Tag Archives: continental philosophy

Ray Rice, Roger Goodell, Lyotard and the power of discourse

This week for those follow the sports world there has been much ado about the video that has recently surfaced about Ray Rice concerning his assault cause on his then fiancé ( current spouse) Janay Palmer. While the details of the video are indeed graphic one does not need to see it to imagine what happened to Janay Palmer in the video. However, judging from its constant replay from various media outlets it would seem that the video completely changed the situation. Whether it is players who have now openly condemned Ray Rice and his actions or NFL who has suspended Ray Rice indefinitely for his actions it would appear that video evidence has changed everything. Examining the way video evidence has effect public perception of both Ray Rice and his actions reminds me of the Jean-Francois Lyotard’s writing on figurative discourse.

Lytorad in his early writing states “What is important in a text is not what it means but what it does and incites to do.” (Lyotard 1984b: pp. 9-10). For Lytorard what a text does is to transmit a message that has a certain effect on the recipients. Furthermore, a text incites transforms energy into other texts such as paintings, photographs, film sequences, political action, decisions, erotic inspiration, and even acts of insubordination. In this way text can broadly be conceived as particular story that is being told through a narrative in discourse. Thus according to Lyotard the video evidence of Ray Rice’s assault also serves as a form of text. When examining this text though we can see what it has done and what it has incited us to do. For starters this text has portrayed a different picture about domestic violence. As many people from various media outlets have already noted domestic violence is not pretty, it presents the very worst in humanity. Video imagery of this has caused many people to no longer leave the portrait of domestic violence to the imagination. This in turn has evoked a very visceral reaction from many people. Previously, those who were calling for Roger Goodell to lose his job over his handling of this incident were minimal at best. Currently, these voices have grown so loud that Goodell has hired and independent firm to investigate the way the NFL has handled this issue. Furthermore, Goodell in recent weeks has openly admitted his egregious mistake with his original two game suspension of Rice and has also adapted new policies and procedures to address domestic violence in the NFL. Not only has the video incited the NFL and the Ravens into action it has also affected other teams as well. Where previously the Carolina Panthers had not given a second thought to playing Pro Bowl linebacker Greg Hardy (convicted of beating and threatening to kill his girlfriend), deactivated him for their week two matchup. I think Lyotard has rightly stated the important of the form of a text within a given context. This evident through looking at narrative stories through the various forms of texts and the reactions that they have elicited.

He elaborates on his notion of text in his work Discours, figure. Lyotard in this work notes that the nature of discourse has primarily been shaped by written text and the language used within a given text. However, he believes that there is another layer to every given form of text. There is a constitutive difference which is not to be read but to be seen (Lyotard 1971; p.9). It is this aspect of discourse that has continually been forgotten. In other words, for any form of discourse Lyotard wonders why it is only the language and the written of a text that perceived by most people. This brings us back to the Ray Rice domestic violence case. Prior to the release of the video written testimony of incident had already been revealed. We had heard from Ray Rice and various other outlets what had happened. However, despite this there was seemingly no consensus on how to view the situation. More importantly those who possessed the power to rectify the situation such as the Baltimore Ravens organization and Roger Goodell did not believe they had enough evidence to enforce a harsher punishment. They privileged the written discourse over the other figures and forms that tell this specific narrative of domestic violence. One could convincingly argue that the first video released along with Rice’s original apology (which did not include his wife) are sufficient forms of text to necessitate a harsher punishment of Rice’s actions than the two game suspension he received in July. The privileging of the discourse as written text is precisely what Lyotard argues against in his discussion of binary opposition in his work Discours, figure. Binary oppositions are the conflicts between figure and discourse.

In this sense discourse is used to describe written text and language while figure implies the various other forms that a text can have. All too often saying is privileged over seeing, reading over perceiving and universality over singularity. He stresses figure, form, and image in semiotic theories over language. It leaves one to question why there is such an emphasis on the written/ linguistic nature of discourse instead of the various forms that discourse can occur in. For the Ray Rice case it begs the question why must video evidence be necessary to truly begin to address the issue of domestic violence in the National Football League. Should not the other forms texts that tell this story also have substantial weight? In any case reflecting on the writing of Jean Francois Lyotard can provide a way to reflect on a myriad of socio-political issues including domestic violence and how we often fall into the trap of binary oppositions. Perhaps the texts we should start with is the stories of survivors and victims of domestic violence themselves, and allow their stories to transform our views and practices.

The Power of Love: Interlude: James Cone & the Church Fathers


white heart

To keep up with this series, please read the first two posts: part 1: James Cone’s Relational Theology and part 2: Gendering Black Theology and Black Power

This is the first of two interludes (excluding one postlude). While I hope these interludes are helpful, they are probably going to be less organized and the other soon to be 3 other posts.

For many contemporary proponents of historic Christian orthodoxy, liberation theology is looked upon as something that is disconnected from the Nicene-Chalcedonian faith. Indeed, the point of departure of LT since it is a relational theology, is not tradition or the creeds, but the contemporary experience of oppressed people groups. The point of this post is not to apologize for this position, or that the Liberationist view passes some orthodoxy test. My objective here is to contend that the divide between “orthodoxy” and Liberation theology is not as neat as theologians make it out to be.

Which Trinity?

First, let me point you into the direction of recent conversations I found helpful on the Trinity: Fr. Aiden Kimel’s Can analytic philosophers be saved? and Can analytic philosophers fix the doctirne of the Trinity? and Dale Tuggy’s responses: against despising analytic theologians and more on despising analytic theologians.

To sum up these readings, this is a classic example of Tertullian’s question, “What hath Athens to do with Jerusalem?” Shall we do theology by studying the worship practices of the early Church, their hymns and formulas, and the creeds? Or shall we do theology by talking with speculative philosophical thought? One side argues, if Christians start with philosophy, they will eventually over-stress the working of the economic Trinity, or how God reveals God’s self to us, leaving very little room for mystery or awe when it comes to worship. The other side argue that Jesus is the Revelation from God, and we need to know exactly who we are in relationship with (the Triune God) before knowing how to properly worship.

As a lifelong fanboy of the Trinity, I have a few questions for both sides, like for the Immanent Trinity side, if we can’t speak of God other than some great mystery, what was the purpose of the Church Fathers’ metaphysical claims about God? For the social Trinitarian side, given the fact of God’s self-sufficiency is assumed in Scripture, what is it that can stop us from being arrogant and having ownership of the deity?

Is Liberation necessarily ANTI- Nicene?

James Cone has made a few comments about the Church fathers, and granted, he has praised theologians such as Athanasius for taking a stand against Arian heretics. Given his Methodist Protestant background, Cone is less enthusiastic about the creeds and Church Fathers. In God of The Oppressed, Cone asserts,

“The Nicene Fathers showed little interest in the Christological significance of Jesus’ deeds for the humiliated, because most of the discussion took place in the social context of the Church’s position as the favored religion of the Roman State. Therefore, it became easy to redefine Jesus as the divinizer (the modern counterpart is “spiritualizer”) of humanity. When this happens Christology is removed from history, and salvation becomes only peripherally related to this world. “

Because Cone appropriates some of Juergen Moltmann’s theology, it seems that Cone would fit neatly in the category of a “social Trinitarian,” much like an analytic theologian. Some of the intellectual descendents of James Cone have come to similar conclusions about the Church Fathers and Mothers. Kelly Brown Douglas, a Womanist Theologian in The Black Christ, contended,

“Finally, there are aspects of the Nicene/Chalcedonian formulation that appear inconsistent with Jesus as he was portrayed in the Gospels. For instance, this formulation establishes that Jesus is Christ by focusing on God’s act of becoming incarnate in him. In so doing, it diminishes the significance of Jesus’ actions on earth.”

– The Black Christ, page 112.

It seems as if there is not room for the Nicene/Chalcedonian formulas to be used as normative theological resources by black theologians. On one hand Kelly Brown Douglas as an Episcopalien knows the Nicene Creed backwards and forward. Yet, Brown Douglas, as a relational theologian, writes about a Christ who relates to black women and who is made accessible in his ministry to the least of these. Rings of social Trinitarianism, for sure!

Ah! But not so fast, analytic theologians, just you feel safe in assuming that Cone’s project is on your side! In A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone does commend analytic philosophy for keeping theologians in check,

“The rise of analytic philosophy, with its investigation of the relationship between language and truth, has caused many theological nightmares as religionists have sought to defend the validity of theological speech. Religionists can be thankful to the philosophy of language for subjecting theological speech to the analytical test. Even though we [black theologians] insist that truth is determined only by an oppressed community asserting its existence in an oppressive world, and not by an ‘uncommitted’ philosopher of language applying an ‘objective’ test, the logic of analytic philosophy does make us more sensitive in our use of language and forces us to subject our own language to tests devised by the community itself. Every community must ask, How do we know that our claims about God are valid?”

Chapter 3, page 42.

For Cone, oppressed community’s have inherent religious practices “a sense of the presence of God, a feeling of awe” (page 61) while ideas such as “the death-of-God” arise out the the communities that hold the powerful majority’s (white) perspective (page 66). For Cone, analytic philosophy used as a tool for liberation is only useful to the extent it aids in the elimination of the concrete realities that the oppressed who struggle to survive everyday (page 88). Like the Immanent Trinitarians, Cone shares an overriding concern for the concrete, the daily religious practices of the marginated to be more precise.

The Trinity and Liberation?

When I first started reading Patristic theology, I was pleasantly surprised by the words of persons like Gregory the Great, and their exegesis of parables, and their concern for the poor. I eventually settled with choosing Clement of Alexandria was my favorite, and I continue to learn about his probably influence on the Cappodocian theologians, who did have abolitionist leanings. That being said, I have a generous reading of the Apostles’ Creed when it says, “Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell.” I understand that the “suffering under Pontius Pilate” to include the ministry of Jesus, and his preaching the Gospel as a way of peaceably resisting the violence of the Roman Empire. The fact is that the Church Fathers and Mothers taught on Jesus’ ministry as an entrance into the divine life of Trinity because the early church controversies were theocentric and Christological in nature, whereas today, contemporary churches split over anthropological controversies like sexuality and worship styles. So when it comes to this so-called “barrier” between Ancient Christianity and modern Christianity, I just don’t buy into it so easily.

Questions About Apologetics

ray comfort questions

Go Home, Christian apologists, you’re drunk!

Let’s be honest, I have an apathy for so called Christian apologists and Bull-Horn evangelists who want to monologue at everyone they meet. I’ve met and argued with them in person, in downtown Fort Worth, and it’s just really embarassing for fellow Christians, especially when most groups are out spreading heresy. I enjoy C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, and prefer not to see him as an apologist (I’ve read somewhere he later in life swore off apologetics) because it’s just questionable at best, when you have a religion built on a Trinitarian faith where the Holy Spirit leads and guides people to fellowship with God that any of our human, what we deem “rational” arguments could ever be made more powerful than that. Recent (unnecessary) goofs from apologists like Ray Comfort continues to affirm my feeling that those who offer apologetics are posturing, and in denial about dealing with real people. According to Thessalonians, the best apologetics for the Church is a good reputation built on integrity, faithfulness to Christ, and working with the downtrodden. That should be our “apologetic,”: the lives we live, and people seeing Christ in our actions.

A surprising and delightful post from the Institute for Religion and Democracy by Nathaniel Torrey articulated my questions about rational arguments, natural law, and the business of apologetics quite nicely:

“this is precisely the business of Christianity, to change someone’s life completely. Intellectual assent and actively choosing to be renewed in Christ are not synonymous”

Some Thoughts On The Great Natural Law Debate