‘We deal in disparagement and feel it proves we are freer of illusion than earlier generations were. We are, as we have always been, dangerous creatures, the enemies of our own happiness. But the only help we have ever found for this, the only melioration, is in mutual reverence. God’s grace comes to us unmerited, the theologians say. But the grace we could extend to one another we consider it best to withhold in very many cases, presumptively, or in the absence of what we consider true or sufficient merit (we being more particular than God), or because few gracious acts, if they really deserve the name, would stand up to cost-benefit analysis. This is not the consequence of a new atheism or a systemic materialism that afflicts our age more than others. It is good old human meanness, which finds its terms and pretexts in every age. The best argument against human grandeur is the meagerness of our response to it, paradoxically enough’.
‘Dementia forces us to choose. Confronted with someone who can no longer think or remember clearly, who cannot conceptualise a range of options or contribute to the productivity of material society, we are forced to decide whether we will accept them as a person or not. And if we do, we must accept that we have been working with a narrow, impoverished and functionalist view of personhood that privileges the rights and interests of thinking, choosing consumers while marginalising people with dementia and other diseases like it. It is from this perspective that a person with dementia can only be understood as a “burden” on society’.
‘It’s almost impossible to comb your own hair for lice when you have long hair. It reminds me that you can’t do everything for yourself, that we are in fact primates, that the social contract involves grooming each other. Perhaps that’s the metaphysical function of lice. To remind us of our mutual need’.
‘Shyness leaves a legacy even when it’s overcome. You know your soul to be an awkward thing and you can never forgive it for that. The reason you die in every hotel room you wind up in is that death is all you’ve ever thought you deserved’.
‘Patterns of human action embody particular conceptions, not only of what it is, but of what it might be, to be human: they simultaneously express both fact and possibility, actuality and hope. Patterns of human action – whether individual, domestic, social or political – thus symbolically express both what is and what might be meant by “humanity” … If human existence, as it is and as it might be made to be, is the contingent expression of the creative and transformative action of God, then patterns of human action are not merely symbolic but are, in principle, sacramental – expressive of the mystery of grace’. – Nicholas Lash, Theology on the Way to Emmaus (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2005), 5–6.
Recent weeks have seen me, from time to time, dipping into CD IV/4, and that for no other reason than for the sheer joy of reading Barth. Here’s one passage that I meditated on for some time:
‘The freedom of God in which is grounded man’s becoming free to be faithful to God as God is faithful to him, the freedom in which the Christian life thus has its absolutely unique origin, is the freedom of which He, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has made use in supreme majesty and condescension in the history of Jesus Christ. This history is the change, impossible with men but possible with God, and indeed possible only by God’s actual judgment, in which a man becomes God’s friend instead of His enemy, a man who lives for Him instead of being dead for Him. It is the divine change which has been made for every man and which is valid for every man, but which is thankfully acknowledged, recognised and confessed by Christians. It is so as Jesus Christ is the One elected from eternity to be the Head and Saviour of all men, who in time responded to God’s faithfulness with human faithfulness as the Representative of all men. As and because He was this, as and because, in the name and stead of all, He was born and suffered and died as the Man of God, as and because He was manifested for all in His resurrection as the One who did this for all, the change which took place in His history took place for all. In it the turning of all from unfaithfulness to faithfulness took place. In this history of His the Christian life became an event as the life of all. A Christian, however, is a man from whom it is not hidden that his own history took place along with the history of Jesus Christ. As a word spoken to him and received by him in the living power of the Holy Spirit, this has been disclosed to him as the decisive event which establishes his existence as a Christian. He himself in the midst of all other men can see himself as one of those for whom and in whose place Jesus Christ did what He did. The Christian is a man whose life Jesus Christ has entered as the subject of that history of His. He is a man whose acknowledged, recognised and confessed Lord He has become. He is a man to whom Jesus Christ has given not just a potential but an actual share in that history of His. Thus Jesus Christ, His history, became and is the foundation of Christian existence; this and this alone. The Christian comes from Him, from His history, from knowledge of it; he also looks back thereto. This is the ground on which he stands and walks. This is the air which he breathes. This is the word which he has in his ears before, above and after all other words. This is the light, the one light, the incomparably bright light, which illumines him’. – Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics IV.4 (ed. Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Thomas F. Torrance; trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley; Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1969), 13–14.
‘Time and death: these themes are subordinated to the search for the signification of the being of beings, a search that itself does not come from the curiosity of the explorer, but is a search essential to man, characteristic of his essence, his esse. Being qua being is already to-be-in-question. This essence in question is equivalent to being-there as the humanity of man, who is a being whose being is equivalent to the essence in question. This placing in question is also a pre-comprehension of being; it is effectuated in the form of a taking charge: a taking charge within Dasein and a charge imposed in the most incontestable way—to the point of becoming properly my own. This superlative thus takes the meaning of mineness, in such a way that being qua being-in-question is the affair of ipseity. This taking charge is the mode of the human beings to-be, which unfolds as being-there, as being-the-there, and this unfolds as being-in-the-world, which itself unfolds as care, where care is broken into a triple structure: being-out-ahead-of-oneself (ec-sistence) as already-in-the-world (facticity), alongside of things (dispersion or dereliction among things) … Death is a possibility that is absolutely certain. It is the possibility that makes all possibility possible’.
– Emmanuel Levinas, God, Death, and Time (trans. Bettina Bergo; California: Stanford University Press, 2000), 46, 49.