Oftentimes we don't know what we have lost until we don't have it.
The phenomenological movement attempted to uncover the fundamental meaning of the entities, properties, and relations in which we find ourselves, in which we dwell. The idea is simple enough. We are always already within a world of meaning prior to any explicit philosophical reflection upon this world. The man at work in his workshop knows how to get around in the shop; he knows what things he needs in order to make the things he wants to make. He "knows" these things pre-reflectively. He probably has not stopped to do an explicit ontological inventory of items in his shop and the properties each has that allow them to be related to each other. Rather he just walks his shop and gets what he needs when he needs them.
Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), Jean-Paul Sartre (1985-1980), Merleau-Ponty (1908-1961) and a host of other thinkers were interested in getting to the immediate meaning of things, to their sense prior to explicit investigation. Husserl, in particular, was interested in what Frege (1848 - 1925) called Sinn, the mode of presentation of objects in the world, the that by virtue of which objects could be picked out in the world and referred to. Frege famously said that names had both sense and reference. Names refer when the sense of the name picks out an existing object. Just because a name does not refer does not mean it has no meaning. After all, the name could have referred were there to be an object that satisfied the Sinn of the name.
Frege's famous example was the Morning Star and Evening Star. Astronomers for centuries were able to identify the Morning Star as Morning Star and the Evening Star as Evening Star without knowing that the Morning Star is the Evening Star. The modes of presentation of Morning Star and Evening star differ, but there is identity in that to which they refer: Venus. Accordingly, the name Morning Star refers to Venus as it presents itself as the Morning Star while the name Evening Star refers to Venus as it presents itself as Evening Star. Within a more comprehensive theory we identify the Morning Star and Evening Star. So what is this world of sense by and through which we believe we have made reference to the world?
Wilfrid Sellars (1912-1989) spoke in terms of the manifest and scientific images of the world. He espoused a scientific naturalism that nonetheless sought to save the appearances. In Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man, Sellars characterizes the manifest image of the world as "the framework in terms of which man came to be aware of himself as man-in-the-world," it is the framework in and through which we ordinarily observe and explain our world. (See Willem deVries, "Wilfrid Sellars," in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.). Persons and the things meaningful to persons is what has center stage in the manifest image of the world.
The scientific image of the world is deeper; it is that which we hold ultimately is the case despite how things appear. Sellars famously adjusted Protagoras' statement to "science is the measure of all things, of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not" ("Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind). The scientific image states what is the case, while the manifest image states what appears to be the case. Importantly, the manifest image is not merely an error. It is a description of the place in which humans find themselves phenomenally prior to theory and experiment and the reality of how things stand in themselves.
While Sellars held that what ultimately exists is that to which oue best scientific theories appeal in explanation and prediction, he understood that we do not and cannot live our lives merely within the conceptual categories of scientific naturalism. While neither Husserl nor Heidegger in anyway denigrate the activity of scientific theory-formation and confirmation, they really were interested in the world as it appears to and for consciousness. (Heidegger despised the term consciousness for many reasons, but I will use it nonetheless in this context.). Husserl was so interested in what immediately appears to and for consciousness that he advocated a suspension of thinking in terms of our natural attitude of what there really is, and bid us to hold in abeyance questions of what there ultimately is apart from us and concentrate on that which is present to consciousness. His phenomenological reduction advocates that we again encounter the things themselves that give themselves to consciousness, before pressing on to the question of whether those things are real, whether they somehow track with that which ultimately is.
Husserl believe that returning to die Sache Selbst of immediacy allow us to ground science even the more deeply. Heidegger wanted to examine the objects of our intentional acts within the meaningful context in which they dealt in order to get clarity about the nature of the world we immediately inhabit.
While both he and Husserl were interested in the Umwelt in which we find ourselves, Husserl could never find a way ultimately out of his own transcendental image of things. For Husserl, the transcendental ego exists as that which reaches out through its intentional "ego rays" to objects in meaningfully encounters. Heidegger, however, had no time for such metaphysics. What is given to consciousness is being-in-the-world. Instead of an isolated ego related to its world of intentional objects, there is already the unitary phenomenon of hat which is phenomenologically prior to an ego and that which the ego intends. Husserl's transcendental ego becomes Heidegger's Dasein, the unitary being-in-the-world phenomenon that is clearly present in ways that a transcendental ego cannot be.
Heidegger's emphasis was on the immediacy of that which shows itself as itself in the Lichtung (lighting up) of Dasein itself. Dasein is the "there-being" that in its being is always interested in being. While Husserl's project was epistemological, Heidegger's became ontological. What are all those things that are, that in relating themselves to us, make us the kind of beings that have worlds?
We are always already in a world and what it is to be me is to have a world of a definite contour. The manifest image of things, according to Heidegger, has been passed over in the history of philosophy. It has not been deeply explored because our attention has always been drawn away from the immediacy of our life in the world to the question of what lies "present-at-hand" to us beyond that image. We have been traditionally interested in the world of the Vorhandsein, the world of beings that are. But in concentrating on this, we have lost what is before our eyes. We have lost the very meaningful context in which we already live in all of our inquiry.
Sellars understand that we cannot do without the manifest image of things, but he believes what ultimately is cannot be given by what phenomenally stands close by. We need to move to the deeper structural explanation of that surface the manifest image reveals. Heidegger, however, wants us to follow Husserl and attend deeply and passionately to that which displays itself to us in all we think and do. Heidegger's interest in the immediacy of the world and the universal structures of immediacy that ground that world gives him quite a different orientation from Sellars. They latter was interested in science, but the former in religion.
Heidegger's work at Marburg was filled with religious interest. Accordingly, Husserl had designated Heidegger to be his student that could apply the phenomenological method to religious experience and religion as such. What is the world of religion, and what are the deeper structures of religious experience and meaning as such that make possible any religious world? Heidegger is accordingly interested in the facticity of religious life, the meaningful structures within which religious people operate and find themselves. Heidegger famously tried to understand the experience of the early Christian as being-to-the-parousia, an idea he later adjusted to Sein zum Tode, being-unto-death.
All of this is is preamble for the topic to which I allude in the title: A phenomenology of congregational living. What is it to live congregationally? In our penchant to treat congregational life using the tools of the social sciences we may shortchange what it is to be congregationally. Clearly, we could seek to understand congregational growth and decline by appealing to general sociological principles indexed for our particular historical-cultural standpoint. This can be extremely enlightening, of course. But in the effort to explain and predict congregational processes, we may lose what shows itself as itself. Were we to attend to the be-ing of congregational life we might find in the manifest image the world itself in which religions lives and moves, the world in which we finally find meaning, a salvific meaning allowing us to live unto the future. What I am suggesting here, inter alia, that it is in the manifest image of things that we find meaning, purpose and ultimately hope.
While the body dies and scientific naturalism finds no basis upon which survival of death is possible -- or maybe even conceivable -- within the manifest image, God is close at hand. Christ saves us and brings us into his house of many rooms. Our fundamental experience of being-in-the-world is not one where meaning is absent and must be constructed. Our fundamental experience is filled with meaning for we are beings who in our be-ing find the question of be-ing at issue for us. As Heidegger says, the ontic superiority of Dasein is found in its ontological constitution. As Augustine said, "our heart is not at rest until it finds its rest in you, O Lord." A thick description of the facticity of Christian being-in-the-world reveals what that life is like, and holds open the possibility that that life which is ontologically possible can be my life or your life.
As the embers of western Christianity begin to smolder, it is important for us to know what it was for men and women to have lived this extraordinary life. For many of us, the living of Christian life is always a living of that life within the Christian congregation. We can perhaps remember what it was and how it was decades ago, and we can compare that living to living today. Where was the axes of meaning then and now? What has changed? How was it that we could once recoil at the thought of touching the sky while now such touching is simply business as usual?
In the next post I will try my hand at examining the facticity of congregational living. Perhaps we will be granted ontological insight into the preciousness of being-as-communion in Lutheran congregational life.