I bumped into my friend Matthew on Abbott-Kinney in Venice. He is a fascinating bloke, always fixing something up. If it is not old Indian motorcycles or Ford trucks, it is making leather bags, or silver jewelry. This time he around it is bikes. He has put together a couple of old 1940s Schwinn beach cruisers from spare parts he finds from all over. He always adds his own touch, bits of leather, some ornamentation to whatever it is that he is toying with--he is really gifted and has a great love for bringing old things back to life
As I come to the 'end of religion' which is what I think I am coming to, I find myself digging even deeper into theology, into story, into scripture, not to convince myself of anything, but pulled by some new thread emerging inside me that needs to be addressed. I have got so many books going at the moment, and I should talk/write about some of them, particularly Kester's book, Other, which deserves a serious investigation from anyone interested in what the future of god-stuff might look like, I am convinced that he has found a rich vein of ideas that are only just beginning to flow out to the rest of us. But what I would like to address today is Thomas J.J. Altizer--the 'last theologian.' I am reading his theological memoir, Living the Death of God, an account of the events and experiences that influenced his theological grid. Altizer must be read, although the reading is always an invitation to danger. Mark C. Taylor (another must-read as far as I am concerned) writes this in the introduction,
"If the child is the father of the man, then the madness of the Altizer family romance prefigures the madness of his life and work. Altizer chooses the fate he suffers, thereby transforming madness into the identity he relentlessly seeks. This is, of course, no ordinary madness; nor is it literal. The madness that pursues Altizer while he is pursuing it is a holy madness. For those blessed with holy madness, the foolishness of the world can only be overcome by reversing it in a higher madness that negates what others affirm and affirms what others negate....Altizer's narrative inevitably recalls Augustine's experience recounted in his Confessions. But whereas Augustine is converted to God, Altizer is converted to Satan."
If that doesn't pique your curiosity then don't bother picking up the book because that is but the tip of a theological iceberg, but if, like me, you find yourself aroused by the prospect of a 'negative conversion'--(out of rather than in to), then by all means pick this book up and let it's fire burn your fingers and your mind.
We are in the midst of a vampire frenzy here in the U.S. It's not just Twilight and True Blood, it's also The Vampire Diaries, Being Human, and a couple of others, the names of which I forget right now. We seem to have come a long way from the 90s show, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, whose title tells of the view towards the vamps, to a new era of exploration of the bloodsuckers, and I have been wondering about the current fascination. It was John Polidori's novel, The Vampyre, published in 1819 that established the modern vampire character but it was Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, published almost at the dawn of the 20th century in 1897 that really set the standard for modern day vampire fascination. Stoker said that he wrote the tale to voice the anxieties of his age and to address fears about late Victorian patriarchy. It seems to me that we may have turned to the vampire again to address some issues that are perhaps reflect some of the anxieties of our time. It certainly seems that these various vampire shows are on a continuum of sorts, one that appears to include the chastity promoting element of Twilight at one end, to the erotic and sexually celebratory tone of True Blood at the other, with the other shows dotted somewhere in between. I find the Twilight movies way too chaste and saccharine for my taste--drained of blood if you will(I know!). It's too much high school melodrama, and I have had enough of that in real life to really want to go there again right now. But True Blood, well that's something else.
It seems to me that all these shows address anxieties, be it the pressures of high school sexuality and peer issues or the larger issues of bigotry and bias. With True Blood, what began as a tv show addressing bigotry and bias towards gays, has morphed into something much bigger than that, an exploration of otherness and difference of all kinds and perhaps a demonstration of shifting sexual attitudes developing in a post HIV world. By post-HIV I don't mean to imply that HIV/AIDS is no longer a threat, for it certainly is, but a world lived in the light of HIV for the past decades and one in which perhaps some of the initial fears about contracting the disease, and the horror about blood associated with it, have somehow been managed, ignored or subsumed, or maybe a show like True Blood for instance, is an example of changing views towards blood, disease and sexuality, a declaration of sorts . It's nihilistic and hedonistic to say the least, a sense of abandon churns through the show--the moment is what seems to count, and the moment is complicated and difficult to negotiate--much like the world we find ourselves in.
"So I do not apologize for admitting to being on a pilgrimage in theology, as if it were in itself some kind of weakness of intelligence or character. Feeling our way toward the truth is the nature of theological work even with the help of Scripture, tradition and community …. A pilgrimage, therefore, far from being unusual or slightly dishonorable, is what we would expect theologians who are properly aware of their limitations to experience."
Theologian Clark Pinnock died a couple of days ago. His passing is a sad loss to many I am sure. I came across his work at a strategic time, cool water in a dry land, would characterize how it affected me. His approach to theology, particularly what came to be called, open theism, was helpful to me, opening up my eyes to the potential of new horizons, interpretations, approaches etc. I must admit that I moved past his work fairly quickly, I am not sure our intentions were the same, but his influence is important in my own theological pilgrimage. I found permission in his thinking and writing, permission to break out of constrictions, old patterns and formulas that no longer fed me.
He began his theological journey as a pretty hardcore Calvinist with fundamentalist leanings and moved through many other permutations before developing his own approach, I like that as a model. Alzheimer's is what took him, a sad disease for someone whose life had revolved around thinking and the mind...but life can be cruel.
"Islam, like every religion, has to be responsible for its biggest arseholes." So declared John Oliver on The Daily Show a couple of nights ago, a true statement if ever there was one, and of course, one of the banes of being involved or engaged with organized religions--you may not be an arsehole (well, not all the time!), but that doesn't mean you won't find yourself in the company of some as you make your way through the muddy waters of religion, and it is difficult to distance oneself from those who claim many similar views on related issues of faith but who also manage to sprinkle a huge dose of arsehole through it all-I am sure it is a principal reason for many who declare that they are not religious or don't go to church/synagogue etc.--why would you bother? Why do we bother? It seems impossible to undo what is done in the name of God when it leans toward the ridiculous or the bigoted, or the violent, or simply just the naive.
Perhaps if we heeded Oliver's dictum and attended to those in our midst who are the biggest arseholes and refrained from addressing external realities until we have, things might be different. This is one of the issues I am thinking through at the moment--can I really keep signing my name to these things in good conscience? (Let's face it, I am a big arsehole on my own, I dont' really need to factor in the arsehole quotient form anyone else!!) My answer at present is absolutely not. Where does that leave me then? Well, in a very interesting and somewhat precarious spot--but I've been here before--it's called the edge--it's the best spot to see the horizon, but is always one step from disaster...