Sunday, 11 September 2011
Sunday, 17 July 2011
Privileging the image of the father in comparison with other pictures of God in Christianity is usually taken for granted. 'Our Father who art in Heaven': this is often understood as a rock-solid fact describing God himself directly. Other pictures of God are then thought to be 'only' metaphors, as if 'father' would be something else than a metaphor.
As Janet Soskice reminds us in her book Kindness of God: Metaphor, Gender and Religious Language - referring to Paul Riceour's point - the title 'father' or 'daddy' for God had a surprise and subversive element in it when Jesus used it. This is at the very heart of what this metaphor is supposed to do. By using it so extensively and involving his followers into this language, Jesus was forcefully bringing home the point about God's intimate closeness to everyone; God is not distant, not anti-human, not available for religious or political establishment to 'use' Him. Instead, he is everybody's God, he is approachable, he is Abba-'daddy'.
When this important, indeed crucial, work of the father-metaphor is lost on us, 'father' becomes a fixed and eternalized part of God's nature in a way that is open to multitude of abuses and misunderstandings. And since the history of the extensive use of the father metaphor in Christianity brings with it a multitude of religious and moral errors, we should remind ourselves today more than ever that 'father' is just one of the metaphors for God. He is also a rock, a wind, a lion. Decentralizing the father image from its too fixed place in our God-talk and thinking about God can only help our real worship today.
It certainly made my faith more real and at the same time much less susceptible to the edge of the Freudian critique of theism - the criticism which has not, as much as I see, lost its power even today, however persistently it is declared to be old hat.
And most importantly, only when we decentralize the father metaphor from our God-talk, can Jesus' talk of God as a father (together with the Our Father prayer) again strike us as surprising. In this way, this fantastic metaphor can again do some of the work for which it was designed to do.
Wednesday, 19 January 2011
Friday, 15 October 2010
Thursday, 30 September 2010
Saturday, 18 September 2010
Sunday, 5 September 2010
Reading the book Becoming Divine: Towards a Feminist Philosophy of Religion by the late philosopher and theologian Grace Jantzen was an interesting and challenging experience. Being "forced" to honestly rethink so many features of the anglo-saxon (and, to a notable degree also my own) tradition of thinking about God - especially about knowledge of God - has been useful in many ways. The influence of patriarchal society, misogynist prejudices and characteristically male ways of relating to life, sexuality and the world, which Jantzen explores in her book, appear to shape the very foundations of this philosophical tradition, as she sees it.
“raise(d) the question of the materiality and physicality that subtends consciousness itself: the physical world and Descartes’ own body, without which he could never have developed consciousness and rationality. Descartes seems never to have asked himself how he became a conscious, rational subject, how he was born and brought up and nourished. ... His subjectivity, like everyone else’s, emerged out of his bodily development that had its origins in his mother’s womb...” (Jantzen, Becoming Divine, 33)
The lack of raising this question of development of the human thinking self or subject is symptomatic, she thinks, also for Anglo-Saxon (analytic) philosophy of religion as a whole. She accepts Lacan’s interpretations of Freud and of the empirical evidence of early childhood development which hold that self is “much trickier and more complicated than western philosophy has recognized” (ibid.). She summarizes Lacan’s position thus:
“the subject, far from being an autonomous self, is constituted by a rupture, an internalized otherness. It involves the enactment of the subject/(m)other division. We are long way from Descartes’ confidently rational cogito. ... Instead of fixed identity that subject simply has/is, subjectivity is something that is achieved not once and for all, but in fragile and fluctuating fragments. Moreover it is achieved only by repression and the splitting of the self, which is thus precisely not transparently rational.” (Jantzen, Becoming Divine, 37)
Of course, if this is true even in part, it has important implication for philosophy of religion, including (or especially) for any epistemological account of religious experience. I think Jantzen's critique is consistent with a sociological-constructionist argument that, since the language, concepts and norms significantly co-shape everything one thinks and does, the very notion of self or subject is likewise co-formed (significantly) by the community. The thinking (and perceiving) subject then, is not simply a stable given which could be taken for granted. It is unstable, fragmented, and “exists” as a unitary entity on the expense of repressed desires and feelings.
It seems then, that Anglo-Saxon epistemology of religion (and epistemology of rel. experience in particular) has some deep problems which it fails to address properly. But I think that here in fact lies also a possibility of a different kind of philosophy of religious experience, a more sensible one that the analytic epistemology of rel. experience (Swinburne, Alston, Yandell, and similar): if the subject is in important respects unstable and constructed, we should take seriously the claims of many mystics and some liberal theologians (Schleiermacher, but also the likes of Tillich and even Rahner in 20th cent.) that authentic God-experience in important sense transcends the subject (self) itself, or more precisely, the "subject-object structure". It is here that Jantzen meets Schleiermacher - very intimately in fact - although in her short treatment of Schleiermacher in Becoming Divine she is mostly critical of his experiential subjectivism (pp. 116-119) and of the privatization of religion he supposedly advocated (which is a questionable interpretation).