Archive for September, 2009

Living with Evil II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 29, 2009 by stephengardner

white.tennantsThe dramas of Denis Ferguson’s housing situation show a clash of two very different ways of treating “the other”. Our governments are committed to inclusion as a means of reintroducing offenders into communities (see the last post), however, what is clear from Ferguson’s brief stint in Ryde is that many within our communities are committed to exclusion as the only means of treating “the other”, and particularly, “the evil other”.
Look at the way Volf describes this process of exclusion:

Others are dehumanised in order that they can be discriminated against, dominated, driven out, or destroyed. If they are outsiders, they are “dirty,” “lazy,” and “morally unreliable”; if women, they are “sluts” and “bitches”; if minorities, they are “parasites,” “vermin,” and “pernicious bacilli” (Hirsch 1995, 97-108). In a sense, the danger of “dysphemisms” is underplayed when one claims, as Zygmunt Bauman does, that these labels take the other outside “the class of objects of potential moral responsibility” (Bauman 1993, 167). More insidiously, they insert the other into the universe of moral obligations in such a way that not only does exclusion become justified but necessary because not to exclude appears morally culpable. The rhetoric of the other’s inhumanity obliges the self to practice inhumanity.
Exclusion and Embrace 76.

I think this is a really clear picture of what has occurred in Ryde, and other places Ferguson has found himself. The thought of including ‘one like him’ into the community is repulsive. But what drives people (us) to so quickly dehumanise others to justify our exclusion of them? To this, Volf says:

Sometimes the dehumanization and consequent mistreatment of others are a projection of our own individual or collective hatred of ourselves; we persecute others because we are uncomfortable with strangeness within ourselves (Kristeva 1990)… We assimilate or eject strangers in order to ward off the perceived threat of chaotic waters rushing in. We exclude because we want to be at the center and be there alone, single-handedly controlling “the land.” To achieve such “hegemonic centrality,” we add conquest to conquest and possession to possession; we colonize the life-space of others and drive them out; we penetrate in order to exclude, and we exclude in order to control—if possible everything, alone.
Exclusion and Embrace 78-79.

You might think these are useful criticisms of cases racial exclusion like that of colonial Europeans, or of gender exclusion. But I think Volf’s critique of exclusion also offers a profound approach to the question of ‘what do we do with child sex offenders?’
Exclusion, Volf would argue, is always an act of dehumanising, performed out of a fear of including the evil ‘other’ into our communities. And the basis of this fear is in what the inclusion of such an evil one might say about our communities—and ourselves.
This raises the issues of guilt, innocence and justice—aren’t there clear examples of such repulsive guilt that the only right thing to do is to deny their place within communities? Isn’t this a necessary act of justice? We’ll look at this next time


Living with Evil I

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 25, 2009 by stephengardner


Over the last two weeks the NSW government has been under massive pressure to remove Denis Ferguson from his public housing unit in the Sydney suburb of Ryde. On Wednesday new legislation was passed that will allow the termination of public housing leases of registered child-sex offenders. Yesterday Dennis Ferguson was evicted. Under the new legislation the state Government must provide ‘permanent’ accommodation for the remainder of the tenants  lease. But what happens then? Where will Denis Ferguson move after that initial placement? How does a community go about living with a known child sex offender? If Denis Ferguson’s previous stints in public housing are anything to go by, then it appears impossibly difficult for any community to achieve this.
Miroslav Volf’s Exclusion and Embrace has much to say to communities faced with the possible inclusion of ‘the other’, and particularly, when ‘the other’ is seen as evil. In the coming posts I want to focus on the relation of Volf’s categories of ‘exclusion’ and ‘memory’ and try and relate them to the present situation with Denis Ferguson.

But first, have a read of Volf’s thoughts on inclusion—the path our state government has committed to—as the answer to these questions:

One could argue that the barbarity within civilization and evil among the good arises from inconsistency. We simply need to press on with the program of inclusion, argument could continue, until the last pocket of exclusion has been conquered. Exclusion would then be a sickness and inclusion undiluted medicine. Could it be, however, that the medicine itself is making the patient sick with a new form of the very illness it seeks to cure?
Exclusion and Embrace 60.

Inclusion, is not a simple, sustainable option, for Volf. It’s a relic of modernist misplaced hope in the story of progress. ‘The logic of the modern story of inclusion suggests that “keeping out” is bad and “taking in” is good… A consistent drive toward inclusion seeks to level all the boundaries that divide and to neutralize all outside powers that form and shape the self.’

The presupposition here is that difference, and particularly evil, should be removed, all of it. But there is a problem

Does not such a radical indeterminacy undermine from within the idea of inclusion, however? I believe it does. Without boundaries we will be able to know only what we are fighting against but not what we are fighting for… The absence of boundaries creates nonorder, and nonorder is not the end of exclusion but the end of life…boundaries are part of the creative process of differentiation. For without boundaries there would be no discrete identities, and without discrete identities there could be no relation to the other.
Exclusion and Embrace 63, 67

As long as our governments aim to reform and reintroduce offenders into communities there will be moments of exclusion and anger – as there has been in Ryde over the last two weeks. Inclusion, in and of itself is not sufficient. Communities need to be highly differentiated to be able to include, not just, the child sex offenders, but also, the immigrant, the poor, the homeless and anyone else thought of as ‘the other’. But how?

Barth on the constancy and omnipotence of God II

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 23, 2009 by stephengardner


In the last post, I was reflecting on how Barth portrays God’s ‘unchangeableness’. He is the One who exists totally without deviation, and this is in no way being in conflict with his ‘movement’, with his life and freedom. This shows that while God can be unchanging he cannot be immobile. Look at the way Barth puts it:

If it is true, as Polanus says, that God is not moved either by anything else or by Himself, but that, confined as it were by His simplicity, infinity and absolute perfection, He is the pure immobile, it is quite impossible that there should be any relationship between Himself and a reality distinct from Himself.

But Barth goes on to say that there is one pure immobile;

For we must not make any mistake: the pure immobile is—death. If, then, the pure immobile is God, death is God. That is, death is posited as absolute and explained as the first and last and only real. And if death is God, then God is dead.
CD II.1 493-494

If God is immobile  there can be no life, all new things come from him and exist in dependence of him. Can you see Barth’s logic? If God is not mobile, creating and sustaining out of his eternal self-constancy, his life, then the only possible solution is death. And God would be dead.

Barth on the constancy and omnipotence of God

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on September 23, 2009 by stephengardner


Is God’s life and freedom in conflict with his unchangeablness? How does the immutable One bring about genuinely new things?
Some of us at MTC recently undertook an essay (the chief cause of my lack of blogging) dealing with this tension.  I found Barth’s II.1 to be immensely helpful. Look at how he describes the constancy of God:

There neither is nor can be, nor is to be expected or even thought possible in Him, the One omnipresent being, any deviation, diminution or addition, nor any degeneration or rejuvenation, any alteration or non-identity or discontinuity. The one, omnipresent God remains the One He is. This is His constancy.

And this, says Barth, is not in conflict with God’s freedom, life or love.

But as the living God, He is not Himself subject to or capable of any alteration, and does not cease to be Himself. His life is not only the origin of all created change, but it is in itself the fullness of difference, movement, will, decision, action, degeneration and rejuvenation. But He lives it in eternal self-repetition and self-affirmation. As His inner life and His life in all that is, it will never sever itself from Him, turn against Him, or possess a form or operation alien to Him. In all its forms and operations it will be His life.

It is precisely because of God’s eternal self-constancy, self-repetition and self-affirmation that his life brings about newness and change;

His life with its very alteration and movement can, and does gloriously, consist only in His not ceasing to be Himself, to posit and will and perfect Himself in His being Himself. He does not do this of necessity but in freedom and love, or, one may say, with the necessity in virtue of which He cannot cease to be Himself, the One who loves in freedom.
CD II.1 491-492