A preliminary reflection on belief, with continual reference to nearness

At the opening of his 1949 lectures at the Bremen Club, Martin Heidegger offers a delicate but wholly elucidating question. “How does it stand with nearness?”[Wie steht es mit der Nähe?]  The “it” [es] of the question is and is not ambiguous. It can be read primarily in two ways: 1) in reference to “the thing” [das Ding], and 2) in reference to “that which is” [das was Ist]. This question has delighted me to no end since first reading it, in part because of the possible–and probably intended–dual reading.

Following the first reading, and looking solely to the lecture in which the question appears, we find that the answer to the question is “with things,” or, more precisely, “with things in the vicinity.”

Following the second reading, and looking to series of lectures as a whole, we find that the answer to the question is far more nuanced, delicate, and perhaps dangerous. With the second reading there is not an answer, not exactly. Only there is a response. The lecture series as a whole is titled “Insight into that which Is” [Einblick in das was Ist]. The first lecture, the lecture which begins with the question, is titled “The Thing” [Das Ding]. The following three lectures are titled “The Enframing” [Das Gestell], “The Danger” [Die Gefahr], and “The Turning” [Die Kehre], respectively. The delicacy of the response arrises from this fourfold mood towards the question.

Now, this is not the place nor is it the time to offer a study of Heidegger’s text. Rather than this, I mean to appropriate the question concerning nearness and speak not of being but of belief, and then of boredom. Let me ask two preliminary questions: How does belief stand with nearness? How does it [things/ that which is] stand with belief?

I will not get to it just yet, but after these questions have been offered responses–though hopefully not also answers!–I aim to ask the questions again, but dealing with boredom: How does boredom stand with nearness? How does it [things/that which is] stand with boredom?

I am not going to make a case that belief and boredom are mutual exclusive, as though some binary opposition, some duality. What I am thinking is that there is a sort of animosity between them, a tension that makes both terribly uncomfortable and that makes the experience of both at once particularly miserable for those who “hold beliefs dear.”

Now, today I am setting only the stage. I will write more of this, and soon, and follow through on this reflection. For now I will leave you with some reflections on belief, particularly some that arrive from the word itself. I will press these more and set them to work with the questions in my next post.

***

Thinking of belief, we ought to first ask the question “What is belief?” I mean to press this question further shortly. For now I will offer three notes on the word that lend themselves to thinking of what the word names. What the word names, how it thinks, is necessarily and essentially tied to who one lives and how one practices their living. I will give these now in simple form, without much comment:

  1. According to the OED, “belief” means “an acceptance that a statement is true or that something exists,” “something one accepts as true or real; a firm held opinion or conviction,” “a religious conviction,” “trust, faith, or confidence in someone or something.”
  2. The Modern English word “belief” arrives from the Middle English bileven, “to praise; to value; to hold dear.” Tracing the word back to its Germanic roots we find the German belieben, “to love.”
  3. For the Christian, the word “belief” has a particularly dear and potent significance, particularly in its verb form. The “I believe” of the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed, is, in Latin, the word credere, “to believe, to trust,to give credence to, to confide or have confidence in, to commit, confine, or entrust to.”

 

Now, the preliminary reflection itself. Do we profess beliefs other than what we practice? Do we practice beliefs other than what we profess? This is, I think, an issue that is a human wrestling. As a Christian, I am aware of a particular risk in my own life that rises from not keeping a watchful eye on practice and on profession: idolatry. Anyone who has known me during the college years has probably heard me say “I believe in beauty” or “I believe in poetry.” The more I think on the Creed and on how it is with belief and practice, I cannot help but think this is idolatrous. I will offer more thoughts on this shortly. For now I must let this preliminary reflection become ended, otherwise I’ll begin rambling. What I want to get to is the matter of belief in relation to nearness, the delicacy of the professions and practices of belief in that place so close they are overlooked. Oh, we must be watchful of ourselves, for our own sakes, but more for those who watch us. This holds most true for the Christian: how often do we present ourselves, our coping mechanisms, our strengths or our weaknesses, our anything at all, rather than Christ and still called ourselves Christian? Lord, have mercy! Of this I know I am guilty and more than guilty.

I have believed in things other that my God. I am am idolater.
I have taught my idolatry to willing souls. I hope they did not learn.
Lord, have mercy.
Forgive me, if you can, those of you I have led astray with word or deed, in knowledge or in ignorance, willingingly or unwillingly, in practice or in profession.

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One thought on “A preliminary reflection on belief, with continual reference to nearness

  1. Brother!

    First of all, as you well know and doubtless expect, I love the title.

    Second, does it not get more complicated yet, particularly when it comes to beauty and to love? Certainly, I can grasp tentatively how it might be that to say ‘I believe in poetry’ would be idolatrous, yet to say that ‘I believe in love’ might or might not be, surely, since God is, in fact love. And we run into similar difficulties with believing the objects/subjects of our love. Additionally, the Creed has us express our belief in the Church–surely one might well treat the Church as an idol, doubtless many have in the past, but to not believe in the Church (or perhaps it’s an issue of propositions and the Creed ought to say ‘through’ rather than ‘in’ in this instance) is surely to set oneself up for a subtler, more delusional form of idolatry yet.

    I suspect, I think, that it is in the relation itself, the mode and manner of belief, that we find corruption or perfection. To believe my brother may be done well or poorly, as it is a form of, I am delighted to discover, love. To love poorly is, of course, in another sense, not to love at all. To idolatrize is always to treat something as though it were other than what it in truth is. So to believe in poetry smacks of treating a form as though it were God.

    Enough of my ramblings for now. Love to read your musings.

    Like

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