Friday, August 25, 2006

[THO] Theological Catfight: Jaspers vs. Bultmann

Since I picked up this little book, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion Without Myth, I keep picking it up. I like to read the first few pages of a new book just to get some bearings on it, well when you start a book that has the first article coming out punching the other guy - I feel bad, but I want to keep reading. So with Volf out of the way this little text has risen up to supplant whatever was next on my reading list, Doh!

But something is bugging me about Karl Jasper's position. I think it is the fatal flaw of enlightnement philosophy. He seems to have constructed God in the image of his own suppositions and I think his thinking is reinforced by an Anselmian ontological proof, though he hasn't outright said this, I see Anselm's 'proof' as a basis for Kasper's vision of God. So this causes Jasper to insist on two things that do not square - the absence of the supernatural and the existance of God.

Now I do get that he is working within a framework of reason to accomplish his task, and he seems to get things right, but every right answer leaves me saying 'but, but..' because it misses the whole dimension of revelation. Knowledge of God seems to be something Jasper's believe you acquire through reason alone. Yet the process of reasoning our way to God often neuters god, indeed despite Jasper's claims that God is that "which no myth can fully express for it surpasses them all" (p.17) still leaves us unconvinced. Especially when preceeded by a bold statement like, "A corpse cannot come to life and rise from the grave." (p.17).

I think this neutered image of God, who is restricted to the realm of thought is a useless god who cannot act on behalf of the poor, needy and oppressed. This thinking flaws his desire to restore a mythical language to Christianity, even though that is a project I admire. This flaw affects his brilliant observations on the function of myth in religion (see his observation of how we derive strenght from the bible on page 20). It causes them to stall just short of the prize. I read them and feel a 'yeah, but' deep inside me. Not that I disagree with him, just I feel like something is missing. Maybe it is just the philosopher's god I am troubled with, but if his jabs at Bultmann are at all justified I fear I might have the same battle with him defence.

It is a short book and I've only really just begun, and both are authors I've wanted to be exposed to. Especially since I am already convinced of the power of myth in religion, even the necessity of myth. I would agree with Jasper's critique of a utilitarian use of literalness (p.19), but I don't want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Karl Jaspers & Rudolf Bultmann, Myth and Christianity: An Inquiry into the Possibility of Religion without Myth, trans Norbert Guterman, Noonday Press: 1971.


Hoshea said...

Knowledge of God seems to be something Jasper's believe you acquire through reason alone.

The human mind can (and has) come up with all sorts of imagined gods. Our reasoning is so fallen. Thank God He has revealed Himself.

One of Freedom said...

Hey Hosea, I am not sure I buy that our reason is completely unredeemable, or even completely distorted by the fall. To run that line of logic leads us dangerously close to anti-intellectualism which is a problem in the contemporary Church. But the exclusive reliance on reason is a problem because reason, in Jasper's case reason is restricted by a Kantian worldview and a cultural distrust of knowledge gained from means other than reason.

So for Jasper the myth is a construct that is geared exclusively, if I am reading him right, to engage with reason in a way that shapes us are moral agents in society. I think that definitely Christianity has a moralizing aspect, but Christianity isn't merely about making good people, it is about instilling an eschatological hope that forms a people.

My main complaint is that Jasper de-spiritualizes the divine and ends up with a weak parody of god. Unable to act beyond the confines of the "laws of nature". A god who is reasonable and behaves in a reasonable and predictable fashion. This is exactly the kind of fallacy about God that the book of Job is written to address. God is not some responsive agent that we can cause to act in beneficial ways by our "good" efforts. In fact the Celts have the best way of looking at it, as they saw God as wildly unpredictable and creative (hence the wild goose as a symbol of God).

So revelation isn't the issue, it is how we are willing to mediate that revelation. And as humans we always mediate revelation. I'm just not impressed with Jasper's mediation.

Thanks for the comment, I hope that clarifies my argument against Jasper.