Monday, June 23, 2014

Lunch With Barth: Dogmatics (CD 1.1§7): my dogma isn't threatened by your karma


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.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Reflecting Reflections (Contemplatio Dei): Baptism's Beauty

Eagle Nebula (Hubble)
I got to see it!

Imagine the thrill of being able to witness the birth of a star or the extinction of a galaxy as its final matter disappears into a black hole. Imagine being a tacit observer as the founding father's pounded out and signed the Declaration of Independence. Imagine the wonder of watching the wall between East and West Germany come down. More fantastically, imagine the awe of finding the Ark of the Covenant or being there when genuine peace is realized in the Middle East.

Perhaps those will give you some sense of the lingering excitement - gentle and delicate though it was - that has followed me in the weeks since our most recent baptism at church.

It was touching that our pastor baptized his daughter. As a relatively new father, my heart flittered around inside a bit at the father-daughterness intermingled with the other-worldliness of what I was witnessing. Still,

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Theological Complicity: Patriarchal Theology's Contribution to Male Abuse of Women

Those interested in reading my paper on the relationship between patriarchal theology and violence against women can find it online. The following link downloads a PDF of the entire 2013 Proceedings of the ASSR (Association for the Scientific Study of Religion):

Theological Complicity: Patriarchal Theology's Contribution to Male Abuse of Women

My article is on pp. 84-99.

You can also access archives of previous years' proceedings at:

Monday, May 20, 2013

Reflecting Reflections (Contemplatio Dei): Silence - To Dream the Impossible Dream?

The Port of Le Havre, Night Effect - Claude Monet
Have you ever tried to attain full, genuine silence of ear, mind, and heart? It is a mysterious goal, as elusive as a mythical creature in the gap between dreams and reality. I once lived in a small apartment with a very loud air conditioning system. When it turned off, the traffic immediately rushed in to fill the audial space. I vividly

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Silence is Complicity: A Call to Speak Up Against Abuse!

This video from TedxTalks says a great deal that I find vital. I am grateful to the women (such as +Kait Dugan) who have publicized this on social media so that I could see it.

To see how far we have yet to go, just observe the comments beneath the video on YouTube (link here). The ignorance there astounds and sickens me. One objection to the message in this talk cited there is the proposal that abuse is "50/50" and not primarily male violence against women.

However, a fact sheet from the Center for Disease Control (link here) states:

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Reflecting Reflections (Contemplatio Dei): Contemplating Beauty in A Poetic Fragment

Garden fountain beside Baylor's Armstrong-Browning Library, Waco, TX.
The goal was a contemplative experience in the quiet of my own heart before the presence of God. It was a lofty goal and not altogether realistic. I had my three month old daughter with me in a stroller, and our last outting together - in which I forgot to bring her bottle - ended in a state radically other than quiet contemplation. This time I was armed with milk. But I had no text. I considered this

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Identity and Absence: The Fig Leaf of Social Media

The commerical to the right is graphically beautiful. It weaves images, motion, and concepts together in a mosaic of "human experience" that I find aesthetically inspiring. It catches me up into a movement, a social upswell of sharing, a veritable communion of experiences. It had me...until the very end. It concludes with the twin declarations that "I need to upload all of it. I need - no - I have the right to be unlimited."


The first time I heard that line - the climax of the commercial - I laughed out loud. It was not a "LOL" sort of laugh. While hearty, it was a laugh drenched with derision and scorn. Perhaps the reason I was so struck was that the language of rights was mixed with a tone of deserving. The speaker seemed to feel that he deserved 4g cell service and thus instilling the message in me via the language of rights. (...And in the interest of full disclosure, there may have been some self-righteous superiority in there as well. I ought to confess that I am far from above such self-centered sentiments. I often feel that I deserve things I have not earned.) The sheer audacity (not of hope but) of the idea of deserving unlimited 4g cell phone service struck me as preposterous folly and just plain silly. 4g cell service isn't a human right. It is something one purchases. The concept of deserving has to do with worth or merit, which is a separate category from the economy of trade and has only a derivative or

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Contemplatio Dei: Reflecting Upon Reflections

Newtonian Telescope Design
M1 = primary mirror; M2 = secondary mirror
A new blog page, a new discipline. Please join in!

I was out by the river in the quiet of the evening the other day, and I thought about my last post, a prayer in which I expressed mourning over the absence of nature in my life lately. That triggered a thought connected by subtle ties. I decided to do blog entries of a more deliberately contemplative nature on an occasional basis.

When when mountains and nature were a more constant experience in my life, I had a greater capacity to sit in silence and inner rest. I was more able to stop, to cease, wait, and listen in the calm. The charismatic background of