Shit Only Matters If It’s Matter

Shit Only Matters If It’s Matter October 10, 2013

“To speak of the resurrection of dead is at the same time to speak of the transformation of heaven and earth. The preoccupation with our own personal and private destiny, so often encouraged by talk of the immortality of the soul, is radically thrown into question. The destiny of the soul is tied to the destiny of the earth. The doctrine of the resurrection, then, entails a profound solidarity with the earth.”
-Ted Jennings, Loyalty to God,

“The Christian dogmatics, which thought of the awakening of souls as coinciding with the resurrection of the flesh, was metaphysically more consistent — more enlightened, if you will — than speculative metaphysics; just as hope means corporeal resurrection and knows through its intellectualization that it has been robbed of what is best.”
-Theodor Adorno, Negative Dialectics

“Poverty means death. If we are conscious of that fact, we can find a language to speak clearly about the resurrection of Christ.”
-Gustavo Gutiérrez, “Church of the Poor”

“It was not just that God defeated death, but that God did so in human flesh, and this has profound implications for flesh itself. It bursts from the tomb, the same but different: a flesh no longer made for cleaving nor for oblivion. … For a Christian, death does not even threaten the end of bodiliness, but rather becomes a physical experience/encounter with the divine.”
-Elizabeth Stuart, “Queering Death”

“The resurrection was not for Jesus an exit from our brutal world into heavenly bliss above… The first witnesses identified the risen Jesus by the marks of his crucifixion. The body of the risen Jesus can be identified by us in the bruised and bleeding body of mankind with which he identified himself.”
-Carl Braaten, The Future of God

“So perhaps for us the resurrection of the body as new vegetation from composed soil might be the natural sacrament of a deeper transformation to which we point, but whose reality lies in the hands of God from whom all things came and are renewed.”
-Rosemary Radford Reuther, address to the Catholic Theological Society

“[The resurrection] did not take place in a heavenly or supra-heavenly realm, or as part of an intra-divine movement or a divine conversation, but before the gates of Jerusalem in the days of Tiberius Caesar and therefore in the place and time which are also ours, in our sphere.”
-Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4.3.298

HT for the idea and title of this post to Jonnie Russell

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  • Shit only matters if it’s real. And though, for us, the fundamental actuality of Reality only appears in the contingency of “matter,” it does not follow from this that our concerns ought to end there. The reality of matter holds within it the question of matter, which leads to a broader category: being. The eternal victory of being over non-being is thus dramatized in the resurrected Christ regardless of the materiality of its historical occurrence. And in any case, speaking of this eternal reality is basically impossible without the use of material forms… as is the case with all theological speech. From this, nothing is lost in concern for material reality as a form of being, but the problem of a reduction of significance to material happenings is avoided.

    • Yes! Heidegger!

      • I still need to get around to Das Heidegger. I’m preaching my developing brand to Thomistic Tillichianism here. One thing at a time.

      • Michael Dise

        Tony, do you understand what is being argued here? The point is that your argument for the necessity of a material resurrection is reductionistic, but I do not assume your “Yes!” acknowledges this (?)

  • Terry Chapman

    Merton, “The dead don’t go anywhere. They are simply caught up in the way the one eternal movement always is.”

    • “Since Your Love is infinite, it can abide only in Your Infinity.” Infinity is “silence” to the finite. Thus, “[t]hat is how my dead imitate Your silence: they remain hidden from me because they have entered into Your Life.” –Karl Rahner

      But “the flesh” in us can’t bear silence… So we have these debates. 🙂

      “They [the dead] are silent because they live, just as we chatter so loudly to try to make ourselves forget that we are dying.” –Rahner again

  • Andrew Dowling

    This is all nice-sounding theology for a educated liberal theologian like yourself, but

    a) It still doesn’t speak at all to the numerous issues when looking at the Resurrection accounts from a higher-critical reading of the Bible. Just because you prefer a certain theological outlook doesn’t make those issues go away. Concurrently, I don’t view John’s Resurrection account as having much “real” history but I think the story conveys truth, and that one can take away the beautiful theological components of the physicality component of Resurrection (as done above) without believing Jesus actually rose from the dead.

    b) I still have yet to hear an adequate answer that if this is how God works . . interventionist supernaturalism via materialist miracles like the Resurrection, why don’t these happen more often? Why can’t parents who lost their child to cancer have a Resurrection? Or maybe some reassurance that God exists . . taken literally, some 1st century Judeans got to experience all of that but then God exited stage right immediately after. That strikes me as a cruel Creator. You go on about “I take it as faith” but a literal Resurrection means that some select few didn’t have to have any faith; they had proof right there in front of them. Which kinda screws everything up.

    c) If your eyes and ears are tilted towards the “boots on the ground,” you’d see the above ideas are NOT how a belief in physical bodily Resurrection manifests itself among everyday Christians. If that were so, conservative Christians and those who made a bodily Resurrection the most integral would all be fitter than the general population and at the forefront of the environmental movement. But in fact the opposite is generally the case. So where’s the meat? Saying “death becomes a physical experience/encounter with the divine” . . .when? Not after death? Are the people who died 2000 years ago still awaiting the physical Resurrection? What about people who died 100,000 years ago? What about all of the people whose bodies have incinerated and have no more body? You take some of these ideas past their flowery exteriors and it becomes nothing more than theological massage giving.

    • Chris Williams

      Andrew, you raise some really good points. I will certainly have to take time to think about what you have said. My gut reaction however is that the New Testament seems to encourage confidence in this world being put to rights, not only for successive generations, but for those suffering then and before. I’m not sure how conscious the “asleep in The Lord” state is supposed to be. Or how securely we can divide the consciousness of the soul and the integrity of the body. While a material resurrection may not provide adequate answers to your, do you have an alternative vision, that has the breadth to be applied pastorally?

  • Craig

    Ugh. What is less inspired than a list of ad hoc rationalizations of church dogma? The tradition says it matters; theologian muster every resource to explain why.

    A fine tradition to join yourself to Tony.

    • Ben Hammond

      What if someone holds to the physical resurrection because of it’s goodness and beauty — not because they are told they have to?

      At this point I’m not put off by people who don’t hold a physical resurrection. This includes friends in my own community. I hold to it because I think it is more beautiful (the implication of it — i.e., what’s valuable, what matters, not necessarily because of the promise of some sort of afterlife). Yes, it’s also what the church has held for most of church history, and definitely makes it my starting place, but it doesn’t mean that I refuse to think differently about it. I part from the historic mainstream when it comes to the suffering of God, members of the LGBT community, and inclusiveness/universality (for starters).

      I think it’s pretty hard to make the case that Ted Jennings holds to anything just because of “church dogma.” I was at a small conference at Chicago University where he had a breakout group to explore what he thinks about the irrelevance of marriage in today’s society.

      • Craig

        Thanks for the thoughtful comments Ben. A couple things strike me as distasteful. First, it seems that people are frequently motivated to defend, on theological grounds, the material resurrection because of some degree of prior commitment to the tradition. This becomes self-perpetuating in a bad way. As the exercise is passed from one generation to the next, a framework for thinking about the issues gets reinforced. So today, even for individuals who don’t consciously bow to the authority of tradition, the framework is hard to escape. Rationalizations, moreover, do get created.

        Second, when I consider the justifications themselves, they ring a bit hollow. It’s as if one has already, to some extent, committed oneself to the importance of the doctrine, and the task is now to conjure up some creative story to explain that importance. Some bright fellow offers a story and others are unusually quick to grab hold of it (especially if offered by an authority figure). The story is not much criticized; it is rather quickly grabbed in the way that a life-boat is quickly grabbed by those treading water. The story fills a need for rationalization. Generally, task that many seem to be engaged in here contrasts with one that I think is more commonly productive and interesting: beginning with something that one feels gripped by, and then, by careful introspection and analysis, seeking identifying more precisely what it is, if anything, that is so persistently and naturally resonant. It is important, in this process, to be open to debunking possibilities, where whatever it is that seemed compelling gets explained away or dissolved.

        To your particular question, if someone tells me this about goodness and beauty, I would first ask them to explain why in more detail. When someone finds a painting beautiful, and it strikes me as dull, I ask the other point out to me features of the painting that might enable my appreciation. Second, I would wonder if alternative ideas (a spiritual resurrection, e.g.) might, under the right eye–and a comparable amount of effort and ingenuity–also be seen to possess goodness and beauty. Third, I would wonder why the goodness and beauty of an idea provides reason for thinking that the idea is true.

        • Ben Hammond

          Thanks for your, also, gracious response Craig.

          You may have not intended it this way, but I’m not too keen on your use of the word “distasteful” — since it suggests, “mild disgust.” I can see why you would see why you could feel that what I said may seem problematic,
          but distasteful is a bit personal.

          In response to your first thought — I think this may involve some assumptions on your part. I try to be very aware of my starting location (“From what location am I approaching this topic/question?”). I was very honest about my starting location: the broad stream of historic Christianity. This is a risky thing to do on the internet (or any forum, but specifically the internet), because when one is “too” specific it can get used against you — and posed as a weakness.. I’m of the frame of mind, however, that the ones who can clearly articulate their starting location are usually the ones who operate with a better understanding of their bias (since there is no such thing as unbiased). In my experience those who claim that their starting location is “neutral” or void of “bias” are usually the most biased participants, but completely unable to see it.

          So, yes, my starting location is the tradition (along with all that comes with it — certain assumptions and defenses — both conscious and unconscious), but that does not mean that it is uncritical by any means. Obviously my specific starting location is much more specific (grew up insanely conservative, now I’m the kind of person that I would’ve seen as “dangerous” all those years ago — and I “could live without it”). We all start somewhere, whether it is similar to my starting location, or another. Either way that same practice of self-analysis is required.

          For the sake of dialogue, where is your starting location? What assumptions are you operating out of (both consciously and unconsciously).

          “It is important, in this process, to be open to debunking possibilities, where whatever it is that seemed compelling gets explained away or dissolved.”

          I agree with this, but I feel that with the topic at hand it’s difficult for either party to be so certain about what arguments are compelling, etc. With this distant event it seems that whatever drives a person to one answer or the other is one’s assumptions — “If there is a ultimate being, in what way does it interact with the world? Does it only work through the natural physics of the universe, or does it occasionally break them… does it break them all the time?”

          The goodness and beauty piece can be very subjective (as aesthetics often are). That’s why when I talking to someone about it I explain why for me, but I don’t try too hard to convince/compel, since I can (at the very least) recognize that the other perspective could be the same for the other. I often times will resort to allowing goodness and beauty (emotions) to have a strong say in provisionally locating myself somewhere if I find the logical arguments on each side of the issue so compelling I can’t make a decision. Obviously I’m not going to locate myself in one place or another in that situation if the implications/consequences of it are dangerous/damaging (though this too can be subjective).

          What are your assumptions with which you approach the subject of physical resurrection vs. another form of resurrection? Do you feel very confident one way or the other? If so, why do you find it compelling and/or beautiful?

  • Nate Warner

    I love what John Updike wrote in Seven Stanzas at Easter:

    Make no mistake: if he rose at all
    It was as His body;
    If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
    The amino acids rekindle,
    The Church will fall.

    It was not as the flowers,
    Each soft spring recurrent;
    It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
    Eleven apostles;
    It was as His flesh; ours.

    The same hinged thumbs and toes
    The same valved heart
    That-pierced-died, withered, paused, and then regathered
    Out of enduring Might
    New strength to enclose.

    Let us not mock God with metaphor,
    Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
    Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
    Credulity of earlier ages:
    Let us walk through the door.

    The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
    Not a stone in a story,
    But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
    Time will eclipse for each of us
    The wide light of day.

    And if we have an angel at the tomb,
    Make it a real angel,
    Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
    The dawn light, robed in real linen
    Spun on a definite loom.

    Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
    For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
    Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
    By the miracle,
    And crushed by remonstrance.

  • roncole

    We need new language, new metaphors to capture Jesus profound redemptive imagination. If we can move past “bodily” resurrection and imagine a re-ignition of the mind of humanity to see the profound reality to sprout embryonic new life in every facet of reality. If not we will never come close to resurrecting what consumed the imagination of his abundant divine humanity.

  • Good stuff Tony. Thanks for sharing! I’m with you. Resurrection matters because bodies matter. Because matter matters. Because embodied suffering matters. Too much theology, both conservative and liberal, seems to preach the opposite these days. I’m sorry, but I just don’t want a dualistic, disembodied theology. I like Yoda as much as the next geek, but the fact is I am this crude matter, and it is the matter itself that makes me a luminous being.

  • David Pickett

    Are faith, hope and love “real?”

    • Agni Ashwin

      I don’t think they matter.

  • David Anderson, Jr.

    This is good stuff, Tony. Thanks for what you do.

  • If shit only matters if it’s matter, what material god produced what kind of material process for this material resurrection and subsequent time warp? Or is the only possible answer that a non-materialistic god did a supernatural thing to produce this magic effect?