I can really be quite a shit person. I study philosophy in effort to mitigate my overall shitiness. With that said, I just began a new course facilitated by Peter Rollins, which focuses on the content of Todd McGowan’s book, Emancipation After Hegel. To augment the text, I have also been listening to the podcast Why Theory, co-hosted by McGowan and his protege, Ryan Engley. I seek to understand human nature. I seek to improve my subjective contribution to humanity. Today, I reflect on the significance of contradiction, as purported by Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, an historical German philosopher from the 19th century.
Todd McGowan analyzes the import of Hegel’s philosophical contribution, and he posits that the most important tenets of Hegel’s work have been overlooked and discarded over time, to the misfortune of all. In “Chapter One: The Path to Contradiction,” McGowan speculates over Hegel’s choice of the term contradiction to signify “the inability of an entity to be simply self identical.” He reasons that “Hegel…preserves the term contradiction to register the disruptiveness of all activity.”
“Contradiction (Widerspruch) has the sense of speaking against oneself–a self betrayal that every entity undergoes. In attempt to announce their identity, subjects expose themselves as being at odds with themselves.”Todd McGowan, Emancipation After Hegel
My life has been shaped by both my devotion to and my rejection of religious practice. For so long, I identified as a Born Again, Evangelical Christian, and recently, I have adopted the moniker #Exvangelical to mark my progress along this path of spiritual insight and enlightenment. Yet, in order to signify my current position on the journey, I must invoke something of what I am not–something of what I once was–that which I am no longer.
The formulation of identity inevitably undermines identity because it introduces difference, a difference not external to identity but inherent to it. Identity forms through difference, which is what the law of identity obscures.”Todd McGowan, Emancipation After Hegel
What am I really saying when I identify as #Exvangelical? I am rejecting an ideology that relies on exclusive membership for a select few, while eternally damning all the others. I am rebelling against discrimination, and I am professing that I can be more like Jesus than those who cling so ferociously to his name. I am seeking to out-Jesus the Jesus People.
Nevertheless, in adopting this brand, I am simultaneously engaging in the precise practices from which I have revolted. By identifiying as #Exvangelical, I am excluding the entire Evangelical community from my new clique. I am rejecting their traditions, discounting their ideas, and thereby discriminating against their self-identification, by absorbing the lack of evangelicalism into my own self-identification. I can only be #Exvangelical because I am no longer Evangelical. To accept one title is to reject all that is implicit in the other.
What, then, is the answer, going forward? Should I abandon my self-identifying signifier? Should I now reject the term #Exvangelical? Or should I carve out a space of awareness wherein I can acknowledge the behaviors that undermine my professed identification? After all, I am not truly opposed to them–the Jesus People. Contrarily, I stand in opposition to my reflected contradictions exposed through them. What would change if I embraced my own (and therefore, their) contradictions as tensions inherent to human existence? It’s possible that I might see the universality of our shared condition, and maybe harness empathy towards their particular experience of being.
I abandoned the Born Again, Evangelical expression of faith for many reasons. Yet, I cannot subsume the Born Again, Evangelical hostility into myself, in an attempt to erase the contradictions inherent to that particular faith expression. The hostiliy arises out of the discomfort our shared tensions provoke. They know not what they do or why they do it. For so long, I knew not my own drive, nor its effects. Even now, I am only aware, in part. And so the world turns, and we are unified in our disunity.
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