Now I beg your pardon, but you've caused me to have an idea. (I bet I'm not the first person to be so influenced.)Blosser:
I wonder whether a literature/philosophy course might be built some time around the notion of sacramentality. You know a lot about it, of course, and I don't, so that would be a first stumbling block. But we could certainly bring in Hopkins on the sacramentality of the world, and I could test my developing hunch that Derridean deconstruction, precisely in its passivity, is a logic of opening up to that (what we might call) sacramentality (if we were not formerly-Algerian secular French Jews, which we're not). Perhaps you could bring in the existentialist (whom I haven't read much of in a long time) by way of opposition . . .? Just a thought.
I would hardly want to say that I know a lot about sacramentalism. My reading here is limited to that of a religious variety, and fairly marginal at that. But I do find it interesting. How Derrida would fit in is an interesting question, which I haven't thought about very much; but I have wondered from time to time whether there isn't a connection (as mentioned before) between his notions about "surplus of meaning" and those found in sacramentalism (there is perhaps this difference, that the latter presupposes a transcendental signified, even if the mode of signification is via negativia [in-finite, etc.] and/or analogical [like a father, etc.]). It sounds like it could be workable, something maybe to think about for the next time we can consider something like this.Interlocutor:
And come on, now. I'm sure you laughing dissenters from inbred Lutheran establishmentarianism enjoyed that private moment of shared moral superiority immensely, and everything, but I'm also sure you know that, in distinguishing "Lutheran" from "Christian" the faculty members in question must have been distinguishing "Lutheranism" as a subset of "Christianity," not an alternative cult.Blosser:
Well, but of course, but that hardly changes the irony of the statements!Interlocutor:
One of these days I'm going to have to introduce you to Venn diagrams--they're very interesting and helpful, I think you'll find.Blosser:
Oh, like those we use in logic? I'm a very visual learner and find them quite helpful. Apparently you do too.Interlocutor:
Try a thought experiment: imagine a system of intersecting or overlapping circles. Each circle is a "Christian" denomination or faith system. Imagine there is one tiny core area that is included in every one of the circles--is that what we're going to call "Christianity"? Then imagine one great big circle that encompasses the entirety of all the littler circles--is that what we're going to call "Christianity"? "Christianity" can't mean either one, right?Blosser:
Depends. C.S. Lewis describes his project in his opening pages of Mere Christianity (pictured right) as describing the broad hallway one enters upon opening the door into the house of "Christianity." He does a fairly good job of describing "basic Christianity" that would be shared by most branches of orthodox historic Christianity (those that accepted the content of the Nicene Creed, which even Fundamentalists do, though they couldn't recite it and may not know what it was). But Lewis goes on to state that one can't make his home in the hallway: he has to open one of the doors along the hall and go into one of those rooms along the side, because that's where he'll find the crackling fire, hospitality, and sustenance. This view is also sometimes called the "branch" theory of Christianity, I think, suggesting that the denominations come out of a common trunk-- though I think there are some limits to this kind of imagery. It all comes down to the question of authority (author's rights) and standards of judgment (more on which later).Interlocutor:
... Because it would either be a set that contained nothing but the proposition "Jesus was a fairly decent human being" or it would contain a whole host of propositions, many of which contradicted each other. So if these two are the only possibilities, then "Christianity" (and thus "Christian" also) cannot be a meaningful term. We are thus left with two possibilities. First, we can argue for the exclusion for some of the little circles in the diagram on various grounds, sort of not really excluding them, exactly, because that wouldn't be nice, and Christians are nice, especially when they're excluding other Christians, but just sort of tolerating them slash ignoring them and having a great laugh about them when they're not around, because each time we do that to one, we make the common ground bigger (and of course also imaginary, since the circles haven't really disappeared) and "Christianity" "stronger." Or, second, we can just can the term, at least within serious conversation, and try to find unity and coherence in more specific (and thus more potentially meaningful terms) like Lutheranism, Catholicism, etc. The first way is violent, and the term "Christian," used according to it, seems offensive to me.Blosser:
Well, first of all, I'm not sure you can avoid what you call the "violence" of the first option by means of your second one, since the problem would appear to be simply pushed back a step and you'd still have those arguing what constitutes true "Lutheranism" (as you do right here on campus among ELCA folk), authentic "Catholicism" (as you do among Catholics), etc. Second, I'm not sure that what yo call "violence" is avoidable at all. Take "Platonism." How do we define what "Platonism" is? There were many successor schools within Plato's Academy in Athens, lasting until the 6th century AD. Then there was Renaissance Platonism. Who's to say what "Platonism" is, some may ask? But it doesn't really strike me as such a difficult matter. One goes back to Plato, of course. Now that doesn't definitively settle all questions, since we human beings are a pugnacious and irrepressibly inquisitive and imaginative sort and one can float alternative interpretations of, say, Plato's "Theory of Forms," and whatnot. But Plato's text at least gives you some sort of benchmark or anchor or standard as a frame of reference, it seems to me. If someone claimed to hold "Platonism" but upon articulating his views was discovered to be proposing Aristotelian hylemorphism, one could say to him: "Well, you can call yourself anything you like. It's a free country. But if you think you hold a view that conforms in any way to Plato's views set forth in his dialogues, I think you're a trifle mistaken." Hylemorphism is simply not what one finds in Platonic dialogues. Similarly, it seems to me, one can make such judgments about "Lutheranism," "Catholicism," or "Christianity" without intending any sort of malice or entertaining any spirit of "violence." It's a matter of meaning what one says, is it not? We may find this challenging and difficult; but I don't see how this would make it meaningless or render it impossible.Interlocutor:
The second seems much more in the spirit of academic dialogue: used in that sense, "Christian" would mean neither the whole entirety nor the tiny intersection in the middle (however artificually inflated by ignorance) but the orientation of occupying a position within one of the circles and looking around into some of the others in the hope of increasing one's understanding and deepening one's faith. "Christian" would not be a meaningful term philosophically, but it would function culturally like a handshake or a "top-o-the-morning-to-ya"--it would be an invitation to commune, not in the strictly sacramental sense but in the world's-all-sacramental sense. I find this use of the term a lot less laughable than the sense of "Christianity" as a proposition set that can't be intersected, which I think is the position of many of our students, particularly in their early years here.Blosser:
I appreciate the spirit and disposition of your statements here, I think; and I think anyone in or out of the academy ought to be about increasing his understanding, deepening his faith, and so on. No problem there. But I don't see how your second option avoids the denotatively self-eviscertating quality of "courtesy meanings" such as attach connotatively to "gentlemen" (as in "Gentlemen's club") or "ladies" (as in "Ladies' Room") or "Christian" (as in "good white English-speakin' Christian folk"). Doesn't it make far more (un-laughable) sense to talk about "Christianity" as denoting a set of propositions that anyone can adhere to regardless of the color of their skin, ethnicity, etc.? I'm against malicious name-calling as much as the next fellow, but what use are names at all unless they mean something?
To return to your Venn diagrams, I agree that the all-inclusive circle lacks much definition. Yet I can allow for the fact that life is messy and one of my best friends is a Jehovah's Witness who believes in the infallibile authority of Scripture and loves Jesus Christ while rejecting any notion of Christ's divinity. Is he a Christian? Not according to any standard stemming from the Nicene tradition, which set forth its creed ("... true God from true God ...") in opposition to the declared heresy of Arianism, which denied Christ's divinity. I respect my friend's desire to call himself "Christian" according to the significance that has for him-- namely his respect for Jesus as a unique Messianic character, somewhat in the way that Muslims respect Jesus as an authoritative "prophet." But both of us understand where we stand vis-a-vis one another and that each finds the other's definitions of "Christianity" unacceptable in some way or other. I see this as a matter of "respectful dialogue" in which each respects the other while agreeing to disagree for the sake of intellectual (and spiritual) integrity.
At the other end, where the little circles overlap at one point, is no less problematic, as you point out. Evangelicals often like to point out that whatever their differences among themselves, they at least agree on "essentials." These usually include things like "justification by faith," "baptism," and "Lord's Supper." This may seem to lend support to the overlapping point theory. However, the problems surface as soon as you ask how different Evangelical groups understand these "essentials." For example, the moment you ask whether "justification by faith" means that observing the moral law is unnecessary or unimportant, you will find a spectrum of answers, some of which contradict one another. And so forth.
So it seems we have to reflect, like it or not, on our principle of authority (not power, but author's rights). Speaking as a resident Romish Papist, I can say that no matter how confused and conflicted individual Catholics may be in their opinions about things, there is no question where the Church's position on any issue can be found. One can always look it up in the Catechism. Where does the Catechism get it's authority? From tradition? And whence tradition? The Apostles, and so on, back to Christ. Of course this leads to excluding some from the category "Christian." But what else would one expect? As a sampling of this traditional view, here are the words of Peter Kreeft in Fundamentals of the Faith (pictured below):"By Catholic standards, the religions of the world can be ranked by how much truth they teach. Catholicism is first [notice this doesn't assume an absolute monopoly on truth], with Orthodoxy equal except for the one issue orf papal authority. Then comes Protestantism and any 'separated brethren' who keep Christian essentials as found in Scripture. Third comes traditional Judaism, which worships the same God but not via Christ. Fourth is Islam, greatest of the theistic heresies; fifth, Hinduism, a mystical pantheism; sixth, Buddhism, a pantheism without a theos; seventh, modern Judaism, Unitarianism, Confucianism, Modernism, and secular humanism, none of which have either mysticism or supernatural religion but only ethics; eighty, idolatry; and ninth, Satanism. To collapse these nine levels is like thinking the earth is flat." (Fundamentals of the Faith, p. 75)Obviously a secular humanist will have his own way of perceiving the hierarchy of truth, as does the Muslim or Satanist. What I find fanciful is the view of the secular relativist who thinks that all such distinctions can be done away, from the point of view of the truth of his relativist perspective.
Order the books cited above here: