The Student’s Tea Table

Five minutes ago I was preparing the sites I intend to link to and there was a bit of noise as God moved his furniture up in heaven. Now the thunder is rolling incessantly and my perfect backgarden is waterlogged. Nature needs to be taught a lesson. Who wants to come around here and pour some crushed up pop-tarts, pendimethalin and DDT into the local water supply?

Dance and getting just a little naughty, wanna get….
We had Lukas, a common commentator on this site around for dinner earlier in the week. Lukas is the definition egg-head philosopher and he’ll love me for saying that. He is studying something very important in UCD. I can’t recall the exact title but I think it’s something about whether or not handicap is biological or learnt, nature of nurture? Anyway, fervent conversation jumped from whether Augustine was neo-platonic to how best to deal with housemate hate and onto other subjects. One of the great things about people like Lukas is that describing hanging out with him makes you sound clever. While he’s here I’m bluffing and nodding earnestly as he discusses Heidegger but when you ask me what we got up to you get the impression that I should be nominated for a Nobel Prize.

Anyway, one of the things we were discussing was dirt. Lukas was telling us about how its just a social construct and that there is nothing wrong with having a toilet brush in the sink. I may not have fully understood the point he was trying to make but that must have been the gist of it. No, seriously though, he was describing some ideas by a clever lady with big eyes called Martha Nussbaum. She has lots of useful things to say (I presume) but one of the ideas Lukas gave us still troubles me. He was saying that the codes of hygiene that we hold today are in part social norms. His reasoning for this, via Nussbaum, is that we had certain ideas about hygiene before we had any ideas about germs and viruses. So, back in the 1600s before the discovery of microbial nasties, it was considered dirty to put your boots on the surfaces you ate from. In ancient Israel, it was considered dirty to eat pork products. Throughout all societies, it has been considered dirty to use your dwelling areas as toilets. Peasants didn’t know that harmful bacteria lived in the dirt, Jews didn’t know that virii (viruses?) could run rampant in pigs if the meat wasn’t treated and cooked well and no one could examine poo under a microscope until, well, we invented microscopes. Therefore, Nussbaum and Lukas argue, all these cleanliness codes were created purely by socieities.

This seems to me to be a classic modern myth and I want you to think about this. Looking back from what we now think is a rather spiffing level of technological advancement, we can often think that the people of the past were acting a little less than rationally when they decided certain things. Categorically we can state that our ancestors couldn’t articulate their reasons for thinking mud and food didn’t go well together but they were the same reasons. They realised through painful experience that mud plus food equalled sickness and today we realise the same thing but we have lots of experiences of a very specific kind to back us up. This specific experience is as a result of the empirical method. We have science to supplement our reasoning and to give words to our reasoning but our reasoning is the same.

What I am stuck on with Nussbaum (I think Lukas will agree with me) is the idea that the point of scientific discovery is the point of rationalisation. The way I see it, the old ‘uns were being fully rational when they avoided certain dirty things. We just have more ways of arguing the rationale and a greater degree of certainty about it.

What I really want to know though is when Lukas will publish his paper on Aguilera and the Dirrty Societal Norms.

The Rounding Dance of God
There is a small set of issues where Christianity is completely in conflict with how we in today’s society would like to live. (Interestingly, I think all eras have the same conflicts but just voiced differently) One of the things that I really instinctively don’t want to accept is the idea that Jesus is the only way. Jesus, unfortunately, said, “I am The Way” so there isn’t much wiggle room on this one but we Christians continue in our proud tradition of watering down the hard things he says and we find a way to wiggle. The way that is most commonly used today is that Jesus says HE is the way. He doesn’t say that Christianity is THE way. This smartass little theory rests on the idea that the institutional church has somehow lost its way a little and therefore the venn diagram of the church and the venn diagram of Jesus do not line up entirely.

That seems pretty indisputable to me. But it doesn’t quite go so far as to imply that people who aren’t Christians could still be followers of Christ*. An alternative reading of is that some people who are Christians are not followers of Christ. I see that one could easily get tangled up in words here so I have drawn the three relevant venn diagrams on the foil of the chocolate I was munching on:

Diagram A is the ideal situation where the Christian churches perfectly represent Jesus. Diagram B is the clever wriggle trick that says that the churches represent Jesus but they don’t cover all the different ways of Jesus. There are lots of people in Jesus who aren’t in the church. Diagram C is the position I am least attracted to instinctively and it says that the church does lots of things that have nothing to do with Jesus so there are lots of people in the church who aren’t in Jesus. The brown thing is delicious rich dark chocolate. No, you can’t have any. I realise this is a crass simplification but run with me. Its purpose is to help illustrate how I find myself, besides my instincts, in camp C, the Exclusivist camp, the Biblical camp, the camp that doesn’t come natural.

I spend a lot of time thinking about whether it is arrogant or unreasonable or unbelievable of Jesus to claim that he is the one and only way to approach God. I write about it alot on Zoomtard too. But I think I have an answer that might have some real depth in it. I therefore am almost sure that when I go to seminary I will discover that someone else thought of this first. Back in the 800s, John Damascene came up with a term to describe the Trinitarian nature of God called perichoresis. It is a beautiful word, isn’t it? It is the Greek word for dance (peri meaning round and choresis meaning dance) and it describes what the three persons in the One God do all the time. Well, maybe not in a céilí dance sense like you are no doubt imagining but rather, as Barth puts it the dance:

asserts that the divine modes of existence condition and permeate one another mutually with such perfection, that one is as invariably in the other two as the other two are in the one.

What has this got to do with whether or not Jesus is the one true way or whether you can be a Christian and a Buddhist at the same time? Well think about the different religions as we seek to integrate them. When we want Jesus to be inclusive to other faith traditions, what we are asking for is that Jesus’ ministry could fit well with Buddhism or Secular Humanism or Islam. We can imagine every belief system has a shape, where the boundary lines are drawn by the core doctrines of the belief. If Jesus is to be listened to at all, he has to have been telling the truth when he said that he was God and the God he was talking about is the God of perichoresis. In fact, it is because we believe that Jesus is God that we can envision God dancing in three. So if Jesus is to be taken seriously at all, we have to imagine him bounded up in a dance with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. There is no space in this God-dance for interaction with the atheism of Buddhism or the stationary monotheism of Islam.

If Jesus is divine then Jesus is part of the Trinity. If Jesus is part of the Trinity then Jesus is too busy in an intimate dance with the Spirit and with the Father than to make special allowances for Tom Cruise. Every sinew in me instinctively wants the message of Jesus to require no relationship with Jesus. That is one more reason I let my brain do my thinking and leave the sinewising to sinews. The God of Christianity is defined by how it relates, threefold, to Himself. Jesus is all about relationship. You are with Jesus when you relate to him and let him relate back. There are lots of people who are members of churches who are not pursuing relationships with Jesus but I can’t imagine someone trying to seriously relate to Jesus without being part of a church. That is why I end up siding with Diagram C.

* Christian does mean Christ follower but you know what I mean

Piglets make for bad foot stools

I was going to publish my list of top 10 signs That You’re A Wannabe Theologian in the key of Liam McDermott. I knew Liam when he couldn’t talk yet but then again when I first met him, I couldn’t pronounce any words with “s”, “sh”, “z” or “g” in them, so I can’t make too much fun of him. He has a MySpace account where he shows how authentic he is by bitterly mocking losers and fools on that weird adolescent corner of the internet. Neuro and I came up with a parody list where I proved my true calling as a theologian by making fun of other prominent theology blogs like JollyBlogger, Johnny Baker and Real Live Preacher. Then we realised that we’d be sinking to his level so I’ll just leave it in the unpublished files, thereby maintaining the moral high ground and still getting my dig in. Go me!

When I die, you can repackage the notes in that folder called “Dead Letter Office” as a book and make a fortune off it, just like they did with CS Lewis.

MySpace and its even more mutated cousin Bebo are weirdly adolescent versions of the web. Think about it in the sense of adolescent meaning transitionally mature. They both mimic the grown up internet by being awesomely powerful tools of communication but they don’t quite capture the essential part of the www, which is that the information is freely available to everyone. Instead, you have to register and log in before you frolic in the fairyland of hormonal wonder that is MyBebo.

The weather, before its little tantrum this evening, has been amazing the last couple of days. I need help compiling a playlist for the car consisting of ultimate summertime tracks. Imagine you were going on a roadtrip with some close friends, the windows were down, the sun was out- what music would you pick. Answers on a postcard, a neon sign or in the form of a comment please.

Your Correspondent, Obbsessed with finding a new brain

22 Responses to “The Student’s Tea Table”

  1. Liam McD says:

    That’s funny – all I heard was: “Me and xxxxx thought we had this brilliant idea but, once again, it seems Liam McD was way ahead of us”.

  2. Eamo says:

    pity you didn’t publish the list, cause I can’t see a dig anywhere!

    Oh and I don’t see the difference in logging into reply(the only time you have to sign in) to a blog/messages whatever on bebo/myspace and having to give your email and name on this site?

  3. megan says:

    First of all you are reqired to register and log in pretty much on ANY site on the “www” so I don’t know what fairy land your frolicin’ in?

    And second, you are you to refer to anyone as adolescent when you still think thunder, is God moving furniture, and you use the word “poo”

    You ass.

  4. zoomtard says:

    If there is one word to describe the 2000 word entry I just made, it would be adolescent. Eco-terrorism, discussions about leading ehtical philosophers, Greek Orthodox theological ideas- its just like being in Junior Cert again.

    What I have learnt here is that you definitely should not suggest that MyBebo is a cliqueish horde of pack following hobos. If one dares do that they descend on the site, skip all the major parts, read a final paragraph, fail to suggest a good song and accuse me of using the word “Poo”.

    I would never use such a filthy term. I have been thoroughly normed by my society.

  5. Ronan says:

    I hate to point this out again but you haven’t gotten a single dig in there at all. I’m guessing this was written for your friends who already know enough of the story to fill in the blanks, but some of us have wandered over from that weird little corner of the web and are none the wiser as to what exactly you’re talking about. And you should publish it, taking the moral highground achieves nothing. Morals should be approached like a limbo dancing contest.

  6. neuro-praxis says:

    The MySpace Song

    by neuro-praxis

    We are bullies! We are mean!
    We pick on the web’s unclean!
    We like laughing at the saddies!
    We make out like THEY’RE the baddies!

    I heard that all MySpacers run around the house with their laptops tied to their fronts singing this song non-stop while telling their MySpace friends that that’s what they’re doing. That’s how I heard about it! I was logged in to choose a new top eight best friends! It was great, but I only have two friends on MySpace – Tom and Liam. 🙁 I am feeling a bit sad now. I think I will go take a photo of myself looking sad and stick it up on MySpace. Then I’ll feel happy again!

    Liam, the song really needs a reggae beat. You know you can do it. Make us an mp3 and you can come over and we will feed you bbq. THE WHOLE BBQ!

  7. zoompariah says:

    “Morals should be approached like a limbo dancing contest”

    Is that a moral?

    The “dig” is in the fact that the mere existence of the list is a challenge to the MySpace ethic of picking on losers and being very mean about people who have the wrong haircut/lifestyle/intelligence quotient.

    I like the fact that in a post where I basically say that anyone who isn’t a Christian is going to hell, prompts a wild defence of MyBebo centering around a pulled punch at a very old friend.

    I am off to be a teenager with my teenage wife and our teenage babies. 🙂

    PS- Poo is funny.
    PPS- Will you meet my friend?

  8. Ronan says:

    Thats a bit of a cop out. The insult lies in that you’re not going to insult him effectively.

  9. zoomtard says:

    I guess you are right. A pulled punch is not really a punch. You got me there.

    Let me restate what I implicitly wrote in the 2nd last entry. I know Liam. I like Liam. I just wanted to point something out about Liam’s blog but didn’t want to offend Liam, so thought better of it.

  10. Eamo says:

    I think your point is a little null and void, the fact you went and wrote this blog making you a Joe Blogger yourself, how does it differ from what people do on myspace/bebo? In fact comparing you to Liam’s blogs the only difference is, his was funny and I enjoyed reading them.

    ”The “dig” is in the fact that the mere existence of the list is a challenge to the MySpace ethic of picking on losers and being very mean about people who have the wrong haircut/lifestyle/intelligence quotient”

    thats hardly a dig at all is it, maybe if you had the confidence to post your list on your blog it would have been funnier/worth reading, don’t worry if it’s not very good, this is the net and were not expecting much!

  11. Ronan says:

    Man, I just want to see it. If you are friends with him run it by him to see if it’s okay, I’m sure his skin is thick enough to deal with friends taking the piss. And you’ve peaked our collective curiousity now.

  12. Luke says:

    I have to say I disagree with this dirt as a social construct bollox , though bacteria and nastiness is really quite a recent discovery codes of hygeine and fear of disease is instictual as it is part of common sense, the traditions of not eating pork that exist in judaism as well as some sects of islam and in older traditions of christianity came about because of the disease inflicted when people ate poorly prepared pork. Pigs were considered filthy animals because they would wallow in feces and mud rampent with disease. Though not the most enlightend people of the time , religous leaders were aware of the need to incorporate safe cooking practices and cleansliness (especially true with hand washing and food prep in islam) to ensure the safety of there followers. So no , they couldent study biology and factor in germ counts but they certainly observed the connection between disease and poor food prep and poor cleansliness.

  13. Jesus says:

    Forget me, Liam is the way.

  14. Satan [Ronan] says:

    Yes, follow the Liam.

  15. zoomtard says:

    [All quite irrelvant]

    Here is a question for you though Brainiac. How can a point be a little null or a little void? Hmm. One for the ages.

  16. Lauren says:

    Your blog is dull. I see now why everyone flocks to Liam’s blog and group.

  17. Vanessa says:

    Zoomtard you;re a tool…

    Use the force, Luke…

  18. Lucas says:

    Lucas reveals himself not by his higher, esoterically, and mystical appellation! Nor indeed could his deft reasoning author such thoughts!

    Just look at the time; is it likely that I’d have got out of bed by then?

    Anyway, There’s been a slight confusion, but one not so severe as to damage the essence of zoomtard’s rejection of any sociological understanding of dirt.

    This is that Martha Nussbaum is not an anthropologist/sociologist whose academic interest is in uncovering the presence of arbitrary constructions of social reality. Rather she is eminent and distinguished in the fields of ancient classical philosophy, ethics and politics.

    Her name was mentioned in relation to a stoic theory of emotions, one which considers the recognition of emotions as valid factors in any tenable ethics. She talks about compassion, and understands that it is never permissible to experience disgust at a person as such. This related to a conversation about explicitly caste based societies, where the high caste members would look down on lower ones as ‘dirty’, that they would perceive them as disgusting.

    This is the bridge of contact between the also eminent academic, an anthropologist, Mary Douglas whose most significant achievement was her theory of human behaviour towards dirt as not the rational action following from objective knowledge of what is dirty in itself, but rather dirt behaviour would be much more about acting out the symbolic and arbitrary sociocultural classifications forming every human society.

    Myself, I don’t follow her all the way in this thesis, but I think that roughly half of the concept of dirt would be about ‘objective’ dirt, such as bacteria and viruses. So whereas I think it is rationally justified, and not culturally relative, that one might use an antibacterial agent to clean kitchen counters, she on the other hand (and I don’t have direct knowledge of her books) would consider that all dirt behaviour as such is not rationally grounded in a reality independent from us, but always relates back to the kind of socially recognised identities that we wish to display to ourselves and others.

    For example, it would be suggested that it is not possible to understand oneself as clean and pure separate from an implicit recognition that there are some identities that are dirty: perhaps in our society this negative correlative image of our own cleanliness could be the perception of the travellers. In India for high caste members, it would be untouchables, and in previous times I’ve been told that Catholics in Northern Ireland were considered as such by their Protestant neighbours.

    This is clearly connected to a critique of any middle class self-understanding as considering itself as rational and commonsensical; these ideas would argue that that understanding of itself would collapse if for any reason it could no longer find victims to project its own purity rules into. That the positive judgement of cleanliness has a necessary ‘dialectical’ counterpart of dirtiness, and that both need each other to exist. So by this kind of thinking, a bourgeois selfhood could only exist negatively by setting up arbitrary purity rules, and reviling the sections of society which in no way consented to those arbitrary purity rules --and this, in order to grant itself airs of self-importance.

    Overall her ideas on dirt are inseparable from her theory of human self-identity. But this is an enormous topic, one which cannot be satisfactorily be represented in these few words.

    My passing familiarity of her work was motivated by an interest in what is grandiloquently termed philosophical anthropology.

  19. zoomtard says:

    Douglas isn’t nearly as doe-eyed as Nussbaum.

    “it would be suggested that it is not possible to understand oneself as clean and pure separate from an implicit recognition that there are some identities that are dirty”

    I imagine this is where we both crucially disagree with the thesis. For whatever benefit it offers, it rests on this dodgy idea. What snappy name do you eggheads in “Ireland’s Education Capital” call this theory- that we need the other to substantiate the self?

  20. lucas says:

    Basically the ‘primogenitor’ of such ideas would be Marx, and therefore it if is not itself Marxist, it is very friendly to that line of thought.

    He basically said that there is not really any individuals as such, but that all individuals’ identity can only be understood in reference to society. So therefore if any individual has some notion of her identity, this for Marx would imply that she is in a relation with other people, and that her own identity could not exist apart from the actual concrete relations which she has with other people.

  21. Lucas says:

    No actually I’m wrong. The ultimate source of such Ideas is Hegel. Marx was and remained a ‘Left Hegelian’, which basically meant that he didn’t like the state of then Prussian society, whereas the ‘Right Hegelians’ did.

  22. jimlad says:

    So, em.. let’s see. Zoomtard knows he is clean because myspace is dirty, and he is in furious thinking.

    Ok, I’ve got it.

    He must be right too, otherwise why would the myspacers be getting so defensive about it? Must be something in it.

    I hope zoomtard likes me. I have exactly the same friends on myspace as Neuro-praxis does. I know. If Neuro makes me her friend and vice-versa we’ll both have THREE friends. Woohoo.

    I hear Zoomtard wasn’t even allowed into myspace and he really wanted to be. That’s what we’re seeing here in his passionate hatred: a sense of betrayal. Am I right?