Vague Beginnings

How do I imagine this blog?

I have used the title “Post-Christian World” because I feel like a large slice of contemporary culture (whatever this thing is that I call “we”) is a stalled historical dialect of Christianity and the Bible always asserting themselves, modernity always rejecting and transcending them, and a consequent welter of confusion and chaos erupting between the two. When I say that the world is “post-Christian,” I mean to say that we are always leaving Christianity, but have never quite left it. Somehow it is never quite in the past, never quite defeated. Obviously there is a large segment of furiously pro-Christian belief and sentiment that proclaims the failure of atheism, skepticism, liberalism, etc. Then there is an enlightened modernity that refuses religion and revelation with equal confidence. In the middle, there are very many confused people who view themselves as tolerant of both religion and science, both the Bible and modernity, but who really don’t have a clue about either.

My own perspective is that (a) the Bible is abidingly important, (b) faith in its full, original form is impossible, absurd, and destructive, (c) nothing in today’s world is an “adequate substitute” for the faith that once defined Europe and the West, and hence the perpetual power and appeal of back-to-the-faith ideologies; but (d) modern versions of faith (eg, evangelicalism) are even more absurd than the original type; and so (e) we are driven forward once again into a post-Christian, non-Christian, anti-Christian future.

I am ambivalent about how I am framing these topics. I don’t like the airy, German abstractness of it. It a modernist German conceit to imagine HISTORY as a great train we are trying both to build and hop aboard at the same time. Its failure is the necessary and well-known presupposition of postmodernity: a game I refuse to play, which functions as little more than a pretext for Biblical religion to re-insinsuate itself in contemporary life in a variety of ways, some genuinely destructive of the human enterprise. I am thinking particularly of the alliance in American politics between polluting industries, the Christian Right, and the conservative legal establishment that has recently become manifest in the appointment of Justice Barrett, and with her the triumph of a Christian Nationalist Supreme Court of the United States.

My focus in the blog will be on the foundations of Christianity in the Bible. I am particularly interested in Paul and his role in the genesis of Christian scripture and belief. I will also look at philosophical and psychological foundations of belief and faith, and some of the classic modern thinkers who deconstructed them, particularly Spinoza, Feuerbach, and Jung. I have some interest in ancient traditions parallel or prior to Christianity: early Greek philosophy, Middle Platonism, Demiurgic Christianities of the 2nd century (aka “gnosticism”), Hermetic philosophy, Neo-platonism, Medieval Kabbalah, and various figures of the early modern period. Also, some favorites in the 19th century: Romantic poets, Baudelaire, Emerson, Melville, Nietzsche.

I also have some interest in pantheism, an underrated and mostly unexplored landscape for post-religious thought and imagination. My own version of pantheism is allied with atheism, skepticism, and liberalism, similar to Spinoza. As a specifically western pantheist, I don’t have much time for the idea that empirical reality is an illusion. I look to Heraclitus as the philosophical founder of western pantheism, who invented the same type of pluralistic monism that we find in Hegel or William James. Unlike religion, pantheism is not a therapy, and it holds aloof of either optimism or pessimism. I harbor a suspicion that both Job and Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament are essentially pantheistic, but this is a claim I will have to explore in a future post.

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