Tag Archives: Augustine

Undoing Babel

Donald Trump is trying to take away our humanity. He is doing this by cutting us off from one another. But Jesus came to make us divine by making us fully human, which requires us to share a commitment to a common world and a common conversation with one another, no matter how strange our voices sound to each other. Look what Trump is doing: he is impeding communication, and thus communion. Whether it be by silencing government employees, defunding humanistic research, building his wall, or blocking immigration and denying asylum. He tells his lies about groups of people so that we will not be able to talk to them or listen to them, and he does it expertly–the Lord rebuke him!

An icon of Pentecost

An icon of Pentecost

 

But all it takes to resist Trump is what those of us who are committed to the Gospel are going to do anyway: we have to refuse division and create communion. When Trump cuts off channels of communication, we have to open new ones. What this means concretely depends on where you are and who you are. But one thing we can all do is pray, including (especially!) for our enemies.

I am currently working on an article that is partly on Augustine’s On Christian Teaching. I was despairing about its relevance or usefulness to our present struggles when I came across this in one of my secondary sources:

Communication is a necessary condition for community; but direct communication between human minds, a transparency of mutual understanding, is not possible in the fallen human condition. Language arises from the conflict of this impossibility with the natural human need for community…For Augustine semantic activity–understanding and communicating through language–was the index of the human need for transcendence in the most general terms: for union with other minds in the very act of understanding a shared world.
-Robert Markus, Signs and Meanings: World and Text in Ancient Christianity (Liverpool University Press, 1996), pp. 110-11

But as Augustine explains in De doctrina and elsewhere, to put a short-circuit what other people and other things mean is to defy the very work of the Incarnation. It is a false judgment that loves and regards others as having no value. It cuts us off from them and them from the beauty and goodness of the whole creation. To use Augustine’s words, it is to fail to see them and thus ourselves as signs.

So the good news: Jesus has already undone what Trump is trying to do. Pentecost undid Babel. Just as we can pray for each other even we really don’t like or understand one another, we can also commit to seeing ourselves as part of the same conversation. For anyone to attain the transcendence which Augustine diagnoses as the basic desire behind all of our communication, we need every human being in on the conversation. This does not mean that we all speak the same language or say the same things. When the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost, the first Christians did not all start speaking the same language. They started speaking every language. 

The fullness of conversation is something that will have to emerge amidst all the tensions, failures, and misunderstandings of our glorious cacophony. But to invoke one more Augustinian conviction, there is another voice speaking behind and through ours, enabling understanding to emerge. It is the “light that enlightens all peoples,” the Word of God.

God’s word is not chained. So don’t despair, and don’t believe the lies. Call your representatives, find a march to attend, invite someone different from you to coffee. And for the love of God, pray! Trump may have invoked God in his inauguration speech, but he has actually declared open warfare on everything God is trying to do. He will fail. He will go the way of  Nebuchadnezzar and Nero. He may be saved, but his works will lie in ruin. Sad.

Augustine

Augustine weeps in the garden before his conversion in Confessions VIII.

You’re no misanthrope.
You just knew that all good things
Come from God.

Stealing pears or repenting
Of stealing pears;
Making love to a woman
Or feeling like you’ve lost a rib
When you send her away;
Building a church
Tearing down a church
(or maybe just a sect)

You knew that what was good in it
If anything was
Was from God.
Maybe you had no love for pears
And maybe you just wanted a
Cheap thrill
But God gave you that restless heart
That one that wanted to conspire
When it couldn’t yet commune.

You called your kid God’s gift,
And said you had no part in him
But the sin.
But surely God gave the bed you lay on
If God gave what came from that bed.
You knew that lust
Was just love misdirected
And not always too far
Off the mark.

You knew yourself
Loving and loved
And you knew how much love could hurt
How much you could hurt
Your poor mother
Your poor mistress
That poor kid of yours
How much your
Drunk abusive father
Could have hurt you
And maybe did.

You knew how much goes wrong
When love goes wrong
So you made it all hang
On love that can’t go wrong.
And if unconditional salvation
Means unconditional damnation
Who are the damned to complain?
All good things come from God
Only from God.
You knew that.

But I think you also knew
That maybe you didn’t know
Just how good God is.

All Souls Day, 2015

© 2015 Kyle Rader

Anger and Love

“Let everyone be swift to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness.” -James 1:19
“In your anger, do not sin.” -Psalm 4:4

heart in the mud

Source: Benjamin Ellis (Flickr)

Anger is a tricky emotion, and it is one of the things were the direction I have felt called to go is not one that I would counsel for other people. When I first started doing something like centering prayer, one of the first things I noticed is that I was more aware of my anger, and especially more aware of it as it was arising. I usually realized that I had a choice to make concerning it right after I had made that choice, usually the choice of getting angry. I get angry at other people while driving, I get angry at politicians and pundits, I get angry with my family, and I get especially angry with people on the internet. It’s something I may struggle with in my blogging.

Anger is not bad, by any means. Like all emotions, it is morally neutral in and of itself, and it can express love. But it can also hinder the expression of love. It can explode, it can boil, it can seethe. It can turn into hatred of other people, or subtly sabotage relationships.[1]

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