Monday, May 10, 2010

Mercy as Real

It has for some time now been my sneaking suspicion that if God exists then everything is symbolic. I am not completely comfortable with the word 'symbol' here as I have slowly been influenced by some Lacanian descriptions of the Real, Symbolic and Imaginary. But the point of this thought is that we tend to tend to create a divide between such things as sentiments, images, metaphors, customs while on the one hand while those things that directly sustain our physical life are in another category (breathing, eating, sleeping, etc,). When the chips are down we must attend to the things of physical maintenance. These expressions are given voluntary or involuntary priority. Perhaps this is a sort of dualism I am not sure. If God exists, though, then life is symbolic. Life is not fundamentally material because material is symbolic (and so also therefore is breathing, eating, sleeping, etc.). I am certainly not denying materialism only that is derivative and not fundamental. If this is somehow accurate it has significant implications. Towards the end of Works of Love Kierkegaard writes,
Mercifulness is the truly significant . . . The eternal has understanding only for mercifulness. SK's unpacking of mercy touches on some of my lingering thoughts.

The basic idea at work in this section is that money has no value in the eternal. Mercy is the economic currency. He reworks the Gospel story of the woman who offered her two pennies and says and that if she had been tricked out of them on the way to the Temple and was unable to offer anything at the Temple she still would have offered more than those who offered out of their riches. For mercy is a work of love even if it can give nothing and is capable of doing nothing. One of the main correctives that SK is offering is that our view of mercy retains its monetary quality and so mercy is directly related to giving and this way will continue to exclude and condemn those (the poor) who have 'nothing' to offer.
In this way the poor man is trapped in his poverty and, in addition, is excluded in the world's view from the capacity to practise mercifulness, and consequently is designated and abandoned as the pitiable object of mercy, who can at best bow and thank - when the rich are so good as to practise mercy. Merciful God, what mercilessness!
SK then offers a plea for the poor to be merciful on the mercilessness of mercy that is so concerned with giving. But should not needs be met? SK then speaks for the eternal who says, there is only one danger, this, that mercifulness is not practised. He continues bluntly,
The fact is that the world does not understand the eternal. Temporal existence has a temporal and to that degree an activist conception of need and also has a materialistic conception of the greatness of a gift and of the ability to do something to meet need. 'The poor, the wretched may die - therefore it is important that help be given.' No answers the eternal; the most important is that mercifulness be practised or that the help be the help of mercifulness. 'Get us money, get us hospitals, these are the most important!' No, says the eternal; the most important is mercifulness. That a man dies is, eternally understood, no misfortune, but that mercifulness has not be practised is.
There is nothing real in the economy of the eternal except mercy and mercy has no direct (only incidental) relational to material transfers (the SK is clear that this position is no rejection of material exchange).
I am going to need some more time and work to continue to explore this but what I am seeing so far is the repositioning of materialism (nothing new for many theological expressions). What I am interested in is the extent to which this ends up simply positioning God for the further misuse or misunderstanding of the material realm. A basic component of this for SK is the inevitability of death. We all die. We cannot solve that problem though we act as though we can through monetary exchange disguised as charity. The problem rather is the sickness unto death which is the despair of living fully in selfhood. It is mercy that gains currency and traction in this economy not money (though it is not rejected outright). Hopefully more to come on this.

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