Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Supposed Joy of Being a Robot, or the Need for a Right Anthropology

Every once and awhile I check out Mockingbird, a blog that combines a strongly Lutheran theology to cultural savvy and critique. Sometimes I find the film/tv analysis good, other times it's absolute trash. But more and more often I've gotten more annoyed with them. Usually this is a sign that there's something 'wrong', even if I don't know what it is. I think I found a perfect case example.

Mockingbird loves to tout its "low anthropology" as the truly Christian position. A recent article, quoting a cynic disparaging the Human 'ego', attacked our Human tendency towards optimism. This is construed, as many pessimistic atheists (ala. John Gray), as a mirage and that Human consciousness is a pernicious root of all our delusions and suffering. Here are some relevant quotes:
Speaking of too much ego, the best long read for the weekend is all about human consciousness. Or, in biblical terms, mankind’s knowledge of good and evil. This, from The Baffler: “The God in the Machine,” by Tom Whyman[...] 
Moreover, Whyman concludes that sophisticated robots are essentially prelapsarian—pre-Genesis 3, free of self-reflection—and that humans will become disposable in a society where robots do all the
work [...] 
When it comes to the question of felix culpa—the fortunate fall—I like returning to Paradise Lost, if only for the rich wordplay there: “Man shall not quite be lost, but sav’d who will,/ Yet not of will in him, but grace in me/ Freely voutsaft” (III.173-175). In other words, a reflective consciousness—though it causes us suffering—also brings us to our knees, where we may begin to understand the mercy given to us.

What undergirds all of this is a sense where Humanity's awareness, knowledge, understanding is a colossal mistake. However (per reference to felix culpa), it's a mistake that can become a means for good. Our consciousness and self-awareness can become a means of repentance, forgiveness, and grace. All of this depends upon a peculiar reading of Genesis 3, the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and the awareness of nakedness. This is to say, it's a claim about anthropology, about what makes us really Human.

I read this and felt a revulsion in my stomach. First, I actually like being conscious, being able to reflect my thought upon myself, even upon my own thought, and do not think it's a curse. In fact, I think there's something naturally Human about it. What if this faculty is not what causes our suffering, but something else? But its disparaged with a kind of psychotic glee, a lurking desire to be a pre-conscious animal or post-conscious robot.

The theology of felix culpa fundamentally reduces to Schliermacher and the heart of liberal theology where Creation is almost, by definition, inherently defective. This makes sin and a Fall necessary, its the only thing that makes us into the Human beings we are. This is not only bizarre, and contrary to the sense of Scripture, but reduces to a schizo God of Two-Faces.The seeds of Schliermacher existed in numerous late Medieval theology that blossomed later, but many of the Nominalists, Reformers, and Counter-Reformers stopped themselves from plunging head first into this insanity. While Thomas coined felix culpa (I think, correct me if otherwise), and didn't mean it in the sense I described, its almost a necessary conclusion. God is the author of sin and it becomes the required means of His glory.

Ultimately, what the Mockingbird blogger presents is not low-anthropology, but a defective, misanthropoic anthropology. The Procrustean law-gospel hermeneutic is the only way they can warp and distort the Bible into something they can fain to honor. God becomes the Devil and salvation is annihilation. Forgiveness of sins is a component of the Gospel, but when the Gospel is reduced to it, Humanity is voided. Some say it's good, but I say, along with Scriptures, God is bringing many sons to glory.

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