Absence and Presence

…of Mystery, that is.

Not precisely a mid-life crisis, but perhaps a crisis of blog direction. The academic is more and more unsatisfying, while the faithful is increasingly more satisfying. This is due to simple quality, and an avoidance of stodgy, fusty studiousness, the academic failure of conscience represented in its obsessive qualification of every point, and just the disgust at the direction academic Biblical studies have gone/arrived at.

Part of the problem with the “scientific” approach to Life, the Bible, and everything is that it leaves no room for Mystery. Now I don’t mean “mystery” in the Agatha Christie sense, or even in the Godforsaken “Da Vinci Code” sense, as in a whodunnit. That’s quite obvious. Nor is it a reference to any general mystery, as in a tough problem that needs solving though this is closer. “Mystery” in the Christian sense are those items of our Faith which have been revealed to us, without explanation, as either beliefs to hold or practices to do. We do not, in this life, receive the answer. Indeed, maybe the answer is simply, “Because that’s the way it is.” Certainly, though, because this is the Way.

Avoiding the mysteries, or seeking to explain them, both of these approaches have dire consequences. We have the mystery of Man and Woman as Humanity, and Marriage as the only proper environment for their joining in sex and the production of children. Those nations which have altered this institution are, frankly, failing. Their populations are now in serious decline. Those nations which still hold to a strongly traditional approach to Marriage, even if they are not Christian, have population growth. Seeking to explain why this is so runs into so many walls that we’d rather avoid, walls which call into question everything dear to our modern, civilized selves, walls of privacy, freedom, intervention, trust, love, sex, life, death, and many others. Mystery stands against them all, a vast, unshakable reality, saying, “This is real, and works. That is not real, and doesn’t work.”

In Biblical Studies, it’s atrocious what’s happened. All Mystery, even mystery as in oddities requiring explanation, have been removed. Oddities are given an unlikely explanation which is accepted because scholars find it impossible to admit ignorance. After all, are we not all led to believe that they are most prized for its opposite? But stripping Mystery from the foundational text of our cultures is wrong, as well. There’s something unusual in that Book of Books, something far more compelling than just a classic of literature. There’s Mystery. Avoiding mention of that 800 pound gorilla is a scholarly art form. And despicable.

[From my scribere jottings, as is, which particular one I liked, so here you go! It dates from mid-May, which accounts for the mention of the entirely passé mention of yon Da Bacle.]

16 Replies to “Absence and Presence”

  1. Mystery is necessary in Christianity. Without it, there is no transcendant God, no salvation, just an intellectual exercise–and an unfulfilling one at that.

    James

  2. Yep, and without recognizing the importance of mystery and revelation, particularly as a phenomenological effect on Biblical authors, one can hardly understand the writings themselves except as a kind of charlatanry, which is the direction that many go, and thus my evaluation of such work as “despicable.”

  3. I definately understand you hesitation on blog direction. I’m struggling with the same thing as well. I’m trained as an academic, although I’m not practicing at the university level, but I’m increasingly finding the academic thing in relation to what I want to deal with (patristics, theology) increasingly arid. It isn’t that there aren’t great theologians out there, but what passes too often in the academy as theoogy just isn’t the same thing.

    I find comfort in the Orthodox model of theology which keeps the mystery alive, while still engaging our minds. That makes is a much more demanding way of life, but much more satisfactory.

    Peace,
    Phil

  4. “Arid” is certainly the word, isn’t it? That’s the one that pops into my head, too. We’re in the same boat, there. Demandig but satisfying is also a fine description of Orthodox theology, and somewhat paradoxical. I find greater comfort in the richness of Orthodoxy than in anything I’ve found comfort in before. And it’s led to a flowering of thought on these subjects for me, too. After university, I wasn’t particularly interested (to be honest, I was disgusted by the rivalrous shenanigans I witnessed in our department, so that I decided to have nothing to do with the academy — that’s not a life worth living) in these subjects for a number of years. Something set me off and I started reading the Church Fathers, and two years later I came to the Church. All that training has come in handy, and my objections to various positions then (many of which I simply found and find prima facie ridiculous) have only clarified now. So, I’m enjoying this time now, and the pressure I’m feeling is just one of refocusing attention, and finding a few more hours in every day, somehow. A day twice as long would be very useful!

  5. Thank you, Ben! No, I won’t stop blogging or the website. I don’t mean that. The message I posted was something I wrote down in May, and reflects a change that I’ve already been making, working more on Patristics, for one example. That’s one part of this new direction. The other is to refocus the way that I approach the Biblical Studies work I’ve been doing (most of which is written on real paper in the offline world) to be more in harmony with that, and to share the synthesis of materials that exists in my head with other folks. After all, it’s odd that someone who’s been through a university education in ancient Near Eastern studies, learned several dead languages and a slew of stuff about that world, finds it to be directly related to what a solitary monk on a hillside 5,000 years later has to say. That post on the Prophetic Prospective is a beginning in that respect. And there’ll be more to come. Thanks again for the compliment. I’m glad this stuff is useful.

  6. Yes, very very useful. I’m Catholic and I’ve sorta taken it upon myself to introduce fellow Catholics to the richness of Patristics and Biblical thought, as well as the thought of the Eastern Churches, your page has been great at bringing many facinating writings to light.

  7. I found the same thing as far as academic goes. My own background is Classics and I spent many years studying the Classics. At the same time, coincidentally, I became Christian. At a certain point, I started to find the disjuncture between my ‘day job’ as a Classicist and my faith a little at odds. I enjoyed the work, mind you, but I was feeling increasingly not at home in the world of secular academe.

    It really wasn’t until I left PhD work in Classics that I started on Patristics. I use my Classics training regularly and I’ve read a fair bit of theology on my own. I do think that I’m something of a autodidact with patristics, so I feel a bit restricted in my intention to do more work with the Fathers. So, I’m still trying to work out what I’m doing.

    Peace,
    Phil

  8. It sounds like you’re doing pretty well, Phil. The big thing with Patristics is really just to dive in. They’ve been such a neglected source in our academic systems that aside from Quasten’s Patrology and a very few other works, there’ve been slim pickings for over a century on the subject, and certainly very little programmatically in universities. Fortunately we’re seeing somewhat of a revival of interest in the Fathers these days, and it’s even becoming part of more general public interest, as we see in the case with buddy Mike Aquilina’s Way of the Fathers coming out in a new edition. So, just keep doing what you’re doing.

    What I find interesting are the new possibilities for understanding that have opened up now that, for me, the Patristic writers are no longer simply signposts along the road of development of theology leading (most think) to the glories of the Reformation (gag!), but now I’m in a situation where they’re current, active, even living authorities among the Orthodox, not just historical ones. The words become more alive when what you’re reading actually is authoritative for you, rather than just dry words on a page. And perhaps it’s that very real effort and resulting pleasure in the rewards of understanding the Church Fathers that’s also having an effect on the other things I read, particularly the academic ones, which effectively pretend to an authority with the reader that they actually don’t possess. In many cases, the results are laughable, and occasionally risible. These days, what I read earns its respect with me through familiarity with the sources, clear thinking, lack of wild supposition and faddish (or even traditional) theorization, and just plain solidity, a quality more appreciated than explained, I think you would agree.

    Anyhow, it’s good to know I’m not alone!

  9. As a matter of fact, I think I am going to shift towards more of a patristics approach. I’ve been getting a little impatient with the amount I’ve been writing on the state of the Anglican church, so I’ve announced something of a change in direction. So, here’s hoping this amateur can pull this off.

    Peace,
    Phil

  10. Well, you’ve got my support! You read, you write, so do it! I’m sure it’ll be much more fun and interesting than the Anglican stuff. That’s being covered, and it’s such an ugly situation, really, I can’t see it being remotely edifying. Patristics is definitely a step away, and a step up, I would think. Let me know if I can help. Later gator –Kevin.

  11. This evening at the park you asked me to comment, so comment I will.

    national survival. Western minds may have simply become too mired down in all the sexual “freedumb” to understand that we are almost beyond reach and beyond saving.

    I have to also concur with your thoughts on coming to peace with mystery. I cannot stand a poorly explained away mystery. Makes me gasp.

    -Rufita (Yes. I still use the name you gave me so many years ago.)

  12. Looks like my comment field has been truncated somewhere after the first sentence.

    Here’s what’ missing:
    I agree with your observations on so-called traditional marriage and its relationship to national survival.

    Fun with MS Word!

  13. Yay Rufita! You’re right of course, because great minds think alike! What I find interesting about the directions that I find most distasteful in academia in general is that their proponents and those who support them appear to have drunk in all that 60’s claptrap about individual license as some kind of right. I don’t mean individual freedom, that kind of liberty that we’re priveleged to possess in this nation, but the individual license to act in ways that are sociologically known to be disadvantageous for a society. My, will they scream when curbs are put on them! And this kind of license has filtered into the academy, no doubt all those draft dodgers and rebels in the sixties just stayed in the system and took it all over. So we find the same corruption in higher education that is rampant in society, but manifested in an intellectual corruption. Certainly not all of higher education is compromised thus, but enough of it is that something should really be done. And oh, how they squeal when you say that! “Freedom of speech!” Blah blah blah. No speech is free when some speakers are intimidated into silence, and this happens far too often. I’m sure you’ve experienced the same, too. It’s really disgusting, and seems to be getting worse. One help would be to abolish the tenure system (like that’d ever happen) and hold educators to education, not pontification, with some kind of regulated evaluations, I would think. I’m not going to hold my breath, though.

    Thanks for writing! And it was really great seeing you again! It’s been too long.

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