Tag Archives: objectification

Paul Tillich and Objectification

Paul Tillich was one of the most powerful prophetic voices of the 20th century in American culture.  In the excerpt which I offer below from his book, “The Courage to Be,” he eloquently describes what I often describe as the “thing-i-fication” of mankind, in which humans have become more of a “human doing” than a, “human be-ing.”  This is particularly apparent in American religion as God is often merely a “thing” among other things, some “thing” that we can own by virtue of appropriating him/”it” by use of our rational faculties.  This parallels the historical process in which humankind itself has become “thingified” with little to no more appreciation of our subjective experience.  It reveals our illusion that life itself is wholly a rational enterprise, some “thing” therefore than can be figured out figured out…or, as I like to put it, “figgered out”:

It was the threat of an Infinite loss, namely the loss of their individual persons, which drove the revolutionary Existentialists of the 19th century to their attack.  They realized that a process was going on in which people were turned into things, into pieces of reality which pure science can calculate, and technical science can control.  The idealistic wing of bourgeois made of the person a vessel in which universals find a more or less adequate place.  The naturalistic wing of bourgeois thinking made of the person an empty field into which sense impressions enter and prevail according to the degree of their intensity.  In both cases the individual self is an empty space and the bearer of something which is not himself, something strange by which the self is estranged from itself.  Idealism and naturalism in their attitude to the existing person; both of them eliminate his infinite significance and make him a space through which something else passes.  Both philosophies are expressions of a society which was devised for the liberation of man but which fell under the bondage of objects it itself had created.  The safety which is guaranteed by well-functioning mechanisms for the technical control of nature, by the refined psychological control of the person, by the rapidly increasing organizational control of society—this safety is bought at a high price:  man, for whom all this was invented as a means, becomes a means himself in service of the means.    (pp 137, 138; Yale University Press, 2000)

I would like to first bring attention to his addressing the “infinite loss” which galvanized the “existentialists” to rise in revolt.  These men and women, not cloaked in the obscurantism of culturally contrived religious views, realized that “infinite loss” was taking place which German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche described as the “death of God.”  Nietzsche was not claiming that god was dead but that mankind in relation to his “Infinite” source was dying.  The human soul was becoming objectified…”thingified”…and the pregnant Emptiness of the heart was being filled with “stuff,” including theological/religious stuff, all of which amounted to ideology.  And to the degree this happens, the “letter of the law” has taken over and, in the words of the Apostle Paul, “the letter killeth, but the Spirit maketh alive.”  And when this takes place it is easy for devout Christians to be passionate devotees of someone like Donald Trump.

God is a term that we use to describe what Rudolph Otto termed, the “Wholly Other.”  And by, “the Wholly Other” he was emphasizing that the Source of our Being lies beyond the grasp of human contrivance, including that of reason.  This “God/god” is the infinite dimension of the human heart in which the Unknown intersects with the known and we humans, all of us being “mere” humans, have to immediately wrap our heads around this Divine intersection buried in the depths of our heart and give it a label.  And, that would not be so bad but that our ego then insists on taking this simple “label” as the thing-in-itself and that is where the mischief begins!

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Approaching the Bible as Literature

The Bible is Holy Writ.  Dismiss it, curse it, scoff at it, take it literally, take it metaphorically, don’t take it at all but it still falls culturally and historically into the category “Holy Writ.”  Therefore, it has value regardless whether or not you think so, though that “value” for you personally is for you to determine.  It might be that you “value” it not at all and if that should be the case you will never find me arguing with you.  I would have at one time but somewhere along the line I managed to “get a life.” In this blog, an evolving enterprise of mine which is gradually taking a different shape, I am exploring what the Bible and the Christian tradition is to me.  This is now a very personal endeavor as I am much less controlled by the “party line” that I was given as a child, this “party line” usually having an important role in the early stages of one’s faith.  But as the Apostle Paul put it, “When I was a child I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man I put away childish things.”

“Holy Writ” falls into the general category of literature.  In my youth to consider the Bible as literature would have been tantamount to heresy as it would have appeared to be presenting it as “mere” human endeavor.  But approaching it as literature reflects the evolution of my alter-ego, Literarylew, which materialized when I came to understand and experience life in fluid, metaphorical terms. This means that I now have the liberty, and the courage, to see Holy Writ…and certainly the Bible…as having layers of meaning none of which necessarily have to be excluded.   Some see the Bible, for example, as a literal historical document in which a literal, concretely existing deity dictated it word for word.  I have better things to do than to quarrel with anyone who approaches it that way but I would encourage them to toy with others.

A literary approach to the Bible facilitates a personal interpretation and application of the truths being presented.  If one approaches what he reads literally, he sees it only as an “owner’s” manual and the God that I see in the Bible is not an “owner” but one who offers a relationship with Him, a relationship which facilitates more open, honest, intimate relationships with our fellowman.  If God is our “owner” then we are a mere object and we will then be inclined to see and feel ourselves only as an object and to subsequently view our world and our fellowman as an object.

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Here is a list of my blogs.  I invite you to check out the other two sometime.

https://anerrantbaptistpreacher.wordpress.com/

https://literarylew.wordpress.com/

https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/

 

 

Truth in our Modern “Fact-free” Zone

Truth is not a thing!  Truth is not an object that you stumble across one day as you amble along your life’s pathway, a bright and shiny object which you immediately recognize as “The Truth.”  Now it is true that walking along this path you might stumble upon a spiritual tradition, a thing or object, which is intriguing and even having a “bright and shiny” quality to it which appears to convey truth.  But this “bright and shiny object” can easily be only a spiritual bauble with which the ego can find amusement and self-gratification for a while.  The Truth is not on the surface of any spiritual tradition, is not a “thing” in the least.

But if you have been raised in the West where we have been systematized and “thingi-fied” since at least the industrial revolution, it is human nature to see everything as a “thing” even spiritual matters which are intrinsically a “no-thing.”  This is because our culture has turned our soul into a “thing” so that our intrinsic grasp of who we are is conceptual and therefore we will see other people, spiritual traditions, and even “god” as a thing.  We can’t help it.  It is human nature to perceive out of “the abundance of one’s heart” and the heart is always encumbered by the dross of the enculturation process.  Any spiritual tradition will encounter “meaning” only when one has the temerity to look beneath the surface of his life which always will jeopardize spiritual traditions that have been passed on to him.  Indeed, in some sense one must lose his spiritual tradition, his faith, his god if he is to find meaningful spiritual roots, meaningful faith, and a meaningful “god” who is not a mere idle thought rattling around in his skull.  This is relevant to the admonishment of Jesus that we must lose our life in order to find it, our “life” consisting of the persona that by necessity we acquired and has served a useful purpose…and can do so again if we will allow our internal resources (i.e. “Spirit”) to be tapped and give meaning to this persona.  And in my spiritual tradition, Christianity, the Christian persona is difficult to grasp as our ego does not want us to get a glimpse of just how much our faith has been an example of performance art.  This is what Jesus recognized with the established religion of his day and called them “hypocrites” or “actors.”  He, being a keen spiritual observer of his world, immediately recognized that their spiritual tradition had become merely performance art.  I think that today he would call most Christians something like “Christian-oids.”

Truth is elusive and to put it into words is difficult, technically impossible.  Words are only “pointers” in the spiritual realm and human nature is to take these words superficially and mistake the word for the thing.  Truth is a process, not a thing, and in my spiritual tradition this process is described as a “Person” and this is a meaningful way of seeing and intuitively grasping Truth.  But when at the core of our heart we perceive ourselves as a “thing” it takes a miracle for us to see any dimension of spiritual life, and life as a whole, as anything but a “thing.”  Until we see and understand this, our relationships…even the closest and dearest relationships…will be one “thing” relating to another “thing” without the presence of any dynamic process that is the essential feature of the life process.  Life is not static.  We live in a flux and we are a flux but our ego resists understanding this as doing so requires a heart that has become “petal open” and therefore aware of its fluidity and the fluidity of the whole of life.

(I almost got carried away here.  My ultimate point was the spiritual emptiness of our culture which has facilitated and even encouraged the development of Trumpism, with our President being only a symptom.  I pose the question I so often pose here, and in real time, “Where is the church?”  I could even say, “Where is God?”  Yes, God has disappeared and one could even say “dead” as did Nietzsche presciently note in the 19th century but that is only because those purporting to believe in Him have turned him into a sterile concept, the “letter of the law” and as the Apostle Paul told us, this “letter” always kills anything it touches.  Instead of droning on further, you might want to see a further amplification of this concern in another blog I posted yesterday.  Here is the link:  https://theonlytruthinpolitics.wordpress.com/)