Saturday, 19 May 2012

Towards a Philosophy of Fudge

[dedicated to Sam Stolton, Damien West, Sean Gaston, William Watkin, and the rest of the Critical Perspectives crew]

There's no doubt that the fundamental problem for philosophy is fudge. Ever since Plato, the concept has fascinated and infuriated all philosophical and theological schools of thought from the Scholastics to the Phenomenologists. What is fudge? More specifically, what is Fudge, and how does it shape the way we think about the world today?

For Plato, any fudge made by man could only be a mimetic copy of the ideal fudge: in chapter ten of the Republic, we read this exchange: '"For it is evident that no fudge made by man is the original fudge that exists above all forms.", "You are right in saying so.", "Therefore, all fudge made by a man is a mere copy, at a remove from its ideal." "I can't fault your logic."'

But the problem that fudge poses for Western philosophy remained.  Descartes attempted to solve the conundrum in his famous fudgito: 'I eat fudge, therefore I am.' This rationalist approach to fudge, however, was not sufficient for an empiricist such as David Hume, who attempted to explain in A Treatise on Human Fudge how fudge could only ever be perceived by the senses. It was up to Kant in his Critique of Pure Fudge to chart a new way forward, arguing that we can never know fudge-in-itself, and that a consideration of what would happen if everyone in the world ate fudge should form the basis for ethical action.

The German philosopher Nietzsche, as with so many other topics, threw all past speculation on the nature of fudge out of the window. For him, it is only the will to fudge that drives all life, a will that only a superior fudgemensch - 'fudge-man' - can wield to its full potential. This prioritizing of fudgaesthetics, of course, had great influence on Heidegger, whose Being and Fudge laid out a new vision of fudge as fudge-towards-death, as well as suggesting the basis for our fudge as setting forth fudge from the Fudge-of-fudges. Although his name was tarnished by his activity during the Second World War as Hitler's Chief Minister of Fudge, Heidegger's work remains valuable for modern Fudgemonology.

So what is left for theorists of fudge, in this new century? The work of Badiou and Agamben has bought important new readings to the table, not least in exposing the political implications of fudge. For Agamben, fudge is part of a Western metaphysic that is self-contradictory. But while Derrida believed there was no way out of inherited thought-structures - even after defudgestructing them - Agamben holds out the possibility of a new mode of making fudge, a return to poetical fudge creation that our distant ancestors may have practised. It's hard to say how this will be possible, but new approaches such as this ensure that the nature and possibility of fudge will be thought about for some time yet.

Thursday, 10 May 2012

G.K. Beale's Biblical Theology

I recently finished G.K. Beale's A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New. It's the first very lengthy (960p.) work of theology I've read, and it was fantastic. Beale traces themes of new creation throughout Scripture, a concept that I have felt for a while is the main thrust of the Bible's storyline. Particularly enlightening was his highlighting of the temple function in Eden, in Israel, and now in the church, as the realm of God's expanding new creation reign. The discussion of justification in relation to the New Perspective was cursory, but his emphasis on justification through the resurrection was the main point anyway. I have a feeling Beale will popularize certain ways of looking at the gospel amongst more Reformed quarters of the church who are suspicious of N.T. Wright. Whatever label you hold to, though, I highly recommend spending time with this volume, especially if, like me, you thirst for more understanding of the Old Testament's relevance to the body of Christ.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Why I Am a Christian

[I found this on my hard drive, recently: it's a short article I wrote about a year ago. I intended to ask the Atheist Society at my university to write a similar article from their point of view; both articles could then have been published in the university newspaper, perhaps with a hundred-word comment under the other person's bit. I forgot, unfortunately, but thought I'd put it up for posterity. You can tell that I'd been reading a lot of Tom Wright's stuff! And yes, Christians, I know the short answer is 'God's spirit opened my eyes to the truth and I responded in faith,' but this is a slightly longer version.]

I’m a Christian because I believe in the resurrection of Christ. That is, the idea that Jesus Christ of Nazareth, a Jewish prophet who claimed to act for – and in some mysterious way to actually be – the God of the universe, physically rose from the dead around two thousand years ago. This, I believe, is the most important fact in the history of the world, and one that all people should know about. And yet for many people the significance of this belief is less than clear – why, some would ask, should we care about an obscure event that probably didn’t happen? Perhaps you are one of them. In this article I will unpack why I think this belief is important, and why I think it is true.
So, first: I believe in the resurrection because I believe that it provides the basis for the greatest hope imaginable. For the disciples, the first followers of Jesus, the resurrection of Christ was God’s way of saying that Jesus’ horrific death on a Roman cross had not been a ghastly mistake. Jesus had done what he was sent to do, taking the sins of the world onto himself in order to defeat them, and so God had vindicated him, raising Jesus from the dead to show that he had truly achieved this purpose. However, the resurrection not only meant that our wrongdoing was forgiven, and that the whole of mankind could therefore freely come to know God, it also meant that Jesus really was the Messiah, the One that Jewish prophets had prophesied would save Israel and the world, establishing God’s eternal Kingdom of love and peace. The Romans thought they had ended Jesus’ hopes for this: not so, the resurrection proclaimed – Jesus is alive and well and bringing this Kingdom into fruition. We all know the world today is in an absolute mess, and so, if we’re honest, are we as individuals as well. I can see no greater solution for these problems than in the person of Jesus Christ, taking our evil onto Himself and defeating it, a victory signified by his raising from the dead.
Second: I believe in the resurrection because I have experienced its effects. To put it simply: when I believe in Jesus work on the cross and in his resurrection, it works. When I believe these things I really do experience forgiveness, and love and joy and peace and patience and kindness, in a way that I’m not sure I could explain otherwise. When I look at other Christians around me, I see similar stories: people set free of life-destroying addictions, hatred of self, and hatred of others. I know people who would never have been interested in anything remotely religious until they encountered Jesus, and then were completely changed. Purely psychological? Well, yes, of course – everything that passes through our minds is ‘psychological.’ What’s remarkable to me is how often these effects come about in connection to this particular belief about this particular man from that particular time.
And third: I believe in the resurrection because I think that there’s good historical evidence to support it. Not enough to go beyond reasonable doubt, but enough to be confident in. Ultimately, it would take me more faith to believe in the alternate explanations for the resurrection than the resurrection itself. That the appearances were merely hallucinatory is a bit of a non-starter: participants of mass hallucinations have seen the sun get slightly bigger, subsequently presuming it moved towards earth, but a group of eleven men have never hallucinated a walking, talking, person who is visible and physically touchable to them all at the same time, as Jesus is reported to have been. The natural argument from there is to say that the disciples had some kind of sense of Jesus’ presence still being with them, and that they then made the appearance stories up to elaborate on this. All I can say to that is that they could have used a bit more imagination: Jesus might be able to appear inside a locked room, but other than that his appearance is entirely ordinary – he’s not shining with glorious light, as he is reported to have done once before, during his lifetime. He takes a walk with his followers; he starts a barbecue on a beach. He still has the wounds on his hands and sides from the crucifixion, something that, again, you wouldn’t include if you were trying to dream up a glorious resurrection body. All this makes it hard for me to believe that the disciples and the gospel writers weren’t trying to be truthful in what they had to say.
So there you have it. Three reasons why I believe in the Resurrection, and am therefore a Christian. Where most of my sceptical friends will probably call foul is the inclusion of the first two points as ‘reasons’ – you can’t ‘know’ things through such non-rational ways, they’d say. I’d beg to differ: if the Christian story really is true, it would have to be something that grabs your whole soul and your whole heart. The resurrection isn’t just an interesting fact to mentally assent to: it changes the very way you think about the world. The resurrection isn’t just some obscure dogma: it calls you to love the one who was raised and everything that he stands for.  I wouldn’t expect the truth to do anything else. ‘If anyone would come after me,’ Jesus says in the nineteenth chapter of the Gospel according to Luke, ‘He must deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.’ Hard to do – very hard, at times – but, as I have found, infinitely worth it.

The Information Age - the Best of Times?

I've been reflecting recently on how ridiculously privileged I am in regards to being alive at this particular time with my particular interests. Access to scholarly information about almost all aspects of biblical studies and theology is easier than ever: I can read the blogs of several respected scholars to gain new insights and suggestions for reading; I can order books that a few decades ago I would have only encountered at a university or seminary. It's now possible for a Christian my age to be more well-informed than at any other time in the history of the church. It's a great privilege, but perhaps also a burden. My introduction to the academic study of the Bible has been sudden and violent - and also virtually devoid of face-to-face discussions with mentors. I can't help but feel that a calmer, more gradual way of learning, blended in with progression and guidance in other faith disciplines, would have been more healthy.

'Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required' - Luke 12:48 (ESV)

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Blessings for Egypt

The blood-curdling threats and pronouncements of doom spoken by the prophets aren't popular with many in our society. Through men such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, God promises destruction for both His disobedient people and their idolatrous enemies. What makes these pronouncements extraordinary, however, is not only that God's own people are as much in the line of fire as anyone else, but also that the enemy nations will ultimately be blessed and share in Israel's commission to 'bless all the world,' predictions for enemies unparalleled in any other culture. This feature makes it difficult to see the prophets as nationalistic writers of propaganda, and easier to see them as mouthpieces for the true God who, while being serious about eradicating sin, is merciful enough to bless even His own people's enemies - and, hopefully, merciful to bring good out of the situation in Egypt today.

'In that day there will be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar to the LORD near its border. 20 It will become a sign and a witness to the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt; for they will cry to the LORD because of oppressors, and He will send them a Saviour and a Champion, and He will deliver them. 21 Thus the LORD will make Himself known to Egypt, and the Egyptians will know the LORD in that day. They will even worship with sacrifice and offering, and will make a vow to the LORD and perform it. 22 The LORD will strike Egypt, striking but healing; so they will return to the LORD, and He will respond to them and will heal them.
 23 In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrians will come into Egypt and the Egyptians into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians.
 24 In that day Israel will be the third party with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, 25 whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.”'
                                                                                           - Isaiah 19:19-25 (ESV)

'God's not standing over you with a big stick.'

 It's a comforting aphorism often said in evangelical churches. It aims to assure people that God isn't a hard taskmaster who just wants to give you a beating, a worthy sentiment for sure.

 There's just one problem. God is standing over us with a big stick - two, in fact: 'your rod and your staff, they comfort me.' (Psalm 23:4) The rod for discipline and the staff for guidance. In our desire to emphasise the love of God, we emphasise the second. But comfort for the psalmist is found in the existence of the first, too. If God didn't discipline us, even severely, His love would not be true. It's a side to love that the evangelical church, while right to speak of God's mercy and gentleness, needs to remember.

'Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
    but he will heal us;
he has injured us
    but he will bind up our wounds.'
                                                - Hosea 6:1 (NIV)