Friday, December 3, 2010

Seminary final paper

Ok, another gem from the treasure trove of old writings Bern found.

This one is a 'gem' because it shows what a arrogant, self-serving, know-it-all jerk I was in seminary. It is, fortunately, the only seminary paper in the archive because if I was thinking and writing like this back then, I simply want no evidence available.

The Title of this final paper is "STANDING UNDER/TWICE BEYOND (an experiencing of Daly and Skinner)".

What a pretentious title!

I wrote it for David Scott, an Ethics professor and one of the most conservative members of the faculty. (Back when I was at Virginia Seminary, the student body was much more liberal than the faculty and we weren't all that liberal. So to say Dr. Scott was 'one of the most conservative' makes him quite conservative. The last time I was down at VTS, six or seven years ago, the Dean told me the Faculty--people my age--were more liberal than the student body. Go figure.)

Anyway, what I want to share about this paper, which was a discussion of Mary Daly, the feminist theologian and B.F. Skinner, the behaviorist psychologist (I have no idea any more what I was thinking when I wrote this. We must have read Skinner and Daly in the class, I guess.)

What I want to share with you was a footnote I wrote about the sentence: "But this is an attempt to understand.*" Seems harmless enough, right? But this is the footnote I wrote.

"The roots of my thinking about what is involved in 'understanding' and much of what I say about 'the Other' from a Christian perspective come from the memory of a class called "A Christian looks at other men's (sic) religiosity" at Harvard in the fall of 1970 by the Rev. Dr. R. Panikkar, a Hindu and a Christian.
The following discussion of 'understanding'--to laborious to put in the body of this paper--depends to a great extent of my memory of how Dr. Panikkar analysed the word."

OK, I've already demonstrated my acute 'political correctness by putting the (sic) after 'men's' in this footnote. I've also alluded to my powers of intellect by warning Dr. Scott that this 'discussion' is 'laborious'--i.e. very scholarly and too complicated to comprehend by people not as brilliant as Dr. Scott and ME. And, honestly, to refer to "the roots of my thinking" is beyond forgiving and unintelligible to boot. But, back to the footnote. I shall return.

"I understand. I understand myself. I have self-understanding. The self I understand is the I.
When I say what I mean...what I mean to say is.... Meaning and saying are different. There is a meaning/saying dichotomy implicit in the sentence above. And, on consideration, it is obvious that I cannot say what I mean because meaning is not saying. But through my saying you can 'understand' what I mean--the meaning of my saying--if my saying reveals to you the presupposition in which my meaning is contained.
We under-stand by pre-sup(b)-posing--by being under the position of the Other's position. In a real way, to under-stand the Other we must share the Other's position.
But if the Other is 'totally Other'--that is, does not share the presuppositions which allow understanding to occur, in the saying of the meaning--we must seek another method of encounter. Such is always the case when a Christian seeks to under-stand a non-Christian. The two do not 'stand' in the same place so that 'under' where the Christian 'stands' is not the same place as 'under' where the non-Christian 'stands'. In order to under-stand, then, we must get under-understanding and seek to transend the saying and the meaning to find 'the un-understandable place...the ground where we meet. Under-standing necessitates making an existential encounter possible by risking our own 'standing-place' to meet the Other under where he stands. That is, to meet the Other as he meets himself. That is, to BE the Other as we are ourselves. Only then, by a merging of beings, do we know the Other."


I must have gotten a lot less brilliant in the 40 years since I wrote that. Or maybe Bob Dylan was right: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now...."

David Scott, when I went to him with an independent study project--another way of saying, "I don't want to go to class"--about "The Theology of Kurt Vonnegut" agreed to let me do it and even read five of Vonnegut's books (who David had never heard of before) and took my forty page paper on that and gave me credits to graduate. I never told him five other professors had turned down the proposal, not because they'd never heard of Kurt Vonnegut, but because they thought it was a stupid idea.

That self-same Dr. David Scott gave me an A on the Skinner/Daly paper, which was, I must implore you to realize, was all as bad as that unforgivable footnote. I had a sense of something that might be interesting but I was too self-aggrandizing, too know it all to write it in some way that might make a difference to someone reading it. What a jerk I was.

Perhaps growing older is a process of 'unknowing', of leaving behind our so misplaced ideas that we are somehow smarter, more insightful, more complex, more ironic than the rest of the Human population. Perhaps growing older is coming to grips in a way that matters with the reality that 'folks are folks' and being a tree in the forest is truly good enough, good enough, better than good enough, about the best it can be.

Ponder that. I wish you would find a paper you wrote in college or grad school so you could realize what a prig you were then and then embrace what a joy you are now....

That's what I wish.

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some ponderings by an aging white man who is an Episcopal priest in Connecticut. Now retired but still working and still wondering what it all means...all of it.