Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Beginner's Guide to the End of All Existence, or Unfathomable Depth for Dummies

Because of last week's annoying vexcitement, I've lost the plot again and wouldn't know where to find it if I tried. Male-female relations, wasn't it? In the context of the group/individual complementarity or something?

Oh well. Time to dive straight into the cold and bracing waters of O and see what we can pull out. For we are not nuts, we are fishermen! And we are the fish we catch.

For those who glance now and then at the sidebar in order to see what Bob is up & into, I've been trying to slog my way through this Karl Rahner person, whoever that is. (I removed the book from the sidebar as soon as I concluded that it is not for everyone.)

I'd bumped into him frequently in my transdimensional peregrinations, and found that he was often described as the most important Catholic theologian of the 20th century, or at least among the toppermost of the poppermost, along with such fertile eggheads as Balthasar, de Lubac, Maritain, and Congar.

Now, the first thing you need to keep in mind before we begin this strenuous verticalisthenic -- and I know you will -- is that I am neither a Catholic nor a theologian, just a guy with a blog. And as Jean Paul Sartre might have said, hell is other people's blogs.

Frankly, I'm not even a lay theologian, but I will cop to being a ¶lay theodoxian, which is to say, a guy who just fOʘled around and fell in Love, and has a lot of unsolicited opinions about it.

Note that I just used the word "strenuous" up there. It definitely applies, because this is without a doubt some of the most strenuous reading ever engaged in by the Gagdad melon, which is disinclined to what the conspiracy likes to call "work" but we just call slavery.


Oh yes. We are referring specifically to what is said to be Rahner's magnum opiate which is definitely not for the masses, despite its innocent-sounding title: Foundations of Christian Faith: An Introduction to the Idea of Christianity.

"Introduction?" "Foundations?" Ho! C'mon, Karl. You really need to get out of the fane more often. I mean, we just had this ratification of stupidity we call an "election," and to imagine that this grazing multitude of knuckleheaded conformists could grasp the first sentence of your Introduction is to overestimate the average man's yelvertonian intellect by an order of magnitude.

Maybe he was being ironic? If so, he needs to telegraph it a little more. Otherwise you end up like Andy Kaufman or Joaquin Phoenix, who push the joke so far it can start to grate. Gotta be a little more like Spinal Tap, Larry Sanders, or Iowahawk, so the audience can be in on the joke. Why not call yourself something like "Gagdad Rahner" or Coolhand Karl to create the right mood?

Nineteen reviews on amazon, with an average of 4.5 stars, so there are obviously some people ready for such an advanced introduction. Haven't read them yet. Let's see if any resonate...

Yes, this is good: "I bought this book used and it came in great shape. I am currently trying to muddle my way through it."

My experience has been quite similar, except that my used copy has a cracked spine. Should have been rated "acceptable" instead of "good," but I decided to let it go. Life is short and eternity long, and all that.

Ah! Another reader with whom I see eye-to-eye: "I am new to studying Karl Rahner, but this book is difficult to read, confusing, and if the reader is not very careful, can easily misconstrue the author's intent."

This is helpful: the reviewer speaks of Rahner's "rambling German sentence structure, but once you understand that this text, like all of his published works, was written from dictation, you will begin to understand just what is missing from the printed word."

Nevertheless, it is difficult to "capture the characteristic vocal inflections that made the rambling sentences concise and clear. The reader must supply the drama of the words, understanding that not a word that was uttered has been left out of print."

"Thus, Rahner is not to be read so much as to be experienced [what we call (n) vs. mere (k)], and this will take some work. But in this way, the reader will suddenly discover what Rahner, in his persuasive and vastly diverse way, is attempting to say. This book is well worth hearing, for those who have ears."

The problem is, Rahner is attempting to condense "50 published works into one 400 page book" (as one reviewer puts it). What if someone were to ask me to boil down the previous 2069 posts into a 400 page book? Nocando. That's for someone else to attempt. Any takers? I didn't think so.

This review comes close to what I'm getting from Rahner: "A mystical theology for the future" and a "marriage between intellectual thought, deep spirituality, and a home in tradition."

Now, why is he controversial (which he apparently is)? I think I know why, and we'll get into that as we proceed. One reviewer mentions "the perennial conflict within Catholicism between a theology inspired by Thomas (based on Aristotle) and Augustine (based on Plato). The representative of this latter theology is the Swiss theologian Von Balthasar, who wrote his magisterial 'The Glory of the Lord' in response to what he saw as Rahner's 'dilution of the concept of Revelation,' amongst other things."

I can't vouch for that, and have no idea whether it's true.

The reviewer continues: Pope Benedict "is a firm supporter of Von Balthasar's theology, which makes Rahner somewhat unpopular in Vatican theological circles today. Rahner, in contrast to the entire Catholic approach to theology of the past 2000 years, does not start his understanding of Christianity by elaborating upon the tenets of revealed faith, but starts from 'below,' i.e., from mankind as a species which is open to the supernatural in its very essence..."

Now we're brushing up against Coonland, because I definitely have a similar approach -- that is, I start from the facts of existence, not necessarily from revelation.

But the most important fact of existence is without a doubt the human subject, and I am in complete agreement with Rahner that the human subject is inconceivable in the absence of "God" -- which I place in scare quotes because, as emphasized by Rahner again and again, the word is simply too saturated -- including by later revelation -- to serve as an adequate placeholder for what we are attempting to convey -- what Rahner simply calls the Holy Mystery, or what we call O.

As we have demonstrated in so many ways in so many posts, it isn't difficult to prove the existence of God to the intellectually adequate. But as to what God is actually like -- this can only be furnished by revelation, faith, and grace. More on which later, but it's an important distinction, which comes down to the difference between "I" and "AM."

The reviewer notes that "A further difficulty for the traditionalists is that Rahner tries to make evolution an integral part of his understanding of faith." The reviewer properly notes that "placing any scientific theory as an integral part of theology exposes it to the risk of collapse should the theory prove to be false or is replaced by another theory," but I don't see Rahner doing this.

Rather, he seems to make it clear that experience trumps theory. He's just trying to situate the transcendent experience of the presence of the Holy Mystery within the context of an adequate metaphysic that accounts for everything, including the truths of science. Here again, much more on this as we proceed. Which I guess we'll do tomorrow.


Cond0011 said...

"... he seems to make it clear that experience trumps theory. "

Data ----> Hypothesis ----> Theory ----> Law (Cosmos).

Matter ----> Life ----> Mind ----> Spirit.

"Frankly, I'm not even a lay theologian, but I will cop to being a ¶lay theodoxian, which is to say, a guy who just fooled around and fell in Love, and has a lot of unsolicited opinions about it. "

Hee Hee!

I believe you were channeling Dave Barry today, Gaghdad. I was getting worried that people thought I was weeping due to my lame attempts at stifling my laughter.

I just loooove playing in your sandbox, Bob.

mushroom said...

While I have no problem with revelation -- in fact I could be revelation's biggest fan -- I think the mankind as a species which is open to the supernatural is the correct starting point. This will "fit" with revelation, and one can determine both the authenticity and usefulness of revelation from that point.

And I think "discerning of spirits" is a vital gift these days. Probably always has been and would have saved a lot of needless beheadings -- or maybe added a few needful ones.

Gagdad Bob said...

Yes -- Rahner begins with all of the many things that have to exist before revelation is even conceivable, including the type of species or being we must be in order to be able to receive and profit from it.

Magister said...

Bob, Rahner kinda looks like *you*


Minus the slack, of course.

Why do so many midcentury public intellectuals look so damn serious? All official B&W portraits of Big Thinkers lack one thing: smiles.

Nowadays, when everything again is in the sh*tter, everybody is *smiling*.

It's like there's something in the water.

julie said...

This does sound interesting. As to the possibility of irony, that's one thing I've noticed these theologian-types tend to be quite short on. Also jocularity, punnishness, and general playfulness. Which is understandable, given the Subject, but then again the Subject tends to be so heavy, what with being infinite and all, that you'd think more of these chaps would try lightening the load. Humor exists for a reason, after all...

With that in mind, I'm glad you're reading this, so I don't have to ;)

Magister, we're apparently surfing the same wave.

julie said...

Though I'm not sure I see the resemblance...

ge said...

one 20th century philosopher
was always smiling:

Magister said...


The inventor of Fixodent?

julie said...


mushroom said...

I always thought of Tim more as a test pilot than a philosopher. Though it seems he was a character in one of those J.K. Rowling books. I think it was Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stoned.

EbonyRaptor said...

Not to be confused with Van Morrison's Philosophers Stone:


Looking forward to this journey Bob.

ge said...

a couple more examples of
smilin when others'd...?

Jim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Van Harvey said...

Magister said " Why do so many midcentury public intellectualslook so damn serious?"

Not just the intellectuals. For some strange and odd reason, our DMV has pictures lining the walls of class photos from our early schools in the area, grade school through high school age, late 1800's to early 1900's, and you could count the smiles from all of them on one hand.

I suppose when life is taken to have meaning, it's a more serious business, and smiles & laughter were left for something worth laughing about. But as life lost its meaning, people seemed to feel a need to pretend to have something joyful & worth smiling at, all the time:

"Ok everybody, nothing is meaningful or worth fighting for... um... Smile!"

I guess thats another instance of the bottom-up vs top-down approach.

julie said...

For photographic portraits, there were a couple of reasons for the lack of smiles in earlier days.

1) Exposure times - it was tough to hold a grin for very long, especially if you wanted it to be clear and not blurred.

2) Getting your portrait taken was a big deal, and people of taste didn't grin like idiots while having it done.

The proliferation of cameras and improvements in technology changed both of those, and now with the advent of social media half the kids are making duckfaces every time someone holds up an electronic device.

ted said...

For us lazier types, I did find this cliff note-like summary.

In regards to today's vapid camera smiles, I'm a afraid it's become worse than that. :)

Gary said...

>Introduction?" "Foundations?" Ho! C'mon, Karl.

Three theologians, an American, an Englishman and a German were asked to write about elephants. After six months, the American published his 250 page book titled "The Elephant". After 18 months, the Englishman published his 2 volume set "An Introduction to Elephants". After 3 years, the German announced his forthcoming 5 volume work "A Prologomena to the Study of Elephants"

julie said...