22 June 2017

Covfefe 2017: Concluding Thoughts

(For previous posts about this year's Convivium go here, here, here, and here.)

A few comments on Joseph Minich's paper "Divine Absence and Classical Theism in the Modern World" will serve as the coda to my brief summaries of the Convivium Irenicum 2017. Minich took as his springboard Dietrich Bonhoeffer's well-known assertion in a letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge from prison in 1944:
We cannot be honest unless we recognize that we have to live in the world etsi deus non daretur [translation: "as if there were no God"]. And this is just what we do recognize--before God! God himself compels us to recognize it. So our coming of age leads us to a true recognition of our situation before God. God would have us know that we must live as men who manage our lives without him. The God who is with us is the God who forsakes us (Mark 15:34). The God who lets us live in the world without the working hypothesis of God is the God before whom we stand continually. Before God and with God we live without God. God lets himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross. He is weak and powerless in the world, and that is precisely the way, the only way, in which he is with us and helps us. Matt. 8:17 makes it quite clear that Christ helps us, not by virtue of his omnipotence, but by virtue of his weakness and suffering.
Much ink has been spilled over precisely what Bonhoeffer meant that "we [Christians] must live as men who manage our lives without [God]" and, thankfully, Minich didn't take us into the arcana of Bonhoeffer studies. Instead, he asked us to consider Bonhoeffer's cryptic comment in light of Charles Taylor's sustained argument in "This Secular Age." In one post from my long-running series on Taylor's work, I observed that
Life in a secular age ... suggests that “we have moved from a world in which the place of fullness was understood as unproblematically outside of or ‘beyond’ human life, to a conflicted age in which this construal is challenged by others which place it . . . ‘within’ human life.”  Taylor’s understanding  of “fullness” is that place where life is “fuller, richer, deeper, more worthwhile, more what it should be.”  Of course, for all but a very few believers most of life is not lived in such a place; rather, a “middle place,” or ordinary time, is a stable condition where a routine order of life somehow maintains a sense of contact with the place of fullness.
It seems--according to me and I think Minich would agree--that Bonhoeffer was urging Christians to avoid the short-sighted comfort of such a "middle space" and live, as do their unbelieving compatriots, as if God did not exist but, at the same time, unlike their unbelieving fellows, fully participating in the "fullness" that the weakness of Christ holds forth.

Minich's long-ish paper made many more points of interest and value but you'll have to wait until the publication of the Convivium proceedings to read them for yourself.

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