Breaking with perfection

May 7th, 2016
by Chris

Some while ago, Tripp Fuller hosted a clash between Jack Caputo and Peter Rollins; I’ve just read a response to that from Mark Karris. Briefly, the issue is that Rollins makes much of there being an “original lack” in the human psyche (which he says is a pervading sense of lack without actually ever having lost anything), working from the ideas of Jacques Lacan.

Caputo, on the other hand, favours a theology of possibility, and considers talk of a “lack” to be crypto-Calvinism and BS. I think that’s the first time I’ve heard a philosophical theologian use language like that!

I too tend to balk at Rollins’ language of lack, and also “brokenness”, which is common to Rollins and a lot of other Christian voices. I had not encountered the concept of OSEP (the Ontology of Spatial and Energetic Potentiality) before reading Karris’ article, which I find much more satisfactory. Granted, I’m not entirely confident I want to construct a theology around it, but that was obviously not his intent; Karris is a therapist and speaks mainly from that position.

I do wonder whether Rollins has fallen into the trap of assuming that his own pathologies are universal; a comparable example is found in Robert Sapolsky’s lecture on Religion, where he identifies Luther as obsessive-compulsive, which makes Reformed theology (to which I do not subscribe) make sense – as a theology for Luther, if not for me. I don’t identify any sense of ontological lack in myself, though that might be the product of a peak unitive experience in my teens (I don’t really remember prior to that well enough to comment further). That unitive experience gave me an absolute belief in my essential oneness with a panentheistic God, a God who is radically omnipresent, permeating everything which is at every level and “in whom we live and move and have our being” with an accent on “in”. Strenuous practice of what I settled on after much experimentation as a way in which to encourage repeated mystical experience gave me a near-continuous consciousness of that oneness, so that it was not merely a belief but an ever-present reality, but over time and with the mundane world placing increasing requirements on me, that practice declined and eventually fell by the wayside. Having once experienced that oneness, I cannot thereafter assent to there being a lack which is constitutive of who I am – merely of a reduction in my ability to sense that. My eyesight isn’t as good as it once was either, but that doesn’t mean that reality beyond about three metres becomes fuzzy and then is absent!

These days, although by some standards I might count as “broken”, due to PTSD and associated depression and anxiety now dating back some 20 years, I merely regard myself as working within a new set of restrictions; I’ve always had restrictions on what I could do, due to nature and nurture, but that’s just part of the human condition and readily correctable (in the short term) by a spot of meditation. (I grant that that remedy was not so until about three years ago; it turns out that something in the pathology of depression -or at least my own depression – makes mystical experience impossible. That, however.  could merely be a side effect of the fact that I couldn’t feel any positive emotions during that period, and there is a definite and very positive emotional effect of unitive experience. Indeed, I found it almost impossible to recall occasions which had been emotionally positive during that time.)

Three years ago I woke up to the fact that another 17 years of time and a not particularly healthy lifestyle had resulted in physical illnesses which are not curable and which make some activities I would previously have found easy impossible; likewise the residue of the PTSD leaves restrictions on what I can do mentally and emotionally. But I don’t consider myself broken; I have just had to adjust to a new realism about what it is practicable for me to do. “Broken” implies that I should be resenting the position, kicking against the pricks, but I don’t. “Lack” has the same connotation. I’ve always lacked the ability to levitate myself, for instance, but I never really considered it a lack (though I would hugely like to be able to do that!), it’s just something which humans can’t do, except in fiction. Well, this human, at any rate. I have a sneaking vision of meeting a real superhero sometime!

I feel a real sense of identity with, for instance, the deaf who regard sign language as an entirely adequate language to use, and do not think of themselves as “lacking” because of their use of that instead of a sonic language, or those who have been partially paralysed and resent suggestions that they are somehow less than wholly human. I hate the term “differently able” which often replaces the old “disabled”, but it is probably a far better concept.

What I don’t accept is that this inevitably means that by, as the Serenity Prayer says “accepting the things I cannot change” I am therefore automatically lacking the “courage to change the things I can”. The fact that with my current restrictions, I can say that life is good, and in one way of thinking is “exactly as God intends it to be”, does not mean that I am going to stop pushing the boundaries of what I can do. Indeed, in a sense, life is perfect as it is; tomorrow I may be able to do more or less than I can today, depending on whether practice or age wins, but it will still be perfect. Aquinas would have us believe that the perfect is an absolute, and that it has to be unchanging, immutable, impassible; I reject that. The perfect is what is, and what is is God in the unitive consciousness. What is inevitably moves and changes; that which is static, immutable, incapable of feeling or responding to others, is not perfect. The impassible, immutable, “perfect” God of the philosophers is a pale reflection of the living, feeling, changing (and perfect) God of mystical experience.

It is the God of the Philosophers who is lacking and broken, not me.


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