Friday, March 11, 2016

Affective Life in Pannenberg and Human Openness to the World

My reflections here are with theologian Wolfhart Pannenberg on the role of the affective life in understanding human openness to the world. In this case, he will use these reflections to re-think the classic notion of creation in the image of God as well as the classic notion of original sin.

          We need to explore the theme of our identity and non-identity in the context of affective life. My attempt here is to provide an ontology of feeling. This notion moves against the tradition that offers the distinguishing mark of humanity as being rationality. As important as rationality is, we have good reason to suspect that the interior, affective life of humanity reveals far more than we think. The tension between identity and nonidentity is a theme of affective life. It shows itself in the antagonism individuals experience toward society. The quest for wholeness subordinates to the particularity of the individual, distorting social relations. It spoils relations between persons and institutions. Conflict and brokenness become becomes the essence of social relation. Yet, even here, we see the hope people have for wholeness and fellowship.

Most people today make a distinction between feeling and mood. Feeling refers to momentary arousals while mood is more lasting than is feeling and touches individuals at a deeper level. Mood discloses our being as a whole, constituting our openness to the world. Yet, even feelings point toward the future, a way I want something to be. Feelings always occur in a personal field, an experience of one's self as personal and an imagining of others even if no one else is literally present. Feeling has a regressive aspect in revealing the past and especially childhood experiences; it also has progressive aspect.

Before we go too far down this path, we need to consider the positive expression of feeling that we find in our experience. We will see that they reveal the tension in identity and nonidentity. They reveal the temporal dimension of the growth of identity.

One positive dimension of the affective life is the aesthetic experience. What people describe as an aesthetic experience is simply a dimension of common human experience available to us all. Aesthetic experience typically relieves tension and quiets destructive impulses. It resolves lesser conflicts in the self and assists toward interpretation. It refines perception and discrimination. It develops the imagination and the ability to put oneself in the place of others. It is an aid to mental health. It fosters mutual sympathy and understanding. It offers an ideal for human life. Aesthetic experience is momentary. The original emotion disrupts normal consciousness, experience, and behavior. What occupied our attention before is not as interesting. We abandon occupations. Our situation is disoriented; it checks our daily experience. Eventually, we must resume daily experience, we must return. It satisfies our desire to see the object of reflection. We satisfy the hunger with this experience. Yet, it contains within it the beginning of a new longing or desire. In an aesthetic experience or love experience, the self does not disappear, even though one may direct one's attention so fully outside the self that it feels as if the self disappears. Such peak experiences have their own intrinsic value. Truth, goodness, and beauty form into a unity in such moments. Peak experiences bring momentary loss of fear, anxiety, inhibition, defense and control, a giving up of renunciation, delay and restraint. As a peak experience, one feels more integrated than at other times. The greatest attainment of identity is a transcending of self, a going beyond and above selfhood. We feel ourselves to be at the peak of our powers, using all our capacities at the best and fullest. People feel lucky, fortunate, and graced. Joy surprises us. Aesthetic contemplation is for the sake of enjoyment. We would not continue to attend to the object of contemplation if doing so were not enjoyable. We savor the experience, rather than classify and identify it. Although analysis may enhance such savoring of experience, it often stifles it. The object of contemplation goes beyond practical use as well. We often quickly determine the utility of an object. When something in our world overwhelms us, forces itself upon us, disrupts us, we have gone beyond utility. Aesthetic experience brings us to the surplus of human experience.

A second positive dimension of the affective life is beauty. An occasion of beauty incites and requires an act of replication. An occasion of beauty prompts the begetting of children; it prompts a copy of itself. We are willing to revise our own location in order to place ourselves in the path of beauty is the basic impulse underlying education. We cannot conceive of a beautiful thing that does not have the quality of replication as an impulse toward creation that results in both the famous painting and in the mundane act of staring.

Beauty takes place in particulars - a painting, a symphony, a poem, a novel, etc. Beauty has a sacred and unprecedented character. Beauty saves lives and confers the gift of life; it quickens adrenalin, making the heartbeat faster. It makes life increasingly vivid, animated, living, and worth living. The beauty of a phenomenon captures our attention, puts us out of gear with practical life, and forces us to view it on the level of aesthetic consciousness. The object focuses our attention outside self. Beauty also incites deliberation; it fills the mind and invites the search for something beyond itself, something larger with which we need to bring it into relation. Beauty causes us to gape and suspend thought; while also causing us to reflect upon precedents and parallels and move forward toward new acts of creation. It causes us to bring things into relation with a kind of urgency as though one's life depended upon it. Beautiful things have a forward momentum, inciting the desire to bring new things into the world. Beautiful things also incite us to move backward, to the ground out of which we may rediscover and whatever new thing is made.

What can we hope to bring about in ourselves when we open ourselves to and actively pursue beauty? As those who behold beauty, we seek to bring new beauty into the world and may become successful in this endeavor. We become increasingly beautiful in our interior life. Further, beauty is life-saving and life-restoring. We receive the gift of life in our perception of beauty, as well as bestow life.

A third positive dimension of affective is that of love. André Comte-Sponville (A Small Treatise on the Great Virtues, 2002) and Eric Fromm (The Art of Loving,1956) have been helpful to me here.

Love has a neurotic dimension, as Freud point out. Yet, human beings in their loving point to something in which they hope. Love stimulates moral reflection, and is, in fact, the beginning and goal of all moral reflection. Apathy is the withdrawal of feeling. Love suggests that something matters. Caring for another is the opposite of apathy. Love embraces another in the world. In a negative mood, we have the nagging suspicion that nothing matters. We become apathetic and uninvolved. Caring leads to a healing of this sickness. Love is responsibility for another in caring for their needs. Love is respect. Love implies knowledge of the other. Love is the escape from the prison of our aloneness. In discovering the other, love helps us discover who we are. We love people we naturally like, but Jesus recommended that we love the neighbor and even the enemy. Love recognizes our incompleteness. Love is a quest and desire. Yet, the quest is not really for oneness. The proper aim of love, as well expressed lovemaking, is intimate responsiveness. What the lover wants is to be extremely close to the person he or she loves, to be close enough to perceive and respond to every movement and every perceptible sign. In that closeness, the lover wants to achieve the pleasure of the other person and his or her own. Lovers also seek to kind of knowledge of the other person, the sort of knowledge that consists in awareness and acknowledgement of every perceptible portion of that person's activity.

We express love in our friendships. This love extends to universality of humanity and the totality of the person. It introduces into the sphere of human relations that distant goal of universality that we find suggested compassion and justice. This love joyfully accepts the other of the other, as the person is and will be. This love includes oneself, but not in a preferential way. To love is to find one's riches outside oneself. This is why love is poor, and yet the only wealth. We experience both the poverty and wealth of love through want (passion), through received and shared joy (friendship), and through joy that is given and given up (agape). The absence of this love makes virtues necessary. When the love of friendship and agape exists it frees us from the law and makes it enter our hearts. That love is more absent than not is what justifies our education in the virtues. Even Augustine said that a true definition virtue is a due ordering of love. Love commits us to morality and frees from it. Morality commits us to love, even in its absence, and must yield before it. Love is primarily an attitude, an orientation of character that determines our relationship to others in general, not to specific persons. To love one person, and not love others, is to have an alienated kind of love. Such love is egotism and magnifies their alienation with others they do not love. We become loving people. If we love one person genuinely, we love all persons, we love the world, and we love life.

Self-love is an extension of our general love to human beings; after all, we are human beings as well. Our love for ourselves needs to reflect what we have already said about being loving persons: care, respect, responsibility, and knowledge. The basic affirmation contained in love is directed toward the person loved. Our capacity to love is the affirmation of our own life, happiness, growth, and freedom.

A fourth dimension of the positive role of the affective life is that feelings reveal that at which one's life aims. They reveal the orientation of the tendencies that direct life toward the world. Feeling reveals its meaning by contrast with the more refined form of thinking proper to what we commonly call knowledge. Feeling makes interior what we objectify. In these tensions, we experience something of the misery of human life and the separation we experience within it. Yet, religious experience closely connects with the concept of feeling (Schleiermacher) in that feeling indicates the totality of life.

Schleiermacher was correct in indicating that the heart of religious feeling was receptivity and dependence. Feelings have their place in self-transcendence and in the temporal flow of life. Feeling relates ecstatically to the world and the people around us. The orientation of human beings to a fullness of life that transcends them and manifests itself especially in the community of their fellow human beings finds expression in the positive feelings and passions, especially in feelings of sympathy but also in joy and hope. We participate in the forming of the future by virtue of our capacity to conceive of and respond to new possibilities, and to bring them out of imagination and try them in actuality. New possibilities motivate us; goals and ideals attract and pull us toward the future, even while our past pushes us; the present brings together the push and the attraction, the past and the future. Feeling is the basis for certainty of the external world and for the presence of the ego. Feeling as receptivity unites itself to the totality of the finite and thus relates itself to the infinite as distinct from the world, although only reflection reveals all of this. Every experience is embedded in a complete whole. In feeling, we find the theme of the wholeness of human life. In its reaching out to the totality of life, feeling anticipates the distinction and correlation effected by the intellect, even though because of its vagueness feeling depends on thinking for definition.

            I have been exploring the affective life as the region of our lives that relates us ecstatically to the world and people around us. The depth psychology of C. J. Jung has shown how the prior orientation of the individual to the community is significant for the constitution of the self. The orientation of human beings to a fullness of life that transcends them and manifests itself especially in the community of their fellow human beings finds expression in the positive effects and passions, especially in feelings of sympathy, but also in joy and hope. Such feelings draw individuals out of their isolation. However, a characteristic of negative moods and feelings, such as fear, anxiety, arrogance, sadness, envy, and hate, is to isolate individuals within themselves. The positive effects are expressions of an anticipatory expectation.

            If we stopped here, it would feel as if humanity were just wonderful. Yet, we know that not to be the case. Human beings have a profound misery that the affective life reveals. This discussion will serve as our re-thinking of the notion of humanity as sinful.

To make the transition to a discussion of the negative dimension of the interior, affective life, Hegel and Freud may well provide us with some help.[1] Freud will stress regression in that the symbols of adult life derive from the infancy of the individual. Hegel will stress the emergence of new figures that anticipate our spiritual adventure as individuals. Regression and progression understood in symbols are the tension of the emerging identity of the individual. Present behavior disguise and reveal. Symbols in dreams, myths, and fairy-tales are vestiges of childhood but they also contain creative meaning. We are spirited beings that sometimes sides with reason and courage and sometimes with aggression. Our spiritedness suggests a restless heart that does not have satisfaction or rest. Spiritedness suggests desire that arises from a lack and a drive toward. The fragility of humanity shows itself in the capacity for evil. At the same time, feeling will anticipate more than it can give.

To reflect with Hegel, then, feeling will center on having through the realities of scarcity and work, power and its alienation, and worth as culture recognizes it. Having anchors that which is mine in economic relation. Any having also suggests a power relation in the appropriation of economic goods. Yes, it can lead to subjection and domination. Yet, in properly constructed social relations, having and power will lead to proper worth and dignity of individuals. Of course, worth or esteem come from our belief about self and world. I believe that I am worth something in the eyes of another who approves my existence. Insofar as I the worth in the eyes of the Other affects me, this belief, this credence, this trust, constitutes the very feeling of my worth. This appreciative affection or this affective appreciation, is the highest point to which one can raise self-consciousness in spiritedness (thymos). As a belief, worth may be little more than self-delusion or arrived upon through the deprecation of others. Such esteem is fragile and easy to wound. Further, as I have suggested, spiritedness suggests the restless heart. When is having enough? When is power properly exercised and received? When will I feel properly recognized? The point of feeling is to unite us to people and things, even while alienation (Marx) is a counter movement in our relation to the world. The cultural world and its institution disguise and disclose this uniting and alienating tension that pervades human experience.

            Thus, humanity is a broken presence in the world. Human beings could accept their responsibility in answering the question of themselves, their question as to the totality of the world, their question of human destiny, and the operation of mastery over nature, by expanding their self-interest to include responsibility for others and for nature. Yet, exploitation and oppression to the advantage of private self-interest is another direction of human behavior. Egocentricity makes its appearance and determines the way in which people experience the world. The relatedness of everything to the ego is in the form of self love. Such brokenness is part of the natural condition of humanity. The misery of humanity is evident to us all. However, the emphasis on sin in Christian teaching is in need of re-formulation. The discussion has led to inauthentic guilt feelings. The notion of “original sin” is one that moves against our sense of individual responsibility. Yet, the decay of this teaching led to a focus on acts of sin and therefore moralism, life-denying rigidity, and extended feelings of guilt. The neurotic result provided fertile ground for Nietzsche and Freud. Their unmasking exposed the potential oppressive nature of Christian belief in God. The notion of sin is now property of the church, rather than a reference to a universal human condition. The light-hearted use of sin in the public sphere (the devil made me do it or sinfully good) makes the credibility of the Christian view of sin in question.

            In order to understand the misery of humanity, we need to balance the social nexus of sin with individual choice. Sin will show itself in the idolatry we see in the excess of self-affirmation, in lust as a refusal to mature our love, in injustice as we make others serve us and in the despair that leads us to the failure to risk creative action. Yet, we cannot separate ourselves from sin. Thus, the roots of sin are not in society. Sin has its root in the heart, as Romans 7 makes clear, and thus, the social nexus fails to explain the universality of sin. Sin represents our alienation from God, an alienation that comes through our cooperation with it. We engage in sin because of its deceptive character. If we are grateful for the independence that God has granted us, then its “cost” is the permission of sin.

The notion of the misery of humanity refers to the corruption in the structure of human conduct. The loss of meaning is the place where modern consciousness begins. Awareness of evil remains part of the modern discussion, as movies and television series show. The problem secularity has, however, is that evil human beings are responsible for evil and for victory over it. The tendency is to place blame for evil on anonymous structures and pressures on the social system. It tends to localize evil in others or groups. Another way to think of this is the basic “game” that people play of victim-persecutor-rescuer. Modernity has gotten itself into a sick game and simplistic game that, as with individual lives, will lead to sick political culture rather than a healthy one that will solve legitimate problems of a free society. If evil could find its localization in a group (the rich, the capitalist, a race, a gender) then all one has to do is single out, isolate, or destroy the group. Of course, if we step back, even if we could destroy the group, evil would remain. As I see it, George Orwell told of this issue in his parable Animal Farm, and it remains a powerful reminder of this truth. Evil pierces deep into the human heart.

            The first negative dimension of the affective life is anxiety.

Kierkegaard said that self-fulfillment based on our subjectivity and finitude is a perversion of the basic relation to the Infinite and Eternal. When we refuse to consider the Infinite and Eternal, we may not even properly understand the issue that faces human beings. The result is the desperate character of our strivings for self-fulfillment, resulting in anxiety and despair. Excessive focusing on the self and our identity is deforming the theme of human life.

            Anxiety becomes the source of despair, care, and aggressiveness. Need and desire characterize human life. However, the step to excessive desire that sins takes in anxiety leads to attempts to ensure the self by possession of what we desire. Anxiety and the related fixation on the self also are behind the search for confirmation from others. We want recognition by others. When we seek it at any price to secure own identity, the search springs from an anxiety about the self that expresses a self-fixation. Uncertainty of the future and the incomplete nature of our identity feed the anxiety. Anxiety makes us cling to the self. The alternative is confidence in the future. Our lives are a gift for which we can be thankful and with which we can move confidently into the future. Anxiety keeps us from this confidence. Such everyday manifestations of sin are its true nature, which remains concealed for the most part from us. Here is the basis of its seduction.

The mood of anxiety is the point of departure in the question of the wholeness of human existence. Anxiety reveals the tension between the temporal moment and the whole of life. It confronts the possibility of the void and emptiness. Our experience of “everydayness” can express boredom with life and our alienation from the world. Our talking can articulate our life in the world, but it also indicates our alienation from it in idle talk. We fall from the true possibility that resides within each of us. True life hides from us. Yet, the choice of living life authentically and in freedom leads to genuine joy.

The second negative dimension of the affective life is alienation that arises out of anxiety.

The depth of the term “alienation” is that it allows one to bring into a single theme the brokenness of human existence in the self, to other human beings, to society, and to any sense of human destiny and meaningfulness. Given the alienation that individuals experience, the shared world they create will also reflect alienation.

Anxiety has a paralyzing power. People devote much of their lives in dealing with others, to avoiding more anxiety than he already has and to getting rid of this anxiety. Anxiety often arises out of anticipated unfavorable appraisal of one's current activity by someone whose opinion one values. The state of alienation makes itself known to us in feelings of malaise, discontent, anxiety, and general depression; alienation makes its presence by means of such feelings. Dreams often reflect these alienating forces, dealing with unsatisfied needs that waking life of which waking life does not take care. Alienated individuals are thrown back upon their egos and reduced to them; they remove themselves from their true selves and question their identity. The process of alienation may begin as a separation from a specified counterpart; it tends to a generalized state of estrangement and apartness in which the ego falls back upon itself. This indeterminacy is essential to the feeling of self-alienation in particular. The feeling of personal nonidentity means that the identity that is lacking is not grasped; for this reason, the nonidentity too remains vague.

Here is the point. Human beings who are trying to find their identity have a primary concern with themselves. They lack their authentic identity. When human beings who are concerned about themselves think that they come closest to their own identity through this kind of preoccupation with themselves, then they are alienated form their true destiny and their true selves. The awareness of alienation can lead to many efforts to overcome it. However, no human action can alter the condition of alienation if what they consider to constitute their alienation is not the think that really makes them alienated. A false identification of the source of alienation that leads to changed behavior will lead to increased alienation.

            The third dimension to the negative dimension of the affective life is guilt, keeping in mind that this entire discussion concerns the tension that we find in identity and nonidentity of the person. Guilt is a specialized feeling proper when one has transgressed an established norm. The concept of conscience had its origin in the experience of guilt. Being guilty is an expression of an ought, the content of which is the authenticity of our self. Guilt as transgression becomes intelligible in this sense. The concept of action presupposes the concept of responsibility. The capacity for action is grounded in the call to authentic selfhood.

Alienated individuals experience being thrown back upon their egos and reduced to them. Feelings of malaise, discontent, anxiety, and depression express such alienation. The consciousness of guilt presents itself as a heightened expression of the alienation of the ego from itself. Feelings of alienation are indeterminate. On the other hand, guilt is occurs in a quite determinate objective situation, a transgression of a norm. One can also experience neurotic guilt that would be indeterminate. It would be the result, according to Freud, of an excessively strict superego. Guilt presupposes an authority, whether legal or moral. Paul Ricoeur[2] has made this clear. Culprits are to answer for their actions.

A fourth dimension of the negative dimension of the affective life is the prospect (fear) of death. We cannot leave these considerations without a brief reflection on time, eternity, and death.

Human life occurs within limits. We are discussing the primary limit. Life and death have a certain mystery to them. True, everything has its season, a time for birth, and a time for death. They are the simple beginning and end of a life. They are facts. What we do with the pages between them is what matters. Yet, in the type of lives we human beings have, we wrestle with the meaning and purpose of it all. We live forward. We often understand it backward. While we are often busily engaged in living, we rarely give the gift of a pause in order to reflect upon the picture we are painting with our lives. The purpose of our lives often arises slowly in the course of our having lived. We may not see it with relative clarity until we develop a retrospective lens on our lives. We are what we are in this time. The time ahead is not yet and the time behind is no longer. Our lives begin and end, and therefore, our lives have a history. We have responsibility for this time. We have no responsibility for what came before or what will come after our end. The story of our lives arises out of the conflict and cooperation of these two forces. Our lives occur under the sign of our finitude. We have an allotted time that will define the character of our lives. We do not receive the gift of time so that everyone could follow the same path – the easy path, the straight and narrow one – to arrive safely at its end. We received the loan of this allotted time. Those who rebel against the limit will not experience pleasure with life. The offer of this loan will not come again. The loan is full of meaning. We experience goodness, as we are young, grow old, and die. We live with others and, with some good fortune, die with others. We have no right to belittle it as fleeting and transient. We must take the loan seriously and joyfully. The beginning of life is a gift. The end of life is removal of that gift. The beginning of life raises the question of whether we will respond to the calling or vocation that will arise in the course of our lives. Response to the calling is our share, as small as it may be, in the cosmos and the formation of human history. The end of life involves leaving that response behind. We have time as an opportunity that occurs under the sign of the promise and goal. For now, in the present time of human beings, they have their unique opportunity, and since they do not know how long it will last they must seize and use it. They have no time to lose, and so must make time to take time. The power of the calling is that it occurs within the interval of time and its limit. Time goes on. Our time on this earth is still ticking. We cannot change the past. Everything we do will change the future. Time moves forward in such a way that every decision we make regarding our lives has an open quality to it. We can always make changes in another direction. Time is a precious gift in which the challenge is to use it fully. The beginning of life is the necessary foundation of what will become the structure of our lives. The end of life is a completion of that structure. Your life is like a building under construction and your end is its completion. Think of your life like a play with several scenes and acts. As with any play, it must begin and it must end. If we did not have an end, it would not be history; it would not be a story. Understandably, many human beings focus upon the end. Many approach it with dread. Somewhere ahead of us is the term of our lives, the frontier of our time toward which we approach with every day and hour. At that point, we shall be no longer. Yet, the beginning is every bit as real. We also come from a term and frontier. We move further away from the beginning frontier every day and hour. The question posed by our beginning seems less urgent while the question posed by our end seems to become more so. Yes, our being in time will end one day. This reality is disquieting. Our present will one day have no future. This seems more disquieting than the other reality, that our lives once began as a present without past. What looms before us is the approaching end rather than the receding beginning. Our beginning seems to have no urgent or pressing cause to consider. After all, the beginning is behind us. We tend to look ahead, of course, so our end is what we see and contemplate. Our beginning is behind and receding further into the past. The nearer our end approaches, the less the beginning claims our attention. Yet, life strives and calls for further life. Every moment, even at our end, we are living out the calling out of which we have lived our lives. Taking life seriously and seizing the opportunity of the allotted time suggests a lack of fear in the presence of death. Now is the time to express our gratitude for the people who have made our allotted time meaningful and joyful. Waiting until such persons are in the grave will create regret. Grief is present, in part, because we do not end this life at the same time. It is unpleasant to think that someday I shall be a corpse whom others will leave and go home chatting after they have heaped wreaths and flowers and poured out kind words and music upon me. It is indeed unpleasant to think that my place will then be in a coffin or urn a few feet below the surface of the ground. It is indeed an unpleasant thought that for a time people will miss me up above in the daylight, but that time will finally extinguish me from human memory when the last of those who knew me has gone the same way. This unpleasantness is the kind of death that awaits us with absolute certainty. This unpleasantness is the form of the end of our existence in our time and the conclusion of our transience. To consider that we shall die means to accept oneself; to admit that one day we shall no longer exist, but will stand before a final “too late.” I in my uniqueness have to do this one allotted time. [3] Yes, the time may grow short for us. Such knowledge may set us free to prevent mourning its end or letting the fact of our end depressing us. Grief and joy may deepen in our quiet desire for the day when we realize that the many kisses and embraces we receive today were simply incarnation of the eternal embrace of eternity.[4]

[1] (Ricoeur New Haven, CT).
[2] (The Symbolism of Evil, 1967)
[3] ( (Barth 2004, 1932-67), III.3 [49.3], 226-236); III.4 [56.1].
[4] Henri Nouwen, Gracias! A Latin American Journal (HarperCollins, 1987).

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