Academic journal article Arena Journal

Can We Live 'In but Not Of' the Immanent Frame?

Academic journal article Arena Journal

Can We Live 'In but Not Of' the Immanent Frame?

Article excerpt

I am a priest in the Anglican Church in Melbourne.1 I think of myself as an orthodox Christian who in good conscience recites the Nicene Creed each Sunday at the Eucharist. My interest as a priest includes seeking to give an account of the kind of world in which we live, not only in terms of various accounts that are in circulation but also in terms of the 'divine economy' for the whole universe from creation to consummation. It is a consummation that I understand to be a telos not a terminus. According to St Paul, this divine economy has been long hidden in God the creator, but lately revealed in Christ. My task includes identifying the dissonances and the resonances between these various accounts and the divine economy, and to act accordingly. I seek to acclaim and expand the resonances and redeem the dissonances. All this is made possible through public conversations at the intersection of different accounts of the kind of world we live in.

Charles Taylor tells us that we are living in what he calls 'an immanent frame'.2 The 'we' here is broadly the global North, which broadly includes Australia and centres on the north Atlantic. The 'immanent frame' is the projection of human beings living a full life, with plenty of scope for sel/-transcendence, all without reference to God the transcendent Other. Taylor says people in medieval times found it almost impossible not to believe in God. By contrast, life within the immanent frame makes it quite unnecessary for people to believe in God. For some, life within the immanent frame may still involve intimations of and reference to God, but many people would say there are no personal or rational grounds for such 'intimations'. To some extent, everyone is crosspressured by contrary views about the kind of world in which we live. Taylor further characterises the immanent frame as dominated by the view that we live in a fundamentally impersonal order. He suggests that this followed an earlier Christian attempt to expound a fundamentally personal order that itself had been preceded by a fundamentally impersonal order. It is this fundamentally personal order and its implications for life together on this planet that I want to bring to this discussion.

The first part of this essay is thus a philosophical critique of the immanent frame, seeking to bring to light the intimations of God that for many are 'incognito' within the immanent frame. The point of departure is human inquiry, opening access to the rational and personal grounds for a theological reading of the 'immanent frame'. This part then moves on to discuss the experience of revulsion in the face of violence. This is a powerful reason for many people rejecting the idea of God, and so is a major reason for construing reality in terms of the immanent frame. The second part is a theological critique of life in the immanent frame, drawing on the theme of the divine economy.

Part I. A Philosophical Critique of the Immanent Frame

Human inquiry

Recently, I was asked to speak after dinner to students at Queen's College on 'God and the Natural Sciences'. To everyone's surprise, ninety secular students rolled up. It was a great engagement for an hour with lots of questions, and more even after the appointed hour. In answer to one question, I spoke about Galileo's idea that God is the author of two 'books', the book of nature and the book of scripture. If the two are correctly interpreted they cannot be in contradiction since they have one author.3 A student asked me, 'What does the God of the two "books" look like?' I offered several answers from the Bible, but he kept looking at me as if seeking something more. So I spoke about his inquiries as a student and the ever-expanding horizon of understanding drawing him on. I said here within your experience is an icon of the God who is the author of the two 'books'. Then he nodded. It seems he felt that he was well met.

Though what follows didn't happen, imagine another student commenting on my answer by saying that he or she could appreciate the sense of a horizon of understanding drawing him or her on but not see why such a horizon opened up by inquiry was an 'icon of God'. …

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