Wednesday, June 28, 2006

the real is relational and the relational is real

Hey, I have an idea. What is an idea?
Well, I learned in class this week that the word "idea" in Hebrew is translated pani, which literally means "face." Interestingly, the first philosophical texts were always in the form of dialogue- learning always involved relationship with the other. "Ideas" were not fixed, they were born, lived, changed, died and were reborn in conversation. But for political and religious reasons involving power and control, it was necessary that "Ideas" be concretized and solidified into unchanging dogmas. It is at this point that an "idea" (a face) becomes an "idol" (note the same root word). Now we can transmit ideas without relationship, outside of the context of conversation. Independent learning, self-help and mass indoctrination is the experience of the "educated" individual. Idolatry occurs when a "face" (an idea or a doctrine) is concretized or made a convention to be passed along for future "encounters"- which is no encounter at all. Jewish ethicist Emmanuel Levinas worked to bring back the "face" into knowing- working towards the postmodern principle that truth is found in relational context.
Anyhow, I find it exciting to think of the theological invitation of getting back to a relational understanding of ideas and learning. What do you think?


chris said...

we've been going through the ten commandments commandments at our church. a few weeks ago we took a look at the second commandment...the one about not having no other gods before Him and not making idols. our ideas about who He is can become idols. a particular theology, too much emphasis on one of His characteristics to the exclusion of others.and when we do that we are also often guilty of using Him name in vain for our own purposes.
you're right, it's all relational. God's relationship with us and ours with those whose paths intersect with our own.
good stuff, phil, thanks for this post.

jen said...

kick ass. that's what i think.

pedro said...


pedro said...

One thing about our modern context that makes "ideas as dialogue/relationship" so difficult is that the complexity of modern life makes dialogue incredibly difficult. Even though, for the Hebrews, ideas were given birth and rebirth, the seed of the idea lived on in the oral tradition. In this sense, the ideas themselves were living, maturing entities.

The very fact of compared etymology reveals this fact. Ideas and relationships back then were integral to cosmology at large, and ideas/idols (hence words) were wed to experience and observation. Hell, check out the Song of Solomon. The language of the entire book is pastoral because people probably made love in the fields, the only place where there was privacy (3-4 generations commonly lived in a grouping of tents or a small 1-room house).

Our language, by contrast is burdened with layer upon layer of meaning and history. Half of our words didn't even originate within our language. Plus, we have a tendency to use our language to categorize and communicate abstractions.

Maybe this is why it's sometimes hard for me to relate to God/Christ personally/relationally. My worldview is so complex and abstract. I think that this is why I've lately found myself distilling my faith to its essence: relationship with the living Christ. His person has lately been my focused meditation.

Stacy said...

You sound like Bruber... "Without the 'Thou' there is no 'I' evolving."

Thanks for the lesson... love it.