Friday, February 25, 2011

Blog closed

I have decided to finally retire this blog - my way of thinking hase moved so much since when I was active writing it that I do not really want to associate myself with what I wrote four years ago anymore. I might delete it soon.

I have started a new blog at my University's site. There I will comment on reading and write about what I publish and so on. If you want to, head over.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Good Introduction to Zizek

I just want to recommend a good short Introduction to Slavoj Zizek's thinking about Christianity: Frederiek Depoortere's book Christ in Postmodern Philosophy which treats Gianni Vattimo, René Girard and Zizek. I have only read to part on Zizek but it was extremely helpful, giving a good simple introduction to Lacan and a very acessible treatment of Zizek's Christology. Highly recommeded.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The City of God V, 10: The freedom of God

In book five Augustine suddenly gets all theological (finally!). The main theme of the book is astrology ets. However, in V, 9 he discusses the possibility of prophecy with Cicero (who maintained that foreknowledge is impossible since it would make freedom of will impossible.

In V, 10 gets to answer the standard smartass question most theology teachers will face one day: How is it that God who is omnipotent cannot die or err.

For we do not make the life of God and the foreknowledge fo God subject to necessity if we say that it is 'necessary' for God to live forewer and to foreknow all things. By the same token, His power is not diminished when we say that He 'cannot' die or err. For this is impossible to him in such a way that, if it was possible, He would have less power. He is indeed rightly called omnipotent even though he cannot die or err. For He is called omnipotent because he does what he wills and does not undergo what He does not will: if this were not so, He certainly would not be omnipotent.
Of course, this makes it dificult for Augustine to approach the problem of theodicy, but that question is not treated here. This is to me very much not the Eastern concept of pantokrator that might be defined as to have the ability to do what one wills, but perpaps not always not undergo what one does not will.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The City of God IV, 3:Freedom and Virtue

The pace up significantly in book IV. Augustine is now attacking the belief in the pagan gods by mocking their multitude. If they are som many, surely this means that they are very weak. But he gets into som interesting questions here. This is the first mention of the now famous "Augustinan" notion of freedom.

Whatever evils are inflicted upon just men by unjust masters are not the punishement of crime, but the test of virtue. Therefore the good man is free even if he is a slave, wheras the bad man is a slave even if he reigns: a slave, not to one man, but, what is worse, to as many masters as he has vices.
I.e. freedom is freedom to do good, not freedom to do whatever one wants.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The City of God III: The Impotence of the Gods

In book three, not one of the most memorable texts written by Augustine the argument is that the Roman Gods didn't really protect Rome while they were worshiped. Augustine retells various tradgedies and catastrophes that happened to Rome and its allies. Rhetorically mildly interesting, Augustine is constantly speaking as if the gods did exist, but just did not bother to do anything.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

The City of God II: Demons and Morals

It seems my idea that Augustine here tries to develop a distinction between pagan and Christian virtues was really flawed. Rather, the concept of suicide seems to be the great exception in a discourse where Augustine essentially thinks of morality as basically universal (he constantly brings up pagan writers as witnesses for the same virtues that Christians strive for. If Augustine in book one argues that the Sack of Rome is not the consequence of the Romans abandoning their old Gods, in book II he argues that the lack of morality that he (and his antagonists?) feel are the true cause, was not caused by Christianity but had developed much earlier.

An interesting item is the way Augustine now turns up the "Pagan Gods are really demons" rhetoric. I wonder to what degree this is really A:s conviction and to what degree it is part of his attempt to make them look ridiculous. I am sure there are a dozen thesis's written on the topic. This is a fun quote, from II, 25.

Once upon a time, on a broad plain in Campania, where not long afterwards citizen armies came together in an awful combat, they [the demons/gods] were even seen to fight among themselves. At first, great crashing sounds were heard there. Then, shortly afterwards, many men reported that they had seen two armies fighting for several days. When this battle ceased, they also found marks there, as of men and horses, such as might have been imprinted by conflict. If, therfore, the divine beings truly fought among themselves, the civil wars of human beings now at any rate have an excuse. Consider, though, the malice or misery of such Gods! If, however, they only pretended to fight, is it not surely clear that they did this so that the Romans, in waging civil war as if by example of the gods, should seem to commit no wickedness?
Does Augustine really believe this?

Friday, September 04, 2009

The City of God I, 30: Fear and Virtue

In the final part of book on Augustine discusses another legendary Roman, Scipio Nasica, the Pagan High Priest and Senator that opposed the destruction of Carthago. Augustine's take on this complicates my interpretation in the previous post. Scipio's point was that the romans would be corrupted if they did not have a strong enemy.

For Scipio feared security as the enemy of weak spirits. He saw that fear was necessary to the citizens: to act, as it were, as a suitable tutor during their pupillage. Nor was he mistaken in his judgement; for the outcome proved how truly he had spoken. For when Carthago was destroyed and the great terror of the Roman commonwealth thereby repulsed and extinguished, the prosperous condition of things immideately gave rise to great evils.
The lack of an outer enemy lead the romans into civil wars and more importantly "lust for mastery" and the avarice and luxury.

Now, I don't know about you, but to me this sounds more like the arguing of a fascist than of a Christian. And Augustine keeps this up, he nowhere (at least not in book I) criticises this way of reasoning. In my dissertation I show how Isaac of Nineveh interprates fear in a similar way but draws the opposite conclusion from it. Empire needs fear to function - it is the way the citizens are controlled. But for Christians this means that we have to denounce empire and let Christ free us from all fear. In fact, Augustine here does not at all problematize the connection of Christianity to empire he is merely concerned with pointing out that the Romans were not corrupted by Christianity but by their own power befor the rise of Christianity. It is as if he is arguing against Gibbon! (also, it is a weak argument - Rome did not really lack enemies outside its borders during the time when Roman virtues were weakned...)

Isaac's view is far better I think, and still, of course, perfectly valid today.

Update: In IV, 3 Augustine has a more negative view of fear: "The wealthy man, however, is troubled by fears; he pines with grief, he burns with greed." It seems to bea feature of Augustine's rhetorics that he feigns agreement on his supposed opponents in all issues but the one discussed at the moment.