodmods

Walking with the Wild God

Any member of the community is invited to post a WIGIT post, a public thinky post or a private thinky post. The mods actively encourage you to go back and catch up and comment on posts you may have not had a chance to get to, from this week or further back. If you would like to draw the attention of the community to articles or blog posts that might be of interest, please leave a comment on this post.

5th September
wildgodmods Prayer requests [community-locked post]

10th September
bbovenguy Summer reading [public post]

11th September
wildgodmods [WAY] [public post]

13th September
bbovenguy Summer reading [public post]

WIGIT: WIGIT posts need to be community-locked, and include the WIGIT rubric, which you can copy and paste from any of the WIGIT posts so far. You can include a personal reflection if you would like to, but don't feel you have to include one. We aim to have a WIGIT posted every 24 to 48 hours (so a post every day or every other day). sabethea will make sure that a WIGIT goes up regularly, but if you feel called to post one, please do so.

Sep. 13th, 2015

Arts Festival

bbovenguy

Summer Reading

Chapter 5 of Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be explores "The Courage to Be as Oneself." You will recall that last week's chapter covered "The Courage to Be as a Part," the idea that some of our ability to affirm ourselves in the face of nonbeing comes from the communities around us. But if we depend too much on the group we belong to, we run the risk of falling into extreme collectivist systems like Nazism or Stalinism, or even the "Democratic Conformism" of 1950s America.

Individualism naturally arises even in the most conformist of systems, because people inevitably begin asking questions that the collective can't answer, and because people inevitably feel guilt that the collective can't assuage. In the past, individualism and "the courage to be as oneself" have been expressed in movements like the Romanticism of the 19th Century. By Tillich's time in the 1950s, it was being expressed primarily through Existentialism.

I still remember a thing or two about existentialism from my high school days, where we read Sartre and Camus in the original French. What Tillich means by an "existential" attitude is "one of involvement in contrast to a merely theoretical or detached attitude." If we don't engage reality with our entire existence - if we view it merely as concrete objects to be measured, calculated and managed - then we turn ourselves into objects as well.

"A self which has become a matter of calculation and management has ceased to be a self. It has become a thing. You must participate in a self in order to know what it is. But by participating you change it. In all existential knowledge both subject and object are transformed by the very act of knowing. Existential knowledge is based on an encounter in which a new meaning is created and recognized."

(Interestingly, this definition reminds me of the "observer effect" in particle physics, where you cannot know both the position of an electron and the direction it's traveling, because the act of observing the electron changes it. But I digress.)

Tillich traces the roots of the existentialist point of view all the way back to Plato, who described humans as being cut off from the realm of "forms" and essences that made the true reality. Classic Christian theology also has an existentialist point of view when it sees humanity as being cut off from God by sin. But when Europe entered the Enlightenment, philosophers moved away from existentialist viewpoints and turned toward a more "rational" approach. A human beings was thought of more as pure consciousness observing, measuring and managing a physical world.

19th Century philosophers like Schopenhauer and Nietzsche began a "revolt" against the attitudes of the Enlightenment, but existentialism didn't come to be seen as representing reality until the World Wars and their aftermath. That brings us to the nature of existentialism in Tillich's own time, which is what I'll get to next.

I realize that the past two Sundays have kind of been plowing through a lot of theory and background material. There hasn't been as much that I feel a personal connection to as I would like. But perhaps that will change next week.

Sep. 11th, 2015

The Mods

wildgodmods

[WAY]

Where are you?


WAY posts are open to interpretation, allowing anyone to say where they are and what they're up to. Be as serious or light-hearted as you like, but if you've not commented elsewhere recently, comment here to say "hello" or "I'm here."
Tags:

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