Saturday, January 2, 2010

No Protology or eschatology?

What's occurred to me lately (after teaching students who tend to be nihilists) is that a lack of protology and eschatology destroy ethics.  Pre-Enlightenment Biblical exegetes got the Bible because they operated within a typological-analogical framework.  The characters in the Bible are judged good or bad because they embody characteristics from protological or eschatological persons.  For example, if you run into a character who's hairy and brutish, you probably know he's going to be a bad guy like Esau or something like that.  In the same way, in 1 Samuel, Goliath is obviously bad because his armor is described as being like snake skin.  In other words, he's an embodiment of the serpent who the coming seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15) is going to destroy.  

Protology and eschatology serve as book ends around the history of salvation and creation.  They represent what God wanted in the beginning and what God wants at the end when he fixes everything.  Therefore they define what's good and what's bad.

It occurs to me that this is the way to overcome the modernist fact/value split.  For the pre-moderns and the authors of the Bible, there is no fact/value split, because reality is completely derivative of the protological and the eschatological.  If something is bad, it is fallen from the protological and not yet redeemed by the eschatological.  If something is good, it it harkens back to the protological and prefigures typologically the eschatological.

My students are all relativists because they believe in neither the eschatological nor the protological.  They believe that everything is infinitely provisional, so there is no eschaton to finally set rights, right.  Similarly, there is no protological.  This is especially true of human life which is self-generating, that is, humans are not protologicaly determined to be what they are, they create themselves by their own actions (autopoesis).  Hence their obsession with a particular version of free will in their papers.  They do not define free will the way Augustine, Luther and Calvin do, as the ability to do the good.  Rather they define it as having a will that is not casually determined, which is an absurdity since as creatures their wills are necessarily casually contingent.  If their wills are not casually determinate, then they are either God or nothing.  They are God, because only God is non-contingent.  They are nothing, because only nothing is absolutely non-determinate.  Instead, what they believe is that a non-contingent will can create the self through uncaused self-determination.  This also explains why they uncritically believe in evolution (where life spontaneously comes from nowhere and then through the competition of animals leads to their survival and self-generation) and this peculiar vision of free will.  Normally, this would be a contradiction (evolution would assume that we are determined by our genes, not by our free will).  But for them, both mean the ability to self-create.

This being the case, all ethics or objective morality can either be 1.  Merely provisional (what was good for mom and Dad might be bad for me- ultimately, with no eschaton, there's infinite provisionality, because there is no final divine judgment.  In fact, there could be no eschton in this scenario, since it would destroy infinite self-generation and self-determinacy) or 2. violent and arbitrary.  That is, if I'm self-creating through my own actions, then any claim of creation by God of my essence and therefore protological determinacy is a violent attempt to put me into an arbitrary box.

This is, I think though, an ultimately tragic vision of the world, something I have attempted to communicate to them to no avail.  If their is infinite indeterminacy, then the world is ultimately rooted in indeterminacy and therefore nothingness.  Adam's attempt at being God led to the flip side of the coin which was nothingness " You dust and to dust you shall return."  God himself, though uncaused, is ultimately determinate in that he possesses his eternal nature in his self-giving and fellowship of the Trinity.


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  2. Thomas,

    The eschatological is the resotoration and completion of the original creation. In a sense then, there is no gap between the eschatological and the protological. Nevertheless, the eschatological does mean a kind of transformation of creation in that the original creation was only provisional, as Luther points out in the Genesis commentary (actually, this was a Patristic and Medieval idea as well).

    Thanks for reading and I look forward to your future comments.

  3. Hi Jack,

    Just found this post, so my comment might be a little late for your interest, but anyway:

    This vision of human existence which denies protological and eschatological accounts (and which has difficulty viewing non-human events as embodying any kind of teleology) can't be "tragic" - at least in my understanding of what tragedy means.

    Tragedy relies on the proto/eschatological structure of an initial condition of rightness (the Natural Order) transformed through human error into a condition of painful wrongness (Sin, the unlawful or unnatural act) which inexorably resolves itself into a final "Act III" condition: the Sin results in a Tragic Finale, which re-establishes the Original through payment/punishment processes. (This usually takes the form of most of the central characters dying.)

    King Lear
    Original State: Divine Right of Kings
    1) Lear sins by attempting to 'retire', unloading his divinely-invested regal responsibility onto his daughters.
    2) Everything quickly goes to hell.
    3) Everyone central dies (or suffers mutilation) and the kingdom passes to a different divinely-invested line of royalty.

    Given this conception of tragedy, your phrase "ultimately tragic" is a kind of semi-tautology. Tragedy requires Alpha and Omega conditions of Natural (Divine) Order against which to measure the tragic condition of 'wrongness'.

    Tragedy is a fundamentally conservative genre. The genre of the unChristian, relativistic mindset which you can't understand is the absurdist / nihilist writing of Samuel Beckett (etc). Characters are permanently trapped in Act 2, a kind of steady-state unending apocalypse, with no Genesis or Judgement beyond individual birth and death.

    This is a condition infinitely more difficult to handle emotionally than "Ultimate Tragedy": the established Natural Order conditions (such as the divine right of kings) are seen as merely contingent products of earlier eras of Act 2. There is no possibility that re-establishing a monarchy - or wiping out homosexuality - will either return the world to a prelapsarian state or hasten the advance of the Last Judgement.

    In contrast to a Judeo-Christian "Tragic" model, which can only justify or endure humanity's permanent Act 2 condition with the promise teleological/eschatalogical Last Judgment, the relativistic absurdist model attempts only to 'live with' the acknowledged present reality.

    Hope that didn't go on too much,


  4. ... hence J. P. Satre's, Being and Nothingness. This statement is based on your last paragraph. Humans perceive themselves to be self-determinate beings.