Monday, November 30, 2015

What do you think of first?

I was reading in Psalms this morning, specifically Psalm 51, and it occurred to me: What is the first thing you think of when someone mentions David and Bathsheba?

Do you think of the adultery? Or do you think of the death of Uriah the Hittite, her husband?

I'll warrant that 90% of American Christians think of the adultery first. In fact, I'd bet that a goodly percentage don't even know the murder of Uriah! But back to Psalm 51. There's no mention of the adultery in the psalm, aside from the superscription, and even there it just says, "after he had been with Bathsheba" (CEB). But there is mention of violence:

Deliver me from violence, God, God of my salvation, so that my tongue can sing of your righteousness. Ps. 51:14 CEB
I think the fact that we don't think of the death of Uriah says a lot about the casual acceptance of death and violence in our culture. Just an
</idle musing>

But are we really one?

Ritualization both implies and demonstrates a relatively unified corporate body, often leading participants to assume that there is more consensus than there actually is. It leads all to mistake the minimal consent of its participants for an underlying consensus or lack of conflict, even when some conflict is objectified and reembodied. Most of all, ritualization leads participants to mistake the group's reformulation of itself as a straightforward communication and performance of its most traditional values.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 210

<idle musing>
Yep. Social commentators fall prey to this all the time. Think of the way Muslims are stereotyped. And conservative Christians too, for that matter.
</idle musing>

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Refried brains

Remember those old public service announcement from the late 20th century? You know, the ones with the hot frying pan and they would say, "This is your brain." Then they would drop an egg into it and say, "This is your brain on drugs." Well, here's a modern version:
By the way, Unshelved is a great daily cartoon!

Musings on exercise rooms

As you know, I recently returned from the annual AAR/SBL meetings, this year in Atlanta (you can read about my trip there and back again). Over the years, I've noticed a distinct trend in the use of exercise equipment in the conference hotels.

When I first started attending the conference back in 2003, if you didn't get to the exercise room by 6:00 AM, you likely wouldn't get the machine you wanted. In my case, it is the recumbent bicycle. More than likely you would have to take the upright bicycle or an elliptical machine. I started getting up a bit earlier and getting to the room at 5:55. If you waited until 6:15, you likely would stand in line for about 10–15 minutes to get a machine.

Over the years, that has changed. The change was gradual, the lines disappeared with people arriving later. It became less essential to arrive before 6:00, indeed 6:15 became early enough to get whatever machine you wished. The number of pieces of equipment also changed. Where before you would see 1 recumbent bicycle, 2 upright bicycles, 3–4 ellipticals, and 3–4 treadmills, now it is 1 recumbent, 1 upright (or none), 1–2 ellipticals, and 2–3 treadmills.

This year was the most dramatic, perhaps because I haven't attended for 2 years. Every day I arrived in the exercise room between 5:45-6:10 (depending on when my first appointment was). On most days, no one else arrived in the room until 6:15. On no day did more than 2 other people enter the room before I left (usually at 6:40) and on some days, I was the only person in the room.

Meanwhile, the nation has a growing problem with weight. Hmmm...

But, exercise is only half the issue. The other half is diet. At one of the hotels I stayed at, they offered "grab and go" lunches. Basically, a sack lunch. I took one. Here's what it had: 1 white bun with ham and cheese, 1 bag of potato chips, 1 Rice Krispie™ bar, 1 packet of real mayonnaise, and 1 packet of yellow mustard. Basically, the healthiest thing in there was the mustard packet! No fiber, no fruit, no vegetable (potato chips are not a vegetable!). Needless to say, it isn't healthy; even aside from the ham, cheese, and real mayo being animal products, the white bun and Rice Krispie™ bar would cause a pre-diabetic / diabetic's sugar levels to go nuts. But this was passed off with no apparent thought as a normal lunch. Add to that the probability that whoever ate it would grab a can of sugar-laden beverage, be it carbonated or not, and you've exceeded the recommended sugar intake for the day by about 3 times! And that's just one small lunch!

Any wonder we're a nation of obesity?

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

And the road home from Atlanta is paved with...delays!

For those of you just tuning in, the record of my trip to Altanta is here. I arrived in Atlanta safely, late last Thursday, after a 13 hour day, what with traffic and all. We set up the booth for AAR/SBL on Friday and the conference opened on Saturday. Yesterday, Tuesday, the exhibit closed at noon.

Once a large conference closes, mayhem ensues. Everybody wants to get torn down, packed up, and outta there as quickly as possible. Usually it's because they have a flight to catch. Well, of the four of us, one lives in Atlanta, and the other three of us drove, so the flight deadline wasn't looming. But, I had to get the van out of valet parking before 3:00 or pay for another day, so we wanted to get done. Because everything sold so well (thank you!), the teardown went well. In fact, we were waiting for them to bring our stuff out of the storage so we could pack up. Huh? Well, when you set up, you have to put all the empty boxes and crates on a skid and they store it someplace, fire regulations and all that. So, one of the first things they do is bring up the storage skids—usually!

That wasn't happening, so I went looking (along with other vendors!). I found the foreman, who was frustrated. Apparently the freight elevator had ceased working! Not a good thing. But, they had managed to get it fixed and our skid was soon to be delivered. Sure enough, 5–10 minutes later it showed up.

We still had to skid everything up, even though I drove. The loading dock is down one floor, so they move the skid down there and then it goes on the van. No problems there—until the guy decided he wanted to just load the skid on the van instead of unstacking and restacking. Oops! Too tall. Tear off a few layers and on it goes. Pack the stuff we took off around the skid and I'm ready to go.

I asked the guys standing there about the fastest way to the Interstate. Mistake! They gave me bad directions! I lost 20 minutes trying to get unlost from following them! Oh we go into the wild construction zones of I-75 and I-65! I had hoped to get to Louisville before stopping. Originally, I had hoped that would be around 9:30—10:00. As the traffic moved slowly through the construction zones around Chattanooga, I started hoping for 10:30. It looked like I might make it as I pulled onto I-65 in Nashville. That is, until about 20–30 miles south of Elizabethtown (E-town to those of us who know). There was a 16 mile section where the lanes split; I chose the one with the exits, figuring that if there was an accident, the exits would make it easier for them to clear the road. Bad choice! About 5 miles into it, traffic came to a dead stop. For 27 minutes! And there was no cell phone coverage, so I couldn't even look at what was happening on Google maps. I still don't know what it was, because once traffic started moving, the lane was clear. I hit Louisville around 11:00 and stopped a bit into Indiana.

Today I took off around 8:00 or so and hit the offices in Winona Lake before noon. No problems! I hope the flight out tomorrow is as uneventful!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Christian and violence

Great post by Preston Sprinkle—actually it's a paper he recently presented at ETS—entitled "A Case for Christocentric Nonviolence" (he doesn't like the word "pacifist"). Here's a small snippet, but do read the whole thing
If Jesus does not walk out of a grave and sit at the right hand of the Father, then we have no business loving our enemies. Unless Christ defeats evil by submitting to violence—by dying rather then killing—and rises from the dead to tell the tale, I will most certainly destroy my enemy before he destroys me. Without the death and resurrection of Jesus, all forms of nonviolence, I believe, are uncompelling.

To be clear, I believe in Christian—or more explicitly, Christocentric—nonviolence. Christocentric nonviolence says that we should fight against evil, we should wage war against injustice, and we should defend the orphan, the widow, the marginalized, and oppressed. And we should do so aggressively. But we should do so nonviolently.

In other words, Christocentric nonviolence does not dispute whether Christians should fight against evil. It only disputes the means by which we do fight. (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
Amen and amen!
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 19, 2015

And he made it!

I just rolled in from Indiana with a van load of goodies! Tomorrow we set up. My luggage was indeed waiting for me when I got to the airport in Fort Wayne, so all is good there.

Now I'm heading over to the exhibit hall to see what I can see...more later! But it sure was a long drive!

The road to Atlanta is paved with . . . delays!

Well, I finally got into Warsaw, coming via South Bend airport. But my luggage went to Fort Wayne! I'll have to pick it up tomorrow on my way through to Atlanta.

For those of you just joining us, I am on my way to the annual AAR/SBL meeting in Atlanta. I'm going via Warsaw, IN, because I'm picking up a van full of Eisenbrauns books for the show. I started this morning (well, actually yesterday now) at 7:00 AM from Grand Marais, MN. I drove to Duluth through rain, and as I got near the Duluth airport, the fog got extremely thick. Not good, I thought. My flight might get delayed.

Well, it was delayed, but not because of fog in Duluth, but because of wind in Chicago. The plane I was supposed to board was still grounded at O'Hare! It finally arrived around 2:00 and it looked like we might get a fast track for me to catch my connecting flight to Fort Wayne. Nope. We sat on the tarmac for an hour before they sent us back to the terminal. Then it looked like we might not get out at all. Just about the time I was weighing my options—drive home and try again Thursday, drive to Indiana, or just stay in Duluth—they said that Chicago had cleared them to come on down. So, we loaded up the plane and headed south. This was about 5:00. We got into O'Hare around 6:30 and deplaned. I headed to the customer service counter, hoping to catch the last flight into Fort Wayne, but it was already much for that! Maybe I'd be spending the night in Chicago.

They asked if I had an alternate destination. I said, South Bend. It's about an hour from Warsaw, about the same as Fort Wayne. There was a flight leaving in 20 minutes and there was one seat left. I took it and headed to the gate. I got to the gate just in time for them to announce that there was a mechanical problem on the plane and they were switching planes. We should be leaving around 7:30. And then around 8:00. And then around 8:15. We finally left at about 9:00, which is actually 10:00 South Bend time. We landed in South Bend at 11:00.

Dan (the business manager at Eisenbrauns) had driven up to get me. As I was landing, I got a text message from the airline saying that my baggage had missed my flight and I needed to talk to a customer service rep. Fine, except there was no one there. They were unloading the cargo, running a short staff in the evening. He finally made it to the customer service counter around 11:45. Sure enough, my baggage was on another flight—it was waiting for me in Fort Wayne!

So, we headed toward Warsaw. We got in around 1:00, but Dan needed to show me how to run all the point-of-sale computers. And then we loaded it all into the truck and here I am, almost 2:00 AM and I'm hitting the road for Atlanta in the morning, with a detour through Fort Wayne, where hopefully my baggage awaits me! And then on to Atlanta!

Isn't travel fun? : )

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

But it doesn't count

Wuthnow has explored what he calls the "ritual aspects" of left-hand turn signals and the mass viewing of the television series "Holocaust." Given the analysis advanced in this chapter, however, the first case is not one of ritualized activities, merely regularized (rule-bound) behavior that functions as a signal of intentions in the context of driving. Why? The answer is cultural. In this culture, such legally articulated modes of regularized behavior are insufficient to count as 'ritual' for most people. In the second case, the network and general media undoubtedly used a variety of strategies to heighten the sense that people were viewing a unique and profound event, that the television was a medium of communal participation with other viewers for witnessing an important simulation of reality, and to dramatize the solemnity of the broadcast in contrast to the usual television fare. Indeed, there was sufficient evocation of ritual ways of acting that many people probably reacted with some of the conventions of consent used in ritual—"If it is this unique and important I should watch and accept," and the like. Nonetheless, in this culture, viewing the series was not likely to be judged ritual for those involved due to cultural distinctions among ways of acting, distinctions vital to any analysis of social action.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 205

<idle musing>
That's refreshing to hear. So many people count just about everything that is regularized as ritual that it has been emptied of its meaning. I agree with her that the cultural distinctions have to be maintained in order for an understanding of what ritual is and what it does.
</idle musing>

Musings on ten years of blogging

I've been blogging for over 10 years now; I started in October, 2005. In those days, blogs were still considered controversial for academics and I wasn't sure how well my blogging would be received by Eisenbrauns' customers. Because of that, I just put it up under my initials, jps. It's been that way for 10 years now and blogs are now passé, but I've still been musing along, putting up excerpts from stuff I'm reading, commenting on the book industry, reflecting on gardening, bicycling, sharing the joys and frustrations of being a cabin caretaker on the North Shore.

All that to say, I looked over the sidebar of my blog today for the first time in ages. I'm amazed at how many of the blogs on my blogroll have fallen silent. I'm sure there are many new ones, and I've added some of them to my newsreader periodically. But I've been less than diligent about keeping the blogroll current. I think part of it is that I keep hoping some of the old standbys will start blogging again. Maybe they will, but probably not. I suppose I should update the blogroll this winter, once AAR/SBL is over.

While I was looking at the sidebar, I noticed the pattern of my posting. I'll bet you can't guess which month(s) were the busiest for me, between the cabins, Eisenbrauns, and editing. Here's the graphic for those of you who read this in an RSS newsreader

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

How it does what it does

[R]itualization involves the differentiation and privileging of particular activities. Theoretically, these activities may differentiate themselves by a variety of features; in practice, some general tendencies are obvious. For example, these activities may use a delineated and structured space to which access is restricted; a special periodicity for the occurrence and internal orchestration of the activities; restricted codes of communication to heighten the formality of movement and speech; distinct and specialized personnel; objects, texts, and dress designated for use in these activities alone; verbal and gestural combinations that evoke or purport to be the ways things have always been done; preparations that demand particular physical or mental states; and the involvement of a particular constituency not necessarily assembled for any other activities. These are not universal features, however. At best, ritualization can be defined only as a 'way of acting' that makes distinctions like the foregoing ones by means of culturally and situationally relevant categories and nuances. When such culturally specific strategies are generalized into a universal phenomenon, much of the logic by which these ritual strategies do what they do is lost. This becomes particularly clear in recalling that the situational and strategic nature of ritualization affects even the degree to which such ritualized acts differentiate themselves at all from other forms of activity. In other words, an essential strategy of ritualization is how it clarifies or blurs the boundaries that identify it as a specific way of acting.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, pages 204–5

<idle musing>
As she keeps saying throughout the book, when you try to analyze ritual, you destroy its power. When it becomes an object of intellectual inquiry, it ceases to be effective—for you, not for the ones participating in it!

I must say, now that I'm almost through with the book, that this is a dense book and difficult to get through. It might be that I'm not familiar enough with the field, or it might be just plain difficult! But, I didn't always follow her arguments and frequently felt she was being convoluted; maybe that's the nature of ritual—to be difficult to describe clearly...I dunno, just an
</idle musing>

Monday, November 16, 2015

A bit of Tozer for a Monday

Life has settled down a bit, so I'm getting some time to read again, consequently, I think I'll start posting some Tozer. Let's start with some excerpts from The Dangers of a Shallow Faith.
So, my Christian friend, if you are settling back, snuggling into your foam rubber chair and resting in your faith in John 3:16 and the fact that you have accepted Jesus Christ, you had better watch yourself. Take heed, lest you also be found wanting. Take heed of your own heart, lest when all is said and done, you have become tied in with the world.—The Dangers of a Shallow Faith, page 15
Speaking of Tozer, I just saw that there is a new compilation that just got published: Delighting in God. Here's the blurb on the web site:
Delighting in God is the message A.W. Tozer intended to be the follow-up to The Knowledge of the Holy. He demonstrates how the attributes of God—those things God has revealed about himself—are a way to understand the Christian life of worship and service. Because we were created in the image of God, to understand who we are, we need to understand who God is and allow His character and nature to be reflected through us.
Sounds good; I'll have to get a copy!

Not necessarily

Any ideology is always in dialogue with, and thus shaped and constrained by, the voices it is suppressing, manipulating, echoing. In other words, ideologies exist only in concrete historical forms and in specific relations to other ideologies. Similarly, people do not simply acquire beliefs or attitudes imposed on them by others. If the manipulation of bias is a matter of unarticulated dispositions (e.g., "Stand up straight!"), then these dispositions must be embodied and reproduced in many activities that actively support them without much contradiction.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 191

<idle musing>
In other words, it's complicated! That's why those people who say, "Do it this way, and you'll have perfect kids!" are wrong. It's complicated! There are so many factors interacting in so many ways that you are never in control of the results. Praise God for that! He is in control, and I find that reassuring.
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Broken record

Despite the evidence for the ambiguous, unstable, and inconsistent nature of belief systems, recent literature persists in the view that ritual has an important social function with regard to inculcating belief.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 186

<idle musing>
Yep. Just like I said yesterday. And this was written in 1992!
</idle musing>

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The limits of ritual, or how I launch into a rant

These studies give evidence for the ambiguity and instability of beliefs and symbols as well as the inability of ritual to control by virtue of any consensus based on shared beliefs. They also suggest that ritualized activities specifically do not promote belief or conviction. On the contrary, ritualized practices afford a great diversity of interpretation in exchange for little more than consent to the form of the activities.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 186 (emphasis original)

<idle musing>
When was this book written? Hmmm...1992! Over 20 years ago. And I'm still reading books written this year that claim that ritualized activities form a community around shared beliefs! What's with that? I even edited a book earlier this year that had that claim as a centerpiece of the argument!

Get a grip folks! It doesn't work that way! </rant>
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Illogical? Yep!

Hinduism for Hindus is not a coherent belief system but, first and foremost, a collection of practices. It is the collection of practices as such that needs to be explored further in order to understand their sense of religious action. Converse's conclusion about formal beliefs in comparison to particular practices also recalls the story of one exasperated foreign missionary in China. He could successfully convince the Chinese that they were foolish to bow to statues, he asserted, only to have them giggle shyly and admit that they would continue to do it anyway.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 185–86

<idle musing>
Of course. Why not? After all, we don't act from our logic most of the time anyway. We'd like to think that we are logical beings, you know, homo sapiens and all that stuff, but the actual truth is we are emotional beings. And we want to cover our bases, too. After all, that statue just might have some power, and I don't want to anger it! And what harm will it do to bow just a little bit to it? It's cheap goes the justification anyway. But it's all just trying to justify to our minds what we wanted to do anyway.

We need the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, working from the inside out. That's the only way we will get deliverance!
</idle musing>

Monday, November 09, 2015

Don't expect consistency or coherence

In addition to the evidence for the fundamental ambiguity of symbols, there is also evidence that religious beliefs are relatively unstable and unsystematic for most people. Instead of well-formulated beliefs, most religions are little more than "collections of notions." Philip Converse demonstrated this point quite graphically in a study of belief systems among elites in contrast to such systems among the mass public. With regard to political beliefs, he found that systems of ideas, beliefs, or ideological attitudes do not filter down much beyond the class of professionals who deal with them on a regular basis. Among the public at large, beliefs and opinions become increasingly incoherent with each other as the level of sophistication and education decreases. That is to say, beliefs or attitudes are increasingly less constrained by logic on the one hand while becoming more affected by local group interests on the other. The dissociation of logically related ideas proceeds down the social ranks to such an extent that it is impossible to find any significant public participation in the belief systems found among elites. In addition, nonsystematic clusters of ideas, so much more prevalent than wide-ranging systems of beliefs, show great instability over even short periods of time. Converse concluded that the factors affecting the juxtaposition of beliefs were most likely to be social (group affiliations), then psychological (expressive of individual idiosyncratic orientations); the logical coherence of beliefs was the least likely factor to affect which beliefs were juxtaposed.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 184–85

<idle musing>
Yep. I agree 100% with that. Don't expect consistency or coherence in people's belief system. I am repeatedly amazed that people don't recognize the logical contradictions in things they claim to believe. When I bring it up, they say they just hadn't thought about it. Which reminds me of a post that I read this morning on Christians and philosophy. Here's a good little snippet:

Maybe we do not find many people interested in anything philosophical because of the growing anti-intellectual sentiment around us. Maybe cultural pressure from bite-size pieces of information delivered rapid-fire via digital media has conditioned our minds in such a way that we cannot think deeply. My concern is not so much with the culture-wide absence of philosophical conversation, but how a lack of thinking has grown among Christians and kept so many followers of Christ underdeveloped. It seems like many who call themselves evangelicals living in twenty-first century America typically find little or no interest in philosophy, theology, or engaging the intellect.

Mark Noll made this observation over twenty years ago when he declared, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” (emphasis original)

"Lack of thinking has ... kept so many followers of Christ underdeveloped." Quite the accusation! But, I think he's correct. Now, what do I do to counteract that? Give me wisdom, Lord! I'd like to think that this blog (now over 10 years old!) is part of my attempt to counteract the lack of thinking. So, a question for both of you who read it: Does it stimulate thinking on your end?
</idle musing>

Friday, November 06, 2015

We hide it

In brief, it is my general thesis here that ritualization, as a strategic mode of action effective within certain social orders, does not, in any useful understanding of the words, 'control' individuals or society. Yet ritualization is very much concerned with power. Closely involved with the objectification and legitimation of an ordering of power as an assumption of the way things really are, ritualization is a strategic arena for the embodiment of power relations. Hence, the relationship of ritualization and social control may be better approached in terms of how ritual activities constitute a specific embodiment and exercise of power.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 170

<idle musing>
I like that nuancing. If it were blatant, we might/would see it. Peter Leithart has a post today about what he calls our "double consciousness" in these types of things. Here's the relevant paragraph, but the whole thing is worth a read:

The double consciousness is most evident in the fact that we won’t admit that we have a double consciousness...He [Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want?] offers a simple illustration: “when students scoff at the idea of a magical relation between a picture and what it represents, ask them to take a photograph of their mother and cut out the eyes” (9). And he offers the image of the destruction of the World Trade towers as a more complex example. The images we saw were layered, since the event itself was meant to be a message more than a strategic military action. And the images of the event are living symbols that are part of the ongoing aftermath of the event they depict. Pictures of the billowing fire and smoke against the deep blue Manhattan sky live because they crystallize a form of life that is feared and despised.

With pictures as with so much else, we really haven’t escaped our pre-modern past. We have never been modern.

Ain't that the truth!
</idle musing>

Thursday, November 05, 2015

What happened to my Character viewer?

I upgraded to OS X El Capitan the other day. Ever since, I haven't been able to get the Character Viewer (they renamed it Emoji & Symbols) to show. At first it just wouldn't show if I was in Word; I was still able to get it to show when I was in TextEdit, so I was copying and pasting between TextEdit and Word (what a pain!). Now it won't appear anywhere! I use ʿ and ʾ all the time, plus I need the paragraph marker (not the pilcrow [¶], but this one §). I'm using the HTML entity on that last one because I can't find it on the keyboard. The ʿ and ʾ I have in my Syriac keyboard cheatsheet, so I'm just copying and pasting. But I can't use the HTML entity in a Word doc!

Frustrating! What is the keyboard command for the § sign? Or better yet, Apple! Fix the Character Viewer!

Update: the § is Option 5. But I still need the Character Viewer for some other characters!

Two weeks

Actually, 13 days. Thirteen days until I leave the glorious promised land of the North Shore for the delightful experience of wallowing in a sea of books at the annual carnival that is AAR/SBL.

Two weeks from yesterday I fly out of Duluth, heading for Winona Lake, IN. Once there, I'll pick up the cargo van loaded with books and goodies and drive it to Atlanta. I'll leave Winona Lake on Thursday morning and arrive in Atlanta early evening, I hope, anyway! Friday will be set-up most of the day. We have a smaller booth this year, so either it will go faster because there's less space. Or, it will take longer because we're trying to shoehorn all those great books into a smaller space!

Either way, I'm hoping to find time to head over to the ASOR book exhibit in the afternoon. It would be nice to see the ETS book exhibit as well, but I doubt I'll have time for that. No worries, I'll have 4 days to wander around the AAR/SBL one...

Stay tuned for this year's special offers! Forty years of business calls for special offers, doesn't it?

How past is the past?

A textually constituted tradition must continually and simultaneously create both the gap and the authority structures that can bridge it. Goody suggests that priestly control of literacy and sacred texts promotes the codification and standardization of 'orthodox' ritual practices in textual form, which in turn establishes a basis for a type of interpretive and exegetical discourse. Such discourse works to constitutes a class of experts and vice versa. These experts maintain both the pastness of the past and their access to it through the elaborate medium of a discipline of interpretation with its methods, skills, first principles, institutions, and credentials.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 137

<idle musing>
A kind of warped hermeneutical spiral, eh? And self-reinforcing at that. I suspect that only the Holy Spirit can deliver us from it. What do you think?

Deliver us from confirmation bias, Lord!
</idle musing>

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

An inverted Midas curse

Once we accept that we must “do” theological scholarship coram deo, as an inescapable fact, our entire paradigm shifts. We encounter a call to the very subject matter that is a personal other. This leads us to continual reflection and self-criticism: do I know in whose presence I am standing? Do I know to whom I am responsible with my historical reconstructions, my didactic, homiletic, and poimenic theories, my dogmatic and philosophical systems? Theology is the answer. If we look at modern neo-liberal or postmodern theology, the question may be raised whether this claim is valid. Following Gerhard Ebeling, I would like to make a case for Job 42:7 and propose: “Prayer is the hermeneutical key to understanding God. We understand the being and the attributes of God from a position of prayer.” “If it is true that we can only decide in prayer who God is and understand our relationship to him, then it follows that the nature of God cannot be the object of neutral analysis and objectified conclusion.”44 “Thus we may refer to prayer as the syntax of faith.”45 Non-relational speech, even when it makes correct statements in weighty and aesthetically pleasing language, is the proton pseudos. Like an inverted Midas curse, it transforms all valuable theological gold into worthless stuff, all speech about God into “the kind of God-babble that is deplored in the heavens.”46 We all must reflect repeatedly47 on whether our theology has lost its source and its destination and mutated into “God-babble,” for which we too may face God’s wrath—because we did not speak to him like his servant Job.—Job's Journey, pages 100-101 (emphasis original)

44. G. Ebeling, Dogmatik des christlichen Glaubens 1 (4th ed.; Tübingen: Mohr, 2012), 204. [“Das Phänomen des Gebets wird somit zum hermeneutischen Schlüssel der Gotteslehre. Von da aus öffnet sich das Verständnis für das Gott zugesprochene Sein und für die Gott zugesprochenen Attribute.” “Wenn es zutrifft, dass am Gebet herauskommt, was es um das Gottesverhältnis ist, dann ergibt sich daraus, dass Gott wesenhaft nicht zum Gegenstand neutraler Einstellung werden kann, dass er nicht objektivierbar ist.”]
45. See Ebeling, Dogmatik, 210. [“Deshalb könnte man das Gebet die Syntax des Glaubens nennen.”]
46. H. Timm, Sage und Schreibe: Inszenierungen religiöser Lesekultur (Innen & Außen 2; Kampen: Kok Pharos, 1995) 61 [“das im Himmel unterträgliche Gottesgeschwätz”]. 47. On theological reflection, see H. Timm, Wahr-Zeichen: Angebote zur Erneuerung religiöser Symbolkultur (Stuttgart 1993) 155–59.

<idle musing>
This book went to press yesterday; should be in stock by the end of next week. You need to buy this book and read it! Well, at least if the parts I've read are any indication. But these three excerpts that I've posted (and the stuff in between that I didn't) are worth the price of the book!

This line is definitely worth thinking about: "Like an inverted Midas curse, it transforms all valuable theological gold into worthless stuff, all speech about God into 'the kind of God-babble that is deplored in the heavens.'” Good stuff!

May our speech (and thought!) be more than "God-babble!"
</idle musing>

Monday, November 02, 2015

Where does the power lie?

Some features appear to be basic to systems of ritual specialists with or without literacy. Most obvious, of course, is how their authority rests on the intrinsic importance of ritual as a means of mediating the relations between humans and nonhuman powers. Yet correct performance of the ritual tends to be critical to its efficacy. An emphasis on the correctness of performance promotes and maintains expertise, but it is not uncommon that other groups, such as the general audience or another lineage of experts, have the right to pass judgment on the performance's correctness. Moreover, the power to do the ritual correctly resides in the specialist's officially recognized or appointed status (office), not in the personhood or personality of the specialist. In this way, the institutionalized office can control, constrain, and pass judgment on a specialist. The separation of the person and the office not only stabilizes the specialist's power and legitimizes it through the social sanctions by which the office is given and recognized; it also controls that power by requiring its conformity to establish models. Indeed, various studies have suggested that the emergence of a priesthood—religious specialists by virtue of holding an office—provides a stabilization and control of religious power not possible with shamanic or mediumistic mediators.— Ritual Theory, Ritual Practice, page 134