Saturday, February 28, 2009

If it's a symbol, to hell with it.

“I was once, five or six years ago, taken by some friends to have dinner with Mary McCarthy and her husband, Mr. Broadwater… She departed the Church at the age of 15 and is a Big Intellectual…. Toward morning the conversation turned on the Eucharist, which I, being the Catholic, was obviously supposed to defend. Mrs. Broadwater said when she was a child and received the host, she thought of it as the Holy Ghost, He being the most portable person of the Trinity; now she thought of it as a symbol and implied that it was a pretty good one. I then said, in a very shaky voice, Well, if it’s a symbol, to hell with it. That was all the defense I was capable of but I realize now that this is all I will ever be able to say about it, outside of a story, except that it is the center of existence for me; all the rest of life is expendable.” - Flannery O'Connor

What a joy to read such a statement of faith. And isn't this the statement of faith said when one partakes in the Eucharist?
'The Body of Christ.'

And the Eucharist and the the Resurrection are tied to together.
The real presence of the Eucharist is the parallel claim of the historical resurrection, which is of particular importance during the Lenten season. Both are declaration that God is not silent. That God works with and within the world. It proclaims that God's action are mediated through immediacy.

However, we are incredulous toward the Real. Instead we allow our post-modern sensibility to transfix us in the infinite regression of meaning through symbol and myth. And if this is true, Joseph Campbell is the false savior of our time. He offers a translation of meaning and existence through 'universal' symbols, but which can never answer the metaphysical. Such a project can only defer meaning, which is exactly what philosophers like Derrida would like us have to believe.

What is more troubling are those happy fools in theology who still wittingly align themselves with Tillichian and Bultmannian philosophy. No two theologians have done more theological damage in recent decades, as they have persuaded many that the Eucharist, the Virgin Birth, the miracles, the Resurrection are nothing more than mere symbols. Fantastic, helpful, 'meaningful' symbols, but symbols nonetheless. They are merely powerful earthly representation that help translate the world, but they don't represent the Real. They defer meaning. They merely translate. Tillich and Bultmann were crass logical positivists dressed in theologian garb.

A few months ago a few friends and I were discussing Borg. We decided that Borg’s resurrection was metaphorical. That deeply troubled a friend of mine. Days later he returned to me, and said Jason, you know why a metaphorical resurrection bothers me? He answered his own question, “Because I am not going to metaphorically die! I am going to actually, factually die! And I want a savior who actually saved me from sin and death!” Bultmann seems to be offering something similar, but instead of a metaphor, it’s a myth.

So, if it's only metaphor, if it's only myth, or if it's only symbol then to hell with it. To hell with a religion that is merely 'trying its best' to translate the world. To hell with a religion that can be construed into a spiritual 'preference'.

But, if it is the Eucharist that translates the meaning of the world, and not the world that dictates the meaning of the Eucharist, then perhaps the only word appropriate is 'amen'.