Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Theology (Guest Post): We Believe, We Acknowledge, We Look

By Ingersoll
 via Wikimedia Commons
I've been thinking a lot about what makes the church Christian. What is it that separates the line between orthodoxy and heresy? This was not simply a reflection of current events, but those events have certainly had an effect on it.

Last week, I wrote a post on the subject. That post came out of a conversation I had been having with my roommate Josh, in which I had used Wittgenstein to elucidate my understanding of the creed. Josh, who's blog you can find here, expressed similar ideas, but did it through Heidegger. I asked him to do a guest post on the subject as a follow up to my post. This is it.

We Believe, We Acknowledge, We Look: the Nicene Creed as Dwelling by Joshua David Charles

“Building is really dwelling.” With this simple mantra Martin Heidegger in his later essay Building Dwelling Thinking poetically meditates on how building things, building our dwelling places (homes, offices, metro stations, etc.), is already dwelling. That is, in this world, we are creatures who dwell, and we primarily dwell by making things to dwell in. Heidegger intends this in a broad sense—we dwell not just in our homes but also in our workplace and in our work, in art, in thought. Building things, whether that’s an actual home or any construction (systems of thought, class systems, artworks, social roles, anything really) is our primary way of dwelling in this world—our primary way of making ourselves comfortable, making this “place” a home.

Heidegger goes on to elucidate how any building, and therefore anything, is a site of dwelling. He uses the example of a bridge and defines its capacity as a dwelling point by how it gathers—namely, how “the bridge gathers the earth as landscape around the stream.” Before there was a bridge, there was no site for a bridge—these two emerged contemporaneously. Before, there were two strips of land and a stream that were in no way connected, nor disconnected; they were simply there. However, once the bridge began being built, the location at the same time started becoming a site. Suddenly the two strips of land became disconnected and “needed” a bridge in that “location.” What was once nothing becomes a thing—a site of dwelling:
“Before the bridge stands, there are of course many spots along the stream that can be occupied by something. One of them proves to be a location and does so because of the bridge. Thus the bridge does not first come to a location to stand in it; rather, a location comes into existence only by virtue of the bridge.”

All fine and good. But what does this have to do with creeds? Well, the Nicene creed is such a site of dwelling, such a location that gathers what appear to be disparate elements of faith into one concise whole. Rightly speaking, there was no “outside” of the creed, i.e. heresy, until there was a creed as a location, just as there was no stream to be crossed until there was a bridge. There was no concise narrative of the “Christian faith” until there was a creed to articulate it—that is, these ideas emerged contemporaneously, just like the building and the dwelling-ness of the bridge emerged contemporaneously. There was no apostolic church, no catholicity, no spirit which bound these together, and no “looking for the resurrection of the dead” until there was the Nicene creed which allowed these things to emerge as such. Creeds, in short, gather disparate ideas and snippets of faith into a whole, a unity, in order that these things might emerge as doctrinal and orthodox—in order that the creed might gather those who speak it into a unity and a whole.

Just as building reveals itself to already be a kind of dwelling, so too we find ourselves dwelling with others by speaking the creed. We share a site with them, inhabit a space, side-by-side. This happens regardless of what interpretation we have of the creed we share—because it is not in our thoughts or beliefs about the bridge that we dwell in it (although our beliefs and thoughts matter), but in our mutual building of it, in our crossing of it. It is by saying a creed together that we inhabit the same religious site. It is in the speaking that the creed becomes what it is and we become what we are as those who speak it. It is in the building, in the speaking, we find a home.