daniel’s four beasts :: four Kingdoms

I’ve just posted a paper in the “Essays and Papers” page that I wrote over the summer. For those of you with a Biblical bent, the paper enters the 2,300 year old debate over the imagery the author of the book of Daniel employs to speak about the kingdoms of the earth. The images have been trotted out in various apocalyptic schemes for thousands of years, the latest renditions being Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, and the infamous Left Behind series by Jenkins and LaHaye. The books cryptic imagery has been mis-read in some fairly fantastic ways.

The paper makes the argument that the first three beasts/kingdoms should be read historically, while the fourth should be read eschatologically. The book of Daniel, rather than being a time-table for the last days, is a warning to the powers of the earth about their responsibility to their people. When the world’s kingdoms forget the humanity of those subject to thier control, they turn into bloodthirsty beasts liable to God’s judgement. Undercutting our eschatological self-righteousness, I argue that Western nations like the United States can be identified as the fourth beast just as easily as Ancient Greece, Rome, the USSR, or any of the other “usual suspects.” The “Son of Man” figure represents the restoration of God’s image in humanity in the form of a fifth kingdom which displaces the four-fold beastly reign of terror.

This paper comes out of a course taught by Regent’s Iain Provan, and he deserves credit for most of the good ideas in the paper (you be the judge) but he should be exonerated from its faults.

pauperes and ecclesium :: memory and movement

The first things that get “forgetten” are the hardest things to do. To serve the poor, to look out for those in need, to give a voice to the voiceless. We do many good things. But when we abandon the poor, overlook those in need, and leave the marginalized in the silence of the periphery of our lives, we crack the foundation on which everything else stands.

“Extra pauperes nulla salvus,” says theologian Jon Sobrino, tweaking Augustine’s dictum, “extra ecclesium nulla salvus.”

“Without the poor [church], no one is saved.” Doing theology means hard thinking, it also means meeting widows and orphans, addicts and those abandoned as our brothers and sisters (not primarily as widows, orphans, addicts, and abandoned sorts). Theology that isn’t done in the overlap of Augustine’s “ecclesium” and Sobrino’s “pauperes” undermines its own content. “With human beings this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

words matter :: physicality and meaning

We think of words as non-physical things, unattached and uncommitted to location or time. Words are transient, the same word may pop up on a dozen different tongues and refer to a dozen different things.

Our common-sense way of thinking about words misses out on an important aspect of word-iness. There is no such thing as a pure word without physical mediation.

Think about it, we never meet words except where we meet them in the context of meeting something (or someone) physical. Whether that mediation comes in the form of a computer screen, a sheet of paper, a friend’s face, or a loudspeaker, words are always intrinsically rooted in tangible encounters. Spoken words rely on the vibration of molecules, written words rely on their arrangement in some opaque surface, and even the words in your mind are inseparable from the firing of little neurons in complex networks. Where there is no matter, there are no words. Continue reading “words matter :: physicality and meaning”

Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians

Art is compatible with polytheism and with Christianity, but not with philosophical materialism; science is compatible with philosophical materialism and with Chritianity, but not with polythesim. No artist or scientist, however, can feel comfortable as a Christian; every artist who happens also to be a Christian wishes he could be a polytheist; every scientist in the same position what he could be a philosophical materialist. And with good reason. In a polytheist society, the artists are its theologians; in a materialist society, its theologians are the scientists. To a Christian, unfortunately, both art and science are secular activities, that is to say, small beer.
— W.H. Auden

Continue reading “Auden and Bonhoeffer :: scientists and theologians”

creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)

It is the task of history, once the other world of truth has vanished, to establish the truth of this world.

Here, Karl Marx raises his disdain for any story that focuses its attention on an “other world” to ground the meaning of the life we experience. The truth of this world, as Marx sees it, is made of the power relationships expressed through money and control. The truth of this world is the subjugation of the working classes by means of ideology, coercion, and religion – that great opiate by which the masses are kept from demanding all that they deserve in this life.

The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of man is a demand for their real happiness…. Religion is only the illusory sun about which man revolves so long as he does not revolve around himself.

Properly then, according to Marx, history’s task is to write the real story of what goes on in the world, without reference to “higher” realities or other worlds. The task of history is to set down the meaning of the only world we know in concrete political and economic terms, cutting through all the bourgeois cultural accretions that obscure the real power relationships. Continue reading “creeds and criticism :: history lessons (part II)”

manifold-option quiz :: political theology

Here’s a question that I’m working through right now. I’m looking for some help from outside my own head. What is your gut reaction to the question below? If you don’t feel qualified to answer the question then you are exactly the person I’m looking for – give it your best shot. I don’t feel qualified to ask it – so if you don’t like the options provided, feel free to invent your own, combine mine, or do something else altogether. Continue reading “manifold-option quiz :: political theology”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer :: violence and responsibility

I wanted to make the paper [Bonhoeffer and Violence] I’ve written most recently for a seminar on Bonhoeffer available. (If Bonhoeffer is a new name to you, let my friends introduce him). The paper tackles a major question that cuts across both Bonhoeffer’s biography and his theology:

What is a fellow who can say the following sentence doing involved in an assassination conspiracy? “There is no thinkable deed in which evil is so large and strong that it would require a different [i.e. a violent] response from a Christian.” This question looms large in many ways, especially as both Bonhoeffer and questions of violence have appeared in the conversation with Casey lately.

I’m sure that you’ll see more Bonhoeffer here soon, he and I are spending a lot of time together these days as I write my thesis on his moral epistemology (i.e. the answer to the question, “How do we know what to do?”).