A Preamble, before you are Assimilated

The next essay, divided into two posts, will sound familiar to those of you who have been reading the blog. It deals with the same thorny issue that a previous series of six essays dealt with.

In the discussion related to the previous series of essays I was criticized for not having a concrete solution to offer. I will gladly embrace the same criticism for this two-part essay.

As I will say in the first part, theology is not about circumscribing truth nor about offering solutions. It is a poetic vision of what the reality is in which we participate. Michael Polanyi, the Oxford philosopher of science, claimed that science was more closely related to poetry than it was to engineering and technology (fields that apply science to the “real world”). Mathematics applied to engineering circumscribes. Mathematics applied to science qua poetry rends the heavens so that we can see what’s really there.

(I don’t even have a direct quote, much less a citation of where Polanyi wrote this. It was scribbled quickly during one of Harold Nebelsick’s theology classes. His good friend, classmate, and professor at the University of Erlangen (Germany), was lecturing and had just described Karl Barth as contemporary theology’s greatest poet. We students, who were struggling through Volume 1 of Church Dogmatics promptly snickered. Prof. Nebelsick came to St. Karl of Basil’s defense by loosely quoting this passage from Polanyi. And yes, Prof. Nebelsick assured us that Polanyi’s apocalyptic imagery was quite intentional.)

Think of these two essays as two different images of the same problem. They are two stories that highlight two facets of one sticky wicket. My theory is that if I tell enough stories, present enough images, eventually the way forward (ie, the “concrete solution” I so famously never get around to) will eventually show itself to me.

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