Sunday, December 13, 2009

How an atheist refocused my thinking in Advent

I had never heard of Alain Badiou before last week's Aotearoa New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies conference in Dunedin. But thanks to Professor John Barclay giving a paper on this atheist French philosopher and his book Saint Paul: The Foundation of Universalism I am now intrigued by this fellow. So much so that I have ordered the book.

The gist of Badiou's thinking on St Paul is that the resurrection is singular event which turns both Paul's thinking upside down and provides a rare moment in the history of philosophy when a genuinely new, undeveloped idea breaks into human consciousness. To get a feel for 'singular event' one could use a phrase such as 'uniquely unique' (at least, that's how my mind received the idea)!

As an atheist Badiou does not believe the resurrection actually took place, but as a philosopher he can appreciate the impact the resurrection made on St Paul.

It would be unfair to John Barclay to attempt to summarise a brilliant paper without offering a link to its published form, save that one note I carry away with me and will mention here is this: if Badiou is right, then the 'New Perspective on Paul' receives a severe criticism. That perspective emphasises the Jewishness of Paul's theology of salvation to the point where the only 'new' idea within it is the inclusion of the Gentiles. But Badiou is arguing that it is Paul's perspective which is new, surprising even himself. The Damascus Road encounter is a nuclear explosion of a revelation (scorching what had existed, radiating new energy into the future) rather than an 'aha' moment of insight on the developmental pathway of Paul the Jewish theologue.

But my main point in this Advent season is the renewing in my mind of the core truth of Christian faith: Jesus Christ is the way, the truth and the life, the light that enlightens every person. As Christians we may be sidelined, ignored, even persecuted, but our defence should never be that we deserve a place in the secular sun alongside other faiths, or that we have a special claim in the Western hemisphere because we are its traditional faith. Our faith is unique in its global vision for Jesus Christ inaugurating the new world through his resurrection. The old has passed away; the new is come. It is a totalizing vision so it will be resisted. But the result should not be a relativizing of it from within the fold.


Doug Chaplin said...


Of course, Peter there are several views that come under "New Perspective". In my own view resurrection is central to a new perspective understanding, since it shifts the centre of God's ethical judgement and our moral pattern from Torah to Christ.

Paul Fromont said...

Hey Peter. I've read a bit of Badiou and had the book you refer to in my book basket, but it became more of a luxury than a need.

Has Barlay's paper been published and is it available...?

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Paul
I shall try to find out re whether the paper has been published or not ... I suspect not as most papers read at conferences are 'in progress'!