Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Aimless Reading: The H's, Part 33.2 (Susan Howe)

Howe, Susan
Souls of the Labadie Tract

Purchased at Talking Leaves...Books.

I am trying to think of something to write about and the only thing that pops into my head is the word "antinomianism." I think Susan Howe was the first person I ever heard use this term, either on a syllabus or in one of her lectures. For a long time, I didn't really know what it meant. I knew it had something to do with Anne Hutchinson and religious freedom and a certain kind of proto-feminist religiosity. But I didn't really have an idea about the concept or its history.

Even so, I think I felt a certain resistance to it, almost on an instinctual level, which is weird, given I did not know the meaning of the word. According to Wikipedia, it is a "belief originating in Christian theology that faith alone, not obedience to religious law, is necessary for salvation."

So I guess it must be partly my Catholic upbringing which resists the idea, but also partly my skepticism about religion in general. Catholicism and antinomianism are two remarkably contrasting world views. I would not say I care one way or the other about the theological element of the argument, but the way the Catholic view has shaped me I do find interesting.

Both ideas have serious failings and can lead to all kinds of moral hypocrisy. On the one hand, the "works" people can do all kinds of good deeds with nothing but resentment and putrefaction in their hearts. On the "faith" side of things, well, if you are chosen and faith is the only measure then hell, you can do whatever you want. God said so. He might have even told you himself.

I think it is that element -- the sense of righteousness, entitlement, election -- on the part of the antinomian argument, that I respond to in a negative, visceral way. Perhaps as a result of my upbringing, I have little faith in things I can't see, and I think antinomianism is all about the unseen. Internal visions. Belief in one's ability to have direct contact with God. Etc.

We were brought up believing that obedience to the law, good works, and repentance were necessary for salvation. Acting badly while remaining faithful was seen as even worse than acting benevolently with malice in your heart. One could see how someone like me might become wracked with guilt, despite having "freed" himself from religion.

from Souls of the Labadie Tract

Indifferent truth and trust

am in you and of you air

utterance blindness of you

That we are come to that

Between us here to know

Things in the perfect way


konrad said...

hmmm, how come you assume a "righteous entitlement" attitude in the one and not the other?

I can easily imagine the Antinomialist wracked with doubt about his or her faith, and only turns to it because of a certainty in the hypocrisy of the law as it is written and dispensed.

And rather than righteously authorized by proud obeisance, and i can easily imagine a certain humility in law-abiding Catholic.

Trouble is: identifying these cases in actual people.

Michael Kelleher, Buffalo, NY said...

Good question. I think I was trying to get at my own failure to understand it as someone raised a Catholic. That is, having been taught that visible obeisance is a sign of inward goodness, I have a hard time believing in that which I can't see, and thus a lack of trust in someone claiming to "know" the truth without demonstrating it in a way that can be seen by others.

konrad said...

yes, i think i understand you. i guess i'm just wondering if maybe you're attributing too much certainty the person in either case: people hide their doubt