An Overview of

Christian Existential Phenomenology

A note on the term "Being" which is used below. It is understood that this signifier exists in and amongst an endless chain of other signifiers whose significations are self-supporting and interdependent, as for instance the following example will illustrate: a dictionary contains the definitions of words which themselves are defined by other words in the same dictionary. Nevertheless, the emperical existence of the dictionary must be seen to stand outside of the phenomena of signifiers contained with in it as that presuppositional entity which itself constitutes and provides for the context of their "activity."

Likewise, then, let us begin with the understanding that language stands in a similar relationship to Being-the reader may substitute the term "Universe" if he or she is more comfortable with this term-this relationship, namely, existing as one wherein the latter (i.e. Being) itself is that fundamental and necessary precondition by which the phenomena of language is then only made possible ex post facto. As such, Being can be understood to circumscribe language, just as we might observe that the planet earth (which is the primary domain of human language) is but a minute point extant in a larger Universe whose extent and complexity far surpass the grasp of mankind's vision from said finite point via said self-supporting mechanism, i.e. language.

If, however, the reader is of such a perspective as to question whether or not such entities denoted by the signifiers "dictionary," "planet," or "universe" have any actual existence outside of their concepts as formulated in language-as it may be argued that it is only thorough language that these are conceived-he or she will by default also admit that their speculation likewise exists alone and only "in language." This by default will affirm the inadequacy of language and hence indirectly only confirm our contention that language is not the sum of Being, and is rather a manifestation of it. To utter is to affirm the present-ness of Being (though not necessarily to honor it, as we will discuss below).

In what follows, for the convenience of assimilation, concepts have been organized according to headings which create an inauthentic justice: that of fragmentation and division. As a result, some cross referencing between sections will be necessary, and this is to be understood as an affirmation of the complex phenomenal nature of that which it seeks: Being.

which will serve as the organizing structure of what follows (heading term in bold).

1) Being is.

a. That existence is, is self-evident.
b. That Being encompasses more than the individual, who is but a part of it, is given.

2) Being is manifest in the universe in the form of "phenomena."

a. The term "phenomena" can be defined loosely as any event occurring along all possible event horizons in the universe (as it exists in its physical form and in the perceptions of the mind).

3) Being is (loosely) apprehended through the mechanism of consciousness.

a. If you are reading this, you have "consciousness," that is, exist in a state "with knowing."
b. To have consciousness, is to know that one "is," that one participates in Being.

4) Consciousness is based in language, which serves as its organizing principle.

a. Language enables us to articulate and communicate our apprehensions of Being and its phenomena.

5) Through and in language, we encode and conceive of the phenomena of Being as (rational) "knowledge."

a. Being can never be fully limited to conception as is held or defined by the human mind, only experienced by it, as the mind is but a part of it.

6) Implicit in "knowledge" is the participatory act of interpretation, of participation in language.

a. Interpretation of Being is dependent upon intended assumptions about its nature.
b. "Knowledge" is a communal event, as is language.

7) We must begin with language if we are to understand "why" it is we "know" what we do about Being.

a. All epistemology and theory is based in language, whether aesthetic, scientific, philosophical, or theological.

Each of the above is further explored and elaborated upon below.


-Language as phenomenon, -a

1) Understood in the empirical context of the larger universe, symbolic language is a "triadic" interaction that stands in contrast to all other known interactions, which are merely "dyadic."

a. "Triadic" describes the unparalleled relationship existing between the three-part interaction of the "sign-using self," the "sign" and the "object/referent."
b. It is only through the means of this "triad" that we can conceive of the "dyad."

2) Symbolic language forms/structures the very (complex) substance of the phenomenon of human consciousness.

a. Human consciousness involves having a "world" even as the conscious subject exists in the "environment" [cf., Welt/Umwelt] (Percy).
b. In contrast to the experience of other organisms, language gives us the unparalleled ability to re-present (i.e, process) our experience in the "environment" in the abstract and to (re-)create it in our minds.
c.This difference is qualitative, not quantitative.

3) Shared consciousness, or "intersubjectivity," is made poasible between human subjects via symbolic language.

a. No matter how imperfect or flawed communication is (cf. deconstruction), it is a remarkable phenomenon.
b. Intersubjectivity must be understood to be an "event" and a "process," not a thing.
c. Intersubjectivity is the root of all culture, civilization, its most fundamental construction.

4) "Meaning" in language (i.e., the assertory event) is literally a "metaphysical" occurrence.

a. Language provides for mankind a "radical," "ontological" mode of being or "orientation" centrally concerned with the expression and assimilation of "meaning."
b. This recognition ushers in a renewed appreciation for metaphysical concerns when the premier assumption of the age is that of the tenet of empirical science. (cf. the metaphysical paradox of science).
c. Despite its utterly unique, distinctive nature, the existence of language and of "meaning" seems commonplace to us because we are so immersed in it.

-Language as process

1) Language at its root implies a loss of subjective dynamics for a given phenomenon because it is to give de-finition (i.e., to limit, determine, outline, to make finite) to the phenomenon through the "naming act." In other words, language forces the concrete, the particular into the abstract, into the (dependent) general mechanics and "play" of the larger language system, which relates via "negative differences."

2) Language operates at the level of the general (see also Godel's theorem for problems with mathematics). Yet all culture is indebted to language as the "means" by which it was structured. The manipulation of the symbol thus at once is miraculously creative and limiting. The key word here is structuring.

3) Language, like the entire universe, suffers from entrophic effects (e.g. from slippage), but because it is a higher level of order (triadic), this is not a complete fall into disorder.

4) Language participates in Being, evolving, continually opening up, but Being is not dependent on language any more than the lone animal in the woods is.

5) We are caught between the realm of the transcendent and the immanent because of language.

-Individual Subject, Self and Identity

1) Language is not the totality or sum of consciousness, though it is the means by which "identity" is formed.

a. Language ability presupposes language usage.
b. One consciousness is not dependent upon another's, though levels of understanding may be, that is, what might be termed "consciousness (or language) potential" is not a "product" of communal language, which can be said to pre-exist the individual.
c. This schema stands in marked contrast to post-structuralist notions of "subject," or "self."

(Biologically, humans do exist with independent identity, that is we each exists as a distinct set of space-time points in the universe; this is an identity in movement, no doubt, as humans exist in time and on the revolving earth, both of which participate in the expanding universe, even as the body replenishes itself on seven year cycles; and there is a sense in which we are a part of ecological systems in which we participate intersect with-but the point is there is a distinct boundary where the unique DNA pattern that constitutes human cells encounters states which do not share the same molecular constitution (air, water, food, etc.), even if they do ingest or process these. Clearly all is interconnected on some level, but so defined, the human identity is distinct and individual, language aside or not.

Semoticians, then, must hold in tension the identity of the mind against that of the body, not privileging one over the other. It's thus not question of whether writing preceeds speech, but whether or not we privilege language over consciousness, language over biology. Whether or not we argue that consciousness is dependent on language, it is possible to state that biology (empiricism) fully precedes language, as that by which language is made possible.

Through this proof, we have demonstrated that language is not a totality preceding all else. It is ingenuine to privilege the biological world view on one hand and on the other to privilege the mind and the indeterminacy of the self: one must rather see the two paired together and the radical, ontological condition that then arises out of this paring.)

2) The individual subject (or self) is the most complex phenomenon (as yet) known in the universe.

a. In Percy's words, "Semiotically, the self is literally unspeakable to itself....The self has no sign of itself. No signifier applies. All signifiers apply equally. ( LiC, 107). Just as we cannot fully grasp language, so we cannot fully grasp ourselves--in effect we are lost, until we are transformed or transfigured by an other.
b. The self has consciousness of the "I" but cannot objectify itself in the face of time; for the (signifying/signifier) "I" exists within time and can't be separated from it.
c. This capacity to recognize the "unnameable self" stands in contrast to non-consciousness, which is emersed in the present and has no sense of time or the future, i.e. no capacity for dread. This is a relation of true "difference," that between "meaning" and "non-meaning."
d. Moreover, any given self's use of signifiers, that is the individual's intentionality behind them, is utterly unique and illimitable as bred of the subject's unique horizon of past experiences and future expectations as they are joined and intended in the present. In this manner, do subjects assert authority over language.
e. As Percy states, "there is, semiotically speaking, more difference between [the triadic self and its closest primate relative] than there is between the dyadic animal and Saturn (97).


1) The universe (and Being) is made up of dynamic phenomena that are open to varying perspectives, none of which is ever fully totalizing (cf. quantum mechanics).

a. These phenomena are codified by human consciousness into a given perspective (which is based in fallible, communal language).
b. Each perspective is but one possible axis among a multiplicity of other possible cross- sectional axes, some of which may be contradictory (cf. principle of complementarity).
1. cf. "underdetermination of theory," that is that data are often explainable by multiple theories; we can only visualize the parts of any given cube or sphere at one time.
c. According to the second principle of thermodynamics, all phenomena suffer from entrophy, that is devolve to a state of disorder from order.
d. An alternative perspective is that this involves movement rather from simplicity to complexity [Hall] (cf. Chaos theory).
e. All phenomena are interconnected, just as the universe is an event tracing its origins to a singularity.

2) Via language, we impose form and structure upon those phenomena and thereby shape them into "knowledge."

a. "Knowledge" is an intentional, "participatory" act, based upon the assumptions of the intender about what is real and what is not (both consciously and unconsciously).

1. Understanding is a product of inter-action with phenomena. Note, the term understand at root implies structure, an uplifting.

b. "Knowledge" is always an approximation wherein we often (if not always) "create" and "confine" "phenomena" even as we "observe" them (cf. uncertainty principle).

3) "Knowledge" is not the same thing as the "measured" phenomena, and in turn becomes a phenomenon itself.

a. One danger of knowledge is converting the "particular" to the level of the "general."
b. Another danger is the conversion of a given phenomenon into "object" (stasis, general) from its existence as "subject" (dynamic, particular), that is "objectification."
c. Since language or naming at root places "definition" upon phenomena, "knowledge" thus becomes an activity of structure/stricture. Knowledge is composed of ideas (expressed in language) structured/existing within the general tension (i.e. movement) that exists between them all. cf. the verb"to formulate," the noun, "information." Thing, abstraction into language (once removed), followed by the play of language (twice removed).
d. A third danger is the agent-patient fallacy, that is, as agents of knowing, do we mistake phenomena for patients (independent objects).
e. To the extent we label, organize, systematize, we limit and reduce phenomena.

4) All reading, writing, and interpretation of knowldege is im-positional in nature.

a. Creative acts of consciousness are always self-reflexive, referential of the self who utters, who "measures" or names phenomena.
b. Even as we participate in and impose upon the universe biologically, likewise do we impose our perceptions upon Being. We are bound up within it.
c. First and Second Reality
d. Hermeneutic circle

In sum, human consciousness ultimately is an organizing force, to which the universe's (Being's) phenomena are not fully "object." The "Welt" is not the "Umwelt."


1) Being is not limited to language or human perception.

a. "Being" is approachable by many "modes" of inquiry, any one of which is only an approximation, and more than one of which is necessary, as all are but glances of/off of Being. Perceptions are only probabilities.
b. "Truth" is not limited to perception or language ( define, deconstructive mindset, the deconstructive fallacy); truth with a small "t" signifies human claims to Truth.
c. The totality of Being surpasses all in its gestalt and is non-quantifiable, which is forever beyond human formulation.
d. Since to "name," or to "know," is inherently to limit, to confine a given phenomenon to the structural limits of language, thought, to give "names" to Being (its particulars) is to force it into the past tense, to abstract it to the level of the general.
e. Language is a process towards the Known and the Unknown and is a means of discovery into Being. (W. Ryder)
f. Ultimately, then, because language imposes structure, all we can "objectively" propose is the statement "Being is...." (D. Hall) Note that "Being," as Subject, is in the present progressive tense here. This is the first (and perhaps last) statement of all philosophy.
g. The first question is "Why is there Being rather than Nothing?" (Heidegger). The second is "Why is there consciousness of Being?" The third is "Why can (non-)meaning be intended upon it?" The fourth, "What is the meaning of this ability to intend (non-)meaning, either intention imputing the existence of meaning?

Thus, only the following posture will expand our awareness into the nature of Being and into the realm of the Unknown: Humility in the face of Other.


1) From its origin, mankind has been engaged in the search for "meaning," in the construction of "knowledge."

a. This search is bred of its unique "symbol-mongering" nature.

2) The capacity for language may very well be the "missing link."

a. This capability might be intimately related to an understanding of the "soul" (cf. metaphysical nature of "meaning").

3) All things are Possible, including Impossibility (i.e., contradiction, paradox, etc.).

a. The complexity of Being is not limited to the structure/-ing of human consciousness.
b. One's inability to re-cognize or realize what is beyond the self does not limit what is.

4) The "leap" to Christian faith is an affirmation of Possibility.

a. This affirmation involves recognizing a "choice," which is an option made possible via language.
b. This is a step toward realizing that something greater (Being) exists beyond one's own existence (being).

5) The Christian faith is best understood as a dynamic process and practice.

a. Faith is describable by language (general, "objective") but not limited to it (as the experiential, individual "event" involving the total human subject, the human will [problem, define will] that it is).
1. This practice involves an attempt to see other through the eyes of Christ, that is, the attempt to promote Godliness in others, to act in such a way as to foster their spiritual growth so that they too can become one who is "Christ-like," that is, one who follows the example Christ left for us through his deeds and his teachings.
2. This mode of being, of course, is no small endeavor and realistically can only be striven for, never fully attained.

b. Love is the word, and may be the universal language of the heart of mankind.

6) An alternate conception of the logos is that of God is Love, the nature of Love being generative, dynamic, and creative, rather than static, fixed.

a. The incarnation is a union of the (human) signifier and the (divine) signified and a singularity.

7) There does not have to be any connection between God and language.


1). The phenomenon, -a of the text (or Being, the Universe) is/are understandable as a series of cues surrounding a subject whose scope is "intended" by the author and which in turn is "intended" by the reader into a larger whole through the reader's "participation" in the "subject" of language/of the text.

a. Reading is selective in order to order a consistent reading according to precepts of intent (as serve both ego development and protection [cf. transference, projection, repression, etc.]).
b. The attempt to render a consistent reading (or in-consistent as per deconstruction) is a product of the organizing consciousness, which constructs (dis-)unities in the conscious mind.
c.The text's codes (chains of black marks) suggest a broad horizon of possibilties of possible meanings (semantic potential) is "concretized" by the reader (Reception theory) in an attempt to construct a whole, which is the nature of consciousness, language. cf. Lebenswelt, reality as organized and experienced by an individual subject.
d. A text has meaning as a subject relates to it or "interacts" wiht it; the subject, therefore,
must open himself to the discovery implicit in the text even as his own psyche is "read" by the text through his interpretation.
e. We can understand that language as the primary system, literature as the secondary system, and its interpretation as a tertiary system.

2) Reading must involve an act of self-sacrifice, bred out of the understanding of one's participation in the/ his or her own "hermeneutic circle" in the face of the text.

a. The reader must avoid projecting/transferring his or her "Second Reality" (being) perceptions onto "First Reality" (Being), the action of which is to eclipse Being (Voegelin).
b. Reading must be done in a responsible manner, open to possibilities beyond what the self concretizes, or objectifies.
c. Rather than being judgemental, one is judging (that is discriminating), which is the difference between prejudice and wisdom. In part this involves maintaining a tension between the intellect (analytical) and the heart (feeling).
d. the "hermeneutic circle," defined, is the broader notion that we are always trapped within our own discourse, within the finite circle of (mis)representational language, and the more specific notion that our thoughts are the product of our underlying assumptions.

3) To read responsibly, one must strive for an open "dialogic criticism" (cf. Todorov, Bakhtin), which stands in contrast to a "self-responsible" only interpretation.

a. The reader must recognize that by engaging in a dialogue with the text, "truth" (as a "third" member) will emerges along the "horizon of possibilities" as a product of one's own position in relation to the text's position(s).
b. The reader must avoid "monological dominance/mastery" over the text, so that the full possibilities of the dynamic might not be limited or constrained.

4) Interpretation should focus on the wealth of human experience, that is, individual, particular encounters with Being as suggested by the text.


a. Attention should be given to the journey of the given human being's self/mind/soul as it evolves through trial and perhaps suffering in the experience represented within the text.
b. Characters' movements from self-responsibility to others' (community) is of interest.


c. Openess to other, to dialogue
d. Recognition of inherent limitations to any perspective


e. Above all, practice is compassionate, humble, open.
f. This experience will in turn enhance one's own development or pilgrimage.

5)The good work of literature enables us to transcend time, leads us to that moment when we recognize our transcendence (at re-entry into the present).

In it we encounter the infinite wonder of Being and human experience of it (both others' and our experience of their experience which becomes ours through the text) via the gift of speech.

This reading practice is not an answer to social problems (Marxism, Feminism), rather a search for the possibilities of ground on which to build, one which is open to both the possibilities of physical and metaphysics, the search for what it means to be authentically human. It deals with the individual, which comprises society, where all change begins; yet open to ideas as expressed by the above; recognizes that promise is in dialogue as we all march forward...

Aesthetics, along the lines of inscape and instress, the unique distinctiveness, creative energy of all things, the especial.

This entire formulation is subject to change and is not totalizing.