Saturday, February 16, 2019

Not a project, but a task; not a promise, but an undertaking

"if the program of modernity is thus already sketched at the end of the ancient world and in the texts that founded the medieval world, in what sense does the modern project merit the adjective 'modern'?  The answer is found in the fuller phrase:  it is modern to the extent that it is, precisely, a project.  For it is not at all necessary that the human enterprise should conceive itself as a project.  The genus 'enterprise' in fact contains, alongside of project, another species that one could call task.  And task is opposed point for point to the three characteristics of the project that I laid out above.  Each in fact changes its sign:  with a task, (a) I receive the mission to do something from an origin I cannot control, but must discover; (b) I also must ask myself if I am up to my task, agreeing even to divest myself of what has otherwise been irrevocably entrusted to me; and finally, (c) I alone am responsible for what I am asked to accomplish, without being able to outsource it to an instance that would guarantee its success.
     "Now, with this idea of task, we are able to distinguish the Bible from modernity.  All the biblical images invoked above, including the idea of 'straining forward [epekteinomai] toward what lies ahead' (Phil. 3:13 NRSV), need to be understood in the light of task, not that of project.  The passage to modernity therefore can find its symbol, if not its symptom, in the evolution of literary genres from the epic, where the hero is invested  with a mission he must accomplish, to the novel, in which he departs seeking adventures, and hence following his fancy.
     "The relationship of humanity to nature can know many models.  It is not necessary that it be a conquest, nor that this conquest be connected with the idea of a 'kingdom of man,' nor, finally, that it take on the aspect of a domination realized by technology."

     Rémi Brague, The kingdom of man:  genesis and failure of the modern project, trans. Paul Seaton (Notre Dame, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2018), 5.
     This reminds me so much of the distinction Philip Turner made between the undertaking and the promise ("Undertakings and promises:  sexual ethics in the life of the church:  the 1990 Zabriskie Lecture series," Virginia Seminary journal (March 1991):  3-27; First things (April 1991):  36-42; Studies in Christian ethics 4, no. 2 (August 1991):  1-13).

Friday, February 15, 2019

"the [very] center of theological thinking"

"To pursue the problem of church discipline to the depth of its rootedness and the breadth of its branchings out is to be referred to the [very] center of theological thinking.  Indeed, of all of the questions that beset the church today and demand resolution, I know of none upon which the themes of theology converge so decisively, none whose resolution is so urgent and would be of such fundamental and far-reaching significance, as that of church discipline."

     Gerhard Ebeling, a member of the Confessing Church that opposed Hitler, in a lecture (Kirchenzucht (1947)) delivered first in Berlin in 1943, as quoted by Dorothea Sattler, in her "Sündige Menschen in der Gemeinschaft der Heiligen?  Alte und neue Frage nach der Kirchenzucht in ökumenischer Perspektive," Zeitschrift für katholische Theologie 127 (2005):  272, as translated by me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

"the Lord takes thought for me"

"As for me, I am poor and needy; but the Lord takes thought for me."

וַאֲנִ֤י עָנִ֣י וְאֶבְיֹון֮ אֲדֹנָ֪י יַחֲשָׁ֫ב לִ֥י

     Ps 40:18, RSV.  In context, "the Lord devises [salvation, help, deliverance] for me."  (Interesting how close this is in form to Gen 15:6:  וְהֶאֱמִ֖ן בַּֽיהוָ֑ה וַיַּחְשְׁבֶ֥הָ לֹּ֖ו צְדָקָֽה, "And [Abram] believed the Lord; and he reckoned it to him as righteousness.")

Monday, February 11, 2019

"instruments of the human soul"

     "Werkzeuge der menschlichen Seele" is the ontological status that Marianne Schark, in her Lebewesen versus Dinge:  eine metaphysische Studie (Berlin:  de Gruyter, 2005), assigns the tools we create, according to Ludwig Jaskolla, "Der Mensch als 'homo faber'?  Überlegungen zur Philosophie der Technik," Stimmen der Zeit 233, no. 6 (June 2015):  389 (385-392).
     More from Jaskolla, who (it must be admitted) does here little more than re-state the obvious:
Technology is not a marginal phenomenon of culture-creating man, but a fundamental constant of man in general:  we are creative beings through and through!  [(386)] 
this creative activity can therefore only be good in the ethical sense when it serves the well being of man [(dem gelingenden Leben des Menschen)].  Only technology that contributes to our realization of the potential of man as an integral whole [(unsere ganzheitliche Potenziale des Manschen)] is good technology [(389)].
Yet because our understanding of the reality we modify, regulate, and change—not to mention our grasp of the consequences of our actions—is never complete, our creative, technological capacities must be exercised with great humility (391).