‘The Spirit of Abstraction’


“As soon as we accord to any category, isolated from all other categories, an arbitrary primacy, we are victims of the spirit of abstraction.” — Gabriel Marcel, in Man Against Mass Society

Gabriel Marcel was a French philosopher and playwright.

I have Marcel’s book Creative Fidelity, an essay collection that I’ve wanted to read for years, but when I dip into it, I rarely get very far due to fatigue or interruptions. I found the above quotation here, in a clear, interesting, and I might even say theological, article on Marcel’s life and work.

Marcel’s work is rich, but here I decided to focus on “abstraction” because it is precisely what I was worried about when I was thinking through the rhetoric and points of reference used by some evangelical leaders to address or comment on ministerial scandals during the past two years.

(I attempted a concrete example of such abstraction from Christianity Today editor Andy Crouch in this post written in the early days of the Mark Driscoll scandal. The above quotation from Marcel would have fit nicely in the post.)

If you’re as curious about Gabriel Marcel as I am, you might like these web portals:

Rockhurst University in Kansas, Mo., has a Gabriel Marcel Society.

Neumman University in Aston, Pa., is home to Marcel Studies, an online, peer-reviewed journal.

The University of Texas at Austin’s Henry Ransom Humanities Research Center has an online Gabriel Marcel inventory of materials available at the center.

I might as well end with another good Marcel quotation, this one challenging my affinity for Stoicism — and, more importantly, reminding us that hope is communal, that hope takes place in community. From his book Tragic Wisdom and Beyond:

“No doubt the solitary consciousness can achieve resignation [Stoicism], but it may well be here that this word actually means nothing but spiritual fatigue. For hope, which is just the opposite of resignation, something more is required. There can be no hope that does not constitute itself through a we and for a we. I would be tempted to say that all hope is at the bottom choral.”

What a great way to think about a genuine community: hope embodied, a choral hope.

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