November 12, 2009

Thought for 11.12.09

One of the tragic discontinuities in the Western Christian Tradition, since Augustine anyway, is the notion that the universe at hand (that is, as we know it) is simply not as it ought to be. This offers a neat way to avoid any data that might actually be at our disposal in favor of unrealized (and unrealizable) idealistic hopes and dreams. That this worldview is not one Jesus would have comprehended ('the kingdom is among you') is bypassed in the interests of privileging some of what is "natural" over and against other things equally "natural" (but deemed "fallen"). And the choice is sometimes quite arbitrary, depending on whose cow is sacred, and whose ox is gored.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


MarkBrunson said...

Oh, now Tobias!

You know you're only saying all this because your mind is hopelessly twisted by being born into sin in a hopelessly-fallen World!

We can only trust those who wrote the Bible and crafted Tradition because - though no less human than you and born into the same world - they are clearly not influenced by sin because they said they aren't and their teaching gives that warm superior feel!

[Today's sarcasm brought to you by Augustine of Hippo and the many, MANY adherents to Christian Pharisaism found in God's-own Orthodite Country!]

Erika Baker said...

I like this thought!
But a question, is it the Universe that it considered to have fallen, or just man?

I must admit, I do struggle with this tendency to equate faith with morality because too often it means “my morality” and if someone else doesn’t share it, their faith is considered to be somehow insufficient or tainted.

And yet – I have my own sacred cows too! Some conversations with my children leave me speechless and I am seriously challenged to find my own basic moral parameters in their interpretation of life. Often, I can see that I need to expand my own vision, at the very least I can understand why their understanding of the morality of a particular situation or action is different to mine but not necessarily inferior. At other times, I wonder whether I will ever be able to say “this is a sacred cow which I may have to let go”.

Maybe if we took “wrestling with morality” as a baseline rather than fixed ideas that owe as much to culture as to genuine ethical thinking we’d find an acceptable way of blending faith with morality without marginalising those we simply don’t agree with.

Fr Craig said...

I've never figured out 'the Fall' - certainly not as truth (humans gather and decided to defy God!) or even as analogy or metaphor. It posits that we humans choose to be self-centered, whereas that nature is a product of evolution. Why would God punish us for being what we are bred to be? The message of the Gospel - to me - is that by his obedience to the will of the Father, Jesus truly is the New Humanity and in his death and resurrection sets us free from fear. Only if I believe this am I set free to love others as myself.

June Butler said...

"The Fall" leaves me baffled, too. What is "The Fall"? When did it happen? Is it still happening? I don't think about it too much, because I find no sensible or satisfactory way to address it.

As to your thought for the day, ain't that the truth?

Tim said...

I offer this, strictly concerning animal-related behaviour laws: don't call anything God's made good `unclean'...

Not enough is made of the significance of this turning-point of inclusion in the Gospel, I believe.

scott gray said...


‘the universe at hand is simply not as it ought to be’ is, in my book, a theological principle. not scientific, not social, but theological. so it requires the same scrutiny as any theological principle my kids or i hold true-- so what? and after the ‘therefore’ clauses, where’s the good in this? and so how do we respond? (just like ‘jesus is truly present in the host’ was treated in an earlier comment.)

the theological principles, and our responses to theological principles, that i accept most easily, are those that positively affect social principles i care about: stability, freedom, and eudaimonia.

‘natural’ principles are only of value to me if they are scientific principles. and there’s no inherent virtue in a scientific principle. to be tautological about it, gravity is what gravity is. it’s not a good thing or a bad thing in and of itself.
i would apply the same to ‘natural’ principles. gender preference among us humans seems to be hard wired to some extent (although i know there is some argument about this). and in and of itself, there’s no virtue per se in either preference. each of us ‘is what we is.’

the virtue, or value judgment, in my opinion, comes when these scientific principles rub elbows with social principles. gendered pairing, or tripling, or any other combination anyone cares to act on, is of value only so far as it positively affects social principles. a gay couple who takes care of each other for forty years (i am friends with such a couple) has a positive effect on society; a gay man who is hiv positive and has unprotected sex with many partners does not (and i am friends with such a person as well). same rules apply to any heterosexual individuals or couples, or a man who lives with two women (and i am friends with each of these combinations as well).

because of my ‘hierarchy of principles’ (scientific, social, and theological), and the different sorts of authority i accord each (you can’t argue with gravity, but you certainly can with social and theological ‘truths’) i am most concerned when a theological principle (the ‘true nature’ of mankind) is tagged with a scientific label, and treated with the same authority. and as you say, these lines are blurred, i think often deliberately, to coopt the authority of scientific principles, based on scientific method and evidence, and apply it to theological principles, which in my world view are all constructs.

and the 'fallen' man is as abstract a construct as you could hope to see in a theological principle.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks to all for the thoughtful comments. (Even the sarcastic one!)

Erika, yes, some consider the whole universe "tainted" by the fall. And yes, I agree that wrestling is in order, particularly as "pat answers" to ethical dilemmas don't seem to have much staying power.

Fr Craig, you have my view down in one: self-interest is necessary in order to build up a world capable of other-interest. See my earlier essay on "Good as Gold."

GM., spot on.

Tim, that teaching isn't even honored with lip-service much, let alone actually lived by! Would it were...

Scott, the doctrine of the fallen world is indeed a theological principle -- and I would say it has had a generally adverse effect. There is an interesting article in the Spring issue of Anglican Theological Review (it may be available on line if you are interested) about the origins of modernity, and it relates this notion to the influence of neoplatonism on the early church. Interesting reading.

And yes, the whole idea of "natural" (as in "actual" -- like gravity -- or the more tendentious "natural law" does, I think, get us into a great deal of ethical tangles. And, again, as I think, not to our actual benefit.

Thanks for the thoughtful comments!

The Rev. Dr. Christian Troll said...

My dear Grandmère: the Fall occurs at the end of Summer, prior to Winter.

Beyond that I think Fr. Tobias makes more sense on the topic than conservatives such as myself can ever dare admit.

June Butler said...

Fr Christian! What a surprise to find you here. Thank you for your words of wisdom on the Fall. I think I've got it now. All is clear.