13 July 2008

New work on theology

Charles Bellinger has announced on his blog that he has completed work on a book called The Trinitarian Self.

Who is Bellinger? An associate professor of theology at Brite Divinity School, part of Texas Christian University. He holds his Ph.D. in Theology from the University of Virginia.

Though Bellinger and his book came to my attention by random circumstance, I choose to spend a little time this Sunday summarizing what I take to be its message.

He gives us a critique of what he takes to be the reductionism of secular social science, particularly in its efforts to understand violence, which gets reduced to childhood traumas or difficult social conditions. All very "horizontal" in his lingo, destructive of the idea of responsibility.

As a "vertical" alternative, Bellinger turns to the thought of three adopted mentors: Søren Kierkegaard, René Girard, and Eric Voegelin.

To Kierkegaard in particular, various forms of violence are responses to the challenges of spiritual growth, an "I'll never grow up" tantrum. Humans feel painfully ambivalent about God and God-relatedness, and the negative side of this ambivalence is violence.

Kierkegaard also spoke of the three "stages" of human development: aesthetic, ethical, and religious. Bellinger transmutes these "stages" into dimensions. He thinks of the aesthetic dimension as inward/outward, the moral as horizontal, and the religious as vertical.

Bellinger sees Girard as the best expositor of the horizontal dimension, and one who became such largely through emphasizing the scapegoat mechanism, its role in society, and indeed the role of scapegoating in all its violence and ugliness, in separating humans from the beasts.

The vertical dimension doesn't bring an end to the violence of this mechanism, bur redeems it.

From Voegelin Bellinger derives the lesson that human existence occurs "in between" materiality and the transcendent realm of God, that human beings have a marked tendency to avoid living honestly with the messiness of this "between," and that this causes us to create lies, "second realities" in which we can lead less messy lives.

Those alternative realities are what Voegelin famously called gnosticisms.

That, then, is the gist of the book. From these three thinkers we can construct a new Summa, which would be as important an achievement for our own day as Aquinas' was in his. Bellinger doesn't see his own work as constituting the new Summa -- but if I understand him rightly he thinks he's written the table of contents for it, in book form.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.