Gagarin and the Seven Heavens (Sketch of an Outline)

In the wake of Yuri Gagarin’s historic ascent into “outer space”, Nikita Khrushchev remarked

As to paradise in heaven, we heard about it from the priests. But we wanted to see for ourselves what it is like, so we sent our scout there, Yuri Gagarin. He circled the globe and found nothing in outer space — just complete darkness, he said, and no garden at all, nothing that looked like paradise. We thought the matter over and decided to send up another scout. We sent Herman Titov and told him to fly around a bit longer this time and take a good look — Gagarin was only up there for an hour and a half, and he might have missed it. He took off, came back and confirmed Gagarin’s conclusion. There’s nothing up there, he reported. [1]

There’s a remarkable concentration in the saying by Khrushchev: it asserts that traditional talk about God “in the heavens” is referring to space that is above the sky. As we saw in a previous post that looked at the older models of the universe with regard to how the outer layers of the sky (or the spheres) were supposed to influence things on the earth, the sky was, at first, conceived of as a dome.

At a basic level, Khrushchev is correct (and this, despite Gagarin’s later religious beliefs). Continue reading

Confession: Why This is Not an Apologetics Website (Part Five)

As I noted in the previous post, this series begins with Part 1, which outlined my main reasons for rejecting apologetics because at best it merely uses what is public for factional ends (it also shuts down conversations and does a host of other awful things). It also carries forward from Part 2, which adds some autobiographical notes to the themes brought out in Part 1.

Part 3 recalled several things said to me by a professor I had concerning the nature of Christian identity. Part 4 covered a conference held regarding the prospects of an Orthodox Great Books school (and the conflict involved in the tension between a Great Books education and a decidedly religious one), and further covered problems with what I’ve heard some call the “postmodern” approach to theology found in figures such as Fr. John Behr.

Here, I summarize my own view — or, at least, the view that I have for now, and why it is incompatible with selling other people a religious identity (and so, with apologetics). After a brief explanation of one small feature of classical “ontology” (the “philosophy of being”) of the ancient world in VI, I’ll start with the relatively short answer in VII.

Finally, for those with any interest, the next post shall move into a more detailed explanation about what exegetical considerations lie at the backend of the short answer of section VII. After the next post, I don’t expect I’ll be writing any more on this topic, except historical work, likely a year or more down the road, to show the relationship between the pagan Classical tradition of philosophy and the early Christological formulae and literature. 

Continue reading

Confession: Why This is Not an Apologetics Website (Part Three)

Continued from Part 1, where most of my position is outlined, and Part 2, which clarifies some of the points of Part 1. Here, in Part 3, I give some autobiographical and anecdotal exchanges that lay a decade in the background of the coming three posts. 

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An Example of Historical Distance & Difference: Πειρασμός, Historical Drift, and Reappropriating a Mutation as the Original

In an earlier post, we looked at the Greek word “χάρις“, namely, the way that the historical sense of this word is bound up in a very stratified social setting, and how translating it almost always ends up becoming a proxy war for different confessional agendas (I should add that it is difficult it is to think past these agendas, because they are rooted in a history of interpretation generated by reflection on the original word through various cultural contexts and historical epochs).

Perhaps I should also add: ignoring this history-of-interpretation ignores some of the latter fallout of this word, ignores at least part of the history of its effects, and so neglects to treat properly the word itself.

Here we shall look at another Greek word: “πειρασμός”, nearly ubiquitously mistranslated as “temptation”. Continue reading

Excerpt #2 — Larry Shiner on Friedrich Gogarten on Secularism

Here is the beginning of Larry Shiner’s book on Friedrich Gogarten, a German Lutheran friedrich gogartenwho wrote during the beginning of the 20th century. I found Gogarten through a footnote in a book by another German Lutheran, Wolfhart Pannenberg, and looking at this, it is difficult to hear that Gogarten differs from Pannenberg on this topic, whether due to the historical record or to the influence Gogarten had on Pannenberg (whose take on secularity and secularization shall eventually appear here).

Gogarten’s general thesis strongly resembles elements of the disenchantment of the modern world that Charles Taylor describes. Although disenchantment is not quite the same thing as the de-divinized world that the early Christians or their successors lived in, the two are related, and the latter certainly offered part of the foundation for the former. Also similar to the above-linked post on disenchantment is the model of meaning found in Gogarten, who argues, according to Shiner, that man

universally experiences responsibility for his own destiny as the task set by his relation to the world. However feebly we may live up to it, Gogarten sees in this responsibility the Law before which we must justify ourselves today, the ultimate “ought” written into the fabric of existence.

Although the pre-Christian world can fairly be described as presenting “a mythically understood cosmos determining and securing human life by its spiritual powers”, I am uncertain as to whether the pre-Christian engagement with the world neglected to think of the world as over-against humanity. Certainly the divinity of each and all things in The Iliad militates against this? –but then this could be taken to signal that the world is not other than the subject.

If the reader discerns me to have serious reservations about this excerpt, in whole and in part, he or she would be correct. It has value insofar as it presents one take –one take– on secularization as the actualization of Christian principles. (There are other interpretations that see modernity as such an actualization, and still other takes that see the secular modern period as something autonomous, and legitimate in itself.) Enough: here is Shiner on Gogarten. Continue reading