These are writings from after teaching my intro to catholic theology class. After bumbling through my lecture and discussion, I end up writing; this is some of it.
We are always discussing from the middle of something. We can never start from the beginning, but always in the in-between. What I mean is that we always begin from where we are and try to understand by going around, before and after, to make sense of it all. So...what about this thing called human nature? And why were Pelagius and Augustine battling it out? The question becomes one of relationship, at least in my opinion. It has to do with God’s relationship towards us in this progression towards restoration and holiness, which is being like God. Being like God.
Hmm…. There is a difference between being like God and being the Image of God. We can argue that being in the image speaks to certain things, characteristics or abilities that are shared or have a similarity. In this case, being in the image of God has a sense of sovereignty, to rule, to have authority. In Augustine’s idea, it is our minds that have the capacity to have the image of God. We can reason, make choices, judge, all due to our minds ability. And yet this only tells of the image of God. An image, a still shot. A photo, taken, giving a glimpse of the Divine.
But there is also likeness, the likeness of God, being like God. This, in my thoughts, means the active state of showing that one has like responses as God would. It is the image in action. Take for instance a picture of a father and a daughter, and the image shows similarities of skin color, eyes, facial expression. Then you also begin to find out that the father was an accountant, and she has decided to pursue the same career. These are images, images that show she has similar characteristics or interests as her father. They enjoy numbers. But here is the next part that is most important. Is she like him? Does she work the numbers justly? Does she treat her clients well? Is she a good worker? Why is this important? Well, it isn’t, unless you know of the father. The father is an excellent worker, he treats his clients well, and is very honest. The idea here would be that if he contains all these actions that show his internal nature, who he was, it would be appropriate that, if she follows in his steps, that she would take on these integral and honest concepts as her own. To be in the image of God one has certain faculties available to them; but to be like God, one requires to be close to God. And that is the problem. The closeness of God; being in relationship with God. Why? Because of this problem that we are handed to right smack in the middle of seemingly nowhere: sin.
Sin. The thing that is not really there, but really affects us. It is not substantive, but it takes away from our substance, who we are, how we live. Alfred North Whitehead says that evil, and I will add in the action of evil as sin, is the degradation, the destruction, of elevation, progress. It breaks us away from relationship, it destroys any form of relationality because it wants greatness for itself, and not realizing this greatness that is found in others, and it being there for reflection and growth.
The question then, is how did it get here? Where was its inception? Was it purposeful? Although this is lengthy, it would be suffice to say that it finds its origin, scripturally, in the beginning, the fall, of adam and eve. I say scripturally, because for whitehead and others, especially in philosophy, this response is inadequate. Nevertheless, because of the christian faith, we get this insight due to the revelation of God. This movement of sin manifests itself in the form of a movement from relationship to selfishness, from inclusion of the other, to exclusion towards self. It is the goal of making oneself great, powerful, safe, etc., at the cost of the other.
So how do we break ourselves free from this and get back into relationship? Not as simple as one thinks. Even the above response about the origin of sin is a simplistic response, yet I will take Whiteheads route, that the stories lead us towards philosophical/theological discussion, and therefore trruths. The problem with sin is that its goal is destruction, destruction of the pursuit of higher things. But that is an ugly statement. I would say that the pursuit is the pursuit of better things, deeper things, things which engage not for the self, but for all: a widening, a moving beyond just the self. Evil/Sin wants to destroy that, but it does so by mimicking the same process! For example, I want to pursue higher things, better things, I want to widen myself. But in that widening, I lose a particularity of myself in that process. My thoughts and ideas about things become part of a bigger set of thoughts and ideas, conjoining with others. This is the gift of peace, of adventure, of truth; one alone does not have it. Now sin pursues this as well but does so in this way, it wants to overarch everything for the self. In doing so, it destroys it, because it cannot be contained in one thing; it must be retained in relation or in process with everything else; not overarching, or controlling. It’s goal: feeling. Intensification. A spark. Sin destroys that spark.
So, again, how does one pursue? It can only come as a gift. In Christian faith, the Pelagian way doesn't work because the claim is that our faculties work just fine. Augustine says it is functional but marred. Whitehead offers a certain distinction, which says that free will inevitably requires knowledge and growth, and that growth, could lead either to good or evil, not in its thought, but in the actions that it makes, and the damage or loss it does on others. The reality is that loss, suffering, is evil. Whitehead writes that we all have appetition, and thus appetition, as necessary, is also what causes evil in a way because of loss. But, moreso, the evil that we do not want is that which leads to a degradation of the self, a loss of self that does not lead to progress, betterment.
But let me get back to the idea of the gift. Peace, although an action we can perform, must initially come as a gift. Adventure, the taste of it, requires first that it be given: a gift. Truth, beauty, it all begins as a gift. We dont make it happen; it is already there in the process of happening. Our task is to be a part of it, to be in harmony with it. So it requires more than a guide, or rules, but a new way of being, or becoming. It means we do not negate that which is luring us towards a better way. It means allowing a certain posture that allows us to see images, things, in a different perspective, beyond the facticity, to understanding from ones context, in following the aim of the divine, through the renewal of the self in Christ, who provides creative novelty. It is a gift. It is grace. Let it be. Peace. Adventure. Truth. Beauty.