A Cleaving Mind: Hegel and Bonhoeffer on the Fall Into Knowledge

The following excerpt is taken from my recent article in Modern Theology 32.4 (October 2016), in which I explore how Genesis 3 affects our ethical thinking. The essay also draws on a chapter of my Ph.D. thesis–the current task that’s kept me from posting on this site more frequently!

Tob and ra [good and evil] are concepts that express what is in every respect the deepest divide in human life. The essential point about them is that they appear as a pair, that in being split apart they belong inseparably together.  – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Creation and Fall


Dietrich Bonhoeffer delivered his lectures on Genesis 1-3 at the University of Berlin under the title Schöpfung und Sünde. The course was one of several treatments of Jewish scripture in order to rethink ethical life under the emerging Third Reich, an exegetical habit that led to fines and publication bans in subsequent years. He delivered the lectures in winter semester 1932-33, during which time Adolf Hitler was appointed German Chancellor. A day after that momentous event, Bonhoeffer recounted the irreducible ambiguity of the Fall, which he cast in the ‘twilight’ while reminding students that the name Lucifer means ‘Light-bearer.’

Along with thinly-veiled reference to contemporary events, the term ‘Light-bearer’ is one of several echoes of Hegel’s lecture on the same passage, also delivered at the University of Berlin a century earlier. Bonhoeffer had the three volumes of his predecessor’s Lectures on the Philosophy of Religion at hand, newly edited by Georg Lasson. They contain Hegel’s most explicit and sustained work with biblical text, which is likely why this section is one of the most heavily marked in Bonhoeffer’s set. Along with providing a key secondary text for his Genesis lectures, the volumes serve Bonhoeffer’s preparation for a summer 1933 seminar focused on these texts.…
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Self-Fashioning After Capitalism: Kathryn Tanner’s ‘Protestant Anti-Work Ethic’

This post is written in response to Kathryn Tanner’s third Gifford lecture for 2016, entitled ‘Total Commitment.’ It is part of her larger series, Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, that is currently being delivered at the University of Edinburgh (May 2-12, 2016). I am working as the host for the Giffords blog, where I have posted summaries of the lectures as well as links to the lecture videos. The following combines my summary, which seeks to stay close to her own terms, with a critique I’ve since contributed to the discussion thread.

Kathryn Tanner begins by describing a corporation’s problem with securing ‘total commitment’ from its workers. A company’s controlling interest in maximising shareholder value means that each worker must provide constant, maximal intensity of effort in the pursuit of profit. It is so important to track, and motivate, such worker commitment that a company will even take on the costs of a surveillance system. Such monitoring can contribute to a worker’s motivation in that one fears for the security of one’s position or, alternately, hopes for an award of ‘recognition.’

These attempts fall short of engendering a worker’s entire commitment, however; ‘total’ compliance is required in order to maximise profit. Motivation through fear, or external reward, always leaves a space between the company’s demands and the worker’s commitment: one may prefer not to. The company could, then, try to ‘evacuate’ the will of the worker, creating machine-like responsiveness. Employees become a ‘blank interface,’ reacting only to the need of the moment (the call centre is a prime example of this). In such a scenario, the company pushes out ‘not just thought of anything else, but thought per se.’  …
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Mentoring Through a ‘Dark Night’

This essay is drawn from material presented during a mentors’ training event held at St. Paul’s and St. George’s Episcopal Church in Edinburgh on January 25, 2016

In a series of letters to her spiritual director, Mother Teresa expresses the luminous certainty of her early sense of calling. For instance, an account from 1946 includes Jesus’ direct claim on her life during a train ride to Darjeeling: ‘You have come to India for me. The thirst you had for souls brought you so far. Are you afraid now to take one more step for your spouse, for me, for souls?’ Having vowed utter abandon to God four years earlier, Teresa answered by taking up work on the streets of Calcutta. From that point, such visions and direct words ceased, beginning a period of darkness that lasted to her death in 1997. …
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© David Robinson, 2016