The Fanatical Situation

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Under the Fence: Everything Is Shaking

Everything is shaking. And it’s not because of the fence that now divides us. No matter how high the fence between Trump-ers and Never-Tump-ers, the earth shakes under the fence and on both sides of the fence. The ground itself is quivering, seizing, lurching, caving in on itself, like a sinkhole that stops traffic on a street we assumed to be secure. Everything is up-for-grabs.

Deeper and Wider than Politics

What haunts us across America is not primarily political. All politics rise from something deeper. Like oak trees and poison ivy, the shape and substance of what we see spring from depths we cannot see.

Photograph of Willem Zuurdeeg.

Dutch philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg, author of Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born of a Cry, and An Analytical Philosophy of Religion (APR), uses a phrase that may seem strange.

Until we pause to think about it.

Search for solid ground

”The establishment of one’s existence is the background against which imperialistic and fanatical claims have to be understood.”

Zuurdeeg, An Analytical philosophy of religion, p. 89

To ‘establish’ one’s existence is to ‘secure’ it, to keep it from blowing away. We become fanatical and aggressive because we are insecure. We grab for something solid. When we feel the ground shaking, anxiety grabs for something solid. Something that will stay still. Everything is soul-sized. Something in me gasps at the knowledge of human frailty, my mortality, the inevitability of death. The gasps turn into grasps for a secure foothold.

Fanatical Zeal from Hidden Anxieties and Insecurity

Professor Zuurdeeg proposes that we speak of “fanatical claims” rather than “fanatics.” Like most books published in 1958, An Analytical Philosophy of Religion‘s speaks in the gender specific male pronouns. We cite the following paragraphs from page 81:

We have to say: The 'fanatical claimer' sees his own group as more than just a group. It is a fanum. The word "fanatic" is derived from the Latin fanaticus, and this word is related to fanum, a temple, a sanctuary. Fanaticus meant: first, pertaining to a temple; second, inspired by a divinity, especially with the meaning of a frantic zeal for such a divinity. We can say that for the fanatical claimer his group is such a fanum, a sanctuary, a privileged domain which relieves him of his hidden anxieties and insecurity. 

The fanatical Nazi is "the victorious German nation" (his fanum); the Orthodox Dutch Calvinist of the war against Spain (1568-1648) is the Chosen Nation, and is his God of Old Testament wrath. The fanatical claimer cannot permit his basic presuppositions to be questioned because such questioning would imply a doubting not only of these convictions but of the whole structure (his own person, his fanum, his God) cemented together by the process of identification.

-- An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, p.81

It is through the lens crafted in Zuurdeeg’s workshop that I have come to see the world. In the days following the 2020 election, stunned by the “alternative fact” alleging that the election was rigged and stolen, watching the mob storm the Capitol January 6, and hearing the deadly silence of the President of the United States of America betraying his oath of office to enjoy the show, I saw and the frantic zeal of a fanum.

The Focus

But there is more. Drawing from French existentialist philosopher-playwright Gabriel Marcel‘s Man Against Mass Society (1952), Zuurdeeg expanded his analysis:

“Marcel justly points out that there is still another element in the conviction situation of the fanatical claimer, the focus. Marcel suggests that such a focus is an individual; and that is sometimes the case, as with Hitler or Stalin.” (APR, p. 81-2)

Photo of Gabriel Marcel (c. 1951)

America 2021

Everything is up-for grabs. The ground is shaking under our feet. We look for someplace solid, a sure foothold against the chaos. I see the world — or try to — in these terms. But the wise professor and the playwright-philosopher urge us to go deeper than what can be seen and managed, for we are “complex and ambiguous being(s)” who only know ourselves partially. “We are therefore not allowed to speak of a non-fanatical person.” (APR, 84). Although I think I know what Zuurdeeg and Marcel would say if they could see us now, they caution me that only a “fanatical claimer” is without doubt.

Gordon C. Stewart, public theologian, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), 49 brief commentaries on faith and public life, Brooklyn Park, MN, October 20, 2021.

Living with the Wild Beasts

We’re All Samuel Clemons (“Mark Twain”)

Samuel Clemons (“Mark Twain”) wrote in his autobiography words akin to the Gospel of Mark’s briefest description of Jesus’s 40 days and nights in the wilderness:

“With the going down of the sun my faith failed and the clammy fears gathered about my heart. Those were awful nights, nights of despair, nights charged with the bitterness of death. In my age as in my youth, night brings me many a deep remorse.

None of us is ever quite sane in the night. Our faith fails. The clammy fears gather in our hearts. Despair descends. It is into this primitive night of the soul that Jesus enters when Mark describes Jesus’s wilderness temptation with one line:

“He was with the wild beasts, and angels ministered to him.”

Living with the Wild Beasts

Christ in the Wilderness -Kramskoi

The Gospel of Mark says nothing about three temptations, as in the later Gospels of Matthew and Luke.

Mark cuts to the heart of the matter. Jesus enters the frightening solitude which Gerard Manley Hopkins described as a miserable soul “gnawing and feeding on its own miserable self.”

The wild beasts of Mark and of the Hebrew Scripture are symbols representing the violence and arrogance of nations and empires: the lion that threatened David’s sheep; the lion with wings, and a bear gnawing insanely on its own ribs in Daniel’s dream; a leopard and a dragon with great iron teeth destroying everything in its way. The beasts of Daniel and the Hebrew Scripture symbolize the deepest threats, threats to human wellbeing and existence itself. In Daniel’s dream, when the Ancient of Days takes his judgment seat and gathers the nations (wild beasts), they are as nothing before him, but “of his kingdom there shall be no end.”

Like Samuel Clemons, with the going down of the sun [our] faith fails and the clammy fears gather about my heart.

The Primal Cry

In his book Man Before Chaos Dutch philosopher-theologian Willem Zuurdeeg argues that all philosophy and religion is born in a cry. Whether the great philosophies of Plato or Aristotle or Hegel, whether Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, Christianity or what we arrogantly describe as ‘primitive’ religions; whether the political philosophy of Western democracy or Islamic theocracy or one or another economic theory – capitalist, socialist, communist, or communitarian – all philosophy and religion is born in a cry for help. It is the primal cry of human vulnerability, our  contingency, our finitude, our mortality. It is the cry for order, protection and meaning in the face of the chaos without and within.

Separated from all social structure and from all the answers that express or muffle the cry, removed from civilization and all distraction – no computers, no video games, no reading material, no play stations, no TV, no artificial noise, nothing unreal to distract him – in the wilderness of time, “he was with the wild beasts.”

The One Line Cliff Note

“He was with the wild beasts” is a kind of cliff notes for Jesus’ entire life and ministry. He would dwell among the wild beasts – the unruly principalities and powers that defy the ways of justice, love and peace.  He lived and died among the wild beasts that mocked him at his trial – “Hail, King of the Jews!” – stripped him of his clothing, plaited a crown of thorns believing they had seen the end of him. But after the beasts of empire had torn him to shreds, he become for us the crucified-risen King whose love would tame us all.

There are times for each of us when the beasts are all too real, moments when faith falters, nights in the darkness when despair gnaws and paws at us, and hope has all but disappeared.

Beasts and Angels in the Atlanta Airport

A young woman sits in the Atlanta airport. She is returning home from a year of study abroad. All flights have been delayed because of a storm. She is anxiously awaiting the final leg of her journey home. But home as she had known it no longer exits. Her mother and father have separated. Her father has entered treatment for alcoholism. She has entered a wilderness not of her own choosing. The beasts are tearing her apart. Her ordered universe has fallen apart.

She goes to the smoking lounge to catch a smoke. A stranger, her father’s age, sits down. He jolts her out of her fog. “Do you have the time?” he asks. As strangers are sometimes wont to do, they begin to talk. Unaware of her circumstances, he tells her that he is a recovering alcoholic, a former heavy drinker whose drinking was destroying his marriage until his wife became pregnant. The impending birth of his daughter snapped him into treatment and sobriety. “I thought I was going to die,” he says, “but it was the beginning of a resurrection, a whole new life.”

The young woman begins to feel a burden lifting. The stranger finishes his cigarette and disappears. She never gets his name. The loudspeaker announces her flight’s departure. She boards her flight, and as the plane rises through the clouds, she finds herself momentarily sandwiched between two sets of clouds – one below, one above – and the space between is filled with rainbow light, a world whose grandeur and grace exceed all reasons for despair. She is strangely calm in the face of what lies ahead. A sense of peace descends. She is sure that the man has been given to her as a gift. She has been with the wild beasts. An angel has ministered to her.

Dreaming with Daniel

During these 40 days and nights of Lent we live more consciously with the wild beasts, praying that the angels of our better nature will minister to us in the wilderness of time, dreaming with Daniel and Jesus of the Ancient of Days taking his judgment seat and gathering the nations. They are as nothing before him, but of his kingdom there shall be no end.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2021.

Second Siege — Martin Luther King Weekend

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Capitol Sieges during Martin Luther King Weekend

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be different this year. “Stop the Steal” mass gathering are scheduled to convene in state capitols, as well as returning to the nation’s capitol.

After Twitter’s shut down Donald Trump’s Twitter account, The Washington Post published “Capitol siege was planned online. Trump supporters now planning the next one.” “Twitter said it was particularly concerned about contributing to a possible ‘secondary attack’ on the U.S. Capitol and state government facilities the weekend of Jan. 16-17.”

Time will tell whether this weekend will bring a secondary attack, or whether history will regard the second attack as primary. News coverage since the January 6 insurrection has focused mostly on how the U.S. Capitol was left so unprotected — a plan said to have “failed” because of a series of miscommunications, or whether the plan had succeeded, pointing the finger of blame higher up the chain of command on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Washington Post

Less attention has been paid to Martin Luther King weekend with which the “Stop the Steal!” campaign coincides. Competing events will ring the bell for freedom: MLK’s call to “Let freedom ring!” from shore to shore for all God’s children, and DJT’s call to “Stop the Steal!” that will ring out from the clank of a bell crafted by a despot’s lies.

How Could This Happen?

Dutch philosopher of religion Willem Zuurdeeg was driven by a question that deserves our attention again. What is it about being human that led Germany to salute and fall in line behind a madman? His work offers insight into how and why people, religions, and nations become fanatical. Views from the Edge will turn to Zuurdeeg’s understanding in the weeks to come.

For now, the call for deeper reflection by each of us leaps from the final paragraphs of his description of fanatical claims and the “fanatical situation”:

Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness acknowledges Zuurdeeg’s work as “the indelible ink in which Be Still! is written.” Be Still!‘s essay “Our Anxious Time” (p.16-18) looks through the lenses of Zuurdeeg and Paul Tillich. Little did I know that the week before and during the 2021 Martin Luther King weekend observance the clanking bell would ring again or that I would be so ready to surrender to my own rampage of rage.

Grace and Peace,

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN. January 11, 2021

A Good Kick from a stagnant place

This idea that sometimes we need a good kick in order to advance from a stagnant place is not new and does not always find biblical inspiration. Nietzsche said in 1888 “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens – was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker”– “From the war school of life – what doesn’t kill me, makes me stronger.” – Peter Luijendijk, Dec. 21, 2016.

Nietzsche-21

Friedrich Nietzsche

How I got to Peter Luijendijk, the rabbinical student at Leo Baeck College, and the controversial philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900), he quotes would take too long to explain. Suffice to say it was a serendipitous event inspired by a 3:30 A.M. awakening. I didn’t know of Peter Luijendijk, until this morning when I rushed off a “friend” request on FaceBook.

Although a good kick is always good for advancing me from my stagnant place on the couch with my best friend, the MacBook Air, it was a search for the source of the Nietzsche quote that introduced me, so to speak, to Peter.  “Aus der Kriegsschule des Lebens – was mich nicht umbringt, macht mich starker” had caught my attention moments before as one of three quotations featured on a college religion professor’s faculty page.

Not many religion professors quote Nietzsche to introduce themselves on a college website. Nietzsche is one of those philosophers pious religious types love to hate, in no small part because of his parable of the prophetic madman — the eccentric town crier who announces to the town that God is dead and “we have killed him!”– in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Go back now to where this reflection started — the quotation by Peter Luijendijk is part of a Chanukah reflection on the Leo Baeck College (London) online publication. It appeared there as part of a commentary on the Genesis story of Joseph’s survival (Parashat Vayeshev, Genesis 37:1 – 40:23).

Friedrich_Overbeck_002-medium

Overbeck, Johann Friedrich, 1789-1869. Joseph sold into slavery, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=47452 [retrieved August 2, 2017]. Original source: http://www.yorckproject.de.

It turns out that Peter, like Joseph’s painter, Johann Friedrich Overbeck, and Willem Zuurdeeg, the pioneering philosopher of  religion whose work so heavily influences me, is Dutch. Nietzsche’s parable of the madman was pivotal for Zuurdeeg as well. Is there something about being Dutch that leads a Jewish or Christian scholar back to Nietzsche for a good kick in order out of a stagnant place?

This morning the world is making us all Dutch, sending us back to Nietzsche and the town crier who announces that the god of our illusions is dead, leading us to post the quote on a faculty page intro in hopes of a being stronger, more courageous, and perhaps . . . therefore even more biblical.

Peter Luijendijk’s online reflections on the Joseph story concludes with a word of hope in a time of deep darkness like our own:

I guess what I am trying to say is “Kol zeh ya’avor” this all will pass – it will become better. When Rabbi Lionel Blue z’’l talked about the festival of Chanukah in 2013 at the Chanukah reception in Parliament he “commented on a modern miracle – the social change that is leading to widespread acceptance for LGBT people in our society – by saying “Chanukah is a festival of wonder, and tonight is truly a wonder”.*  Chanukah celebrates survival, hope and the promise that the world’s natural AND spiritual light WILL come back. That, my friends, is the hope imbedded in Chanukah and that is the hope imbedded in the story of Joseph and his family.

At 3:30 A.M. this morning, I feel stronger and very, very Dutch.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 2, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Us: One Little Corner

I’ve always had a sense of living at the edge of the world. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not a good thing. It’s just the way it’s always been for me. But, as I watch and listen from my little corner of the world, something’s changed. I have a growing sense of blah, blah, blah, both others’ and my own.

Ours is an anxious time that cries out for a foothold. Speech is the primary way we establish a foothold in changing times.

“Threatened by nonbeing, by chaos, and meaninglessness, man looks for a foothold in the Imperishable,” wrote Dutch philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg years ago in Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry.

Influenced by Zuurdeeg’s work, I look and listen for the footholds – unspoken convictions that rarely get discussed – in the battlefield of ideas “where ignorant armies clash by night” (Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach“). Just below the words, or between them, lie the ideological, prejudicial, cultural, national, class, political, religious, and economic ideals and convictions (footholds) by which we secure our existence in the face of the threat of nonexistence.

My friend and colleague Steve Shoemaker adds his poetry and verse – unique voice that draws readers to Views from the Edge. Over the years, our number of posts have been about the same with Steve’s being the more popular by far.  The frequency of Steve’s contributions has decreased in the past few months following diagnosis and treatment for pancreatic cancer. His recent posts on death and dying continue the joyful sense of humor and play that draw people to his poetry and verse.

Whether Views from the Edge (VFTE) contributes to thoughtful social criticism and a deeper appreciation of life, or adds more to the blah, blah, blah, is for readers to decide. Like other writers, we just can’t help ourselves!

NOTE: This post About Us is part of an assignment for a three-week course with WordPress.com. I’m also re-doing the tagline and the platform. Thanks for your patience.

 

 

 

Being Human – nothing more, nothing less

The ISIL fundamentalist extremists who terrorized Paris, San Bernardino, Beirut, and elsewhere in the name of God believe in an eternal reward for sacrificing themselves for a holy cause. Though it may seem strange to many of us in the West, they share two beliefs widely held by others who are not terrorists:

  1. God (Allah, in Arabic) is a being — the Supreme Being, but ‘a being’ nonetheless.
  2. Death is not the end of mortal life; we are destined for immortality – Heaven or Hell, eternal states of bliss or punishment.

It’s not just the jihadists who deny our mortality, our perishable nature within the order of Nature.

In Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry, philosopher of religion Willem Zuurdeeg wrote:

“Threatened by nonbeing, by chaos, and meaninglessness, man looks for a foothold in the Imperishable.”

The “soldiers of the caliphate” are young. Paradoxically, as hideous, grotesque, and deranged as their thinking is, their massacres are performed in the name of an ideal. They are idealists claiming “a foothold in the Imperishable”.

Seeking to rid the world of evil, they succumb to evil. In the name of heaven and the Imperishable, they create hell on earth.

But what if God is not a being? What if, as Paul Tillich argued, God does not “exist” as a thing or person exists, but instead is Being-Itself or the Ground of Being or the God above god?

What if we are mortal? What if death is the end, not a doorway to heavenly reward or eternal punishment? What if no St. Peter stands at the pearly gates to separate sheep and goats? What if no vestal virgins are waiting? What if life and death are what they seem?

John Lennon’s “Imagine” strikes a chord in the aftermath of the attacks in Paris, Beirut, and Mali. Imagine there’s no religion. But imagining won’t erase the problem of religion or the anxiety endemic to the human condition. We are suckers for certainty desiring the end of complexity and ambiguity.

“Finitude,” wrote Paul Tillich, “means having no definite place; it means having to lose every place finally, and with it, to lose being itself.”  [Systematic Theology, Vol. I., p. 195, University of Chicago Press]

The appeal of fundamentalist certainty, whatever its form, is the promise of a secure foothold, place in immortality – a purpose bigger than life itself, the escape from ambiguity.

When faith is ill-conceived as acting to end the ambiguities represented by the enemies of God, instead of as coping with life’s inherent ambiguities, we create what we seeks to escape. We create a foothold in what will not hold.

What if to be human is not to escape mortality, but to embrace it thankfully and to live courageously within the boundaries of time, of mortal flesh filled with the Eternal in the midst of time?

“Being holy . . . does not mean being perfect but being whole; it does not mean being exceptionally religious or being religious at all; it means being liberated from religiosity and religious pietism of any sort; it does not mean being morally better, it means being exemplary; it does not mean being godly, but rather being truly human.” ― William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings.

 

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 9, 2016

Our Anxious Time

Ours is an anxious time, a fearful time, an insecure time. We feel it in our bellies.

This morning we’re moved to consider anxiety, fear, and insecurity. For that purpose we turn to philosophical theologian Paul Tillich* (scroll down) and philosopher of religion Willem Zuurdeeg** for whom the questions were passionate and all-consuming over their lifetimes. Even so, they were not the best of friends.

Zuurdeeg was a severe critic of Tillich’s attempts to create a theological system. He saw every system as a flight from finitude and ambiguity into what he called “Ordered World Homes” that make sense of, and defend against, the anxiety intrinsic to finitude. For Zuurdeeg, to be human is to be thrown into chaos and every philosophy from Plato to Hegel to Tillich is “born of a cry” – the cry for help, for sense, for protection, for a security that lies beyond one’s powers.

Reading Tillich’s Systematic Theology again after reading the news this morning leads to the conclusion that Zuurdeeg and Tillich were very close, as is often the case between critics of one another. One thinks, for example, of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung in a similar manner.

For all their differences, Zuurdeeg and Tillich were joined at the hip by their shared experience with madness in society and the demise of once-trusted foundations of western civilization. The rise of the German Third Reich led them to a lifelong search not only for answers but for the questions that might lead to insight into the existential situation into which Hitler’s madness threw the world headlong into chaos and destruction.

Anxiety, said Tillich, is distinct from fear. Fear has an object. We fear an enemy. We fear Iran; Iran fears us. Israel fears the Palestinians; The Palestinians fear the Israelis. “Objects are feared,” said Tillich.

A danger, a pain, an enemy, may be feared, but fear can be conquered by action. Anxiety cannot, for no finite being can conquer its finitude. Anxiety is always present, although often it is latent. Therefore, it can become manifest at any moment, even in situations where nothing is to be feared….. Anxiety is ontological; fear, psychological… Anxiety is the self-awareness of the finite self as finite. [Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1,  p. 191-192, University of Chicago Press, 1951]

Anxiety is the self-awareness that we are mortal. We are excluded from an infinite future. We were born and we will die and we know it. Despite every flight into denial, we know it in our bones. We have no secure space and no secure time. “To be finite is to be insecure” (Tillich, p. 195). In the face of this insecurity, said Zuurdeeg, the individual and the human species itself seek “to establish their existence” in time and space, though we know we can not secure it. The threat we experience in 2015 is the threat of nothingness. Politicians pander to it. Preachers pander to it. Advertisers prey on it. They eat anxiety for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Again, Tillich, writing as if for our time:

The desire for security becomes dominant in special periods and in special social and psychological situations. Men create systems of security in order to protect their space. But they can only repress their anxiety; they cannot banish it, for this anxiety anticipates the final “spacelessness” which is implied in finitude. [Tillich, p. 195]

So this morning I sip my coffee aware of and thankful for this moment of finitude, and determined that I will not turn over my anxiety into the hands of those who promise security from every fear. Willem Zuurdeeg and Paul Tillich looked directly into the heart of human darkness and saw a light greater than the darkness. I want to live in the light of their courage and wisdom.

Paul Johannes Tillich (1886-1965)

Paul Johannes Tillich (1886-1965)

*Born and raised in Germany, Paul Johannes Tillich was the first professor to be dismissed from his teaching position in 1933 following the election of Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany for his outspoken criticism of the Nazi movement. At the invitation of Reinhold Niebuhr, he and his family moved to New York where Tillich joined the faculty of Union Theological Seminary. He went on to become one of the best-known philosopher-theologians of the 20th century, publishing widely from teaching from chairs at Union, Harvard University, and the University of Chicago. His best know works are The Courage to Be, The Shaking of the Foundations (a collection of sermons),and his three-volume Systematic Theology.

Willem Frederik Zuurdeeg (1906-1963)

Willem Frederik Zuurdeeg (1906-1963)

**Born and raised in the Netherlands in a family that served as part of the underground resistance to Hitler’s pogrom, Willem Frederik Zuurdeeg spent his life asking how western civilization’s most sophisticated culture (Germany), could fall so easily into the hands of a madman. His Analytical Philosophy of Religion became a major text for undergraduate and graduate philosophy of religion classes. When Professor Zuurdeeg died of cancer as Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, he left behind an unfinished manuscript later completed by his friend and colleague Esther Cornelius Swenson, the title of which is Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry. Click HERE for photographs of Willem Zuurdeeg and the family that gave Jews sanctuary in the Netherlands.

Just leave me alone!

JESUS CHRIST!
(An Acrostic Conversation
for Holy Week, 2013 A.D.)

Just leave me alone!
Enough already!
Stay out of my life!
Useless you! I have
Success on my own!

Come unto me all you
Heavy burdened.
Receive my peace.
I give you life,
Salvation…
Then love one another.

– Steve Shoemaker, Urbana, IL, March 26, 2013

FURTHER REFLECTION (gcs)

In the tradition of Nietzsche’s parable of The Mad Man who enters the public square at midnight to cry out “God is dead! God is dead! And we have killed him, you and I,” Willem Zuurdeeg (author of An Analytical Philosophy of Religion, and Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry), declared that

Christ has been crucified by an Order which refused to be disturbed by him (Dostoevsky’s legend of the Grand Inquisitor). Christ historically was killed by the justifying Order of the Law. We establish similar Orders!

Zuurdeeg was part of the compassionate underground in The Netherlands that provided refuge for Jews fleeing the horrors of the Order of the German Third Reich. He spent his life in search for an answer to the question of how such a proud and sophisticated culture could become the perpetrator of unthinkable evil. During his years in the United States, he saw once more a social, economic, political, religious Order (Western Democracy and Capitalism) that muzzles the shameless crying out for what we so desperately need (Freud).”Contrasted to modern man (sic) who cannot cry, primitive man (sic) was not ashamed to cry, and his culture provided him with living, vital forms of crying out.”

We are offered a significant choice, namely between two ways of being human. The difference between logical necessities or physical necessities and vital necessities is made clear in that in the latter we have the possibility of refusing ‘to turn away from a disaster’ – we can in fact choose a lesser way of being human over a fuller way. What is at stake in the necessity of cry is one’s own humanity, the meaning of one’s own existence, and to turn away from crying is to turn away from decision and responsibility. This is to deny the very possibility of becoming genuinely human.

Man Before Chaos , published after Zuurdeeg’s untimely death at the age of 57, ends with the unedited notes from the sermon he preached to his students and faculty colleagues in the McGaw Chapel of McCormick Theological Seminary. Here is the conclusion of his sermon.

God is dead (II). This is now turned around. In principle the man gods, of the Primitive Order, the Law, of the Founding Fathers, o9f Democracy, of Reason, of Being (Necessary Being, Being-Itself), of a moral World Order – these are the gods who are dead. They are “idols in the sense that they exist only because we believe in them. They are dead, in principle, in hope, though the present reality is different…. And the God who is alive is Jesus Christ.

The Common Ground beneath the Gun Debate

Gordon C. Stewart, February 22, 2013 – Copyright.

“Ninety-nine percent of reality is perception.” Analytical philosopher Willem Zuurdeeg argued that perception itself is the expression of something far deeper, far more powerful.

Zuurdeeg, author of An Analytical Philosophy of Religion and Man Before Chaos: Philosophy Is Born in a Cry, spent his life listening to human speech, listening more deeply for what lay under the surface of the language.

Homo loquens (“man-who-speaks”) is homo convictus (“man-who-is-convicted/convinced”), the creature who establishes finite existence in time by powerful, unshakeable ‘convictors’ that anchor us against the chaos.

What we often describe as irrational speech, is, in fact, “convictional language”, the hidden power of which can only be understood by a kind of “situational analysis, i.e., the life “situation” (historical-convictional context) of the one who is speaking. Our varying perceptions are determined by the less conscious hidden convictions of implicit needs and unquestioned cultural traditions.

What is missing in the national debate is public expression of the non-rational perceptions of the word ‘gun’ and the unspoken convictions that shape our different perceptions.
We not only hear the word ‘gun’ differently. We hear different things differently.

Until we come together to discuss what we hear when we hear the word – our non-rational (not un-rational, as in opposed to reason, but non-rational, as in beneath the presumptions of reason) convictional worlds, the gun debate will be a shouting match that finds no common ground.

A simple exercise of word association demonstrates the difference.

Say the word ‘gun’ and listen for what it evokes in the hearer. In the ears of one, the word ‘gun’ means ‘safety’ and ‘protection’. In the ears of others, it means ‘without protection’ or ‘threat’.

But if we listen carefully to the apparently opposite responses, we discover a common ground they share: the threat of insecurity. The threat of chaos.

Whenever we hear a scream, something powerful is under assault. Chaos threatens. We cry out against the chaos. We cry out against death and extinction.

In Man Before Chaos, Zuurdeeg claims that, from its very beginning, western culture has been bound up with a powerful dread of chaos. Even Plato’s philosophy, argues Zuurdeeg, is born of a cry.

“Socrates has died. He himself does not fit very well into Athens’ political life. He is naked and defenseless and is not ashamed of it. He has the courage to cry against chaos and for Being and Goodness. All this has been smothered by the comfortable, although often quarrelsome, classical and medieval philosophy and theology. Who can live by a cry? Who can stand to hear such disturbing noise? Clear and calm reasoning under the guidance of venerable old philosophical schools (or just as respectable church fathers) enables us to live, make church and civilization possible. Who can endure permanently Plato’s uncertain, unsafe balance on the b rink of the abyss of chaos? By what does a man live? By a cry? Claims? The careful and broad elaboration of philosophy? All of them?” (Man Before Chaos, pp 43-44)

In the current debate about guns, the life situations, cultural traditions, and life experiences of the hearers are “worlds” apart. Perhaps…perhaps…if we could find the space to listen more deeply to our different cries in the face of chaos, we would find the common ground of homo convictus and move to something deeper than the shouting.

Republican Convention Religious Crusade

The rousing video from the Republican National Convention (“Believe”) played like an evangelistic crusade waiting for an altar call.

From the musical crescendos to the hyped voice to the pentecostal elation of the crowd, it was religious to the core. Here’s the definition of “religion” that leads to the claim:

“Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of a meaning of our life.”Paul Tillich

The makers of the video know how quick we are to shed a tear. Especially when at a crusade that plays all the chords of American “civil religion” as argued in the recent “Views from the Edge” post on American religion and American politics.

Tillich was the first professor dimissed from his university teaching position by the  German Third Reich. Like the Germans at the Service Club meeting in an earlier post here, he knew that religion is not confined to the four walls of a church, synagogue, or mosque. It is the state of “being grasped by….”

What “grasps those who viewed the “Believe” video?
A poor attempt to answer the quesiton appeared yesterday (“Believe in America“). The post was too obscure to make its point. Thus, this folllow-up elaboration.
The god of the “Believe” video is America iteself. It is the god of American exceptionalism. The video stirs the heart with the cunning of Kafka’s Green Dragon and the seductive voices of Kafka’s The Sirens who know they cannot deliver what we long for. Their wombs cannot give birth to any kind of future.

The following exchange followed the earlier “American Religion and American Politics” post. Both C.A. and I see the world as the theater of God’s glory but also as the Theater of the Absurd.

C.A. left this comment:

If my small experience is any guide, you may get hammered on this one, Gordon.  When someone has been brought up on American exceptionalism, especially if coupled with Caucasian exceptionalism, and one kind of Christian belief the three can be so ingrown as to be more than subconscious,  virtually unconscious.  Working together, they justify any negative behavior that the person believes, and cause outright rejection of much that he or she hears or reads about as impossible. …

I replied:

C.A., You just wrapped it all up very nicely. Willem Zuurdeeg, a Dutch philosopher of religion, linguistic philosopher and phenomenologist, concluded that our deepest “convictions” are unexamined – below the surface of conscious awareness, so obviously true to us that they are what you call “virtually unconscious.” The compelling conviction hinted at by American civil religion is what Zuurdeeg described as an Ordered Home , a world order. In this case. the world revolves around tjhe doctrines of white supremacy and national supiority. These are the spiritual and moral centers.

“Views from the Edge’s” most popular post is the one about the Germans at the Service Club.  It’s gone viral.

“Five folks from Germany recently visited central Illinois as part of a local service club program to improve international understanding.

At one point they asked me about something they did not understand:  why do Americans begin so many gatherings with a ‘”patriotic” song, the Pledge of Allegiance, and a prayer?

Perhaps especially because they were from Germany, remembering the horrors of two world wars begun partly from excessive beliefs in the superiority of their nation and religion, they were sensitive to expressions of exceptionalism at U.S.A. sports events and service club meetings.

What Tillich, Zuurdeeg, and the Germans at the American service club meeting were seeing was a religious people hypnotized by Kafka’s Sirens and Green Dragon.

Go to yesterday’s post “Believing in America” to see the juxtaposition of the Kafka parables and the Convention video.

Leave your comment or question. And thanks again for visiting.