I wonder if Barth might laugh at the profound irony in such trite slogans as "my karma ran over your dogma." Apparently Barth was a jovial fellow and even proposed that "laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God" (here). So I can picture it:
|"Heh heh heh!"|
With its clear and flippant allusion to "my car ran over your dog" the subtle violence contains no hint of regret or sorrow. (The poor dog, laying in the ditch cold and unmoving, it's owners calling and calling...)
The karma clearly stands superior to the dogma. Is it just me, or does karma seem strikingly dogmatic in its victorious domination?
Barth's concluding section to this first volume paints a very different picture of dogma than that which has become commonplace in popular discourse. Dogma is generally seen as inflexible, authoritarian, immune to logic or science or debate, and elevated far above the possibility of error by those blessed enough to have gripped it. Barth might laugh, perhaps, in part because such an adulterated concept of dogma might benefit from a bit of vehicular homicide. He offers a strikingly different perspective on dogma.
He begins by affirming the radical difficulty of the dogmatic task. The task is "the examination of Church proclamation in respect of its agreement with the Word" (p. 247), and it is made difficult by its incomprehensibility - the incomprehensibility of the Word's nature and the incomprehensibility of the fact that it is spoken to human beings. This incomprehensibility means that the dogmatic task is not done immediately, by direct apprehension of the Word but only in recollection and anticipation of the Word. Like faith, proclamation has both divine and human elements and must be judged accordingly, which is precisely the task of dogmatics, and over this task the Word stands as unassailable judge.
In other words, dogma is "not the truth of revelation" (p. 264). With the Bible "the Church cannot sing a duet" but must listen to it "as a full and unique solo" (p. 257). So free and absolute is its station that "the Word of God over the Church and to the Church will permit of no proof" (p. 258). Here Barth sounds strikingly like Kierkegaard, who saw such attempts as inherently objectifying and therefore standing necessarily in direct contrast to faith - a definitively subjective experience. The Word suffers no proof but "proves itself to be such in the event of faith when it occurs" (p. 260).
The irony of our karmic slogan (above) begins to shine when Barth proposes that "thus the real results of dogmatics...can themselves only be new questions, questions to and fro between what the Church seems to proclaim and the Bible seems to want proclaimed, questions which can be put only with the greatest modesty and a sense of supreme vulnerability if they are perhaps serious and significant questions" (p. 265). Questions, modesty, vulnerability - do these qualities define dogma as commonly understood? Hardly.
And he goes on that if dogmatics should be perfected or completed (if agreement were so complete that agreement was demonstrated and questioning was thus no longer necessary) then "the kingdom of God would have dawned" (p. 265). Thus dogmatics is ever in flux until the eschaton, a theologia viatorum (theology on the way), an "ectypal theology of indirect revelation done by humans on the way after the fall" (ibid.). Dogmatics - theology - is ectypal, a copy of the real thing.
Notably, he goes on to argue that dogmatics should be approached as a science, because he has "no interest in de facto self-segregation from the other human efforts at knowledge that bear this name" and "because [they] must protest against a concept of science that would exclude its own effort at knowledge" (p. 271).
As an aside: Barth divides dogmatics into two categories: regular and free. Regular that integrative whole in which every detail is interrelated and interdependent, and irregular is the free consideration of a theme or a fragment. I suppose practical theology may fit into the irregular category, as it is, indeed, "relatively free in relation to the biblical basis or its choice of partners in discussion" (p. 273) and "consists in criticism and correction of Church proclamation regarding its agreement with the revelation attested in Holy Scripture" (p. 275).
The dogmatic tasks, in conclusion, must devote itself to "criticism and correction of Church proclamation and not just to a repetitive exposition of it" and inquire into the agreement of Church proclamation with revelation (278). Thus dogmatics serves the Church as a constant, consistent corrective.
That such an vision of dogma could degenerate into the current popular conception strikes me as evidence - if not proof - that the Church has largely failed to practice dogmatics in Barth's sense. We would certainly benefit from undertaking theology from this modest, vulnerable, questioning, and self-critical approach. Thus dogma isn't threatened by karmic violence. It humbly presents itself as a vital corrective to the sort of bastardized dogma which has, apparently, been crushed on the highway. With apologies to Alfred Noyes:
When they [ran] him down on the highway,Down like a dog on the highway,And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat.
That might lead nicely into my next planned blog, in which I apply insight from my experience as a counselor to theological discussions. Specifically, I address the common occurrence of cognitive distortions (dysfunctional thinking) in popular theologically-oriented conversations.