Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Legacy of Bultmann

Morphic fields of Western Christian collective consciousness have shown up in unpredictable ways, and somewhat ironically.  I want to have a quick look at a trajectory of field-influences (and this is not an equivocation; you could say it's a pun, but I'm speaking of morphic fields) of applying hermeneutic methodologies to phenomena, which came out in the 20th century wash of the American Republican Christ.  You might say it's far-fetched, but truth is stranger than fiction, so humor this attempt and have a little academic fun (oxymoron unintended) with me.

I'm going to go fast, supertemporal fast, so hang on.  Husserl phenomenologizes to the "Things themselves."  Fuck Kant, he says, we're going for reality-an-sich or bust.  His student Heidegger says if Einstein made a splash with space and time then he'll make one, maybe, with being and time, and just as Einstein applied the contemporaneously newfangled methods of Non-Euclidean geometries, the Minkowski metric, Lorentz transforms, Riemann space, and so on, he would apply Husserlian phenomenology to the twofold "space" of reality, being and time, and thus satisfy answering all questions pertaining to human existence and existence as such hitherto.  And out pops an abstract being, a befuddled what the fuck am I doing here entity called Dasein, "thrown into the world" as it were, estranged, with nothing but various comportments to Being, time, and anonymous others; it's the 20th century humanoid, a helpless cog.

Bultmann says yes, and so does Tillich, this Dasein is where 20th century contemporaneous existence is at, what with all the Third Reich bullshit and all, so let's try to understand Christianity in terms of Heideggerian hermeneusis.  Heidegger said don't do it ... Ja voll, but it's too tempting, how can god not be Being-as-such?  We've got to inculcate that idea and apply it across the theological board.  Tillich took off to Chicago and did his thing there, but for now, Bultmann is our man.

So Bultmann phenomenologizes, though he doesn't put much stock in such terms, and applies some impressive form-critical techniques to the synoptic Gospels and to the Gospel of John; he extrapolated what really matters, i.e., Bultmann-wise and 20th-century Dasein-wise, from the New Testament itself, the very quintessential substance that hypostatically underlies Christian dogmatics: the Kerygma.  And what does the extrication of this existential substance mean to Christian theology, to the (Lutheran-Protestant) church, to Christianity as such?  It means that historicity doesn't count, not really, and neither do miracles, wonders, mysticism, magick, thaumaturgy, and all that.  No, those things obfuscate the Kerygma, they are all cloaks of myth, hence apply oh-so 20th century scientific Entmythologisierung, weed out the antiquated crap, and get to the chewy center.

And what is the delicious morsel he got to dish out?  Yes, the core of the Gospels, the teachings that inspire, by way of the Word, to a "new self understanding" (a la Heideggerian Dasein).  What remains of the Christian mythology when it's stripped of what it is?  The Bultmannian demythologization was a programme of "modern," 20th century, scientific materialism. The baby that remained after the bathwater got thrown out, was kήρυγμα.  

The teaching, the contents thereof of what had been proclaimed by the early church.  In short, a stripping down to the very fundamental bottom-line of that which makes to be born again, i.e., in terms of Bultamannian existentialism, to "have a new self-understanding."  

But the morphic-field is a feedback loop, there is no chicken or egg.  There's the loop, the a priori bootstrap Ouroboros of the teleological repository of the cosmos.  So after we've done a light-speed review of existential academic this and that, here we are, in 21st century America, having heard in the last two or three decades zealous preaching of fundamentals pertaining to what really matters, and what can, after all the mass-appeal reduction has been applied, be implemented and perhaps even lobbied: Morality.  And that, my dear brave new friends, is the demythologized Philosopher's Stone, of the American Christ.  And perhaps Bultmann would agree, that if properly and logically formulated, that that is pretty much all it takes for Dasein to snap into a new self-understanding.  

When Morality, which is but an aspect of early human socialization, is elevated to the level of the apex of human development, evolution, and involution, we are looking at impoverished, bare-bones "common sense" teachings that cannot nurture resonant, ongoing ascent toward eventual awakening (you could call it a "new self-understanding" too) beyond the plateau of mere, assimilated socialization with respect to reward and punishment.  

Finally, to conclude, a true anecdote.  A theological scholar who studied everything from Altizer to Zwingli was traveling in the Bible Belt by rail.  He noticed that a group of young men started a King-James-Version Bible study a few seats up.  Enthusiastically he asked if he could join, and introduced himself as a Biblical scholar, and that he could read the New Testament in Greek.  "We don't need no Greek, mister," the Bible leader said.  "We like our Bible straight."
Rudolf Karl Bultmann (August 20, 1884, Wiefelstede – July 30, 1976, Marburg)

This joint is for James Henry.