Notes on Vervaeke/Pageau Conversation

I was watching this conversation between Pageau and Vervaeke, moderated by Paul Vanderklay and left some long comments in the comment section that I thought I would repost here for future reference. It strikes me that much of what I’ve been trying to communicate through this blog was expressed in that conversation. My series on Anabaptist epistemology is talking into a similar set of issues.

First Comment:

I think Pageau’s point about the story not completing itself within history is getting at the real difference between him and Vervaeke, which is an epistemological difference. (I’ve Never heard Pageau talk about Eschatology and history, has he been reading NT Wright’s new book on his Gifford Lectures?) I think Christians are committed not just to the incarnation in general, but the incarnation in PARTICULAR, that in this Jewish man Jesus Christ, we see the face of God. The GENERAL fact of the incarnation is what makes possible this mutual dialogue between Pageau and Vervaeke: we see the Divine Logos in the world and the world has this rational structure which we can explore together. But what Pageau keeps saying about the particularity of Narrative, the particularity of the incarnation, the eschatological horizon to Christianity means that there can never be a fully rational entry into Christianity, there is something about it that remains absurd, paradoxical, “beyond history”. We live in this Now and Not yet time between times. We live between the incarnation (when the word was made flesh and Christ was made king) and the future, eschatological time (when Christ will be all in all and the every knee shall bow) for that reason, Christianity is ALWAYS, until the eschaton in the AWKWARD, irreconcilable, paradoxical epistemological betweenness: We can find common ground, but we are also “citizens of a different country”. This manifests itself politically: we can find some common ground with the politics of our day, but we always also serve another Lord. So John and Pageau will always find a LOT of common ground epistemologically, but will never come to final resolution, because there is always this irreconcilable absurdity, irrationality to Christianity. Same thing with Karl, he LOVES God #1, but there is always still God #2 that he cannot reconcile himself to. I find myself increasingly exploring the particularity, the absurd aspects of Christianity, while many on this community are more focused on the commonalities and universal aspects of Christianity.

Second Comment:

The conversation really gets going around 50:00. It seems like a VERY postmodern theology kind of conversation. Vervaeke from what I can tell, is very much on the side of Derrida and his contemporary interpreter John Caputo. When Vervaeke says that his representation of the Devine is Dialogos (rather than Logos) he is taking a postmodern anti-metaphysical stance. The “Devine” is always in the Beyond, in the Possible, in the unrealized. This is why Vervakae talks so much about Communion and Dialogue, it is in our coming together, in the betweenness that we come closer towards that which is forever beyond. So we can speak of “justice” and “truth” and “goodness” but NEVER “Goodness” or “Justice” or “Truth”, the closest we come to those things is in the Process that is going Nowhere. There is no telos towards anywhere, but in our moving towards the Possible, we REALize (bring into being from nothing) what “justice” is. For this perspective, and Vervaeke articulates this, the particular is VIOLENCE, because it wants to impose a METANARRATIVE, a conception of “JUSTICE” and “TRUTH” and “GOODNESS” that is firmly fixed. Now Jonathan is really interesting as well, in the moves he makes with his Neo-Platonic conception of things. Jonathan DOES have a Metaphysical vision of things, there IS such a thing as an eschatological “Justice”, “Truth” and “Goodness”, and that is what we call God, its the “Meta-Story” as well. Jonathan makes room for pluralism in his vision by saying that all of the narratives are groping towards the ultimate Meta-narrative, in other words, that all religions are trying to come into contact with the same Ultimate Reality, with God, but all of them fall short. Now, Christianity is unique in this because of the claim that God became Flesh, the Logos came to earth, HERE, the claim is that “Justice”, “Truth” “Goodness” is INSTANTIATED in this particular human being, that in the Man we see the face of God. So, while the other religions are coming into contact with the same ultimate reality, the same “Meta-narrative”, perhapse Jonathan would say Christianity is the more true “narrative”. Now, to return to the question of Violence, I think Jonathan could turn the tables on Vervaeke by making the same move that David Bentley Hart does in this video. Hart argues that the ‘Meta-stance’ that Vervaeke is taking, is ALSO a stance, it is ALSO a position that wants to impose itself on others. By saying, in essence, that all religious traditions are full of crap, and ONLY the liberal, beyond-religion religion is the ULTIMITE Truth, and as a precondition for dialogue, all particular traditions must relinquish their claims to ultimate truth, this anti-metanarrative metanarrative is itself violently imposing its conception of the world on those under it. Hart puts it in even more jargony language than I do:

“A transcendental surveillance of all differences under a rule of absolutely indifferent difference can provide only a very particular set of rules of engagement. Dialogue proceeds only when all parties will consent in advance to a surrender of all claim to ultimate truth. Having thus been reduced to tribal artifacts of cultures now surpassed by modern reason and postmodern suspicion alike (which are supposedly innocent of metaphysical ambitions), everyone can get along. This is not very promising (or interesting). Yes, traditions can talk to one another more fruitfully, honestly, and interestingly if they’re willing to grant that approach to the truth is incalculable in its variety; but still, they’re not going to achieve much if they start from the assumption that the truth as such has nothing to do with what they believe in its essence. In fact, to believe that transcendent truth, as expressed in the finite, possesses an incalculable number of aspects and inflections and forms is to believe also that there’s such a thing as transcendent truth — which, by its very absolution from the conditions of the finite, allows for innumerable mediating forms of participation in its inexhaustible fullness; and it’s to believe that the measure of that participation is one of analogical likeness, indifference, and difference in likeness between distinct traditions whose terminus ad quem is one and the same transcendent horizon. To my mind, what we’ve come to think of as postmodern theology doesn’t give us a way of actual understanding across cultures; rather, it offers a way of reducing all cultures to a late modern Western narrative of the immanent rationality of no transcendent truth. There could scarcely be greater impediment to meaningful dialogue between religions. … The always looming absurdity of the ‘post-metaphysical’ vantage is that under the pretense of a tender regard for difference it converts every particularity into just another instance of the same meaninglessness. This is not hospitality to the Other, it’s conquest (if of an especially dissembling kind).”

I think Jonathan’s stance, where he says that all traditions are in contact with the same ultimite reality, BUT that he believes Christianity is ultimitly more TRUE, (and the other traditions would make the same claim) is Ultimitley less violent and more amiable to dialogue than the liberal position that CLAIMS to be open to Dialogue but forces all particular parties to come to the liberal table and play by their rules. This also gets into questions of political order. The classical liberal polity makes exactly the same claim: everyone is welcome at the table but ONLY IF, they play by the liberal rules and renounce their claims to absolute truth. Stanley Fish, in a classic essay in First Things makes exactly this point:

“If you persuade liberalism that its dismissive marginalizing of religious discourse is a violation of its own chief principle, all you will gain is the right to sit down at liberalism’s table where before you were denied an invitation; but it will still be liberalism’s table that you are sitting at, and the etiquette of the conversation will still be hers. That is, someone will now turn and ask, “Well, what does religion have to say about this question?” And when, as often will be the case, religion’s answer is doctrinaire (what else could it be?), the moderator (a title deeply revealing) will nod politely and turn to someone who is presumed to be more reasonable. To put the matter baldly, a person of religious conviction should not want to enter the marketplace of ideas but to shut it down, at least insofar as it presumes to determine matters that he believes have been determined by God and faith. The religious person should not seek an accommodation with liberalism; he should seek to rout it from the field, to extirpate it, root and branch.”

So ultimately this conversation is getting into metaphysical/ontological questions, which lead to epistemological questions, which lead to political questions. So much being talked about all at once.

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