Quote for the Week

The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. Both errors tend to make him “personal.” Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.

–T. S. Eliot, Tradition and the Individual Talent; courtesy of Wikiquote.

Posted on 10/06/2018, in literature, poetry and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. So I’ve come here off your recent comments on Rod Dreher’s blog. Thanks for your blog!

    I’m surprised by your claim that reconciling Adam and Eve to science is an alive topic in theological research. I’m a theological researcher myself, and I know of exactly no single human being who is engaged in research such as this. At least, no one who might be respected now (maybe this was in vogue c. 2009, like the links you give at TAC?). Even the evangelicals I know think this kind of “A and E are real” thinking is a dead end. So I really wonder why you think finding a “reconciliation” of the biblical myth to evolutionary science could be fruitful?

    And I know you demur with “it hasn’t been done” — I get that. But then why spend time on it at all?

    Catholic Dogma?

    It’s a myth — and that’s OK (!) — it serves a purpose in theology as myth. It’s useful as a narrative in theology, and most certainly useful to understand and explain the past history of Christian theological thought. “Adam and Eve” are necessary in this historical realm. Everyone who takes Christianity seriously gets that!

    But beyond that? Not so much.

    Have you ever read Ricoeur? Paul Ricoeur was an influential Protestant philosopher and theologian who dealt with hermeneutics — the science of interpretation. His idea was that we need to learn how to interpret the Bible, not try to reconcile it with a science that it wasn’t meant for anyway.

    Hermeneutics is a branch of philosophy that is often used by theologians. I encourage you to check it out!

    But if you’re really a Catholic, and not a fundamentalist, I’d encourage you to become an expert on Catholic Social Teaching, and start voting accordingly.

    • Hello, xav. I posted links to some articles from Nathan O’Halloran. From what I’ve read of his essays, and other things I’ve read here and there, coming up with a better model of Original Sin in light of modern science is an ongoing project with some Jesuits and others. I may be mistaken, but that was my impression.

      Of course Adam and Eve are mythical–I thought that was clear from what I said. My point is, how are we to understand the notion of a “fall” and of “Original Sin”? If the concept of Christ as Savior is to be meaningful, he must be saving us from something. The traditional answer is that he’s saving us from sin, both Original and personal. The concept of Original Sin is an attempt to answer the question, “If God is good, and what He creates is good, then why are humans as they are?” It seems to me that in the sense that humans are obviously prone to misbehavior and evil (in the theological sense), Original Sin makes sense. The question is, where does it come from?

      The traditional answer is the Adam and Eve narrative. Obviously, that can’t be taken as anything more than myth nowadays. Buddhist and Hindu thought would say that avidyā–“ignorance”, which results in all the nastiness of human behavior–just is. It’s baked into the cake, and there’s no particular reason for it. It just must be overcome. In Judaism, it is said that God gave man the yetzer ha-tov (“impulse to good”) and the yetzer ha-ra` (“impulse to evil”), which humans must keep in balance–sort of a quasi-Taoist perspective.

      Christian doctrine traditionally says that humans were innocent as created, but somehow “fell”. Now one could argue that humans were not, in fact, “innocent”–however we want to understand that–as created. That’s a valid perspective; but then one is going to have to explain why a purportedly perfect God would create beings that were fallen from the first (note carefully–I’m not saying “perfect”. Not even traditional theology requires that “Adam” and “Eve” were perfect–just innocent in a way that modern humans are not). Also, if humans were made fallen or flawed, then one has to consider what redemption by Christ means.

      One could take the notion of the two impulses of Jewish lore, but that’s not a traditional part of Christian teaching. One could say that humans were created innocent, and then something went wrong. If so, how does that relate to what we know of human origins? That’s what I meant about reconciling the theology to the science–not trying to retain a literal “Adam” or “Eve”.

      Personally, I’m somewhat taken with Evagrius Ponticus’s notion that human souls existed before the creation of the world, and that the “original sin” was a falling away from contemplation of God. Thus, our embodiment is brought about in order for us to gradually return to God through ascetic practice in our physical lives. This, at least as stated, would seem to contradict established dogma (though I think there are some loopholes, which I’ll discuss in future posts); but it does seem to answer the question of how the Fall occurred, without violating known science.

      I guess one could just say, “Adam and Eve are a myth, humans are as they are, Jesus saves, and to heck with the details beyond that!” That’s not really a satisfactory approach to me; but YMMV, of course.

      I know of Ricoeur, but I’ve not read him. I tend to distrust both phenomenologists and 20th Century French intellectuals, honestly; but I may have a look at his work some times.

      “But if you’re really a Catholic, and not a fundamentalist, I’d encourage you to become an expert on Catholic Social Teaching, and start voting accordingly.”

      I’m not sure where that came from, or how it relates to the substance of what I write here or at Rod’s blog. I am indeed “really” a Catholic; I am fairly well acquainted with Catholic Social Teaching; and I do try to vote in accordance with that, in terms of what is actually available, according to prudential judgement, and according to the best “fit” (neither major party fits very well, at the current time). I don’t quite get what point you’re trying to make, though.

  2. Yes, I suppose I assumed much given that you commented on a conservative blog. But then so did I, and I’m not a conservative. Forgive my snark. It’s a bad habit.

    OK, I see that original sin is your focus here. That helps. Let me push back a bit.

    First, the theological language of original sin presupposes an ethical set of standards that doesn’t fit the realities of evolutionary biology. To speak of “innocence” for ancestral hominids is wildly anachronistic. How could the concept of “innocence” apply to them? Pure consent in sexual relations? Non-eating of other hominid flesh (Homo neanderthalensis)? No incest? No violence toward other hominids encroaching on their hunting grounds? I find this concept hard to place, since I don’t view animals now who act in these ways either “innocent” or “guilty”. They just are. This is animal activity.

    Second, so are you talking about consciousness? Hominids mysteriously leave “innocence” by gaining consciousness? But still here, consciousness doesn’t solve anything because the actions noted above are still continued [continue]. Where is the break between “innocence” and “guilt”? Now these hominids are guilty! This is a huge assumption to grant, the idea that the conceptual apparatus around original sin actually applies to nature; that somehow a “knowledge” is granted somewhere. How would we know? [Freud answered this with a murder of the father by the primal horde, Girard with a tribal scapegoating — both are moronic — this is scientism.]

    Third, the conceptual that you provide are interesting (Judaism, Daoism, Buddhism) but remain entirely within a metaphysical framework (Plato/Origen — both gnostic). They are fictions to describe/take on human reality, not explanatory in any sense that meets a scientific reality, or a philosophically sound methodology.

    Here’s why I brought up Ricoeur. You’re trying to engage in a hermeneutic that is revelatory, that is, explanations that describe the human experience, but you’re not actually engaging in describing phenomena and human interrelatedness to said phenomena. So this is the worst form of scientism. This is the emptiness of “natural law”. Pure metaphysics without copula.

    Nature isn’t a one-to-one regulated correspondence, Aquinas notwithstanding. So we’re left with interpretations of nature and the human within it. God is the horizon.

    Christ’s salvation is a question for another day.

    Peace to you and your family!


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