Windows to a Weltanschauung Exploring the Dichotomies of Theological Liberalism/Conservatism through the Modern/Postmodern ‘Windows’ of History, Truth, Self, and Reason


Windows to a Weltanschauung

Exploring the Dichotomies of Theological Liberalism/Conservatism through the Modern/Postmodern ‘Windows’ of History, Truth, Self, and Reason, with Respect to the Phenomenology of E. Levinas and the Existentialism of M. Foucault.

Matthew Lipscomb | Existentialism and Phenomenology | 4/25/12

The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga | Dr. Talia Welsh



In his tripartite systematic theology, the German, existentialist theologian Paul Tillich argued that all of theology is a thread woven between two poles: that of God, and that of man. Liberals, he pointed out, are oft to compromise on the side of God – while striving for full representationality & authenticity with the side of man. Conservatives, according to Tillich, follow an exact (albeit opposite) endeavor[1]. This back and forth, claiming and counterclaiming of compromise and/or authenticity are what frame theology denominationally, historically & philosophically. This conversation though not new, has not grown old – but rather has been continually reinvigorated with each passing year. In additional to this traditional “liberal vs. conservative” dichotomy of religious hermeneutical traditions, there exists a second dichotomy: one that likewise exists as a kind of interpretative rubric or framework for the liberal vs. conservative one; that of modernism vs. postmodernism. The interactions and correlations between the dichotomies of liberalism/conservativism and modernism/postmodernism are neither simple nor are they linear. In the past, modernism was attributed to liberalism[2] – and today – it is considered a conservative moniker.[3]  Modern liberals often appeal to the postmodern descriptor and polemics on the part of conservatives are crafted in such manner. But the complexity and interpenetrations of the assumptions of liberal/conservative & modern/postmodern frameworks are often themselves oversimplified or misappropriated on the part of their own defenders. This factor, along with the changing roles of various interpretive frameworks, make for an engaging enterprise in terms of ideas, goals, and ways of seeing the two Tillichian poles.  Good examples of this respective complexity can be readily found in many figures from the existentialist & phenomenological traditions. Though many may not be exclusively ‘postmodern’ in their own academic tradition – they may be seen in a larger cultural sense as being so. This academic-cultural divergence of terms is yet another example of the growing diversity of through and influence within the Christian theological tradition.

Generally speaking, a good way of understanding the modern/postmodern theological-philosophical divergence is by looking through the windows of reason,[4] truth,[5] history,[6] and self,[7] and utilizing them as interpretive rubrics. This paper will seek to propose and defend contributions to these ongoing contentions using these ‘windows’ through which the thought of two thinkers are examined: one from the phenomenological tradition, Emanuel Levinas; and the second – the existentialist tradition, through the thought of Michel Foucault.



Part One: ‘Truth & Self’ and Infinity & The Imago Dei – Emanuel Levinas’ “Ethics and the Face” and Simone De Beauvior’s corresponding, attempted rebuttal

Some philosophers endeavor to work to make gradual and noteworthy contributions to the life of the mind and that of culture. Others – go about their work with the care and earnestness of a demolitions expert.  Such is the case of Emmanuel Levinas and his groundbreaking ‘Infinity of the Face’ concept, which comes from the third part of his book Totality and Infinity, entitled “Ethics and the Face.” Levinas was a holocaust survivor and through hunger-ravaged eyes he saw both history and thought from a different perspective. Levinas was convinced that what had happened once could happen again – and in fact had already been occurring with some kind of insane regularity across the stage of world history. Whatever forces – philosophy, religion, ethics, or politics – had failed with some degree of regularity in the past, they were certainly likely to fail again. It was against this backdrop of the presumed inevitability of a future failures that Levinas sought to reset a new foundation; to re-establish a ‘first philosophy’ that would hopefully set itself against the recurrent dark tides of totalitarianism and death.[8] He chose the face. Through the face, Levinas argued, one could assert a bold truth about the inalienability of ‘the other’ – and that the ‘infinity’ that was rooted in the act of gazing upon the countenance of any other person could be affirmed to prefigure any proceeding presumptions about ethics, morality and/or religious belief.

Levinas makes an effort to not use religious language[9] – but, nonetheless, his argument is germane to the classic, conservative-theological concept of the Imago Dei: a theological term for an understanding that within humanity, a representational image of the divine can be found; essentially an argument that the very image of God is grafted into that of humanity. Levinas embarked on a long series of rhetorically-convoluted, but exacting language in which he argued for a series of ‘ifs,’ which he stated that if they are true – then there is a decidedly strong, if inescapable truth that the countenance of another person, when faced, will always reflect the infiniteness of their otherness and a contingent and inescapable, corresponding responsibility to them.


If, on the contrary, reason lives in language, if the first rationality gleams forth in the opposition of the face to face, if the first intelligible, the first signification, is the infinity of the intelligence that presents itself (that is, speaks to me) in the face, if reason is defined by signification rather then signification being defined by the impersonal structures of reason, if society precedes the apparition of these impersonal structures, if universality reigns as the presence of humanity in the eyes that look at me, if , finally, we recall that this look appeals to my responsibility and consecrates my freedom as responsibility and gift of self – then the pluralism of society could not disappear in the elevation to reason, but would be its condition. It is not the impersonal in me that Reason would establish, but an I myself capable of society, an I that has arisen in enjoyment as separated, but whose separation would itself be necessary for infinity to be – for its infinitude is accomplished as the “facing.” Pg. 525, The Phenomenology Reader, “Ethics and The Face” from Totality and Infinity,


            If we further Levinas’ concatenation of ‘ifs,’ to where we understand that a representational marking of the omniscience/infinity of God (the Imago Dei) is present in the face of every human, then we have more then just an innovative teleological argument,[10] but there is a genuinely powerful foundation for ethical grounding that both embodies yet also transcends a presumed conservative Judeo-Christian weltanschauung.[11] Though, as noted before, Levinas purposefully avoids religious or conventional ethical formulations, his assertions both transcend and also simultaneously provide a radical and innovative foundation for them as well.

            Contextually applying Levinas to past history yields interesting results. Slavery, as we know it, would have been impossible to have been defended were parties to agree on the intrinsic humanity of the individuals in question. Likewise Indian removal from the early american frontier would potentially have never taken place – as the labels of ‘savage’ and ‘primitive’ would have been summarily rejected.  It is arguable that the Holocaust could have never been perpetrated.
            Levinas, however, is not without critics. In her book The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvior, argues that his thinking is merely oppressive chauvinisms, wrapped in a mysticized feminism.

This idea (“ ‘She’ is the other”) has been expressed in its most explicit form by E. Levinas in his essay Le temps et l’autre (Time and the Other). He expresses it like this: “Is there not a situation where alterity would be borne by a being in a positive sense, as essence? What is the alterity that does not purely and simply enter into the opposition of two species of the same genus? I think that the absolutely contrary contrary, whose contrariety is in no way affected by the relationship that can be established between it and its correlative, the contrariety that permits its terms to remain absolutely other, is the feminine. Sex is not a specific difference…Neither is the differences between the sexes a contradiction…Neither is a difference between the sexes the duality of two complementary terms, for two complementary terms presuppose a preexisting whole… [A]lterity is accomplished in the feminine. The term is on the same level as, but in meaning opposed to, consciousness.” I suppose Mr. Levinas is not forgetting that woman also is consciousness for herself. But it is also striking that he deliberately adopts a man’s point of view, disregarding the reciprocity of the subject and the object. When he writes that woman is mystery, he assumes that she is mystery for man. So this apparently objective description is in fact an affirmation of masculine privilege. The Second Sex, Pg. 6.


Beauvior makes the mistake of moving Levinas’ though into the ‘contextual-objective’ realm, and it is a premature movement – as this is not Levinas’ intention. Further, her emphasis on his masculine-archetype example, can be argued to be unfair, as he is not arguing for any kind of relativistic debasement, rather an affirmation of difference – and this is what, essentially, offends Beauvior. In a later chapter, entitled “childhood”, she writes,

One is not born, but rather becomes, woman. No biological, psychic, or economic destiny defines the figure that the human female takes on in society; it is civilization as a whole that elaborates this intermediary product between the male and the eunuch that is called feminine. Only the mediation of another can constitute an individual as an Other. Pg. 283, The Second Sex.


In this sense, Beauvior sets herself up as an archetypical feminist, who argues that all substantial differences between men and women are byproducts of growing up in their respective-to-them culture. For her, sexual difference is essentially completely socially mediated. Advances in science and medicine, and their related understanding of how the human in brain is structurally and organizationally altered based on sexual differentiation, have all but completely resigned the extreme forms of this view to a veritable dustbin of philosophical history.[12] Although no social research scientist would deny the influence and role of social and cultural mediating factors, there is no ‘sexual blank slate’ between the modalities of the sexes. And this is – essentially – was what Levinas was arguing for: that there is a difference between the sexes that is more then something that can be mediated culturally or ideologically.

A second aspect that should be asserted is that that Levinas is also speaking from within the Phenomenological tradition, as expressed in his use of the ‘[B]racket’ lexicographical style; a borrowed technique from Husserl which he had himself innovated. A Beauviorian apologist might respond that this is merely a ‘sly turn’ on the part of Levinas, or any phenomenologist, for that matter; an excuse to continue on with a given, potentially contentious project by merely hiding behind technique or method, when controversy erupts in regards to its use or related propositions.

A third aspect that can be proposed against Beauvior’s criticism of Levinas is that of her accusation of Levinas’ assertion of feminism as an exclusively mystic component. Contextually – or at least in Levinas’ example – this may be true, but there is no implication on the part of Levinas that masculinity (as apposed to femininity) is expressly non-mystic or incapable of the essence in this own thought in the larger constellation of his thinking. This accusation rings increasingly hollow, especially as the sexual aspect of masculine essence is increasingly understood as having just such a potential quotient in both the public and the scholarly mind.  Robert Bly’s book Iron Johna Book About Men, explores the tradition of masculinity as mystic-ethos carrier as well. In terms of logical fallacies, this is often referred to as begging the question, in which an interlocutor presupposes the truth of their own accusation against another.



Part Two: ‘Reason & History’ – Michel Foucault’s The Order of ThingsAn Archeology of the Human Sciences; coming to terms with the ever-changing foundations of a socially-mediated Weltanschauung.


Most people would not expect any kind of support for conservative theology to come from the pen of Michel Foucault.  A political leftist, a homosexual, and an apologist for sadomasochism,[13] Foucault would be more likely to send conservative theologians scurrying then draw their interests. A careful analysis of his thought, however, reveals that there is at least one aspect of his philosophy, which if taken seriously, has tremendous ramifications – especially for ‘liberal’ theology. In his book, The Order of Things – An Archeology of the Human Sciences, Foucault writes of both the central thesis to the pages of ideas to follow, as well as his inspiration for their commitment to paper.


This book first arose out of a passage in Borges, out of the laughter that shattered, as I read the passage, all the familiar landmarks of my thought – our thought, the thought that bears the stamp of our age and our geography – breaking up all the ordered surfaces and all the planes with which we are accustomed to tame the wild profusion of existing things, and continuing long afterwards to disturb and threaten with collapse our age-old distinction between the Same and the Other. This passage quotes a ‘certain Chinese encyclopaedia’ in which it is written that ‘animals are divided into: (a) belonging to the Emperor, (b) embalmed, (c) tame, (d) sucking pigs, (e) sirens, (f) fabulous, (g) stray dogs, (h) included in the present classification, (i) frenzied, (j) innumerable, (k) drawn with a very fine camelhair brush, (1) et cetera, (m) having just broken the water pitcher, (n) that from a long way off” look like flies’. In the wonderment of this taxonomy, the thing we apprehend in one great leap, the thing that, by means of the fable, is demonstrated as the exotic charm of another system of thought, is the limitation of our own, the stark impossibility of thinking that. But what is it impossible to think, and what kind of impossibility are we faced with here? Each of these strange categories can be assigned a precise meaning and a demonstrable content; some of them do certainly involve fantastic entities – fabulous animals or sirens – but, precisely be­cause it puts them into categories of their own, the Chinese encyclopaedia localizes their powers of contagion; it distinguishes carefully between the very real animals (those that are frenzied or have just broken the water pitcher) and those that reside solely in the realm of imagination. The possibility of dangerous mixtures has been exorcized, heraldry and fable have been relegated to their own exalted peaks: no inconceivable amphibi­ous maidens, no clawed wings, no disgusting, squamous epidermis, none of those polymorphous and demoniacal faces, no creatures breathing fire. The Order of Things – An Archeology of the Human Sciences, from the “Preface”, Pg. xv.


Foucault’s argument is, essentially, that all human knowledge, both scientific and cultural, is both ever-changing and, ultimately, unsure as to any kind of understood, final state.  What had been held as authoritative in the past has been often shown to be patently ridiculous in the present; that which is seen as being respectable and well-founded, in the present, may find outright ridicule and hilarious incredulity in the future. Any kind of argument that Foucault’s example of the Chinese dictionary’s classification of animals is far from keeping with the age of modernity would do well to remember that – in a time, not so distant from our own as to be considered ancient, but well within the dawn of modernity – both phrenology[14] (and its relation to medicine) and especially eugenics[15] (as it relates to race theory and the holocaust) were once highly respected and are now either at best, as with the case of phrenology, laughable – or at worst, as with eugenics,  quite horrifying. All of history could be argued to follow this pattern: yesterday’s wisdom is today’s foolishness.

An understanding that human knowledge is innately unstable is not just very instructive in relation to the liberal vs. conservative dichotomatic split, but also very telling in the secondary modern vs. postmodern one as well. In Christianity and Liberalism published in 1923 by J. Gresham Machen “Modernism” was a codeword for liberalism.[16] In today’s present-day theological discussion, modernism is representational of ‘traditional’ understandings of life, belief and culture – and its “replacement” ‘postmodernism’ is substantially different enough as to be felt as a sea-change to all those who are the least bit attentive.[17] In “National Denominational Structures’ Engagement with Postmodernity: An Integrative Summary from an Organizational Perspective,” by David A. Rosen, Rosen highlights Postmodernity with the following subtexts

  • institutionalized pluralism; variety, contingency, ambivalence; and complexity;
  • the scrambling of traditions; de-traditionalization, understood as the routine subjection of traditions to critical interrogation.[18]

 The postmodern changes to the understandings of history & ideology and the Windows/frameworks  – through which they are each contextually interrelated and understood – are on the move again.  

On the surface – it would appear that theological liberals would celebrate this ongoing change, as it would embody the literal spirit and practice of liberalism – whereas conservatives would seek to maintain the status quo. A deeper understanding of both this notion and Foucault’s contentions illuminates a substantial problem for liberalism. A strictly positivist reading would likely affirm a Foucaultian beneficence to the liberal interpretive tradition.  But a more subjective & interpretative understanding could possibly do otherwise and could tellingly reveal a darker side to liberalism’s project. At its core, any system – which is not expressly dystopian or anarchistic – will seek to establish an interpretive foundation upon which a rubric or a framework can be established. For liberals who deny the Scripture as having a sense of authority and promote a God who is neither existent, nor (more tellingly) redemptive – the only true foundation that is offered is that of a collective social tradition, one which (for them) embodies the faith-communities telios or source. It is standard praxis for the community to mediate truth and (subsequent) doctrine. In its extreme forms, many liberal theologians express themselves to be atheists – or in the case of Bishop John Shelby Spong -essentially virtual atheists by virtue of their rhetorical wording.[19] If a full abdication of biblical inspiration is committed and then if God/theism is subsequently declared dead – not just by Nietzsche, but also leaders of the self-professed church – then what is the foundation? Again, on its face, his may not seem like a significant problem – but, then again, how is this informed by a Foucaultian interpretation, especially if we, take into consideration the understandings of an exclusive mediation of theology/belief structures by social means and not textual (inspirational writing) ones. Orthopraxy is understood the ‘right practice’ of an understood orthodoxy – or ‘right belief.’ It is arguable that a Foucaultian theology – Foucaultian in terms that it at least accepts the limitations and (potential future) absurdities of its own orthopraxy – must surely contain a great deal more of existential dread and innate insecurity vs. that of a theologian who would strive to base a belief on traditional Christian doctrine, or what St. Vincent of Lerins coined quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus credituni est (“what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all”).[20]  In truth, any liberal who rejects this classic maxim, must accommodate a degree of Foucaultian skepticism regarding the truth, integrity and permanence of their own orthopraxy-orthodoxy, especially if they come to grips with the intrinsic tenuousity of socially-mediated ideologies/theologies. Given the strength of propaganda and media pervasiveness in this present culture, it could be argued that all of culture can be augmented and/or greatly influenced by nothing more then just a few well-written episodes of a popular sitcom. But is this a church that can offer hope? Is this a ‘change that you can believe in’ when the beliefs may be capable of changing as fast as a television’s channels can be flipped around? The consequences are staggering – not just for religious liberals, and their founding of belief upon social mediation – but many other projects, such a politics: Is the U.S. Constitution a “living document” or is to be more strictly understood? The consequences are staggering. Foucault understood this much – and he also affirmed that society/man’s capacity for constant change and re-invention created more problems and questions then it answered. Foucault asserted that it was not as much the question of change that was the problem – as much as it was man himself. He questioned, in a larger sense, that the changes that had brought about a ‘changeable man’s presence in the greater universe might themselves change – and was not the larger issue, not man’s ideological impermanence – but perhaps the permanence of man’s own existence.

One thing in any case is certain: man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has been posed for human knowledge. Taking a relatively short chronological sample within a restricted geographical area European culture since the sixteenth century – one can be certain that man is a recent invention within it. It is not around him and his secrets that knowledge prowled for so long in the darkness. In fact, among all the mutations that have affected the knowledge of things and their order, the knowledge of identities, differences, characters, equivalences, words – in short, in the midst of all the episodes of that profound history of the Same – only one, that which began a century and a half ago and is now perhaps drawing to a close, has made it possible for the figure of man to appear. The Order of Things – An Archeology of the Human Sciences, pg. 386.





          In the first section of this paper, the conservative theological doctrine of Imago Dei (the “Image of God”) was explored, as it potentially relates to the thought of Emanuel Levinas’ ‘Infinity of the Face’. Though not expressly presented as a ‘conservative’ theological view, Levinas’ philosophy as a ‘first philosophy’ and foundation for a “future-proof” ethics can be argued to have been grounded in it, nonetheless. In the second section, a second conservative theological concept was explored: that of the preference for a theology/orthodoxy and its concomitant practice/orthopraxy being necessarily grounded upon accepted-as-inspired scriptural texts – over and above the accepted-as-unstable social grounding, as is understood through the implications of the thought of Michel Foucault and as it is functionally practiced in the liberal theological tradition. In the first, the argument is only vaguely hidden – but very present, nonetheless: Levinas was a believer, and his thoughts can be argued to have been informed by his belief. In the second, the author, Foucault, was not a believer, but – still – his belief – in careful consideration – can be seen to – albeit unexpectedly – yield an interesting argument for a conservative view of theology, though, he would be understood – himself – to be very, very liberal were he even placed on the Judeo-Christian continuum. In Levinas, the concepts of Truth & Self were contextualized, as concepts related to building a system of ethics that situated the ‘self’ and ‘the other’ in a relation that imposed constraints on the wanton debasement of groups at the excuse of their relational inconvenience to other groups throughout history. The requirement for an incurred responsibility of the other was presented as an inescapable Truth. In Foucault, two additional ‘windows’ were examined as they refer to liberal vs. conservative theology: those of reason & history.  If Foucault is to be accepted, then it follows that throughout history, accepted reason has proven to be quite unreasonable at future, historical times, and that in a truly disconcerting manner, the revelation of previous-practice as present-absurdity is not a trend that will ever be out of style or no longer applicable in terms of man’s own social history.

          The respective interprenetrations and thought-out consequences of various thinkers – those modern, postmodern, phenomenological, or existential – can never be classed as expressly “conservative” or, likewise, “liberal”.  Oversimplifications are, at best the tools of over-eager polemicist and at their worst – the sophistic machinations of malignant propagandists. It is important to ‘practice’ good philosophy – because philosophy itself matters. And practicing good philosophy means taking care to fully investigate and extrapolate thinkers and their respective ideas; those who and which are both inclusive to and also innately foreign to the Christian religious tradition. ‘Conservative’ and ‘liberal’ are, after all, pedagogical labels, and can be, as has shown, transient and changing. In whatever ways it might be ontologically-rhetorically classified, a Christ-centered (and not self-based) and biblically-centered (and not socially mediated) Christian faith has persisted; through its death has been both predicted, called for, and even (by some liberals) hoped for – it is still very much alive.  If the ‘conservative’ Christian tradition is to continue to flourish, as it (hopefully) no doubt will – it will continue to grow, just as it has in the past, by standing up to and also reflecting, engaging and absorbing the truths where they are and in the contexts that they present themselves extant within; those both expected (as in Levinas) and those unexpected (as in Foucault), and whether they be classified as phenomenological, existential, or any other ‘10 dollar word.’ The futures of an honest philosophical practice and a concomitant vibrant & authentic Christianity – these rest upon the faithfulness of the endeavor.













Beauvoir, Simone De. The Second Sex. Translated by Constance Borde and Sheila Malovany-Chevallier. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2009.


Bly, Robert. Iron John – A Book About Men. New York, NY: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1990.


Catholic Online. St. Vincent of Lerins – Saints & Angels – Catholic Online. (accessed 4 25, 2013).


DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008.


Fillingham, Lydia Alix. Foucault for Beginners. New York, NY: Writers and Readers, 1993.


Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things – An Anthology of the Human Sciences. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1994.


Machen, J. Gresham. Christianity and Liberalism. New York, NY: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1923.


Moran, Dermot, and Timothy Mooney. The Phenomenology Reader. New York, NY: Routledge, 2002.


Roozen, David A., and R. James Nieman. Church, Identity, and Change – Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times. New York, NY: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005.


Savic, Garcia-Falgueras. “Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation.” US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. 2010. (accessed 4 25, 2013).


Spong, Shelby John. Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality. New York, NW: Harper Collins, 2000.


Tillich, Paul. Systematic Theology. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago, 1951.


Vanhoozer, Kevin J. The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology. New York, NY: Cambridge Univesity Press, 2003.




[1] Systematic Theology, by Paul Tillich, pg. 3.

[2] An example of this is provided later in the essay (J. Gresham Machen and his book Christianity and Liberalism).

[3] An example of this is the book by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Gluck, Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be, which discusses the ‘Emergent” movement, which is generally understood to be an a theological expression of the Postmodernist generation.

[4] Reason. “Postmodernists reject the epistemological foundationalism that proclaims ‘come let us reason together’ (one the basis of shared experience and shared logical categories). It is not that postmoderns are irrational. They do not reject ‘reason’ but “Reason.” They deny the notion of universal rationality; reason is rather a contextual and relative affair. What counts as rational is relative to the prevailing narrative in a society or institution.”  From “Theology and the condition of postmodernity,” from The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, pg. 10.

[5] Truth. “The above rejctions combine to form a grand refusal of modernity’s metaphysical project, namely, the project of mastering natural reality in a comprehensive conceptual scheme. ‘Postmodernist reject unifying, totalizing, and universal schemes in favor of new emphasis on difference, plurality, fragmentation, and complexity.’ Postmoderns are suspicious of truth claims, of ‘getting it right.’ Upon hearing the assertion that ‘that’s the way things are,’ postmoderns are likely to respond, ‘that’s the way things are for you.’ From “Theology and the condition of postmodernity,” from The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, pg. 11.

[6] History. “Postmoderns are also incredulous towards narratives that purport to recount universal history. Modern thinkers like nothing more then to tell stories about ‘universal history.’ From Kant to Hegel to Marx, modern thinkers have attempted to tell the story of humanity, usually in terms of the progress of the race. Postmodern historians reject the premise that history moves according to a unified linear logic. Discontinuity, rather then continuity is the postmodern watchword.” From “Theology and the condition of postmodernity,” from The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, pg. 11.

[7] Self. “It follows from the above that there is no one true way of recounting one’s own history and thus no true way of narrating one’s own identity. But the self is decentered in other ways as well. Postmoderns reject the notion that a person is an autonomous individual with a rational consciousness that transcends one’s particular place in culture, language, history, and a gendered body. Contra Descartes, the self cannot even know its own mind.” From “Theology and the condition of postmodernity,” from The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology, by Kevin J. Vanhoozer, pg. 11-12.


[8] The Phenomenology Reader, pg. 511

[9] Ibid, pg. 511.

[10] A teleological argument is an argument for the existence of God.

[11] A German philosophical term, which translates ‘world view’, or the way that one sees the world, especially from a religious or philosophical standpoint.

[12] “Sexual differentiation of the human brain in relation to gender identity and sexual orientation”. (Abstract)

“ It is believed that during the intrauterine period the fetal brain develops in the male direction through a direct action of testosterone on the developing nerve cells, or in the female direction through the absence of this hormone surge. According to this concept, our gender identity (the conviction of belonging to the male or female gender) and sexual orientation should be programmed into our brain structures when we are still in the womb. However, since sexual differentiation of the genitals takes place in the first two months of pregnancy and sexual differentiation of the brain starts in the second half of pregnancy, these two processes can be influenced independently, which may result in transsexuality. This also means that in the event of ambiguous sex at birth, the degree of masculinization of the genitals may not reflect the degree of masculinization of the brain. There is no proof that social environment after birth has an effect on gender identity or sexual orientation. Data on genetic and hormone independent influence on gender identity are presently divergent and do not provide convincing information about the underlying etiology. To what extent fetal programming may determine sexual orientationis also a matter of discussion. A number of studies show patterns of sex atypical cerebral dimorphism in homosexual subjects. Although the crucial question, namely how such complex functions as sexual orientation and identity are processed in the brain remains unanswered, emerging data point at a key role of specific neuronal circuits involving the hypothalamus. “


[13] Foucault for Beginners, pg. 150.

[14] A now debunked medical theory that a person’s intelligence capacity could be deduced from the study of the shape of their head.

[15] An attempt to apply Darwinian evolution to race theory, with an emphasis on creating a presumed “master race: while ‘weeding out’ the genetic influence of inferior races or ‘breeders’. Eugenics served as an ideological linchpin to the Nazis racial polices in WWII.

[16] “This modern non-redemptive religion is called ‘modernism’ or ‘liberalism.’ Both names are unsatisfactory; the latter, in particular, is question-begging.” Christianity and Liberalism, pg. 4.

[17] “A constellation of technical, economic, demographic, and cultural changes is transforming all of American society, as well as the world. Many organizational analysts argue that these changes are so fundamental as to signal a major paradigm shift from modern to postmodern forms of organization, a shift affecting all institutional segments of American life, including the religious.” Pg 3, from the Introduction of Church, Identity, and Change – Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times, by David A. Roozen & James R. Nieman, editors.

[18] From “National Denominational Structures’ Engagement with Postmodernity: An Integrative Summary from an Organizational Perspective,” by David A. Rosen, in Church, Identity, and Change – Theology and Denominational Structures in Unsettled Times, by David A. Roozen & James R. Nieman, editors, pg. 588-589.


[19] “1. Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead. God can no longer be understood with credibility as a Being, supernatural in power, dwelling above the sky and prepared to invade human history periodically to enforce the divine will. So, most theological God-talk today is meaningless unless we find a new way to speak of God.  2. Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So, the Christology of the ages is bankrupt.”

(pp. 453-454, Here I Stand: My Struggle for a Christianity of Integrity, Love, and Equality, John Shelby Spong, “Twelve Theses, A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile, A Call for a New Reformation.”)

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– Arendt on Evil – Exploring the German Philosopher Hanna Arendt’s Philosophy of the Nature of Human Evil


 – Arendt on Evil –
Exploring the German Philosopher Hanna Arendt’s Philosophy of the

Nature of Human Evil

Matthew Lipscomb – Existentialism & Phenomenology – 3/19/2013

Introduction: Character, Historical Path & Essay Goals

Hanna Arendt is one of the most fascinating individuals in philosophical history. Her life experiences as a WWII refugee and then her subsequent lifetime exploration of deep philosophical subjects mark her as a legitimate narrator of some of the more weighty and important issues that face humanity. Of these issues that she strove to honestly explore, one of her lasting and arguably most important contributions is that of her contribution to the understanding of evil. This essay will seek to explore three of Arendt’s works and correlate how they interact with this subject.
Long before she wrote her long philosophical tomes, or came to meet face to face a man that embodied the very essence of evil in the modern, public imagination – Arendt set down deep roots into the subject of evil.  As a budding scholar & doctorial student of only twenty years old, Arendt set aside the deep philosophical subjects that literally were engrained in her Jewish-German background and instead chose something radically different: Saint Augustine. As Alan Wolfe argues in his book, Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, the influence of Augustine would prove to be enormous through the long and changing journey of her career. [1]

Growing up, Arendt never saw the issue of Anti-Semitism as strongly as she would eventually come to see it.[2]  When she was 16 years old, her world began to expand both geographically & intellectually by her schooling in Berlin – after she was sent there by her mother – after an incident in her Gymnasium in Königsberg. It was here that she was introduced to Romani Guardini, a well-respected Christian Existentialist, who arguably significantly contributed to Arendt’s own Weltanschauung.[3], [4] Later, Arendt would advance in her schooling to the University of Marburg, where, at the age of 18, she would attend her first lecture, given by a certain fellow by the name of Dr. Martin Heidegger, who would eventually come to be known as one of philosophy’s greatest minds.[5] Heidegger was 35, married, and the father of two sons – but he engaged in an illicit affair with Arendt that would forever fascinate those who would later study both characters and their respective philosophical achievements. Strangers From Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, by Daniel Maier-Katkin, tells the story of how it was that Arendt could be enamored of Heidegger – a man who would eventually become tied to the Nazi party by choice and by enthusiasm and therefore totalitarianism and its associated evil The reason is arguably instructive.

Part One: Evil as being teleologically non-Directive from the perspective of Left vs. Right Political dynamics: Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism.

We no longer hope for an eventual restoration of the old world order with all its traditions, or for the reintegration of the masses of five continents who have been thrown into a chaos produced by the violence of wars and revolutions and the growing decay of all that has still been spared. Under the most diverse conditions and disparate circumstances, we watch the development of the same phenomena – homelessness on an unprecedented scale, rootlessness to an unprecedented depth.  (From Preface to the First Edition, The Origins of Totalitarianism)[6]

            Arendt wrote The Origins of Totalitarianism in the immediate years after WWII. Having fled Europe and watched her native country destroyed, Arendt felt compelled to give reasoning behind the wanton destruction that some felt was destined to only continue on. In it, Arendt discusses the structure of Nazi Germany and its concentration camps.[7] It is this structure, along with the other central themes of the book that serve to frame it.

The initial part of her book consists of three separate prefaces, each introducing a respective, substantive section of the book – which are later each explored in detail: anti-Semitism, imperialism, and the last part – totalitarianism. The essential, overarching essence of Origins is one of historiography. Through its pages, one finds a deep view of history and the meta-structures or metanarratives that she focuses on.  The issues of race, national identity and class are all intermingled and each also addressed. Behind each idea – there is presented its shadow: its evil.  For instance, in the section on totalitarianism, Arendt includes a section entitled ‘Ideology and Terror –A Novel Form of Government,’ in which she describes how totalitarian governments place their understanding of a law of history or nature over the rights of men – subverting and denigrating them in the name of “lawfulness”.

Totalitarian lawfulness, defying legality and pretending to establish the direct reign of justice on earth, executes the law of History or of Nature without translating it into standards of right and wrong for individual behavior. It applies the law directly to mankind without bothering with the behavior of men. The law of Nature or the law of History, if properly executed, is expected to produce mankind as its end product; and this expectation lies behind the claim to global rule of all totalitarian governments.  Totalitarian policy claims to transform the human species into an active unfailing carrier of a law to which human beings otherwise would only passively and reluctantly be subjected. If it is true that the link between totalitarian countries and the civilized world was broken through the monstrous crimes of totalitarian regimes, it is also true that this criminality was  not due to simple aggressiveness, ruthlessness, warfare and treachery, but  to a conscious break of that consensus iuris which, according to Cicero, constitutes a “people,” and which, as international law, in modern times has  constituted the civilized world insofar as it remains the foundation-stone of  international relations even under the conditions of war. Both moral judgment and legal punishment presuppose this basic consent; the criminal can be judged justly only because he takes part in the consensus iuris, and even the revealed law of God can function among men only when they listen and consent to it.[8]

            In addition to her analysis of this ‘subversion’ – perhaps the greater contribution of Origins is that it makes the origin of totalitarianism neither a proverbial political ‘left’ nor ‘right’ intrinsic destiny. In fact, she argues that either side can go down its harrowing path. As Alan Wolf points out in Political Evil, this, in turn, eventually became Arendt’s contribution to what became the post-war era’s so-called Cold War and an intrinsic part of its thinking. Totalitarianism was not just a danger to the right/conservative political pew but it was – as could so clearly be evidenced – a clear and present potentiality for the right/liberal/socialist side as well.  As Wolf notes – “Without the concept of totalitarianism, the struggle between democracy and communism would have been viewed as the stuff of territory, money, and power.”[9] Arendt’s work showed that it was possible and even appropriate to argue that the path that the Communists had gone down – was the very same that the Nazi party had so hastily themselves trod.

Although the bulk & burden of its content has to do with the despair that, for her and so many others, had become indelibly etched both upon their own minds and their own histories – Arendt ends Origins with a ray of hope: the idea that though an evil era of tremendous pain and destruction had drawn to an end, there was, therefore, a beginning – and a beginning could bring hope.

But there remains also the truth that every end in history necessarily contains a new beginning; this beginning is the promise, the only ‘message’ which the end can ever produce. Beginning, before it becomes a historical event, is the supreme capacity of man; politically, it is identical with man’s freedom. Iniiium ut esset homo creatus est — “that a beginning be made man was created” said Augustine. This beginning is guaranteed by each  new birth; it is indeed every man.   (Arendt, 1979: 478-9)

            Origins is a story of the epic tale between good and evil.[10] Wolf in Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it argues this, through his use of the term Manichean[11] – which he argues was the predominate viewpoint through which these issues were seen. He also connects this back to Arendt and her complex understanding of and philosophical anchoring in Augustine. He argues that just as Augustine eventually rejected the Manichean gnostic dualist spirit/good vs. physicality/evil dichotomy, Arendt also came to reject the overriding presuppositions that it forcefully asserts. She became more existential; more personal in her understanding of Evil – thus her book on Eichmann is representational of this movement in her understanding of both the world and evil.
One question that can be asked is did this ‘transition’ have anything to do with her affair with Heidegger? By 1934, Arendt was in exile from Germany, and her torrid affair with him well over. But the heart remembers things that the mind may forget. Heidegger, unlike Eichmann, never participated in the Nazi death squads. He remained an academic – one who, himself, experienced a degree of frustration (though seemingly inconsequential, in an honest comparison with the experiences of others) with censorship and frustration from his then-fellow Nazis.[12] Arendt may have well understood Heidegger’s naïveté, as while he was still wearing his Nazi party pin in 1936[13] As Daniel Maier-Katkin points out in Strangers From Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, had Hitler “been assassinated in 1937 or 1938 he would have been lionized by his followers throughout the world.”[14] The evil that Hitler had prophesied in his own book Mein Kampf was yet to fully unfold. As it eventually did – Heidegger may have feared for his own life. His own functional involvement in the party had lasted only a year and he had been removed from academic office in 1934, by the Nazis, in what may have been a purging of the ranks of all lukewarm fascists.[15] Arendt may have been thinking of Heidegger when she wrote in Origins that “Totalitarianism in power invariably replaces all first-rate talents, regardless of sympathies, with crackpots and fools whose lack of intelligence and creativity is the best guarantee of their loyalty.” [16]

Whether it was Augustine’s own eventual intellectual trajectory that she herself also in turn eventually followed – or her observations of Heidegger – her thoughts turned from the grand dichotomy of the good vs. evil to the one of more existential crux, such as that which she would show in her next book: Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil.

Part Two: Evil Need not Be Large – Understanding the Banality of Evil: Hannah Arendt’s The Trial of Adolf Eichmann, Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil

Eichmann’s own attitude was different. First of all, the indictment for murder was wrong: “With the killing of Jews I had nothing to do. I never killed a Jew, or a non-Jew, for that matter —I never killed any human being. I never gave an order to kill either a Jew or a non-Jew; I just did not do it,” or, as he was later to qualify this statement, “It so happened … that I had not once to do it”—for he left no doubt that he would have killed his own father if he had received an order to that effect.   (Eichmann in Jerusalem – Hannah Arendt)[17]

            Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil began as a series of articles that were written by Arendt that appeared in The New Yorker, which had asked Arendt to cover the trial, which even at its onset had become an international focus of attention.[18] The media circus that was generated[19] was intended to highlight how great a monster Eichmann was said to be. The man that wound up writing about was to her, “terrifyingly normal.”[20] Arendt essentially details the progression of the trial. What is different from her previous work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, is that she moves from a macro-systematic (large scale) representation embodied by the epic good vs. evil dichotomy – to a different viewpoint, which essentially resonates from a micro-existential/psychological one. In his book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, Alan Wolf points that instead of looking at the Nazi Death camps as part of the proverbial ‘means to and end’ – as she does in The Origins of Totalitarianism– in Eichmann in Jerusalem, Arendt sees them more as a ‘means to understanding’ the individuals that made the Nazi system work. The book also marks a transition from an onto-systematic viewpoint to one of a psycho-existential means. Origins looked at the macro structures that enabled evil, whereas Eichmann examines the individual behind the system, moreover – those enabling it.

Rather then expositing a grand history, she uncovers the nature of a man  – at his level, a man who is startlingly essentially a common, simple, and non-descript individual. There is no magisterial tyrant bellowing forth on her written pages. Only a man who participated and followed through on the smallest of details – all of which added up in their totality to the crime that Arendt felt could not just never be forgotten, but had seemingly surpassed the tangible interpretive framework of anything that could even be considered “law”.[21]

In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arendt examines the death camps from a top-down approach; exploring the dynamics of propaganda, ideology and what she termed ‘the leadership principle,’ In Eichmann in Jerusalem the subject of the camps is significantly recontextualized. It is reoriented around how individual Nazis thought about their acts and their own self-perceptions before and after them.[22]  It was this caused a tremendous stir.[23]

But it was not just her existential loci that got Arendt into trouble. She had a fascination with the Jewish Councils that had helped administrate many of the Jewish ghettos.[24] This caused outrage with many fellow Jewish writers – and they attacked her vigorously calling her a  “self-hating Jew”[25]

Here again, Wolf argues that Arendt followed the theology of Augustine. Evil was not a spectacular thing for her – rather it was decidedly commonplace in its intrinsic nature. It was dull and potentially monotonous. All that Eichmann was – was a submissive cog in a much larger machine, one that he had not cared to resist.[26] It was not that there was so much profound evil manifest in his personhood – as much as it was that there were just so many people like him[27] For Arendt, Eichmann does not represent the vibrant thinker; a man wresting with the responsibilities of life.  He is in his own words, a corpse – an automaton following in blind obedience. He even had his own word for it: Kadavergehorsam – the obedience of corpses.[28]

If – for Arendt – Eichmann embodied the non-thinking, living dead – then her next work, sought to explore what the living, thinking looked like. Arendt would spend the remainder of her life working on her monumental survey of human thought – The Life of the Mind.

Part Three: The Traditions of Evil, From the Perspective of Historical Perspectives on Thought: Hannah Arendt’s The Life of the Mind.

The question that imposed itself was: Could the activity of thinking as such, the habit of examining whatever happens to come to pass or to attract attention, regardless of results and specific content, could this activity be among the conditions that make men abstain from evil-doing or even actually “condition” them against it? (Life of the Mind) [29]

            Of all of Hannah Arendt’s books – The Life of the Mind is both the least and the most about evil. Because it is a survey of human thought, it does not constantly touch on the subject; there are not entire chapters devoted to how one man can become a historical demon (such as Eichmann in Jerusalem did), nor does it devote extended explorations into how leaders de-evolve into tyrants (as did The Origins of Totalitarianism). But because it is oriented around human thought itself, human evil is the grand metanarrative; the idea hiding in the shadows – behind the work’s grand, historical stage. It is always there, even if only indirectly so. Perhaps it is this indirectness that makes it her most important contribution to the subject. The book was written as two volumes, the first entitled Thinking and the second volume Willing. Arendt died of a heart attack before she could finish the last section of the second volume entitled ‘Judging’. A collection of her papers, oriented around what was thought to have been the generally intended thrust of the section was put together in absence of her own writing, and substituted in lieu of it.[30]

True to her capabilities as a historian of thought and philosopher in her own right, Arendt assembled a thorough and comprehensive survey which passes through Socrates, the apostle Paul, and of course – Augustine. As he had found his way into her mind and elsewhere, Heidegger also found his way, once more, into her book. When she died, he telegraphed that he was ‘deeply mourning.’ He himself died less then a year later. He was 87.[31]

In a section entitled ‘The Two in One,” in the first volume – Arendt writes of Eros, knowledge and the possibility of finding evil impossible. One wonders if Heidegger was on her mind, as she wrote the words.

What I called the “quest” for meaning appears in Socrates’ language as love, that is, love in its Greek significance of Eros, not the Christian agape. Love as Eros is primarily a need; it desires what it has not.  Men love wisdom and therefore begin to philosophize because they are not wise, and they love beauty and do beauty…because they are not beautiful. Love is the only matter in which Socrates pretends to be an expert, and this skill guides him, too, in choosing his companions and friends: “While I may be worthless in all other matters, this talent I have been given: I can easily recognize lover and a beloved.” By desiring what it has not, love establishes a relationship with what is not present.

            Arendt then traces the ancient notion that evil is ultimately the absence of good, further noting that,

If thinking dissolves positive concepts into their original meaning, then the same process must dissolve these “negative” concepts back into their original meaninglessness, that is, into nothing for the thinking ego. … It looks as though Socrates had nothing more to say about the connection between evil and lack of thought then that people who are not in love with beauty, justice, and wisdom are incapable of thought, just as, conversely, those who are in love with examining and thus “do philosophy” would be incapable of evil.[32]

Conclusions: Arendtian Contributions in the Conversation about Evil and Overcoming its Potential of Existence            

Herein lies, perhaps, Arendt’s best understanding of evil. As someone who was decidedly in love, herself, with thinking – evil would naturally, potentially be easily seen as the result of those – who like Eichmann – willingly chose not to think. Though it can be argued not all evil can easily be seen exclusively through this lens – a considerable portion of it can. It is not enough to just say that all ‘evil villains are shallow thinkers’ – but it can be easily understood that many leaders will say anything to preserve their own preoccupations with ultimately shallow things: power, sex, money, etc.  All these things many seem important – but, in the great sum of things – are they really? Perhaps this intrinsically existential question is the backwash of Arendt’s own exposure to Christian theology – most notably, through Augustine. What are the important things? Arendt understands lusts as desires towards things that are not to be immediately had – but upon what gauge are we to qualify the depth and authenticity of their respective notions? Nowadays, the Nazi preoccupation with eugenics seems sadly comical in a way – but in its time it was a universally serious business. Is one generation’s seriousness – another generation’s folly?  Even today, the postmodern movement jettisons the seriousness of modernity as overrated and superficial. Are they correct? What will future generations think of the issues we consider ‘serious thinking’ today – and will future generations see them as spurious, empty and – therefore, according to Arendt – easily permutable into evil?

The risk of this thought is that it may be merely an extended product of extreme relativism.  Uncoupled as she was, from the divine absolutes of her native Jewish religion, and yet also immersed, yet not surrendered, to Augustinian Christianity – ultimately Arendt found faith in her own thinking. If she was but willing to think – she felt like she could overcome the potential for evil. But what does this say of the German nation & culture? The Germans both then and now were and are respected for their philosophical exactness. It could certainly be argued that the Germans were not thinking deeply subjectively – when they embraced and ran with the hysteria of Nazism and its subsequent terrors. But they were thinking objectively –and ruinously at that. If we can understand a process by which we can separate the authentic from the facile – then perhaps Arendt’s working understanding takes better shape. But am I left alone with Hegel and his owl of Minerva to tell me whether or not I have thought authentically about something and therefore eschewed evil? This would seem to rekindle the anxiety and place for despair that is so often associated with existentialism.

Perhaps that is the key for Arendt and one of her primary contributions: the art of thinking diligently, but also crucially with suspicion and vigilance.  But did she follow through with this? While she was reporting and writing Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil, Arendt saw both sides trying to rationalize away what had happened both with Eichmann and with the extended horrors at Auschwitz. They seemed to be arguing that all of it was merely some kind of historical dialectical process a la Hegel that – at the end of the day – was actually still all quite natural, in a way – maybe even possibly necessary. Necessary and even possibly required. Required – for history to presumably move forward in true Hegelian fashion. Arendt soundly rejected this.

Who would dare reconcile himself with the reality of extermination camps, or play the game of synthesis-antithesis-synthesis until his dialectics have discovered ‘meaning’ in slave labor?[33]

            Hans Kung goes farther and points out that the horror of Auschwitz is an abruption that goes beyond reason and surely beyond any form or expression of entertainable dialectical theory.

The disgrace of Auschwitz is not to be charged to some all-powerful providence or to some dialectically wise necessity, as if it were an antithesis demanding a synthesis or a step on the road to salvation…It remains on our account, and it is we who must again wash away the disgrace from our own disfigured faces, indeed from the very countenance of God. Don’t talk to me here about the cunning of reason. [34]

            If Eichmann (and the Auschwitz he helped create) both show the limits of Hegel’s system and his theory –then what of the Metaphysics that it was supposed to replace? When asked this – Arendt would only say that she was ‘in these matters’ only a “journalist.”[35] She could not follow Augustine into Faith when she was confronted with evil in its full barbarity. The master thinker could only seem to afford a diffuse dodge. Regardless of this and in addition to her contribution of a thinking philosophy, this may be a second Arendtian contribution; the possible limits of Hegelian Dialectics. For all those who have tried to ‘get out of the system’  – Arendt may well have shown us a way – even if so, by nature of her own reticence to affirm and explore it.

Thirdly, she contributes a vision for the recognition of the signs of totalitarianism in our politics and warns us that they can come from anywhere and any party or persuasion.  Center to this – and it was her most controversial stand – is that we should strive to avoid the dynamics of deadness in our own thoughts and relations with the world.  All of us, from the greatest to the least, can become dead to justice. The most hideous horrors were carried out with the same innocuous routineness as that of checking the mail. If we are able to do these things (and maybe even make the escape from Hegelian Dialectics, in affirming a place for traditional Christian metaphysical realities -which she herself could not) then perhaps there is a place to find life through a struggle with doubt, death and desire and their counterparts – faith, life and satisfaction. Perhaps if we are willing to push these boundaries  – while burdening ourselves with the responsibilities of both our society and ourselves – we can make a way: a way past our own evils; those of the past – the present, and more so importantly – the future.


Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil. New York, NY: Penguin Classics.

—. The Life of the Mind. New York, NY: Harcort, 1971.

—. The Origins of Totalitarianism. New York, NY: Harcourt, 1994.

Maier-Katkin, Daniel. Strangers From Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness. New York, NY: W.W. Norton, 2010.

Neiman, Susan. Evil in Modern Thought – An Alternative History of Philosphy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Paperbacks, 2004.

Oxford University. Oxford Online Dictionaries. (accessed 3 18, 2013).

Wolfe, Alan. Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2012.

[1] Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, pg. 57.

[2]  Strangers From Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, pg. 21.

[3] Ibid. pg. 23.

[4] Weltanschauung is the German word for ‘world-view,’ which means that way that you see the world from a standpoint of personal philosophy, religious presuppositions or ethical basis.

[5] Ibid. pg. 25.

[6] Preface to the First Edition, The Origins of Totalitarianism, pg. vii

[7] Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, pg. 60.

[8] The Origins of Totalitarianism, pg. 462.

[9] Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, pg. 93.

[10] Ibid pg. 93.

[11] “A dualistic religious system with Christian, Gnostic, and pagan elements, founded in Persia in the 3rd century by Manes (circa 216-circa 276). The system was based on a supposed primeval conflict between light and darkness. It spread widely in the Roman Empire and in Asia, and survived in eastern Turkestan (Xinjiang) until the 13th century. From Oxford Dictionaries Online (

[12] Strangers From Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, pg. 105

[13] Ibid, pg. 103.

[14] Ibid pg. 104.

[15] Ibid pg. 103.

[16] Quoted in Strangers From Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, pg. 103, as from The Origins of Totalitarianism pg. 449.

[17] Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil, pg. 22.

[18] Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, pg. 58.

[19] Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil, pgs 6-7.

[20] Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, pg. 59.

[21] Strangers from Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness, pg. 134.

[22] Political Evil – What it is and How to Combat it, pg. 60.

[23] Ibid. pg. 62.

[24] Ibid. pg. 61.

[25] Ibid. pg. 62.

[26] Ibid. pg. 62.

[27] Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil, pg. 276.

[28] Ibid. pg. 135.

[29] The Life of the Mind, pg. 5.

[30] The Life of the Mind, pg. 241.

[31] Strangers from Abroad – Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger, Friendship and Forgiveness pg. 341.

[32] The Life of the Mind, pgs. 178-179

[33] Quoted in Evil in Modern Thought – An Alternate History (Arendt 7, 444) pg. 262.

[34] Quoted in Evil in Modern Thought – An Alternate History (Quoted in Bernstein 2, 4) pg. 262.

[35] Evil in Modern Thought – An Alternate History, pg 274.

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Generational Time Told – Breitling’s Chronomat B01 Watch (Corporate Propaganda Study Paper)

Matthew Lipscomb

Dr. Heather Palmer

Propaganda & Persuasion, 2/1/2011

Generational Time Told – Breitling’s Chronomat B01 Watch. Paper Number 1





         Horology is the art or science of measuring time.[1] For time immemorial, man has been fascinated by the art and technology of determining the span of time that regulates and defines both life and everyday existence. From the ancient sundials that man first used,[2] to the iconic architecture of London’s Big Ben,[3] to the modern ultra-accurate quartz movements[4]  – clocks potentially represent an amazing confluence of technology, fashion and functionality. Breitling[5] is a manufacturer of luxury watches and they pride themselves in the accuracy, fashion, and longevity of their products. This paper will explore this relationship, using the example of the Breitling Chronomat B01:[6] a very high-end, self-winding, luxury watch.[7]

         The idea of purchasing a luxury watch is considered to be an option by most people. It is something that can generally be indulged in when it can be afforded and sometimes only after it has been appropriately worked for. It can be taken for granted that the modern materialistic society that we inhabit seeks to make luxury items ever more and more commonplace. It is also generally understood that by nature of the dynamic of the essentiality of selling and purchasing given materials intrinsic to such an economic archetype – it will also eventually become a consumer-based society. It follows that subsequent to the increased profit margins of a high volume selling/purchasing communal market, yet another dynamic emerges: that of cheaper and cheaper merchandise which wears out quickly and is again replaced by further re-purchasement on the part of the consumer.[8] It is arguable that the intended quality – in terms of the permanence of so-called ‘durable goods’ – is in fact becoming more and more decreased insofar as products are becoming, essentially, less and less durable. This intention of ‘planned obsolescence’ and sort a short ‘shelf life’ in terms of usability, serves to keep the economic consumer/materials/consumption engine going[9] – but it also gives rise to another dynamic: that of an awareness on the part of the consumer of being pervasively “fleeced,”[10] because of the constant need to re-buy/re-purchase/re-invest.  In reaction to this feeling – certain consumers will make an attempt to purchase higher quality merchandize that has not yet been fully subsumed into the  ‘culture of necessary perpetual replacement’. They will seek items that will last – perhaps for a lifetime – and are willing to pay what might be considered a ‘one time surcharge’ for the right to ‘rebel against the system’ and gain the ‘privilege of permanence’. This, in part, helps create the backdrop dynamic behind the niche market which serves as part of the whole composite which makes up Breitling’s potential customer base. Because of this, a large part of Breitling’s advertisement is geared towards the idea of permanence and quality.

         But Breitling utilizes other propaganda dynamics as well. Their tagline is “instruments for professionals” and the imagery of their marketing resonates with pictures of aircraft and professional pilots. On their website,, they feature a video which portrays the history of the company entitled Since 1884.[11] The idea that is conveyed resonates with the general style that pervades their advertising. Breitling advertises themselves as a manufacture of critical tools – as apposed to mere everyday, ever-wearing out watches. They assert that they are the ‘mechanical Chronomat specialist’,[12] by nature of the exacting ‘quality criteria’ that they employ in the design and manufacture of their watches. The insinuation that is made is that both the Chronomat B01 (the internal workings of which are featured at the end of the video presentation), as well as all their watches are the ‘best in their class’ – the kind of watch that any professional aviator would, without a doubt, wear. Unlike some companies that actually openly mock their own customers (such as Bud Light’s ongoing “Real Men of Genius” marketing campaign),[13] Breitling makes every effort to portray those who would use their watches as uncompromising professionals who seek exceptional quality, accuracy, and longevity in their purchase of a watch.

         The Breitling B01[14] caught my own attention because I have considered purchasing a watch that will ideally be an heirloom that will outlast my own existence, time wise. Electronic watches will eventually fail because of the long-term fragility of their components. High-quality, windup mechanical varietals with jewel movements, however (if properly maintained in terms of cleaning) can last potentially hundreds of years.[15] Several months ago, I purchased an Elgin Pocket watch that was manufactured in 1897[16] and which actually still keeps good time.[17] I have owned several watches, all of which I wore for a year or two before each of them broke in such a way that repair was either impossible or non-cost effective. It has been a long-term goal of mine to save up enough money to purchase a watch that I will not have to replace ever again. My 113-year-old Elgin has 17 jewels.[18] The Breitling B01 has 47.[19] Generally speaking, when a watch has more jewels it will last longer and be of a higher quality in terms of accuracy and quality in its design.[20] In my own search for a watch that could meet what I consider exceptional and hard to find quality – I was immediately drawn to the Breitling B01 Chronomat.

         The way that Breitling’s distribution sales model is structured also influences its advertising strategy dynamics. Breitling benefits from the fact that its watches are sold at very high-end jewelry stores. The local Chronomat B01 billboard advertisement  (located for a time on I-75 in Chattanooga) was put up by Rone Regency Jewelers.[21] Because of this, Breitling need only to produce a relatively small amount of marketing, in terms of placement purchasing. The majority of the marketing placement of advertisements, billboard campaigns,[22] and print advertisements are paid for by independent jewelers[23] – who make a degree of profit on each watch that is sold. This sales distribution configuration gives luxury watchmakers like Breitling potentially exponential market exposure. Their market penetration is limited only to the current number of advertising campaigns that any given number of jewelers[24] are conducting on behalf of any given respective watch at any given time. To be an authorized Breitling reseller, it is assumed that the store is a higher quality establishment – and not just an average or even fly-by-night operation. You are not going to see an authentic Breitling watch sold next to cell phone accessories at a shopping mall kiosk. If you did find one, it would be assumed to almost assuredly be a counterfeit knockoff.[25]

         There is of course the seemingly omnipresent propaganda dynamic of ‘Sex Sells’. This stereotypical but time-tested standard motif is not fully absent in Breitling’s current online advertising. The closest approximation to this propaganda archetype is the movie short, found on Breitling’s website, Racing for Anna,[26] which features a model (presumed to be “Anna”) who is waving a racing flag – while two planes (a sleek, turbo prop and a second propeller driven stunt plane) perform a series of carefully executed and stunning maneuvers alongside one another. Whereas sex is indeed a part of the propaganda matrix, it is superimposed with the images of the professional pilots deftly executing ‘do not try this at home’ type stuff. The idea that is imparted is the view that while Anna is indeed wordlessly interested in just exactly which of the two pilots is perhaps her own ‘top gun’ in the aerial interplay, the focus is on not just the machines that the pilots are controlling – but also the watches that they are wearing. The implicit impression is made that not just everybody gets to fly a plane – even more so – not just everybody gets to fly planes like these. The propaganda that we are entreated to is that – concurrent to this reality – not just everybody gets to wear a precision crafted timepiece[27] – even more so – a time piece like a Breitling. This is the emotional hook that Breitling seeks to cast upon the potential customer and the message in terms of the self-perception of the viewer: this is an exceptionally precise watch for exceptional people who do exceptional things – with exceptionally precise machines. The implied question of ‘are you exceptional yourself,’ is perhaps relegated to the question of either can you afford one, or at least to can you make the exceptional effort to save up enough money to be able to make a purchase. Another example of the Breitling ‘exceptionality’ idiom is their co-branding[28] with Bentley Motors – a car that has long been associated with the essence of exceptionality in the minds of automotive enthusiasts.[29]

         But how does Breitling measure up in terms of its affective use of propaganda in its advertising? In terms of overall effectiveness – I feel that Breitling is accomplishing the task of communicating to the public that it is possible to purchase a watch that will be accurate, reliable, beautiful, and virtually unparalleled in its potential longevity in terms of usability concomitant to the provision of a lifetime of enjoyable and exceptional service. By surrounding itself with images of aircraft and professional pilots, Breitling is able to deliver an essence that their watches will not fail when they are truly needed. Your life can depend on this watch. Like the aircraft in their advertisements, it would appear that there is an immense amount of history, technology, design, and a sense of uncompromising reliability that goes into the design and manufacturing of each Breitling watch. You can have this watch forever. I feel that they have conveyed a strong argument  – that if you want to buy one watch that your grandchildren will potentially pass on to their grandchildren – then their watches are good candidates for just such a watch: one that will stand just such a test of time.

         In terms of classic propaganda modalities it can be argued that the Breitling Chronomat B01 advertisements hit all three elements of propaganda in terms of the dynamics of ethos, logos, and pathos. Breitling makes it clear that the character or ethos of a typical Breitling owner is summed up in the idea of being exceptional. The Logos or logic/reason element is fulfilled in the idea that an exceptional person consistently relies on exceptional instruments of power and in turn demands exceptional quality in terms of their beauty, longevity and performance – which very much embodies the motif of the jet fighter or stunt pilot. This in turn folds into the element of Pathos on the part of the observer. Having observed what an exceptional person can do and the watch that they would naturally wear – if it were possible to acquire and own a watch of matching exceptionality – it follows, therefore, that it would be a logical and natural desire to make an effort to find a way of actually acquiring it. The emotion of pride, both overt and nondescript, is integral to the owner, as the watch – for them – may existentially represent a projected self-awareness that ‘I too am an exceptional person as well’. Perhaps the most powerful, unspoken metanarrative is the capacity for the Breitling owner to potentially acknowledge to himself or herself that they have indeed broken the seemingly endless cycle of buying a new watch, that goes along with the before mentioned ‘culture of perpetual replacement’. Having paid their ‘one time surcharge’ – they are now the ‘exceptional rebels,’ who have the ‘privilege of permanence’ over and against the system that those who lack exceptionality must continue to work, exist within and continually seek their own illusive escapes from. If a Breitling is cared for and professionally maintained and cleaned[30] – it genuinely can literally last forever.

         In closing – and on my own confession, I will admit that I frustratingly want to buy one last watch – one that unlike any luxury car I might ever buy – will potentially never wear out or even ever be out of fashion. I want to be a rebel as well. I want to achieve a sense of permanence over and against my own never-ending consumption and re-purchasement of things that I have already bought once, twice, and even sometimes thrice before. Aware of my own mortality – I am also aware of those select few materialist items which are possessive of such adequate exceptionality as to potentially embody an existentially-sublimated sense of immortality; one that I can cannot wholly take on,[31] but I can, at least – put on my wrist. Of course – I could always spend a mere $65 dollars on a Wal-Mart grade watch every year. If a 47 jeweled Chronomat B01 can last over 100 years – like my antique Elgin Pocket watch has – then it might be argued that I could discard the idea of purchasing a new watch every year for $65 and invest the $6,500 that the Breitling Chronomat commands as its investment. It is true, that at this economy of scale, my son (or even my grandson) would realize any supposed, eventual cost savings – after 100 years. But then again – a family heirloom that can be passed from father to son, generation after generation, might be able to command any suitable price that one could potentially work hard, save up for, and invest towards. In addition to my Elgin, I also have my own grandfather’s railroad pocket watch – which, to me, is worth much more then the $200 that I invested in the purchase of my Elgin. It keeps good time as well. And that – is at least worth the 30 years my Grandfather worked on the railroads to get it.







100601-Breitling-N1.jpg 800×600 pixels. 21 March 2011 < >.


Ace Jewelers. YouTube – Ace Jewelers presents the new 2009 Breitling Chronomat B01. 21 March 2011 < >.


American Mobile Ads. 000610_image002.jpg 640×374 pixels. 21 March 2011 <

       /images/000610_image002.jpg >.


Bentley Motors. Bentley Motors : Distinguished Heritage : History. Bentley Motors. 21 March 2011 < >.





Betts, Jonathan D. Big Ben (clock, London, United Kingdom) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Encylopedia Britannica. 21 March 2011 < >.


Breitling. Breitling. Breitling. 21 March 2011 < >.


—. Breitling Air Time. 21 March 2011 < >.


—. Breitling for Bentley. 21 March 2011 < >.


—. YouTube – Breitling – Mechanical Chronograph Maintenance. 21 March 2011 < >.




Disher, Mike. Breitling’s Chronomat B01 With Manufacture Movement | 21 March 2011 < >.


Elgin. Watch Serial Number Information. 21 March 2011 < >.


—. Why Watches Have Jewels. 21 March 2011 < >.


Hindle, Tim. Idea: Planned Obsolecence. 23 May 2009. 21 March 2011 < >.

HouseofRam. YouTube – BREITLING watches, Instruments for Professionals (Swiss Watchmaker). 21 March 2011 < >.


Hyde, Lewis. The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.


Lipscomb, Matthew. Matthew Lipscomb. 21 March 2011 < >.


National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, Inc. 2 October 2009. 21 March 2011 < >.


Peter, J. Tick Talk >> A clean watch lasts forever. Tick Talk. 21 March 2011 < >.


Repairwatches. YouTube – Breitling – Precision COSC. 21 March 2011 <;.


Rone Regency Jewelers. Rone Regency Jewelers. 21 March 2011 < >.





Toothman, Jessika. HowStuffWorks “How did ancient civilizations use sundials to tell time?”. A Discovery Company howstuffworks. 21 March 2011 <;.


Whipnet Technologies. Bud Light Salutes Real Men of Genius. 21 March 2011 <;.


Woodford, Chris. How quartz watches and clocks work: A simple introduction from Explain that Stuff! 17 January 2010. 21 March 2011 <;.





[8]“Modern capitalist societies, however richly endowed, dedicate themselves to the proposition of scarcity.” The Gift, Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, pg. 28.







[27] All Breitling watches have the official COSC (Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute) certification.

[30]  Breitling offers a professional cleaning and maintenance service for their chronograph watches.

[31] By this I mean outside of my own spiritual understanding of things, of course.

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“ – Have I Been Understood? – Dionysos Against the Crucified…” – Exploring the thought, impact and proposed Asymmetrical Challenge of F. Nietzsche as Explored Through the Kierkegaardian ‘either/or’ and the Hegelian Dialectical ‘both’, with Reference to Historically Liberal & Conservative forms of the Christianity

 “ – Have I Been Understood?
– Dionysos Against the Crucified…”

Exploring the thought, impact and proposed Asymmetrical Challenge of F. Nietzsche as Explored Through the Kierkegaardian ‘either/or’ and the Hegelian Dialectical ‘both’, with Reference to Historically Liberal & Conservative forms of the Christianity

Matthew B. Lipscomb, 2/14/2013,
Dr. Welsh, Existentialism & Phenomenology, UTC

An Introduction: Subject, Methods and intended Goal

Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche is perhaps one of the most divisive figures in philosophical history. He is either loved – or hated. Few in number are those who are not impassioned in either direction.  The purpose of this essay is to make an attempt at forming two ‘lenses’ and then to ask a specific question about him – does his work present a differential or asymmetrical challenges to both Liberal and Conservative Christianity, respectively? Can it be argued that one of the traditions was more to fear from his anti-religious polemics? And does one, in fact, gain something?

The two ‘lenses’ employed in exploring the efficacy of Nietzsche’s challenge are the Kierkegaardian ‘either/or’ and then the traditionally understood Hegelian dialectical ‘synthesis.’ This paper will not be a thorough exploration of each of these  – rather, an attempt will be made to argue for their viability as suitable tools, with the goal of showing both the value of the respective techniques in terms of both answering and then subsequently opening up the further dialogue of other important questions. It is a goal that they be authentic and useful so as to make an earnest and constructive foray into his thought and influences – but that they are also nonetheless non-traditional viewings of his work and its subsequent contributions. If these two ‘lenses,’ or interpretive rubrics work, then they will allow us to potentially see ‘truth between the forms’ or, in other words, they will allow us to see perhaps unconventional viewpoints that are normally obstructed by traditional/orthodox understandings and ways of viewing Nietzsche, ones that we might not see or think about everyday.

Meta-Interpretive Rubric/Lens One – A Kierkegaardian ‘Either/Or:’ Historically Liberal vs. Conservative Theology; Nietzsche’s Contextual-Historical background & Other Issues

No survey of the history of Christian theology is complete without the addition of the consideration of Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher (1768 – 1834). Schleiermacher is considered the founder of Liberal (or what is sometimes called “modern”) theology.[1] His work represents a break from traditional, orthodox theology because of his assertion that the guiding precept of religion is something that is derived from a feeling of ‘complete dependence’.[2] Whereas traditional theology seeks a “Christo-centric”[3] understanding of itself, Schleiermacher differentiated his own work from this locus, starting with his famous letter to his father, wherein he confessed his disbelief in the divinity of Christ and the traditional understanding of his resurrection from the dead.[4] He no longer believed in ‘the crucified God.’ The agenda laid down by Schleiermacher was taken up by subsequent generations of theologians and thinkers, which propagated and advanced the non-christocentric model, and then later progressively de-emphasized (and in some later degrees, renounced all together) any spiritual dimension. Liberal theology embodied history and culture as its central loci. What another German theologian Rudolf Otto (1869 – 1937) termed the ‘fearful, tremendous mystery of God’[5] was more and more removed, in lieu of an understanding of one’s own self in relation to a community or a culture – and the dynamics therein and thereby. By virtue of this ‘movement’ Liberal Christianity has historically radically de-emphazised or ruled out all together both the necessity or even the possibility of the role of a ‘Crucified God’ as being a part of the overall project of carrying on its theology and work. One of Schleiermacher’s students was Abrect Ritschle[6] (1822 – 1889) who was an uncle to Friedrich Ritschle (1806 – 1876) who was Nietzsche’s foremost influence in his formative years.[7]  The idea of ‘the crucified God’ would play a significant part in Nietzsche’s polemics.

Historically speaking, “Conservative Theology” has sought to preserve the idea of Christ’s divinity, his resurrection and the concomitant understanding of a crucially attendant spiritual reality: the mysterium tremendum et fascinans[8] as it relates to it. The metaphysics of Liberal Christianity could easily be seen as a progressive retraction of such beliefs – followed by the espousal of various other before mentioned ‘ontological replacements’ for its consequently altered teleology.  Conservative theologians have worked to maintain ‘the crucified God’ as a central motif – if not critical point upon which all else feasibly rests. The teleo-ontological differences between Liberal & Conservative theological traditions is substantial enough to have persisted and resulted in a bifurcation of the Christian dogmatic tradition into two separate traditions which, since Schleiermacher, have persisted and – many would argue – have grown more and more aliened from one another.  One makes, as its very center, an understanding of ‘The Crucified God” as the very substance of its own existence – and the other – makes as its center whatever it can find, at whatever time, and at whatever place to bring a degree of cohesion among its own ideological constituents.

This brings us to the work of Nietzsche – because the foolishness of the idea of Christ and his death on the cross is central to his argument.[9] Is the work of Nietzsche more of a functional polemic against Liberal Christianity – being that Liberal Christianity seeks to foundationally set itself upon cultural and existential-subjective contingencies/presuppositions; the same ones that Nietzsche brings to bear against it? It could be argued that this is in fact the case. And if this is so – then Liberal Christianity has much more to fear from the pen of Nietzsche, more then the corresponding constituency of conservatives do. Indeed, Liberal Christianity can be argued to lack a truly unifying and historically persistent central motif of an intrinsically religious nature. It is arguable that whatever it has used as its ‘ontological center’ has changed repeatedly over history. For Schleiermacher it was a feeling of complete dependence on a feeling of religious essence[10]. For Walter Rauschenbusch it was a Social Gospel for the financially oppressed and downtrodden.[11] For many liberal theologians today, Gay rights is seen as the next Civil Rights movement and they spend much of their time in advocacy for it. [12]

It could be possible to argue that the liberal Schleiermacherian ‘dependence’ motif is analogous to Nietzsche’s slave[13] – whereas the Conservative (especially the Calvinist-Reformed/Predestinationalist)[14] narrative does seem to allude to a ‘superior’/übermensch status,[15] ontologically, in terms of a presupposed, existent stratus of mankind (“elected” vs. the “probated” in the doctrine of Predestination)[16]. Rauschenbusch’s project of helping the poor would likely infuriate Nietzsche, who would argue that they are merely parasites guilty of dragging down the healthy.[17]

Does the denial of a spiritual reality/dimension in many liberal quarters make it more vulnerable to a Nietzscheian critique?  It would seem likely.  Liberal theology – when presented would seem to acquiesce. Historically, it was the conservative Lutherans such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer who resisted Hitler.  It is no small issue that Ludwig Müller, the German church’s Reichsbischof (Reich Bishop of the United German Evangelist Church)  can be seen in the front row of the audience, listening to Adolf Hitler give a speech in the famous propaganda film by Leni Riefenstah.[18]

The center point of Conservative Christianity is the Cross. It is central, because it is the functional source of Redemption in Conservative Christian thought. But based on his comments in Why I am so Clever, in Ecce Homo[19], does Nietzsche really even understand the concept of Redemption as it is presented in historically conservative/orthodox Christianity? He admits to having never studied it. If he does not understand Redemption – can he be expected to understand the meaning of the cross: what he calls ‘the Crucified God? This is an either/or situation. The answer would appear to be no. Furthermore, is Nietzsche drawing his understandings/polemics/characterizations from his liberal background? What does this say about Liberal Christianity? Moreover- is a Nietzscheian Weltanschauung the end-stage of a post-redemptive teleology/hermeneutic – or is Nietzsche speaking out of ignorance, or worse yet – bitterness? Early in his life, he lost his faith, and any further work that he did was based on a presuppositional bias – which once foundationally set[20] – asserted itself in earnest. These are crucial questions – especially if Nietzsche is to be understood as being an integral part of ongoing conversations of the role of faith in the Modern word. He knew that the time was not yet for his lantern carrier.[21]  But there is a blunt difference between the lights that would be replaced – there are markedly different theologies between those of liberal and conservative theologians.

It should also be noted, that much work has been done, from the perspective of Conservative Christianity, in terms of a defense of the ‘Crucified God’/Resurrection narrative.  Conservative, Anglican theologian N.T. Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God – Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol. Three, which clocks in at 740 pages, is only one of the many substantial and well-regarded works on the efficacy and believability of the Conservative theological narrative that has been published since Nietzsche’s time. Were it not anachronistically impossible – a structured debate between Nietzsche and Wright would be a meeting of the minds of truly epic proportions. There is little to be ‘synthesized’ here – as from these perspectives, the landscape is populated with stark differences and radically incongruent assertions.

In addition to this primary religious question of traditions – there are other ‘either/or’ factors that stand as bold elements in the consideration of Nietzsche. What should we make of his use of Hashish,[22] or his apparent arrogance?[23] Again, from an ‘either/or’ perspective, Nietzsche positions himself against any presumed syntheses – as he sees himself as a “destroyer par excellence,”[24] contra a Descartian ‘working upward’ from a central thesis. Nietzsche willingly went to war, ‘from the top down’ and did not integrate, but rather separated and isolated what he saw as the true ideology from that which he felt had polluted it.[25] He saw those who thought differently than him as being intellectual inferior and useless to his work,[26] and he saw Christian thought as “one great curse” and wanted to isolate and remove its influence.[27] But the ‘either/or’ lens is only one way to look at him, there is another – that of the integrative Hegelian Dialectical Synthesis.

e se

            Meta-Interpretive Rubric/Lens Two – A Hegelian ‘Both’: ‘Nietzsche as Antithesis’ – exploring Nietzsche through Hegelian Dialectics, a present and proposed synthesis/historical future.           

Another lens that can potentially be used to understand Nietzsche, in a non-traditional way, is by way of a Hegelian Dialectic. G.F.W. Hegel (1770- 1831) was a German philosopher, who is known for his theory of Dialectical Synthesis. Dialectic, as a term, has evolved over the time frame of history & philosophy.[28] For Hegel, the dialectic was a process whereby traditionally opposite forces (represented by a conflict between a ‘thesis’ and its corresponding ‘antithesis’) were brought together to form something new. For Hegel, this new creation was referred to as a ‘synthesis’. Various philosophers since the advent of Hegel, have attempted to make use of his ‘system’ for their own means & purposes, guided less by any thesis in history, at times, and more so by their own presuppositions. Hegel himself argued that no one could ever really see in advance what synthesis might arise. The owl of Minerva – he argued – only flew at dusk. [29] No one could truly know or predict how history would coalesce around a dialectical synthesis. The truth, revealed in history, might be shown clearly, only after those involved were long dead.

One of the central precepts of Nietzsche’s work is the importance of mythology. Myth tends to be displaced in both Liberal and Conservative Christianity. Liberal theology sees all biblical narrative as merely ‘story’ and the only truth is in the largest metanarratives; Social Justice, Liberty, Self-Respect, etc. Any supernatural portent is to be ignored or at least only understood as the mindset/understanding of pre-modern man. The liberal theologian Rudolf Bultman actually popularized this process of ‘Demythologization’[30] – and argued that its removal/existential recontextualization was key to understanding the true essences of the Gospel, as they are now – vs. how they were understood by the biblical writers.  Contra this – is the conservative view – which sees many the events of the scripture as generally actual, factual events. Even the poetry is understood to speak with an authority towards spiritual truths. Great effort is made to show the possibility – and great energy is exerted to stoke the fires of the theological imaginations of its adherents to the height and intensity whereby there is room therein for supernatural events; generally an anathema to the ‘modern’/liberal way of seeing things. But if modern conservatives, themselves, are in fact also so modern that they also have no room for the mythological – then they have lost an entire mode of communicating truth, if not only through the imagination –then through many other ways as well. Perhaps this is where a collision with Nietzsche is fruitful for both. Does the demythologization project of Bultman go too far for liberals? For Conservatives, does ignoring all the extra-canonical books, such as books of the Apocrypha create a cause for concern? Many of these were always understood to be ‘narratives’ of truths – much like modern stories of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia series, and the evangelically beloved Lord of the Rings, written by Lewis’ friend J.R.R. Tolkien. Many Christians are surprised to learn that it was Tolkien who achieved a late-in-life conversion experience for Lewis. His ‘method’ was merely to convince Lewis that Christianity was a myth – but also a myth – that was true. For Nietzsche, mythology was tantamount to understanding history, culture and art.  Though he may have never intended it to be so, his influence could be seen as creating a greater emphasis upon it, perhaps indirectly, but arguably – down through continued history – dialectically.

Another synthesis that is possible, from the influence of Nietzsche, is that of a greater talent and role for Apologetics. Apologetics –the catch phrase for the art of the ‘defense of the faith’ takes many forms –and also many corresponding intensities. No one who knows philosophy well, readily dismisses Nietzsche as a crank. More often then not – his arguments are merely ignored, or worse yet, an effort is made to shield young minds from their potential influence and subsequent corresponding questions. But is this wise? It is arguably not so. There is effort in the process – but a thoroughgoing analysis and rebuttal is possible – if not advantageous for both the Nietzscheian student and the Evangelical Christian. If those speaking to one another were in fact swords –then a great deal of sharpening would be possible on the account of either.

Perhaps another synthesis that is possible could be greater emphasis on creativity. Much of the so-called “Emergent” and “Progressive” branches of Christianity are, themselves, arguably sometimes direct and other times tangential variants of liberal Christianity, but like liberals they emphasis the role of art in both Worship and the communication of the Gospel. Traditionally, Conservative Christianity has served as a bastion of resistance against resistance and denigration of art and myth by sometimes secular enemies.[31] Even from a conservative standpoint, the Orthodox Church has sustained a strong tradition of art in its theology of ‘icons’ and their role in the church.[32] If the idea that art can be seen as a way of sublimating one’s own existential energy and directing it into various vocations and elements of one’s own life, then it can also be seen to be a central element in Christian thought and cultural interaction – perhaps also culminated through the understanding of a Soteriological Redemption that incorporates all aspects of man’s own existential-cultural state. Where this is acknowledged and advocated – it often becomes a game-changer in many ways, for Christian communities and their corresponding, surrounding communities. Few might even know that this is a prime Nietzscheian ideal.

Lastly, the Apollinarian and the Dionysian could be seen as spiritual-thesis and material-antithesis metanarrational archetypes. Christianity has theologically struggled through a long history of misplaced piety though Gnostic Dualism, which radically separates the physical from the spiritual. In traditional Gnostic Dualism, physical reality is seen as sinful and inferior to the superior and naturally purified spiritual dimension.[33]  Also important is the over-reaching of sometimes inappropriately conflated tendencies of radical non-dualism that sees neither spiritual nor physical dimensions as separately extant at all.[34] Nietzsche could prove to be very instructive here as well.

Perhaps the greatest synthesis-contribution that Nietzsche could make to the Christian theological tradition is his thesis of the animal-man; the power of his spirit – and how industrialization, modernity, and structure have crushed it and conformed it. It does not take a vivid imagination to recontextualize the overt power of modernity and what Jacque Ellul termed “the new demons” into Adamic Sin; the alienation of man from both himself and God through overt and pervasive technology and its accompanying obsession with ‘technique’ and ‘efficiency.’[35] It has been argued that even though we are pervasively connected – we are still alienated; even though we have massive amounts of information at our very fingertips – we may be getting more and more dumb.[36] It should also be noted that the how and the why this reconnection can and should be made takes on radical implications and powerful ideas when understood though the lens of an understanding of Christian Redemption.

It can be argued that many of the agenda-driven, pseudo-syntheses of ideologue-philosophers have not lived up their own expectations. The ideology and theories of Marxism could be argued to have been carried off in the claws of Minerva’s own itself; especially with the fall of Russia – which tried to devoutly base its economy and social structure on his ideas. So catastrophic were these failures, that to gain respectability –many Marxist theorists tried to ‘re-synthesize’ or reconstruct their obviously broken, and incorrectly presumed dialectic syntheses – hence the advent of so-called “Reconstructed Marxism’.[37] Can the same be said of the dialectical influences of Nietzsche? Will they evolve – or continue to be revealed in different ways, different from ways we can even see them today?

            The Challenge: Exploring Nietzsche as being an Asymmetrical/disproportionate challenge to Liberal/Conservative Christianity

The primary philosophical legacy of Nietzsche is his challenge to Christianity. He makes no apology for it[38] nor does he pull any punches. Of all that he has written, perhaps the most famous of his pieces is that of his lantern man who comes announcing the death of God. [39] Nietzsche concludes this short narrative with the Lantern man’s conclusion that his time has not yet come.  In terms of his argumentation, central to his thesis is not only the slave and master dichotomy (which for him is the ‘structure’ of the religious oppression) but also an extended polemic against the “crucified” God.  If this is accepted as true – then much of Liberal Christianity (by virtue of it’s theological abdication to the precept Christ’s death, burial and resurrection) is at best unnecessary or purely spiritual – or at worst absurd and contrived. It is potentially deeply challenged by Nietzsche. For Nietzsche – he argues that the choice is clear: it is either the Dionysos or the reality of a Crucified God.  A liberal Christian, in facing Nietzsche’s challenge, would seem to have already surrendered the fight – at least from the perspective of Nietzsche’s contestations. But is this wholly true?

A mere weeks before his decent into madness,[40] Nietzsche finished the last essay of his last book, Ecce Homo. In its last essay, Why I Am A Destiny, Nietzsche pens 9 chapters, the last of which is only one sentence:  “ – Have I been understood? – Dionysos against the Crucified.”  There can be no doubt that in his last written thoughts, he is doing nothing else but recasting his railings against Christianity.  Is there a hint of doubt in his words? Is his questioning about understanding, external – or potentially internal?  As a master of history, culture, mythology, and philosophy – Nietzsche had set himself at the quixotic endeavor of destroying Christianity. But has it fallen ‘neath his swagger?  Or has it, ironically, been strengthened by his decidedly non-irenic intentions? What is his legacy?

It is arguable that one of his legacies is the Nazi party and the horror of World War II. Nietzschian thought runs all through Nazi ideology – especially with their program of Eugenics. Nietzsche expresses great concern in his own work for the racial mixing of blood,[41] an idea that found firmament in the fascist imagination. Nietzsche never apologizes for what he prophesies will be the tremendous sacrifice of larges numbers of people who will be reduced to slaves for the benefits of the masters.[42] It is certainly arguable that it was a certain kind of Social Darwinism and Nietzschian ideology that fueled the very fires of Auschwitz.

            Conclusions: Seeking the Discursive Truths in the Impact of the Challenge of Nietzsche; His Success, His Failure and is His ‘Challenge’ Indeed Asymmetrical?  – Liberal Theological Abdications vs. the re-invigoration of Conservative Charisma

            As has been hopefully shown, both the Kierkegaardian ‘either/or’ dialectical contrast and the Hegelian dialectical synthesis of ‘both,’ both yield tools for understanding both Nietzsche and his past & future impact. Nietzsche cannot be ignored, nor can he be underestimated.

Secondly, it has also hopefully been demonstrated that beneath the pen of Nietzsche, any pretentions for a slumbering passivity and social-ecumenical proclivity are crushed. As previously noted, it was Conservative Christians who formed the Confessing church to resist the nazification of religion under Hitler.[43] Christianity must assert the Truth of the Crucified God – or it must humbly acquiesce to the dominance of Nietzsche’s Dionysus. What has played out in history previously can be understood to still be ongoing.  Arguing that Nietzsche was merely a fanatic, a lunatic, or that he grossly misunderstood mythology, human nature, and a host of other issues, is at best a poor argument, and at its worst – a brutally pathetic form of self-deception. Otherwise, those who would commit to both a thorough understanding of these worlds and their ideas, as well as Nietzsche’s assertions – however sarcastic and bombastic as they often are – must come to grips with his challenges. Arguably, the tradition of Liberal Christianity, which long ago abandoned the centrality of an assertion upon the ‘Crucified God,’ falls first and swiftest to his literary sword. Perhaps the news of its defeat, has not yet reached their ears – or the time for Nietzsche’s own lantern carrier has not yet come to show them the full scope of their own folly.

Lastly, in what may be a great irony, it may in fact be Conservative Christianity that brings a redeeming synthesis to Nietzsche. Understanding both him and his ideas has given it a stronger strength, and creates what may even be a ‘creative tension’ that overcomes what religious theorist and sociologist Max Weber (1864-1920) termed ‘the Routinization of Charisma’,[44] a term used  by Sociologists of religion for the slow death of religious zeal, as it is absorbed by the monotony of monolithic institutional structures and their required administration. Without something to ‘keep the fires lit’ the fervor of even the most faithful will grow bored, listless and otherwise impotent. Perhaps Nietzsche is a lantern man himself. Perhaps he keeps ‘bringing’ the ‘fire’ back to the faith – thereby invigorating and stoking the fires of emotion, conviction and the Charisma that comes with them. Had he, and others like him, not committed themselves to full-frontal attacks on Christianity – might there even be a Conservative Christianity extant? Or would it have all de-evolved into culturally wind-blown & ever changing distractions? Would we think about ‘the Crucified God’ if no one ever challenged it? He might have never thought that his light would serve to further illuminate and clear the way for future religious faith on behalf of Christians  – but arguably either in a Kierkegaardian or a Hegelian way – he may well have done just that.


Ashcraft, Morris. Makers of the Modern Theological Mind – Rudolf Bultman. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1976.

Dictionary, Free Marram-Webster. Calvinism – Definition. (accessed 2 14, 2013).

Ellul, Jacques. The Meaning of the City. New York, NY: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1993.

—. The New Demons. New York, NY: The Seabury Press, 1973.

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Encyclopedia Britannica. Confessing Church (German Protestant Movement) — Britannica Online Encyclopedia. (accessed 2 14, 2013).

Fitzgerald, Rev. Thomas. House of God. (accessed 2 14, 2013).

Galli, Mark. Christianity Today – Is the Gay Marriage Debate Over? 7 24, 2009. (accessed 2 14, 2013).

Gerrish, B.A. A Prince of the Church: Schleiermacher and the Beginnings of Modern Theology. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress Press, 1984.

Gonzalez, L. Justo. A History of Christian Thought – Volume III. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1987.

Marty, Martin E., and G. Dean Peerman. A Hand-book of Christian Theologians. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1987.

Michaelson, Jay. Everything is God: The Radical Path of Nondual Judaism. Boston, MA: Shambhala Publications, 2009.

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Nietzsche, Friedrich. Beyond Good and Evil. Minola, NY: Dover Publications, 1997.

—. Ecce Homo. Translated by R. J. Hollingdale. New York, NY, 1992.

—. The Portable Nietzsche. Translated by Walter Kaufman. New York, NY: Penguin Books, 1980.

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Otto, Rudolf. The Idea of the Holy. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Pals, Daniel L. Introducing Religion, Readings from the Classic Theorists. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009.

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Putnam, Robert D. Bowling Alone – The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. 2 13, 1997. (accessed 2 14, 2013). – Find Quotes in Movies and Series.,+Reichsbischof+%28Reich+Bishop+ofthe+United+German+Evangelist+Church (accessed 2 14, 2013). (accessed 2 14, 2013).

Wright, Erik Olin, Levine Andrew, and Elliot Sober. Reconstructing Marxism: Essays on Explaination & the Theories of History. New Left Books, 1992.

Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God – Christian Origins and Question of God, Vol. 3. Mineapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003.

[1] A History of Christian Thought, Volume III, pg. 348.

[2] A Handbook of Christian Theologians, pg. 30.

[3] “The incarnation is not simply God’s response to human sin, but it is the very goal of creation, the very reason for human existence.” A History of Christian Thought, Volume III, pg. 465.

[4] “Faith is the regalia of the Godhead, you say. Alas! dearest father, if you believe that without this faith no one can attain to salvation in the next world, nor to tranquility in this — and such, I know, is your belief — oh! then pray to God to grant it to me, for to me it is now lost. I cannot believe that he who called himself the Son of Man was the true, eternal God; I cannot believe that his death was a vicarious atonement.” A Prince of the Church: Schleiermacher and the Beginnings of Modern Theology, p. 25.

[5] Rudolf Otto, Das Heilige (1917; translated into English as The Idea of the Holy, 1923), pg. 6.

[6] A Handbook of Christian Theologians, pg. 49.

[7] Beyond Good and Evil, Introduction, pg. v.

[8] mysterium tremendum et fascinans – The mysterious and fascinating mystery of God that both draws one closer to it and yet also repels out of fear of it. The Idea of the Holy, 1923), pg. 6.

[9]God on the cross – are the horrible secret thoughts behind this symbol not understood yet? All that suffers, all that is nailed to the cross, is divine. All of us are nailed to the cross, consequently we are divine. We alone are divine. Christianity was a victory, a nobler outlook perished of it – Christianity has been the greatest misfortune of mankind so far.” The Antichrist, Fredrich Nietzsche, from The Portable Nietzsche, trans. Walter Kaufman, pg. 634.

[10] A Handbook of Christian Theologians, pg. 30.

[12], Christianity Today – Is the Gay Marriage Debate Over? Mark Galli.

[13] “Slave morality is essentially the morality of utility,” Beyond Good and Evil, pg. 128.

[14] “The theological system of John Calvin and his followers marked by strong emphasis on the sovereignty of God, the depravity of humankind, and the doctrine of predestination.” From

[15] “…it is the peculiar right of masters to create values…”Beyond Good and Evil, pg. 129.

[16] “In the Reformed view God from all eternity decrees some to election and positively intervenes in their lives to work regeneration and faith by a monergistic work of grace. To the non-elect God withholds this monergistic work of grace, passing them by and leaving them to themselves.” From

[17] “Do your ears ring with the pipes of the socialistic pied pipers, who want to make you wanton with mad hopes?” Nietzsche, The Dawn, from The Portable Nietzsche, pg. 90.

[19] “- ‘God’, ‘immortality of the soul’, ‘redemption’, ‘the beyond’, all of them concepts to which I have given no attention and no time, not even as a child…” Why I am So Clever, by Nietzsche from Ecce Homo, pg. 21.

[20] “In knowing and understanding, too, I feel only my will’s delight in begetting and becoming; and if there be innocence in my knowledge it is because will to begetting is in it. This will lured me away from God and gods; for what would there be to create of gods – existed!” Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, from Ecce Homo, pg. 81.

[21] “Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, and into the marketplace, and cried incessantly, ‘I seek God!’ “ From The Gay Science, from The Portable Nietzsche, pg. 95.

[22] “If one wants to be free from an unendurable pressure one needs hashish.” Why I am so Clever, from Ecce Homo, pg. 31.

[23] “When Doctor Heinrich von Stein once honestly complained that he understood not one word of my Zarathustra, I told him that was quite in order: to have understood, that is to say experienced, six sentences of that book would raise one to a higher level of mortals then ‘modern’ man could attain to. How could I with this feeling of distance, even want the ‘modern men’ I know – to read me!” Why I Write Such Good Books, from Ecce Homo, pg 39.

[24] “Not so as to get rid of pity and terror, not so as to purify oneself of a dangerous emotion through its vehement discharge – it was thus Aristotle misunderstood it – : but, beyond pity and terror, to realize in oneself the eternal joy of becoming – the joy which also encompasses joy in destruction…” The Birth of Tragedy, from Ecce Homo, pgomoh  51.

[25] “195. The Jews – a people ‘born for slavery,’ as Tacitus and the whole ancient world say of them: ‘the chosen people among the nations,’ as they themselves say and believe – the Jews performed the miracle of the inversion of valuations, by means of which life on earth obtained a new and dangerous charm for a couple of millenniums.” From The Natural History of Morals, from Beyond Good and Evil.  pg. 63.

[26] “They are glad in their inmost heart that there is a standard according to which those who are over-endowed with intellectual goods and privileges, are equal to them; they conted for the ‘equality of all before God,” Our Virtues, from Beyond Good and Evil, pg 89.

[27] “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great innermost corruption, the one great instinct for revenge, for which no means is poisonous, stealthy, subterranean, small enough – I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.” The Antichrist, from The Portable Nietzsche, pg 656.

[30] “But to demythologize the New Testament does not mean that one strips away the myth. Rather, it means that the New Testament message must be interpreted existentially.  This is so because the writers of the New Testament were intending to describe not the architecture of the universe but the facts of their own existence.” Morris Ashcraft, from Makers of the Modern Theological Mind – Rudolf Bultman, pg 14.

[31] “It’s important to recall that the rise of Enlightenment scientism put not only religion on the defensive, but also the arts and the humanities. Traditionally, the arts had been regarded as an expression of Truth. Even though they make use of myth and metaphor, the arts conveyed deep truths about the human condition. In the Enlightenment, however, rationalist critics began to denounce the arts. They argued that poetry and fairy tales – with their unicorns and dragons, monsters, and fairies – were nothing but harmful illusions. The ‘true world revealed by science was contrasted to the ‘false world invented by poets and painters. ‘Science had persuaded the intelligent that the universe was nothing but the mechanical interaction of purposeless bits of matter,’ writes historian Jacques Barzun. As a result, ‘Thoughtful people in the nineties [1890s] told themselves that they should no longer admire a sunset. It was nothing but the refraction of white light through dust particles in layers of air of variable density.’ “ Nancy Pearcey, Total Truth – Liberating Christianity from its Cultural Captivity, pg. 114.

[32] “The visitor to an Orthodox Church is usually impressed by the unique features and the external differences between this place of worship and those of the various traditions of Western Christianity. The rich color, distinctive iconography and beauty of the interior of an Orthodox Church generally are in sharp contrast to the simplicity which one finds in many Roman Catholic and Protestant churches. When one enters the interior of the Orthodox church it is like stepping into a whole new world of color and light. The art and design of the church not only create a distinctive atmosphere of worship, but they also reflect and embody many of the fundamental insights of Orthodoxy.” Rev. Thomas Fitzgerald, from Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America’s website, (

[33] “This utter pessimism bemoaning the existence of the whole universe as a corruption and a calamity, with a feverish craving to be freed from the body of this death and a mad hope that, if we only knew, we could by some mystic words undo the cursed spell of this existence — this is the foundation of all Gnostic thought. It has the same parent-soil as Buddhism; but Buddhism is ethical it endeavors to obtain its end by the extinction of all desire; Gnosticism is pseudo-intellectual, and trusts exclusively to magical knowledge.” From the Catholic Encyclopedia Online, (

[34] “According to the non-dual view, the phenomena, boundaries, and formations that constitute our world are fleeting, and empty of separate existence.” Jay Michaelson, Everything Is God: The Radial Path of Nondual Judaism, pg. 1.

[35] The French Theologian, Philosopher and Theologian Jacques Ellul warns of the dehumanization and potential bondage of technology/’technique’ in his books The New Demons and The Meaning of the City.

[36] For more on this idea the book Bowling Alone – The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by Robert D. Putaman provides as excellent exploration of the self-alienation of modern life, contrasted with prior generations (

[37] “ …despite the unfortunate fact that Marxists have too often taken up untenable positions in some generally ill-conceived methodological controversies.” From Reconstructing Marxism: Essays on Explanation and the Theory of History, pg x.

[38] “With this I am at the end and I pronounce my judgment. I condemn Christianity. I raise against Christianity the most terrible of all accusations that any accuser ever uttered.” The Antichrist, from The Portable Nietzsche, pg. 655.

[39] “At last he threw his lantern down on the ground, and it broke and went out. ‘I come too early,’  he said to then; ‘I come my time has not come yet, this tremendous event is still on its way…” The Gay Science, from The Portable Nietzsche, pg. 95.

[40] Ecce Homo, Introduction by Michael Tanner, pg. xvii.

[41] “…and its cause, the blending of masters and slaves…” What is Noble? From Beyond Good and Evil, pg. 130.

[42] …that it should therefore accept with a good conscience the sacrifice of a legion of individuals, who, for its sake, must be suppressed and reduced to imperfect men, to slaves and instruments.” What is Noble? From Beyond Good and Evil, pg. 125.

[43] “The Confessing Church, or the German Bekennende Kirche, a movement for revival within the German Protestant churches that developed during the 1930s from their resistance to Adolf Hitler’s attempt to make the churches an instrument of National Socialist (Nazi) propaganda and politics.” From The Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, (

[44] Daniel L. Pals, Introducing Religion, Readings from the Classic Theorists, pg. 266.

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The Curse of Tobit – A Narrative Analysis with Reference to the Hermeneutical Questions of Inerrancy vs. Authority in Regards to the Discursive Truth-Telling Potency of Mythology and its Corresponding Interpretive Import in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit

Matthew Lipscomb
Dr. Barry Matlock, UTC

Old Testament Survey, Final Paper, 11/28/12


The Curse of Tobit

A Narrative Analysis with Reference to the Hermeneutical Questions of Inerrancy vs. Authority in Regards to the Discursive Truth-Telling Potency of Mythology and its Corresponding Interpretive Import in the Apocryphal Book of Tobit



            The Book of Tobit: A Less Historical & More Mythological Work – A Preliminary Introduction

The book of Tobit has the unfortunate distinction of being one of the many books that have been traditionally excluded from scripture in the Protestant tradition. Whereas it is still included in the Anglican and Catholic cannons – its removal from the cannon and placement into the Apocrypha was reasoned through the idea that it was at best inspirational in nature – and at its worst…completely fabricated.  While the exact historicity of a work is generally more of a question of Historical Criticism – it also bears an instructive meaning into the process of Narrational Criticism. Did that which is portrayed in the story actually take place? Was it understood to be a mythological ‘story’ by the ancient readers – or – was it passed off as being something historical and accurate by the ancient authors? The respective interpenetrations of historical and narrational critical methods are crucial in this regard – but they don’t tell the whole story. And for the rest of the story, the burden lies within the engagement of Narrational Criticism.



            The Tobit Narrative

The book of Tobit tells the story of Tobit, his wife, Anna, his son, Tobias, and how his son came to meet his wife, Sarah. It is told through a first-person narrative style, where Tobit is the primary speaker and teller of his own story. Tobit begins by describing himself as being a righteous man, who observed all the statues of the Lord (Tobit 1:3). Tobit tells us that during the Exile, he and his family were whisked away to Assyria (1:10) and that there was much compromise with many in his tribe – but that he had remained faithful and continued to journey to Jerusalem to make tithes there (1:7).  During this time, he gained the favor of Shalmaneser and became a buyer for him (1:16) and he began to do well for himself financially. For a period of time, he had to go into hiding – because it was found out that he has been burying the bodies of his kindred, who have been executed by the wicked King Sennacherib and a death decree was subsequently put upon his head (1:19). Fortunately, he was able to return home after the death of the King (1:21) and even then, only after an intercessory act executed on his behalf by a relative named Ahiker, who was in a position of political power wherein he could afford Tobit some degree of protection, (1:22).

After his return, all was restored (2:1), but later, he found another dead body and prepared it for burial (2:5). His neighbors mocked him for doing the same thing that got him into so much trouble before (2:8), and that night he washed himself and slept next to a wall in his courtyard. (2:9).  What he did not realize, however, was that there was an abundance of sparrows on the wall, and conseqently dung accidently got into his eyes, which  in tern then blinded him (2:10). After an argument with his wife over a goat that they were given, which he believed she had stolen – he offers up a prayer for his own death because of his great distress (3:2-6).

In chapter three, we are introduced to the character of Sarah. Sarah has had the misfortune of having somehow garnered the attraction of a  supernatural demon, Asmodeus, who we are told by Tobit, has killed each one of her 7 consecutive husbands; each after their respective weddings, but before the consummation of their vows (3:8). She considered suicide, but refrained from the act out of honor to her father (3:9). Sarah then offered up a sincere and essentially heart-rending prayer, which takes place at the same time, as Tobit’s own prayers are being conducted – and they are each heard by the Lord (3:16). In response to them – the Lord sent an angel, Raphael, who both heals Tobit and binds Asmodeus, keeping him from further tormenting Sara. Eventually, Sara and Tobit’s son, Tobias, marry. The rest of the book tells the story of the angel Raphael’s dealings in these affairs and how he answers their prayers in terms of the grace and favor of the Lord upon Tobias, Sara, and the rest of their families.


            The Discursive Truth-telling of Mythology vs. the  Inferential Intuititivity of Perceived Historicities in a Constructive & Authentic Hermeneutic.


In recent years, among conservative Christians, the issue of inerrancy has come into the forefront, over and over. Other theologians have  conversely countered this trend with a counter-assertion of the importance of authority – arguing that it is a more responsible interpretive hermeneutic from which to work.  The reasoning behind the thoroughgoing assertion of inerrancy, as an exclusive, necessary hermeneutic method/interpretive strategy, is essentially a weltanschauung/worldview that is born out of what is tantamount to more or less the end-point derivative of a modernist mindset: one where ‘scientific accuracy’ and ‘reproducibility’ are the real prime movers in the epistemological mix – and not the message of the text itself and its own self-asserting authority. Inerrancy, by its nature, trumps the idea of any authoritative quotient being present in a non-historical text. If these same standards were held against most modern writing – only historical, documentative written works would remain – and all other forms of writings would be committed to the flames, at least in terms of having any intrinsic or inspirational value. If this kind of thinking were carried out to the full extent, then writings such as C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia and J.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings books would lose their own sense of the near canonical authority that they at least indirectly enjoy among Conservatives – however both true and ironic as this may be.[1] This opens up an important question into the value of a given text – specifically, its authority or right to inspire, establish doctrine, and then teach; either on a personal-existential level, or on a church doctrinal ecclesiastical level – as all of these books have been, once again – by virtue of their remakes into movies – thrust into the forefront of the public theological imagination and their value as an asset for such endeavors has neither been lost, nor squandered by those who are the most eager to both explain and inculcate the values that they contain into present and forthcoming generations.

It would seem that to exclude all that is written and interpreted through the lens of the imagination would indeed be a crass move. Is it equally crass to assume that everything that is ‘imaginative’ is necessarily equal to the ‘actual’? Somewhere along the line, some degree of weight must be given to the ‘mythological,’ just as it is also given to the ‘historical.’ The work of the postmodern philosopher and linguist Jurgen Habermas sets itself at this corrective-to-an-overreaching modernity task.  For Habermas, the greatest asset of mythological narratives is their deep and intrinsic capacitance – not just for Absolute, or Historical Truths; as much as these things may or may not be important – but more so for their ability to convey Discursive Truths, or potentially non-intuitive ideas; ones that have arguably served as the bedrock of Western Civilization for much of its better history. In Habermas’ thought, the most important ideas that are imparted into a culture, are the ones that come from the imagination, and are the ones that are best told through it- and not necessarily through the structured, reproducibility of a sterile, intuition-only method of finding truth.[2] For the ancients – this was much of the purpose of Mythology: it told not as much the history and the stories of the gods, but more so of importance, was the telling of the truths behind the stories[3] – the narratives of which were much more important to the tellers of the stories, then whether or not they actually ever took place. In this sense, Modernism has inverted the criticality of both the Subjective Writing that drives Imagination and its concurrent Discursive Truth-telling – placing above it a more highly valued Objective Writing style and a bias towards its corresponding methods that emphasize Intuitive Truth.


What have been the results of this ‘inversion’ – in terms of biblical hermeneutics? The book of Tobit tells this tale as well – perhaps also discursively.



In Conclusion

Historical Criticism has long ago confined the book of Tobit to the realm of Mythology. Even when the Christian cannon was being argued – it was understood that it had even been excluded from the Jewish cannon – and had been placed into their own Apocrypha. It seemed natural to place it within our own. Much of the events, names, and even times of the events are so far skewed from what is known with a great degree of resolute certainty, that it is almost universally agreed to be a story that was told – and not an event that was recalled.  But does this leave it completely devoid of value? Why have Protestants cursed the book to non-relevance? None of the miracles that take place in it are any more astounding then those that are taken as actual historical events: those related in both Christian and Jewish Cannon books. The Book of Tobit is rarely heard of or even known by most Evangelical Protestants – and one can spend their whole life in a succession of sermons and Sunday school lessons and never hear about Tobit, Tobias and Sara.  Are their stories really that uninspired?


It can and should be argued that a culture that is stripped of its imagination is degraded by the vulgarity of its own overbearing modernity. It is for this reason, that most Christians, even those more serious among them, like Evangelicals, still celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Halloween. Many of the most conservative of their number, will still dress their children in monster & ghost costumes, leave them Easter baskets, and tell them about a man named Chris Kringle. They know that there are no ghosts running wild on October 31st, that there is no such thing as the Easter bunny, and that a fat man will not come down their chimney and leave presents and take the milk and cookies.  A few adults will refuse to “lie” to their children – out of their own stubborn, sublime modernity – but almost all will tell the tall tales to wide-eyed children- and will do so with great passion. Why? Because we know that these stories are still important. Even if we suffer from a form of cognitive dissonance – in terms of recognizing a cultural value in their inclusion, while denying the also important role of a religious one. Perhaps it is a reaction to a modern age of growing disbelief – that we feel that we must argue that the stories behind our faith, must correspondingly & necessarily be thought of as being “modern” themselves.


This is the curse of Tobit: the curse of Modernity; to be stripped of its authority, because it is both Mythological – and Religious.   But is religious belief necessarily different? Must it be subject to such harsh delineations? It is the opinion of this present writer that it should not always be so. Hopefully in the future, these stories – and others like them – will regain their hermeneutical authority and their right to speak with the authority of the Truths[4] that they have to tell; the truths behind the events and the actualities themselves. The truths that still remain – when the stories are forgotten, the names remised and the cultures confined to history books.

Forthcoming generations must find them again – even if they are dissuaded by whatever cultural impositions they transiently embrace.  This is the hope of each generation for the next. This is the hope – of every storyteller.




















Bohman, James, and William Rehg. “Jurgen Habermas (Stanford University Dictionary of Philosophy).” Stanford University Dictionary of Philosophy. Stanford University. 9 6, 2011. (accessed 11 27, 2012).


Lewis, C.S. The Chronicles of Narnia. New York, NY: Macmillian Publishing, 1970.

—. The Four Loves. New York, N.Y.: Harcourt Inc.


Oxford University. The New Oxford Annotated Bible – New Revised Standard Version, With Apocrypha. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2010.


Tolkien, J.R.R. The Lord of the Rings. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1993.







(2,091 words, 2,530 w/endnotes)

[1] It is said that C.S. Lewis said that his novels were more important to him, because he felt like he could say more, and say it more importantly and in better terms, then anything he felt he could have said or tried to say in any of his other expressly theological works such has his book The Four Loves. In this sense, Lewis had a keen understanding of the importance of discursive truth-telling in a story vs. the systematic theological assertions he sought to make directly (and therefore, essentially intuitively) elsewhere.

[2] “…Habermas proposes a multi-dimensional conception of reason that expresses itself in different forms of cognitive validity: not only in truth claims about the empirical world, but also in rightness claims about the kind of treatment we owe each other as persons, authenticity claims about the good life, technical-pragmatic claims about the means suitable to different goals, and so on. As he acknowledges, the surface grammar of speech acts does not suffice to establish this range of validity types. Rather, to ground the multi-dimensional system of validity claims, one must supplement semantic analysis with a pragmatic analysis of the different sorts of argumentative discourse—the different “logics of argumentation”—through which each type can be intersubjectively justified (TCA 1: 8–42). Thus, a type of validity claim counts as distinct from other types only if one can establish that its discursive justification involves features that distinguish it from other types of justification. Whether or not his pragmatic theory of meaning succeeds, the discursive analysis of validity illuminates important differences in the argumentative demands that come with different types of justifiable claims. To see how Habermas identifies these different features, it is first necessary to understand the general structures of argumentation. “ (from

[3] Meaning behind or even between the narrative’s topologies & elements; as in terms of having a sense of discursivity to its method of truth-finding for the audience – and not necessarily the directness of its antonym, Intuitivity (which would reflect Modernity, in its own intrinsic essence).

[4] ‘Capital “T” Truths’ are sometimes, in Christian Apologetics circles referred to as being truths that are ‘Absolute’ – or foundational and referentially non-relative; being ‘always and everywhere true for everyone,’ regardless of their situational contexts. In terms of the present argument, this is what is referenced here. In the case of Tobit, the Truth of the narrative is that God can hear the desperate pleas of those who serve Him, regardless of the despondency from which they come and the direness of the situation – and can correspondingly bring amazing things to pass for those who love and trust in Him.

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Leviticus 12:1-7; Gnostic Dualist or Adamic Sin, Considerations of a Systematic Hermeneutic

Matthew Lipscomb
Biblical Literature I, UTC
Dr. Barry Matlock, 10/15/12
Exercise 59, Page 311

Leviticus 12:1-7; Gnostic Dualist or Adamic Sin, Considerations of a Systematic Hermeneutic 

In this chapter, we are given the rituals of after the birth of a child. After giving birth, a woman was considered to be ceremonially unclean and had to go through both rituals and sacrifices to become clean again. It has been argued by some scholars that in many ways, these rituals helped preserve the Jewish people from diseases that would have been common in their respective era. It has also been argued by gnostic dualists that this clearly demonstrated an intrinsic evil or brokenness in the flesh (as opposed to a presupposed wholeness/intrinsic-holiness to the opposite of ‘the flesh’ – ‘the spirit’.  Because of the lack of this motif in other nonritualistic-centered verses, it can be argued that this would be a form of impositional eisegesis on the part of Gnostic Dualists, and that any understanding of the presupposed or asserted ‘impurity’ or ‘uncleaness’ of general humanity is more of an interpretive rubric; the goal of which is to highlight and demarcate the profound deliniage between Yahweh, the creator God – and man: the created object. In this case, ‘impurity’ is less of an actual ‘health state’ and more of a God/man relational descriptor.  Though imposed in a literal, and functional way, in the given time and stage of God’s revelation of himself to man – these are instructive in terms of understanding other subjective and discursive meanings.  In later revelation (in the New Testament) the sacredness of ‘blood’ and its importance continues to be a very important motif; such as ‘the atonement of Christ by his “blood” ‘.  Here, it can be argued, is also the one of the foundations of the doctrinal theory of ‘Original Sin;’ or the idea that man is born into sin and uncleanliness (both ‘physically’ and ‘spiritually’ [contra the Gnostic Dualist frameset]). It can be argued that the textbook may be soft pedaling or otherswise ignoring the traditional systematic theology behind Adamic Sin by merely resolving the ‘uncleanlyness’ assertions of these verses to a mere cultural presupposition.  It is the opinion of this writer, that if these verses are given any ‘authoritative’ weight (in terms of a ‘conservative’ hermeneutic) then the choice is either between a Gnostic Dualist or Adamic Sin frame of Reference, within the hermeneutic of any proposed systematic theology.

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Existential Elements in the Character of Abraham



Matthew Lipscomb
Biblical Literature I, Dr. Barry Matlock
Exercise 33, 9/18/12

Genesis 12:1-20

In this passage, we see Abraham as a crafty manipulator – who is willing to take risks to survive in challenging situations. Abraham disguises his wife as his sister, because he is afraid that if the Egyptian authorities know that she is his wife, they will kill him because she is so beautiful and therefore also desirable.  Had Abraham seen this sort of thing happen before? It is possible that his fears had a basis in personal experience – and this was his attempt to deal with what may have been a common practice in his own experience. Nevertheless, we see both a liar and a chameleon manifest in the character of Abraham, as it relates to his attempt to protect his life from what he perceived as a potential threat.


Genesis 16:1-16

In this verse, we see Abraham possessive of what seems to be a go-with-the-flow attitude. His wife Sarai suggests that he sleep with Hagar, one of their slaves, to conceive offspring – so that the family can be sustained economically – as was the situation for families in this day and time.  He seems to let his wife essentially rule the roof. She tells him to sleep with someone – and he does. She tells him she is angry with the woman over her pregnancy  – and he tells her to do with her what he wants. This may be interpreted as a lack of leadership on the part of Abraham in terms of his own authority over his own family. Other interpretations could include a lack of faith, on both the part of Sarai and Abraham, because they hatched a plot on their own – rather then continuing to trust in God for their sustenance.  Either way – it is an example of failed leadership on the part of Abraham.


Genesis 18:1-15

In this passage, we are shown the promise that is made to Abraham regarding a son. One characteristic that may be able to be gleaned from this passage is Abraham’s role as intercessor or supplicant. When he meets the triune manifestation of God, he entreats Him/them to come and eat with him. The eating of food is a mark of intimacy and communion in this historical setting – and so it shows Abraham’s desire for intimacy with God.


Genesis 22:1-19

This passage is perhaps one of the most interesting tales of Abraham, and has been pivotal in the theology of many theologians – such Søren Kierkegaard.  In this passage we see Abraham’s faith tested in a profound way. Isaac  was God’s promise to Abraham – and in the day and age of the context, would have been critical to their own survival. In this sense – Isaac represented both a promise and life itself. He represented everything to Abraham. God’s insistence on the sacrifice of Isaac represents a request of God on the part of Abraham to surrender everything to God in a sense of totality.  Søren Kierkegaard refers to this act a the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ in terms of a radicalized faith that goes beyond what is right and wrong, common sense or foolish. It is an act of complete surrender. As we see – God does not actually allow Abraham to sacrifice Isaac – rather He has an angel hold back his hand, and then provides a ram stuck in the thicket for the sacrifice. In Christian theology – it is widely held that the ram is a metanarrational archetype for a Christ-figure. In modern evangelical parlance, it is assumed that Christians are called to fully surrender to Christ the totality of their lives. Søren Kierkegaard argues that a further dynamic is that in this complete surrender – there is a reciprocal act that takes place: that God gives everything back, which He has asked to be surrendered to Him.  A soteriological act takes place, here, in that that which is surrendered is redeemed and placed in a different place then it was before in the understanding of the believer. Abraham’s seemingly insane act – becomes an act of tremendous faith – and represents the first example of a radical submission, coupled with radical reward.

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The Importance of Stories

Matthew Lipscomb
Biblical Literature I
Dr. Barry Matlock, UTC
Exercise 29, 9/17/12

Genesis 11:1-9

Genesis 11:1-9 tells the story of how the entire world came to possess a diversity of languages.  One of the things that must have surely befuddled the early man – was the huge assortment of seemingly impenetrable linguistic traditions that he was surrounded with. Without the benefit of modern technology, as we have today, it would have been seemingly impossible to engage in wide-spread/trans-geographical trading. Each and every endeavor would have required specific translators and an ongoing effort to make sure that all communication was shared properly and adequately. This reality would have confronted anyone who got outside of their own backyard, and would have hung over the heads of all involved in both government and commerce. This story explains the how behind this ever-present reality of multi-linguisticality between respective, differing cultures. This would also have the effect of preserving the value of each separate language tradition. Each would have been seen as given by God, for a divine purpose – and therefore would carry the presupposition of a necessity for its own continuance. The reason behind the differentiation in languages was because of the assertion that man would – in so many words – be able to do anything. They may be seen as a subjective or objective truth; but regardless, it can be seen to contain an element of truth – from the perspective of man’s own ongoing creativity and potential. From a subjective point – it could be argued that the change was necessary, for a greater good. This would certainly have been argued. Because of the intrinsic set of values (in terms of the greater good of diversity and the God-granted essence of each language) implied in each language – it would be a natural inclination therefore to grant a degree of effort to continue to preserve each respective identity. Amid the swirl of interpenetrating culture, this would have served those who sought to preserve native traditions.


Exodus 18:1-27

As any given culture expands, it necessarily becomes more complicated and harder to manage, especially if the day-to-day energies to do it come from one person. Exodus 18:1-27 is an example of how, in a growing governmental system, some degree of bureaucracy or multi-individual management is required. It is, essentially, a parable against micromanagement of larger-scale systems. This story would then show the how and why judges came into being in the tradition of the culture in terms of their management of any potential micro-management on the part of certain parties. Though they might have been governed by one person, at one time – continued growth necessitated additional complexity, in terms of governmental structure of the culture. Any future arguments for any hyper-conflation of legislative responsibilities or dictatorial guidance by one person over many – would be subject to the metanarrative of this story.


Job 1:1-27

Within the scope of anyone’s life – there is always the reality of a sudden onslaught of bad luck. The how and why of this is a fixture within all cultural imaginations.  In this story, we are presented the story of a man, Job, who has done everything right in his life. The story that we are presented with, is one that purports to illustrate to us one possible example of how something very bad could suddenly happen to one person.  Central to the identity of Israel, was the understanding that their lives were guided by the hand of God and were subject to his judgment and grace. This story serves to undergird the Judeo-understanding that nothing is random or abstract; but that there is much more purpose and design to both the good and the bad things that happen to us. In times of difficulty, faith can seem difficult to continue to move forward in. This story offers a story of hope in times of difficulty, by illustrating for us the response of one man in his own time of difficulty. This existential steadfastness and non-compromising essence would certainly have been spiritual and cultural attributes which would see attempts to have them passed on to forthcoming generations.


Daniel 1:1-21

Another part of multiculturalism is that there will always be challenges to the prevailing culture’s ethoic assertions. The how’s and why’s of a given culture will always be challenged by those of another. This story shows how, in the face of such challenges, a steadfastness will be rewarded by God. The Israelite culture was defined by many unique and peculiar practices. Each of those were given by God, through His revelation for the purposes of relationship with Him, their general well-being/health, and (lastly, but not least) their establishment as a unique cultural identity among a diverse assortment of other cultures and traditions. In this story, the powerful elite of one culture beckons a compromise to me made on the part of Daniel. In this story, however, we see that God’s continued divine provision trumps any long-term benefit of such compromise. This metnarrative would serve to buttress the continued effort towards a sustained perpetuation of both values and practices for the Israelites, both religiously and culturally. The preservation of both the identity and practices of the nation of Israel would naturally be seen to come secondary to this.

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Satanism, Witchcraft & Spirit Possession – 1931: The American Abyss, Chapter Four in The Monster Show

Matthew Lipscomb

Dr. William Harman

Satanism, Witchcraft & Spirit Possession, 3/23/2011

1931: The American Abyss, Chapter Four in The Monster Show



There have been many deeply and profoundly challenging times in American History. According to David J. Skall, the author or The Monster Show, A Cultural History of Horror, one of the most significant of these was the year 1931: what some consider to be the darkest days of the Great Depression. If there is any truth to the idea that the attraction to the horror genre for many people is archetypically based on the idea that seeing monsters on a screen helps process and overcome real-life monsters, then this year should cast a strong light into this seemingly dark question: in a time of such crisis – what did Hollywood do? This question and others are answered in Chapter 4 of Skall’s book, aptly titled 1931: The American Abyss.

Skall presents the history of four now-classic movies that lit up the silver screen in 1931, all of which – in their respective & unique ways – represented “instructive and therapeutic escape” (115) for movie goers: Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, Boris Karloff’s Frankenstein, Fredric March’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Tod Browning’s infamous Freaks.   Skall quotes Gilbert Seldes who aptly noted, “The rich could still go to the South Seas Islands; the intellectuals went to Mexico; the poor went to the movies” (115). When the financially downtrodden were actually able to trudge into the darkened cinemas so that they could be temporarily distracted from the veritable, actual horrors of their respective plights in 1931, they would be watching these movies; each of which came to represent significant contributions to the history of American cinematography.

Bela Lugosi’s Dracula is distinctive in that Lugosi became one of the seemingly ‘larger then life’ characters because of his role as Dracula. Lugosi’s Dracula was directed by a former carnival regular Tod Browning (126), who would later go on and direct the soon-to-be notorious Freaks (148). Lugosi quickly became completely absorbed in being the count (118) and is reported to have spent hours just looking at himself (ironically) in the mirror (118). Dracula came to be seen as a metaphor for frustrated and degenerated sexual energy (126), whereas, another creature would come to soon represent the degeneracy of technology. In a case where art imitated life, Lugosi is said to have become addicted to a regimen of drugs to remain functional (254). He was buried in his count costume (255).

Whenever one thinks of Frankenstein, the default image is almost always the feature of Boris Karloff is his role of Frankenstein. Karloff played only minor roles as a gangster before he has passed a note, while eating at the commissary at Universal Studios, asking him if he would like to audition for the part of a monster (130). There was a tremendous amount of thinking that actually went into the design of Frankenstein in terms of what he would come to actually look like. The bolts in Frankenstein’s neck were actually borrowed from a design that Universal’s poster illustrator Karoly Grosz had submitted, which had represented a stylistically mechanized concept. Ironically, it was the these bolts that helped fixate Frankenstein in the fevered imaginations of movie goers – a small detail that would serve to “symbolize the total Frankenstein ethos” (132): a stylization that in the terms of Max Ernst, essentially embodied the idea of a man “reshaped…to conform with the machine world” (132). While many were feeling like the depression was draining their life’s blood away, by way of failing banks and lost wages, instead of Dracula’s fangs, they also surely distinctively felt like the industrial revolution had come upon them and crushed them in such a way that they had been brought back from the dead and into a state that was neither life – nor death; but something that was both awkwardly and truly horrifically in between.

If Dracula represented the enslavement by evil powers and the loss of vitality (blood) and if Frankenstein represented the working man transformed into a mindless and staggering automaton; working outside his own will and even that of his maker – then Fredric March’s character in The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is yet another itineration of a fear of what might be termed ‘the loss of existential stability’. The Robert Louis Stephenson story about a mad scientist who drinks a portion that inadvertently and unpredictably turns him into a monster, surely set people on edge; not just in terms of the potential unpredictability of ever-evolving vaccines, but with deep reservations as to what kinds of real monsters might be locked within the most dignified of men – just waiting for something to release them. March would win the nomination for best actor in the 1932 Academy Awards (145), but the next movie by Dracula director Browning, Freaks, would freak so many out – that according to legend – its original print negative would eventually be thrown into the waters of San Francisco Bay (16)– in an attempt to forget that they had ever even actually filmed it in the first place.

Freaks was openly sensationalist and exploitative (157) and during its production several attempts were made (one even by MGM executives) to have the film shut down. None of them succeeded (153). Browning essentially took the public’s long-standing fear of and its attendant fascination with traveling circus ‘freak shows’ – and created a plot involving real-life ‘freaks’ as actors. During production, ‘the actors’ eventually had to be separated from the other production staff while eating in the commissary – because people would unsuspectingly walk in and literally be completely horrified (153) at the disfigured; the so-called ‘pin heads’ (victims of a condition called microcephalopathy) and other real-life horrors (152). The script, which legitimately horrified many involved in its translation into celluloid (150), tells the story of a stunningly beautiful trapeze artist named Cleopatra (who was actually played by a famous film siren named Olga Baclanova) who falls in love with a midget named Hans. In one of the classic scenes, all the freaks give a rallying cry; “she’s one of us!” – after they have gotten married. Later, however, she falls for the show’s strongman, Hercules. The freaks, in due time, have what is tantamount to a freakish revenge by orchestrating a terrible accident, whereby Cleopatra loses her illustriously long legs and is terribly disfigured. Cleopatra becomes a freak herself – truly ‘one of them;’ but this time in the literal sense – as she takes on the role of a grotesque chicken-like creature as the show goes on (149).

Freaks would be disowned by the studio and repressed by censors for the next 30 years and ‘show would go on’ for another eight years for Tod Browning – but he would never be given the finances, nor the freedom that he had once commanded as a previously well-respected director (156). For the genre of Horror, however, the show did go on – and in ever bigger, always evolving, and more amazing ways. Like Freaks, many would try to forget the pain, insecurities, and monstrosities of the Great Depression. Eventually, many of its financial monsters were relegated to the history books. But the silver screen monsters that it had helped spawn could not be put away. Like it or not – they were loose (159).


















Skal, David J. The Monster Show, A Cultural History of Horror. New York: Farber and Farber, Inc., 2001.

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Satanism, Witchcraft, and Spirit Possession – Nondialectical Postcolonialism in Barstow’s Witchcraze; A Review

Matthew Lipscomb

Dr. William Harman

Satanism, Witchcraft, and Spirit Possession- REL3690, 2/9/2011

Nondialectical Postcolonialism in Barstow’s Witchcraze



The history of witchcraft and the corresponding witch hunting that have occurred throughout history are things that weigh heavy on the minds of thinkers from many different traditions. Historians are tasked with the charge of recording the hunts and their occurrences while making sure that they are not lost to the current generation and merely consigned to the back of dusty history books. Sociologists are given the daunting job of trying to understand the how and why they occurred while trying to regain some measure of the humanity that was lost by those who were caught up within them. Theologians must grapple with all of these questions – along with the preponderance of guilt for their actual occurrence. Witchcraze, by Anne Llewellyn Barstow is an attempt to grapple with some degree of all of these traditions.

Witchcraze begins by confronting the reality of the fact that violence against women is increasing throughout the world today. Its premise is that as part of an understanding of what is happening today, we should look into the past – and in looking into the past – we may find some hope for finding a solution for not just tomorrow but today as well. In terms of an accurate historical record, Barstow presents us with a truly harrowing account – which, no doubt, must set some kind of record in terms of its unflinching and unvarnished view.

In the German language, the Germans have two words for “history.” The world historie means the chronological record of events as they occurred. In the sense of historie – Barstow pulls no punches and can be credited with making a significant contribution to the historie of the witchcraft trials. It is in the sense of the second German world for history that Barstow, I believe – falls short. This second word is called geschicte – and it, unfortunately, has no direct correlating word in the English. Geschicte means the meaning of history. It means the impact and the reason for it. For instance, the Historie of Perl Harbor is that on December 7th, the Japanese air force bombed the American Navy, as it lay anchored in Pearl Harbor. The geschicte of Perl Harbor is that it totally changed the minds and hearts of Americans as they related to war in Europe. The Japanese Admiral who lead the attack, Isoroku Yamamoto, was heard to say “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” This radical shift from pacifism and non-involvement to a ‘fight like hell’ attitude is only one aspect of Perl Harbor’s geschicte.

Barstow gets the historie of the witchcraft trials spot on. There is no doubt that everything that she writes of actually took place. There is no presumption that it might have been irreconcilable pulled out of some kind of false context.  However, I will contend that there are inescapable problems with Witchcraze’s geschicte. Witchcraze’s full title is Witchcraze – A New History of the European Witch Hunts. This can be thought to be a bit deceiving because of the before mentioned conflation or squeezing together of two different words – namely (in this case) that of historie and geschicte. The reader may readily acknowledge that Barstow is attempting a new historie –but may be deceived intoalso being foisted into a certain, specific understanding of a new geschicte.

All authors -either consciously or unconsciously and either directly or indirectly  – write from certain perspectives. Sometimes these perspectives are referred to as metanarratives, which are essentially overarching story ideas and motifs that can be found in the background of something. Among some writers and thinkers the term ‘worldview’ is employed. Regardless of how you describe it – it is the “big picture” that infuses the way we see the world and all the things within in it. For the remainder of this essay, the term ‘worldview’ will be used. For Barstow, there is a very marked and potentially hidden worldview – one that some readers may not readily recognize. But like a ship’s ballast, it is hidden deep inside where it is not readily visible – but it is there, nonetheless. Barstow is writing from a distinctly feminist and also what is called a “postcolonialist” worldview. The term feminist is itself a diverse word. The present writer is comfortable ascribing to his own self the term ‘Christian Feminist’ – but the term post-colonialist bears some unpacking. Postcolonialism is a term that is used to describe the general attitude of certain scholars towards other worldviews –namely- those worldviews of the past. If you want to make a postcolonialist scowl or even cry, use words like ‘Western Values’ or ‘Judeo-Christian Ethics’ because the essence of what they try to do is to re-write everything without these. Sometimes this is done out of legitimate and constructive curiosity. Other times – it is out of spite. This definition itself is potentially conflated or overly shrinking in its nature. I acknowledge that there are valuable viewpoints to be seen and unpacked through postcolonialist studies. When used appropriately it can be used to see things from a different, and instructional angle or viewpoint. At its worst it is the embodiment of vitriolic, oppositional thinking that thinly disguises ivory tower disgust with what it sees as the presupposed hopelessness  & degeneracy of the uneducated lower classes. If a politician says ‘those who still cling to guns and religion” then it can be argued that they could be speaking from a postcolonialist perspective. The issue is, that this study is at times done at the detriment and demeaning of all and everything that the postcolonialist sees as being “colonial.” This is damaging not just to the subject, but I would argue, potentially to the scholarship of the postcolonialist itself. They become like a carriage horse – they are blinded – blinkered – driven through the streets of academia willingly so by the long leather whips of this way of thinking. I used the term “foisted” before – because this is exactly what happens to the student who is under the influence of an abusively postcolonialist professor or writer- because they may not know how or even that they should have to ‘re-balance’ a postcolonialist’s potentially ingrained bias. Somewhere there is probably a postcolonialist who rails against the church everyday because he just simply hates the church because he is still bitter about having to go Sunday school against his will as a child. It is a terrible thing to warp young minds for nothing more then such reasons as this. But I think that it does happen. A professor here on this very campus once told me that he thought the world would be a better place – if every Christian were to just suddenly disappear. I found that to be a chilling postcolonialist comment.

A second and more important thing that is lost is the beauty and illumination of what is called ‘the dialectic.’ If I wrote one paragraph about how Steve Jobs is a maniacal control freak and obsessive boss to work for at Apple, and then wrote a second paragraph that told the story of how he saved Apple from bankruptcy and reintroduced their products to a new generation – the dialectic would lie between the two paragraphs. When two opposite ideas come together to form something that is a new and extraordinary thing or idea – this firework of the imagination is referred to as a Hegelian Dialectical Synthesis. But this ‘firework’ never takes place in Barstow’s book. There is no room the ‘other side’.  The gift of Postcolonialism, in my opinion, is to form this other side – to create the spark – to be able to ignite the firework called Hegelian Dialectical Synthesis so that we can see its beauty and light. There is no light here. Neither is there any beauty.

I wonder if there is a degree of bitterness is at work within Barstow’s mind. At every turn of her story’s carriage ride – Barstow places all the blame on the Church and on men. Nowhere will you read that there is a beautiful and powerful history of historical Feminism within the church and within the bible itself. Nowhere is the other side. Nowhere will you hear of Mary, the mother of Jesus being called causa salutis, or “cause of our salvation” as early as the 200th year of Christian history. Even today – Mary is sometimes referred to as being ‘co-redeemer’ of the world, because of how a woman simply had to give birth to Christ – and without her, any salvation as is understood in the Christian tradition would have been impossible. Nowhere will you read that the first witnesses to the empty tomb, after Christ had written- were in fact women- and that they were charged with the testimony of this –something that would have been unthinkable in the culture of the time. Barstow tells us about bride burning and forced mastectomies in India, but she could have told us about Amy Carmichael, who spent 55 years as a missionary to the children of southern India.  Her work, known as the Dohnavur Fellowship, helped young children, many of them little girls who had been forced into temple prostitution. The Fellowship would eventually be a safe place of refuge for over a thousand children at any given time. But the idea of missionaries influencing native culture can be bad for the Nondialectical postcolonialist – and anything she ever did would probably be seen as being evil in Barstow’s eyes. But it has to be asked – is this evil itself? By omitting any kind of ‘other side’ to the story – is Barstow herself trying to cast a spell – no pun intended – over us, herself? Can her work be seen to maintain a sense of academic integrity by never speaking of so much that is also a part of the issues – especially if the issue, as it is presented to be, is that of violence against women? Especially when the church has in fact done so much to actually combat it and to actually raise the status of women in society? Or is this – to borrow a descriptor from critics of Eli Roth’s Hostel movies – Postcolonial torture porn? For the student unacquainted with the grinding of the postcolonialist axe – it may actually be dangerously deceptive. My conviction is that Barstow’s book is terribly flawed in this regard. It may be great red meat to fringe, man-hating feminists and those who just love reading about the travesties of the church – and simply can’t countenance a more balanced history of it – but if you are looking for the dialectic firework – you won’t find it here. There is no light to fire any such kind of an imagination or hope. And that – is a sincere tragedy.

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