Link: Interview with David Tracy

This Side of God, an interview with David Tracy

SH: Even as your postmodern appropriation of Luther’s Hidden God invites the silenced and suffering to speak, so you believe that a recovery of the Incomprehensible God of the mystics, especially the apophatic and love mystics, can bring the repressed stories of the marginalized, the heretics, the dissenters, the fools, the martyrs, and the avant-garde artists back into the theological conversation. When they are invited to speak in their own terms, you have argued, they utter difference, transgression, and excess as an alternative discourse to “the deadening sameness and totalizing systems of modernity.” Is it then this criticism of modern totalizing systems that has turned your attention to “the fragment”?

DT: With Joyce and other modern critics we see the abandonment of a nostalgia for a lost totality. The peculiar form of the fragment first became important for artists, then for philosophers, and now for theologians. It is a form, a literary or religious form, that can challenge any totality system, especially the totalizing systems of modernity. There are three kinds of contemporary thinkers for whom the category “fragments” is crucial: the first, the radical conservatives see fragments with regret and nostalgia as all that is left of what was once a unified culture. The second, the postmodernists, see fragments as part of their love of extremes and thereby as emancipatory toward and transformative of the deadening hand of the reigning totality system, the rationality of modern onto-theology. The third group, of whom Walter Benjamin and Simone Weil are the most suggestive in the early twentieth century, see fragments theologically as saturated and auratic bearers of infinity and hope, fragmentary of genuine hope in some redemption, however undefined. I am most interested in Benjamin and Weil in developing my own theory of fragmented forms.

Whoa. Tracy is, I believe, a friend of Andrew M. Greeley’s, and Greeley’s theology is mostly taken from Tracy. Sounds like he’s going interesting places. Reminds me of the sorts of things that Bob Sweetman would talk about when he was my history prof back in the early 90s. In fact, the very bio I linked to just now mentions a paper of his called “Of Tall Tales and Small Stories: Postmodern ‘Fragmatics’ and the Christian Historian.” Whoa.

More Greeley

Greeley’s got a great piece on his own site called why I am still a Catholic. Neat stuff. Precisely this sort of thing is why I intensely dug Greeley when I happened across his work at a fairly difficult time of my life. I imagined that most Catholics were like Greeley and that maybe I should become a Catholic because of that. It did not quite end up happening, for various reasons.

A.M. Greeley on Mel Gibson’s Passion vs Christ’s

I really, really liked Andrew M. Greeley in the mid-90s. Haven’t read anything by him too recently but I happened across something in the course of some bbs conversations. This is from an article by him quoted here in its entirety after it was sucked behind the “paid archives” wall of the Chicago Sun-Times. The bulletin board it was quoted on is full of angry responses. The article is kind of nice. You don’t see people taking on Anselmian soteriology in public much. At least I don’t!

‘The Passion of the Christ” is a celebration of the bloody suffering of Jesus, a fundamentalist interpretation by a man who rejects the Vatican Council. It is not, contrary to claims, a literal interpretation of St. John’s Gospel but is based on the ”revelations” of a 19th century mystic. It is a film about torture, legitimated because it is the torture of Jesus. ”Passion” is a glorification of sado-masochism.

For most of the first millennium of Christian history, the church spread a veil of modest discretion over the physical suffering of Jesus. It respected the privacy of his final hours and celebrated the empty crucifix as a symbol of the resurrection of Jesus (an event that is noted only weakly and vaguely in Mel Gibson’s conclusion). The Greek churches even to this day resist sensationalist presentations of the suffering of Jesus. However, in the Middle Ages, the Western church gradually put the corpus back on the cross, though it did not present Jesus as naked, as he in fact would have been. The cult of the physical suffering of Jesus became especially strong during the Renaissance. It was not always a completely healthy devotion as the cult of the flagellants demonstrated.

Crucifixion was a cruel form of execution. After the slave revolution of Sparticus, 30,000 slaves were crucified along the Apian Way. The death of Jesus was not unique in its cruelty, however horrible it may have been. Whether our modern methods of execution are any more humane might be an open question. It was typical of everything in the life of Jesus that he chose to be united in his death with the poor and the oppressed, a point Gibson seems to have missed.

Those religious conservatives who seem to delight in how much Jesus suffered are certainly correct that his sufferings were terrible. Those who say the sufferings were absolutely unique to him simply display their own ignorance of history.

Gibson showed his hand in his interview with Diane Sawyer when he said that because the gates of heaven were closed by the sin of our first parents, Jesus had to suffer to open them again. This metaphor, which my generation heard often in grammar school, is a poor adaptation of the teaching of St. Anselm, who proposed that the suffering of Jesus paid the blood price to satisfy God and free us from our sins. Anselm’s theology is not Catholic faith. It has caused a lot of misunderstanding among Catholics who absorbed it in their youth.

One may wonder what kind of God it would be who would demand such a price from his beloved son. Is this the same kind of implacably forgiving God whom Jesus preached about in his life?

We all must suffer; we all must die. Death, no matter how brief or how protracted, is horrible. Do those who die after a prolonged battle with cancer die any less horribly than Jesus? What does his death say to all of us who must die? One will watch ”The Passion of the Christ” in vain for any hint of an answer to that question.

The lesson of Good Friday, properly understood, is that God suffers with us. Like every good parent, he suffers when his children suffer. When Jesus hung on the cross, God (the person was the Second Person of the Trinity) made common cause with the Iraqi peasant shot in the back and tossed into the pit to be consumed by fire. God cannot prevent our sufferings, but he suffers with us.

Isn’t God above all suffering? One can only reply that the God of the Hebrew Scriptures presents himself as suffering with his people. Good Friday is good precisely because on that day God identified himself with his people. ”Christ,” as Annie Dillard writes, ”hangs on the cross, as it were, forever, always incarnate and always nailed.”

That fundamental flaw that St. Paul describes as the struggle between what we want to do and what we actually do (and which St. Augustine dubbed ”original sin”) is our fear of our own mortality. We do those things that we know we shouldn’t do because we are afraid of death. On Good Friday, God did not take away death, but he did absorb our God-forsakenness and promise that when it is time to die, he will die once again with us.

Real Live Preacher on Christianity as Poetry

Real Live Preacher writes:

“I would say that if Christianity is poetry, then the Bible is our syntax, meter, and rhyme. The Bible contains the rules, but sometimes we are free verse poets, pushing on the boundaries, edges, and gray areas. We stretch this grammar to the very breaking point at times, led by the Spirit. We are engaging the Creator morally, putting theological meat on our bones. And the poem we are creating is our very lives, filled with the hints we’ve received along the way and the stories of our search for God.�

And With It His Power

Decapitation’s not just for hostages in Iraq anymore.

DETROIT – A factory worker attacked and killed a fellow employee with a sword the suspect apparently made himself at the metals plant where both men worked, police said Thursday.

Witnesses told police the 30-year-old man had complained he was being bullied by another worker at Peerless Metals, which makes metal powders used in automobile brakes.

The suspect had been working on the sword for several days, apparently at work, and when he finished Wednesday, he struck the 40-year-old victim in the neck, nearly decapitating him, said police spokesman James Tate.

The suspect ran away but later returned to the factory. When police arrived, he was having a beer, authorities said.

No names were immediately released.

stop picking on me/because I’m a geek
I’m strange to you, you’re strange to me
but one of these days/I’m gonna pack heat
your brains on the wall, my face, my face on TV

mc chris, “geek”