Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Trinity and Dialectics

Recently I've been studying dialectics, which is a tradition of philosophy born with Heraclitus in ancient Greece and the Taoists in ancient China. It was developed by Aristotle and many others and came to fruition with Hegel and Marx. Dialectics means that everything grows through overcoming contradictions. For example, right now there is a conflict within me between the person I am and the person I am becoming, and I grow through that inner conflict. Right now there is a conflict our society between the ruling class and the working class and we grow through that contradiction.

I wonder if this concept of dialectics could help us understand the riddle of the Trinity, the complex traces in the scriptures and tradition of God's manifestation in 3 forms.

When I was in Church the other day it hit me with some clarity: The Trinity represents a profound contradiction in our understanding of God, a contradiction that explosively reveals our ignorance and forces us to abandon our false conceptions of divinity.

God "The Father" in Christianity means the Absolute, the Divine, the Transcendent, the Almighty. No images can ever represent this Absolute because it cannot be contained.

Jesus Christ is the negation of this absolute. In the person of Jesus, God becomes concrete, incarnate, personal, intimately present, and, most importantly, involved in concrete historical struggles for liberation against oppression. When Jesus Christ confronts us and asks us to walk with him we need to give up and negate the ideas we have of God as some all powerful force that would never relate to us in our humility. We need to give up abstract and intellectual concepts of God. We need to stop thinking of God as someone or something that only skilled, trained intellectuals or monks can reach in the abstraction of their minds and their withdrawal from daily life in the world. We need to see God, hear God, touch God, and in Communion, become one with God. In Jesus Christ, God becomes human so that humans can become divine. Jesus is the ultimate exaltation of humanity which humans can find through practicing what Jesus practiced: love, compassion, and justice for others.

However, the cycle of the Trinity does not end there. If it did, there would be a danger that we could turn Jesus Christ into an idol. We could worship him as the physical manifestation of God in the world as if God were not present in all of the rest of the universe. We could assume that the only place in the world that is Holy is is the place where he walked and the only time in the world that was holy was the time when he lived. We could assume that the only cultures in the world which have sanctity and holiness are those cultures that have had contact with the culture he was born into. This can justify imperialism and profoundly conservative conclusions - if you are not connected to the spiritual bloodline of Jesus Christ and the spiritual soil of Jesus' Christ's Holy Land then you are not part of that exaltation of humanity so we, the true divinized humans can exalt ourselves at YOUR expense. We can take YOUR land, dominate YOUR history and graft you as a subordinate into the tribe of descendants of the God-Man. This is basically what Christian Empires have been doing for centuries, from Rome under Constantine to the British Empire of the 19th and 20th centuries. This idolatry has lead to the genocide of millions of indigenous people who were deemed to be "pagans" and it has lead to the destruction of beautiful and illuminating non-Christian religious traditions.

That's why God in his infinite mercy negated Jesus Christ as well. God knew we would turn him into an idol and a symbol of conquest. That's why Jesus died on the Cross, descended to the Dead, rose again, and ascended into heaven. Just when we thought we had him pinned down he slipped from our grasp and traversed the full lengths and depths of life and death. Just when we thought we had him nailed down in one holy spot, he disappeared, negated himself, and then told us that if we want to find him we can find him everywhere and anywhere, in the Holy Spirit. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, Roman, Ethiopian or Celt, European or Asian, African or Latin American, etc, etc. can communicate with the Spirit because the Spirit dwells in all times and places. It's like the Bruce Springsteen/ Rage Agasint the Machine Song:
"Wherever you seen a cop beatin' a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Wherever there's a fight against the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Ma, I'll be there
Wherever somebody's strugglin' for a place to stand
For a decent job or a helpin' hand
Wherever somebody's strugglin' to be free
Look in their eyes, Ma, you'll see me
You'll see me"
Jesus may have died but in his death he did not withdraw into the safety of the Absolute. No, he was and IS reborn again in every human's struggle for freedom and dignity, every ecosystem's struggle for health and dynamism, every living breathing development of freedom in history. The flame of the revolution Jesus launched against Roman tyranny and elite religious dogmatism may have been stomped out in the 1st century but the embers were scattered and spread around the world and from time to time they burst out in new fires of Pentecost.

To put it in dialectical terms, Jesus is the negation of God the "Father", and the Holy Spirit is the negation of that negation. In Jesus Christ God revels to us that he is not abstract and inaccessible, but as soon as he reveals that he also contradicts our ignorant grasping at this revelation by negating himself again and showing us that his concrete, incarnate presence in history is not confined to one time or place but is everywhere. So God becomes a concrete universal, the Absolute present in the concrete in every moment, every location, and most importantly in every living breathing sentient being struggling for life, love, and freedom.


So with this understanding we can end with a revamped Trinitarian prayer:

In the name of the Absolute, the Revolutionary, and the Spirit of Freedom, as it was in the beginning, is becoming now, and for ever will become