Deus Ex Machina

"This is the generation of the great LEVIATHAN, or rather, to speak more reverently of that mortal god, to which we own under the immortal God, our peace and defense." -Thomas Hobbes: Leviathan

Rowan Williams and Hypocrites as Scripted Characters

The following is taken from Archbishop Rowan William’s Interiority and Epiphany: A Reading in New Testament Ethics.

Modern ethics and theology alike have been haunted by a presence usually called the authentic self: an agent whose motivation is transparent, devoid of self-deception and of socially conditioned role playing. As a therapeutic fiction, this is a construct of great power and usefulness. I suspect, though, that it is also a fiction that is intellectually shaky and, in the last analysis, morally problematic. It plays with the idea that my deepest, most significant or serious ‘interest’ is something given and something unique; it brackets the difficult issue of how we are to think through our human situation as embodying a common task, in which the sacredness of the authentic self’s account of its own interest is not the beginning and the end of moral discourse.

No depth exists in subject until it is created. No a priori identity awaits us . . . lnwardncss is a process of becoming, a work, the labour of the negative. The self is not a substance one unearths by peeling away layers until one gets to the core, but an integrity one struggles to bring into existence.

This sharp formulation by a contemporary American philosopher who attempts to bring Hegel, Heidegger, Marx and Freud into fruitful conversation concentrates our thinking very effectively. For if there is  no pre-existent ‘inwardness’, where is the ‘real’ self to be found or made but in the world of exchange — language and interaction. More particularly, this statement of the question makes it clear that the self as self- conscious is the product of time. We tend to conceive interiority in terms of space — outer and inner, husk and kernel; what if our ‘inner life’ were better spoken of in terms of extension in time? the time it takes to understand? My sense of the ‘hiddenness’ of another self is something I develop  in the ordinary difficulty of conversation and negotiation. I don’t follow; I don’t know how to respond in such a way that what I want can be made clear and achieved. Conversation and negotiation are of their nature unpredictable, ‘unscripted’; their outcome is not determined. Thus I develop the sense of the other speaker/ agent as obscure to me: their motivation or reasoning is not transparent, not open to my full knowledge, but always waiting to be drawn out and clarified. In this process I develop correspondingly the sense of myself as obscure: I must explain myself if I am to attain what I want, and as I try to bring to speech what is of significance to me in  such a way as to make it accessible to another, I discover that I am far from sure what it is that I can say. I become difficult to myself, aware of the gap  between presentation and whatever else it is that is active in my acting. It is not surprising that I embody these things in the picture of one hidden self confronting another, both hampered by the inadequacy of language or shared conventions — with the result that we can then fall into the trap of supposing that there could be a self—presence without difficulty, a real or truthful apprehension of myself and another agent or agents, freed from the  distorting effects of our imperfect linguistic or social tools.

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This may be reinforced if we look… at the rhetoric of ‘inwardness’ that appears as a unifying theme in much of the Sermon. Our contemporary intellectual climate, as we noted at the beginning of this essay, has taught us to be wary of interiority — the privileging of motive, the search for authority or integrity or authenticity in an ‘inner’ identity unsullied by the body or history, the essentialism in various doctrines of human nature that arises from a preoccupation with the hidden and true ‘centre of the self’. Nietzsche’s denunciations of Christian moral discourse frequently return to this point, to the poisoning of the wells of human life by encouraging scepticism about appearances. The Sermon has, it seems, a lot to answer for, if this is its progeny.

Well, yes, it does; we have to grant the ways in which a rhetoric of interiority which Christianity has consistently fostered has had philosophical and moral and cultural consequences that have been corrupting. But if we jump to hasty conclusions here, we shall have missed something of the Matthaean ethic; it is not developed with the conscious and extravagant irony of Paul, but it suggests its own ironies. Matthew does indeed take it for granted that integrity belongs in an inner realm and that it is not to be constructed or construed in terms of patterns of action alone. But if he privileges truth in the inward parts, it is not, as in most of the more modern varieties of discussing interiority, so as to allow the inner to be deployed. If the interior is the place of truth, it can never be deployed; you cannot use it to win arguments, to ground anything about your or anyone’s identity, to establish sincerity of good intentions. The inner life, in this context, cannot be spoken; it silences moral defence and debate. If you do what you do to be seen by human eyes, you have your reward; your moral ‘audience’ is the Father en to krupto, the one whose habitat is secret places. Because of the Father’s secrecy, the divine judgement, the only one actually of any truthfulness or final import, remains beyond anyone’s power of utterance. It is not an esoteric truth —— which is what the appeal to interiority has so regularly become — but an inaccessible truth. In short, the appeal to the inner world is another strategy of disempowerment for the Christian moral agent.

Hence, of course, the injunctions about not judging. There is no secure  access to the inner life of another, and if you judge by external standards, you  may expect to be open yourself to equally shallow and unmerciful judgement. When Matthew’s Jesus uses the word ‘hypocrite’, as he so freely does in the Sermon, we must not think immediately of disjunction between inner and outer, of a problem about sincerity, but of the moral or spiritual weakness of someone who expects to be judged on external performance: in ch. 6, ‘hypocrites’ are not necessarily people who don’t mean what they do, or who are trying to conceal inner unfaithfulness; they are simply (as the Greek word implies) ‘actors’, agents who consciously construct themselves in the process of performance. The word’s negative resonance of deceit or simulation arises from the fact that, if selves cannot really be so constructed, the self that is evolved in patterns of behaviour is some way false. The ‘hypocrite’ has not learned that the self is not a sort of possessed object, to be refined or matured by conscious practice; the ‘hypocrite’ has to recognize the uncomfortable truth that the self’s standing, the self’s adequacy or excellence or attunement to God (‘blessedness’), is out of the agent’s control. Matthew foreshadows here the later Christian paradoxes explored in Gregory of Nyssa and Augustine, paradoxes concerning the systematically unknowable character of the self. But he has given this theme a more clearly defined moral edge by linking it with the prescription of judgement or, more exactly, of  offering oneself for judgement by humanly perceptible criteria.

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This entry was posted on March 5, 2016 by in Uncategorized.
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