X and Non-X

In an essay on von Balthasar’s ontology of generosity (in Ordering Love), David L. Schindler calls attention to the dualities we often invoke in “accounting for our experience”: “God and the world; the order of reality and the order of knowing; the soul, or mind, and the body; the self as individual and the self as social; rights and duties; the private and the public; state and society; the human and the subhuman; object (or objective) and subject (or subjective); freedom and necessity; love, or freedom, and intelligence; faith and reason” and so on and on (361).

Though various and distinct, these all share a single logic, a common way of describing the relation between x and non-x. Invoking Descartes, Schindler says that modern culture demands “as the condition for an idea’s reasonability, and hence for something being affirmed as certainly present in reality or in the objective world . . . that there be no trace of an implication of non-x in x.” X and non-x are conceived of as “external” to one another, and any relation between them has to be conceived as an “addition.” If the relation is strong and determinative, it “cannot but be forceful and intrusive, because any relation between the two, given the original indifference . . . is eo ipso adventitious” (361–2).

This conception excludes the possibility that relation might be as fundamental as identity; it therefore excludes an ontology of generosity and love: “By an ontology of generosity I mean an ontology according to which what is naturally given (x) bears within it, precisely coincident with its own identity as such, an order or relation, or an ordered relation, toward and from others. . . . The key to understanding properly the relation of x to non-x lies above all in the recognition that the relation is given in and with the constitution of each’s identity as such and hence as a matter of the original-natural order of the one and the other” (365). A thing’s identity doesn’t get diffused into relation; on the contrary, it possesses its identity as the thing it is in its relation to what it is not.

Not just secular thought, but a good deal of Christian thinking and rhetoric trades in these dualisms. Certain forms of Christian apologetics, for instance, assume a stark objective/subjective distinction. While these might lend weight to belief in the existence of some being, this form of thought excludes from the beginning the possibility that God is love and that creation is fundamentally ordered by love. 

Modernity, we might say, is averse to perichoresis.

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