Sunday, May 10, 2015

Bonhoeffer on the 'sinless-guilt' of Jesus

What follows is one of many thought-provoking passages in Bonhoeffer's Ethics. For a bit more biblical backdrop to this one might look at 2 Cor. 5:21. One should also note that when Bonhoeffer says 'becomes guilty' the word is Schuldübernahme, which can mean both 'becoming guilty oneself' and 'taking on the guilt of others'. Obviously Bonhoeffer thinks the latter has real significance:

"Jesus' concern is not the proclamation and realization of new ethical ideals, and thus also not his own goodness (Matt. 19:17!), but solely love for real human beings. This is why he is able to enter into the community of human beings' guilt, willing to be burdened with their guilt. 

Jesus does not want to be considered the only perfect one at the expense of human beings, nor, as the only guiltless one, to look down on a humanity perishing under its guilt. He does not want some idea of a new human being to triumph over the wreckage of a humanity defeated by its guilt. He does not want to acquit himself of the guilt by which human beings die. A love that would abandon human beings to their guilt would not be a love for real human beings. 

As one who acts responsibly within the historical existence of human beings, Jesus becomes guilty. It is his love alone, mind you, that leads him to become guilty. Out of his selfless love, out of his sinlessness, Jesus enters into human guilt, taking it upon himself. In him, sinlessness and bearing guilt are inextricably linked. As the sinless one, Jesus takes the guilt of his brothers and sisters upon himself, and in carrying the burden of this guilt he proves himself the sinless one....

Those who, in acting responsibly, seek to avoid becoming guilty divorce themselves from the ultimate reality of human existence; but in so doing they also divorce themselves from the redeeming mystery of the sinless bearing of guilt by Jesus Christ, and have no part in the divine justification that attends this event. They place their personal innocence above their responsibility for other human beings and are blind to the fact that precisely in so doing they become even more egregiously guilty. They are also blind to the fact that genuine guiltlessness is demonstrated precisely by entering into community with the guilt of other human beings for their sake. Because of Jesus Christ, the essence of responsible action intrinsically involves the sinless, those who act out of selfless love, becoming guilty."

- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 'History and Good 2,' DBWorks 6: Ethics, p 275-6
(paragraph breaks and bold added)

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Introduction to Piketty's 'Capital'

'In a way, we are in the same position at the beginning of the twenty-first century as our forebears were in the early nineteenth century: we are witnessing impressive changes in economies around the world, and it is very difficult to know how extensive they will turn out to be or what the global distribution of wealth, both within and between countries, will look like several decades from now.... There is no fundamental reason why we should believe that growth is automatically balanced. It is long since past the time when we should have put the questions of inequality back at the centre of economic analysis and begun asking questions first raised in the nineteenth century' (16).

I don't know how long it'll take me to read this 600+ page tome,
but when I do I'll probably share some choice excerpts here.
'Social scientific research is and always will be tentative and imperfect. It does not claim to transform economics, sociology, and history into exact sciences. But by patiently searching for facts and patterns and calmly analyzing the economic, social, and political mechanisms that might explain them, it can inform democratic debate and focus attention on the right questions. It can help to redefine the terms of debate, unmask certain preconceived or fraudulent notions, and subject all positions to constant critical scrutiny. In my view, this is the role that intellectuals, including social scientists, should play, as citizens like any other but with the good fortune to have more time than others to devote themselves to study (and even to be paid for it--a signal privilege)' (3).

'What are the major conclusions to which these novel historical sources have led me? The first is that one should be wary of any economic determinism in regard to inequalities of wealth and income. The history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms... The second conclusion, which is at the heart of this book, is that the dynamics of wealth distribution reveal powerful mechanisms pushing alternately toward convergence [that is, the reduction of inequalities] and divergence [that is, the exacerbation of them]. Furthermore, there is no natural, spontaneous process to prevent destabilizing, inegalitarian forces from prevailing permanently' (20-21).


Saturday, May 02, 2015

How Great (and how Fearsome?) Thou Art

We sang this song in chapel after having prayed all week for the people of Nepal. I thought to myself: How do we sing this song after an earthquake?

After the earthquake in Nepal - Joe Sieder/AP Photo
O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder 
Consider all the worlds* thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling* thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed:

When through the woods and forest glades I wander
And hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,
And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:

Then sings my soul, my Savior God, to thee: 
How great thou art! How great thou art! 


I suppose it is not necessarily out of line: A reminder and a song of faith amidst the rubble. Perhaps the first verse could even be sung in a more somber mood (see * below). But the general tenor of this (and of other songs of its nature) is pretty much all in the direction of birds singing sweetly rather than taking flight for survival. This can give the ascription of 'greatness' a kind of self-serving tone.

We do this with nature all the time (and not just in church): For our purposes nature can mean whatever we want it to mean. Fresh off some recent reading (namely Cormac McCarthy's The Crossing and Ronald Osborne's Death Before the Fall), I found myself wondering:

What if, instead of being about the pleasures of nature, one of these first two verses sung about its horrors? How would that change the complexion of the chorus? Of the verses that follow? The hymn continues:

And when I think that God, his Son not sparing, 
Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in, 
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing, 
He bled and died to take away my sin. 

When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation 
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart! 
Then shall I bow in humble adoration, 
And there proclaim, My God, how great thou art!

I'm no song-writer, but I'd love to see a verse (not to mention a theology) which gave a more well-rounded reflection on nature. (If you're so inclined to give it a try, drop me a line). All in all I suspect it might be less comfortable, but more profound.



* The original words are actually 'works' and 'mighty'

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Good Friday (according to Moltmann): Where Theism and Atheism Go to Die

'The question of the existence of God is, in itself, a minor issue in the face of the question of his righteousness in the world. And this question of suffering and revolt is not answered by any cosmological argument for the existence of God or any theism, but is rather provoked by both of these. If one argues back from the state of the world and the fact of its existence to cause, ground and principle, one can just as well speak of "God" as of the devil, of being as of nothingness, of the meaning of the world as of absurdity...

Here atheism demonstrates itself to be the brother of theism. It too makes a logical inference. It too sees the world as the mirror of another, higher being. With just as much justification as that with which theism speaks of God, the highest, best, righteous being, it speaks of the nothingness which manifests itself in all the annihilating experiences of suffering and evil....

A radical theology of the cross cannot give any theistic answer to the question of the dying Christ. Were it to do so it would evacuate the cross. Nor can it give an atheistic answer. Were it to do so it would no longer be taking Jesus' dying cry to God seriously. The God of theism cannot have abandoned him, and in his forsakenness he cannot have cried out to a non-existent God....

But did Christ really solve the "problems"?... That was not Camus' view.... He saw God vanish on the cross, but he did not see Christ's death on the cross taken up into God. Yet only this change of perspective indicates why the night of Golgotha gained so much significance for mankind. Crude atheism for which this world is everything is as superficial as the theism which claims to prove the existence of God from the reality of this world....

[A] trinitarian theology of the cross no longer interprets the event of the cross in the framework or in the name of a metaphysical or moral concept of God which has already been presupposed ... but develops from this history [of Jesus Christ] what is to be understood by "God".'

- Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God, 221, 225-6, 247