on this page

Or send us an email




Application form




Pathways programs

Letters to my students

How-to-do-it guide

Essay archive

Ask a philosopher

Pathways e-journal

Features page

Downloads page

Pathways portal



Pathways to Philosophy
Home



Geoffrey Klempner CV
G Klempner



International Society for Philosophers
ISFP site







PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS electronic journal

[home]



P H I L O S O P H Y   P A T H W A Y S                   ISSN 2043-0728
http://www.philosophypathways.com/newsletter/

Issue number 51
9th February 2003

CONTENTS

I. 'The Possibility of God: An Essay in the Philosophy of Religion' by
   John Paolini

II. 'The (Im)Possibility of (Desire of) God: a Response to John Paolini' by
   Brian Tee

III. The New Pathways Conference

-=-

I. 'THE POSSIBILITY OF GOD: AN ESSAY IN THE PHILOSOPHY OF  RELIGION' BY
  JOHN PAOLINI

          "Quid ergo amo, cum deum meum amo?"
          What do I desire when I desire God?
          (Saint Augustine)

Preface

After the losing our metaphysical foundations for the existence of God, what
are the possibilities of again discovering God?

Religious faith is a private and social treasure. It has been the source of
philosophy, art, and ethics. This influence has not only created the best in
civilization but also violence.

Many are comforted by pre-modern religion; they find cannot live with
uncertainty and a lack of a compass. They also desire God. In the scientific
age, religions are embattled. Dr. Wesley Ariarajah, of Drew University,
remarked in PRAXIS (12/2002), "... all religious traditions are inadequate to
deal with the world in which we live today, a post-modern, post-colonial world.
We need each other to be able to move forward. That's why dialogue matters."

Foundational religion is not dying out. It is a growing force in Asia, Africa,
and South America. The combativeness of modern fundamentalism, economically and
politically motivated, is an impediment to clear religious thought and much
needed dialogue. Partisan mentality facilitates violence. Dividing humanity
between believers and non-believers causes killing and war. One of the goals of
postmodern religion, in the tradition of Emmanuel Levinas, is against war.

1. Violence

Introduction

As a pre-theology student, I encountered a positivistic metaphysics, which was
unconcerned with human events, suffering, or emotion. Religion was a
contaminant.

I learned again that there is no metaphysical evidence for God's existence.
Medieval philosophers solved this problem by granting God "being." That was
before the age of science when the first Soviet spaceman did not discover God
in space.

As a pastor I could not find any alternative to foundationalism. What theology
I was pointed to was outside the ordinary or possible range of human experience
or understanding. I found Paul Tillich helpful.

Using phenomenology, philosophy does show concern with individual experience.
French postmodern thinking opens up philosophy to the phenomenology, the
awareness, of human events and everyday life. Foundational and traditional,
"recipe knowledge," is not enough for coping with the expected much less for
coping with the surprise of novelty or crisis.

Phenomenology

Continental philosophy is a more living sort of philosophy that accentuates
human awareness. Religion is part of that awareness of a post-secular age.
Phenomenology, without violence, studies human awareness treating each person
as transcendent, beyond the ken of our experience, -- a wholly other.

A speaker's narrative, exactly like a composer's symphony, becomes the text to
be interpreted without presuppositions. Even knowledge of the speaker is
"bracketed," put aside for the moment. The text is interrogated without the
"violence" of outside referents.

The author, if asked to explain a text, like a poem, can become frustrated by
inner contradictions, and surplus of meaning in finding the well out of which
the poem came. The negative hermeneutics of Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx testify
to the hidden-ness of what was said. There are too many meanings in a text or
metaphor.

Out of frustration, we too often use an external grid of artificial referents
to examine or filter a person's statements. This implies violence to the
attempt of the person to explain what is said. Refraining from all-knowing,
analytic destructiveness is the first rule for not committing violence and for
not succumbing to the narcissistic temptation of over-interpretation.

Individual self-examination is most likely to happen if the subject's thought
is not violated by foundational nonsense used as an opiate. A philosopher once
used the phrase, "metaphysical moonshine." Rock-solid foundations cannot
relieve human pain. What helps an anguished person comes as an unaided
revelation, a surprise, from within. Answers even from within are not etched in
stone but are dynamic. Seldom are they lifetime lessons but more often
ephemeral. They are insight that fits a situation at the time. Like the manna
in the story of the exodus, it refuses to be stored up for the future.

Revelation of insight comes for a certain happening. That is enough. Edna St.
Vincent Millay put it, "look at those ugly houses on the rock and see my
mansion on the sands."

Silent care

While still in seminary, I was pastor of a tiny city parish. One Thanksgiving
Day, I was informed that Mrs. Bowers' husband had died. He had been at work. I
hurried to visit. Mrs. Bowers was calm and welcoming. Bags of groceries were
left unpacked on her dining room table. I appreciated her pain but I could
think of nothing to say.

To my mind, as a pastor, I should have had a store of words, rituals, or holy
oils as balm to heal sorrow. I, however, found nothing to say and had no
remedy. She me told her story. I felt pangs of distress for her and her
teen-aged daughter. I knew the daughter from hearing her in the choir. I had no
balm or "good words" to erase their hurt. We cried together and then I left. I
had failed in my picture of a professional, but I was warmed by their
hospitality. It seemed enough.

Avoiding intimate violence

Twenty years later, as Chaplain of a mid-sized hospital, I still had no
answers. I learned to listen and let the course of the conversation guide my
response. No one ever asked me about heaven or hell or how to be saved. No one
wanted theological know-how. No one wanted techniques for dying. No one asked
about my theology. Whenever asked if a person accepted God, repented, and had
died well, I always gave a resounding, "YES."

At that, time there developed an industry that pushed dying with joy.
Performers became professional experts on dying. They invented a rather erotic
industry, formed workshops, became consultants, and told beautiful heartwarming
stories. To music and joyful songs, we learned about stages of dying and helping
the moribund die contentedly. They knew all the answers and methods.

Where I was chaplain, the people I visited did not seem like the promising
material for workshop presentation. They had anxiety, dilemmas and were too ill
to sing arias. Death is a natural event at once expected but painful, tragic,
and disruptive. It is a matter for tears.

One workshop was presented in my town. As they sang and performed, I remembered
all those who died in my fourteen years as hospital chaplain. I felt sad for
those who I had come to know. I could not fill out the pieces of paper
presented to me. What I had experienced with dying folk seemed confidential and
sacred ground. A happy, careless view of another's death made light of human
existence as a miracle and a prized gift. Death is natural event and a tragedy
because a narrative and wonder of existence is lost. I missed people who had
died. I still grieve. I did not want to be cured of the ability to grieve.

The workshops depressed me. The presenters seemed like aliens from some other
planet, where all dying people came out of the same cast. Levinas would have
pointed out that they made people into "sames," things cut from the same
pattern. To Levinas, this knowledge profaned human uniqueness, and made the
dying into objects. Workshops faded into my mind as images of presenters with
cone heads from Saturday Night Live.

Narrative of Ann

On a winter evening in the early twilight, patients talked slowly, masks
fading, leaving their faces naked. I had visited with Anna, her husband and
nine-year-old daughter. I remembered them as welcoming, but, strange to say,
separated by mutual grief. Talking about any depth of emotion was impossible.

This evening, Ann was alone. She had eaten and wanted to talk. Dying from
cancer, she would, soon enough, be stripped of her daughter and husband. She
did not want to leave her husband, but even more, she did not want to leave a
motherless daughter.

Mrs. Ann Becket, in her mid thirties, looked slight under the thermal blanket.
Her face was skeletal but her voice was still strong and her gaze direct.
"Could you sit and talk with me awhile?"

She took a deep breath. "Since childhood, I have had a longing for God. I've
tried all kinds of churches. I'm tired from all the empty words. Traditional
churches give answers that are cut and dried. They answer questions that I
don't ask. They don't fit my longing for God. The charismatic churches were
more interesting at first but then I became aware of the techniques used to
manipulate the congregation. The services were carefully choreographed. I could
not think in that charismatic fog. That turned me off. Now I am almost agnostic.
I do pray and have nostalgia for spirituality. I am fed up with the usual
religious bromides. I don't want that kind of 'help.' I need someone to talk
to, if only to hear myself think out loud."

Nature of foundational violence

Levinas saw each individual human as a "wholly other" so distant from oneself
as to have traces of divine transcendence. Before there was any beginning to
thought, philosophy or religion humans were constituted to have responsibility
for the other who turns their face toward us. We are obliged to treat them with
sacred respect. We give a pledge of non-injury. Others form part of our selves.
Responsibility for our neighbor is built into each of us. Giving up the quest
for knowledge we are able unimpeded to listen to them. Then we can see traces
of an ancient God, the ancient of days, who passed this way. If we force them
in any way, we violate them. They become all the same. Not assuming the role of
a guest in their lives, not treating them as a mystery, is to put them into
bondage.

We can do violence in at least two ways. First, we think, as we do with our
children, that we know the other because they are like our selves or someone we
studied. This makes them into a same. The second kind of violence is done by
doing the other person some good that we are sure they need. For instance,
niche counselors like an alcoholic counselor see patterns that he recognizes
and then is sure that he can help the other. If the other person defends from
that violence, the person is seen as in denial. We learn certain bags of tricks
that are salable, give the other a diagnosis, and so capture another trophy with
our knowledge.

As a child I was in an evangelistic meeting singing, "Bringing in the Sheaves."
Bring the sinners to the "truth." A man tried to talk me into the going to the
altar to repent and be saved. My father was sad that I did not go forward. I
was unhappy as teenagers often are without much explanation. My father
certainly could not figure out what to do for me He loved me and wanted to see
me happy. That felt good. He did the best he could.

The evangelist worked my guilt. I had no secrets from him. There was only one
pattern for me and that was every man in need of salvation. Only my sinful
pride kept me from acknowledging that the evangelist was right! I remember the
evangelist use his wiggling finger to show how we were worms before his God.

Giving up power

When I visited Ann, rather than take a position of power, I was asked to be
passive and follow, not to lead, but listen and try to understand. While I do
suppose that to recognize what is ahead, I would need to have some
foreknowledge of what I should meet, still I was to make no mental map of what
I would find. Even after I should discover with the other person leading, I was
also not to leave a map.

We did not talk about Ann's death. While still alive, Ann could not picture her
own death. Ann wanted to talk about her feelings of guilt and anger at dying and
leaving her daughter motherless. Both of these emotions left her emotionally
unavailable to her daughter. She was distracted from what her daughter was
trying to say to her. The daughter certainly was not going to act as if her
mother were dying yet in the midst of "carrying on" she was trying to cope with
her desperation at losing the closest relation that a human can have. The mother
had to be attentive to hear that behind the words.

Feeling guilty and angry, Ann could not look her daughter in the eye. If Ann
did look at her daughter while she was angry, it came across as a glare. Anger
and guilt impede caring. Ann saw her anger and guilt as wanting to protect her
daughter against the possible suffering in her life. The responsibility of
protecting her daughter needed to be handed over to her family. If she could do
this, she could again be available to her child.

To hand over the responsibility to the family and the future while still
keeping the present closeness of mother and child also meant faith in the
possibility of love in her daughter's future. The possibility of surprise in
the life of her daughter as she progresses in the culture bound stages of life.

Longing for providence

This is a narrative without a plot. There is neither great epiphany nor was
there a satisfying denouement. Ann did die. Her family grieved and Ann's
daughter is now in her forty first year. What did Ann love when she loved her
daughter? I would guess that she loved the possibility and surprise of
providence

2. Foundational Violence

Fear of the traditional

Ann rejects all the trappings of conventional pastoral ministry. While she has
a desire for God, she claims to be agnostic. She also found that traditional
pastoral care is faithful to the context of a church whose theology was violent
because it was not faithful to her with her self-discovered needs. She
discovered that the survival of the church as institution is more important
than her uniqueness.

Negative hermeneutics

Using negative hermeneutics, we can discover that foundational knowledge is
violent to the disinherited. Their foundational beliefs come not from scripture
but from political and economic interests. Theology has to do with the survival
of both the institution and the clergy.

Elaine Pagels in, 'The Gnostic Gospels' explains that, (p.47) "As the doctrine
of Christ's bodily resurrection establishes the initial framework for clerical
authority, so the doctrine of the 'one God' confirms, for orthodox Christians,
the emerging institution of 'one bishop' as monarch ('sole ruler') of the
church. ... God (as 'Father Almighty,' for example) serves to define who is
included - and who is excluded - from participation in the power of priests and
bishops."

While this picture is most obvious in the hierarchy of the Roman Church, it is
true all churches.

The God that could be

Jean-Luc Marion adds more in this line. In 'God Without Being' he takes God out
of the realm of metaphysics. God no longer is seen as a metaphysical "being,"
which is bound to human limited thought. We must think of God, "outside the
box" of ontology, being.

He argues that any attempt to define God is to diminish God and worship an idol
fabricated by human thought. He argues that the definition of God the writings
St. Thomas Aquinas is a being that created him/herself. This violence makes God
into an idol.

Marion is Roman Catholic but not a rebel. He sees himself as a conservative
Catholic.

Marion is very conservative but to me he does seem to pay attention to the
complaints of the early Gnostics in the Christian church who saw the budding
orthodoxy of the early church as violent and confining to an indeterminate God.

Desire for God

Derrida was born a Jew in El Biar, Algeria. At age 19 he left North Africa to
study with Emmanuel Levinas and Paul Ricoeur in Paris. Both are, or were, very
active in their religious bodies. For Derrida and Levinas, organized religion,
through theology has done violence to God. He calls himself an atheist but he
has a desire for God.

Derrida was intrigued by Saint Augustine a fellow North African. With Saint
Augustine he asked, "What do I desire [love] when I desire [love] my God?" This
question has no certain answer but it is worth asking because it opens up
expectations and possibilities for God's action. Derrida compared his mother
with the mother of Augustine, Monica who worried about their children's faith.
He writes, "...my religion about which nobody understands any more than my
mother who asked other people a while ago, not daring to talk to me about it,
if I still believed in God ... but she must have known that the constancy of
God in my life is called by other names, so that I rightly pass for an atheist,
the omnipresence of what I call my God in my absolved, absolutely private
language being neither that of an eyewitness nor that of a voice doing anything
other than talking to me without saying anything, nor a transcendent law or an
immanent schenchina, that feminine figure of a Yahweh who remains so strange
and so familiar to me.." (Derrida in 'Jacques Derrida' p.154).

Derrida uses biblical structures in forming his philosophy of religion. These
are indeterminate. Paul Ricoeur in an essay, "The Nuptial Metaphor," examines
the possibilities of religious structures when thinking about the Song Of
Solomon. All insights into this complex metaphor of human desire and divine
desire i. e. the sacred erotic desire of God, give a surplus of meaning. All
attempts at finding the meaning of the text are provisional. The metaphor is
indeterminate but useful.

Derrida uses several biblical metaphors or structures to define his philosophy
of religion. One, the messianic, I have defined above. He uses this metaphor as
the possibility of God's justice coming in the future. This message as applied
to Ann would be that God has not abandoned you, your daughter, or your family.

The second, hospitality, he uses as a way of expressing Levinas'
phenomenological insight that deep in human awareness is a command not to harm
or murder another human being. Freud in his examination of human awareness also
found this forbidden. Levinas wrote that God the "Ancient of Days," has passed
this way and has left traces of God's presence in the structures of human
awareness. Are these traces that we find those of God or of evil? They are
indeterminate. When we find a program for us, or not respecting our neighbor,
or acquiescing to injustice, then it can't be God.

A third metaphor is that of the desire for God. There is a long history of
sacred desire since the Song of Solomon both in Christianity and Judaism.
Rabbis, Saint Augustine, and the mystics all talk of the sacred desire for God
and God for us. Fusion in erotic human love and in the love of God is
impossible, according to Levinas and Derrida a form of violence, and a shared
dementia.

Charismatic intimacy with God, fusion, has as its purpose to control God and
turn God into an idol. All theologically conceived gods are idols. With these
models we have knowledge of God that is impossible to have. God is
transcendent, unreachable, unattainable, as are other humans.

Desire for God is prayer, with tears, to whatever God that may be for justice
in our time. I used to laugh that Unitarians prayed to "Whomever it may
concern." Well we all do that.

---

APPENDIX

Vocabulary used in "deconstruction" and in the philosophy of religion

(Most definitions are my own effort. Others are adapted from the Internet by
Robert J. Belton. Wyschogrod's definitions are noted.)

Alterity: Otherness in the sense of "Other" defined below.

Apophatic: A theological term meaning knowledge of God obtained by negation,
thus 'negative theology' (e.g. 'God is dead').

Aporia: Formerly defined as a problem in thought of great difficulty to be
resolved with great effort. It could mean reconciling opposites or irony. In
deconstruction, it means the point at which a text is explicitly indeterminate
or self-contradictory.

Classic Foundationalism: holds that "foundations" of basic beliefs are
infallible and indubitable.

Deconstruction: Jacques Derrida holds that language does not simply consist of
names applied to determinate things. It is instead a series of signifiers and
signifieds creating relations that we understand to be things. There is nothing
present "behind" a sign. Its meaning cannot be understood without ambiguity. The
possibility of achieving a determinate, definitive reading of a text is nil.

Desire: The object of desire, can be hidden, non-existent or absent. A want, in
contrast to desire, can be satisfied within the realm of possibility.

Eschatology: The philosophy of the 'last days'. It is also used to express the
philosophy of the messianic hope for a new age of justice. See Messianism below.

Hermeneutics of Suspension: This negative hermeneutics used for interpretation
the theories of Freud, Nietzsche, and Marx.

Horizon: The parameters of meaning and values.

Indeterminacy: The opposite of determinacy: i.e. the notion that the final
meaning of a text cannot be settled once and for all, undermining certainty
about such things as closure.

Other: (Wyschogrod). Reserved for the special alterity belonging to other
persons, who resist reduction to [a] same. ... The other is always higher,
commands, and is the teacher of the self.

Messianism: In the Old Testament, this referred to the waiting for a figure
sent by God who would lead Israel into a future of justice. Derrida uses this
structure to speak of the future of the possibility of God.

Metaphoric: The meaning of a text is often metaphoric. The attempt to
distinguish between denotations and connotations is not useful. Close
inspection of the possible significances of a text will generally reveal an
aporia. Because of internal contradiction, the illusion of determinacy
collapses. The text then deconstructs itself. Paul Ricoeur adds that the
meaning of a sacred text produces seemingly infinite possibilities, a surplus
of meaning.

Metaphysics: is the study of the philosophy of ultimate reality, beyond
physics, or cosmology.

Phenomenology: describes the direct investigation and description of what is
consciously experienced, without theories about their cause and as free as
possible from unexamined preconceptions.

Same: Pretending, through false intimacy, to nullify the otherness of the world
or another person in order to claim knowledge and thus control. Reducing the
"other" to a "same" without uniqueness or self-ownership is in theological
terms, to be robbed of "Imago Dei."

Totality: (Wyschogrod). The view of the whole that destroys the alterity of the
"Other" and is therefore an act of violence.

Transcendence: Beyond and outside the ordinary range of human experience or
understanding.

(c) John Paolini 2003

E-mail: giannipa@charter.net

-=-

II. 'THE (IM)POSSIBILITY OF (DESIRE OF) GOD: A RESPONSE TO JOHN PAOLINI' BY
   BRIAN TEE

"The Desire of God"

What indeterminacies does this signify?

- Our desire for God?
- God's desire for us?
- Both?
- Neither?

"Fusion in erotic human love and in the love of is impossible". John tells us
that according to Levinas and Derrida it is a form of violence, 'a shared
dementia'.

Desire between man and God then cannot take the form of a fulfilment, a
satisfaction, a union. Rather there must be a gap, a lapse between man and God
-- a non-coincidence, a constant vigilance (on both sides?) against implosion.
And yet, whilst we are concerned with indeterminacy, shouldn't we ask whether
this non-coincidence could itself hide/ produce/ partake of its own violence,
isn't there a need for a constant vigilance, a suspicion for gaps and holes?

Opening, Keeping Open (and Closing?) the Gap

The desire of god is a desire never completed: Moses asks to see God's glory
and God refuses; "You cannot see may face, for no man shall see me and live"
(Exodus: 33.20) Why? Wouldn't the glory of God be so powerful as to overwhelm a
man, wouldn't Moses lose himself in a meeting with the full glory of God? Moses
would 'die' because his separateness from God would be destroyed. God's refusal
is in order to protect Moses. God is maintaining the gap.

But the story carries on: "And the Lord said, behold, there is a place by me
and you shall stand upon a rock. And it shall come to pass, while my glory
passeth by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock and will cover you with
my hand while I pass by. And I will take away my hand and you shall see my back
parts: but may face shall not be seen" (Ex: 33.21-23).

Can we say that Moses' desire to see God is the desire to know God -- to close
the gap? And yet Moses only sees His back, God will not be seen as a totality,
God as "wholly other" as infinite 'overflows' all thought, is greater than any
conception, all knowing. The gap is maintained -- the noncoincidence of man
with God.

And yet man's desire and attempt to close the gap is an effect due to God's
original opening of the gap: When god appears to Moses as the burning bush and
calls his name. Moses is aware of the difference between him and God only
desires God after the fact of God's showing himself. God seeks men out before
men seek out God. Augustine knew this well, when he writes: "You have shed your
fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odour. I tasted
you and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me and I an inflamed with
love" ('Confessions' Book 6). It is because God has first touched him that he
is inflamed. And could Descartes quest for certainty, a quest that leads him to
God, be due in fact to the idea of infinity placed in him by God when he was
created (Meditation 3)? And could we not find a contemporary example in the
case of Anne's childhood longing?

The desire of God is a response made to the 'trace' of God left by his desiring
us. The trace of God, not God himself -- He is never present, this is how the
gap is opened. The trace is the absence of God from being/ existence, his
"Otherwise than being", his infinity and wholly difference.

How then is it possible to close the gap? If there is such a difference between
God and man, how is it possible to merge with God? If God exceeds the totality
of knowing, of conceptualisation, if God is Wholly Other such that this
otherness could not be appropriated, how could my attempts at trying to close
the gap affect God? How could conceptual violence be foundational (in that its
is the worse kind, the most harmful)? Unless it is the very maintaining of this
gap that constitutes the violence.

The Other and The Wholly Other

The structure of the desire of god and the opening of the gap is reproduced
when it comes to the other person. The other also has a face that I cannot
conceptualise. The other is infinite and seeks me out before I seek he(r) out.
(S)he seeks me out in order to help them, to respond to them. The other is
"wholly other": "so distant from oneself as to have traces of divine
transcendence".

But if the other is so infinite, so 'sacred' why does she need my help? Because
Levinas tells us the other is also naked and destitute, in distress. Physically,
materially the other is cold and hungry. The other is encounter 'concretely' at
the everyday level, on the streets. The response the Other demands of me is a
physical response not to harm her. The violence occurs when I turn away from
her, when I fail to feed and cloth her, it is a physical violence that harms
her. "The first word of the face is 'thou shalt not kill'" ('Ethics and
Infinity' p.89).

In fact the face is the only thing I can want to kill. Not because it has been
made into an object but precisely because it is a face, because it exceeds the
powers of knowledge -- a sadist does not abuse chairs. It is the others
otherness that leads to her murder.

Because the other meets us as destitute wouldn't then the conceptual violence
directed at the other in fact arise in the non-coincidence? By maintaining the
distance between the other as wholly other and myself does this
de-existentialise the suffering of the beggar turning it into something almost
sacred meaningful, instead of recognising it for what it is horrible and
useless? (or is it only the holy that can suffer, that can endure?).

The Wholly Other and The Holy Other

I return then to the suspicion for a suspicion of gaps. If the other and God
are both wholly other, if the other carries the trace of God, if each other is
an other, if "every other is every other(tout autre est tout autre)" then along
with Derrida we are lead to the aporetic claim that "every other (one) is God or
God is every (bit) other" (p.87).

However the other is not God, not even Levinas goes this far, but even if s/he
were, then every other would be God, but what then of the non-coincidence
between man and God? The lapse would has caught up with itself, the gap closed
and thus a violence committed.

And if every other (one) is every (bit) other then what of the incomparable
uniqueness, the very otherness of the other, this other before me? Would not
all others be subsumed under this 'wholly other' -- isn't it this 'wholly
other' that destroys their own otherness, and that treats them as 'sames', as
belonging to categories? "If every other is wholly other does it still matter
who or what exactly the other is?" (Caputo and Scanlon p.124). If so then is
not seeing in Ann's love of her daughter 'the possibility and surprise of
providence' an act of violence against Ann and her daughter?

Illeity and 'Il y a'

If God is every bit other, then God is His own other.

Then what is to prevent us desiring evil and horror and submersion rather than
good, responsibility and transcendence?

Along with the trace of God, what Levinas comes to call 'illeity', he also
finds the trace of an 'existence without existents', an impersonal neuter,
where neither being nor nothingness fully describe it, a state of which nothing
can be said apart from 'there is...'

Here there is neither anyone nor anything which takes on existence. It's what
there is before there was anything (including the nothing of Heidegger's
'nothing nihilating itself') It is a claustrophobic closing in of an
'atmospheric density'. The il y a. From which were enclosed and cannot escape.
All knowing and thinking come to a stop.

But the il y a haunts us, as the trace of God haunts us, both have left their
mark on me. It's trace is manifest in our desire to escape from being, to
transcend towards the infinite. And yet the threat of the 'there is' is
constant, in the rumblings of a dark room where all forms are lost and the
absence of anything is itself a presence, heavy and all consuming, a structure
not unlike the glory of God faced by Moses! Has then the gap between God and
man revealed itself as an abyss?

What a strange outcome: an ambiguity, an undecidability, an indeterminacy
between Gods and Monsters, between the holy and the horrible.

"Prayer"

What is it to desire God over monsters?

"Desire for God is prayer, with tears, to whatever god that may be for justice
in our time."

Prayer with tears, yes -- for what are tears but an expression of hope, not for
our time, but for the future, a messianic future free from evil, a future for
our daughters.

But not to whomever it may concern, not to whatever God. Wouldn't the desire of
God rather be the desire for the name of God, of the absent God to show himself
-- and show himself different from, better than monsters?

In this sense the desire of God has not changed from foundational religion to
post modern religion, from Moses to Ann. The difference is that this time we
may get to see his face:

"Only one who has recognised the veiled face of God can demand that it be
unveiled" (Kolitz p.86).

---

REFERENCES

Caputo, J.D. and Scanlon, M.J. 'God, the Gift and Postmodernism' (Indiana
University Press 1999)

Derrida, J. 'The Gift Of Death' (University of Chicago Press.1995)

Levinas, E. 'Ethics and Infinity' (Duquesne University Press 1985)

Kolitz, Zvi 'Yosl Rakover Talks to God' (London: Jonathan Cape 1999)

(c) Brian Tee 2003

E-mail: cyberbri@blueyonder.co.uk

-=-

III. THE NEW PATHWAYS CONFERENCE

The Pathways Conference hosted by the Institute of Education at
http://clsconf.ioe.ac.uk/login/ has now come to an end. With over 1700 postings
since the beginning of January 2002, this has been a brilliant effort. Well done
to all concerned!

The license for the 'First Class' software used for the Institute of Education
conference is due to expire very soon, and the service has also become
increasingly erratic over the last few weeks. So we are relocating to another
conference server.

A new Pathways web conference has now been started at http://www.nicenet.or g.
The interface is very simple and easy to use. I have set up three conference
'Topics':

       The Use and Value of Philosophy
       New Participants only
      * Old Participants only

'The Use and Value of Philosophy' is (what I hope will be) the main area for
the conference.

'New Participants only' is for people who applied for usernames and passwords
for the old conference but were unable to join for technical reasons, and also
for all new participants. If you signed up for the old conference but did not
join the discussion then you are a 'new participant'.

'Old Participants only' is for people who want to continue or conclude
discussion threads from the old Pathways conference.

I shall watch developments with interest and make my own contributions from
time to time, possibly under a pseudonym. The old Pathways conference went very
with little external guidance or regulation so I am hopeful that the same will
happen here.

Happy conferencing!

---

Q and A

What can I do in a conference?

-- You can post messages, which can be read by any of the other participants in
the conference, and you can read all the messages which have been posted.

-- You can send private e-mail messages to any of the participants in the
conference.

How long will the conference last?

-- There is no set time limit. By mutual agreement, if at any time the current
conference appears to be reaching a conclusion, it will be relaunched with a
new topic. All existing participants will be able to join the new conference.

Are there any restrictions regarding philosophical topics suitable for
discussion?

-- The Pathways conference is an opportunity for philosophy students and
enthusiasts to share ideas and experiences, and evaluate the role of philosophy
in the world today. There are no restrictions on subject matter.

Are there any other rules?

-- The most important rule is, Treat the other conference participants with
respect. Everything else follows from that. For example, offensive language or
personal abuse will not be tolerated at any time.

Do I need any special software?

-- No special software is needed apart from a web browser such as Internet
Explorer or Netscape Navigator.

How can I join?

-- The conference is open to members of the International Society for
Philosophers as well as members of the Philosophical Society of England. First,
choose your username and password and register with Nicenet. Then send an e-mail
to klempner@fastmail.net requesting the conference key. This is the code
which you need to access the conference space set up for Pathways.

(c) Geoffrey Klempner 2003

---------------------------------------------------------------
  Philosophy Pathways is the electronic newsletter for the
  Pathways to Philosophy distance learning program

  To subscribe or cancel your subscription please email your
  request to philosophypathways@fastmail.net

  The views expressed in this newsletter do not necessarily
  reflect those of the editor. Contributions, suggestions or
  comments should be addressed to klempner@fastmail.net
---------------------------------------------------------------


[top]
Pathways to Philosophy

Original Newsletter
Home Page
Pathways Home Page