All posts tagged: Nietzsche

The Stare of Medusa and the Return Gaze of Christ

It is just one of Nietzsche’s many bon mots that if one stares at evil long enough it looks back. As is usual with Nietzsche there is an implied boast. We divide into the strong and the weak depending on whether we can or are willing to endure this look or looking back. Nietzsche leaves us in no doubt as to which camp he belongs in, even if with all the bravado about amor fati we sometimes get the impression in reading him that he is expecting as much our pity as our admiration. Still, the aphorism is powerful, and it is powerful not only because it is scintillating in its expression, but because it is experientially apt. Over the centuries, as they looked at and into the world, victims as well as victimizers have experienced the force of that look or counter-look that announced that all hope should be abandoned and that our abused flesh empty itself of everything that makes it human and all will to be human. With regard to victims we …

The Sacrifice of Sagging Flesh

My great-grandmother’s flesh was soft under my 5-year-old fingers. Standing beside her as she spent time playing cards or dominoes with her grandchildren—my father and his brothers—or her children—my great aunts and uncles—I would hold onto to her arm, laying my head on her shoulder, touching the loose, sagging flesh of her arm. What today is considered grotesque—wrinkled and sagging flesh—felt good under my young fingers. I remember this scene fondly, because it was played out on numerous weekend evenings playing cards or dominoes into the wee hours. The laughter and banter around the card table was joyful, as she unleashed her dry wit in an attempt to out-wit my father and uncles in cards or dominoes. She had been a teacher in rural Texas, where my family has been since Texas was a Mexican state. She was born in 1893, and she had been a teacher from age 20. She walked 12 miles each way to teach at one of the rural schools that peppered the southeast Texas landscape in the early 20th century. …

The Great Books Aren’t Timeless, But They Can Still Teach Us

The 20th-century British philosopher Iris Murdoch once adroitly described the pathological condition of Late Modernity. “What is feared is history, real beings, and real change,” she wrote, further explaining that we fear “whatever is contingent, messy, boundless, infinitely particular, and endlessly still to be explained.”[1] This fear leads us to desire the unattainable because nonexistent, namely a “timeless non-discursive whole which has its significance completely contained in itself.”[2] Many historiographical efforts of Modernity, most notably the Hegelian dialectic, attempt to discover or invent this timeless and coherent system and ultimately fail. Another such attempt is that of the supposedly self-sufficient “Great Books” canon which, in its Christian education context, purports to represent a coherent tradition running from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome.[3] The opposing binary option to these projects is the postmodern nihilism that treats history as just another vehicle for the Nietzschean will-to-power. We will explore how contemporary theorist Quentin Skinner does away with this binary by providing a third way, a philosophy-of-history respectful of the past and at peace with the particular and …

The Return to Ancient Traditions After the Death of God

The “traditionalists” among conservative Christians are surprised when we show them how relatively modern and extremely limited is the form of Christianity that they wish to conserve, and what enormous intellectual and spiritual wealth resides in much older traditions of the church; suffice it to recall the desert fathers, the Greek patristics, the negative theology of Dionysus the Areopagite, the medieval mystics, etc. Maybe what some called secularization and the decline of religion and others “the death of God” marked the beginning of theology’s inability to respond creatively to the changing picture of the world and mankind on the threshold of modernity, having exhausted itself with interdenominational conflict. Theology in those early days of modernity adopted unthinkingly, inadvertently—and hence uncritically—modernity’s division of reality into subject and object and to a great extent adapted the medieval dichotomy of the order of nature and the order of grace, the natural world and the supernatural world, to that new division. Emphasis on the “objectivity” (now the antithesis of subjectivity) of God and the order of grace also meant …