Third, but didn’t Rahner explain well the hypocrite? The liar? Well, if his theory were correct, he would account for the hypocrite. Yes. But it is false to reason, “Because it accounts for the hypocrite, his theory is correct.” We do need to explain the hypocrite, but there is another way. Let us say that the regular church-goer is really full of pride and judgment. Just like the Publican. Well, he is full of pride not at some putatively “transcendental” level. Rather, he is puffing with pride precisely in the human, rational, the only level of activity. “But,” you object to me, “he doesn’t know it. He thinks he is good, while he is evil. Only Rahner can account for that.” No, not only Rahner. Rather, the tried and true analysis of the Tradition on morality. What this prideful man has is an embedded habit of pride motivating much of his activity. Now, an embedded habit of pride may be difficult presently to “see”. It may take much time before this man can see this embedded habit. However, this embedded habit is not therefore a “transcendental” orientation. Rather, it is a matter of a pattern of determinate consciousness chosen willfully at one time and now operating as it were silently but really and determinately.
Second, but you will tell me that Rahner did bring God into the picture. (You must take off that mask, Vader, and recover your native wit and the hue of genuine resolution.) Note that Rahner did not bring God into the picture. He keeps God out of the picture. That is the point. But to return to my second criticism: God has essentially been identified with “being as such”, despite any hoarse protest from the early Rahner, which the mature Rahner was able to tame, consistent with his feeble grasp on the reigns of “concepts”. God has essentially become “being as such”. And recall how Rahner thinks we contact “being as such”. Not by ever contacting it! Rather, by approaching it. Recall that “being as such” is not the sum of actual entities. Rather, it is what could be. And if it is defined with respect to the dynamism of our mind beyond anything we have actually achieved, then being as such is defined in terms of potency. That is, being as such is not an actuality. It is a potency. Just as “infinity” considered arithmetically is the endlessness of a process of addition (etc) but not any actual entity of mathematics, so too “being as such” is not any actual thing. Rather, “it” is what corresponds to the infinite potential of the mind! Hence, God too has gone the way of all flesh. Of course, Rahner would never have wanted this. But just such a trajectory is the course of his thought.
It is now time for a diagnosis.
First and foremost, note how God has lost his face. He can no longer appear to you with a face. For everything that comes before determinate consciousness must be finite, but God is not finite. In my opinion, this is the most devastating thing in Rahner. And it certainly sounds as though he is doing God an honor in the process. But he is doing you a clear dishonor. For what regards precisely human dignity – our rationality, i.e. our capacity to think being and thus to choose according to our thought – is hereby hermetically sealed off from the divine realm.
All of the foregoing is preparation for the so-called “Fundamental Option” theory of morality. What Rahner claims is that in each and every act we perform on the so-called first level of activity, what he calls the “categorical level”, we also simultaneously have some kind of bearing towards that second level of activity, what he calls the “transcendental level” of activity. On the categorical level, I am living in sin with my “new” wife. But on the transcendental level, I am making my way beyond any particular finite thing (such as my wife (???), whether first or second) towards the infinite.
Thus, there are two levels of activity. Two levels of analysis. And since you yourself cannot have any certain idea whether or not on the second level you are being authentic or inauthentic, neither could anyone else. Thus, you might go to a priest for absolution. How is he to judge your case? This will be very difficult for him. He has to surmise as best he can given what you have disclosed about the categorical level.
Clearly, this is quite the pastoral nightmare.
Further, note how Rahner has thereby relegated all that is specifically incarnate about Christianity to the “trash heap” of the “merely categorical” level. All doctrine, all liturgical gestures, all propositional prayers, all conceptual thoughts, all that falls in the scope of determinate consciousness is hereby relegated to the “merely categorical”. That is one nifty way to bypass everything that is tangible in Christianity, in its teachings, in its worship, and in its moral commands. Supposedly, the gain is the liberation of God from the shackles of man.
A few posts back, I described the situation thus. That as the phenomenologists would put it, God has no face. Clarification needed.
The phenomenologists insist that God does have a face, that in order for him to love us and us to love him, for there to be a proper sharing of gifts, exchange of persons, he must have a face, show us a face. What my statement intended to state is that they would assess Rahner as not adequately disclosing God’s face. And that assessment would be spot on.
Conversely, he suggests, it may appear that I am rejecting Absolute Being. I undertake the solitary sin. I undertake to defraud the laborer of his wages. I study pornography. I seek honor above all things. I gossip. Although on the descriptive level I seem to be doing this, on the transcendental level, I am actually “embracing” my very movement towards and beyond finite things. I am actually embracing my self-transcending dynamism towards infinity. To use a phrase in that awful movie “Being There,” I might in encountering you find “Myself revealed to myself” through you. And thus, I am heading on up towards infinity. For example, as I engage the fornicating act, I might be thrusting my way towards the totality of being and embracing my transcendence. (Think of Heidegger embracing authenticity with Hannah Arendt, and at the same time experiencing his own version of Guilt, which guilt is basically tantamount to the sentiment expressed in that 1980’s song some woman sang, “So many men, so little time.”) Back to Rahner: Maybe despite all appearances to the contrary, I really am thrilled with my “vector”. Thus, Rahner suggests, I am working out my salvation through my inward, transcendental, non-conceptual embrace of my vector to move on from one finite thing to another (in deed!) and so, to surpass all finite things.
Now we come to the ultimate upshot. In a description of what I am doing on the first level, it may appear that I am approaching Absolute Being. If, say, I “go to Mass” and “go to confession” and “help the poor” and “pray for sinners, of which I am the first.” These sound like good approaches to Absolute Being, right?
But as a matter of fact, Rahner deeply questions all this. He suggests: I might interiorly not be embracing this “vector of my mind towards infinity”. I might be saying “no” to this “marvelous” vector. I might really be uptight about the “creative destruction” of capitalism and regretting the absolute violence it wreaks on tradition and traditional communities. I might not be interested in the infinite potential of man’s mind as it launches into the infinite. Thus, Rahner suggests, whereas I might look like a Christian I am an actual atheist. I pursue a finite god.
Next comes the key move for morality. (Actually, the move has already been made with the epistemology.) The “first” realm of moral activity regarded the realm about which we have conceptual consciousness. But since everything in this realm is finite, then “being as such” as well as “God” will never show up for us in the first realm of activity, the realm of determinate choices consciously chosen. Rather, being as such as well as “God” show up only as the Unnamable Ultimate towards which the “vector” of our activity is tending. Thus, our actions directly concerned with God must not be those in the first realm of activity. Rather, such actions must be those of the second realm.
Now, Rahner does contend that this second realm is always engaged only through the engagement of the first realm. (Thankfully, they held onto something concrete!) That is, I can have a vector towards the ultimate only if I am doing concrete things with conceptual clarity. After all, recall that my vector is my capacity to surpass what I have known / achieved. Since the capacity for that transcendence is precisely a capacity for a certain manner of approaching finite entities, it necessarily is involved with such entities.
To illustrate: I can be tending towards Absolute Being only if I am building a house, solving an equation, fixing the toilet, baking bread, punishing a rebel, stealing money, abusing someone, or paying cash for the TV. In and through these activities, I can and am deciding about Absolute Being.
Rahner’s introduction of God is more difficult. In his early works, he often states clearly that God is the “author” or being as such. That is, he clearly places God over being as such. And if God is above what we cannot even get before our minds conceptually, then we cannot get before our minds any concept of God. That is, we approach God not through determinate consciousness (most people just call this “consciousness”!) but rather through that dynamic process of our minds, by which we are “ever reaching beyond the particular or the already achieved”. In short, to put it as the phenomenologists do: God has no face for you! (But the later Rahner ends up quite often not differentiating God from “being as such”.)
Thus, our minds have an orientation of transcendence. It is not that there is some particular “thing” out there towards which our minds are ultimately moving. Rather, This is the Proposition Rahner proposes: “If it can be, our minds can be moving towards it” (my way of putting Rahner). Now, the ultimate “it” towards which our minds are moving cannot therefore be placed under any category. It is not such a thing that we can have determinate consciousness about it.
Being as such, then, is not any particular thing. Therefore, we cannot properly speaking have a concept about it. Rather, we recognize it by way of recognizing the dynamic impulse of our minds. An analogy would be “infinity”. No one has a concept of an infinite number, for every “number” can be reached by counting, but what is “without end” (infinite) cannot be reached. Therefore, there is no such thing as “infinite number”. Nor is there such a thing as the asymptotically approaching curve actually contacting the straight line. They will never contact, however far you go. But the mathematician grasps that you can define “limit” in terms of a process of construction on the geometrical grid.