Last post I discussed Weber’s attempts to develop a taxonomy of communities and cultures in terms of the distinctions which each community draws between legitimate/righteous dominion and illegitimate/unrighteous dominion. The ways in which righteous dominion is set apart from unrighteous dominion are not at all limited to intellectual playthings or logical puzzles to be toyed with, since such standards strongly constrain the ways in which we understand and organize our social behavior. Why should we obey what social services or medical professionals tell us? When is a command issued by a priesthood leader – or God Himself – to sacrifice all that I have or am an (il)legitimate command (one thinks of Abraham’s son)? By what standards do we tell others that they should or should not obey even their own commands within their own lives (a very modern idea that wasn’t at all obvious until rather recently)? (more…)
It is nearly impossible to overestimate Max Weber’s influence upon social theory. He was a lawyer, an economist and a historian who largely invented the discipline of sociology, was fluent in 8 languages and authored enough works to fill 43 massive volumes. Not bad for somebody who suffered a major emotional breakdown at the age of 33 and died at the relatively young age of 56. He was, by any reasonable standard, a walking encyclopedia and (for better or worse) his books read like one too. Indeed, it is the dry style with which he marshals an (often) excessive amount of historical material that is responsible for his lack of Marx and Nietzsche’s far more polemic popularity. My goal in the next few posts will be to distill the historical material to be found in Weber’s writings while adding a bit of my own polemic punch.
“Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time… But I say unto you..”
“Nevertheless, it is not written that there shall be no end to this torment, but it is written endless torment… For, behold, I am endless, and the punishment which is given from my hand is endless punishment, for Endless is my name.”
Passages like those above seriously call into question the idea that “eternal laws” are ahistorical, self-existent or totally independent of God’s creative will. Indeed, scriptural support for such a claim becomes nigh impossible once we acknowledge that
- the council of the gods might be the source of any allegedly external laws, or
- the Lord, as a flawless self-legislator, is subject to the laws that He gives Himself, or
- calling a law “endless” or “eternal” does not necessarily entail their timeless ahistoricity.
It is within such a perspective – that rejects any timeless, self-existent laws before which each and every god must bow – that revelation becomes a process of – to borrow Joseph Schumpeter’s term – creative destruction. Nietzsche’s term for the person who embodies creative destruction is the “overman” – a man who is able to overcome the moral commands of those around and before him/her. In this post I will defend the idea that the church is itself (or ought to be) a collective overman of sorts. (more…)
“He that is not with me is against me: and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.”
“For, behold, priestcrafts are that men preach and set themselves up for a light unto the world, that they may get … praise of the world; but they seek not the welfare of Zion.”
This should be the final post in the series – at least for a while. Whereas the previous post was a Bourdieuian indictment of us who read, lurk and comment within the Bloggernacle, this post is more aimed at those of us who engage in the writing and publishing of posts within our little online community. To do this, I will provide a Bourdieuian account of the relationship and struggles between two fields of cultural production: the LDS church and the Bloggernacle. (All pages refer to Bourdieu’s The Field of Cultural Production, chapters of which can be found here and here.)
And the people began to be distinguished by ranks, according to their riches and their chances for learning; yea, some were ignorant because of their poverty, and others did receive great learning because of their riches… And thus there became a great inequality in all the land, insomuch that the church began to be broken up. – 3 Ne. 6:12, 14
Distinction is based upon a massive survey which Bourdieu and his assistants administered in Paris during the 1960’s regarding the impact of people’s economic and educational backgrounds upon their tastes in kinds of food, quantity of food, table manners, dress, posture, vocabulary, accents, stores, furniture, wall décor, entertainment, singers, instruments, reading material, politics, etc. This amount of empirical research sets him apart from most other critical theorists with which he tends to be associated. That said, the specific context in which this data was gathered does place certain limitations upon the extent to which his results can be generalized to today’s American culture in which I currently find myself. Indeed, Bourdieu fully acknowledges that aesthetic tastes evolve across time and place in never-ending quest for distinction. (more…)
Pierre Bourdieu’s book, Distinction: A Social Critique of Judgement and Taste, is one of those exciting page-turners that transforms the very way that you look at the world around you. Over the next few weeks I plan on posting a small series dealing with a Bourdieuian (I think that’s the most vowels that I’ve ever typed in a row) perspective on the Bloggernacle as a form of cultural production and consumption. In this preliminary post, I only want to give a small feel for Bourdieu and his understanding of language use. To this end, I will (very briefly) describe his relationships with Marx, Foucault and Gouldner. Unfortunately, I will not attempt to draw any direct religious implications within this post. (more…)
In the first part of this series, I discussed Koselleck’s claim that absolute monarchism had solved the civil/religious wars by placing “reasons of state” above all moral and religious reproach, both of these being relegated to the status of “private opinion”. The second post dealt with, what Koselleck calls, the “hypocrisy of the Enlightenment” wherein moral society came to exert influence and power through a suspicious combination of public claims to universality and neutrality, on the one hand, and particularistic, political influence through secret societies, on the other. This third post will deal with the tensions which emerged during the Enlightenment between moral reason and sovereign decision-making (both political and religious) and the ways in which “[t]he divine, heretofore impervious, plan of salvation was … transformed into the morally just and rational planning of the future by the new elite.” (pg. 10)
Central to Koselleck’s account is that the (French) Enlightenment was not solely or even primarily a movement among intellectuals – hence his focus upon the crucial role played by secret societies. Rather, it was a heterogeneous coalition among the anti-absolutist nobility, creditor bourgeoisie, pro-British emigres, philosophes and bureaucrats who were all united around little more than their shared objection to religious and political sovereignty. These purely negative values around which these groups and interests were temporarily aligned had various forms of practical relevance:
- They supported the illusion of political impotence and impartiality claimed by the Republic of Letters.
- They greatly incentivized the criticism of all against all – this being the logic around which moral society became outwardly structured.
- They strongly dis-incentivized transparency with respect to political decision-making within (secret) societies.
- It made sub-groups within this coalition see one another as the new enemy to truth/freedom/etc. after the overthrow of absolutist monarchism.
The deep disagreements between the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School and Foucault can be summarized in the question: Freud or Nietzsche? The German Critical Theorists thought that the scientific analytics of both Marx and Freud could liberate us from the dual domination of ideology and repression. Being the Nietzschean that he was, Foucault’s response to all such hopes was a pointed “tu quoque”: the Marxist and Freudian disciplines merely replace one form of domination with another of their own making. Thus, while Habermas frames his own social theory in terms of a collective (Kohlbergian) moral development over which we gradually acquire greater control through discursive enlightenment, Foucault sees social history in terms of an unguided, almost Darwinian reconfiguration of (rather than liberation from) power relations. It is for this reason that Habermas dismisses all such Nietzscheans as “young conservatives”.
This post that consists of three parts: First, I will give a brief review of Jonathan Haidt and his publications – this section is optional and can be skipped if you like. Second, I will summarize “Microaggression and Moral Cultures,” an article by Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning concerning the nature of microaggressions and the emergence of “victimhood” culture – this is the main meat of the post. Finally, I will use Nietzsche’s master/slave moralities to apply Campbell and Manning’s paper to the differences between victimhood culture and the gospel.
Consent can mean an awful lot of things. Many people today are inclined to think that doing all things by common consent means a unanimous vote within an idealized process of democratic legislation. When people object to the claim that “the church is not a democracy” with their own appeals to “common consent” they definitely have such a reading in mind.
The idea of consent, however, was originally much more rooted in a republican than it was in a democratic tradition. The strongest modern exponents of government by consent can be traced to the British social contract theorists: Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. These men were not, however, strong advocates of government by the people – an idea that is much more associated with the Frenchman Jean Jacques Rousseau and his notion of the “general will.” (more…)
This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a very long time. Since I basically posted its main thesis over at BCC, I thought I’d finally elaborate a little.
Throughout the bloggernacle, I often come across some version of “the problem of interpretation” (PoI). The basic jist – heavily influenced by literary theory – is that the cultural conditioning and biases of the prophets act as a kind of barrier or interference between them and God. In other words, we can never be sure that they are interpreting God’s message correctly, thus giving us just enough wiggle room to pick and choose which of their teachings we will accept and which we will write off as “human fallibility.” Not only does this theory reinforce a “critical distance” between us and the prophets, it does this by inserting literary theorists and other such academics inside that distance, thus, intentionally or not, turning them into the semi-official interpreters of the living prophets. It should go without saying that this entire model runs counter to the gospel found within the scriptures. (more…)
Within the famous novel/film a mother, Sophie, is forced to choose which of her two children she will save from the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In a certain sense, the most gut wrenching aspect of the story is not that she chooses her son over her daughter in order to prevent them both from being killed. The most gut wrenching aspect is not which child she choose, but that she had to choose at all. She loved both of her children, which is exactly what made her choice so horrible. (more…)
If you have not done so already, I strongly recommend that anybody interested in social or political thinking go and read Isaiah Berlin’s classic: Two Concepts of Liberty. Within this paper he lists 4 premises by which modern thinking can and at times has transformed into the very opposite of freedom. I will then state my views regarding the (in)compatibility of these premises with the religious tradition found in the scriptures. (more…)
[Jesus’ cures for medical illnesses] are all miraculous, and the same power was granted to the apostles—”power against unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal all manner of sickness and all manner of disease.” And more than this, not only the blind received their sight, the lame walked, the lepers were cleansed, the deaf heard, but even the dead were raised up. No question of the mandate. He who went about doing good was a physician of the body as well as of the soul, and could the rich promises of the Gospel have been fulfilled, there would have been no need of a new dispensation of science.
-William Osler, The Evolution of Modern Medicine
When I speak of “drawing valid inferences” or “making legal moves” in a language game, you should not automatically think that these inferences and moves could simply be made by anyone in the linguistic community. For example, in Foucault’s scenario, the patient’s submission to the psychiatrist’s authority is by no means enhanced by his ability to reason exactly as the psychiatrist would about his condition. On the contrary, such “simulations” of rational discourse would tend to underscore the depth and complexity of the patient’s mental disorder. Thus, not only must a psychiatric diagnosis be articulated according to a fixed set of rules, but it must also be articulated by someone who has been authorized to issue a diagnosis of that kind. And so, it is crucial to the patient’s having submitted to the psychiatrist’s authority that he remain silent while the psychiatrist speaks on his behalf.
-Steve Fuller, Social Epistemology
The first passage above illustrates the historical, zero-sum displacement of religious authority by science with regards to how we ought to behave and to whom we ought to look for such instruction. The second passage above illustrates the asymmetrical nature of scientific authority as it exists within society today. Before continuing I first must say that 1) I think and hope that we all treat modern medicine with the amount of respect that it has clearly earned and 2) I have no intention of pitting medical science against scriptural religion. I do, however, want to use our modern deference to the authority of medical science to illustrate the nature of priesthood authority. (more…)
While this claim does make perfect sense to our modern ears, the scriptures tell a very different story. In the Bible, for example, God promises to visit with vengeance various people and the generations that come after them when the latter clearly did not have any choice in the matter. (Adam and Eve are the most obvious, although not the only example.) We also read of Jesus cursing a tree for not giving fruit when it was not in season. (It was Voltaire, I believe that thought this proved Christianity was absurd.) Indeed, we might say that the whole problem of theodicy is that we cannot understand why some people are allowed to suffer when they have seemingly done nothing wrong. (Both Job and Joseph Smith were great examples.) The fact of the matter is that even if something is not anybody’s choice, this does not mean that God is pleased with it or that we should be perfectly accepting of it. Claims to the contrary are of modern and quite secular origin.
This is not, however, a straight forward argument for or against the acceptance of SSM within the church. If anything, mine is an argument that arguments should play no role in deciding the issue, and if the church fully accepted SSM tomorrow my point would still remain the same. My fear is not SSM but that arguments like those at BBC and W&T are attempts to domesticate and constrain the church through science (showing SSA to be innate or not) and human reason (people should or should not be punished for what is innate). No matter what science says, or what makes sense to our modern sense of morality, we should follow the Lord’s righteous prophets in whatever it is that they say the church should or should not do.