Freud on the Subjectivity of Inner Religious Experience

"I must now mention two attempts that have been made - both of which convey the impression of desperate efforts to evade the problem…The first is the Credo quia adsurdum of the early Father of the Church (“I believe because it is absurd”, which is attributed to Tertullian). It maintains that religious doctrines are outside the jurisdiction of reason - are above reason. Their truth must be felt inwardly, and they need not be comprehended. But this Credo is only of interest as a self-confession. As an authoritative statement it has no binding force. Am I to be obliged to believe every absurdity? And if not, why this one in particular? There is no appeal to a court above that of reason. If the truth of religious doctrines is dependent on an inner experience which bears witness to that truth, what is one to do about the many people who do not have this rare experience? One may require every man to use the gift of reason which he possesses. but one cannot erect, on the basis of a motive that exists only for a very few, an obligation that shall apply to everyone. If one man has gained an unshakable conviction of the true reality of religious doctrines from a state of ecstasy which has deeply move him, of what significance is that to others?” 

—Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion (35-36). I think this has and always will be a vital question in questions of belief: for the believer who uses subjective inner experiences as grounds for apologetic reasoning, and for the charismatic believer who insists on a homogenized interpretative grid for “experiencing the Holy Spirit”, but also for the non-believer, for whom consistent, historical renderings of “ecstasies” and doctrines might pose the question of legitimacy.

In other words, the Christian alternative to the post-religious spirituality outlined earlier is not simply ‘religion’ as some sort of intellectual and moral system but the corporately experienced reality of the Kingdom, the space that has been cleared in human imagination and self-understanding by the revealing events of Jesus’ life. Standing in this place, I am made aware of what is fundamental and indestructible about my human identity: that I am the object of divine intention and commitment, a being freely created and never abandoned. Standing in this place, I am also challenged to examine every action or policy in my life in the light of what I am; and I am, through the common life of the ‘Assembly’, made able to change and to be healed, to feed and be fed in relations with others in the human city. Faced with the claims of non-dogmatic spirituality, the believer should not be insisting anxiously on the need for compliance with a set of definite propositions; he or she should be asking whether what happens when the Assembly meets to adore God and lay itself open to his action looks at all like a new and transforming environment, in which human beings are radically changed.
The Spiritual and the Religious: Is the Territory Changing? - Rowan Williams. I can’t imagine a more important paragraph for today’s Christians to meditate on. Seriously, this whole address is absolutely vital. (via ayjay)

Charles Taylor on the tension we moderns experience in articulating the moral intuitions that give shape to our moral responses:

"We are as ambivalent about heroism as we are about the value of the workaday goals that it sacrifices. We struggle to hold on to a vision of the incomparably higher, while being true to the central modern insights about the value or ordinary life”.

-Sources of the Self, pg. 24. 

Humiliation of the Word: The Curious Case of Ray Rice

Last spring, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice got into a heap of trouble after physically assaulting his then-fiancee in an Atlantic City casino. Video from the casino lobby showed Rice dragging an unconscious Janay Palmer (whom Rice married this summer) from an elevator after the incident. Supposedly, it was a two-sided affair — both Palmer and Rice admitted to striking each other in the elevator before Rice’s cold-cocking blow. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Rice a paltry two games, which in the eyes of public opinion measured up to a mere slap on the wrist. Goodell, attempting to make amends for what he admitted was a lapse in judgment, recently instituted a domestic abuse policy whereby one’s first offense merited a six-month suspension, and one’s second offense earned one a life-time ban from the NFL. Rice, seemingly contrite and embarrassed about the situation, said that his actions were “inexcusable” and would be “something I have to live with the rest of my life.” 

Today, released a grainy elevator security video showing the assault. It is viscerible and brutal, indeed: Rice — seemingly unprovoked — slaps Palmer, who responds by moving toward Rice in an attempt to strike him. She never makes contact, though, as Rice delivers a haymaker that would knock out even a trained prized fighter. Palmer, reeling from the punch, slams her face against the elevator’s railing and lands in an unconscious heap on the elevator floor. 

Rice’s employer — the Baltimore Ravens — and the NFL took little time to respond: the Ravens cut Rice immediately, and Goodell suspended him indefinitely. Via Twitter, the NFL stated, “Roger Goodell has announced that based on new video evidence that became available today he has indefinitely suspended Ray Rice.”

I find Rice’s case quite curious in that he was caught, admitted to the incident, received the punishment meted out to him, but was later punished further when video evidence of the assault surfaced. The NFL and Roger Goodell based its earlier suspension on its own investigation and drew its conclusions based on the testimonies offered by all parties involved. In this sense, Rice was given a punishment based on his infraction of domestic assault. It seems, then, that today’s video offers no new “evidence” — Rice, Palmer, the Ravens, and the NFL all know what transgressions took place in that casino elevator. And while there is room for discussing whether Rice is being punished twice for the same infraction, I find it curious that Rice was punished further when *video* images of the assault were provided.

I believe this is a great example of what French sociologist Jacques Ellul calls the “humiliation of the word”, which Ellul defines as the subordination of truth to the image. Ellul posits that truth is no longer verified in human testimony or language because the ethos of modern scientific inquiry has fooled humans into believing that truth can only be proven when it is “seen”. Thus the modern mind believes it sees true reality primarily in and through the image. This appears to be the case with Ray Rice: the most damning evidence against his assault was not the testimony of other human beings but the video image caught by the casino’s camera. And though he admitted fault and was found guilty by the league, he is indeed suspended and out of a job only because his brutality was seen and not simply testified to.

Stand (up desks) and (rendering a) Fight

I’ve seen a handful of the new NRA stickers on cars around Denver lately, the ones that read, “Stand and Fight”.

These stickers and this logo specifically may not differ from an implicit (or explicit) ethos that pervades the National Rifle Association, but having grown up around guns (I used to hunt and feel totally comfortable handling a firearm) and being the son of a father who once had an O.G. NRA sticker on his Chevy S-10 Blazer (seen second below), the new logo got me thinking how interesting it would be to see or read a cartographical history of the NRA that maps the organization’s philosophy via its public design. Because it’s interesting to wonder what internal decisions led from this public design…


…to this:

image this:


…to this:



"The wall of the burial ground had fallen in: one or two crosses had been smashed by enthusiasts: an angel had lost one of its stone wings, and what gravestones were left undamaged leant at an acute angle in the long marshy grass. One image of the Mother of God had lost ears and arms and stood like a pagan Venus over the grave of some rich forgotten timber merchant. It was odd — this fury to deface, because, of course, you could never deface enough. If God had been like a toad, you could have rid the globe of toads, but when God was like yourself, it was no good being content with stone figures — you had to kill yourself among the graves." 

—Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory, p. 102

"To insist upon the intemporal character of the religious act, to refuse to have it adhere to any form of social or political organization, is in no sense to relieve it from the demands of the present. It is, perhaps, to prepare it to be more faithful to them."

—Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Christianisme et ressentiment, p. 297.

Contra Nietzsche, MMP suggests Christianity’s “other worldliness” can be understood as the means by which Christianity maintains its power to commit itself freely where it is needed here and now.