Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The Decentered Self

by Caleb Ratzlaff

Ethan Vanderleek, a fellow junior member at ICS, contributes to the upcoming edition of Perspective an excellent article titled, “Some Truths about Christian Prayer.” Quoting Merold Westphal, Ethan writes, “Prayer is the posture of a decentered self.” I confess to knowing very little about prayer, for this reason I’ll focus my discussion on the second half of this quote—the nature of a decentered self.

Allegory of Repentance,
Cornelis van Haarlem, 1616
To illustrate what one might mean by a “decentered self,” let’s follow Derrida by examining the nature of a confession: “I confess.” When an unrepentant criminal confesses, for example, identity changes, the “I” becomes a repentant “I.” But there is a problem here. Given these two separate identities, how are we to decide which one actually makes the confession? Is it the repentant or unrepentant “I?”

A closer look at the moment the unrepentant self repents reveals something very strange. An unrepentant criminal by definition does not confess. Who then authorizes or initiates the confession? If there has been no confession, then the repentant criminal does not exist, at least not as such, and therefore cannot initiate the confession. So the confessing “I” is neither the unrepentant criminal nor the repentant criminal. Derrida claims that a fabulous gap resides in this liminal moment of responsibility in which both identities are inexplicably present and absent. Whenever we assume responsibility, whenever we act, make a decision, or confess, we enter into this space, our past and future selves are simultaneously present and absent.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Talking Good About Breaking Bad: Reflections on Death, Sin, and Walter White’s Uneasy Redemption

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This post is part of our "popular mythology" series, investigating the intersections of religion and popular culture.

By Shane Cudney

I did it for me.  I liked it.  I was good at it.  And I was really … alive.    – Walter White

It’s not much of a stretch, if at all, to suggest that Breaking Bad can be fruitfully seen as a meditation on death, sin, and the possibility of redemption.  In fact, Vince Gilligan, the series creator, has talked quite explicitly about this and connected theological themes in his many interviews since the finale.  But keep in mind this is not your father’s theology.  It’s more like an evacuated, burnt out shell of a theology commandeered for dark and obscure purposes.