Heidegger, Yoder, donatists, women and the homoamorous.

I’ve been reading a bit about Heidegger recently. The reason (bearing in mind my aversion to philosophers) is that some ideas I’m coming across in radical theology seem rooted in a line of philosophy going back Caputo-Derrida-Heidegger-Husserl-Hegel and I wanted to trace some of the history of these so as to understand them better (or, arguably, at all). This post, however, is not about that. There may be a post sometime in the future when I’ve decided if I actually do understand this line of philosophy, but this is not that; it may never happen.

One thing which always seems to come up when Heidegger is talked about is that the man was a Nazi, a paid up member of the party who did not resign when a number of other German philosophers and theologians did, and that inevitably leads to musing about whether Heidegger’s ideas should be questioned in a more general sense, despite him being recognised among philosophers as a great albeit nearly incomprehensible philosopher who has been influential on many subsequent great philosophers. (I pause here to wonder if the terms “great philosopher” and “nearly incomprehensible philosopher” are actually just the same thing). Does the guy’s antisemitism and support of a totally reprehensible regime mean that his ideas outside the realm of politics and sociology should be either dismissed or treated with huge caution?

I’m inclined to think that the answer has to be “no”. Maybe a little caution, but not much more than I apply when reading any thinker.

There’s another parallel in the Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, who is now known to have serially abused women; despite this, his theology is very influential, including and perhaps especially his specialist area, which was ethics – which brings to mind the old saw “do as I say, not as I do”, as his actual personal ethics would seem to have been very questionable.

This rather recalls to me the situation in another area which I found myself talking about a few days ago, the Donatist heresy. Briefly, as persecution of the early Christians slackened and ceased, there were significant numbers who had recanted rather than refuse to compromise their beliefs (which tended to lead to hardship if not martyrdom) and who then returned to the Christian fold when times were better. Some of them became priests, and the Donatists held that those who had denied Christ were not able to administer a valid sacrament. The church held against them. Their ability to act as priest was not compromised by their “treason against Christ” as the Donatists would have put it, in much the same way as Heidegger’s ability to think philosophically was not compromised by his odious political leanings.

So to contemplating various of my brothers and sisters in Christ who are unwilling to be taught by or receive the sacraments from women, or those in same sex relationships. I’m wondering in what ways you can distinguish those two cases from that of Heidegger, Yoder or of bishop Caecilian of Carthage, whose appointment really brought the Donatist tendency to the fore as significant numbers formed a breakaway church, and whether those distinctions ought to make any difference.

Yes, there are obvious distinctions. Heidegger and Caecilian went through a phase, while Yoder was apparently combining writing about ethics while acting unethically at the same time; arguendo the incapacity of women or homoamourous individuals is innate rather than a chosen behaviour. Alternatively in the case of the homoamorous the behaviour may be continuing. I could, I suppose, in the case of women quote the Gospel of Thomas (Saying 114, Layton translation) “Simon Peter said to them, “Mary should leave us, for females are not worthy of life.” Jesus said, “See, I am going to attract her to make her male so that she too might become a living spirit that resembles you males. For every female (element) that makes itself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Perhaps we should consider this as a sop to 1st century male chauvinism, which could not contemplate that “female” was not automatically linked with “incapacity”, and finding a way round that, with the underlying message that for all sensible purposes Mary could and should be regarded as entirely equal with males? Then again, perhaps more popularly, I could reference Gal. 3:28.

My question is, do these distinctions actually matter to the main point; are all the things that people think, say or do tainted by some past action or character trait which we may find reprehensible? Or should we just accept that people are complicated and imperfect, and judge them purely on their ability to do the task in hand and not on something unconnected? Even, in Yoder’s case, something actually connected but which does not appear to have adversely affected his power of thought on the subject.

My strong suspicion is that we are here looking at the kind of purity issue which Richard Beck talks of in “Unclean”. If I’m right on that, it involves a non-rational tendency of human psychology which is very difficult to shake off – but one which Jesus, in ministering to lepers, outcasts (publicans and sinners), members of the hated occupying forces (a Centurion) and even members of an even more hated competing religion from the same root (Samaritans) sought by example to show us we should not base our actions on.



Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.