TOP 10: Corrections to Peter Kreeft’s Contemporary Philosophy List!

Rembrandt, because I didn't want to use Raphael.

Rembrandt, because I didn’t want to use Raphael.

There are plenty of interesting things on Brandon Vogt’s website. They certainly have given me plenty of food for thought.

For example, I deeply appreciate the G.K. Chesterton video he posted not too long ago. It gave me a new, if somewhat idiosyncratic, vantage point on the always troubled Christian-Muslim relations here (join the conversation).

Brandon also recently posted a list of books that was recommended to him by none other than Peter Kreeft. Kreeft is a wonderful popularizer of classical philosophy and theology. Ancient Athens and Medieval Christendom are where the Boston College philosopher feels most at home. I’d like to argue later that he’s a little bit iffy when it comes to more recent philosophy.

The footnotes in the Summa of the Summa are indispensable.

The footnotes in the A Shorter Summa are indispensable for beginning to understand the Aristotelian-Thomistic idiom. My copy is all marked up. This book is well worth your time.

To see what I mean, take a look at the Medieval lists Kreeft compiled below:

Medieval Philosophy, Basic List:

Medieval Philosophy, Additional List:

"But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality," say Anselm in the Proslogion. And really, I can't think of the better list than the one given by Kreeft here.

“But surely that than which a greater cannot be thought cannot be only in the understanding. For if it were only in the understanding, it could be thought to exist also in reality,” says Anselm in the Proslogion. And really, I can’t think of the better introductory medieval list than the one given by Kreeft above.

The ancient and modern lists in Brandon’s post are just as solid as this medieval one.

So, I was shocked to read the following list of “contemporary” philosophical texts recommended by Kreeft:

Contemporary Philosophy, Basic List:

Contemporary Philosophy, Additional List

Even the author of Orthodoxy is surprised by this rather unorthodox list.

Even the author of Orthodoxy is a little shocked by this rather unorthodox list of “contemporary” philosophers.

I agree with the choice of Sartre, Marx, and William James for the basic list. Then again, The Varieties of Religious experience is a much more fundamental William James text for both philosophy and the study of religion. In fact, it’s one of the texts that brought serious study of religion back into the mainstream of academic culture. Varieties is still the departure point for most work done in religious studies. It’s the one book you must agree with, or quarrel with.

Pascal belongs in the modern list, whereas C.S. Lewis does not belong at all. Lewis is a first-rate popularizer, but he does not belong on a list of basic or supplementary “contemporary” philosophical texts. This means I’ll have to nominate two replacements for the basic list of contemporary authors. Actually, make that three, because Nietzsche is much more deserving of a position on such a list than Sartre.

  • Nietzsche: You might as well dive into the Nietzsche Reader if you want to understand his influence on key modern thinkers like Sartre, Heidegger, but also upon contemporary theology. The selections in this collection are first rate and Hollingdale writes a mean introduction.
  • Heidegger, Being and Time: Pure and simple, it’s the most important philosophical treatise of the 20th century. What’s even better? Heidegger borrows half of his concepts from theology–and then tries to unsuccessfully conceal them. You may not ignore this book and I must finally read it in its entirety!
  • Henri de Lubac’s The Mystery of the Supernatural is, hands down, the most obvious replacement for Lewis. This tome is perhaps the single most influential theology book of the 20th century. It helped to disentangle theology from modern philosophical adulterations of Thomism. De Lubac shaped the agenda for both Vatican II and the critiques of its implementation with this book and several others.
The Mystery of the Supernatural has influenced you even if you know nothing about it.

The Mystery of the Supernatural has influenced you even if you know nothing about it.

Mill is probably the only second stringer on Kreeft’s additional list that deserves to definitively remain there. We can feel the deleterious effect of his philosophy upon every aspect of our lives. The others, not so much.

Kreeft seems to go on an unjustified binge of analytical philosophers whose books are not terribly important. Chesterton is a figure on the fence–there really are more important books out there, but his philosophical standing is on the rise. So let’s say that leaves us with about four replacements:

  • Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations: Wittgenstein totally revamped the conclusions he reached in the influential Tractatus in the Investigations. What’s more, he has played an important role in reinvigorating theology as Fergus Kerr has argued in his Theology After Wittgenstein, which, by the way, contains one of the most creative and convincing arguments against abortion.
  • Gabriel Marcel, The Mystery of Being, which is divided up into Volume I and Volume II. This unjustly ignored mid-century Catholic existentialist philosopher might turn out to be more pivotal to the history of philosophy than some of the other thinkers mentioned in these contemporary lists. His influence is so ubiquitous, especially among Catholics, that it’s invisible.
  • Kierkegaard, A Kierkegaard Anthology: Kierkegaard, because if you haven’t wrestled with Kierkegaard, then you haven’t wrestled with modern philosophy (and the opportunities it holds for theology).
  • Hans Urs von Balthasar, Glory of the Lord volume I: This book inaugurated a series of reflections that brought beauty back into the fold of both theological and philosophical reflection. It’s in a virtual tie with the de Lubac book I mentioned in the main list for “contemporary” philosophers. On another day, they could switch sides. Karl Barth’s The Epistle to the Romans could also substitute for either one of these books given its immensely positive historical influence.

Now that’s more like it!

As you can see, we’ve culled out most of the analytical philosophy, which is the philosophical and existential equivalent of a glorified New York Times crossword puzzle.

However, if you insist on reading some philosophy of language then you must buy American. Charles Sanders Peirce has been called “the American Aristotle” by Fr. Oakes in a First Things piece that can be found here. It’s best to dip into his selected philosophical writings.

Viola!

Viola!

Finally, Pierre Hadot’s Philosophy as a Way of Life is a book that anyone interested in the discipline must read. It will totally transform your vision of what ancient philosophy was and what philosophy ought to be.

Don’t miss out on the other TOP 10 booklists on this blog: one on religious living poets, one on living religious novelists, one on books about heaven and hell, and finally, one on recent theology books.

Before you get too deep:

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Chesterton, Crusading, and Cairo

My facebook buddy, the blogger Brandon Vogt, recently posted the video above on Facebook. I was surprised to find out there is a video of Chesterton, best known for his The Everlasting Man, Orthodoxy, and biographies of Aquinas and Francis. It seems like like he’s too big a personality, wellnigh mythical, to fit on film.

Apparently Chesterton’s cause for canonization is being advanced in Rome these days. It’s not surprising given how much influence he has exerted on Catholic writers, popes (including the present pope), and even atheist authors such as Slavoj Zizek whose The Puppet and the Dwarf: The Perverse Core of Christianity is heavily influenced by the English Catholic writer.

"Wha? Zizek?!," say Chesterton in an aside of his writings on Dickens.

“Wha? Zizek?!,” says Chesterton in an aside in his still wildly popular Orthodoxy.

Chesterton is generally known as an all-around funny guy who wrote on serious topics in a way that could get anyone interested in the adventurous minutiae of orthodoxy. It’s an effective writing strategy that can catch opponents off guard. I’ve seen his writing style compared to Kierkegaard recently. Apparently there isn’t anything new in this comparison, because specialists were making  it a long time ago.

In the video Chesterton is proclaimed “One of the foremost crusaders of modern letters.” When I first heard the video I thought he was being proclaimed a “dictator.” In hindsight his response to receiving the honor doesn’t seem funny or effective. It leaves me more uncomfortable than if he had been proclaimed dictator of letters, “I can only say that I am not much of a Crusader, but at least I am not a Mohammedan.”

You might or might not remember that the First Crusade (1096–1099) began as a pilgrimage and ended as a military expedition by Roman Catholic Europe to regain the Holy Lands taken in the Muslim conquests of the seventh century. Jerusalem was recaptured in 1099. Subsequent Crusades followed and resulted not only in more rifts between the Rome and Islam, but ultimately also between Rome and the Christian East.

The Lost History of Christianity tells the millennium long Christian tale of lands we usually consider Muslim.

The Lost History of Christianity tells the millennium long Christian tale of lands we usually consider Muslim.

One cannot help but think of how the intersections of Christian and Muslim history have always been marked by violent conflict, starting with the minor conquests of Mohammad of what used to be Jewish-Christian and pagan lands. Philip Jenkins, ever the myth-buster, has also written a book about what happened afterwards, The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia–and How It Died. We tend to track the progress of Christianity in these lands with much interest, since they are some of the biggest growth areas in the world. However, they have a long history both we and they can tap into.

Now one might say Islam started with about five hundred years of victories, only to be followed by steady and depressing slide into defeat that still continues. The decimation of non-Western Christianities seems to be more of a desperate lashing out by certain factions within Islam than anything else. It’s also a sad fact that the vast majority of Western Christians have only become aware of non-Western Christianities only as they are being destroyed. For example, in the wake of the American occupation of Iraq, and more recently in the much covered events in the areas surrounding Cairo.

How should we respond to these sorts of situations? Will violent intervention by the US help the Copts? Or will it just create more resentment toward Christians in the region? Then again, will Western Christians just sit by and watch the decimation of these communities?

And so given the history of violence between Islam and Christianity in the region is there much hope for a resolution, or is it a zero-sum game? If Christ is the Prince of Peace, then is it too much to ask the people of Egypt and other places to suffer martyrdom? Then again, if we do believe the promises of the New Testament could this be the most rational thing to ask of them? Do they believe that? Do we? Should we?

From what I was able to gather from the reports: this might be a picture from one of the churches that had to cancel its liturgies.

From what I was able to gather from the reports this might be a picture from one of the churches that had to cancel its liturgies.t’s been reported that Egyptian churches interrupted 1,600 years of continuous liturgies this past Sunday due to the violence.

As we ponder these questions it’s been recently reported that Egyptian churches interrupted 1,600 years (!) of continuous liturgies this past Sunday due to the violence. Whatever the solution might be, Chesterton’s irreverent triumphalism (it had its place after centuries of anti-Medieval Enlightenment propaganda) in this video is probably not up to snuff when facing the complexities of the choices ahead, or the consequences of inaction.

This is not an attempt to take Chesterton down a notch, because he remains a highly innovative and relevant theologian. It’s just that the level of comfort he, and the Inklings who followed him, felt when it came to Christian miliatarism is something we cannot afford after World War II and Hiroshima (or, at least I like to think so).

"Radner's A Brutal Unity is at a book of startling insight, extraordinary erudition, and is replete with theological implications. His ability to help us see connections between Christian disunity and liberal political theory and practice should command the attention of Christian and non-Christian alike. A Brutal Unity is a stunning achievement." --Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School

“Radner’s A Brutal Unity is at a book of startling insight, extraordinary erudition, and is replete with theological implications. His ability to help us see connections between Christian disunity and liberal political theory and practice should command the attention of Christian and non-Christian alike. A Brutal Unity is a stunning achievement.”
–Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School

One possible avenue of reflection and a source of humility in such times is Ephraim Radner’s recent book, A Brutal Unity: The Spiritual Politics of the Christian Church. Matthew Levering has said the following about it:

“Massively learned and beautifully written, this book has to be the best work ever written against the holiness and unity of the Church by a Christian theologian. Not one to mince words, Radner presents Judas as the mirror of the faithless, violent, and fractured Church. For Radner, the failure of liberalism arises from and reflects the failure of the Church to repent. But he does not end here: he argues that in God’s creation of things separate from God, and in Christ’s radical giving of himself, we find God’s holiness and oneness as a gift for God’s people and as an invitation to imitate God’s asymmetrical giving. Those who disagree with Radner will thank him for pressing us to examine anew why Christians rightly confess the Church to be one and holy.”

Do you have any other guides for reflection or action?

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Update et mea culpa: I think the ignorance of Western Christians about these other traditions is best exemplified by the fact that I initially used “we” where I now use “Western Christians” in the following sentence: “It’s also a sad fact that the vast majority of Western Christians have only become aware of non-Western Christianities only as they are being destroyed.”

My thanks go out to Joseph Koczera, SJ for catching this mistake.

Kolbe, Love, Milosz, and the A-Bomb

"While writing my poetry of the last few years I've been concerned about not deviating from Catholic orthodoxy, although I'm not sure how it came out in the end," say the author of The Land of Ulro in a letter to the pope (my own revised translation).

“The last few years, while writing my poetry, I’ve been concerned about not deviating from Catholic orthodoxy, although I’m not sure how it came out in the end,” says the author of The Land of Ulro in a letter to the pope (my own revised translation).

August 9th marked the deaths of both Maximilian Kolbe and Czeslaw Milosz. Cynthia Haven has written about how these two Poles have influenced the wider world in divergent ways that converge upon their Catholicism in the essay “The Doubter and the Saint.

Granted, Milosz was much more of a believer than we tend to give him credit. There is even a fairly badly translated series of letters exchanged between Milosz and JP2 available online here.

One goodreads commenter said The Stained Glass Elegies are "sad stuff." But so is much of history and, not infrequently,  daily life.

One Goodreads commenter said The Stained Glass Elegies are “sad stuff” and added a frowning smiley. But so is much of history and, not infrequently, so is daily life. But what does God have to do with that?

August 9th was also the 68th anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing. All of these convergences somehow reminded me of two short stories penned by the postwar Japanese-Catholic writer Shusaku Endo in the collection Stained Glass Elegies.

The first one features the strange encounter between a child and Kolbe during his mission to Japan. Later on, as an adult, the person shocked at the news of that someone so cowardly looking (like a mouse) found the courage to give up his life for another.

The other story involves a rich Japanese tourist visiting a Polish prostitute a severely economically depressed period in Poland and having an epiphany upon seeing a picture of Kolbe hanging on the wall (if I’m not mistaken) while waiting for her to undress.

All of this, in a roundabout way, brings me to a moving meditation on the blog City and the World about Nagasaki and Kolbe that I’d like to excerpt for you:

“…As I study the [picture of the relic, see below], I wonder what the appearance of this relic might have meant in an immediate postwar context. In 1949, the atom bomb’s effects on Nagasaki were still very visible: another of Mydans’ photos reminds us that the Pontifical Mass celebrated to mark four centuries of Christian faith in Japan took place within the ruins of a destroyed Catholic cathedral. Considering the relic itself, it strikes me that it is difficult to look at the shriveled fingers of the saint’s hand and the exposed bones of his forearm without thinking of the disfigured flesh of the atom bomb’s victims. Would the Catholics of Nagasaki have seen a link between Xavier’s body and the bodies of their kin? I can’t know for sure, but I also can’t help but wonder whether they might have done so.

"Considering the relic itself, it strikes me that it is difficult to look at the shriveled fingers of the saint's hand and the exposed bones of his forearm without thinking of the disfigured flesh of the atom bomb's victims. Would the Catholics of Nagasaki have seen a link between Xavier's body and the bodies of their kin?"

“Considering the relic itself, it strikes me that it is difficult to look at the shriveled fingers of the saint’s hand and the exposed bones of his forearm without thinking of the disfigured flesh of the atom bomb’s victims. Would the Catholics of Nagasaki have seen a link between Xavier’s body and the bodies of their kin?”

What are we to make of all of this theologically? Looking at the image of the Xavier relic in Nagasaki, I find myself thinking of the words of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who served as a missionary in Nagasaki in the 1930s and later lost his life at Auschwitz, having volunteered to take the place of another prisoner who had been chosen for execution. As Kolbe once wrote, ‘Hatred is not a creative force. Love alone creates.’ For Maximilian Kolbe, self-sacrificing love represented the only effective response to the horrors of which humankind is capable. This kind of love led Kolbe to give his life for another; the same love led Francis Xavier to leave his home and everything that was familiar to him to preach the Gospel in faraway lands. Underlying these and all other examples of self-sacrificing love is the more fundamental action of divine love, the love that led the Second Person of the Trinity to embrace our humanity and to accept death on the Cross for the sake of our redemption…”

You can read the rest here.

I’m still not quite sure what to make of all these connections, but I’ll add another one: Despite the Youtube description, below you will find an excerpt from the excellent Krzysztof Zanussi film about Kolbe, “Life for a Life.” You can find copies of this film scattered throughout the States. Unfortunately, only a few of Zanussi’s films are available in the States. I’d recommend “A Year of the Quiet Sun,” which features stunning (nearly silent) performances by Scott Wilson and Maja Komorowska. It is set in the devastation of postwar Poland.

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UPDATE: The whole film is available in Polish (with much German) on YouTube. The acting is good enough that you could watch it without knowing either one of those languages.

A Fish Rots from the Head Down (On Paul Elie and Secularization in the Arts)

The head of a rotting fish would be too much for even the most devoted readers; so here's a shark eating a shark instead.

The head of a rotting fish would be too much for even the most devoted readers; so instead here’s a shark eating a shark.

The Polish poet Czesław Miłosz (1911-2004) is widely read in American poetry circles. It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that many Americans almost think of him as one of their own (Cynthia Haven even documents his worldwide influence here).

Now Milosz’s poetry appeals to me because he interprets his experience of late modern America and early 20th century totalitarianism with a finely honed Catholic theological imagination. Don’t take my word for it. There’s plenty of evidence for my judgment here, here, here, here, and here.

Czeslaw Milosz (right) with friend and literary rival Gombrowicz (mentioned later in post).

Czeslaw Milosz (right) with friend and literary rival Gombrowicz (mentioned later in post).

Czesław Miłosz, as we’ll see, appears to be in agreement with Paul Elie who recently pronounced the death of the religious novel along with plans to resurrect the genre single-handedly with a novel-in-progress. Elie proudly announced in a New York Times article, “Now I am writing a novel with matters of belief at its core. Now I have skin in the game. Now I am trying to answer the question: Where has the novel of belief gone?” The article in question, “Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?,” expands upon these questions with the following answer:

“The obvious answer is that it has gone where belief itself has gone. In America today Christianity is highly visible in public life but marginal or of no consequence in a great many individual lives. For the first time in our history it is possible to speak of Christianity matter-of-factly as one religion among many; for the first time it is possible to leave it out of the conversation altogether. This development places the believer on a frontier again, at the beginning of a new adventure; it means that the Christian who was born here is a stranger in a strange land no less than the Sikhs, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Soviet Jews and Spanish-speaking Catholics who have arrived from elsewhere. But few people see it that way. People of faith see decline and fall. Their detractors see a people threatening rear-guard political action, or a people left behind.”

“We come to life in the middle of stories that are not ours," says Paul Elie.

“We come to life in the middle of stories that are not ours,” says Paul Elie in The Life You Save...

Czesław Miłosz tells the story of literary secularization within a much longer and damning historical arc than Elie, author of the study The Life You Save Maybe Your Own. In that fat tome (eminently readable and well-researched) Elie presents the work of Merton, Flannery O’Connor, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy as a literary-religious triumph. Milosz viewed the literary victories of the last few centuries within a much more Pyrrhic frame. The Nobelist saw modern literature, which is not to say all of it, as the culmination of the process of European secularization:

“The fact of Europe’s dechrstianization is indubitable and depressing. It can also be translated into numbers of victims. If a half-Christian Europe could not prevent the First World War and its massacres in the trenches, then two totalitarianisms, which exterminated millions in concentration camps, were the product of leaders who were entirely godless.However, the ties between religion and society are too complicated to draw up a clear boundary between Christian and post-Christian countries. A fish rots from the head down, and what we call the erosion of the religious imagination began with the philosophers of the 18th century, only to progress through the whole of the next century, receiving its lasting expression, above all, in literature and art…”

Now consider this statement in the context of what Nietzsche, Flaubert, Ibsen, Andre Gide, Sartre, and Gombrowicz wrote. Then you’ll get the picture.

Even this may be true it still doesn’t take away from the achievements of poets and novelists of both past and present who are legion. In the piece “Whispers of Faith in a Postmodern World” Gregory Wolfe argues the myth of rampant secularization in the arts is precisely that: a myth. Here’s how he puts it:

“In The New Republic in 2008, Ruth Franklin noted that ‘the absence of God from our literature feels so normal, so self-evident, that one realizes with shock how complete it is.’ Last month in a New York Times Sunday Book Review essay entitled ‘Has Fiction Lost Its Faith?, Paul Elie suggested that ‘if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature.’

Really? From where I stand, things don’t look that way. That is in large part because for the past 24 years I have edited Image, a journal that publishes literature and art concerned with the faith traditions of the West. Our instinct when launching the publication was that the narrative of decline was misguided, but we honestly didn’t know if we could fill more than a few issues.

Sometimes when you look, you find. Over the years Image has featured many believing writers, including Annie Dillard, Elie Wiesel, Christian Wiman, Marilynne Robinson and Mark Helprin. But these writers of religious faith and others are not hard to find elsewhere. Several prominent American authors—Franz Wright, Mary Karr and Robert Clark—are Catholic converts. Nathan Englander and Jonathan Safran Foer last year published ‘New American Haggadah,’ a contemporary take on the ritual book used by Jews on Passover.”

You can read my own contribution to IMAGE here.

You can read my own contribution to IMAGE here. You can subscribe to IMAGE here.

Perhaps the fish isn’t all that rotten? At least not in the head? Over the next few days I plan on compiling some Top 10 lists of contemporary poets (Now available!) and novelists who write from within a theological imagination.

I don’t think the task will be as tough as Elie makes it out to be. The toughest task will be keeping the lists down to only ten authors each!

The follow up posts are now up. They are “Fresh Caught Fish: Top 10 Living Religious Poets” and “Fresh Caught Fish II: Top 10 Living Religious Novelists.”

Damien Hirst with the most famous piece from his Requiem series which is the subject of this IMAGE issue.

Rotting heads: did you know one of these Damien Hirst sharks (pictured left) rotted in a gallery and had to be replaced?

  


 

 

Confession: How I Lost My Faith After Reading Rachel Held Evans

Bleep-blop-bleep-bleep-blop and the internet was born in my lifetime.

Bleep-blop-bleep-bleep-blop and the internet was born in my lifetime.

I’m around 35 (!) and I can’t say whether I qualify as millennial. But fear not, recent studies suggest millennials remember much less than senior citizens. So let’s pretend that I am one, because they won’t know the difference anyway.

I also don’t remember when I wrote my first essay, but it was with a pencil, because my parents couldn’t afford to have me throwing away paper (we lived in the projects of Detroit). By the time I graduated from college I was using “church” as a verb and couldn’t afford a cell-phone like the rich kids.

I’m old enough to have listened to Nirvana and Pearl Jam on the radio. The popularity of their music convinced me my contemporaries must be as lost in the cosmos I am. My tastes were decidedly classical: from Bach to The Beatles. I’ve only come to appreciate Vedder and Cobain after turning thirty.

You probably have read the Rachel Held Evans piece I reblogged yesterday by now. You probably realize I can’t continue in the same parodic vein, replicating almost every sentence; at some point a parody that parodies every sentence of a sincere statement that reads like a parody becomes serious. And who wants that?

Rachel Held Evans: worried Evangelicals are getting high.

Rachel Held Evans: worried Evangelicals are getting high.

From what I gathered: Held Evans seems to be most worried about Evangelicals leaving the fold for the high traditions such as Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Episcopalianism, and Lutheranism. Why this should be a problem is beyond me.

But she doesn’t seem to notice the “high traditions” are also bleeding membership. You can check the statistics at your preferred statistics caterer. Former Catholics are now the second largest religious group in the United States, only behind practicing Catholics.

I’m convinced (and I’m not the only one) that Catholicism is blowing its Catholic Moment because it has idolized assimilating to America. This applies to the Republican-Catholic party at prayer as much as it does to the Brikenstock-wearing priest from the Newman Center who is always talking about the “spirit of…” and asked you whether you were Opus Dei.

These two groups are a few of the many signsposts in our strange land. They point to the futility involved in accommodating to the Americanisms of any epoch. By the time the identity politics of any given generation trickle down to the liturgy those identity politics are out of fashion and lead to even more people trickling down and out. This eternal return then leads to more fruitless discussions about why the young are leaving, more accommodations, and so on.

This is the reason why the main takeaway from the Rachel Held Evans piece, “But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community,” is such a throwaway.

My generation (and the generation of students we teach in college classes) is totally clueless. If you ask us we will tell you that we are lost in the cosmos. We have failed at manufacturing our own meaning, because meaning cannot be manufactured like the consumer services and trends mentioned at the start of this (and the Held Evans) piece.

This I believe: I’ve lost faith in myself. I’ve lost faith my generation. They’ve lost faith in themselves (and in me). Leaders in the Church should face up to the real situation, to our collective loss of faith in ourselves (deconstruction was but a symptom not a cause and the best analysis still remains the hybrid masterpiece that is Lost in the Cosmos):

“You live in a deranged age - more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”

Walker Percy, Lost in the Cosmos: “You live in a deranged age – more deranged than usual, because despite great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing.”

If church leaders will not provide us with authoritative responses to what’s going on in our deranged and eviscerated public square, with the right (ortho-)spiritual exercises, with the most fruitful paths to follow, with a new Philokalia, or the old one, then it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there:

We also have a Top 10 list of books about heaven and hell here just in case you believe it’s darker than Zimmy thinks. You will also find a recent post, with a curious title, about the robust presence of faith in the contemporary literary scene here.

What Does Love Know?

Love is an autonomous form of knowledge.

Love is an autonomous form of knowledge.

Jean-Luc Marion is a Catholic philosopher, some say the greatest living philosopher, who studied under Jacques Derrida. If nothing else, he is one of the best arguments for religious parents not shielding their kids from the “secular” academe. I’ve made this argument borrowing from my own experience here.

After all, the influence goes both ways. Derrida spent the last decade or two of his life engaging Marion and the tradition of negative theology in books such as Acts of Religion or The Gift of Death. In the end the king of deconstruction couldn’t shake the queen of the sciences.

What I’m really interested in for today is how Marion has developed the notion of Pascal’s three orders. In particular, how the third order, love, is a distinct form of knowledge.

He explains these orders of knowing in a short interview that’s available online:

“From the first point of view you see the world as visible, according to bodies, matter and the visible world. In that order, the leaders are the king, the president, the CEO of a corporation, the banking system and so on.

The second order is the order of the spirit. This is the invisible world of rationality. It includes the sciences, philosophy, art and literature. You can be completely unknown in the first order and be the leader in this second order. For example, Archimedes was a prince in the family of a king in Sicily, but he was really a leader as a mathematician. Mathematicians, like Einstein, are the kings of this second order.

The third order is charity, love or what art understands. In that order the saints, lovers and Christ are kings.

The lower orders are not seen by the upper orders. The president of the United States is not supposed to be a scientist or a saint. He has a job as president of the United States, period. The second order does not see the third, but sees itself and the first order. The first two cannot see the third order, but the third can see what is going on in the first two.”

Marion has developed detailed accounts of what love knows, how it knows differently than common sense and rationality, in books such as Prolegomena to Charity and The Erotic Phenomenon.

Pictured: Robert Musil.

Robert Musil: “When she spoke of beauty, he spoke of fatty tissue supporting the epidermis.”

One way to suggest this difference is to take a look at what we could call “order mistakes” in one of the greatest novels of the 20th century, Robert Musil’s, The Man Without Qualities:

“His answers were quite often like that. When she spoke of beauty, he spoke of the fatty tissue supporting the epidermis. When she mentioned love, he responded with the statistical curve that indicates the automatic rise and fall in the annual birthrate. When she spoke of the great figures in art, he traced the chain of borrowings that links these figures to one another.”

The comedy here arises out of a confusion of orders. The male character does not respond to the love shown to him with love. Instead of rising to the third order of knowledge he remains mired in the second order of rationality and thereby fumbles the relationship unfolding in front of him.

In fact, a comical mixing of orders of knowledge opens the book and marks almost every page that follows:

“A barometric low hung over the Atlantic. It moved eastward toward a high-pressure area over Russia without as yet showing any inclination  to bypass this high in a northerly direction. The isotherms and isotheres were functioning as they should. The air temperature was appropriate relative to the annual mean temperature and to the aperiodic monthly fluctuations of the temperature. The rising  and setting of the sun, the moon, the phases of the moon, of Venus, of the rings of Saturn, and many other significant phenomena were all in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The water vapor in the air was at its maximal state of tension, while the humidity was minimal. In a word that characterizes the facts fairly accurately, even if it is a bit old-fashioned: It was a fine day in August 1913.”

These are fragmentary thoughts, but if one of you develops it into a conference paper, do cite me in the footnotes!

I’ll close by way of example from my own personal encounter with Jean-Luc Marion as his translator in Poland.

Right before going into the translator’s booth for Marion’s lecture about Descartes in Krakow I remember seeing him talking to my wife on the other side of the room. He had his arm around her. Whatever he was saying was of great import, yet it was said with a lot of warmth.

I suppose in the first order this whole scene might appear to someone as a famous philosopher accosting a young woman. In the second order this might appear to someone’s gaze on the level of fatty tissues or birth rates interacting (my wife was pregnant). In the end, my wife confirmed that Jean-Luc Marion had given her some sincere fatherly advice. But I already knew that.

On the day of his departure from Krakow Marion (middle) was having the best hair day between me and the poet Artur Grabowski.

On the day of his departure from Krakow Marion (middle) was having the best hair day between the poet Artur Grabowski and I (left, POOF!).

Top 10 Recent Books: 5 on Heaven, 5 on Hell

You've been warned.

You’ve been warned.

I’ve recently written on both heaven and on hell. My own readings on these topics might be idiosyncratic. I’m not sure whether these books get read in seminaries or comparative religion programs. I don’t even know whether these topics are of any interest to academics in those disciplines. I, for one, went through most of the classes offered on Christianity at the University of Washington’s excellent Comparative Religion program and didn’t encounter, or discuss, anything about these topics. What follows is a list of books (in no particular order) I’ve found helpful for thinking about heaven and hell (along with their publisher blurbs).

Please order books via the links provided here if you’d like to help put some diapers on little Rosman butts!

HELL

JBR is the dean of devil studies. This is the summary book from his five volume history of the topic.

JBR is the dean of devil studies. This is the summary book from his five volume history of the topic.

“[In The Prince of Darkness] Russell recreates the arcane images of good and evil we all once understood perfectly well as children. From the moment the cover is lifted on this beautifully produced book, the world darkens. Russell presents story after story, using them like a descending staircase, drawing us down into archetypal memories of unending battles with the Evil One.”—Bloomsbury Review

The Devil's story in detail.

Are you ready to RUMBLE?!

“[The Old Enemy is a] learned . . . but also robust book. . . . Forsyth is much at home amid the heroics, graphic laments and winged enormities and leviathans of the Sumerian, Hittite and Canaanite epic fables. . . . He sees the narrative links between Marduk and Zeus, between the death-king Mor and the classical underworld. At the close of the study, the chapters on Augustine glow with intelligence and sympathy.”—George Steiner, The Times Literary Supplement

What the?

What the?

“This book displays the breath and breadth of life in history more than any merely analytical study could do. [The Formation of Hell] illuminates and deepens us with its humanity and its rare lucidity of style.”—Jeffrey Burton Russell

The prince of philosophical prose. Nobody keeps you interested in abstruse problems like Kolakowski.

The prince of philosophical prose. Nobody keeps you interested in abstruse problems like Kolakowski.

“[Kolakowski’s] exploration of the philosophy of religion covers the historical discussions of the nature and existence of evil, the importance of the concepts of failure and eternity to the religious impulse, the relationship between skepticism and mysticism, and the place of reason, understanding, and in models of religious thought. He examines why people, throughout known history, have cherished the idea of eternity and existence after death, and why this hope has been dependent on the worship of an eternal reality. He confronts the problems of meaning in religious language.”

He'll make you a believer in the (non?-)existence of Satan.

He’ll make you a believer in the (non?-)existence of Satan.

“Rene Girard is beyond question one of the seminal Christian thinkers of our time. Few, if any, have more imaginatively engaged the dominant ideas of modernity and post-modernity by exploring the bilical telling of the human story. He is one of those writers who, once discovered, leaves an indelible mark on one’s mind and soul. Read I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, and be prepared to be changed.”—Richard John Neuhaus, First Things

HEAVEN

Zaleski is our premier guide to otherworld journeys.

Zaleski is our premier guide to otherworld journeys.

“Critics of religion have argued that Christianity’s success stems from its promise of eternal life, that people become Christian at bottom merely to cope with their fear of death. Contemporary theologians and philosophers, highly sensitive to this charge, tend to skirt the issue of life after death. To speak of the afterlife is at best to engage in wishful thinking, at worst to descend to the level of pop religion, encounters with angels, and UFO abductions. In The Life of the World to Come, however, Carol Zaleski asks the question, ‘Are we rationally and morally entitled to believe in life after death?’ and answers with a spirited and emphatic ‘yes.'”

Much more fun than his book on sin and guilt.

Much more fun than his book on sin and guilt. Also one of the nicest people I’ve ever met.

“With erudition and wit, Jean Delumeau’s History of Paradise explores the medieval conviction that paradise existed in a precise although unreachable earthly location. Delving into the writings of dozens of medieval and Renaissance thinkers, from Augustine to Dante, Delumeau presents a luminous study of the meaning of Original Sin and the human yearning for paradise. The finest minds of the Middle Ages wrote about where paradise was to be found, what it was like, and who dwelt in it. Explorers sailed into the unknown in search of paradisal gardens of wealth and delight that were thought to be near the original Garden.Cartographers drew Eden into their maps, often indicating the wilderness into which Adam and Eve were cast, along with the magical kingdom of Prester John, Jerusalem, Babel, the Happy Isles, Ophir, and other places described in biblical narrative or borrowed from other cultures. Later, Renaissance thinkers and writers meticulously reconstructed the details of the original Eden, even providing schedules of the Creation and physical descriptions of Adam and Eve. Even when the Enlightenment, with its discovery of fossils and pre-Darwinian theories of evolution, gradually banished the dream of paradise on earth, a nostalgia for Eden shaped elements of culture from literature to gardening.In our own time, Eden’s hold on the Western imagination continues to fuel questions such as whether land should be conserved or exploited and whether a return to innocence is possible.”

The man who brought you the ultimate itinerary of the Devil also has a handle on heaven.

The man who brought you the ultimate itinerary of the Devil also has a handle on heaven.

“At minimum, it is the most rigorous modern study of the various strains of Western tradition that culminate in [Dante’s] Paradiso. But its introductory chapter [of A History of Heaven] goes beyond that to sketch out an apologia for passionate heavenly belief. In effect, Russell tries to re-establish the honor of the Christian mystical tradition. . . . Like Dante’s, Russell’s paradise is deeply God-oriented. . . .”—David Van Biema, Time

A slightly more philosophical guide through the significance of the afterlife to the present life.

A slightly more philosophical guide through the significance of the afterlife for the present life.

“Nicodemus first posed the question “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” This book reads that problem in the context of contemporary philosophy (particularly the thought of Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, and Deleuze). The phenomenology of the body born ‘from below’ is seen as a paradigm for a theology of spiritual rebirth, and for rebirth of the body from ‘on high.’ [The Metamorphosis of Finitude argues] the Resurrection changes everything in Christianity–but it is also our own bodies that must be transformed in resurrection, as Christ is transfigured. And the way in which I hope to be resurrected bodily in God, in the future, depends upon the way in which I live bodily today.”

Death, you lose!

Death, you lose!

“Levering brings the best of current biblical scholarship into a creative interface with theological reflection informed by one of the Church’s greatest minds, Thomas Aquinas. In Jesus and the Demise of Death the core tenets of classical Christian eschatology, recently jettisoned by many theologians as allegedly outdated, make a surprising and come-back. Levering adds an important and timely Catholic contribution to the lively contemporary theological debate about Christian eschatology.”—Reinhard Huetter

Don’t miss our top 10 books (that I’ve read) of the last 10 years.

But remember, a different faith means a different afterlife:

I couldn't get a preview of the video link below. So here's a sneak peak.

I couldn’t get a preview of the video link below. So here’s a sneak peak.

http://en.gloria.tv/?media=93470